Talmud this Shabbat: When We Hate, It Only Makes Us Smaller–the Case of Obadiah

If there were a contest for least inspiring prophet, the hands-down winner would be Obadiah. His entire prophecy consists of 21 verses and is the Sephardic Haftarah for parshat Vayishlach.

The other prophets we have studied demand that we look inward and change our game. Hosea decries our faithlessness and pleads with us to recommit and betroth ourselves to God. Joel tells us the locusts came as condign punishment for our failings, and that if we assemble, fast, pray, and improve, God will restore what the locusts consumed. Amos castigates us for not seeing and caring about the poor, and for hypocrisy. We care about ritual, not about justice. He demands justice and righteousness. If we heed these prophets, we have to do better.

Not so Obadiah. He asks nothing of us. His entire prophecy is about hating on Edom, which rabbinic tradition took as an exemplar of either Rome or, later, Christendom. Edom gloated when Jerusalem was sacked. What happened to Jerusalem will now happen to Edom. Edom that once gloated will be crushed. That’s it.

Reading Obadiah, one wonders why is his prophecy even in the Bible? What were the people who canonized him possibly thinking? What is aspirational or inspirational or educational in an angry revenge fantasy?

And yet, Obadiah has the last laugh. Not only is his angry fantasy in the Bible, and further canonized as a Haftarah for Sephardim, the last line of his prophecy, Obadiah 1:21, is a fixture in our daily morning service.

What do we learn from this flawed and odd prophecy?

See you Shabbat morning at 8:30. Gann Chapel Livestream.