November 30, 2012 / 16 Kislev, 5773
Obadiah 1:1-21(S), Hosea 11:7-12:12(A)
How can we account for different minhagim or historical customs in the choice of the Haftarah?
The selection from Prophets (Nevi'im) read as the Haftarah is not always the same in all Jewish communities as customs differ, including A=Ashkenazic custom (AF=Frankfurt am Main; AH=Chabad; AP= Poland); I=Italian custom; S=Sephardic and Mizrahi custom; Y=Yemenite custom; R=Romaniote (Byzantine, eastern Roman empire) custom; and K=Karaite custom.
For Ashkenazi Jews, the Haftarah this week for Parshat Vayishlah is either from Hosea 11:7-12:12 or alternatively for some Ashkenazi communities Obadiah 1:1–21; for Sephardi Jewry the Haftarah is Obadiah 1:1–21.
When we examine the different texts in our pews, in some there is no indication of alternative texts, while in others there is a choice listed. An online search results similarly. For the Conservative movement, the Etz Hayim lists only Obadiah, as does Torah Sparks for USCJ across the years. The Torah edited by Gunther Plaut for the URJ lists Hosea 11:7-12:12, which is also listed in the JTSA website as the Sefardi Haftarah for last week’s sedra of Vayeshev.
What we can agree upon is that when we study the Torah portion and then the Haftarah, we learn from each but the complementary juxtaposition enhances the experience of Talmud Torah.
Let’s take a look.
For those using Etz Hayim and Torah Sparks, how does the prophet Obadiah relate to our Torah portion?
Vayishlah begins when Jacob returns to a feared confrontation with his brother Esau from whom he had fled years before. Jacob plans an elaborate set of gifts and messages of reconciliation to Esau, and then he wrestles throughout the night with his fears and as the text reports with a “mysterious” assailant. Ultimately Jacob and Esau are reconciled without violence, and then go their separate ways thereafter in peace as brothers. They both expect generations thereafter to respect their shared filial ancestry. The Torah portion then concludes with an extensive genealogy of Esau as they become the land of Edom.
However a brotherly reconciliation was not to be. Speaking apparently after the destruction of Jerusalem, Obadiah preaches against Esau’s descendants, the Edomites, who take part in the sacking of the Jewish capital as military allies of Israel’s enemies. He indicts the Edomites for being deceitful and not loyal to their common ancestor. Obadiah then pronounes that the Jews would be ultimately delivered by God and would then themselves destroy the Edomites.
Since Edom became the personification of Rome, this prophecy of Obadiah could then speak to generations later suffering Roman occupation of the ultimate restoration of the Jewish state and the destruction of imperial Rome. Religiously, later Edom became a symbol for the Church and restated the hope for Jewish survival if not spiritual triumph.
"Against all nations, the day of the Lord is at hand. . . . The House of Jacob shall disposess those who dispossessed them; . . .the House of Esau shall be straw; they shall burn it and devour it and no survivor shall be left of the House of Esau."
As one teacher puts it, "Israel’s rise will be proportional to the fall of Edom." Jacob of the Torah portion continues to inspire the Jewish People for thousands of years by focusing upon ultimate survival and restoration.
On the other hand, The Ashkenazi Haftarah of Hosea 11:7-12:12 reflects a theme from the Torah reading: "He [Jacob] strove with an angel and prevailed . . . ." returning us to the text of Vayishlah just read.
Hosea preaches to the Jewish People, earlier in Jewish history or at the time of the destruction. He recalls the historic character flaws in Jacob, primarily those of deceit and misrepresentation, are resulting in Israel's disloyalty to God. Hosea lists the failures of Israel, but promises God's eternal love and divine grace.
Note that in both Haftarot, Obadiah and Hosea, there is a textual and thematic relationship to the sedra.
However, Hosea is condemning national, religious and moral failures of Israel, even though he concludes with the promise of God's forgiveness and protection. On the other hand, Obadiah, is condemning Esau's descendants in Edom for their disloyalty to "their brother Jacob" for which ultimately God will insure that Israel will survive defeat and ultimately destroy the Edomites.
If you were the editor of the Humash for your synagogue pews, would you include in the printed text (a) both choices of Ashkenazi or Sefardi Haftarah, or (b) would you only include one? Why, or why not? Which one, if only one? Why?
Which message speaks most loudly to your Jewish community today: Hosea's review of our political, moral and religious failures or Obadiah's promise of ultimate destruction of Israel’s enemies?
This week's Haftarah commentary was written by Rabbi Barry Dov Lerner. Rabbi Lerner is retired from the pulpit and is the Rav HaMakshir of Traditional Kosher Supervision, Inc. serving Greater Philadelphia. He just accepted a position as adjunct instructor for C-CAP and the Philadelphia school system for future students in culinary and hospitality professions. He has been teaching for many years for Gratz College JCHS and is now also a Branch Director. He continues to provide as a public service free downloads for the Jewish Calendar Cycle and Life Cycle materials from www.JewishFreeware.org.
Recognizing our Maasim Tovim - Doer of Good Deeds Honorees
Eric Weis - Northern New Jersey Region
There is a Hasidic saying, "When passion burns within you, remember that it was given to you for a good purpose."
Eric Weis quietly utilizes his passion to focus on the courage of his convictions and his passions, which makes us fortunate to have him as a member of Shomrei Torah and the Northern New Jersey Region of the FJMC.
In 1981, Eric and his wife Fern came to Wayne New Jersey from Clifton, New Jersey. They joined Shomrei Torah, since the Rabbi, Jeffrey Segelman, was a personal friend. Following in the footsteps of his father and father-in-law, he immersed himself in our congregation. Eric began by joining its Men's Club, becoming its Treasurer, managing the building, re-engineering the basement, re-designing the sukkah, co-chairing the capital campaign and serving on the executive board as a Trustee and Vice President. In 2009, Eric created the "Sushi and Sake in the Shomrei Sukkah" program which is now in its third year; he lists Sukkot as the holiday he loves most.
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