Photo Credit: Jodie Maoz

This week’s haftara is the book of Ovadia, the shortest book in the Tanach. Ovadia was a Roman convert, a descendent of Esav, and his is the only book that addresses the final defeat of Edom. According to the Zohar, his roots in Edom inoculate him against the mystery surrounding the end of the final exile. This distant end can only be seen by Ovadia, Moshe, Yaakov on his deathbed before the prophecy was taken from him, and Bil’am. In fact, a close study shows many similarities between and echoes in the visions of Bil’am and Ovadia.

Above all we see that although Esav for a time seems to be triumphant and his power is daunting, in the end he is no match for his brother, Yaakov, or for his descendants, the Children of Yisrael. Ovadia speaks of the final downfall of Edom as a product of that civilization, expressing the ideas in terms that are relevant to the people of Rome. He also speaks uniquely to future generations that will derive their culture, their language, and even their political system from the apparent glory of Rome.

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Esav prides himself on his martial prowess and his great intelligence, in war as in peace. He subjugates all the nations of the world including, for a time, Yehuda and Yisrael. But Ovadia tells him, “You are the least among the nations, they all mock you.” (Ovad. 1:2). The Rokeach on this verse recalls the vision of Bil’am and points out that Esav is the last of all the nations to come into the world. He is a pretender. He uses his strength and deception to humiliate and to conquer others, but in the end he is just a bully. A poseur. “You may soar like an eagle, nesting among stars – I will bring you down even from up there, says Hashem.” (Ovad. 1:4).

In the Yerushalmi (Nedarim 3:8), Rabbi Acha teaches in the name of Rav Huna that at the end of time Esav will put his tallit on and sit among the righteous in Gan Eden. Then Hashem Himself will drag him out of there. The Pnei Moshe on this Gemara says that Esav falsely concludes that he should benefit from the merit of our forefathers, Avraham and Yitzchak. However, this is precisely what Esav traded away to Yaakov because he didn’t value it. The Torah tells us that Esav mocked the inheritance, and we saw above how the prophet describes the nations of the world all mocking Esav.

But from this we also learn how even at the end of history, Esav still doesn’t understand that he is the bad guy. He deceives, destroys, and dispossesses everything and everybody that crosses his path, yet he sees himself as the victim of injustice when things don’t go his way. The navi Ovadia warns Esav: The day of Hashem – before all the nations – is drawing close, faster than you think. Just as you have done to others, in the end will be done to you. Everything that you deserve you will get in the end.

Esav thinks he can fool everybody, but in the end he hasn’t fooled anybody, except perhaps himself.

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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He has written on Israeli art, music, and spirituality and is working to reawaken interest in medieval Jewish mysticism. He can be reached at avraham@thegeula.com.