Reconciliation and Change
Rabbi Howard Cohen for Jewish Reconstructionist Communities
As always, it is helpful to read the weekly Torah portion to understand what the rabbis wished to comment on through the haftorah selection. Not surprising, rich and complex Torah portions evoke many responses. Evidence of this is reflected in the fact that, like this week, more than one tradition has emerged for which reading to use.
In Parshat Vayishlah four significant events occur. Esau encounters Yaacov for the first time since they bitterly parted ways years earlier. The text indicates that for, at least Yaacov, there was much concern about this meeting. Yaacov wrestles with an angel in the middle of the night. As a result of this divine encounter his name was changed to Israel and he was wounded in the thigh. Seemingly unrelated to the flow of events, Israel's daughter from Leah daughter, Dinah, has an experience with Shechem, the son of Hamor, the chief of that country. Her interaction with Hamor, usually described as a rape, agitates her brothers into committing a deviously violent revengeful response. Finally, the deaths of Rachel and Isaac are mentioned.
The selection from Hosea is generally concerned with the idea of reconciliation and change. For example we read "...my heart has changed in me. All my pity stirs" (11:8b). The next verse states "I will not act upon my wrath". Throughout this haftorah there is a strong sense of the potential harm and destruction that could be unleashed out of vengeful anger without reconciliation between Esau and Israel. Or, alternatively, these same verses can be read as an admonishment against the violence Israel's sons perpetuated against Hamor's country. The message then from Hosea is reconciliation is better than revenge.
The haftorah from Ovadiah, on the other hand, promotes the opposite position. In this haftorah the reconciliation between Esau and Israel is the back drop for a bitter tirade against the Edomites for their treatment of their brethren at the time of the destruction of the First Temple. The Edomites are direct descendants of Esau (remember Esau is called Edom for his red appearance). Ovadiah succinctly expresses what he believes is the only appropriate response to the Edomites is "as you have done, so shall it be done to you; your deeds shall come back to haunt your" (Ovadiah 1:15)
The prophets were political commentators and agitators. What makes their insights valuable for us today is that though they were speaking about current events of their day they did so in a way that has eternal and universal appeal. Faced with the aftermath of deeply contested election where phrases such as "velvet coup de 'etat", "stolen office", "illegitimate presidency" are flowing freely we must decide whether Hosea's urging for reconciliation or Ovadiah's cry for revenge will rule. Already we are hearing that there will be "revenge" sought in the next round of elections. I can not end optimistically because historically even Jewish communities have preferred the reading from Ovadiah over Hosea. Perhaps the inclination towards Ovadiah's revengeful response is why even the selection from Hosea ends on a negative note, something unusual for a haftorah.