The Book of Ovadiah
Ovadiah (prophet) – circa 586 BCE.
Many scholars think Ovadiah wrote this book after the destruction of Jerusalem by the Babylonians.
The haftarah is the entire – albeit short – Book of Ovadiah. Ovadiah is speaking of the ultimate destruction of Edom because of its cruelty to b’nei Yisrael. The prophecy is unyielding and unforgiving in its condemnation. Esau is the ancestor of Edom and both are mentioned in this haftarah. Ovadiah speaks of how tragic it is that Esau is Jacob’s enemy. He says, “For the violence done to your brother Jacob shame shall cover you, and you will be cut off forever.”
The Book of Ovadiah ends with references to exile in Tzarfat (France) and Sepharad (Spain).
It is said that both Edom and Rome descended from Esau. They were formidable enemies of the Jews, striving to destroy them at different periods of history. Based on two themes- the haftarah’s description of Esau and Edom; and the concept that Esau is the ancestor of Rome; I took a leap and visually tied the haftarah to a haggadah from medieval Spain. “How is this all related?” you may ask. Well, I’ll tell you.
The Rylands Haggadah was created in the 14th Century in Barcelona, Spain, possibly around 1330. Jews had been living in Spain for centuries. By the early 13th C. life for the Jews in Spain became precarious. Attacked variously by mobs, Crusaders, and the armies of certain rulers the Jews were persecuted and killed.
In the Rylands Haggadah the artist portrayed the Egyptians as Crusaders. The Catalan artist depicted the Egyptians, the enemy of the ancient Jews, as Crusaders, their contemporary enemies. Continuing that idea, the Catholic Crusaders were descendants of the Romans, who were midrashically descendants of Esau.
I took that concept and based the painting on a panel from the Rylands Haggadah. I related it to the haftarah, showing B’nei Yisrael as Catalan Jews challenging Edom portrayed as Spanish Crusaders. (I was fascinated that the haftarah itself mentions the exile of Jews to Spain.) Taking the idea one step further I integrated the story of Dina, from this week’s parsha, into the theme. Shimon and Levi, Dina’s brothers, will not ignore how their sister has been violated. They avenge the atrocity and thereby, within the parsha, we read a foreshadowing of the message in the haftarah- that Israel will destroy Edom.
The story of the rape of Dina is a troubling one from many perspectives, and the actions of Shimon and Levi are not condoned. The reality of war, defense, offensive action and the effects on future generations is an area always controversial and difficult to have a single answer for.
What we can pray for is understanding, tolerance, and the ability to practise our religion in peace and free of prejudice.
4 responses to “VaYishlach”
Beautiful as always and so well thought out and researched. I remember you explaining this one.
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I always enjoy bringing the threads of history and art together. Seeing Tzarfat and Sepharad mentioned in the proclamation of a 586 BCE prophet made it even richer.
Threads – this parsha ties closely with today’s display of stolen Iraqi Jewish papers, records, sacred fragments, etc at Washington’s National Archives.
Destruction takes many forms, wears many costumes and assumes various levels of social/political acceptability. Your use of the crusaders illustrates
continuation of this deplorable theme throughout history.
Yes, the history is difficult. But we have to build on the positive- we Jews continue to survive. The artifacts are on exhibit in Washington and hopefully with our petitions we can keep the artifacts in Jewish hands.