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Va-Yishlah 5768

Parshat Vayishlah
(The Book of Obadiah)
14 Kislev 5768
November 24, 2007

Obadiah prophesied against the nation of Edom, a nation located in what is now southern Jordan, for what history seems to indicate was its betrayal of its neighbor, Judah, either during or after the Babylonians had conquered Jerusalem in 586 BCE. His prophecy called for Edom\’s dramatic downfall at the hands of those who had previously been their allies. This prophecy probably contained elements of the prophet\’s desire for poetic justice for just as Edom had betrayed its neighbor Judah, so, too, it should be betrayed by its friends and neighbors.

Obadiah\’s one chapter prophecy bears a remarkable resemblance to portions of a prophecy (chapter 49) by Jeremiah, the great prophet of the destruction of kingdom of Judah: Ob. 1:1-5 – Jer. 49:14-16; Ob. 1:5 – Jer. 49:9; Ob. 1:6 – Jer. 49:10; Ob. 1:7 –Jer. 49 7. The similarity in these two prophecies raises a number of interesting questions about the connection between their two prophecies and the nature of prophetic messages in general. Did God present identical messages to different prophets? Did one prophet copy from the other?

Modern scholars have taken up the second question, yet seem unable to determine which prophet borrowed from which due to variations in language found in each of the parallels which both seem equally authentic. (M. Kogan, Obadiah, Mikra L\’am, pp. 6-7) Rabbi Isaac Abrabanel (15th century, Spain, Portugal, Italy), the great exegete and statesman, however, attempted to formulate his own answer to these questions. First, he makes a general statement about prophecy. He asserts that only select prophets like Moses had their prophecies dictated verbatim by God. Other prophets were granted a prophecy by God which they had to formulate into words. Consequently, prophets borrowed similar messages from other prophets. Abrabanel assumes that Obadiah is the earlier prophet who made his prophecy while Edom was involved in its betrayal of Judah, while Jeremiah\’s message was communicated after Edom\’s perfidy had already taken place. He bases this conjecture on the fact that Jeremiah\’s seems more developed than that of Obadiah. In addition, he brings as evidence for the theory of prophecy that he has developed here, a similar conclusion formulated in the Talmud: \”R. Isaac said: The same communication is revealed to many prophets, yet no two prophets relate their messages in identical language. [So] Obadiah said, \’Your arrogant heart has deceived you\’ (Ob. 1:3), while Jeremiah said, \’Your horrible nature has seduced you; your arrogant heart has deceived you.\’ (Jer. 49:15)\” (Sanhedrin 89a)

What is interesting in this message is that the prophet\’s creativity is an indication of his authenticity. Prophets may share material but if they were to express themselves in exactly the same way, it would be an indication that one of them is not a prophet. True prophecy must exhibit the uniqueness of its purveyor.

About This Commentary

This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in  Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva.  He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.

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