Monday, January 16, 2017

Week 17 (Book 2): Obadiah and Minimized Business Activity

HAAZINU:They sacrificed to demons, which have no power, deities they did not know, new things that only recently came, which your forefathers did not fear. (Deuteronomy 32:17)

Positive Light: Would they sacrifice to demons? No. [Their] power was G-d; they did not know new ones. They came from close by, [and] your forefathers did not fear them.

HAFTARAH: He sent from on high [and] He took me; He drew me out of many waters. (II Samuel 22:17)

QUALITY TO ACQUIRE THE TORAH: Minimized Business Activity (Miut Schorah)

PROPHET: Obadiah


The seventeenth week of the year is the last in the month of Teveth. The verse in Haazinu continues to make reference to idolatry and their abandoning G-d. As mentioned previously, these are themes related to Teveth and the Tribe of Dan.

Again, this week’s verse in Haazinu can also take on a more positive note. It could be read in such a way that would indicate that they rejected idolatry and assimilation. Assimilation’s attraction, in the times of the Greeks as well as today, is that it is depicted as being something new and contemporary, while the values of the Torah are portrayed as being “outdated.” Another attraction of assimilation is that the attraction of other cultures is exactly related to those aspects that are closest to the Torah and to people that are like us. The Greeks and helenized Jews came from close, they championed values, such as wisdom and humanism, that were often quite close to Jewish ideals.

This week’s Haftarah verse is in line with the positive interpretation of the verse in Haazinu. Hashem remained connected to the Jewish people throughout their struggles. In times of many enticements, he drew them “out of many waters.” As mentioned in Book 1, “many waters” is a reference to struggles when making a living.

The quality of this week is minimized business activity, miut schorah. Business activity and the quest for money can easily become “idolatrous.” It can become an end in of itself, and we end up forgetting the whole point of why we sought to have money in the first place – to be able to better serve our Creator and provide for our families. That is why the Torah advises us to conduct our business affairs with “miut,” smallness and humility, remembering that ultimately our study of Torah and our service to G-d is what is most important.

This week’s prophet is Obadiah. Obadiah, like Michaia, prophecized in the times of King Ahab, in which idolatry became rampant. Ahab himself also exemplified the very lack of miut schorah – taking the field of another by force, and killing the owner. It was for this act that Ahab was punished with a Heavenly death sentence.

Obadiah, on the other hand, is perhaps the best example of “business activity” with humility and smallness before G-d. He used his money to keep alive one hundred prophets, and protect them against Ahab and his evil wife Jezebel.  It was this act that earned him prophecy. Obadiah’s name also hints to this quality, as it means the servant/worker of G-d. Obadiah understood that his main work was not for men, but for G-d.

Obadiah’s prophecy, recorded in the Tanach, is about how G-d loves Jacob and hates Esau – the message in the fight against assimilation. Much of what attracted the Jews to Roman culture and its ofshoots are their similarities with Judaism. Esau is Jacob’s brother after all. Like Jacob himself told Esau,

And he said to him, "My master knows that the children are tender, and the flocks and the cattle, which are raising their young, depend upon me, and if they overdrive them one day, all the flocks will die. Now, let my master go ahead before his servant, and I will move [at] my own slow pace, according to the pace of the work that is before me and according to the pace of the children, until I come to my master, to Seir. (Genesis 33:13, 14)

Jacob did not want to stay with Esau and have him be a bad influence on his family. Perhaps now it is also better understood why Jacob spoke of the flocks as well as of his children. Jacob did not want his possessions to be prey to Esau’s unending ambition.

The levitical city for this week is Gath-rimmon. It means winepress of pomegranites: Here again, when we are out in the world, engaging in business activity and facing its darkness, we have the opportunity to do many mitzvoth, and be full like the pomegranate. The pomegranate’s many seeds is also a reference to the ability to multiply, which is connected with Teveth.