Category Archives: Neviim (prophets)


The Book of Ovadiah is the smallest book in the Tanach. It consists of a single chapter of 21 verses, making it the perfect length for a Haftarah[1]. It is one of the books of the Trei Assar, the twelve prophets whose short books were collected into a single compilation precisely because small scrolls such as Ovadiah would otherwise have gotten lost.

Ovadiah’s prophecy is not addressed to the Jewish People, but rather to the nation of Edom. This is not unusual; there are many examples of prophecy directed at other nations, such as Egypt[2], Assyria[3], and Aram[4]. The purpose of such prophecies is two-fold. First, the nations also need to know how they fare in the eyes of G-d. The second purpose is for us, so that we should know that G-d judges other nations, and that He has plans for all of humanity.

Some prophets are introduced with their name, their father’s name, their city, and the kings to whom their prophecy was directed[5]; some give only their name; and some[6], not even that.

When it comes to Ovadiah, we are given his name, but not his era:

(א) חֲזוֹן עֹבַדְיָה כֹּה אָמַר אֲדֹנָי ה’ לֶאֱדוֹם

1) The vision of Ovadiah: This is what the Lord Hashem says to Edom…

There’s no “who prophesied during the reign of King So-and-So” to pin him down, and there are no references to current historical events to give us a hint. Chazal, who always try fill in gaps left by the Mikra (“Text”), provide several options for this prophet’s origins based on his name and his topic.

Radak presents two distinct opinions in his introduction to Ovadiah:

חזון עובדיה זה הנביא לא ידענו באיזה דור התנבא ודעת רז”ל שזהו עובדיה שהיה עם אחאב ועוד אמרו כי עובדיה גר אדומי היה והתנבא רע על אדום היינו דאמרי אינשי כפא דחק נגרא בגויה נשרוף חרדלא אמר בו בעל הערוך האומן שחק הכף אותו הכף עצמו שורף פיו בחרדל חזק

1) The vision of Ovadiah: We don’t know in which generation he prophesied. The opinion of our rabbis was that it’s the same Ovadiah who worked for Ahav; and they also said that he was a convert from Edom and prophesied evil that would come to Edom. As people say, the tree itself provides the handle for the axe that chops it down.  (Radak on Ovadiah 1:1)

One opinion is that Ovadiah was a convert from Edom. Since there is no reference to Ovadiah being a convert from Edom in the text of his book, it must therefore be Mesorah, a tradition that the rabbis received from their teachers.

As an Edomite convert, Ovadiah would carry greater moral weight: the prophet who is descended from Edom is uniquely qualified to prophesy against it. One might imagine a contemporary case: if a Catholic priest would convert to Judaism, and be sent as an ambassador to the Vatican with a harsh message from the government of Israel. Someone who had been there, and chose a different path, is in the position to say to the rest of the nation: “You, too, could have acted differently”.

The second opinion that Radak quotes is that Ovadiah the prophet is the same person as Ovadiahu the servant of King Ahav, who rescued one hundred prophets from Queen Izevel’s (“Jezebel”) purges (Melachim I 18).

This identification is perplexing for several reasons. First, if Ovadiahu was himself a prophet, he would have been in as much danger from Izevel as the prophets he was harboring. Secondly, the time period does not work out – if the prophecy was given during the SecondTemple, as Radak maintains elsewhere in his commentary, or even near the end of the First, then the prophet lived several hundred years after Ahav. Therefore, when Chazal say that Ovadiah the prophet is Ovadiahu the chamberlain, it is not meant to be taken as historical fact. There must be more to it than the similarity in names; we need to look deeper to find their real meaning and purpose.

The Radak continues, quoting the Midrash:

אמר הקב”ה יבא עובדיה שדר בין שני רשעים אחאב ואיזבל ולא למד ממעשיהם ויפרע מעשו הרשע שדר בין שני צדיקים יצחק ורבקה ולא למד ממעשיהם

G-d said, Ovadiah who lived with two such villains as Ahav and Izevel, and didn’t learn from their deeds, let him settle scores with Esav the villain, who lived among two such righteous people as Yitzchak and Rivka, and didn’t learn from their deeds.

This Midrash frames both Esav and Ovadiahu against the backdrop of their environment. If we take it as a given that a person is influenced by the company he keeps, then Ovadiahu should have been as evil as Ahav and Izevel and Esav should have been as good as Yitzchak and Rivka.  Neither of these were true. That means that the original supposition is false – while a person may be influenced by his environment, for good or for evil, the outcome is far from inevitable. Just as Ovadiahu was able to choose not emulate the deeds of Ahav and Izevel, so, too, Esav could have chosen to emulate the deeds of Yitzchak and Rivka.

If Ovadiahu, who was in the worst possible company, and had the best possible excuses to turn away from G-d, instead became the “Servant of G-d” (“oved Y-ah”) his name implies, then Esav, who was in the best possible company and had no reason to turn away from G-d, must have made the choice to leave deliberately.  Ovadiah then becomes the ideal person to send as a messenger to Esav’s descendents, then nation of Edom.

And if it is not the actual person from the time of Ahav, but rather another one of the same name, he would be carrying the same message: serving Hashem is a choice that one can make, regardless of where you were born.


[1] Ideally, a Haftarah is made up of 21 verses – 3 verses for each of the 7 Aliyot of Shabbat. Most are longer, and a few are shorter, but this one is just right.

[2] Yechezkel 29

[3] Yeshayahu 11, Yonah 1

[4] Amos 1

[5] Hoshea 1:1, Yeshayahu 1:1

[6] Malachi – it is not clear if it is a name, a pseudonym, or a title

Copyright © Kira Sirote 
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל

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There are prophets who are introduced with their name, their father’s name, and their exact date. There are prophets who are introduced with their name, but their time period is uncertain. And then there’s Malachi:

אמר רב נחמן: מלאכי זה מרדכי, ולמה נקרא שמו מלאכי שהיה משנה למלך. מיתיבי: ברוך בן נריה, ושריה בן מעשיה ודניאל, ומרדכי בלשן, וחגי, זכריה ומלאכי כולן נתנבאו בשנת שתים לדריוש! תיובתא. תניא, אמר רבי יהושע בן קרחה: מלאכי זה עזרא, וחכמים אומרים: מלאכי שמו.

R’ Nachman said: Malachi is Mordechai. Why was he called Malachi? Because he was second to the king. [But it cannot be Mordechai, because] we have a source that says: “Baruch ben Neriah, Sarya ben Maasya, and Daniel, and Mordechai the linguist, Chagai, Zechariah, and Malachi, all prophesized in the second year of Daryavesh.”, [listing Mordechai and Malachi as separate people]. We learned: R’ Yehoshua ben Karcha said: Malachi is Ezra, and the sages said: Malachi is his name.” (Talmud Bavli, Megilla 15a)

In other words, the title Malachi, which literally means, “My Messenger”, might refer to :

  • Mordechai (only if “Mordechai the Linguist” is a different person from Mordechai HaYehudi)
  • Ezra
  • A person named Malachi

It is clear, though, that he did prophecy during the same time as Zechariah and Chagai, at the beginning of the Second Temple era, shortly after it was rebuilt (~450 BCE). We can see this ourselves from the Text itself: he refers to the Persian “Pacha”, governor, as an example of someone that one might want to please. He uses the question-and-answer method which became popular during that era. And he describes an attitude toward the Temple which is diametrically different from the attitude that the prophets decried during the First Temple.

Malachi’s book is 3 chapters long. The first chapter is used for the Haftarah of Toldot, and the last chapter is the Haftarah of Shabbat HaGadol.  This is quite a bit of exposure for a tiny book in Trei Asar (the Dozen “mini” books of Prophecy – many of whom are not used at all by the Haftarot).

His writing style is more straightforward and accessible to us than say, Yeshayahu or Hoshea. It is closer to Rabbinical Hebrew, the language of the Siddur and subsequently the Mishnah. Thus, it feels more familiar to us. Or, he’s just a really straightforward and clear writer.

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Yeshayahu ben Amotz (~700 BCE) was the court prophet in the Kingdom of Yehudah during the reigns of Uziahu, Yotam, Ahaz, and Hezkiyahu. The destruction of the northern kingdom of Israel by Sanheriv took place during his lifetime; the destruction of Yehudah and Yerushalaim would happen about 150 years after his death. Part of his task as the prophet to the kings was to give perspective to current events: he warned Ahaz against undue panic in the face of the alliance of Israel and Aram (Haftarah of Yitro); conversely, he warned Hizkiyahu against undue complacency in the face of Ashur. He also addressed himself to the behavior and attitudes of the Jewish People of his time – warning against overemphasis on external forms of piety, against miscarriage of justice and abuse of power (Haftarah of Shabbat Chazon).

But what he is most known for, the source of numerous Haftarot, is “Pirkei Nechama” (Chapters of Comfort), the 20-odd chapters at the end of the Book of Yeshayahu. In them, the tone and the audience changes radically. He no longer relates to current events in the Kingdom of Yehudah, nor prepares his contemporaries for upcoming political or social challenges. Instead, Yeshayahu addresses a Jerusalem that is bereft, a Jewish People in crisis, and he gives hope and comfort. His vision was of a future of justice and peace, of universal knowledge of G-d, of an Israel that is respected and honored for our moral and ethical contributions. This vision has sustained countless generations of Jews.

In order to be truly healing, to give real hope, words of comfort must address specific problems, real fears, anxieties, and dilemmas. Yeshayhu’s words of comfort are not platitudes, nor generalities; part of our task in understanding them will be figuring out which specific wounds they are attempting to heal.

Yeshayahu is the Shakespeare of the Tanach. His language and his imagery are beautiful, but archaic. His references may have been evocative in his generation, but are obscure to ours. Yet, if one puts in the effort to decipher and understand, one is richly rewarded.

Unlike Shakespeare, Yeshayahu’s message does not come from a human mind, but from the Divine. It is prophecy, and it speaks not only of the experience of his generation, but of ours as well. The prophecies of comfort in particular were directed to all the centuries of Jewish history, including, and especially, our own. When our great-grandparents read, “Zion, expand your tents, to the right and to the left you will burst out”, it was a dream, a vision. To us, sitting in traffic on the road to Jerusalem, overlooking the crowded hills of Mevaseret and Ramot, it is reality.

May we live to see every word of Yeshayahu’s vision of our future come to pass, speedily and in our days.

Second Isaiah – the Controversy

The shift in Yeshayahu’s tone between the first and second part of the book is quite drastic. Whereas in the first part, he addressed himself to specific issues and current events, in the second, he shows no interest in them whatsoever. It is almost as if a different person were writing. There is also the problem of a particular verse (45:5), where the king Cyrus is mentioned by name, referring to events that had not yet happened in Yeshayahu’s lifetime. This has led certain academics to decide that there was, simply, a different prophet, a later one, who emulated Yeshayahu’s style, and his prophecies were placed into the same scroll.

This theory has always reminded me of the famous ‘schoolboy blunder’, “The Iliad was not written by Homer, but by another man of the same name.”

What difference does it make to me if the brilliant, touching, inspiring words that I’m reading were written by Yeshayahu, or by another prophet, just like Yeshayahu, that I identify with Yeshayahu?

But aside from that, the following is a theory that R’ Yaakov Meidan presented at the Y’mei Iyun b’Tanach at Michlelet Herzog, in 2012, that I find quite compelling.

Yeshayahu is listed (Yeshayahu 1:1) as having prophesied during the reign of Uziahu, Yotam, Ahaz, and Hezkiyahu. He outlived Hezkiyahu, yet the next king, Menashe, is not mentioned in this list. Menashe instituted a radical religious / cultural reform, against the Torah, against serving Hashem, toward assimilation into local cultures and religions – including sacrificing children to Molech. His reign was tyrannical, and lasted for 55 years. It was the point of no return of the Kingdom of Yehudah; even though later kings attempted to restore the Torah and turn to Hashem, their efforts were ineffective in overcoming Menashe’s lasting influence.

Yeshayahu may still have been alive, but he was not the court prophet of Menashe. Quite the opposite: in order to complete the overthrow of his father’s regime, Menashe would have needed to eliminate his mentor, the symbol of the service of Hashem. From the moment Menashe ascended the throne, Yeshayahu’s life was in danger. Indeed, according to the Talmud (Yevamot 49b), Menashe ultimately executed Yeshayahu.

If the “Chapters of Comfort” were written while Yeshayahu was in hiding from Menashe, it would explain their change in tone. Current events no longer mattered, the perspective that Yeshayahu represented was neither asked for nor wanted. The near future no longer mattered; the destruction of Yerushalaim was inevitable. Persecution and humiliation, and hope for the very distant future – those were the themes of the prophecy that Yeshayahu received and transmitted to us from the twilight of his life.

Copyright © Kira Sirote 
In memory of my father, Peter Rozenberg, z”l
לעילוי נשמת אבי מורי פנחס בן נתן נטע ז”ל 


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