Let Us Not Commit the Sin of Edom

For the violence done to your brother Yaakov shame shall cover you, and you shall be cut off forever. On the day that you did stand aloof, on the day that strangers carried away his substance, and foreigners entered into his gates, and cast lots upon Jerusalem, even you were as one of them. But you should not have gazed on the day of your brother on the day of his disaster. Neither should you have rejoiced over the children of Judah on the day of their destruction. Neither should you have spoken proudly on the day of distress. (Ovadia 1:10-12)

1. Ovadia’s prophecy of the destruction of Edom

The prophet Ovadia foretold the punishment that will be brought upon Edom for its iniquity. What was the sin of Edom? In the above passages, Ovadia explains that Edom was complicit in the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Bait HaMikdash – the Sacred Temple. Rabbaynu David Kimchi – Radak – explains that Ovadia, in his description of Edom, sin, is referring to events that will occur long after his own death. He foresees that the Roman general and future emperor Titus will lay siege upon Yerushalayim. He will ultimately breach the city’s walls and destroy it and the Bait HaMikdash. Ovadia does not accuse Edom of directly participating in this tragedy. According to Radak, Edom’s complicity will be expressed in its rejoicing in the destruction of Yerushalayim, the razing of the Bait HaMikdash, and the persecution and exile of Bnai Yisrael.

And command the people, saying: You are to pass by the border of your brethren the children of Esav, that dwell in Seir. They will be afraid of you. Take good heed unto yourselves therefore. Contend not with them for I will not give you of their land not so much as for the sole of the foot to tread on, because I have given Mount Seir to Esav for a possession. (Sefer Devarim 2:4-5)

2. The fraternal bond between Esav and Bnai Yisrael

Radak adds that Edom’s behavior is especially egregious because of its relationship with Bnai Yisrael. The nation of Edom is comprised of the descendants of Esav, the brother of Yaakov. Edom and Bnai Yisrael share a fraternal bond. Esav’s joy at the destruction of Bnai Yisrael was a repudiation of this fraternal relationship. Radak contrasts Esav’s treatment of Bnai Yisreal and the attitude implicit in that behavior with the instructions that Hashem gave to Bnai Yisrael regarding its treatment of Edom.

In the above passages, Moshe reminds the nation of the instructions received from Hashem as Bnai Yisrael approached the Land of Edom. Edom’s territory – the Land of Seir – was located to the southeast of the Land of Cana’an. The direct path into the Land of Cana’an lay through the territory of Edom. Hashem forewarned Bnai Yisrael that Esav’s descendants were the sovereign rulers of this territory. Bnai Yisrael were forbidden from violating these border or even threatening and intimidating Edom. Of course, these instructions were scrupulously obeyed. Bnai Yisrael extended its journey in order to travel around the territory of Edom.

Radak explains that Bnai Yisrael respected its fraternal relationship with Edom. It respected the sovereignty of Edom and acted toward this brother nation with deference. This behavior sharply contrasts with the behavior of Edom toward Bnai Yisrael. Bnai Yisrael treated Edom as a brother and with the respect and consideration due to a brother. Edom rejoiced in the destruction of Yerushalayim and the Bait HaMikdash. Edom observed with glee the agony of its brothers.[1]

3. Esav’s implicit repudiation of its own rights

Rashbam, in his comments on the above passages from Parshat Devarim, provides the basis for an alternative interpretation of Edom’s iniquity. He notes that Hashem explains to Moshe that Bnai Yisrael are to respect the sovereignty of Edom within the borders of its land because He has given this territory to Edom. In other words, just as Hashem granted Bnai Yisrael sovereignty over the Land of Israel, the Land of Seir was given to Edom as its homeland. He adds that Edom received this special treatment from Hashem because the nation is comprised of the descendants of Esav and therefore, they are the descendants of Avraham. It is because of its relationship with our patriarch Avraham that Edom has been given as its legacy the Land of Seir.

Rashbam explains that the instructions that Hashem provided to Bnai Yisrael regarding Edom were also a timely reassurance that it will soon conquer the Land of Cana’an. The people may have been tempted to become despondent in response to the directive to delay their march into the promised Land of Cana’an. They may have been tempted to feel some element of doubt and despair. When would the long-postponed conquest occur? Hashem’s instructions include a reassuring explanation of the detour. The sole reason for the detour is that Edom is comprised of Avraham’s descendants. Hashem says to Bnai Yisrael that the legitimacy of Edom’s rights to the Land of Seir is derived from the same source as Bnai Yisrael’s right to the Land of Israel. The detour is actually an affirmation of the promise to Bnai Yisrael that it will receive the legacy promised to Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov – the Land of Israel.[2]

Rashbam’s comments suggest an alternative interpretation of Edom’s sin. Edom rejoiced over the destruction of the Land of Israel and the exile of its people. In its rejoicing, Edom implicitly denounced its rights to its own ancestral homeland. Edom should have wailed and mourned the destruction of the Land of Israel and the exile of its people. If Bnai Yisrael could be separated from the Land of Israel, then what security did Edom have in its own homeland? Edom’s sin was that rather than seeing the implications of the tragedy of the Jewish people and mourning this tragedy as the harbinger of its own potential exile and suffering, Edom rejoiced in the tragedy of Bnai Yisrael.

4. Not being like Edom

Both of these interpretations are relevant themes to contemplate with the approach of Tisha B’Av. Bnai Yisrael is a nation of brothers. We are dispersed to the corners of the earth but we form a single community. Regardless of the distances that separate us we must remember that we are brothers. We may be separated by miles, mountains, or oceans. We may be separated from one another by divergent perspectives, and outlooks. These distances and differences of opinion must not and cannot breach the fraternal bond that makes us one people.

We must also recognize that how we treat one another is an expression of how we expect to be treated by others. Edom failed to understand that in rejoicing over Bnai Yisrael’s exile from its legacy it implicitly denounced its own right to the Land of Seir. When we treat another person with insensitivity or worse, we denounce our own right to be treated with sensitivity and dignity.

1. Rabbaynu David Kimchi (Radak), Commentary of Ovadia, 1:11.
2. Rabbaynu Shemuel ben Meir (Rashbam) Commentary on Sefer Devarim 2:5.