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The Second Day of Shavuot

Haftarah The Second Day of Shavuot (Habakkuk 2:20-3:19)
June 1, 2017 / 7 Sivan 5777

The whole of this special haftarah for the Second Day of Shavuot is a theophany, namely, a description of God’s revelatory entrance into the events of the world. Unlike the event at Mount Sinai, Habakkuk’s prophecy is one of God’s redemption of Israel from the hands of its enemies. Despite its purpose, anticipation of this event seems to have brought quite a scare to Israel. The imagery of storm and quake, battle and unnatural occurrences were bound to disturb even those for whom these events are orchestrated.

I am struck by the juxtaposition of these images and feelings, particularly those found in the last couple verses of the prophecy, with the last verse of the haftarah. Habakkuk captures in these verses the people’s realization that the conquest of its enemies would also come with a high price tag. The natural order would be disturbed and with it the blessings of the earth: “For the fig tree will not blossom, nor shall there be fruit on the vines; the labor of the olive shall fail and the fields shall yield no food; the flock shall be cut off from the fold and there shall be no herd in the stalls.” (3:17) Seemingly, that which was thought to be a blessing looked like a curse. What looked like ultimate victory resonated not with triumph but with consternation. This realization of angst, however, is followed immediately by exaltation in the last verse of the prophecy: “Yet I will rejoice in the Lord, exalt in the God who delivers me. My Lord God is strength: He makes my feet like the deer’s and lets me stride upon the heights.” (3:18-19)

This admixture of feelings, one moment triumph and then the next, a sense that triumph did not quite bring the anticipated blessings leaves a person – a people confused. Should we feel the ecstasy of victory or dwell in the troubles wrought by it? Habakkuk offers a valuable lesson, I would say even revelatory in its significance. He offers the realization that nothing can be seen in black and white. Triumph does not eliminate troubles nor are troubles necessarily all bad. Life is a mix. Only when people realize this reality can they get on with the work that God has put us here for. It is upon discerning this that Habakkuk praises God who gives us the power to persevere.

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.

The United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva in Jerusalem offers students of all backgrounds the skills for studying Jewish texts. We are a vibrant, open-minded egalitarian community of committed Jews who learn, practise and grow together. Our goal is to provide students the ability and desire to continue Jewish learning and practice throughout their lives.
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