"This prayer is constructed in the same way as one of the psalms, and thus the phrase 'upon Shigyonoth' (v 1) is like 'A Shigayon of David' (Psalms 7:1) and the phrase 'To the Menatze'ah ("conductor") on my stringed instruments' (v 19) is like similar phrases in Psalms, and the word Selah (v 9) is also not found anywhere else in the Bible except in this prayer and in the Psalms. The subject of the prayer is the suffering of Israel in this exile. The prayer relates the miracles and mighty deeds performed by God for Israel from the day He redeemed them from Egypt, and the prophet prays and tells prophetically that He will do likewise during this exile and when they go out from the exile and in the war of Gog and Magog" (RaDaK on Habakuk 3:1).

"Prior this prayer, earlier in Habakuk's prophecy, he said, 'Why do you show me iniquity and cause me to behold mischief?' (Hab. 1:3). For the prophet saw Hananiyah, Misha-el and Azariah entering the fiery furnace and being saved, and he saw Rabbi Hananiyah ben Teradyon burned in the fire. When he saw this he complained, 'They were righteous and pure and so was he - then why will he be burned while they will be saved?' The Holy One blessed be He then revealed Himself to him, saying 'You are complaining against Me? Is it not written, "A God of truth without iniquity" (Deut. 32:4)? Habakuk immediately said, 'I spoke mistakenly' - 'A prayer of Habakuk the prophet over SHIGYONOS' (from the root SHEGAGAH, an unintentional sin)." (Midrash Shoher Tov 90).

In the light of the classical commentaries (Targum Yonasan, Rashi, Metzudas David, RaDaK), it can be seen that Habakuk's prayer contains allusions to the Exodus from Egypt, the Crossing of the Red Sea, the Giving of the Torah, Israel's entry into the Land and the miraculous overthrow of the 7 Canaanite Nations as well as the subsequent Exile, the final Ingathering of the Exiles and the defeat of the forces of Gog and Magog at the gates of Jerusalem.

In Diaspora communities where the festival of Shavuos commemorating the Giving of the Torah is celebrated for two days, the Haftara of the second day of the festival is read from Habakuk 2:20-3:19.

V 2: "O HaShem, I have heard the report of You." Rashi explains: "I have heard the report of You from of old - how you always exacted punishment from those who angered You - yet you show patience for this villain (=Nebuchadnezzar, who was to cause Israel so much suffering, as expressed in the previous chapter). Now, during the years of trouble that we are in today, arouse and restore Your earlier work when You exacted punishment from our enemies, and make it known during these years now. And even when you show anger to the wicked, remember to show mercy to Israel ."

Vv 3-5: Now the prophet begins to recount God's earlier feats which he previously asked Him to renew. Habakuk starts with the giving of the Torah: "God comes from Teiman and the Holy One from Mount Paran ." Teiman was the firstborn of Eliphaz son of Esau (Gen. 36:11) while Ishmael "dwelled in the wilderness of Paran" (Gen. 21:21). Esau (=Seir) and Ishmael are similarly mentioned in Moses' evocation of God's revelation at Sinai (Deut. 33:3). These verses are the foundation of the Midrash that prior to giving the Torah to Israel, God offered it to the children of Esau and Ishmael but they refused because the Torah forbids bloodshed and robbery etc. on which both live (Avodah Zarah 2b etc.).

V 6: "He stands and shakes the earth." Targum Yonasan and Rashi explain this verse as alluding to the earthshaking ructions with which God punished the sinful generations of the Flood and the Tower of Babel , while Metzudas David and RaDaK explain it as alluding to the way God drove out the Canaanite nations. "His ways (HALICHOS) are as of old (OLAM)" - "These wonders came about because all those who run and govern the world, the angels above and those below, all belong to God to execute His will" (Metzudas David). "For this reason He does with them according to His will - to raise up one and cast down another, to drive out one and give to another their inheritance. It says 'His ways are of old' (HALICHOS OLAM) because the world (OLAM) is governed through the journeying of the spheres, stars and planets" (RaDaK). The phrase HALICHOS OLAM LO is quoted at the end of the daily morning prayers (TANYA D-VEI ELIAHU etc. - learn halachos every day, don't read the word as HALICHOS but as HALOCHOS).

V 7: Kushan was one of the first oppressors of Israel in the period of the Judges (Judges 3:8). Targum explains the verse as saying that because of their sins Israel were afflicted with Kushan, but when they repented they were saved from the Midianites by Gideon.

V 8 alludes to the miracles of the splitting of the River Jordan when Israel entered the Land and the splitting of the Red Sea .

Vv 9-10: God reveals His "bow" in order to fulfill His oath to the patriarchs to benefit the Twelve Tribes in giving them eternal possession of the Land of Israel . He revealed His power through the miracles of Arnon (Numbers 21:13-15) and the splitting of the Jordan .

Vv 11-12: God made the sun and the moon stop for Joshua (Josh. 10:13) and performed other miracles to drive out the seven Canaanite nations.

V 13: "Just as you went out to save Your people when they entered the land of the seven nations, so You are destined to go forth in the future to save Your anointed Mashiah. Just as you saved them then, so you will take them out of exile and bring them back to their land. Your Mashiah refers to Mashiah ben David. Then you will smash the head of the forces of the wicked Gog." (RaDaK).

Verse 14 begins a new Parshah Pethuhah - the closing section of Habakuk's prayer, which continues until the end of the book.

While Rashi interprets v 14 as a reference to the miraculous overthrow of Sennacherib's armies when they came against Jerusalem , RaDaK explains it as further amplification of the destined defeat of the forces of Gog and Magog. "You have pierced with his own shafts the head of his warriors who come out as a storm wind to scatter me" - "With the shafts of Gog himself You shall pierce the head of his warriors, who are called P'RAZAV because they will come in a great multitude spreading out everywhere around Jerusalem (cf. Ezekiel 38:11; Zechariah 2:8), and God will send tumult among them and they will all take sticks in their hands and smash each others' heads . They will be destroyed just like the Egyptians, who came to consume Israel, the 'poor one', in a place where they thought God does not see" (RaDaK).

V 16: "When I heard, my belly (=heart) trembled." - "The prophet is saying that He heard prophetically of the trouble in which Israel will be placed on the day of Gog's coming." (RaDaK). ".that I shall rest only to encounter a day of trouble" - "Because I thought I would be able to rest in my Land after having returned there from exile, and now my rest has turned into a day of trouble" (RaDaK). In recent generations, the many Olim to Israel who hoped that their settling in the Land would be for MENUHAH, rest and recreation, have likewise been filled with profound unease to say the least as they come to realize that Israel is now under actual assault from the forces of Gog and Magog in the guise of the "Palestinians", Hezbullah, "Al Qaeda", Iran, the multinational forces of the U.N. etc. etc. etc.

V 17: "But the empire of Babylon shall not endure. the kings of Medea will be killed, the warriors of the idolatrous nations will not succeed, Rome will be destroyed." (Targum Yonasan). The world is currently witnessing the steady destruction of Babylon (= Iraq ), while Medea (= Iran ) would appear to be next in line. "This verse speaks metaphorically of the nations that will gather against Jerusalem with Gog and Magog, saying that they will not succeed but they will be destroyed and any who escape without getting killed will be afflicted with a plague in their limbs etc. (cf. Zechariah 14:12; RaDaK on Habakuk 3:17).

V 18: "The prophet says in the name of Israel , When the camp of Gog is destroyed, then I will rejoice in God's salvation." (RaDaK).

V 19: "He makes my feet like deers." "We find here not KA-AYALIM (the masculine form) but KA-AYALOTH (the feminine form). Why? Because the legs of the females are more steady than those of the males!!! KA-AYALOTH - like TWO deers, Deborah and Esther" (Midrash Shoher Tov 22). The redemption comes about through the righteous WOMEN!

"To the MENATZE'AH on my stringed instruments" - "I will make pleasant melodies and the MENATZE'AH, the Levite Temple musician, will play the corresponding song on his instruments" (Rashi).


* * * In Diaspora communities, Habakuk 2:30-3:19 is read as the Haftara on the Second Day of Shavuos * * *



By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
© AZAMRA INSTITUTE 5767 - 2006-7 All rights reserved