Haftarah: Shavuot 2: A Troubled Prophet
Habakkuk 2:20 – 3:19: I often wonder how people can speak so authoritatively of God’s reasons for allowing tragedies, when even a prophet of God was confused by the injustice of the world. “”How long, O God, will I cry out and You not hear me? How long will I cry out to You regarding injustice and You do not save? Why do you allow me to see iniquity and You look at evil deeds, with robbery and injustice before me, while the one who carries strife and contention still remains?” (Habakkuk 1:2-3) We cannot understand the song, yes, the song, of this Haftarah, unless we first read of Habakkuk’s confusion and frustration. “I will stand upon my watch and take my place at the siege, and I will wait to see what He will speak to me and what I can answer my reproof.” (2:1) Habakkuk drew a circle on the ground and stood inside and said, “Master of the Universe, I will not move from here until You explain why You are so patient with the wicked!” (Socher Tov 7:17)
Habakkuk did not claim to explain God’s reasons for allowing the horrors of this world. The prophet of God did not have a ready explanation for the Holocaust or even the World Trade Center bombing. He wondered. He was troubled. He challenged God to explain in a way that would make sense to him.
Is there a difference between a prophet and us asking these questions? I imagine so, but I cannot explain it. One important element is clear: His having asked the question disturbed his relationship so much that he wanted to go on even without an answer. “A prayer of Habakkuk, for erroneous utterances.”(3:1) Habakkuk understood that if he was so bothered “O God, I have heard Your news of impending exile,” (3:2) how much more confusing would be the injustices Israel would experience in exile. He acknowledged how his questions damaged his relationship with God, and wondered, how would Israel be able to maintain any relationship when bombarded with the confusion of exile.
Habakkuk wanted to help all of us reattach to the Revelation at Sinai and its perspective and clarity, in order to help us survive the long nightmare of exile.
“But as for me; in God I will rejoice;
I will exult in the Lord of my salvation. God, the Lord, My Master, is my strength.
He makes my legs as swift as harts;
And He leads me upon my high places.
To the conductor, for accompaniment with my songs.” (3:18-19)
Habakkuk acknowledges God as the Conductor of History, waiting to be accompanied by our songs of love and praise, echoes of the sounds of Sinai.