A Marriage Made in Heaven (Habakkuk 2:1-19)

At first glance, the association of this haftarah with the festival of Shavuot seems strange. It is not connected with Shavuot from an agricultural vantage point, nor does it touch upon the theme of revelation which would tie it to Shavuot’s identity as the day on which God revealed the Torah to Israel. Instead, Habakkuk’s prophecy ostensibly serves as a prayer for Israel’s redemption from the oppressive hands of the Chaldeans. He prays for God to revive His redemptive powers and to show compassion for His people. Afterwards, he presents an exalted vision of God’s conquest over Israel’s enemies. This vision opens with the verse: “God is coming from Teman [the south], the Holy One from Paran [also the south]. His majesty covers the skies, His splendor fills the earth.” (3:3)

The rabbinic tradition radically transforms the meaning of this verse from its plain sense (pshat) noted above, turning it into an interpretive (midrashic) portrayal of the revelation of the Torah at Mount Sinai. It is this “rereading” which seals its relationship to Shavuot.

This is especially evident in the following midrash: “The Rabbis told [the following parable] – A king wanted to marry his daughter to someone in a foreign land. The citizens of his country said to the king: ‘O king, better that your daughter stay near you in the kingdom.’ The king replied: ‘What’s bothering you?’ They answered: ‘You might visit her and decide to live near her in the other kingdom [and we will be left without our beloved king]. The king replied; ‘Nevertheless, I will marry my daughter to someone from another kingdom, but I promise you that I will not leave you.’ So too, when God decided to give the Torah to [the children of] Israel, the angels said to Him: ‘Master of the Universe, whose glory [the Torah] is in the heavens (see Psalms 8:2). Wouldn’t it be better for the Torah stay in heaven?’ God asked them: ‘What’s bothering you?’ They responded: ‘Perhaps, tomorrow You will cause the Shechinah [Your Divine Presence] to dwell in the world [together with Your beloved Torah, leaving the heavens without Your presence].’  God replied: ‘I intend to give My Torah to those who dwell in the world, but I will remain in the heavens. I will give my daughter [the Torah] together with her ketubah – her wedding contract [Israel’s guarantee to observe the Torah] – to the children of Israel, [who dwell in the world] so that she [the Torah] will be honored together by her husband [the children of Israel]  for her beauty and for her loveliness, for she is the king’s daughter and they will honor her [for that reason], but I [God] will continue to dwell with you in the heavens.’ Who explained this best? The prophet Habakkuk, as it is written: ‘His [God’s] glory remains in the heavens, but His praise [the Torah] fills the earth” (3:3) [see above for its simple translation] (adapted from Song of Songs Rabbah 8:11:2)

It is God’s intention that both the heavens and the earth share His influence. The Torah (His daughter) and those who observe it (the Children of Israel) are His means to transform the “earthly” world into “heaven on earth”. Shavuot, then, is the celebration of the beginning of this mission – a holiday meant to bring the inspiration of God’s presence into the everyday lives of those living in the realm of the mundane and to proclaim God’s kingdom on earth.

About the Author
Mordechai Silverstein is a teacher of Torah who has lived in Jerusalem for over 30 years.
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