Introduction to Chavakuk
The Zohar writes that Chavakuk was the son of the Shunamis lady who hosted Elisha. In fact, Chavakuk was the son who Elisha promised she would give birth to, and when he died, Elisha brought him back to life. Chavakuk was a prophet in the days of Yehoram ben Achav (just less than 300 years before the destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash). The Seder Olam argues and lists Chavakuk during the times of Menashe ben Chizkiya (some 200 years later), arguing that Chavakuk was a student of Nachum. Indeed, the Abarbanel even cites (but disagrees with) an opinion that Chavakuk lived in the days of Daniel (after the exile and destruction of the first Beis Hamikdash), and that it was Chavakuk who gave food to Daniel in the lion’s den.
Perek 1: Chavakuk asked Hashem why his prayers that Bnei Yisrael should be saved from oppression were not being answered (Radak). Chavakuk could not comprehend how the wicked (i.e. Nevuchadnetzar and Bavel) were able to fulfill their evil ambitions unhindered (Rashi). He argued that because wickedness was not punished publicly, Bnei Yisrael were no longer as committed to Torah and mitzvos (Radak). Chavakuk warned Bnei Yisrael that Hashem will allow Bavel to attack them brutally; nothing will be able to stand in Bavel’s way. However, Nevuchadnetzar will praise his god for his success, rather than Hashem. Chavakuk pleaded with Hashem to save Bnei Yisrael from their designated suffering as, although they had sinned, they were still more righteous than Bavel (Ri Kara). Chavakuk claimed that Hashem surrendered humanity to the ever expanding Babylonian empire, an empire that had swallowed countless nations almost effortlessly (Rashi). Bavel would celebrate their succeses with sacrifices to their idols, so Chavakuk called on Hashem to repay them for their actions.
The Haftara for the second day of Shavuos (in Chutz l’aretz) is from Chavakuk 2:21 – 3:19
Chavakuk wrote the following prophecy upon tablets, and placed it where it could be seen clearly by the Babylonian soldiers beseiging Yerushalayim. Hashem answered Chavakuk’s question as to why the wicked prosper and revealed that the success of the wicked will not last (see Radak 2:3), and even the punishments of the righteous are diluted with drops of mercy. Thus, the Jews who were exiled to Bavel and did not engage in idolatry were left unharmed when Koresh plundered Bavel (Radak 2:4). ‘A righteous man lives by his faith’ – and that alone allows him to escape suffering (see Radak 2:4). Nevuchadnetzar had always pursued ever greater objectives, and was never content with his achievements (Rashi), but righteous people ascribe their success to Hashem’s assistance and therefore, they feel fulfilled (Metzudas David). Chavakuk described Nevuchadnetzar as a “drunken traitor” (Radak) and as someone who seizes property that does not belong to him; as a result he will not own it permanantly (Rashi). Chavakuk prophesied that the kings of Paras and Madai will annihilate Bavel and exile them from their land. This will be retribution for “Building a city with bloodshed and completing a city with sin”, for Bavel was built through illegitimate means, and thus, the entire empire deserved to be destroyed (Malbim). Nevuchadnetzar would intoxicate the kings in his captivity and abuse them (Rashi), and he would rely upon useless, inanimate idols. Hashem, however, is all powerful, and from “the Holy of Holies”(the ‘seat’ of his power) he rules the entire world. Moreover, knowledge of Hashem will become widespread.
Perek 3: Written in the style of Tehillim, this prayer/song mourns the travails Klal Yisrael will face in exile, whilst extolling the miracles Hashem has wrought for us. Chavakuk offers the prayer that Hashem should continue to shower us with such kindness and miracles during this exile and in the war of Gog and Magog (Radak 3:1). Chavakuk begged forgiveness for criticizing G-d for not wiping out Bavel, and he beseeched Hashem to allow Bnei Yisrael to endure Galus and to exclude them when He deals with the other nations (Rashi). Chavakuk related that at Har Sinai, Hashem revealed His glory and power with fiery angels (Rashi), Hashem punished Bnei Yisrael with “pestilence” and different punishments when they ignored Him (Radak) and Hashem destroyed “eternal mountains” (i.e. powerful leaders) and proved that He runs the world (Rashi). Chavakuk emphasized that throughout history, Hashem brings suffering upon Bnei Yisrael when they sin, but rewards them when they are righteous. (Abarbanel). In the battle of Gog and Magog, Hashem will confound His enemies and cause them to strike one another; Hashem will lead Bnei Yisrael’s military effort (Radak). Chavakuk trembled at the thought of the torment Bnei Yisrael would undergo in this battle. However, Chavakuk related that although many nations will unite against Bnei Yisrael, they will be unsuccessful as Hashem is more than a worthy substitute for mighty calvary (Metzudas David).