Habakkuk – Chapter 2

Carry a Beam Made of Mud

By Rabbi Jack Abramowitz

Habakkuk drew a circle on the ground and said to G-d, “I will not leave this place until you answer my question.” (This behavior was later emulated by Choni HaM’agel – “the circle-drawer” – as described in Taanis 23a.) Habakkuk was asking why the evil ones go unpunished and he was being derided by non-believers who claimed that Divine justice was anything but just. G-d replied to him in a vision and told Habakkuk to write it down on a tablet. He told Habakkuk that in his future, another prophet would receive a prophecy about the downfall of Babylonia and Israel’s salvation. Even though he may tarry, wait for him. (Sound familiar? It’s quoted by the Rambam – Maimonides – in the 13 Principles of Faith and paraphrased by the Ani Maamin, referring to Moshiach – the Messiah.)

The evil person is full of himself; he is never satisfied, but a righteous person lives by his faith in G-d. The arrogant one will not remain; he can never have enough to make himself happy, even though he collected all the other nations. (Rashi says this refers to Belshazzar, whom we will meet in the Book of Daniel.) All the people who were subjugated by Belshazzar will speak against him, saying that his wealth isn’t really his, since it will be carried off by conquering Medes. Gathering wealth is a futile activity, like carrying around a beam made of mud – burdensome but ultimately useless. The fate is the grave.(The Hebrew word “avtit” could mean “a beam of mud” or simply “thick mud.”)

Since the evil person drove people from their homes and plundered their lands, such will be done to him. Woe to the person who robs others to build himself a palace; his actions have sinned against his own life. (The Radak says this refers to Nebuchadnezzar.) The very stones and wood that Nebuchadnezzar plundered as building materials will metaphorically testify against him. (The Radak says this means that it was common knowledge that Babylonia was built up using materials stolen from conquered lands.)

Furthermore, woe to the person who builds their city on acts of violence. (This may refer to the Romans.) When all these evil nations meet their downfall, isn’t that from G-d? All their labors will be consumed and their efforts will have been for nothing. Everyone will recognize that this came from G-d. Woe to one who betrays his allies in order to take advantage of them; such people have more shame than honor. They will have it turned back on them by G-d. The violence done against Israel and the Temple will be their undoing. Their idols are useless. Woe to those who put their trust in wood and stone to save them. Such idols, even when covered with gold and silver are not alive. G-d, however, takes action, so the whole world should be in awe of Him.

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