The Haftorah of the first day of Shavuos is that of the Merkavah of Yechezkel,1 the vision of G‑d’s “Chariot” — the angels and spiritual entities — as described by the Prophet Yechezkel.2 We read the Merkavah of Yechezkel inasmuch as G‑d descended on Sinai accompanied by the glory of His Merkavah.3

Since the Haftorah is to resemble as closely as possible the events depicted in the Torah reading,4 it would seem more appropriate that the Haftorah be from the section of Chabakuk5 that describes the Giving of the Torah itself,6 rather than from Yechezkel’s description of the Divine retinue that accompanied G‑d at Matan Torah.

Even if we are to posit that the manifestation of the Merkavah was a central theme of Matan Torah, that G‑d was revealed in all His glory accompanied by the Merkavah, there seems to be yet another section of Prophets that is more appropriate — the Merkavah as depicted by Yeshayahu:7

For in this section of Yeshayahu the emphasis is on beholding G‑d Himself — “I saw the L‑rd sitting on an exalted and supernal throne” — while the ancillary aspect of the Merkavah is described much more briefly. This is entirely different from Yechezkel’s depiction, where the Merkavah is described in much greater detail and the depiction of G‑d in lesser detail.

Evidently, the Merkavah of Yechezkel is particularly relevant and more closely connected to the entire theme of Matan Torah, for which reason it was chosen over the section in Chabakuk and the Merkavah of Yeshayahu. Wherein lies its particular relevance?

The Gemara states8 with regard to the visions of the Merkavah by Yeshayahu and Yechezkel: “Whatever was seen by Yechezkel was also seen by Yeshayahu. Yechezkel is like a villager who beheld the king; Yeshayahu is similar to a city dweller who saw the king.”

That is to say, although their vision of the Merkavah was similar in the perceived details, Yechezkel stressed the details of the Merkavah while Yeshayahu mostly emphasized seeing the King Himself.

This corresponds to the difference between a villager who sees a king, or a dweller in the capital city: the latter, accustomed to the fanfare surrounding the king and having some understanding of the king’s greatness, is not overawed by the majesty of the king’s palace, retinue, and the like — his sole desire is to see the king himself.

The villager, however, has no understanding of the king’s greatness. When he witnesses all the pomp and majesty that surround the king, this arouses within him awe at the greatness of the king himself.

Herein lies the difference between Yeshayahu and Yechezkel. Yeshayahu’s prophecy was of the degree of the city dweller who knows the king himself so that the greatness of the king’s retinue is of minor import. Yechezkel’s primary prophecy and vision, however, was of the Merkavah itself, which through its similarity and likeness to the majesty of the king, led him thereby to some degree of knowledge and appreciation of the greatness of the King Himself.

Thus, the context of the Merkavah of Yechezkel is the theme that the images that are of a lower order bear some similarity to those matters and entities that exist above them, and from the lower order one can gain an appreciation of the higher orders.

This is why Yechezkel constantly mentions in his vision of the Merkavah the term “image” — “the ‘image’ of their faces,” “the ‘image’ of the Chayos,” etc.9 For the term “image” denotes that one is not seeing the thing itself, but merely its image.

This would be comparable to seeing the image of something in the mirror; that which one sees is merely a “mirror image” of the object itself. Yechezkel thus beheld that all things below were merely an “image” of things above.

Yeshayahu, however, did not see imagery. Rather, he saw “the L‑rd sitting on an exalted and supernal throne.”

The reason why the Shavuos Haftorah is the Merkavah of Yechezkel is now clear:

Matan Torah made possible that through our spiritual service we are able to cleave to G‑d and to draw down and “see” the spiritual root and source of each and every created being; it gave us the ability to perceive how the lower order of creation is but a vessel for and an “image” of the higher orders of spirituality.

This was epitomized by the Merkavah of Yechezkel where the emphasis was on the images beheld, as well as the lesson learned that beyond the images there are to be found much greater magnitudes of being, up to and including the King Himself.

Based on Likkutei Sichos, Vol. XXXIII, pp. 18-23.