Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach by Yedida Eisenstat
“Spring, Ezekiel and the National Renewal: Will These Bones Live?”
The prophetic book of Ezekiel, containing prophecies delivered both before and after the destruction of the first Temple in Jerusalem in 586 BCE, contains many very dramatic images. One of the most well known of which is the image of the “Valley of the Dry Bones” read as the haftara of the Sabbath of the intervening days of Passover,found in Ezekiel 37:1-14 – this past Shabbat.
Why though is this prophecy of the divine promise of national renewal, which takes the image of the prophet prophesying over a valley full of dry bones that then snap back together and grow sinews, flesh, skin, and then are ultimately infused with the spirit of life, read on the Sabbath of Passover? The answer commonly offered to this question is that this prophecy of national renewal is appropriate for the season of natural renewal. As the earth renews herself, so now is a time for Israel to renew herself as well.
This question of why this text is read specifically on this Shabbat is not discussed in the Talmud in Tractate Megillah, where we are told that this is the tradition and where such matters are discussed (Megillah 31a). So while this suggestion of analogous natural and national renewal is likely, I’d like to complicate it by mixing in another element – hope and its renewal.
In Ezekiel 37:11, towards the end of this prophecy, God explains the metaphorical image of the renewal of the dry bones to Ezekiel. He explains that they represent all of Israel, who have lost their hope and are saying amongst themselves, “Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone; we are doomed.” The bones described in the earlier pre-explanation part of the prophecy are emphatically dry (cf. Verses 2, and 4). The prophecy takes on the image that it does because of this saying among the people, that their bones are dry.
Thus the message of this prophecy is one of hope and of national renewal. But why in the Spring? As the sun comes back out and everything is budding and blooming, there is a change of energy in us, a new anticipation and excitement about what the coming months may bring, of hope.
The reading of this prophecy therefore is also about an infusion of hope, of God telling Israel, “Hey, you’ve lost hope? I’m going to infuse you with new life!” Let us read this text along with the Spring renewal as a challenge to ourselves, What can we do with our new energy? How do we take it forward?