Pesach: Dry Bones Reconnected

Copyright 2011 Neal Joseph Loevinger

Torah Portion: Pesach

We’re in the middle of the Pesach [Passover] holiday, and you know what that
means (all matzah jokes will be disregarded at this point) – that’s
right, it’s time for the “dry bones” to get reconnected in the vision
of the prophet Yechezkel, or Ezekiel, as we know him in these parts.
I’m referring to the haftarah, or prophetic reading, that the ancient
rabbis chose for the Shabbat which falls during Pesach, which comes
from the teachings of the aforementioned prophet, Yechezkel, who
preached to the Jewish community in exile in Babylonia sometime after
597 B.C.E. In this passage, from chapter 37, Yechezkel is taken,
perhaps in a vision, to a “valley of dry bones,” where God asks him if
the bones can live again.

It’s a rhetorical question, given Who is asking it! God tells
Yechezkel to make a prophesy that the bones will live again, and lo
and behold, the bones get reattached to each other and are resurrected
to life while the prophet looks on in amazement. Again, it’s not clear
whether we are supposed to understand this as a vision or dream, or
whether the Bible wants us to believe this literally, but in either
event, the text tells us what the event is supposed to mean. In verse
11, God tells Yechezkel that the revived bones represent the “House of
Israel,” which will be released from its grave to live again- that is,
released from exile and brought back into the land of Israel to live
again as a nation.

OK, so far, so good, and it’s not that hard to connect a prophesy of
national salvation with Pesach, since we tell the story of the Exodus
from Egypt in order to strengthen our faith in future miracles of
liberation and freedom. Yet the Bible is full of passages and
prophesies which speak of hope for the messianic age, so there had to
be some reason why this particular text, with its fantastic images of
skeletons coming to life, was chosen as part of the overall set of
Pesach texts and teachings.

One answer from classic rabbinic theology is the idea of “techiat
hametim,” or “revival of the dead,” which has been understood to be
part of the hoped-for messianic age. In our day, many interpret this
idea metaphorically: that no matter how “deadened” one’s senses or
spirit is, and thereby alienated from from God, nature, or the human
community, one can always “come alive” through prayer, study, and acts
of loving-kindness. This widens the metaphor of the “dry bones” from
the life of the nation to the life of a person. This, in turn, fits
well with a similar widening in the meaning of the Pesach symbols,
from a story of national enslavement to a more personal narrative of
being freed from whatever is our individual bondage or “narrow place.”

So coming back to the valley of dry bones, perhaps we
can understand this image as complementing the story
of the Exodus from Egypt and reinforcing our faith
that when one seeks a “revived” life, no spiritual “hibernation” (it’s
springtime, after all) is too great to overcome. Even when our low
places may be as low as a valley of dry bones in their
graves, the Divine Presence can bring true life,
through a life of connection and service.

You might notice that the image of the bones coming to
life is itself a visual metaphor of connecting, which
is itself part of the path to spiritual healing. In other
words, both the Exodus and Yechezkel’s vision teach us
different aspects of the same truth – that renewal,
healing, and restoration to the fullness of
life are miracles which are present and possible for each of us, not
only at this time of year, but anytime we reconnect with hope and
love, practiced with community and in the Divine Presence.

Shabbat Shalom, and Hag Sameach [Happy holiday],


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