Imagine a place that was full of life, happiness and action and which is now still. Silence settled from one end to the other over a place that was lively, happiness replaced by gloominess, the action by fear. Everything that remains are but a remanence of what has existed, and which will seemingly never again return. It is almost certain that from this imaginary place you cannot see any way out. This is also what the prophet Ezekiel describes in the Haftarah for the Shabbat of Passover.
“The hand of the Lord was upon me, and He brought me out by the Spirit of the Lord and set me down in the middle of the valley; and it was full of bones. He caused me to pass among them round about, and behold, there were very many on the surface of the valley; and lo, they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live’ And I answered, ‘O Lord God, You know.’” A place so desolate, the valley so dry, is it at all fathomable that life can exist there in the future?! Ezekiel is ordered to deliver a prophecy before that barren chasm of some odd future, “Behold, I will cause breath to enter you that you may come to life. I will put sinews on you, make flesh grow back on you, cover you with skin and put breath in you that you may come alive; and you will know that I am the Lord.”
Even in the days of the Talmud the scholars of the day argued if this was an event that actually happened in real life, or simply an allegory intended to lift up the spirit of the people, making them realize that they have to reunite, gather strength, and prepare for the day of their return to their homeland. The debate is so fierce that at one point we find that “Rabbi Yehuda ben Beteira stood on his feet and said: ‘I am a descendant of their sons, and these are phylacteries that my father’s father left me from them.’”
There is certainly a belief in Judaism that claims the resurrection of the dead from the word of the prophet. I would suggest that it is more a vision statement that is intended to motivate a people who were drained out of any ability to look into the future and gather strength for that future. Those who heard Ezekiel speak in those times may have had their spirits uplifted after hearing these words when in the tough and harsh realities of a forced diaspora. It could have revived the spirit of the people and encourage them towards the change that was necessary in order to return to Eretz Israel. Just to make sure, Ezekiel receives also an explanation, “Son of man, these bones are the whole house of Israel; behold, they say, ‘Our bones are dried up and our hope has perished. We are completely cut off.’ Therefore prophesy and say to them, ‘Thus says the Lord God, “Behold, I will open your graves and cause you to come up out of your graves, My people; and I will bring you into the land of Israel. Then you will know that I am the Lord, when I have opened your graves and caused you to come up out of your graves, My people. I will put My Spirit within you and you will come to life, and I will place you on your own land. Then you will know that I, the Lord, have spoken and done it,” declares the Lord.’”
The prophet Ezekiel is known to use allegories when he speaks and therefore it seems to me that this is also the case in this instance. When the vision is lost, the reference point that allows us to be guided towards it is lost and therefore we cannot navigate to where we want or need to get to. We may be considered good as dead. On the other hand, even when times are tough, and in our immediate vicinity there is only destruction, sorrow and death, we can still lift up our head identify the vision and follow it. It may be illusive but it enriches our souls, it strengthens us, makes us believe in a better future, and more importantly, makes us take action.
These days we find ourselves in this kind of valley. It is silent and isolated. A feeling that much has been destroyed. In this time it is also important to look at all the good that is happening around us. For the people who nurse an revive the sick, those who spend days and nights trying to find a cure for the deadly COVID-19, and those who are out there assisting those of great need. The vision is that of a better state and a better world, a world were cooperation that crosses boarders demonstrates that there is hope when such cooperation takes place. A world where it is profoundly understood that that which is wronged by one impacts many others. This time it is the coronavirus, but there are many other world issues that require landing hands the go beyond family and nation – it requires international handholding, that crosses borders, religions and faiths. It is in our hands to make it happen.
Passover is particularly conducive to make this happen as it speaks the language of personal freedom and personal responsibility. We also need the vision. A vision that can take the driest of bones and lead us to a watered garden.
Shabbat Shalom, a Happy Passover and wishes for good health to all.
Reuven Marko, 10 April 2020, 17 Nisan, 5780