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Friday, April 02, 2010

Shabbat Pessach – The Dry Bones

לכן הנבא ואמרת אליהם… הנה אני פותח את קברותיכם והעליתי אתכם מקברותיכם עמי, והבאתי אתכם אל אדמת ישראל

(יחזקאל לז, יב)

On both shabbatot of Chol HaMoed Sukkot and Pessach we read the same Torah portion, but the Haftarot – although from adjacent chapters in Yechezkel - are different. On Sukkot we read about the battle of the end of the days, Gog and Magog (chapter 38). On Pessach we read about the prophecy of the resurrection of the dry bones (chapter 37).

The Haftarah is not the only difference. As is customary in many communities, a Megillah is read on this shabbat. On Sukkot, it is Kohelet; on Pessach it is Shir HaShirim. In the days of the temple, there was also a difference in the number of bull sacrifices offered during the holiday: 70 in total during Sukkot (13 on the first day, going down to 7 on the last); but only 2 per day during Pessach.

These differences all symbolise the difference between the two holidays. Whilst Sukkot is a universal holiday, Pessach is a particular holiday. During Sukkot, all nations came to the temple in Jerusalem and the 70 sacrifices symbolised the 70 nations of the world. So the story of Gog and Magog applies to the entire world, and Kohelet’s wisdom is one that is universal. But Pessach is a Jewish holiday, the one commemorating the moment when Israel became a nation. Thus the sacrifices symbolise the daily, regular, sacrifice of the Jews, and Shir HaShirim tells the story (allegorically) of the love between God and His people.

So what do we learn from the story of the dry bones? The prophet Yechezkel is shown a valley full of dry bones and then God resurrects the dead and the bones come together and become living humans again. Then God promises this is what will happen to the People of Israel, who are now scattered among nations and are like dry bones with no hope. God’s promise is that they will be “resurrected” and brought to the Land of Israel:

Therefore prophesy, and say unto them… 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.

Who did these dry bones belong to? The Talmud (Sanhedrin 92:), the sages tell us these were people from the tribe of Ephraim, who had made a miscalculation. God promised Avraham that his descendants will be slaves in Egypt for 400 years and will then be brought out possessing great wealth. The count of the 400 years began on the day Yitzchak was born, 30 years after the promise, but the people of Ephraim thought it began on the day of the promise (during Brit ben HaBetarim). So they left Egypt 30 years too early and were killed in the desert by Philistines.

There are two opinions in the Talmud about what happened in the resurrection of the dry bones. R. Eliezer says the dead rose up, sang praise to God, and died again. R. Eliever son of R. Yossi says that they stayed alive, moved to Israel, married and had sons and daughters. These two opinions reflect different attitudes of the Midrashim to these Ephraimites. Some viewed them as bad people, who did not keep the Mitzvot and rebelled against the leadership by leaving Egypt too soon. Thus, their resurrection was a temporary one, merely to symbolise the future redemption of the exiled Jews, and then they died again. But others viewed them as courageous people whose immense love for the Land of Israel drove them to take a huge risk by escaping from Egypt and trying to cross the desert alone, to reach the Promised Land. Thus, they were rewarded by being resurrected and moving to Israel, where they prospered.

The second, positive, interpretation of the dry bones prophecy is supported by the testimony given by R. Yehuda ben Betera in the same Talmud portion. Upon hearing the discussion between the sages about these Ephraimites, he stood up and said that he is a descendant of these people, and he is in possession of a pair of Teffilin that his grandfather, one of the resurrected, gave him.

This testimony teaches us a lesson of hope. Even though the Ephraimites might have been hard-headed fools who disregarded the common view and the leadership, and were punished by dying in the desert, their offspring ended up as sages living in Eretz Israel and fulfilling the will of God. Through the misdirected adventure of the grandfather emerged a Tana like R. Yehuda ben Betera. One may make an analogy to our day and age, to those brave souls who were “foolish” enough not to heed the call of the European rabbis to stay put and left for Israel/Palestine, thus saving themselves from annihilation in the Holocaust.

1 comment:

Yam Erez said...

I found this quite interesting.