Shabbat Hol Hamoed Pesach
April 10, 2004
The Sages chose Ezekiel’s well known vision of the dry bones as the haftarah for Shabbat Hol Homoed Pesach because it reflects God’s redemptive power in the world. The resurrected bones in Ezekiel’s vision were intended to be a parable for the redemption and reestablishment of the Jewish nation in its homeland. It was meant to attest to the people that their cause was not hopeless. God would help them achieve that which seemed to them unimaginable. Ezekiel’s vision also became identified with redemption of another sort. In the rabbinic tradition, the vision of the dry bones was associated with the idea of the physical resurrection of the dead. The vision was seen not only as a parable for the renewal of an exiled people but also as actual proof that when the final redemption takes place God will literally resurrect the dead in bodily form.
Ezekiel’s vision was so palpable for the sages that it was used as proof for the manner in which this resurrection will take place: The House of Shammai said: “The formation of human beings in this world is different than the way they will be formed in the world to come. In this world, God begins by forming the skin and the flesh and finishes their formation with the tendons and the bones. In the world to come, however, God will begin with the tendons and bones and then finish off their formation with the skin and flesh, for this is what it says [with regard to] the dead of Ezekiel: ‘I looked and there were sinews on them [the bones], and flesh had grown, and skin had formed over them…\’” (Ezekiel 37:8) Rabbi Jonathon ( a later sage) said: “One cannot use Ezekiel’s dead as an example to deduce an answer on this question [since their bones already existed]. Ezekiel’s dead can be compared to someone preparing to take a bath – first he removes his outer clothing and then his underclothing and when he dresses he puts on underclothing first and then his clothes.” The House of Hillel [which was often at odds with the House of Shammai] said: “The formation of people in this world is exactly like it will be in the world to come – first the skin and flesh and then the tendons and bones, as we note from a verse in the book of Job: ‘Have You [God] not poured me out like milk and curdled me like cheese? You have clothed me with skin and flesh and knit me together with bones and sinews.” (Job 10:10-11) (adapted from Genesis Rabbah 14:5)
This debate, which seems antiquated today, was based on the two important sources of wisdom available to our sages of the past – Scripture and common sense. What is common to both parties in this debate is something left unsaid but must be underscored. These sages debated how people will be formed in the world to come because they believe that people are made up of both body and soul. They cannot imagine a separation between these two things. This differed from other ancient philosophies which stressed the importance of either the body (Epicurians) or the soul (Stoics) and lived their lives accordingly as either hedonists or ascetics. The sages rejected these two extremes and argued for an approach which was concerned with the whole human being, both body and soul. Jewish religious life reflects this attitude. It also explains why the rabbis were so adamant in their belief in resurrection. We continue to be blessed with their discernment.
This study piece is offered as a service of the United Synagogue Conservative Yeshiva. It is prepared by Rabbi Mordechai (Mitchell) Silverstein, senior lecturer in Talmud and Midrash at the Conservative Yeshiva. He is a graduate of the Jewish Theological Seminary of America.
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