Shabbat Hol Hamoed Pesach
April 11, 2009
17 Nisan 5769
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesah (Ezekiel 37:1-14)
Does the meaning of Scripture change over time? Is it possible for the message of a prophet to contain meaning that could not have been conceived of by the prophet himself? These are religiously loaded questions. A simple answer to this question would suggest that the meaning of the prophet\’s message depends on two participants, the prophet and the listener or reader. The first party remains a constant but the second party will perpetually change.
This Shabbat we read Ezekiel\’s famous parable of the \”dry bones\” which God will miraculously return to life. (verses 1-11) In verses 12-14, Ezekiel interprets the vision as a religious/political message. His intent was to give his exilic community hope that their fate in exile would not be interminable, that their yearnings to return home would be realized. He portrayed in the dry bones a situation which, on the face of things, seemed hopeless, but which God, in His immutable power, could rectify. His was a message to defeat despair and to deepen the people\’s faith in God\’s restorative and redemptive power. This is the message which ties this parable to the season of Pesah.
Was the parable intended to be taken literally or simply as a lead for its political interpretation? This is a hard question to answer. What is clear is that later generations took the parable literally – also in a redemptive vain but set in a different, distant time with a different frame of reference. This interpretation is evident not only in the opinions of some of the Talmudic sages but even earlier as we find in a fragmentary rewriting of the Ezekiel prophecy from the 2nd century BCE, found among the Dead Sea Scrolls: \”For I, the Lord, am the Redeemer of My people to give them a covenant. And he [Ezekiel] said: \’Lord, I see many among Israel that love your name and walk in the ways of Your heart and [yet] these will die. When will their kindness be repaid?\’ The Lord said to me: \’I will show the children of Israel and they will know that I am the Lord.\’ And He said: \’Son of man, prophesy regarding the bones and you shall say: Bone to bone, limb to limb and it will be so.\’ And He again said: \’Prophesy again and sinews should form upon the bones and flesh cover them and it shall be so…. When shall all of this occur? The Lord answered me: \’At the end of time…\’ (4q385 – pseudo-Ezekiel fragment 2) (See R. Kasher, Ezekiel, Mikra L\’Yisrael, pp. 720-1)
What is apparent from this fragment is that very early on in the reading of this prophecy our ancestors sought in it both consolation and hope on a political and on a spiritual plane. What they expected of God included not only the hope of political redemption, but also rescue from the finitude of mortality. Our aspirations, as moderns, are no different. These same trepidations seem to be a human constant. Pesah, the festival of our redemption, mirrors these concerns.
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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