Shabbat Chol HaMo’ed Pesach 5784

The Haftarah for Shabbat Chol HaMo’ed Pesach is taken from the Book of Ezekiel and contains the prophecy that is more widely known as “Valley of the Dry Bones.”

Ezekiel recalls; “God’s hand came upon me. I was taken out by the spirit of God and set down in the valley. It was full of bones” (Ezekiel 37:1). In the verses that follow, Ezekiel interacts with God in the prophecy where Ezekiel is instructed to prophesy over the resurrection of those bones to come together bone to matching bone, followed by the growing of sinew, flesh and skin. Even though the bodies had been fully formed, they still had no breath.

It is then that Ezekiel receives further instruction; “Then God said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, O mortal! Say to the breath: Thus said the Sovereign God: Come, O breath, from the four winds, and breathe into these slain, that they may live again’. I prophesied as I was commanded. The breath entered them, and they came to life and stood up on their feet, a vast multitude” (Ezekiel 37:9-10).

The vision experienced by Ezekiel is one of the key foundations for the idea of the resurrection of the dead in the world to come (Olam HaBah). It is this eternal redemption of the people that Ezekiel prophesies that inspired our Sages to include his prophecy as the Haftarah read on the Shabbat during Pesach.

A central theme of our Pesach Sedarim is the redemption of the Israelites. Our texts teach us, “Avadim Hayinu – We were slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt, but Adonai our God brought us forth with a mighty hand and an outstretched arm” (Haggadah for Pesach).

This text links God’s direct involvement in this redemption to that which is described in the Haftarah. Just as God set us free from slavery in Egypt, God also caused the bones to gather together, for the sinew, flesh and skin to appear on the bones, thereby making the bodies whole again. The final act of the resurrection of the bones in the Haftarah is the reintroduction of the life force itself – breath. Without breath, the bodies simply existed, albeit in a completed state. By giving breath to these resurrected bodies, they were transformed from simply existing to actually living; they could once again function fully and connect with other living beings.

This would also mean that these resurrected bodies could fulfil the purpose outlined in the Torah and of which we are reminded each and every Pesach – that we were freed from slavery in order to serve God. Our redemption from slavery to freedom is not simply an act of mercy and independence, it is a liberation from the hardship and restrictions our ancestors endured in slavery in Egypt so that we could live fulfilled and purposeful lives the way God had intended when Adonai instructed Moses to go and tell Pharaoh to let God’s people go, so that they may serve God.

It has become our duty to support that goal by living a life where we act responsibly, where we lead by example and where we must be that breath that transforms existence into living, and service through purpose.

Mo’adim L’Simcha and Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Sam Zwarenstein

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