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Ezekiel and Resurrection of the Dead

One of the most powerful and famous prophecies in the Bible was read in today’s Haftorah—chapter 37 of the Book of Ezekiel, the prophecy of the Valley of the Dry Bones. In this chapter, Gd lifts Ezekiel and carries him to a valley filled with human remains, a valley of “many dry bones,” as the text puts it. Let me share some of it with you:

          Gd asks Ezekiel, “Son of man, can these bones live?”

          Ezekiel responds, “O Lrd, You alone know.” In other words, “I don’t know. Is this a riddle?” Gd often speaks to His prophets in riddles.

          Gd commands Ezekiel to speak to the bones and to tell them that a spirit will enter them and they will come back to life with flesh and sinews…and skin will grow back on the bones. And life and the spirit and the soul will return.

          Ezekiel does as he’s told, “and, behold, there arose a noise, the bones were coming together—bone to bone. Then I looked up and saw, sinews were upon them, flesh came upon them and skin covered them from above, but there still was no spirit in them.”

          And Gd said to Ezekiel, “Prophecy, O son of man, and say to the spirit, ‘So says the Lrd, Gd: ‘From 4 directions come, O spirit, and breathe into these slain ones so that they may live.”     

          Ezekiel did as he was command and he commanded these now whole bodies without spirit within them that spirit should come into them. And suddenly, it is written, “the spirit entered them and they lived and they stood upon their feet—a very vast army of people!”

          And Gd said, “These bones are all the House of Israel. ‘Behold,’ they say, ‘Our bones have dried and our hope is lost. We are doomed…Behold, I open your graves and I raise you from your graves as My people…and I will put My spirit into you and you shall live, and I will set you upon your land, the Land of Israel. Then you shall know that I, Gd have spoken and done it.”        

This is such a powerful passage that whoever reads it is instantly struck by it, even if he’s not so sure of its meaning. If you google “Valley of the Dry Bones,” you’ll get more than 2 million sites because every clergy from every religion has something to say about Ezekiel’s vision. What’s Ezekiel talking about here? What’s the message? There is undoubtedly a deep prophecy, something powerful, something even other-worldly taking place. Perhaps we can look into this passage and see how Gd and Ezekiel are speaking to us today.

On the simplest level it was a message to the Jewish people Ezekiel was prophesizing to who had just about given up hope after being taken captive by Babylonia and taken off their land. The message was that you—the People of Israel—will be reborn as a nation and restored to your land. And so we read this prophecy on Passover for it speaks of the hope for a future redemption.

On a deeper level, this passage is the source for one of the 3 foundational beliefs in Judaism—the Resurrection of the Dead. The other 2 are that there is a Gd and that He gave us the Torah (Mishnah Sanhedrin 10:1). What is this concept of the Resurrection of the Dead? Would I shock you if I told you that belief in the Revival of the Dead is the foundation upon which all other core Jewish beliefs stand? It is because without it, belief withers and falls away. This may sound very strange, especially since there are so many Jews today who don’t have a strong belief in this concept. In fact, how often do you hear Jews talking about resurrection? How many sermons have you ever heard about resurrection? For some, this may seem a foreign belief, others simply may not have given it much thought. So how can this be the foundational Jewish belief?

To begin with, on one level, Revival of the Dead is not necessarily a future occurrence. It can happen here in this world. Gd has the power to revive the “living dead.” Let’s get back to that in a moment. 

The deeper meaning of the Revival of the Dead is that Gd is always fair—Gd must be fair, even if we cannot see it at times. If one believes that Gd is not ultimately fair, then one cannot sustain one’s faith. One will inevitably question whether Gd, Who promised to reward us for living a good life, keeps His word. And one may eventually come to the conclusion then…that there is no Gd!

So if life is unfair to us, then Gd has to make it up to us—if not in this lifetime, then in the next or at the End of Days when the Messiah comes and, as Ezekiel teaches, we will be restored to life. And it will be not just a life—but an amazing utopia kind of life—lived in the Days of the Messiah.

There are all kinds of questions you can ask about T’chiyat haMeytim, “Revival of the Dead,” such as: If you have been reincarnated several times and, therefore, have lived more than one life, which one of you comes back, which body will you have? If your wife died and you remarry, do you come back with wife #1 or #2? And what about having 2 mothers-in-law, will that be paradise on earth? What happens with someone who was blind, or deaf, or who suffered another physical impairment, does he/she come back healed? Will we still have to observe all the mitzvot? 

Some of these questions have been answered. Defects, for example, will no longer exist. At what age do we come back? One opinion is we come back in the full vim, vigor and vitality of youth while another opinion is we come back in the age in which we died, but we will not be infirm. The Zohar teaches that every deserving body will be resurrected, no matter how many times it was reincarnated. Each body will have a nitzutz, a spark of its original soul.

For the answers to all these questions, however, we will have to wait until the Messiah comes to tell us. But even though we cannot now answer all the questions, I share this belief with you today so that you will know that, no matter how hard life may be for you, Gd is ultimately fair and will take care of you. Even if you can’t wrap your head around the whole concept of Resurrection of the Dead, what is crucial is to understand the principle that Gd is ultimately fair and will take care of you.

Let’s get back to concept of the Revival of the Dead in our world—how Gd has the power to revive the “living dead.” Who are the “living dead?” These are people who have given up on life because their lives have not gone well or because they just feel their lives are worthless and that they are worthless. They may have heard but have not accepted the idea they, too, are an image of Gd! And to quote that great philosopher, Snoopy: “God don’t make no junk!”

There are times in our lives when we feel so very low. Let me suggest that when this happens we should pour out our hearts in prayer to Gd and not be so attached to the outcome—the way we want Gd to answer our prayers. If we will only open our hearts to receive Gd’s answers—what He thinks is best for us—then Gd will then release the reservoir of holy potential lying dormant and blocked within us. We can thus literally experience a personal resurrection! We have all seen people change their lives by so renewing their attachment to Gd.

Perhaps there’s some area of your life that you would describe as being stuck in a Valley of Dry Bones. Maybe you have even scoffed at the idea that these bones could ever live again. Maybe it’s your marriage that’s shaky, your job that’s not secure, your debt that you can’t catch up with, your dream that remains unfulfilled, your family that’s becoming more distant, your relationships that have soured or your health that has issues. Can these dry bones live? As Ezekiel said when he was asked, “Only You know Gd.” Nothing is impossible for You, O Gd. Gd can repair your marriage, secure your job, help you catch up on that debt, fulfill your dream, restore your family, strengthen your relationships and heal your health issues. Nothing is impossible for You, O Gd.

Gd and Ezekiel’s message to us today is that if Gd can restore spirit to human remains in a Valley of Dry Bones so that they live again, He can restore spirit to every aspect of your life. So if you feel like you’re living, stuck in a Valley of Dry Bones, open up you heart and your soul to receive the Ruach Hakodesh, the Holy Spirit of Gd and never lose hope. The words of Gd in this vision of Ezekiel are for you. Amen!

                                                Rabbi Mark Hillel Kunis


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