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VCU Menorah Review Summer/Fall 2010
Number 73
For the Enrichment of Jewish Thought

An Interpretation of the Valley of Bones (Ezekiel 37:1-14)

By Elihu Gevirtz

The hand of YHWH came upon me. I thought I was alone, but God found me and placed his hand on me, telling me he was going to take me on a journey. He took me out by the spirit of YHWH and set me down in the valley. I was lifted up on eagle’s wings by the spirit of YHWH and he set me down in the wilderness, where there was nothing familiar. It was full of bones. These were the bones of my grandparents’ town; Volchin was its’ name, in Belarus. The last remaining Jews of Volchin were rounded up by the Nazis one day in the month of Elul, 1942 and shot to death, one at a time, all five hundred of them. Babies murdered in front of their parents to add to the cruelty. And for this I created you? He led me all around them; there were very many of them spread over the valley, and they were very dry. YHWH was crying, tears running down the cheeks of HaShem, quietly weeping for his murdered children.

He said to me, O mortal, can these bones live again? I, trembling and stammering, replied, Oh YHWH, you who are infinite, unknowable, beyond what this mortal can understand, God, you to whom I whisper my most intimate prayers, only You know.

And He said to me, not Ezekiel, not Isaiah, not Micah, but you oh modern mortal, Prophesy, Prophesy over these bones and say to them: O dry bones, bones of your cousins, your aunts and your uncles, and the teachers and caretakers of your grandparents when they were young, hear the word of YHWH! Thus said YHWH God to these bones: I will cause breath, the same ruach, the same spirit that blew over the surface of the waters at the beginning of time, and the same breath that I breathed into the first human, Adam Kadmon, to enter you, you - bones, that once supported, carried, and moved human flesh through my created world, and you shall live again. You shall live again.

I will lay sinews upon you, and cover you with flesh, and form skin over you. And I will put breath into you, and I will say the Kaddish for you, and your soul shall thus be elevated, and you shall live again and your soul shall be set free. You shall live in the memory of the Jewish people everywhere, and you shall live in the memory of the murderers and their children and their children’s children for generations, and they shall remember what is reaped from the seeds of hatred that are sewn by dishonor.

And you shall know that I am YHWH the eternal, unknowable one. And you shall know that though you died a cruel death, that your souls live on, engaged in the matter of living, of engaging, of wrestling with the will to do goodness and of temptation to do otherwise. And you shall know that you have a job to do – to speak to us – the living. Whisper to us when we are lost and confused – whisper to us when we have nowhere to turn, no elder to ask – and guide us, show us the way toward righteousness. When we are angry, help us to choose kindness. When something isn’t right, help us to be generous. When, we think we’re right, help us to seek the truth, and when we are in power, help us to provide justice to all those within our borders.

I prophesied as I had been commanded. And while I was prophesying, suddenly there was a sound of rattling, and the bones came together, bone to matching bone. Each person’s bones were matched up to that person’s own bones. The elements of their structures were re-united. I looked, and there were sinews on them, and flesh had grown, and skin had formed over them; Just as I commanded Moses to tell the artisans to build an ark having three layers: a layer of pure gold on the inside, acacia wood in the middle, and a layer of pure gold on the outside; I endow upon you, an inner layer that moves through space by contracting and releasing, a middle substance, and an outer of respiring protection. but there was no breath in them.

Then He said to me, Prophesy to the breath, prophesy, O mortal! Say to the breath: Thus said YHWH God: Come, O breath, from the four winds, from each of the corners of the earth – the body of the divine -, each from a different sephira, emanating its own light toward these bodies, and breathe into these slain, that they may live again.? I prophesied as He commanded me. The breath entered them, and they came to life and stood up on their feet, a vast multitude. Nearly five hundred rose.

And He said to me, O mortal, these bones are the whole House of Israel. They say, Our bones are dried up, our hope is gone; we are doomed; doomed to being bound up in the earth in which we laid down. Our souls are bound to our end and cannot begin anew again. Say Kaddish for our souls so that we may be elevated and do our holy soul work. Prophesy, therefore, and say to them: Thus said YHWH God: I am going to open your graves and lift you out of the graves, O My people, and bring you to the land of Israel. Not just your souls, but your bodies too. You will return from despondency and death to your ancient homeland and life.

You shall know, O My people, that I am YHWH, when I have opened your graves and lifted you out of your graves. It’s reciprocal; God and Humanity - we need each other. I will put My breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil. There, in the land of milk and honey, you will fly from blossom to blossom. Then you shall know that I YHWH have spoken and have acted – declares YHWH. Then YHWH and his people will be re-united, and the milk and the honey will flow.

(The original text of Ezekiel is in standard font. The text that I’ve added is in italics.)

Elihu Gevirtz is a Rabbinic Student at the Academy for Jewish Religion – California

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