Rabbi Arthur Waskow
Dry Bones: Ezekiel 37
Haftarah for Shabbat Chol Hamoed, Pesach
Can These Bones Live?
translated by Rabbi Arthur Waskow
The hand of YHWH, the Breath of Life, was on me,
And in a rushing-breath YHWH brought me forth
and set me in the center of a valley -
Full of bones!
- And led me all around them, all around.
Here! - Very many on the face of the valley,
and here! - utterly dry.
And said to me;
"Child of Adam, earthling, can these bones live?"
I said - "Pillar of the World, Breath of Life -
You know-it-in-your-heart, and only you."
Then God said to me,
"Prophesy upon these bones!
Say to them,
Hear the word of the One Who breathes all life!
Thus speaks the Pillar of the World, the Breath of Life, to these bones:
"Here! - I will cause breath to enter you, and you shall live.
I will weave muscles on you,
and raise flesh upon you,
and form skin on you,
I will give you breath,
And you shall live!
And so you will deeply know that I am YHWH,
the Breath of Life."'"
So I prophesied as I was commanded.
And while I was prophesying,
there came a voice, and - here! a commotion! -
and the bones came together,
bone to bone.
And I saw - here! - upon them muscles;
Flesh arose, skin covered them;
But there was no breath in them.
Then God said,
"Prophesy to the rushing-breath-of-wind -
Prophesy, you child of earth! -
and say to the breathing-wind -
Thus says the Pillar of the World, the Breath of Life -
From the four breathing-winds come, O breath,
And puff upon these slain, that they shall live."
So I prophesied as God commanded me,
and the breath blew into them.
They lived, and stood upon their feet,
An overwhelming, overwhelming vast array of strength.
Then God said to me,
"Child of earth,
These bones are the whole house of Israel.
Here! - they say,
'Dried up - our bones,
Shattered - our hopes,
Cut off - our roots.'
So prophesy and say to them,
'Thus speaks the Pillar of the World, the Breath of Life:
"Here! - I will open your graves,
and rouse you from your graves,
And I will bring you to the earth of Israel.
And you shall know-deep-in-your-heart
that I am YHWH, the Breath of Life,
when I have opened your graves,
and roused you from your graves,
And I will put my breath within you,
and you shall live,
and I will place you on your own earth,
and you shall know-deep-in-your-heart
that I the Breath of Life have spoken,
and made it happen -
proclaims the Breath of Life."'"
- Ezekiel 37: Haftarah for Shabbat in the midst of Pesach
I have retranslated the Ezekiel passage to pick up the key-words, the word-plays, and the breathing patterns of the Hebrew, in the fashion I learned from Everett Fox's transformative translation of The Five Books of Moses, an approach that he learned from Martin Buber and Franz Rosenzweig in their translation of the Hebrew Bible into German.
In this passage I gave special attention to the multiple use in the Hebrew of the words “ruach” (or “ruchot," the plural), which appear ten times in these fourteen verses. It means in English “spirit,” “breath,” or “wind.” Most English translations of this passage use a different one of these words, in each context –- so that a reader would never know that the same word in Hebrew was reappearing again and again or that the passage was thereby deliberately pointing to the vital importance of this word.
I have used the word “breath” in translating "ruach" wherever it appears, sometimes in a compound word like “breathing-wind.” I have used the words “Breath of Life” to translate “YHWH,” because if you try to pronounce these four letters with no vowels, what emerges is the sound of breath or wind.
I have used “Pillar of the World” to translate “Adoni,” which can mean ‘pillar” or “hinge” as well ‘as “lord.” The verb “yada,” which can mean “know” or “make love” or “deeply experience,” is here translated “know-in-your-heart.” “Ben adam” ("human being") is translated “child of earth,” or “earthling,” to pick up its relationship to “adamah,” “earth.”
A midrashic thought about this passage:
One of the questions that arises in discussing it is what Ezekiel's vision of the "resurrection" of the Jewish people from exile in Babylonia might say to us, the generations soon after the Shoah.
For me, the teaching that arose from the passage in connection with the Shoah is about how the post-Shoah resurrection comes . Some people view the State of Israel AS the resurrection; I see it as the "muscle" part of the dry-bones vision, but Ezekiel teaches that the resurrection can't be complete until the Breath/ Spirit enters, and that the Breath/ Wind/ Spirit comes from all four corners of the earth.
That openness to the Holy Interbreathing of all life is happening much more (not yet enough) through the spiritual renewal of Judaism in America than through the State (especially the government) of Israel.
In the State of Israel, it is as if the muscle is celebrating its own reappearance as if muscle were self-sufficient and as if the People Israel stood on its own ----- and is actually rejecting the sense of the Breath/ Wind/ Spirit that comes -- must come -- from all four corners of the earth.
We might ask: What would a "resurrected" Jewish people look like in our own day if its body were strong and it was profoundly conscious that its life must be infused with the Winds that come from all the earth, from what unites ("Echad") all cultures and the breathing of all life -- from YHWH our God, Ruach HaOlam, Ruach HaKodesh, Nishmat kol chai, the Interbreathing of all life that praises God's Name YHWH because it IS God's name?