Does the name Yaakov Kirschen mean anything to you?
Mr. Kirschen is the American-Israeli author of the famous political “Dry Bones” comic strip. He says that the goal of the series, which has run in newspapers since 1973, is to fight the false image that many have of Jews. He says, “History is being rewritten to portray Jews as demonic, sub-human, and the enemy of mankind. Cartoons and books are important vehicles for these calls for violence and denial of history.” With his work, he tries to counteract these harmful voices. Mr. Kirschen says his cartoons are designed to make people laugh, which makes them drop their guard and see things the way he does. With his cartoons he attempts to “seduce rather than to offend.”
The fact that Mr. Kirschen called the comic strip, “Dry Bones” is very interesting and is based on the haftarah we are about to discuss. The inspiring message of the miraculous events in Yechezkel, where the dry bones come back to life, is that when we face situations which seem hopeless, we have to remember that there is always hope and renewal in store for the Jewish People.
Yechezkel (37:1-14) saw a valley full of dry bones of Jews who had been dead for a very long time. Hashem then brings them all back to life. The Tur (Siman 490) says that this is the haftarah of Shabbos Chol HaMoed Pesach because there is a tradition that techiyas hameism, the resurrection of the dead, will take place on Pesach. Rav Dovid Feinstein offers another reason. With the redemption of from Mitzrayim, we became revived and reborn as a nation. Klal Yisrael as a national entity had been dead while we were slaves to Pharaoh, and we experienced a resurrection as a nation with the redemption on Pesach.
Sanhedrin 92b says that the dry bones were of the thousands from Bnei Efraim who had made a wrong calculation and left Mitzrayim too early; the Mitzrim massacred them. Hashem did not help them because it was not time to leave. Rav Dovid Feinstein explains that they had given up hope on Hashem redeeming them and felt they had to do it by themselves. However, even they will receive a tikun and rectification at the end of time when Hashem returns their neshamos to them in the future, on Pesach. This is why we read this section of the haftarah on Pesach. Rav Yonasan Eibschitz in Ahavas Yonasan adds that Bnei Efraim did not get a chance to sing shira at the Yam Suf, but will be given the chance to do so after the revival of the dry bones.
Interestingly, the Gemara cites opinions that these bones were literally brought back to life and we are not discussing a mere vision of Yechezkel or some event that will take place some time in the future. One of the tanaim, Rabi Yehuda ben Beseira, says that he is actually a descendant of one of the people whom Yechezkel resurrected.
In another approach, we can suggest that the dry bones symbolize those people who perform mitzvos dryly, without feeling and meaning. Such people view the Torah and mitzvos as necessary but they fail to make a spiritual connection. The Maharal in Tiferes Yisroel (Chapter 4) explains that there are 365 prohibitions corresponding to the human being’s 365 sinews and bones and 248 positive commands paralleling its 248 limbs. These limbs provide the very definition of a functioning, physical human life. The bones provide structure to the human body but it is the limbs that make the body function. Similarly, the lo saasehs provide the spiritual structure in which the soul can grow and develop, but the goal is to fulfill the asehs, the actions of spiritual acquisition. Someone who focuses only on the bones of Torah makes his bones dry and passionless.