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Amid the excitement of the holiday, and a Torah portion which incongruously also belongs to the public fast days, the haftarot of Shabbat Chol HaMoed are often overlooked. This is a shame because these two haftarot are each a spiritual apex for the holiday in which they are featured, and among the most stirring of the haftarot of the year.

So what is the message of this week’s haftara, and why do we read it on Pesach? The navi Yechezkel finds himself in a valley filled with dry bones. The voice of Hashem asks the navi, “Shall these bones live?” And Yechezkel answers, “Hashem, You know.” Thus ensues one of the defining prophecies of the storied career of one of our greatest prophets.


Hashem tells Yechezkel to inform the bones that they are the house of Israel, fallen so far in exile it is as if they have been dead for untold eons. What seems beyond hope of recognition, let alone of restoration, is not beyond the power of Hashem to redeem. Hashem asks the navi, “Shall these bones live?” as if Hashem doesn’t know the answer – and the answer is that it is by the voice of the navi that they are brought back to life. Hashem is asking Yechezkel to find the faith inside himself to restore what time and misfortune have destroyed.

Hashem commands him to prophesy to the ruach, the wind. But a careful student of the Hebrew language knows that ruach is not only the wind. In this context, ruach is the animating force that brings life to all things. Yechezkel prophesies to the ruach, and it fills the dry bones and they are resuscitated and stand upon their feet as a mighty host. But even after this miraculous return from death, the great host representing the people of Israel still can’t escape their negativity. So Hashem commands the navi again to prophesy – this time to the newly risen bodies. Just as prophecy returned flesh to bones and brought life into the bodies, so too will prophecy give hope and inspiration to the spiritually downtrodden and they will return joyously at last to their land.

Superficially, it isn’t difficult to see what this haftara has to do with Pesach. This is a story about coming out of the worst possible exile, an exile of annihilation and of death and destruction, being stood back on our feet and led to our redemption. It is a Pesach story. But there is, according to Rashi, a more direct connection to the Exodus from Egypt to be found in this story. When the Gemara in Megillah (31a) relates that this is to be the haftara for Shabbat Chol HaMoed Pesach, Rashi explains that the dry bones were the bodies of those who left Egypt before the designated time. Rashi’s source for this is in Sanhedrin (92b): “According to Rav, these were the descendants of Ephraim who attempted to determine the date on which the exile should end, but erred in their calculation” (referencing Divrei HaYamim I 7:20-22).

There appears to be a subtle rebuke in this story of those who wish to hasten the redemption beyond the framework decreed by Hashem, and this is a recurring theme that we see in the Talmud. But Rashi and Rav are also returning dignity and a retroactive validation to those whose aspirations were divinely inspired but cut short by circumstances. It is a message that those who criticize others they view as too zealous in their ambition to return and to rebuild our homeland would do well to heed. Because even if the time is not right and the efforts are not successful, according to Rashi and to Rav, those who undertake them in good faith are certain to attain their goal – if not in this life, then perhaps in another.


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Avraham Levitt is a poet and philosopher living in Philadelphia. He writes chiefly about Jewish art and mysticism. His most recent poem is called “Great Floods Cannot Extinguish the Love.” It can be read at He can be reached by email at [email protected].