Remember that old spiritual we used to sing in summer camp about Yechezkel in the valley of the dry bones?
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones…
Now hear the word of the Lord.
The toe bone’s connected to the foot bone
and the foot bone’s connected to the heel bone.
The heel bone’s connected to the ankle bone.
Now hear the word of the L-rd.
The song went from toe to ankle to knee to hip; to the back, the shoulder, the neck, all the way up to the head at which point there is a miraculous techiyas hameisim and Redemption. Guess what? Them “bones” are still with us.
I recently had the pleasure of visiting an assortment of charming and knowledgeable doctors in search of a cure for an unhappy, ailing toe. Evidently longing to share its misery, my toe dispatched a few of its bacteria to the unsuspecting foot above it. The foot, not wishing to suffer alone, promptly sent part of the unexpected gift up to an ankle which notified the knee which duly informed a hip which caused the back to shift gears to accommodate my body’s new stance in posture. It was a perfect, biotic rendition of Chad Gadya. But it did not lead to Redemption. Just the opposite!
Each doctor sent me on to another who specialized in that particular part of the body. During this prolonged medical pilgrimage, “the toe bone’s connected to the foot bone, and the foot bone’s connected to the thigh bone… now hear the word of the Lord” kept whirring in the back of my head bone while I waited to receive a signal or hear the word that all would soon be well.
This all led me to some deep philosophical speculation. It’s not just the bones that are disconnected; it’s everything else as well. Nothing in our world stands alone except the individual before G-d.
For a starter, think world affairs. Why are Russia and Turkey entangled over Lybia? They are continents apart, each big enough to hold a world. Why is half of Africa killing the other half? Why is Venezuela in such a mess? It’s such a wealthy country! And why is China so determined to gobble up Taiwan and Tibet? Why is it so hungry? Does it need more space? China is huge. Why is everyone so mixed up, but so unconnected, all simmering dangerously in poisonous pots of cholent? Why can’t the world settle down and connect?
In economic matters, humanity constantly deludes itself, thinking that if only we make sensible decisions based on the information at hand, profit is assured. We invest time, effort and money hoping to succeed. Well, we either will, or we won’t. The variables and possibilities that may affect our decisions are vast. And they are completely out of our hands. It’s hard to connect with a guarantee.
Politics are another complex minefield. Things could be so much simpler and straightforward. Why is it so difficult to legislate and govern and differentiate between good policy and bad? Everything is intertwined and dependent on everything else yet nothing fits together! How does one unite it into a satisfactory whole?
In matters of health, we go to the best doctors, take tests, pay money, and hope that all will be well. After all, doctors are there to cure us. (If a cure is not forthcoming, we pray that at the very least, the medicine or treatment will not make things worse.) But we can never be sure.
Then there’s the world of shidduchim. You can ask, investigate, examine, scrutinize and research all you like, but you never truly, actually know how things will turn out. Who will connect with whom? And sometimes two people whom you would never, ever put together just happen to meet, fall in love, get married and bring forth new life with ease. So much for our efforts!
And last but surely not least, why do so many people (I believe they’re called “anti-Semites”) wish to “disconnect” from the Jews, telling them to go back to where they “came from” when the places we “came from” forced us to leave? We were even forced to leave our original home long ago. In our hearts it remains our true, one and only, eternal “home” even though large numbers of our brethren are not rushing back. But even if they were (may it be soon!), half the world would joyfully shout “Good riddance! Go back where you belong!” while the other half would scream, “You can’t go there! It belongs to someone else!”
Where did we “come from?” Where do we belong? Why can’t we be left alone to live our lives like normal people? Why is the world so obsessed with us? Of course if we had sufficient sense, we wouldn’t be paying any attention. Unfortunately, many of us are numb, like those dry bones. Others do pay attention to what’s being said, but as a result are left confused and conflicted. Like “dem bones,” they find it hard to connect. Perhaps it will take a Yechezkel to put things together again.
The truth of the matter is that we don’t know much of anything and there is very little we control except perhaps, on occasion, our own thoughts and moral decisions. And heaven knows that’s hard enough! One can be forgiven for thinking that we might as well just live it up today and forget about tomorrow.
But we know that Someone is indeed in charge. Ashreynu mah tov chelkaynu – how fortunate we are that He is directing the show, making the connections, and watching over us. He allows us the illusion of believing that we are making the decisions while, in fact, He is moving everything along the path He wants us to follow. So when things don’t go according to our plans, we are able to say, “That must be the way it’s supposed to be. Everything Hashem causes to happen is somehow for the good, even if I don’t understand it. So if it’s bashert, I’ll try and make the most of it.” Every step of the way can connect us to Him and breathe new life into our “dry bones.”
So meanwhile, until my toe reconnects, I guess I’ll just sit quietly for a while without planning and arranging the world. Not only don’t I comprehend G-d’s actions, I’m not even sure how long it will take to get my own foot synchronized with the rest of me. And while I am patiently waiting, treating, bandaging, and looking for a pair of shoes that fit, that song keeps buzzing through my mind… Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones… Now hear the word of the Lord. I’m keeping my ears open.
P.S. The prophecy of the valley of the dry bones in Yechezkel is spectacularly striking, meaningful and inspiring. Reach for a Tanach and read it, even if you don’t learn it in depth. Yechezkel, Chapter 37.