OU Torah Insights Project
Shabbat Chol Hamoed
April 22, 2000
Rabbi William Altshul
In today's haftarah,
the House of Israel, represented by dry bones, bemoans her fate of exile
and persecution, proclaiming: Our bones are dried up and our hope is gone. We
The prophet Yechezkel delivers a
message of hope and encouragement, bringing these dry bones back to life: The
exile will end and the Jewish people will be redeemed.
The nations notion that avdah
tikvateinuour hope is gone should
ring familiar to us all. In 1878, the Galician poet Naftali Herz Imber turned
this statement of despair into a message of hope. In his poem, Hatikvah, the lost hope of the dry bones becomes the newfound
hope of the pioneers who rebuilt Eretz
Yisrael: Od lo avdah tikvateinuOur
hope is not yet gone.
metaphor can be extended further. The Talmud identifies those resurrected by
Yechezkel as three types of Jews: those who denied the resurrection; those who
lacked good deeds; and those who, in their idolatrous worship, covered the
Temple with abominations.
Among the pioneers who built
the State were many G-d-fearing Jews, who were inspired by Yechezel's vision.
But a crucial role was also played by the dry bones of our peoplethose
who were heretics, who denied all the major principles of our faith, who lacked
the vitalizing sap of good deeds, and who would cover the Temple with
abominations through their anti-religious behavior.
But just as Yechezkel brought the
dry bones back to life, these pioneers, too, helped bring the land of Israel
back to life, realizing the prophet's vision.
Rava, in the Talmud, states another
view: that the dead that Yechezkel brought back to life were the Bnei
Ephraim, who, centuries earlier, when the Jews were enslaved in Egypt, made
an ill-fated attempt to escape their bondage. But having erred in their
calculation as to the time of redemption, they were slaughtered by the
Philistines. They had the right motives, but the wrong strategy led them down
the path of defeat.
The Talmud asks: What caused Israel
to be scattered among the nations of the world? The battles that they sought
with the nations, answers the Talmud.
The Maharsha explains:
"During the First Temple era, had they made peace with Nevuchadnetzar and
had [King] Tzidkiyah not rebelled against him, they would not have been exiled
at all. Moreover, during the Second Temple era, had the violent ones
of Israel listened to Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai and the Sages of their
generation and made peace with Titus, they would not have been exiled. But they
desired battles and war, not peace."
The underlying cause of both the
first and second exiles was the violent course of action taken by the Jews of
the time. Had they chosen a more prudent course of action, the result would have
The leaders of the modern State of Israel face the same difficult decisions as the Bnei Ephraim and the Jews of the First and Second Temple eras: When is it right to be patient, and when does one need to act? We live in an historical period of great promise, one which challenges us to make the right decisions at the right time.
May G-d grant us the wisdom and the
courage to make the right decisions, so that the prophet Yechezkel's vision of
the renewed Land of Israel, which we have, baruch
Hashem, witnessed in our own days, will be secure until the final
redemption, speedily in our days.
Altshul is principal at the Yeshivah of Flatbush Joel Braverman High School in
Brooklyn, New York