Them Bones, Them Bones Gonna Walk AroundBy Rabbi Jack Abramowitz
This chapter is one of the best-known in the entire Book and is the source of the old spiritual “Dem Bones” (you know – “the knee bone’s connected to the leg bone, the leg bone’s connected to the hip bone” – that one), as well as the name of the Israeli comic strip “Dry Bones.”
G-d carried Ezekiel to a valley full of dry bones, where He asked the prophet whether those bones could in fact live again. Ezekiel replied that only G-d knew. G-d had Ezekiel tell the bones to listen to Him; He then reconnected the bones and covered them with muscles and skin, but they were still lifeless. G-d then had Ezekiel speak to the spirit of life, which entered the bodies, who stood up. G-d told Ezekiel that what happened to these bodies is what would happen to the nation. They think they are lost, but G-d will open their graves, both physically and metaphorically, and bring them to live in Israel.
Next, G-d had Ezekiel write on two boards, one for Judah and one for Ephraim (representing the heads of the two Jewish kingdoms of Judah and Israel, respectively). Ezekiel was to hold the two planks together and they would become one. When the people would ask about the meaning of this act, Ezekiel was to explain that this is how G-d will reunite the nation in His “hand.” They will gather together in the land of Israel, one nation under one king. They will give up idolatry and G-d will purify them of their past sins. David (meaning the Messiah, a descendant of King David) will rule over them and shepherd them. The people and their descendants will remain securely in the land forever. G-d will forge an everlasting covenant of peace with the Jews and permanently restore the Temple.
Much of what occurs in the Book of Ezekiel actually happened in visions, but most commentators say that the incident at the Valley of the Dry Bones actually occurred. But who were these slaughtered, unburied skeletons? There are several opinions in the Talmud (Sanhedrin 92b), one of which is that they were the Jews of the Tribe of Ephraim who left Egyptian slavery prematurely, only to killed by the men of Gath (in I Chronicles 7). And what became of them? Again, there are several opinions. One is that they only lived long enough to sing a song of praise to G-d before going back whence they came. Another opinion is that they survived and settled down to raise families, living normal lives. (The Talmudic sage R. Yehuda b. Beseira claimed to be descended from them.)