“Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones…
Now hear the word of the Lord.”
You know this one. Sing with me. Actually I know two versions, both I learned at Girl Scout camp and both are appropriate for this morning.
I’ll admit it. I’m tired. Bone weary tired. Passover preparation, two seders, services last night and a full day of doctor’s appointments will do that. This morning’s portions address that weariness and bring me hope.
One year on this Shabbat of Passover I got a call from a dear friend, a fellow Hebrew School teacher, saying, “Margaret, I was just at a Bar Mitzvah, and you’re not going to believe the haftarah, it was all about resurrection—and tomorrow is Easter. Jews don’t believe in resurrection! I can’t believe what I was hearing.”
I calmly explained to her that Jews do believe in resurrection. In fact, Judaism is where Christians got the idea from.
So let’s start with this morning’s text in Ezekiel, Chapter 37—which clearly Jesus and his early followers knew.
It’s all about those bones rising again. About G-d breathing life into us, even if we are tired. About G-d restoring us to the land, the land of Israel that G-d promised our ancestors. Listen to the language about “son of man”. That’s one of the phrases that people called Jesus and that the officials used against him.
Ezekiel was an 8th century BCE prophet who foretold the destruction of Jerusalem, the restoration of Jews on the land and the rebuilding of the Third Temple. He brought the people hope. He brought the people G-d. He is one of the prophets from which we learn about Merkevah Mysticism, the Mysticism of the Chariot. We hear hints of it in the beautiful piyyut, the acrostic El Adon that we sing in the morning service, but Merkevah Mysticism is a story for another day.
The prophet Daniel shared this belief in resurrection: “Many who sleep in the dust shall awaken, some to everlasting life, and some to ever lasting shame and reproach” (Daniel 12:2).
In II Kings Chapter 4 we have the story of the rich woman of Shunem. She provided a room for the prophet Elisha, where he could rest and revive himself while he was travelling. Several years later, her son complained about his head and then died. She sent for Elisha, who came, and revived her son, resurrected him by breathing new life into him. It sounds exactly like CPR.
So you can see, the underpinnings of resurrection exist throughout our later Biblical writings, our prophets. Christianity’s adoption of it, should not come as a surprise and be seen within the historic context of Judaism and Christianity’s Jewish roots.
But it doesn’t end in the Bible. In the beginning of our Amidah prayer, in the G’vrurot, which acknowledges G-d’s power, written by the rabbis of the Talmud, we say these ancient words outlined in Berachot 23a, “Atah gibor l’olam Adonai, machayah matim. You are powerful forever, giving life to the dead.” For a while the Reform movement was not comfortable with that language and changed it to machayah hakol, giving life to all. The newest Reform prayerbook, Mishkan Tefilah, has put back the option for machayah matim. If you want more detail on how our prayerbook evolved, Rabbi Larry Hoffman’s excellent commentary, My People’s Prayerbook will help
Maimomides, the Rambam, 1135-1204, the Torah and Talmud commentator, philosopher, physician and astronomer, compiled the first code of belief, the 13 Articles of Faith. Sometimes, given the time period he lived in I think it must have been a polemic against Christianity—or at least a vey clear statement of his beliefs. The very last one is the belief in the resurrection of the dead.
- Belief in the existence of the Creator, who is perfect in every manner of existence and is the Primary Cause of all that exists.
- The belief in G‑d’s absolute and unparalleled unity.
- The belief in G‑d’s non-corporeality, nor that He will be affected by any physical occurrences, such as movement, or rest, or dwelling.
- The belief in G‑d’s eternity.
- The imperative to worship G‑d exclusively and no foreign false gods.
- The belief that G‑d communicates with man through prophecy.
- The belief in the primacy of the prophecy of Moses our teacher.
- The belief in the divine origin of the Torah.
- The belief in the immutability of the Torah.
- The belief in G‑d’s omniscience and providence.
- The belief in divine reward and retribution.
- The belief in the arrival of the Messiah and the messianic era.
- The belief in the resurrection of the dead.
Many congregations recite these after each weekday Shacharit, the morning prayers.
We sing the 13 Articles in a more poetic form on Friday nights in the Yigdal prayer which says in its last verse, “God will revive the dead in His abundant kindness – Blessed forever is His praised Name.”
That’s hope. That’s power. G-d will revive the dead and give us life.
It is good to study Rambam today, this Shabbat of Passover. Many Jews of Sephardic origins, particularly those from Morocco celebrate Rambam with a special feast the night after Passover called a Mimouma. http://www.myjewishlearning.com/article/maimouna-a-post-passover-celebration/ Some believe it celebrates Rambam’s yahrzeit. Believe me, if you have an opportunity to go to one, do not miss it. They excel at hospitality and their cooking is out of this world—well beyond our usual pasta feasts after Passover, but how they do it so quickly after sundown is a mystery to me! Part of that Passover magic. That’s hope.
This is a season that is about freedom and transformation. It is about rebirth and renewal. It is about hope.
It is not surprising that Christianity took the concept of resurrection changed it, making it more an individual reviving the dead. This seems less likely to me. In Judaism these kinds of things are usually collective. Our understanding of the messianic age is a collective. We are more concerned with the saving of the nation of Israel than individuals. Our prayers, for the most part are written in the plural.
One of my favorite books is the Active Life by Parker Palmer, an activist, a poet, and a bit of mystic within his Quaker roots. This book shows the necessity of a balance between spirituality and activism. He tells the story of activism from each of the world’s major religions. The last chapter is called, “Threatened by Resurrection”, which is a poem written by Julia Esquivel, a Guatemalan poet in exile and published right here in Elgin by the Church of the Brethren Press. I talked about it in my Skype interview because I found the poem so powerful.
When I went to Guatemala I took the book with me and used it as part of a teaching I did about this very topic. When I tried to print it out in a Hilton Garden Express hotel in Guatemala City I was blocked, censored. The concept of Threatened with Resurrection still too revolutionary.
Threatened by Resurrection:
They have threatened us with Resurrection
There is something here within us
which doesn’t let us sleep, which doesn’t let us rest,
which doesn’t stop the pounding deep inside.
It is the silent, warm weeping of women without their husbands
it is the sad gaze of children fixed there beyond memory . . .
What keeps us from sleeping
is that they have threatened us with resurrection!
Because at each nightfall
though exhausted from the endless inventory
of killings for years,
we continue to love life,
and do not accept their death!
In this marathon of hope
there are always others to relieve us
in bearing the courage necessary . . .
Accompany us then on this vigil
and you will know what it is to dream!
You will know then how marvelous it is
to live threatened with resurrection!
To live while dying
and to already know oneself resurrected.
Parker Palmer is so eloquent about this poem: “For Esquivel, there is no resurrection of isolated individuals. She is simply not concerned about private resurrections, yours or mine or her own. Each of us is resurrected only as we enter into the network of relationships called community, a network that embraces not only living persons but people who have died, and nonhuman creatures as well. Resurrection has personal significance – if we understand the person as a communal being – but it is above all a corporate, social and political event, an event in which justice and truth and love come to fruition.” (152)
The very last verse we read in Ezekiel today is about that collective resurrection and it is on the exit gate to Yad V’shem, the Holocaust Memorial in Jerusalem. One way to look at resurrection is to see the rebirth of Israel as a resurrection, a collective resurrection We walk out of the destruction, out of the horror of the Holocaust, back into the light, back into the land. Our bones, those very dry bones live again. The breath of G-d lives again within us, breathing new life into us.
Have you ever noticed the Israeli medics in their bright yellow vests after a terrorist attack? They are sadly collecting all of the parts that remain so that each victim can have a full and complete burial. It is that hope of resurrection, of life everlasting.
There is a connection to today’s Torah portion. Probably more than one. For me, it goes back to what I said at the beginning. Remember I said that I was bone weary tired. So was Moses. In today’s Torah portion, just after Moses has smashed the 10 Commandments. G-d demands that he go back up Mount Sinai. Moses doesn’t want to go. Why should he? Why should he lead this stiffnecked, stubborn people? In a masterful argument, he pleads with G-d and reminds G-d that this is G-d’s, not Moses’s people—and besides what will the Egyptians think. The argument works—and G-d promises that G-d will go with Moses and give him rest and lighten the burden. G-d renews that promise in Psalm 81, “I removed the burden from their shoulders; their hands were set free from the load.” G-d has lightened our load. G-d has given us rest.
Hope. Resurrection. Life everlasting. That is what today’s parsha is all about.
Dem bones, dem bones, dem dry bones with be watered, refreshed, revived, and brought back to life. These promises bring me hope.