“THESE BONES WILL LIVE!”
Excerpt from "Emanations" Rabbi Ari D. Kahn
The Talmud in Megila teaches:
“Rav Huna said in the name of Rav Shesheth: On the Sabbath of Chol Hamoed, on both Pesach and Sukkot we read from scripture “V’ata R’ay” (Shmot 33). The Haftorah on Pesach, “The Dry Bones” (Yechezkel 37) and on Sukkot “The day of the arrival of Gog” (Yechezkal 38)” (Megila 31a)
R. Huna said in the name of R. Shesheth: On the Sabbath which falls in the intermediate days of the festival, whether Passover or Tabernacles, the passage we read from the Torah is ‘See, Thou [sayest unto me]’ and for haftarah on Passover the passage of the ‘dry bones’, and on Tabernacles, ‘In that day when Gog shall come’. (Megila 31a)
The passage in the Talmud discusses the appropriate readings for the various Festivals. Generally the text which is read has an intrinsic connection with the day, but in this case no connection is apparent. Over a thousand years ago, this question was asked of Rav Hai Gaon, the leading scholar of his generation. He responded that he was not aware of any intrinsic connection between the scripture read in the Haftorah and these holidays, but continued:
“I have a tradition from the Sages that Resurrection will take place in Nissan, and victory over Gog and Magog, will take place in Tishrei; therefore in Nissan we read of the dry bones (which will live) in the Haftorah, and in Tishrei we read of the battle of Gog” (Tur Oruch Haim section 490, see Otzar Hagaonim Megilah pg 64)
This tradition, that Resurrection is to take place in Nissan, is the key to a number of passages in the Talmud.
“It was taught, Rabbi Eliezer said; in Tishrei the world was created, in Tishrei the Avot were born, in Tishrei the Avot perished, on Pesach Yitzchak was born, on Rosh Hashanah Sarah, Rachel, and Hanah were answered. On Rosh Hashanah Yosef left prison, on Rosh Hashanah the slavery came to an end in Egypt. In Nissan we were redeemed, in Tishrei we will be redeemed in the future. Rav Yehoshua said, in Nissan the world was created, in Nissan the Avot were born, in Nissan the Avot perished, On Pesach Yitzchak was born, .. In Nisan we were redeemed, in Nissan we will be redeemed (Rosh Hashanah 10b-11a)
It has been taught: R. Eliezer says: In Tishri the world was created; in Tishri the Patriarchs were born; in Tishri the Patriarchs died; on Passover Isaac was born; on New Year Sarah, Rachel and Hannah were visited; on New Year Joseph went forth from prison (Talmud - Rosh HaShana 11a) on New Year the bondage of our ancestors in Egypt ceased; in Nisan they were redeemed and in Nisan they will be redeemed in the time to come. R. Joshua says: In Nisan the world was created; in Nisan the Patriarchs were born; in Nisan the Patriarchs died; on Passover Isaac was born; on New Year Sarah, Rachel and Hannah were visited; on New Year Joseph went forth from prison; on New Year the bondage of our ancestors ceased in Egypt; and in Nisan they will be redeemed in time to come.
In this passage we find that two of the great Tannaim, Rabbis Eliezer and Yehoshua, argue not only about biblical chronology but also about eschatology. At the root of this disagreement is the intricate relationship of history and destiny in the view of these great sages. Days have a personality or a charisma of their own, just as people do; therefore the understanding of the past allows us to better understand the future. Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua have a fundamental argument regarding when the world came into being, and their differences are interrelated with the question of how the End of Days will shape up.
Tishrei is a month of judgment, while Nissan is a month of miracles, as is indicated by its very name (“Nissan”, perhaps from the root “nes”, miracle). In this context, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua differ over the very nature of existence: Is our life defined primarily by justice or mercy? Tosefot, in their comments to the passage in Tractate Rosh Hashanah, point out that actually both aspects are accurate representations of our existence: Rabbi Eliezer focuses on the thought of creation which came into existence in Tishrei, while Rabbi Yehoshua focuses on the actual Creation which took place in Nissan. It is interesting to note that Jewish law reflects the opinion of Rabbi Yehoshua, as is evidenced by a relatively obscure law: Birchat Hachama, a blessing on the sun which may be made every 28 years when the sun is in the exact alignment it was at the moment of creation, is pronounced in Nissan (see Shulchan Aruch 229:2 Mishna Brura 7).
If creation indeed took place in Nissan, thereby establishing the law in accordance with Rabbi Yehoshua, then we may conclude that Redemption will also take place in Nissan, as per Rabbi Yehoshua. This is interesting in and of itself, but does not seem connected with our original question regarding Resurrection. The connection is only brought out by an additional passage:
“Rabbi Eliezer said, if Israel repent they will be redeemed, if not they will not be redeemed. Rabbi Yehoshua said to him; if they don’t repent they won’t be redeemed? Rather, The Holy One Blessed be He will bring a king whose decrees are as difficult as Haman, and the Jews will repent, and rectify their ways” (Sanhedrin 97b)
This matter is disputed by Tannaim: R. Eliezer said: if Israel repent, they will be redeemed; if not, they will not be redeemed. R. Joshua said to him, if they do not repent, will they not be redeemed! But the Holy One, blessed be He, will set up a king over them, whose decrees shall be as cruel as Haman's, whereby Israel shall engage in repentance, and he will thus bring them back to the right path. Another [Baraitha] taught: R. Eliezer said: if Israel repent, they will be redeemed, as it is written, Return, ye backsliding children, and I will heal your backslidings. R. Joshua said to him, But is it not written, ye have sold yourselves for naught; and ye shall be redeemed without money? Ye have sold yourselves for naught, for idolatry; and ye shall be redeemed without money — without repentance and good deeds. R. Eliezer retorted to R. Joshua, But is it not written, Return unto me, and I will return unto you? R. Joshua rejoined — But is it not written, For I am master over you: and I will take you one of a city, and two of a family, and I will bring you to Zion? R. Eliezer replied, But it is written, in returning and rest shall ye be saved. R. Joshua replied, But is it not written, Thus saith the Lord, The Redeemer of Israel, and his Holy One, to him whom man despiseth, to him whom the nations abhorreth, to a servant of rulers, (Talmud - Sanhedrin 98a) Kings shall see and arise, princes also shall worship? R. Eliezer countered, But is it not written, if thou wilt return, O Israel, saith the Lord, return unto me? R. Joshua answered, But it is elsewhere written, And I heard the man clothed in linen, which was upon the waters of the river, when he held up his right hand and his left hand unto heaven, and swore by him that liveth for ever that it shall be for a time, times and a half’ and when he shall have accomplished to scatter the power of the holy people, all these things shall be finished. At this R. Eliezer remained silent.
Again, Rabbi Eliezer’s view of the world is based on merit, on judgment and justice. Redemption is possible only if the Jews deserve it, if they repent. In its conclusion, the Talmud teaches that according to Rabbi Yehoshua, Redemption is unconditional; his statement that G-d would bring a wicked tyrant to persecute us was Rabbi Yehoshua’s understanding of Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion (The Jerusalem Talmud Ta’anit 1:1, reports that it was Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion, and not Rabbi Yehoshua’s, that G-d would bring a wicked tyrant on the Jews if they do not repent on their own). In the end of the passage Rabbi Eliezer is silenced by the arguments of Rabbi Yehoshua. Apparently both agree that Redemption will come sooner or later, but Redemption will inevitably come (the Ramban clearly states that in conclusion Rabbi Eliezer concedes to Rabbi Yehoshua, as is indicated by his “silence”. See “Sefer HaGeulah” Kitvei Ramban Volume 1 page 277).
Juxtaposing these two Talmudic teachings allows us to draw conclusions regarding the sages’ debate: In Tractate Rosh Hashanah, Rabbi Eliezer and Rabbi Yehoshua argue as to when Creation took place and when the final Redemption will come. If these two arguments are connected, the passage in Tractate Sanhedrin is highly instructive. The argument regarding Redemption, ends with the acquiescence of Rabbi Eliezer, which is consistent with our understanding of the passage in Rosh Hashanah, where the law is also established in accordance with the view of Rabbi Yehoshua. Tosafot’s teaching, which reconciles the two positions by identifying each with a “different” Creation, may be applied to both passages equally: There is no fundamental argument, rather, one passage refers to the idea of Creation while the other refers to the actual Creation.
In other words, do we consider the beginning of the process, or are we concerned with the end result? Rabbi Eliezer focused on the beginning of the process of Creation; therefore he speaks of Tishrei, which is the time of Creation in thought, long before anything existed in reality. Similarly, Rabbi Eliezer, when considering Redemption, spoke of the upheaval which will lead to spiritual renaissance. This is the beginning of the process of Redemption. On the other hand, Rabbi Yehoshua focused on the end of the process, the actual Creation. The tradition referred to by Rav Hai Gaon, that resurrection will take place in Nissan, refers to the end of the process of Redemption, resurrection.
Rabbi Eliezer’s opinion finds its own expression in the Talmud: The Talmud only uses the phrase “Atchalta d’Geula -“Beginning of the redemption” in one place-
“War is also considered the beginning of the redemption” (Megila 17b)
Rabbi Eliezer, who looked at the beginning of the process of Creation, considered the beginning of the redemptive process as well: The Haftorah for Chol HaMoed Sukkot describes the apocalyptic battle between Gog and Magog, the beginning of the process of Redemption. This epic battle, which Israel is destined to be swept into if they do not repent in due course, is to take place in Tishrei, the month in which Sukkot is celebrated. Here, then, is the link with the Haftorah which we sought. It is the link between Tishrei and the Atchalta d’Geula which Rabbi Eliezer illuminated.
The association of Resurrection with Nissan has a number of expressions and implications. One of the teachings which both Rabbis agreed on was the birth of Yitzchak on Pesach. Yitzchak is the first biblical figure who is linked with resurrection. One Midrash describes the connection in the following terms: When Yitzchak was tied down to the altar at the Akaida,
“The angels began to cry and their tears fell on the blade, the knife rose up to the neck of Yitzchak, for he (Avraham) could not control it. His (Yitzchak’s) soul departed him. G-d called Michael (the angel) and said “Why are you standing there? Do not allow him to slaughter him” Immediately Michael called out “Avraham, Avraham” …he let go (of the knife) and his soul returned, he(Yitzchak) stood on his feet and pronounced the blessing “Blessed is he who restores life to the dead” (Baruch michayei maytim) (Otzar Midrashim page 146)
According to this Midrash, the first one to utter the blessing on restoration of life was Yitzchak, when his own life was restored. This idea is also consistent with a second teaching. We are taught that the first 3 blessings of the amidah are called “Avot”. While the other elements of the amidah vary depending on the day, these 3 blessings are constants. The first of these blessings, which speaks of G-d’s chesed, is “Magen Avraham”, associated with Avraham and the spiritual realm so inseparably associated with him. The second blessing is “Michayei HaMaytim,” and is similarly related to Yitzchak. The second blessing starts with “Ata gibor,” gevurah being the spiritual attribute associated with Yitzchak and the one which is preserved and expressed 3 times a day by Jews for millennia. The second blessing of the amidah is instructive in other ways:
“You are eternally mighty my Lord, the resuscitator of the dead are you; abundantly able to save …”
In the winter the phrase which follows is:
“He makes the wind blow and the rain descend, He sustains the living with kindness”
In Israel, in the summer months the subsequent phrase reads :
“Bring down the dew!
He sustains the living with kindness”
The difference between these two phrases seems obvious, the distinction being in the object of our prayer, either rain or dew. There is, however, a more subtle difference. The prayer said in the winter is “He makes the wind blow and the rain (geshem) descend, He sustains the living with kindness”. There are some who have a custom of saying Gashem (kamatz, instead of segol). The significance of the punctuation goes way beyond the grammatical: “Geshem” is the form of the word which would appear in the middle of a sentence, whereas “Gashem” indicates the end of the sentence. The alternative readings would indicate whether the second half of the blessing modifies the first, or stands alone. Geshem , rather than Gashem, would indicate that the kindness which is bestowed is the rain itself. The phrase used in the summer is “Moreed hatal,” the word tal (dew) punctuated with a kamatz. “Dew” is the end of the sentence, as opposed to a later appearance in the weekday amidah where the word tal, with a patach, is used in the middle of the sentence.
If the term “Bring down the dew!” is the end of the sentence, then it must modify what immediately preceded it; “You are eternally mighty my Lord, the resuscitator of the dead are you; abundantly able to save: Bring down the dew!” Dew is directly connected with resurrection. But what is the nature of this connection? In numerous places in Talmud, Midrash and Zohar, we see that dew is the catalyst which brings about the Resurrection!
“Dew - tal will be used in the future by the Holy One Blessed be He to bring about Resurrection” (Chagiga 12b)
“After each of the 10 Commandments (the people died when G-d spoke) so (G-d) brought dew on them which will be used in the future to resurrect man, and they came back to life” (Shabbat 88b)
“How do we know that Resurrection will only take place via dew?…(Yerushalmi Brachot 5:2)
“The dead (bones) which Yechezkel brought back to life-- dew from heaven descended upon them.” (Pirkei d Rebbi Eliezer chapter33)
“Dew is a symbol of resurrection” (Tanchuma Toldot section 19)
By means of that dew all will rise from the dust, as it says, “for thy dew is as the dew of lights” (Is. XXVI, 19), these being the supernal lights through which the Almighty will in future pour forth life upon the world. (Zohar, Bereshith, 130b)
Said R. Hiya: ‘And what is more, from the words, “Thy dead ones will live” (Isa. XXVI, 19), it is evident that not only will there be a new creation, but that the very bodies which were dead will rise, for one bone in the body remains intact, not decaying in the earth, and on the Resurrection Day the Holy One will soften it and make it like leaven in dough, and it will rise and expand on all sides, and the whole body and all its members will be formed from it, and then the Holy One will put spirit into it.’ Said R. Eleazar: ‘Assuredly so. And the bone will be softened by the dew, as it says: “Thy dead ones shall live... for thy dew is the dew of plants” (Ibid.).’ (Zohar, Shemoth, 28b)
We would expect that the second blessing of the amidah, the one connected with Yitzchak, the blessing which concludes “Blessed is G-d who brings the dead to life”, would naturally make reference to the final Resurrection. If so, when we say “Bring the dew!” our intention should be “Bring the resurrection!”
The prayer for rain is said only in the winter. On Pesach, we begin to ask for tal. At the time of our redemption from Egypt, the time of the birth of Yitzchak, we say this blessing with anticipation of the complete Redemption, the end of the Redemption: Resurrection. This is the full circle of the second blessing of the amidah and the link between the month of Nissan, the birth of Yitzchak, the Exodus and the result of the Redemption which Rabbi Yehoshua sought to draw in the passage in Tractate Rosh HaShanah.
When the Jews left Egypt they had three goals: 1. To leave Egypt, 2. To receive the Torah 3. To build the Temple. In the Ramban’s Introduction to the Book of Shmot he explains that Shmot is the book of redemption, but the book can not end after leaving Egypt nor after the receiving of the Torah. The book does not end until the Mishkan-Temple is built. Pesach marks the celebration of leaving Egypt, but it can not be seen in a vacuum. On Pesach we immediately begin counting the days until the Torah is given at Sinai. But receiving the Torah is not an end in and of itself. Receiving the Torah means living the Torah, following its statutes, taking the ideals described in the Torah and turning them into a wonderful reality. The reality of living the Torah necessarily leads to the Messianic Age, and culminates in the end of this Age - Resurrection. For this reason, on the Shabbat of Chol Hamoed we read the description of how dry bones shall live, for the bones coming to life are the culmination of the Redemption begun on Pesach.
“You are eternally mighty my Lord, the resuscitator of the dead are you; abundantly able to save: Bring down the dew!”