The haftarah for this Shabbat is known in Jewish literature as the “The Dry Bones”. In it, the prophet Ezekiel is instructed by G‑d to prophesy upon a valley filled with dry human bones and resurrect them back to life. The idea of “Techiyat Hametim” - The resurrection of the dead that will take place in the days of Moshiach is one of the basic tenets of Jewish faith.

“So said Rav Hai: I have it in tradition from the sages that the resurrection of the dead will take place in the month of Nissan.” Thus reads the explanation given by the Tur1 for the reading of this haftarah on this Shabbat. This idea originating from Rav Hai, or Rav Hai Gaon, is quoted in all later Halachic literature as the exclusive reason for the reading of this haftarah at this particular time.

The Talmud records an argument as to whether this account of Ezekiel is to be taken literally. Some say it is to be read as a parable. According to many, however, this was a very real story indeed:

“R. Eliezer, son of Rabbi Yossi HaGlili, said: Not only was it not a parable, the dead that Ezekiel revived ascended to Eretz Yisrael, married wives and fathered sons and daughters. R. Yehuda ben Betera stood on his feet and said: I am a descendant of their sons, and these are Tefillin that my father’s father left me from them!”2

This being the case, the next obvious question that emerges is that of the identity of these resurrected people. As an answer, the Talmud quotes a wide range of opinions. Rav said that these were members of the tribe of Ephraim who had mistakenly calculated the time for the exodus from Egypt. When this time came, they picked themselves up and escaped Egypt, only to be met and killed by an enemy nation.

Shmuel is of the opinion that these were people who in their lifetime had denied the very tenet of The Resurrection. Similar opinions are offered by R. Yirmiya Bar Aba and R. Yitzchak Nafcha. These were people who had no “residue” of any mitzvot, or, who had gone as far as covering the holy sanctuary with “repugnant creatures and creeping animals”.

A final opinion is presented that differs in its course than all the others. According to R. Yochanan, these dry bones were those of martyrs, murdered only recently by the Babylonian king, Nebuchadnezzar. Their story was related by R. Yochanan himself:

When Nebuchadnezzar the wicked exiled the Jewish people to Babylonia, there were among them youths who “overshadowed the sun” with their beauty. The Chaldean women would see them, and desire them, and discharge the flow of a zava3. These women told their husbands, and their husbands told the king. The king ordered the youths executed. But even after death, the youths’ beauty remained intact and the women were still discharging the flow of a zava. The king ordered that their corpses be taken to the valley of Durah. There, his servants trampled them so that their form would no longer be visible. It was the bones of these young men who Ezekiel resurrected.