On Shabbos Parshas Acharei and Shabbos Parshas Kedoshim the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Shlita, spoke several discourses connecting the themes of the prophecy of Yechezkel, read during Pesach, with the prohibition in Torah not to stand idly by when your friend is in danger, and the aphorism of the Rebbe Maharash not to be intimidated, and always, “go over, from above.”

This essay, freely translated from these discourses, presents the synthesis of these ideas into one logical concept and imparts to us a powerful message on our responsibility to our fellow Jews “before” and “after” they become “dry bones.” This directive is especially pertinent to Shluchim, the emissaries of the Rebbe, who must recognize their responsibility to the “dry bones” Jews and realize that this is a matter of life and death.

One of the most dramatic narratives in the books of the Prophets is the story of Yechezkel’s strange vision in the valley of the dry bones and the prophetic message which G‑d commanded him to prophesy there.

On Shabbos Chol Hamoed Pesach this chapter of Yechezkel is read in the synagogue for the Haftorah.

The prophet relates his experience to us:

The hand of the L‑rd was upon me...and set me down in the midst of the valley and it was full of bones. He made me pass them, around and around, and behold, they were very many on the surface of the valley and they were very dry.... and He said to me: Son of man can these bones become alive? ... He said to me: Prophesy concerning these bones, and say to them: O dry bones, listen to the word of the L‑rd! (Yechezkel 37:1-4)

A True Prophecy — Then

Certainly, the allegorical meaning of this experience was clear to the Prophet Yechezkel as well as to all the Jewish people at the time of the Babylonian exile. G‑d was assuring them that He would gather the remnants of the Jewish people, return them to Eretz Yisroel and rebuild the Bais Hamikdosh.

Yet, the vision seems to hold more than only this message in its symbolic context; and as the words of G‑d through the Prophet are eternal, this story must also hold an important lesson for us in our own age.

A thoughtful analysis of the narrative will reveal an underlying message addressed to sensitive Jews who care about the plight of their brethren, especially those who have lost the lifeblood of Yiddishkeit.

A True Message — Now!

The message seems to call out to us and proclaim that we must continue the vital work of spreading Torah and Yiddishkeit and disseminating the wellsprings of Chassidus.

There are those who argue that when there are Jews on the “outside,” labeled as spiritual “dry bones,” there is no use speaking to them until they have been brought “inside,” and clothed in “flesh, sinews and the living spirit”; only then can you speak to these “dry bones,” and teach them the word of G‑d.

They go on to rationalize that publicly preaching to those “dry bones” lying on the valley floor is a new practice, which was never done before. “We must walk in the footsteps of our predecessors,” they argue, “and follow the actions of our fathers”; we must not deal with the “dry bones”!

The answer to these “pretense seekers” is — “the action of our fathers” must be derived from Torah. The Written Torah has 24 books — one of which is the Book of Yechezkel — and here, in the story of the valley of the dry bones, we find the true “action of our fathers” and the lesson which we must derive from it.

Yechezkel spoke his prophecies in the diaspora, and this particular prophecy was said in a “valley,” a lowly, far away place. The valley was filled with bones — of Jews who had not carried out G‑d’s will. (see Gemara Sanhedrin 92b and Rashi loc. cit.) The bones were strewn about and forsaken, to the point that the Holy One, Blessed be He, Himself, declared that they were “dry bones” — ‘very dry”!

Nevertheless, the prophet Yechezkel tells us that G‑d commanded him to speak to these bones: “And He said to me: Son of man...prophesy concerning these bones, and say to them: 0 dry bones, listen to the word of the L‑rd.”

Speak to the “Dry Bones”

There is an important lesson here that must penetrate our hearts: even if there are Jews who are void of the lifeblood and invigorating spirit of Judaism, and they seem to be in a condition of “very dry bones,” we must speak to them! For after all, they are “children who have been captive among the gentiles” and have no idea of what Judaism is all about. They know not the aleph-bais of Judaism! They have neither spirit, nor sinews, nerves, nor flesh, nor skin. Despite all this, while they are still in that condition of “dry bones,” the Holy One, Blessed be He, says to us: “You are a man” and you have human feelings — you must awaken sympathy for these Jewish brothers. “You are a son of man” — imagine the pity your father must feel — go and tell the dry bones: “Listen to the word of the L‑rd”; in their present condition give them the word of G‑d.

This directive is clear, we have a responsibility to reach out and call out to the “dry bones” Jews. However, one might still argue that it is sufficient to choose one skeleton of “dry bones” and dedicate all his efforts to that individual, after all, he will probably see greater success by focusing his efforts in that way.

Therefore, Yechezkel tells us that he was commanded to go into the valley filled with bones and prophesy. Yes, the valley “was full of bones.” It was not enough to invigorate only a few Jews; he had to speak to the valley full of bones.

Go Out to the Streets of New York

So, today too, we must go out of our closed precincts into the center of town, into the streets of New York, and call out: “0 dry bones, listen to the word of the L‑rd!”

We must not limit our outreach work to those places where there are many living, vibrant Jews and only a few “dry bones” — rather we must call out our message in that valley where there are only dry bones.

This duty, to show our concern for our fellow Jews and to do our utmost to rejuvenate and reinvigorate them, is closely connected to another precept taught to us in the Torah which deals with our duty to save a Jew from danger. In the portion of Kedoshim the Torah tells us:

Do not stand still when your neighbor’s life is in danger (lit. over your neighbor’s blood). On which Rashi comments: “Witnessing his death, your being able to save him, if he is drowning in the river and a wild beast or a robber is attacking him.” (Vayikra 19:16; Rashi, loc. cit.)

Spiritual Life — Spiritual Peril

When the Torah states in Devorim that “The blood is [associated with] the soul,” (Devorim 12:23) the Torah means to tell us that the spiritual life — Torah and mitzvos — are the true “lifeblood” of a Jew. Thus, when the Torah says, “Do not stand still over your neighbor’s blood,” it means, do not stand idly by when you see your neighbor in a state of spiritual danger. If he is losing his true life-force of Torah and mitzvos, and is becoming “dry bones,” you must do something about it.

This reference to helping a fellow Jew before he is overcome by a perilous moral degeneration is directly connected with the subsequent call to extend help to rejuvenate the “dry bones.” Both steps are necessary.

Here Rashi gives us an example. If you see him drowning in a river of “raging waters,” the negative forces of the mundane world; perhaps he was too deeply involved in the materialism of the world and began to drown in the river, or the ocean of corporeality. In such a situation the Torah admonishes us not to stand idly by, for we can save him by extending to him the lifesaving power of Torah and Yiddishkeit.

You See Him — You Help Him

So you say, “But why me?” The fact that you see him “drowning” is proof enough that you can help him! G‑d would not show you such a phenomenon just to cause you grief, rather, you are witnessing it because you can help!

At this point it would be appropriate to keep in mind the well-known adage of the Rebbe Maharash,1 who placed great emphasis on the importance of initiative in the path of Divine service. He used to say that when you are faced with obstacles in your path of serving G‑d do not be discouraged, “I say that from the start go from above!”

This manner of Divine service transcends all usual procedures and disregards all limitations. It lifts the individual into a higher realm of G‑dly service and facilitates the spreading of Torah and Yiddishkeit.

Your lesson in the case of the Jew who is drowning, is to “go from above” and not to fear the danger of the “wild beasts” or the “robbers”!

G‑d Protects, Rewards and Punishes

For this reason the verse concludes: “I am G‑d.” The Holy One, Blessed be He, is the true ruler of the “river,” the “wild beasts” and the “robbers.” When you set out to save your fellow Jew, you must fear nothing in the world and you will go with the power of G‑d and be successful.

There is an additional meaning pertinent here:

“I am G‑d”: Who is faithful in paying reward to those that obey My commandments and who is certain to punish those who transgress them.” (Rashi, loc. cit.)

Since we are dealing with the “sly one,” the evil inclination, which tries to pour cold water on our efforts, we must remind him that G‑d is trustworthy to give us our reward.

As we say in Pirkei Avos:

Know...who your employer is that will pay you the reward of your labor (2:14); your employer is trustworthy to pay you the reward for your labor. (2:16)

Sometimes, it is also necessary to remind the yetzer hora of the punishment in store for one who interferes with a Jew’s Divine service. This will scare the yetzer hora and stop it from confusing and sidetracking the person who wants to save his fellow Jews by spreading Yiddishkeit.

A Call to Shluchim

This teaching is especially pertinent for Shluchim, the emissaries, who are involved in disseminating Torah and Yiddishkeit and spreading the wellsprings of Chassidus to the “outside.” Those who carry out the holy mission of the previous Rebbe — (and an “agent can appoint an agent,”) must remember the command and directive, that their involvement in spreading Yiddishkeit is not a condition of “embellishing a mitzvah” (a luxury) — it is an absolute matter of life and death. The Previous Rebbe declared: Do not stand still over your neighbor’s blood; you can save him! And if you should find him when he is already in the state of “dry bones,” then bring him back to life!

Consequently, there must be an increase in all areas of spreading Yiddishkeit and the wellsprings of Chassidus, in a manner of “from the start go from above.”

Dry Bones — Come Alive

The prophecy of Yechezkel ends optimistically, that when you follow your mission and tell the words of G‑d to the dry bones, you will bring them back to life.

For the Holy One, Blessed be He, promises:

Thus said the L‑rd G‑d to these bones: “Behold, I will cause the spirit of life to enter into you and you will live. I will put sinews upon you, I will spread flesh over you, I will cover you with skin, I will endow you with the spirit of life and you will live. And you will know that I am the L‑rd.” (Ibid 5-6)

And when Yechezkel actually did what he was commanded to do, it all came true:

I prophesied as I was commanded;...and I looked, there were sinews upon them, and flesh came up and skin covered them above,...and the spirit of life came into them, they came alive and stood up on their feet, an exceedingly great multitude. (Ibid 7-10)

This gives us the promise, the potential and the guarantee that when we carry out our mission and speak the word of G‑d to the “dry bones,” through spreading Torah and Yiddishkeit, and spreading the fountains of Chassidus to the outside, then we will be successful in bringing the dry bones back to life. So that we will establish “an everlastingly great multitude.”

Back To The Holy Land

And together with them we will greet Moshiach and go to our Holy Land.

And I will bring you to Eretz Yisroel ...and I will place you in your own land. (Ibid 12-14)

And then, as Yechezkel said in a earlier prophecy: “I will sprinkle upon you purifying waters,” (Yechezkel 36:25) which Moshiach will do — may he come truly in our time.

May all of these important projects see great success, and those whose missions take them to distant places should remember that as the physical distance is increased — the spiritual closeness is intensified.

And when we carry out these directives with Ahavas Yisroel, as we are commanded in the Torah — “Love your neighbor as yourself,” this will bring the revelation of G‑d’s love for every Jew, for we are all the “friends” of the Holy One, Blessed be He.

This will bring us the true freedom and liberation, and we will go to greet Moshiach with the true and complete redemption, speedily and truly in our days.