The prophet sees bones which arise, form bodies and take on flesh and skin – a prophecy that the nation which thought its history was over would rise again.
The Talmud (Sanh. 92b) debates whether the bones were allegorical or the bones of real people, perhaps the Ephraimites who left Egypt early and perished in the desert. The prophet is told that the revival is of “the whole House of Israel”, which may support the allegorical theory.
The reading concludes with verse 14, but the passage commencing with verse 15 is the haftarah for Shabbat Vayiggash, with a further idea – not only would the people rise again, but they would live in unity.
Key words from Ezekiel were the basis for Naphtali Herz Imber’s poem which became the Zionist national anthem. In Ezekiel the people say, Av’dah tikvatenu – “Our hope is lost”, Imber says, Od lo av’dah tikvatenu – “Our hope is not yet lost”; his whole poem is called Hatikvah – “The Hope”. Martin Buber understands av’dah as meaning to peter out.
Ezekiel’s people say that their grand hopes seem to have come to nought, and God assures them of the opposite.