Ezekiel has a particular preference for referring to the land of Israel not as “eretz Yisrael” but instead as “admat Yisrael.” Semantically, “eretz” and “admat” are effectively interchangeable, but there’s a subtle difference.
Eretz, ארץ can be translated as “earth” or “land.” This is “land” in the sense of specific territory or country. It is the earth in the sense of the entire planet. As is typical of Judaism, with its predilection for separation and opposites held in tension, means earth as opposed to that which is heaven, or sky. Where eretz is used to mean “ground” it is generally in the sense of the surface. It is the noun most frequently used in phrases like “people of the land” and also in geographical descriptors.
Admat, אדמת is the construct form of adamah, אדמה, meaning “ground” or “land” generally in a property sense, or usage sense (as in ground or land used for agriculture.) There’s no denying some connection between adamah and adam, the name of the first created human being, and a word also meaning a man or mankind. (There’s no getting around the gender here, though it is interesting to note that adam, אדמ is a masculine noun, whereas adamah אדמה, is feminine. Adam is believed to come from an Assyrian word that means “to make, produce.” Thus we have the male maker or producer, adam, working the female soil, adamah. There’s lots of fodder for discussion.)
Ezekiel’s preference for “admat Yisrael” is likely connected to his exilic audience. It hints of a promised land with fertile soil that is the true home to the exiles. It subtly shifts the nature of their yearning to return. One might want to “retake” eretz Yisrael, whereas one is more likely to simply desire to return to admat Yisrael. It speaks of a deep connection to the land because it is land that has been tended by them and their ancestors, and not simply by fact of possession.
All of this is fascinating, but what brought me to this matter of the difference between admat Yisrael and eretz Yisrael is its use near the end of the special haftarah for Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh. In 37:12, we read
Prophesy, therefore, and say to them: Thus said the L”rd G”d: I am going to open your graves and lift you out of the graves, O My people, and bring you to the land of Israel (admat Yisrael.) (37:12 JPS)
In the following verse, we read:
You shall know, O My people, that I am the L’rd, when I have opened your graves and lifted you out of your graves. (37:13 JPS)
Like many before me, I choose to read Ezekiel’s words as metaphoric, and do not expect an actual resurrection of the dead, even though such resurrection remains a normative understanding of Judaism to this day (affecting burial practices, for example.)
Yet understanding “admat Yisrael” as being subtly different from “eretz Yisrael” raises interesting questions about what Ezekiel has written and prophesied. G”d is lifting our dead bodies out of their graves in the adamah of galut, to be returned to the admat kodesh, the holy land of Israel.
If we dismiss the following verse for a second, we can think of this as more like Jacob’s body being brought up from Egypt and buried in Israel or Joseph’s bones being returned to reburied in Israel. It’s a promise that those who have died in galut (exile) shall have their bodies returned to Israel. Perhaps nothing more.
But then we get the next verse:
I will put My breath into you and you shall live again, and I will set you upon your own soil (admat’khem.) Then you shall know that I the L”rd have spoken and have acted”—declares the L”rd.(37:14 JPS)
Yes, easy to read as metaphor, but surely calling into question the idea that Ezekiel was merely talking of returning dead bodies from their graves in exile to be buried in their native soil.
Nevertheless it still feels as bit softer to me. G”d could have chosen to resurrect the bodies of dead Israelites buried in exile, and brought them back to life to be an avenging host to retake “eretz Yisrael.” As a rhetorical device, Ezekiel might have found that quite effective. Yet somehow Ezekiel knew that this was not the message the people needed to hear. This is not a war cry to avenge and retake the land, it is the longing of an exiled people to simply return to living and working upon their native soil. I can’t help but think of linking this to present day circumstances in the land of Israel. In fact, it helps me clarify my connection to Israel. Whatever my issues with the powers that rule “eretz Yisrael” I can remain connected through my heritage to “admat Yisrael.” Maybe it is time for us to rethink how we here in modern galut/diaspora refer to Israel. Is it “eretz Yisrael” we seek, support, and love, or “admat Yisrael?” The choice is ours.
©2011 by Adrian A. Durlester
Other musings on this parasha:
Shabbat Hol HaMoed Pesakh 5769 - Valley of the Dry Economy
Pesach VII 5768 - Department of Redundant Anamnesis Department
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5767-Not Empty
Intermediate Shabbat of Passover 5766-A Lily Among Thorns
Pesach VII 5761 (Revised 5765)
Hol HaMoed Pesach 5764-Dem Bones & Have We Left Gd behind? (5578-60)
Hol Hamoed Pesach 5763-No Empty Gestures (Redux 5762)
5761-Pesach VII-Redundant Anamnesis