ntoninus the Roman Emperor made the following assertion to Rabi Yehuda HaNasi (Sanhedrin 91:a): Both the body and soul will claim innocence at the time of judgment. The body will say “The soul is guilty; since it departed from me I have lain in the grave as a stone and not sinned.” The soul will say “The body is guilty; since I left it I have been flying in the air as a bird far away from the world of sin.”
Rabbeinu Hakadosh answered him with a parable: There were two guards assigned to the king’s orchard one blind and one lame. One day the lame one said to the blind one “I see beautiful figs on the trees. Place me on your shoulders and we’ll work together to get the figs.”
When the king discovered that some fruits were missing he demanded to know who had taken them. The lame guard said “Do I have feet to travel to the figs? I certainly couldn’t have taken them.” The blind guard said “Do I have eyes to see where the figs are? I certainly couldn’t have taken them.”
What did the king do? He mounted the lame one on the shoulders of the blind one and judged them as one unit.
In a similar vein what will Hakadosh Boruch Hu do in response to the claims of the body and soul? He’ll hurl the neshamah back into the guf and judge them as one on the Day of Judgment.
Both the body — the part of man that’s often blinded by the material world and the soul — the part which has no physical mobility will be judged together for the deeds they performed in unity. Just as man traverses This World as a fusion of body and soul so too his guf and neshamah will reunite in elevated form and experience reward and punishment together.
This enduring partnership of the body and soul is central to the Rambam’s 13th and final Article of Faith: I believe with complete belief that there will be a resurrection of the dead at the time that Hashem wills and that His Name will be blessed and His Mention exalted forever and for all time.
United We Stand
This principle tells us that it’s not only the soul that lives on after death; the body too will return. The Ramchal explains that it’s inconceivable that the body would not be rewarded together with the soul for they toiled together to perform mitzvos and Hashem never withholds reward from one who deserves it.
In a similar vein Rav Yitzchok Kirzner points out that the body is not inherently sinful. The guf is an unfinished product a resource waiting to be employed and cultivated. Under the neshamah’s influence it can become a sacred vessel; when it’s assaulted by the yetzer hara and succumbs to temptation it becomes base and dishonorable.
Because we value the guf we’re enjoined to treat it with dignity: To keep it healthy not to deface or defile it and to clothe it respectfully. We carefully deposit the body in the ground at death mark the grave and safeguard our cemeteries. All of this attests to our belief in techiyas hameisim.
The alliance of body and soul is what makes man unique among all of creation. By contrast an animal possesses only a body; a malach is but a soul. A partnership thrives when it’s of mutual benefit to each element. The human guf relies on the neshamah for animation and elevation; what in turn does the guf contribute?
When I present this topic to my students I conduct the following experiment: I tell them to write down the first three mitzvos that enter their mind. Then I ask them to check off which of these mitzvos require a guf — a physical body — in order to be properly performed. The point of our exercise becomes immediately evident.
Indeed the neshamah is in great need of a guf to serve as its agent in order to perform the will of its Creator — to hear shofar to host guests to recite brachos and to give tzedakah. Furthermore the neshamah gains something else from the relationship: By enabling the guf to transcend its physicality it becomes elevated for it has fulfilled the significant purpose of its creation.
Death as Transition
This ultimate unification could have been readily achieved by Adam Harishon. Had he served Hashem properly it would have resulted in the elevation and purification of both guf and neshamah. Instead Adam’s sin resulted in him becoming a mortal being. It was now necessary for the body and soul to undergo separate purifications.
The guf would be purified by burial and decay and the neshamah unencumbered by the guf would be elevated in the spiritual realm — if necessary by the cleansing of Gehinnom and then by experiencing reward in proportion to its accomplishments in This World. They would then reunite at techiyas hameisim.
The Mishnah (Sanhedrin 90:a) states that one who doesn’t believe in techiyas hameisim min haTorah will be denied his portion in Olam Haba. It’s not sufficient to believe in the general concept of techiyas hameisim. One must also acknowledge that the promise of resurrection is explicit in the Torah. The Gemara records numerous allusions to and proofs of techiyas hameisim in Tanach.
Rav Shimon Schwab notes that the brachah of mechayai hameisim in Shemoneh Esrei references other forms of Hashem’s salvation: rainfall support of the fallen healing of the sick and release of the imprisoned. We’re able to believe and trust in the promise of resurrection because we’ve witnessed somewhat similar events: new beginnings miraculous reversals decay and regrowth.
The belief in resurrection is also clearly stated in the Mishnah (Pirkei Avos 4: 29): Those who are born will die; those who die will live again.
Furthermore the Gemara demonstrates that the very process of conception and birth leads to the conviction that “Those who die will live again.” It quotes a verse in Mishlei (30:16) that equates the rechem womb with the kever grave and comments on the incongruity of this juxtaposition: What does the womb and the grave have in common? However just as the womb receives a seed and produces a newborn child so does the grave receive (the corpse) and produce (the resurrected person).
Death is not an endpoint but a transitional stage. The grave is a womb for it like the rechem ultimately produces life. In fact it produces a superior form of life for the purpose of death is to facilitate the unification of the guf and neshamah in a higher state. The Gemara continues in this vein: If the womb can receive a negligible droplet of matter and later issue a product that provokes shouts of joy (i.e. a newborn child) surely the grave which receives an entity that provokes cries of grief (i.e. the corpse is significant) can produce a product of even greater magnitude!
The newborn bears little resemblance to and is greater and more developed than the microscopic seed it originated from. Yet that seed bore the potential to yield the finished product. Similarly the resurrected being that will live forever is far superior to the mortal who lived and died in Olam Hazeh. Nevertheless the potential to become eternal originated in this very humble mortal.
The theme of seeds planting and growth is frequently employed when we speak of the resurrection of the dead. According to Rav Yosef (Berachos 33:a) we mention rain in the beginning of the brachah of mechayei hameisim because the effect of rainfall on vegetation resembles the revival of the dead. The latter words of the brachah build on this metaphor of planting and growth: The King Who brings death and restores life and makes salvation sprout.
The process of sprouting is strikingly similar to the pathway that leads to techiyas hameisim. When a seed is planted it’s buried in the ground seemingly abandoned and left to disintegrate. The farmer is only able to surrender his stockpile of seeds to the earth because he knows that each of these seeds bears the potential to produce fruit that will contain many times his original number of seeds. Indeed rain waters the earth; underground the rotten lifeless matter begins to sprout; with time a new plant emerges from the earth.
Similarly the body is interred in the ground hidden from sight where it undergoes decay and decomposition. Yet this is a purposeful decay. By turning into dust the body is cleansed of sin and tumah. At the same time the soul is undergoing its own cleansing. At the moment of techiyas hameisim the tal shel techiya “dew of resurrection ” brings the body to life again this time on a superior plane of existence.
The World of Planting
In gardening the rule is: The healthier the seed the better the plant. Similarly the resurrected individual will exist eternally in proportion to the level of spirituality he has achieved during his original lifetime. Rav Moshe Shapiro points out that the name of this place of reward is most appropriate: Gan Eden. In this world we plant the seeds; in the next world we behold the garden and savor the fruits of our labor.
Techiyas hameisim will take place as the principle states at the time that Hashem wills. This will happen after the world has been purified to a great extent during Mashiach’s time. In the beginning people will still live and die while others are coming back to life. Eventually only resurrected people will exist and the physical world will give way to an infinite spiritual state of existence.
All souls even the wicked will initially return for the Yom Hadin Hagadol V’hanorah the Great and Awesome Day of Judgment. This is because previously judged deeds will be reviewed once more from the retrospect of history in order to close all accounts. For example the person who was once rewarded for mentoring a baal teshuvah may now be credited for the good deeds of the descendants of that individual. After this final judgment the righteous will merit the reward of eternal life and the wicked will be punished interminably.
Our Sages assure us that Hashem will reassemble all limbs and restore all bodies — whole or dismembered intact or scattered burnt to ashes reverted to dust or in any other state of decomposition. Yesod v’Shoresh HaAvoda suggests that when we recite the words in Shemoneh Esrei “V’neeman atah l’hachayos meisim — and you are faithful to your promise to revive the dead ” we stop to ponder the wondrous power of Hashem to do this.
Torah sources describe techiyas hameisim in glowing terms. The body will not be the guf we know today for it’ll be spiritual in nature a thin delicate covering that will allow the soul to shine through similar to the guf of Adam Harishon. (The Rambam writes that even this covering will be withdrawn eventually and only the neshamah will remain; others disagree.) People will first be brought to life with their physical characteristics and blemishes so that they’ll recognize each other and later they’ll be cured. Relationships will be revived as well; each person will find himself in the company of the relatives and friends he knew in this world.
The Gemara notes that the mitzvah of talmud Torah is a prerequisite to attaining resurrection. (Women will merit techiyas hameisim by enabling their husbands and sons or others to study Torah.) The Torah often compared to rainfall and dew because of its life-giving properties is the ultimate tal shel techiya.
The glorious promise of techiyas hameisim gives new meaning to the Torah’s exhortation (Devarim 30:5) You shall choose life! In attaching himself to Torah and mitzvos a person is essentially “choosing” to be resurrected to eternal life to be attached to Elokim Chaim for all time.
Much of the terminology associated with the 13th Principle is evocative of the language of Rosh Hashanah: judgment reward and punishment purification and atonement new beginnings and above all life.
In the latter brachos of the Rosh Hashanah amidah we ask for “chaim tovim” in contrast to our use of the single word “chaim” in the beginning of the tefillah. The Vilna Gaon explains that chaim tovim refers to our material life in This World while the word chaim alone refers to spiritual life. Although we ask for health and sustenance so that we can serve Hashem without distraction we aspire to more. With the words zachreinu l’chaim we yearn to be included among the tzaddikim who are spiritually alive and will merit Olam Haba. On Rosh Hashanah our thoughts center on the eternal consequences of choosing true life.
As we conclude our year-long study of the Rambam’s Thirteen Articles of Faith let us recall that it’s critically important to have a minimum knowledge of these 13 Principles. Not only do they form the critical underpinnings of our life in This World but the Rambam rules lack of this knowledge severs a person from Olam Habah. Let us actively choose life and use it to earn immortal life.
(Originally featured in Family First, Issue 511)
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