The Resurrection of the Dead – Techiyas Hamesim
By Rabbi Boruch Smith
Overview: In this article we learn about some of the Torah sources that discuss what happens to the body and soul before and during the different stages of resurrection of the dead.

When we read the Thirteen Principles of Faith of the Rambam we see that number thirteen is to believe in the resurrection of the dead, at the time when it will be willed by Hashem. However, when we read the Thirteen Principles of the Rambam in his explanation on the mishna, all he writes is that there is resurrection of the dead.

The Rambam in Mishne Torah Hilchos Teshuva Chap 8 Halacha 2 writes; “In Olam Haba there is no body or physical being, rather the souls (Nefashos) of the righteous alone, without body, like the Administering Angles.” The Ra’avad expresses his opinion that this understanding of the Rambam is close to one who denies resurrection of the dead and he goes on to bring a number of proofs from Gemara that the resurrection will be a physical body. The Rambam would therefore have to hold that when the Gemara speaks of Tzadikim sitting, that is only a parable.

The Mizrachi seems to present this as a difference of opinion between the Rambam and the Ramban. The Ramban understands that Gan Eden is the world that the Tzadikim enter immediately after death and that is purely spiritual and that Olam Haba is only after the resurrection in which there will be bodies. Whereas the Rambam seems to place Gan Eden and Olam Haba as the same entity, without a physical body.
The Radvaz reconciles the Rambam with the Ramban by explaining that they do not argue about the reality of the resurrection. The Rambam also holds that there will be a physical resurrection and that after there will be Olam Haba. The only thing is that the Rambam calls the time straight after death, when the Tzadikim enter into Gan Eden, Olam Haba as well.

The Rambam in his Maamar on Techias Hameisim seems to learn that the resurrection will take place at the time of Mashiach and that it will be a miracle and that after some time, those bodies will die again and that the final Olam Haba is only spiritual.
After the person dies, there is a Mitzva to bury the body. The question is why do we need to bury the body, why can’t we just burn it?

The Gemara brings two possible reasons for burial: to prevent shame to the niftar as the body will decay or as a kaparah through the disintegration of the body.

The Maharal explains that it is fitting for a person to be buried because burial is a concealment of something which will be in the future, and because man is in potential to live in the future, that potential man must be concealed through burial. That which is revealed is actualized and that which is in potential is concealed.

The Maharal continues to explain the importance of the burial itself. Man was created from the earth and from every part of the earth, in order that no matter where man will be buried, the earth will receive his body. Since Man is a composite of all the earth, he is defined as a complete entity. All other entities have their root in one or another element and therefore can be annihilated through one of the other entities. For example an entity of fire can be destroyed through water, but Man is a composite and therefore cannot be annihilated. Since Man was created from earth, he returns to the earth to retain his potential.

The Sefer Yesod Ha’avodah takes it even further to explain that there is a part of the Nefesh that will remain around the grave waiting for the resurrection and that is the part of the Tzadik which benefits from the Torah which is said over in his name, expressed as “the lips moving”.

Cremating the body deprives the Man of the benefits mentioned above and the people who cremate the body transgress the positive mitzva mentioned above, and in many cases deny the resurrection.

The question is, will there be a resurrection for those that are not buried?
The Gemara in Gittin tells of a ship filled with 400 young women and 400 young men that were being taken to Rome for prostitution. The girls wished to throw themselves overboard but before doing so asked if they will merit Olam Haba? They brought a verse from Tehilim that Hashem says that He will return them from Basha and from the depths of the sea. From here the Gemara learns that even if someone is eaten by an animal or is drowned and the body is lost, they still will merit resurrection.

In the case of being burnt to ashes, we have the Shibolei Leket who learns from the Akedah, that Yitzchak was offered as a sacrifice and then he was burnt on the altar and then he experienced resurrection, at which point the angles recited the second brocha of the Amidah, blessed is the One that raises the dead.

What is left is to describe the processes of the resurrection.

The Luz is a bone that was created by Hashem from where the body will begin to germinate at the time of the resurrection.
The bone is found at the bottom of the spine or it is known as the 19th vertebra. Animals do not have this 19th vertebra since there is no resurrection by the animals. The question is, why do the non-Jews have this vertebra. There are two answers; firstly that people should not say that there were two creators and secondly in order to provide for the converts, for when they become Jewish.
The reason why the resurrection will begin from this bone is that when Adam and Chava ate from the tree of knowledge, death was decreed upon them and every part of the body that benefitted from eating. Since the Luz does not benefit from the physical sustenance, except what a person eats on Motzei Shabbso for Melava Malka, it did not partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge and therefore death was not decreed on it. Thus resurrection will come from this bone.

Michtav M’Eliezer teaches that this bone is not a physical bone but a spiritual point from which ones Olam Haba will develop.
At the time of resurrection a light – this is the light of Torah which is called טל – dew from the highest level of Keter, will come down to the Luz which is in Bina. This light will be like the yeast in the dough or like the rennet in the cheese which will cause the bone to spread like a milky substance which will then begin to clump together like cheese, until we have a body with limbs. Then this body will roll underground until Eretz Yisroel, where it will receive a spirit from the world of Bina. At that point the earth will emit the body.

According to the opinions that the resurrection will proceed Olam Haba, why would we need a body for Olam Haba?

Michtav M’Eliyahu writes that there are two periods of purification. The first form of purification is the death process which removes the blockages and defects caused by the persons involvement in the world of lust and desire. During his lifetime he is given the opportunity to remove these shells using his freedom of choice. If he does not do this, then after life each tuma created needs to be removed and there are many death mechanisms which will break and remove the shells of tuma.

However, even if all the shells have been removed, there still remains within the Nefesh the power of lust and desire. Which means that were the person to be exposed to an external lust generating force, like a woman to a man or people to a man seeking honour, that potential force of lust will be triggered generating tuma. Therefore, a second form of purification needs to be achieved where this potential for lust can be purified as well.

This purification does not need choice and can be accomplished after the resurrection. It is the transformation of the potential lust force into a lust for closeness to Hashem. This is achieved through the Neshama being given the chances to transform the lust for physicality into a lust for closeness to Hashem, and the body will be used by the Nefesh and be willing to receive that love.

When the Nefesh will be inflamed with the love of Hashem and the desire to draw close to Hashem, it will seek to enthuse the body with that light, like a fire looking to consume the fuel with its heat. In this way the body will wish to become more and more spiritual until it will either spiritualize itself or remain physical but completely subservient to the Neshama, like a maid-servant to her mistress.

Rabbi Boruch Smith
Rabbi Boruch Smith was born and raised in South Africa and made his way to Israel where over the last 30 years he has directed and taught at numerous yeshivos and seminary colleges. His teachings are filled with deep, intricate and sometimes complex Torah lessons. He has many dedicated students throughout the world and especially in his home town where he has been giving a weekly Parsha shiur continuously for 30 years.