By Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried
With this we complete the last of our 13 Principle series, which has covered the core beliefs of Judaism.
Maimonides writes in his commentary to the Mishnah, that the 13th Principle involves the “resurrection of the dead.” The “Ani Maamin” recitation in the Siddur states: “I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when God wills it to happen.” Maimonides further codifies this belief in his “Code,” based upon a very strong statement from the Talmud that one who denies the resurrection of the dead will have no portion in the World to Come, (Yad, Teshuva 3:6 based upon Sanhedrin 90a).
This belief is the subject of the second blessing of the Amidah prayer, recited three times daily, in which we end with “ … You are believed to bring the dead back to life. Blessed are You, God, Who brings the dead back to life.”
To sum up the words of the other commentaries, there will be a period subsequent to the Messianic age called the time of the resurrection, during which the righteous throughout history will be revived and live eternally. The body will be reconnected to the soul and they will live on as partners forever. The body will not be anything like the one we know now; it will be an almost spiritual entity, nearly transparent, with the light of the soul shining through it rather than covering up the soul as it does now.
This belief is not “just” another of the 13, although all 13 are extremely important. We have a principle in Judaism that the last of a list is the most important; in fact, it is the one to which all others lead. For example, all the plagues in Egypt led to the last one, the killing of the first born, which encompassed all the others. Why is this principle, one that seems quite obscure and beyond our grasp, so significant?
One of my mentors explained that this principle underlies all we believe in Judaism; Torah is a practical belief and not anything like a philosophy that is purely theoretical. All Torah knowledge is coupled with practice, the mitzvot. There is no mitzvah that can be performed with the soul alone. Every mitzvah requires a partnership between body and soul. A soul by itself can not light Shabbat candles, give tzedakah or lay tefillin.
Since the soul, throughout its sojourn in our world, required the help of the body for all the good it performed, it is only fair the body should share in that eternal reward. The grace and beauty of the eternal body emanates from our present body, much like the graceful, beautiful butterfly is the transformation of a very plain, gray caterpillar after it emerges from its “grave”; its cocoon.
Another of my mentors explained that the resurrection in which we believe is not simply that God will give continued life to those righteous who have died. It goes much deeper, stating there are two levels to our existence in this world. There is an existence for the here and now and a transcendent level of our existence that is for the next world. Only in the next world will we truly fathom the impact of our actions in this world. The resurrection will be a time in which we can relive our lives, reaping the rewards (or otherwise) from all that we have done in this world, with the full impact of those actions completely revealed. May we all merit to a share in the bliss of that world!
Rabbi Yerachmiel D. Fried, noted scholar and author of numerous works on Jewish law, philosophy and Talmud, is founder and dean of DATA, the Dallas Kollel. Questions can be sent to him at email@example.com.