Posted on June 26, 2009 By Rabbi Yaakov Feldman | Series: | Level:


The whole idea of the dead coming alive — stepping back into their old bodies like pants and shirts, dusting themselves off, and going on with life again — is stupendous. But it’s really hardly more astonishing in fact than the whole idea of birth and death in the first place. Still and all, it’s far too beyond our experience to accept outright.

After all, “If a man dies, will he live again?” asked Job — adding though that, “throughout the time allotted me I will continue to hope (for that) until I pass away” (Job 14:14). Yet belief in the eventual resurrection of the dead is a tenet of our faith that’s cited many times. We’re told, for example, that “your dead will be revived” (Isaiah 26:19), and that “many that sleep in the land of dust will awaken” (Daniel 12:2).

The most straightforward depiction of it of course was the one that Ezekiel laid out when he reported that, “The hand of the L-rd came upon me … and set me down in the midst of the valley that was full of bones. Then He led me around among them, and behold, there were very many in the open valley and they were very dry. He said to me, ‘Son of man, can these bones live?’ and I answered, ‘O L-rd G-d, you know (the answ er)’. And he said to me, ‘Prophesy over these bones and say to them, Dry bones, hear the word of the L-rd: Thus says the L-rd G-d to these bones, Behold, I will have breath enter into you and you will live. I will lay sinews upon you, lay flesh upon you, cover you with skin, put breath in you, and you will live and you know that I am the L-rd. … There was (then a) noise and behold, a shaking, and the bones came together, bone to its bone. And as I beheld, indeed, sinews and flesh came up upon them, and skin covered them above but there was no breath in them. And He said to me, ‘Prophesy to the breath … and say, Thus says the L-rd G-d: Come from the four winds, breath, and blow upon these dead so they can live.’ I prophesied as He commanded me, and (behold!) breath entered into them, and they lived and stood upon their feet, a very large army. Then He said to me, ‘Son of man, these bones are the House of Israel … Therefore prophesy and say to them, Thus says the L-rd G-d: Behold, My people, I will open your graves and have you come up out of your graves and bring you into the land of Israel … And you will know that I am the L-rd when I will have opened your graves, My people, and brought you up from your graves. I will put my spirit in you and you will live'” (Ezekiel 37: 1-14).

In fact, we cite the resurrection of the dead in our daily and special prayers (Elokai Neshama Shenanatta Bi, Shemone Esrei, Keil Malei Rachamim), and the tradition cites many proofs for the central role it plays in the Torah world-view [1]. So it becomes clear that Ramchal would need to explain it indeed in order to continue to apprise us of G-d’s ways in this world.


Before he could get to all that though, Ramchal apparently felt compelled to discuss another major theme: the human situation and mankind’s “mission” [2]. Because indeed other than G-d’s direct rule, of course, everything hinges on us humans who assume so vital a role in the great scheme of things; and because man’s creation is “the ultimate point of all of G-d’s actions” in Ramchal’s words. And also the truth be known, because nothing whatsoever is quite as absorbing, labyrinthine, and evocative to us as humanity.

So he set out to discuss three things about people: our makeup, what we’re capable of doing, and what the consequences of what we do (and don’t do) are.

Short of offering a lengthy treatise on humankind Ramchal engages in a discussion of what’s perhaps the central mystery of our makeup — the fact that we’re comprised of two utterly antithetical, seemingly irreconcilable elements: rank physicality and sublime spirituality [3]. And we’ll find in fact that the whole subject of resurrection hinges on 0D this very irony, since both — body and soul — will eventually be rejoined.


Ramchal points out that our being comprised of these two opposing elements seems to bring up a couple of dilemmas. First, why would G-d have deemed it necessary to divide us in two, so to speak? He must have had specific reasons, since He could have created us any way He wanted to. And second, why is it that just one of the two — the soul — is said to be rewarded in the end for all the good we do in this world? Why aren’t our bodies also rewarded? After all, isn’t it said that “G-d withholds reward from no one” (Baba Kama 38A)?

Besides, if only the soul were to be rewarded, then the body would have been nothing more than an indentured servant of sorts who worked long and hard for the soul, who was indeed fed and clothed in life, but would still-and-all have nothing of its own to claim in the end. So, Ramchal underscore the fact that both body and soul will be rewarded, as we’ll see [4].

We’ll explain that point shortly, but we’d first have to explore the three stages of the relationship between body and soul: their coming together at conception, their coming apart at death, and their coming together again upon resurrection [5], as we will.


[1] See Berachot 15b, Ketuvot 8b, Kiddushin 39b, Megilah 7b, Sanhedrin 90- 91, Shabbat 88b, Yoma 72; Ramba m’s Commentary to Perek Chellek and Hilchot Teshuvah 3:6, 8; Tosafot, Baba Kama 16b veHu); Emunot v’De’ot 6:7; Ramban’s Torat ha-Adam (end of Sha’ar ha-Gemul); and Sefer HaIkkurim 4:30 (see R’ Shriki’s important discussion of the last two in his note 45).

[2] R’ Goldblatt analyzes the subtle connections between this section and the one before it, as well as the Kabbalistic implications, on pp. 113- 114, notes 2-4 of his edition; also see notes 29-30 on pp.477-478 there. See R’ Shriki’s insights into the Kabbalistic themes in his note 44 as well as his insight there that Ramchal’s subject at hand isn’t the resurrection so much as the resurrection as a gateway to The world to Come.

R’ Friedlander makes the point here that since it’s man’s actions alone that determine his place in the resurrection, that’s why the two themes are connected in this chapter (note 114).

[3] Understand of course that the two really shouldn’t be separated from each other as starkly as this depiction might seem to. In fact, we contend that the two serve as joint, component parts of the same “loaf of bread”, with the soul as the “soft” part and the body as the “crust”. We might also do well to conceive of ourselves as a sort of self-contradictory, liquid mélange of two separate halves — the way artists who are also family-people, business people, etc. often understand themselves. From another perspective, our physicality could also be depicted as something like the screen upon which our spirituality projects itself out, and thus every bit a part of the “film-experience” itself. In fact, see Sha’arei Ramchal pp. 378-379 (from Iggrot Pitchei Chochma v’Daat) where Ramchal discusses the original and fundamental unity and selfsameness of body and soul.

In any event, Ramchal (and we) will continue to focus upon the apparent — and temporary — separation of the body and soul simply to facilitate discussion. Their unity will be touched on later, when the subject arises.

[4] Understand, though, that the “end” we’re referring to here isn’t the Afterlife, of course. Since the body will obviously decompose and molder after death and cease to exist (other than on an organic level). The realm in which both the body and soul will be rewarded is the World to Come, which comes about after the Messianic Era and the resurrection (our subject at hand).

See end of ¶ 75 for more reasons for the resurrection of both body and soul, including the fact that it’s for the well being of both body and soul (R’ Friedlander’s note 116).

[5] We might liken this to their “marriage”, “divorce”, and their subsequent “remarriage”. A better analogy though might be to the body and soul’s tahara-state (when “husband and wife” are r itually pure enough to be intimate), their subsequent niddah-state (when the wife is menstruate and the couple are separated), and their eventual re-tahara-state (when they can once again be intimate). The analogy is better because it speaks to intimacy, to charged energies in a relationship, to the allowance for birth, etc.

Rabbi Yaakov Feldman has translated and commented upon “The Gates of Repentance”, “The Path of the Just”, and “The Duties of the Heart” (Jason Aronson Publishers). His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.

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