By: Rabbi Eliyahu Haim Aboud
In Olam Haba, the time period following the Messianic Era, the entire universe will be transformed into an entirely different framework. All the righteous people throughout the generations will receive their rightful reward and enjoy indescribable spiritual pleasures. The prophets describe that just before the onset of this period, all the world’s inhabitants since the time of creation will be brought back to life and stand in judgment, and Gd will determine who is worthy of Olam Haba.
In this segment, we will address the subject of tehiyat hametim and related topics, and offer suggestions for how we can ensure to be worthy of resurrection when this period arrives.
Resurrection: Two Stages
Our sages relate how the process of tehiyat hametim will not just occur all at once, but rather it will take place in two separate stages. The first stage of resurrection will coincide with the start of the Messianic Era, when all the sadikim (righteous people) throughout the generations will return to life, including our forefathers, Avraham, Yizhak and Yaakov, and our nation’s first leaders, Moshe Rabbenu and Aharon Hakohen. They and many other sadikim will earn the privilege of basking in the glory and splendor of the Jewish Nation during that time. The second stage of tehiyat hametim,which will affect the general world populace, will unfold much later, at the close of the Messianic Era, in preparation for the start of the new world – Olam Haba.
This promise of tehiyat hametim thus ensures that all those who were personally worthy of the redemption will be brought back to life to experience the restoration of our nation’s ideal state of completion when Mashiah arrives. Even those who died before the Messianic Era will not be denied the glory and splendor of our nation, at this period in time.
How Will Life Be Restored to the Dead?
Our sages tell us that our bodies and all physical features will be restored precisely to their original form at tehiyat hametim – except for the illnesses and bodily defects which we endured during our lifetime, which Hashem will heal at the time of resurrection. However, one who purposely did not perform one of the Torah’s 248positive commandments (which correspond to the 248 limbs in the human body) will be missing the limb corresponding to that particular missva. The Talmud describes that the dead will emerge from the ground completely clothed, just as a wheat kernel grows from the ground clothed in several layers of covering. According to some views, the resurrected dead will be clothed in the shrouds in which they were buried, while others maintain that they will wear the clothing they wore during their lifetimes.
The Eternal Bone
The Midrash teaches that even though the human body decays after death, there is one bone in the body which remains intact eternally, even after death, and it is from this bone that Hashem will rebuild the dead bodies at the time of tehiyat hametim.
How does this bone endure? Why is it different from every other part of the human body, which decays after death?
The commentaries explain that this particular bone is nourished solely from the food consumed during the melaveh malka meal which is eaten on Saturday night. Thus, when Adam sinned by eating from the forbidden tree on Friday, the day he was created, this bone did not benefit from the sin and was therefore spared the punishment of death decreed upon all mankind. This is what allows this bone to survive forever, even as the rest of the body decays.
Knowing that this bone is nourished by our melaveh malka meal, and will be the source of renewed life at the time of tehiyat hametim, we should all ensure to observe this halachah and partake of the melaveh malka meal each week, even when this may be difficult.
Where in the body is this bone situated? Some identify this bone as one of the upper back bones, while others say it is the lowest backbone. There is yet a third view that it is located in the back of the head, at the spot where we place the knot of the tefillin.
How to Ensure We Merit Resurrection
The Talmud teaches that only the special spiritual light of the Torah is capable of reviving a person’s body at the time of tehiyat hametim, and therefore only those who had a connection to the holy Torah will be part of the resurrection. This connection is achieved either through actually learning or by helping others to learn, whether through financial support or through other forms of assistance. Women, who are not obligated to study Torah, earn resurrection by encouraging their husbands and children to study. However, those who did not affiliate themselves with the Torah have no way of returning to life at tehiyat hametim to experience Olam Haba. The exception to this rule is people who surrendered their lives to sanctify the Name of Hashem, who will earn tehiyat hametim even if they did not connect themselves with Torah.
One who denies the reality of tehiyat hametim forfeits the privilege of experiencing it.
The Resurrection of Those Buried Outside Israel
There is a debate among the sages of the Talmud as to whether tehiyat hametim will take place only in Israel, or even outside the land of Israel. According to one view, the event of tehiyat hametim will be limited to Israel, and therefore people buried elsewhere will be resurrected only after their remains roll underground to the land of Israel. Others, however, maintain that tehiyat hametim will take place even outside Israel. According to all views, the righteous sadikim buried outside Israel will be spared the grueling process of rolling. Instead, they will stand and then walk through miraculously designed underground tunnels to the land of Israel for tehiyat hametim.
This is one of the reasons why many people prefer being buried in the land of Israel – so that they will not need to roll to Israel at the time of tehiyat hametim. In fact, halachah allows exhuming a person’s remains for reburial in Israel.
Your Soul’s Identity
The Kabbalists have taught us the concept of gilgulim (transmigration of souls), the notion that a soul can be reincarnated with a new identity after death for the purpose of rectifying the misdeeds committed in its previous life. It is thus possible for one soul to be “reborn” numerous times.
The concept of gilgulim gives rise to the question of how resurrection will occur for souls that different people possessed at different periods. Will they all somehow be resurrected, or will only the last body to possess the soul be brought back to life?
The widely accepted view is that it is indeed possible for a soul, which is entirely spiritual in nature, to “divide” itself among several physical beings. Therefore, all people who had assumed a given soul and are deemed worthy of eternal life will be resurrected at tehiyat hametim. The Vilna Gaon, z.s.l., however, writes that only the last person to possess his soul will return to life, and for this reason it behooves us all to complete our mission and purpose in the world so we will not need to return in a different form and our present identity will be forgotten.
Will husbands and wives still be considered married at the time of tehiyat hametim, or will they have to remarry after resurrection? Interestingly enough, a number of scholars addressed the similar question of whether a woman who was brought back to life by a prophet was still married to her husband after the resurrection. This issue is subject to a debate among the sages, but the Ben Ish Hai (Rabbi Yosef Haim of Baghdad, 1833-1909) asserted that according to all views, husbands and wives will have to marry each other again at the time of tehiyat hametim. Unlike in the case of the woman resurrected by a prophet, who was revived with her previous body intact, at tehiyat hametim we will receive entirely new bodies, and we will thus be considered as having been created anew.
If a woman was widowed or divorced and subsequently remarried, whom will she marry at the time of tehiyat hametim?
According to all views, divorced women will return to their second husbands at the time of the resurrection. With regard to remarried widows, however, the scholars debate the question of whether she will return to her first or second husband.
Will we still have an obligation to honor our parents after tehiyat hametim, or will we be considered “reborn,” such that we will no longer retain our familial relationships? The Ben Ish Hai writes that the obligation to honor parents will remain in effect after the resurrection. Parents bring not only their children’s bodies into the world, but also their souls. Therefore, since our souls will remain the same even after tehiyat hametim, we will be required to respect our parents.
The Great and Awesome Day of Judgment
The event of tehiyat hametim will be immediately followed by the final Day of Judgment. (According to one Midrash, this will occur three days after resurrection.) All people will be judged according to the actions they performed during their lifetime, and it will be determined who will proceed to Olam Haba to enjoy the spiritual pleasures of that existence. The Midrash says that even the greatest sadikim and highest angels will tremble in fear from the great intensity of Hashem’s final judgment. Those who earn a favorable outcome will remain alive for Olam Haba, while those who are found undeserving of eternal reward will be sent to the spiritual fires of Gehinom to be burned and destroyed forever.
Tehiyat hametim is included among the thirteen fundamental beliefs of Judaism. We all must know and believe that this wondrous day will arrive, when those who have passed on will be revived and given a new life. Let us seize the opportunity we have now, during our lifetime, to make ourselves worthy of a favorable judgment and be deserving of eternal life in the World to Come.