Who will merit the resurrection?
As far as who within the Jewish people will merit resurrection, we have the assurance of the mishnah that “all of Israel have a portion in the World‑to‑Come” (Sanhedrin, chap. 11). And although Maimonides lists certain groups of people who lose their share through grave sin (see Laws of Repentance, chap. 3), the Midrash Talpiot explains that what this means is that they lost their own merit of partaking in the World-to‑Come. But G-d, in His infinite mercy, has allocated “charitable funds for those with insufficient merit” from which they can partake and join the ranks of those who will be resurrected.
An interesting difficulty arises as a result of the belief in reincarnation. Judaism believes that a soul must return to earth as many times as it takes to fulfill all 613 commandments. It is the mitzvot that refine and elevate the soul. in order for the soul to be perfect, it must return as many times as it takes in as many body as it takes until all the mitzvot are fulfilled.
But what of the souls that have already occupied a body previously on earth? How will they accommodate more than one person? The Zohar itself asks this question: “R. Chizkiya asked, ‘If you say that all bodies will be rise from the dust and live, then what will be with those bodies whose soul first inhabited a different body in a previous age?” (Zohar 1: 13 1 a).
Rabbi Isaac Luria (the Ari) answers that every time an individual refines a certain element or dimension of the soul, then that part of the soul becomes his own and it will be that portion that will be reinvested in his body at the resurrection. in other words, as mentioned above, every mitzvah refines and elevates the soul in a different way, and depending on what part of the soul is elevated by a given person, that part of the soul will be attached to his body forever.
Rabbi Menachem Schneerson adds that one should not make the mistaken assumption, based on the Ari’s words, that there will be some people who will be missing whole portions of their soul. Every soul is in fact made up of various parts that include aspects that mirror one another and are thus complete entities unto themselves. For instance, all the Jewish souls collectively are said to make up the one soul of the first man. Every soul is an entity unto itself, but it also subdivides into smaller fragments, which become a separate entity unto themselves, but can still be said to be part of a larger whole. A soul is thus like a branch of a tree, which, if broken off from its source, can still grow when planted and become a completely independent tree. Nevertheless, there are higher, more significant parts of the tree, and lower, less significant parts. The same applies to the world of the souls. Adam was the collective soul of all who would live. Still, the Midrash says that the souls of the leaders of Israel are connected with Adam’s head, the lay people with his lower features, and so on (see Exodus Rabbah, chap. 40). The same applies to the resurrection. The souls will subdivide into different fragmentary parts that still comprise a complete and perfect soul on their own. But the division will be decided by which body refined which fragment of the soul.
What will it be like?
What will we be like at the reawakening? The way in which a person dies is the same way in which he will arise. If a person died blind, he will awake blind. If a person died mute, he will awake mute. According to the Midrash, G-d says, “Let them arise the same way in which they expired and after their awakening I shall heal them” (Midrash Rabbah 95; Zohar 3:9 1 a).
The Zohar expresses a similar thought: “In the time when Israel will be resurrected from the earth, there will be many blind and mute people and other defects, but then G-d will illuminate them with the great intensity of the sun and heal them” (Zohar 1:203b). This idea is based on a talmudic statement that at creation G-d hid the full radiation of the sun and saved its healing power for the righteous in the World‑to‑Come (Nedarim 8b).
It should be mentioned that it is the body one possesses now that will be resurrected, not some other body. And although the body decays and rots, there always remains one bone, known as the etzem luz, at the very top of the spinal column, that does not rot or decay. From there the Almighty will rebuild the remainder of the body. He will knead the bone in “the dew of life” and build the body from there (Zohar 2:28b).
How people will be dressed upon being resurrected is disputed in the Talmud. According to one authority, everyone will rise dressed in their shrouds. “R. Nathan said: The clothes with which a man is buried rises with him.” But according to Rebbe (Rabbi Yehudah Hanasi), the people will arise in the normative attire they were accustomed to while alive. If Rebbe is indeed correct, then the resurrection should prove to be a very colorful occasion since there will be fifty‑five hundred years of dress on display simultaneously.
Who will be resurrected first?
The exact order of those being resurrected is as follows: First those buried in Israel will rise, followed by those buried outside Israel, and followed by Moses’ generation of Jews who were exited from Egypt (Kilayim 9:3). Interestingly, according to at least one authority in the Talmud, the forefathers Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob (or, as they are referred to in the talmudic passage, “those who sleep in Hebron”) will be resurrected last, in order that they awake joyously to the sight of all of their righteous and pious children who have merited resurrection as well (Avkat Ruchel).
An important proviso to the above is that within the respective regions, it will be the righteous who will merit being resurrected first (Zohar 2:140a). Within the righteous themselves, it will be those who excelled in Torah who will rise before those who excelled in mitzvot (Zohar 2:182a). According to one midrash, the order of the resurrection of the righteous will be alphabetical order, with the exception of those who possess the quality of humility, they will precede everyone else (see Ohev Yisrael, Likutim Parshah Berakhah).
Will everyone die before the Resurrection?
What will happen to the people who are still alive at the time of the resurrection? Will they live or die? Rabbenu Saadia Gaon writes that this subject is in great confusion, since no scriptural verses or rabbinic pronouncements have been said on the matter (Emunot Vedei’ot 47).
Rabbi Menachem Schneerson, however, points out that now that there is the merit of the revelation of the Zohar, we have a clear pronouncement on the subject.
It is concerning this time that it is written: “See now that I, even I, am He, and there is no G-d with me; I kill, and I make alive” (Deuteronomy 32:39). The double “I, I” indicates the absoluteness of the divine presence in the messianic time, when the “other side” shall be vanquished and be no more seen; and even death, which until that time was connected with the “other side,” will thenceforth be from Him directly, for those who have not yet experienced physical death, and He will raise them immediately; for nothing of that filth of sin, which is the cause of death, will remain in the world, and there will be a new world, fashioned and perfected by the hands of the Holy One, blessed be He. [Zohar 2:108b]
Thus we see clearly that all those who are alive will experience momentary death so there will be no continuation of the transgressions that have stained the world or a vestige of it in the World‑to‑Come. But the Almighty will resurrect everyone immediately.
Will there be a Judgment Day?
Will there be a Judgment Day after the resurrection of the dead? There are three differing opinions on the subject.
1. According to Nachmanides and others, there will indeed be a grand judgment Day after the resurrection, in which all human beings will be judged according to their merits (Ramban, Gate of Reward).
2. Every human being is judged directly after death, and thus there is no need for a special Day of Judgment. The repeated reference to such a day and its connection with the resurrection is really a reference to a Day of Retribution and Revenge (Abarbanel in Maayanei Hayesbua 8:7).
3. Rabbi Isaac Luria writes: “And if one shall ask, ‘After this soul has passed through many days of atonement (Yom Kippur) as well as physical suffering and cleansing as well as extensive spiritual cleansing [after death], why must it again [in the time of the resurrection] be subjected to another judgment on the great Day of Judgment?’ The answer is that this Day of Judgment is only for the non‑Jewish nations.”
According to Jewish tradition, upon a person’s death his soul must first go to the Gehenom for cleansing, which is unlike the Christian concept of Hell. Hell, or purgatory, is a place for damnation, where a soul remains suffering for all eternity in recompense for its sins. Jewish tradition, however, rejects any belief in a place where a soul suffers for the sake of suffering. It does, however, speak of a place where a soul can be for up to twelve months, depending on how badly soiled it is, where it is cleansed and purified of the blackness that is sin. Although the process is said to be painful, the purpose is to prepare the soul for eternal bliss in the Garden of Eden, which it cannot enter until its stains are removed.
But what will happen with those who will be alive at the time of the resurrection and will only be put to death momentarily. Since they will not have sufficient time to be spiritually cleansed in the Gehenom and the like, will they have to pass through the judgment Day? One of the responses given is that the magnitude of their cleansing will be heightened to such ferocious intensity that it will be equal to having been cleansed for a very long time, and thus they too will be ready to enter the World‑to‑Come. Of course, all of these issues are highly esoteric; G-d alone knows the truth.
Adapted from the Rebbe’s writings. From the book The Wolf Shall Live with the Lamb.