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Towards a Greater Understanding of Techiyat HaMetim – ‘Resurrection of the Dead’

Jewish tradition teaches that after one dies, with the coming of the Messiah, a person will be brought back to life in this world. The great medieval sage, Maimonides, wrote a separate essay devoted to this issue called Igeret Techiyat HaMetim, Treatise on the Resurrection of the Dead. In it he emphasizes that this belief be understood in the most literal terms.Grandparents, Parents, siblings, children that have passed away will be reunited with us at that time. Maimonides states that the belief in Techiyat HaMetim is one of the thirteen principles of faith that is required by every Jew to affirm: “I believe with perfect faith that the dead will be brought back to life when God wills it to happen.” There is a not a day that goes by that an observant Jew does not proclaim this principle of faith when reciting the ‘amidah’ prayer. There are six references to it in the second paragraph alone.

The following teaching exemplifies the serious nature of this belief within our faith. Not only does our tradition speak of resurrection for those that lived life but it also teaches that there is a promise of resurrection even for a mother’s embryo or fetus that is lost.

A Modern Day Question

Rav Moshe Feinstein (1895-1986) was a world-renowned rabbinic figure. He was regarded by many as the supreme halachic authority in America during that time and his ‘piskei halacha’, decisions regarding Jewish law, continue to be adhered to by the global Jewish community.

In the following halachic responsa, Rav Moshe Feinstein addresses the intriguing question: If a woman miscarries does the fetus merit being brought back to life at the time of Techiyat HaMetim?

Rav Moshe’s answer appears in his famous work Igrot Moshe (Yoreh Deah, Section 138).

The Talmudic View of Revival of the Dead

Rav Moshe begins by quoting from the Talmud (Sanhedrin 110b): The sage Ravina addresses the following query: ‘How old must a child be in order to be admitted to the Word To Come?’ Ravina answers that a fetus is eligible for admittance in the World To Come from the moment it is conceived. The commentator Rashi explains that from the moment of conception, even if the mother miscarries and the embryo is lost – the ‘child’ has a share in the World To Come. Rav Moshe makes note of the fact that Ravina’s opinion holds significant weight in that he is the final opinion recorded on this issue in the Talmud.

Rav Moshe then quotes a second source which directly addresses the issue. The Talmud in Ketubot (111a) cites the verse in Isaiah (26:19), “Your dead will come back to life, may my corpses arise”. There is a redundancy in the verse. Two times it refers to resurrection from the dead. The first half of the verse, Rav Moshe explains, refers to those who pass away. The second phrase, says the Talmud, refers to a fetus that does not survive and who will also be brought to life during Techiyat HaMetim.

 

The Great Sage Answers

Based on these two Talmudic sources, Rav Moshe states that there will undoubtedly be resurrection for a miscarried fetus as well. He continues to explain that a fetus that is completely pure and has neversinnedhasthegreatestmerittobebroughttolifeduring TechiyatHaMetim.

Rav Moshe now turns to the questioner with empathy, saying:
‘Therefore you can be assured that soon, when Hashem wills it to be, we will see the days of Techiyat

HaMetim, when you will meet your pure and righteous brothers’.

Rav Moshe ends the responsa in the following way: He says that this area of life is mysterious and beyond our grasp. Rav Moshe advises that one put emphasis on living a life devoted to performance of mitzvot, Torah learning, and good deeds, which is the true and tested path to finding joy and happiness. With sensitivity Rav Moshe concludes this halachic responsa by wishing the questioner ‘shalvat hanefesh’, ‘tranquility for the soul’, a blessing that he find peace of mind, that he be strengthened by faith and the promise of the future.

A Giant of Torah Affirms A Principle of Faith

The great sage and Talmudist of the past century, Rabbi Joseph B. Soloveitchik (1903-1993) affirms Techiyat HaMetim’s centrality in the Jewish belief system. He explains that Techiyat HaMetim gives credence to the core belief that there will be a rectification of the evil and pain that has been suffered by so many in this world. Techiyat HaMetim is not meant to be an act that merely highlights God’s power to perform miraculous and wondrous deeds. Rather, it is a fulfillment of God’s goodness to to make right that which is wrong; it is a moral and ethical act on God’s part to ultimately bring justice and wholeness to where there has been pain and brokenness.

Death Is Not Forever

Here in this world, in a physical world that we know, we will one day experience a healing and kindness that all of us desperately yearn to see. Techiyat HaMetim will be the eventual and long awaited fulfillment of the promise of a world that is whole and good.

A Jew prays each day that the day will soon come when we will again hold our loved ones close and share precious days together filled with love, serenity, and peace.

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