Parshas Korach (5774)
One of the fundamental tenets of Judaism is the belief in Techiyas Hameisim, the Resurrection of the Dead, at the end of time. [To learn more about the Resurrection, click here]
The Talmud in Sanhedrin 90b finds many allusions to the Resurrection in scripture, including a verse at the end of this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Korach. There the Torah discusses the laws of Terumas Maaser, the tithe of produce that the Levite living in Israel is obligated to separate from the tithe that he receives from the Israelites and to give it to the Kohen (Priest). G-d thus commands the Levites: “So shall you, too, raise up the gift of G-d from all your tithes that you accept from the Children of Israel, and you shall give from it a gift of G-d to Aaron the Kohen” (Numbers 18:28).
The Talmud states: “Rabbi Yochanan said: ‘Where do we find a hint to the resurrection of the dead in the Torah? For it says, [in respect to the tithe that the Levite must give to the Kohen], ‘…and you shall give from it a gift of G-d to Aaron the Kohen”. But was Aaron going to live forever? Why he never even entered the Land of Israel that they should give him Terumah [tithe]! But this teaches us that Aaron will come back to life again at some point in the future, and the Levites will then give him Terumah – which is a hint to the resurrection of the dead in the Torah.”
The problem with Rabbi Yochanan’s statement that after the resurrection of the dead all the commandments will be in force and the Levites will once again be obligated in the mitzvah of Terumas Maaser, is that it contradicts a different statement made by the very same Rabbi Yochanan elsewhere in the Talmud.
The Talmud in Niddah 61b discusses whether or not one is allowed to bury the dead in shrouds made of Shaatnez (a Biblically forbidden mixture of linen and wool threads – see Leviticus 19:19 and Deuteronomy 22:9–11). Rabbi Yochanan allows it (even though this means that the dead person will be wearing forbidden clothing when he comes back to life at the time of the Resurrection). His reasoning is based on the verse in Psalm 88 “Among the dead who are free…” which teaches us that once a person dies, he is ‘free’ of all mitzvah obligations, including the laws of Shaatnez.
So which is it? After the Resurrection of the Dead will we once again be obligated to follow the 613 commandments of the Torah or will we be free of those obligations?
Of course the answer is that it depends on which Resurrection of the Dead you’re talking about. You see, many great rabbis have a tradition that there will in fact be two resurrections at the end of time.
The Ritv”a, in his commentary to Taanis 30b, writes that there are actually two periods of resurrection. One period of resurrection is at the end of this world as we know it (before we move into the next phase called Olam Haba, the “World to Come”), and is for all Jews (unless they are without any merit). At this point, there will no longer be any mitzvah obligations. However, there will be an earlier period of resurrection, just before the building of the Third Temple in the Messianic Era, when all the commandments will still be in effect. At this resurrection, all the righteous Jews who died in the exile yearning for the Messiah will merit coming back to life to witness the joy of the final redemption.
The Migdal Dovid writes that this is a great consolation for all those Jews who suffered throughout the centuries and millennia, and who died Al Kiddush Hashem (sanctifying G-d’s Name), yet who never got to see the “good times” which we all pray for, when we will all live in peace and harmony in the Land of Israel with the coming of the Messiah and the building of the Third Temple. All those holy Jews who longed and yearned for the Messianic Era will rise up from their graves to enjoy this very special time.
With this we can resolve Rabbi Yochanan’s seemingly contradictory statements. Most Jews who are already dead will not merit coming back to life for the Messianic Era, and will only come back to life for the final resurrection, at which point the commandments will no longer be in effect. Therefore, Rabbi Yochanan rules that the dead can even be buried in shrouds made of Shaatnez without any concern for violating the Torah’s laws.
Rabbi Yochanan’s other statement that Aaron the High Priest will come back to life and once again receive the tithes from the Levites, is referring to the first period of resurrection when all the great leaders of our people and all the saintly Jews who died yearning for the Messianic Era will live again and witness this great time firsthand. At that point all the mitzvahs will still be binding, and the Levites will be obligated to give their tithes to Aaron and the other Kohanim.
May we all live to see the “good times” with the coming of the Messiah. Amen.