Thursday, June 16, 2005

Please See to it that All Young Children and the Weak of Heart are Out of the Room, Ladies and Gentlemen ... (Part 2)

Please See to it that All Young Children and the Weak of Heart are Out of the Room, Ladies and Gentlemen: We’re About to Discuss the Resurrection of the Dead! (Part 2)

by Rabbi Yaakov Feldman


About a hundred years ago there lived a great Kabbalist by the name of Rabbi Shlomo Eliyashuv (of blessed memory), who came to be known as “The Leshem” (after the first word of his most famous work). In fact, the great preponderance of what we have to say here is based on what he says on the subject. The Leshem noticed many things about the state of this world. But he was perhaps most haunted by the fact that things simply aren’t the way they’re supposed to be (or haven’t you noticed?). And he set out to demonstrate that all will prove to be right -- once we come to terms with the notion of the resurrection of the dead.

It’s important to realize first off that, “The resurrection of the dead is one of the foundations (of our faith) handed down by Moses“, as the Rambam puts it (Sanhedrin 10:1) And that what it comes to is “body and soul uniting again after having separated” in death (Ma’amar Techiyat Hameitim.). The Rambam went on to cite verses that bespeak that, which he assures us we’re to take literally, not allegorically, including the prophet Daniel’s declaration that, “Many who sleep in the dust of the earth will awaken ...“ (12:2). We’ll illustrate the phenomenon in more detail further on, G-d willing. But suffice it to say that the belief in the resurrection of the dead isn’t some sort of “interesting idea the Jews believe in” -- it’s a concept we base our faith upon!

Back to the Leshem, though. He noticed that the meaning of life wasn’t being carried out, and he pondered that. So, let’s spend a moment or two talking about the meaning of life. We’re taught that essentially our task in life is to right all wrongs, and spread more and more good in the world. And that in the process we’re said by the Kabbalists to “elevate all the holy sparks that fell among the husks in the course of the breaking of the vessels.” A word of explanation.

The Kabbalists tell us that at first there was a primordial light, and receptacles for it; but the light was so, so brilliant that its receptacles couldn’t contain it, and they smashed, and the sparks of primordial light darted in all directions. Those holy sparks embedded themselves in the world as we know it now; and our task is to exhume -- resurrect -- those holy sparks by engaging in holiness in this world, which sort of has the embedded sparks resonate with our accrued holiness, and come back to life.

We’re also taught that the only reason wrong and bad exist is to allow for our free choice, and to make it possible for us to incline “either this way or that" (in the words of The Leshem). And that that system is the source of all reward and punishment.

Now, that would be fine and dandy if the world -- or at least a good part of it -- was exhuming holy sparks, and people were conquering their impulses and heading ever upward, The Leshem pointed out. Yet we know that hasn't been the case throughout history -- from the very beginning till today! The world continues to be unrighteous, and most of the people in the world, throughout the generations, have continued to do wrong and sin to one degree or another. It's said of us, the Jewish Nation, that we are a "holy people to G-d”, and that He chose us “to be a special people to Him” (Deuteronomy 7:6). Yet frankly, few of us are righteous (though many of us are good), and even the few saintly individuals among us who are righteous, aren't flawless -- "For there is not a righteous man upon the earth that does good yet does not sin" (Ecclesiastes 7:20), and "the very form of man's heart is evil from his youth" (Genesis 8:21)!

But that’s not only so as far as we Jews are concerned -- it’s true of all of humanity. Adam wasn't in his full glory for even a day; for the next 1,656 years to the generation of the flood only Noah and his children were righteous; and except for certain rare exceptions, the world was full of sinful people for another ten generations until the time of Abraham. And even those rare exceptions -- like Shem and Eber -- only influenced a few to follow a more righteous path, and not the masses. The world hasn't been right since the revelation of the Torah, either. And though they were offered it, too, the other nations of the world didn't accept the Torah.

The apex of our own national perfection was set to be the time of the construction of the Holy Temple, which was destroyed, as we all know. Yet, the Midrash tells us (Bamidbar Rabbah 10:4) that as a consequence of Solomon marrying the daughter of (the then) Pharaoh the very night he finished constructing the Temple, G-d had it in mind to destroy it. Hence there wasn't a single night of wholeness in our history!

All then goes on the way it always has since the day man was created, with all the troubles and conflagrations. And we still have no rest from the promptings of our baser impulses our whole lives long. In fact, the sages even suggested that it would have been better for us not to have been created in the first place (Eruvin 13b)!

Not only aren’t we doing what we’re supposed to be doing to the degree expected of us, but we’re suffering in the process. And who doesn’t know that, or isn't suffering him or herself? We’re not only suffering manifestly in life, but will suffer in non-material ways in the afterlife (G-d protect us all). Yet G-d obviously foresaw from the start that we'd always succumb to our baser impulses on one level or another. It almost seems as if the Grand Plan isn’t working, and that all our toil and tribulation is to no avail. So, what’s going on?

It all hinges on the reality of the resurrection of the dead, says The Leshem -- all.

(c) 2005 Rabbi Yaakov Feldman

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AT LONG LAST! Rabbi Feldman's translation of "The Gates of Repentance" has been reissued at *at a discount*! You can order it right now by logging onto (or by going to and searching for it). 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). And his new work on Maimonides' "The Eight Chapters" will soon be available from Judaica Press.
His works are available in bookstores and in various locations on the Web.
Rabbi Feldman also offers two free e-mail classes on entitled "Spiritual Excellence" and "Ramchal".