By Israel Drazin
The following is a brief version of an excerpt from “Beyond the Bible Text” by Rabbi Dr. Stanley Wagner and me that will be published in September 2013. We usually put three articles for each biblical portion, generally discussing thought-provoking subjects that people will not find elsewhere. This week’s essay is from Ve’zot Haberakhah
Resurrection: A Difficult Article of Faith
Deuteronomy 33:6 states: “Let Reuben live and not die, and may his number be included in the count (of all future censuses of the people—Rashi).” Based on this verse, the Talmudic sage Raba states that the concept of resurrection is contained in the Torah (Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 92a). The mishnah in Sanhedrin (11, 1) states that people who deny that the resurrection will happen have “no share in the World to Come.”
Other Jewish sages bring different textual proofs for the resurrection than Raba. The following verses, taken from just one folio in the Babylonian Talmud (Sanhedrin, 92a and b), are offered:
The voice of your watchmen raise their voice, they shall sing together. (It does not say “sing,” but “shall sing.”)
Many of them that sleep in the dust of the earth shall awaken, some for eternity and some for shame and eternal contempt (Daniel 12:2).
The Lord slays and gives life, He lowers to the grave and brings up (I Samuel 2:6).
Other examples, among many, are:
Then Moses and the Israelites sang (Scripture: ‘will sing’) this song before the Lord (Exodus 15:1 and Midrash Mekhilta).
But you who cleave to the Lord are all alive today (Deuteronomy 4:4 and Babylonian Talmud, Sanhedrin 90b).
And they will blossom from the city like grass from the earth (Psalms 72:16 and Babylonian Talmud, Ketubot 111b).
Admittedly, most of these apparent proofs do not explicitly mention resurrection, but many Jews since about the third or second century BCE have held fast to this doctrine, and indeed, it was sufficiently ingrained in the Jewish psyche in the first century CE that early Christians (all of whom were Jews) believed that Jesus was resurrected, and later Christianity based much of its early theology on this belief.
The concept of resurrection has also been included in the daily prayer book, in its most important prayer, the Amidah, dating from the second century CE, at a time when the Samaritans and Sadducees rejected it, for they did not accept the idea of a ressurection. It reads: “You resurrect the dead with great mercy … Blessed are You, Lord, who resurrects the dead.”
It is also found in a preliminary prayer (taken from the Babylonian Talmud, Berakhot 60b) before the morning service, which concludes with “Blessed are you, Lord, who restores souls to lifeless bodies.” Rabbi Elie Munk, in his World of Prayer (Feldheim Publishers, 1954), suggests that the doctrine of resurrection is introduced in the morning services because of the similarity between sleep and death. This miracle of reawakening every morning makes the miracle of the revival of the dead look like it is within the realm of possibility.
Finally, in a prayer recited only on the Sabbath, Ha’kol yodukha, “All will thank You,” the author describes sequential stages of life up until the afterlife and states: “this world, the life of the World to Come, the days of the Messiah, and (the time of) the resurrection of the dead.” One cannot escape the conclusion, therefore, that this doctrine, not mentioned in the Torah and not accepted by all Jews, became deeply rooted in Jewish tradition since about 150 BCE.