What is the Ultimate?
"In the World to Come there will be no bodies and physical forms, but
only the incorporeal souls of the righteous -- just like the angels of
[G-d's] service. Since there will be no bodies, there will be no eating,
drinking, or any of the things which human bodies require in this world.
Likewise, none of the matters which are relevant to bodies in this world
will be relevant to it -- such as sitting, standing, sleeping , death,
sadness, laughter, and the like. So too did the early sages say, 'The World
to Come does not have eating, drinking, nor sexual relations. Rather, the
righteous will sit with their crowns on their heads, basking in (lit.,
'benefiting from') the shine of the Divine Presence ('Shechina') (Brachos 17a).
"It is thus clear that there will not be bodies there, as there is no eating
and drinking. And that which [the Sages] said, 'the righteous will *sit*'
was metaphorical, meaning, the souls of the righteous will be found there,
without work or effort. So too that which they said 'their crowns will be on
their heads,' the intent is that the knowledge that they have acquired [in
their lifetimes], that on account of it they merited life in the World to
Come, will be with them. This is their 'crown', as the matter which Solomon
said, 'with the crown which his mother crowned him' (Song of Songs 3:11).
(Note: In the eyes of the Sages, the entire Song of Songs is a metaphor
depicting G-d and Israel's relationship and reciprocal love.) And in fact,
it also says, 'and eternal joy on their heads' (Isaiah 51:11). [Now,] 'joy'
is not physical that it may rest on a head. So too the 'crown' which the
Sages referred to here means knowledge.
"What is [the meaning of] that which [the Sages] said, 'basking in the shine
of the Divine Presence?' That they will perceive and comprehend the truth of
the Holy One, blessed be He, which they cannot know while they are in a dark
and lowly body."
For the last few classes we have been discussing several of Judaism's most
fundamental beliefs regarding the afterlife, the World to Come, and the
Resurrection. We presented the basic outline of mankind's future -- both
what occurs to a person after he dies and what (roughly) will occur at the
End of Days.
As we explained, as soon as a person dies, he stands before the Heavenly
Tribunal in judgment -- for his behavior during his lifetime. This will
generally result in some degree of purgatory in Hell followed by the soul's
entrance into the World of Souls. This is not the final World to Come, but a
blissful state for the soul until it is later reunited with its body before
the Final Judgment.
A similar process will occur on a cosmic scale at the End of Days. First,
the world will reach its perfected state with the Messiah's arrival. The
world over will recognize the G-d of Israel. We will rebuild the Temple and
oversee the nations. Peace will reign. Mankind will at last be free to serve
G-d truly and turn the world into a reflection of the One who created it.
This period will end at the year 6000 with the Resurrection of the Dead. All
of mankind will rise for judgment -- some to live eternally and some to be
destroyed utterly. After the judgment the world as we know it will be
destroyed -- to be recreated in a higher state at the end of a 1000 year
period. At the end of it, the worthy, who will then exist as body and soul
united, will be ushered into the recreated world -- a future Eden -- to
dwell with G-d eternally.
What I have just outlined is the basic scheme of the future according to
virtually all the major Jewish philosophers. Maimonides appears to be the
exception. He describes the World to Come here as entirely spiritual. There
will be no physical bodies nor any of the phenomena relevant to physical man
today. Man will be entirely spiritual, a pure soul basking in the presence
of its Creator. (It is not even clear if spatial directions are meaningful
in an entirely spiritual existence. Will we be "close" to G-d in the sense
which comes to our minds today?)
I won't spend a lot of time reviewing the many sources other thinkers
marshal in challenging the Rambam. A few points, however, are clear. First,
the reality of a future Resurrection is crystal clear from both Scripture
and the Talmud. It is inconceivable that the Rambam, or any traditional
thinker, would question it.
In fact, the Rambam himself earlier included one who denies the Resurrection
in his list of people who receive no share in the World to Come (3:6;
www.torah.org/learning/mlife/LORch3-6.html). He also lists belief in the
Resurrection as the final of his 13 Principles of Faith, right after the
coming of the Messiah. And finally, in response to critics, the Rambam later
penned his "Essay on the Resurrection" (ma'amar techiyas ha'maisim)
asserting his total belief in the Resurrection, stating that the many
sources which discuss it are speaking literally and not figuratively.
Thus, it is inconceivable that the Rambam disagrees with the basic destiny
of man as outlined above. The Talmud writes clearly that the world will
endure for 6000 years, culminating in its destruction and recreation in
higher form. Yet even so, the Rambam hardly mentions the Resurrection in his
writings here, and he certainly makes it clear -- both here and in his Essay
on the Resurrection -- that the ultimate state of man will be entirely
To my knowledge, there are two approaches to reconciling the Rambam with the
earlier sources. The standard one is that the Rambam does agree that a
Resurrection will occur, but sees it as a temporary stage. After the final
judgment, man will first be inducted into Eden, to a heightened physical
existence. But afterwards, that stage will pass and the ultimate reward --
spiritual existence in the true World to Come will begin. It is not clear
what purpose this earlier stage will fulfill -- why man must first be
rewarded physically before he can receive his true reward.
My teacher, R. Yochanan Zweig (www.talmudicu.edu &
www.torah.org/learning/rabbizweig) suggested an important variation to this
approach. The Rambam believes that the Resurrection will be a temporary
stage, followed by an entirely spiritual World to Come. Perhaps, rather than
the first stage ending and the second beginning, what will actually occur is
that the first stage will *lead into* the second. The meaning is that the
future world will begin as a physical realm, with man entering Eden in a
loftier physical form. However, from there will begin a process of
sublimation. We will slowly sanctify our physical sides, until they too
reach the level of the spiritual. Thus, man's physical Resurrection will
culminate with the entirely spiritual World to Come, rather than one ending
and the other beginning.
I actually do not really know what it means for our physical sides to become
spiritual. Will our two sides be identical, indistinguishable from one
another? Or will our physical side somehow retain some of its unique
qualities -- whatever they will be at that point? No doubt there is no way
we can know in our present state.
One point which I do find intriguing about this is that this makes clear
that no part of ourselves is in vain. Rather than our physical bodies
becoming useless appendages when our souls are ready to shine, they too will
become sanctified. Our bodies too will have their place in the World to
Come. And this gives us an entirely different perspective about our physical
side. Man's physical is not an evil challenge to spirituality, to be
rejected and discarded when we are truly ready for G-d. Rather, it too is
purposeful -- and so inherently good. No part of G-d's creation exists
solely to be quashed and repressed. Every part of us -- from our highest to
"lowest" -- will ultimately be worthy of the Divine Presence. And we must
live our lives today with that realization.
Text Copyright © 2013 by Rabbi Dovid Rosenfeld and Torah.org