Eternity of Torah and Mitzvos

After the Resurrection, will the 613 commandments still apply?1 In particular, what of those that require involvement with the physical world? If, as some authorities hold,2 there is no eating or drinking, how will one observe the mitzvah of reciting the Grace after Meals which is based on the verse,3 “And you shall eat and be satisfied, and bless the L‑rd your G‑d”? More broadly, what is the meaning of the Talmudic teaching that4 “the righteous will sit with their crowns on their heads and delight in the radiance of the Divine Presence”? And will there still be Torah study?5

This question in turn raises a more fundamental question — the eternal nature of the Torah. Were the commandments given to be observed only for a certain period, after which they would be revoked, or are they eternal?

Rambam writes:6 “It is clear and explicit in the Torah, that the Torah is an eternal commandment; it is not subject to change nor subtraction nor addition.” Elsewhere in Mishneh Torah7 he clarifies this principle: “All the books of the prophets (Nevi’im) and all the Holy Writings (Kesuvim) will be dissolved in the days of Mashiach, except for the Book of Esther, which will remain — like the Five Books of the Chumash and like the legal rulings (halachos) of the Oral Law, which will never be revoked.”

The idea that the books of the prophets will be dissolved in the Messianic era is based on a passage in the Jerusalem Talmud.8 The reason given is that all the words of the prophets are intended either to reinforce adherence to the laws given through Moshe Rabbeinu in the Chumash or to admonish people for negligence. (In the words of the last of the prophets, for example,9 “Remember the Torah of Moshe, My servant.”) In the Messianic era, when the law as given through Moshe Rabbeinu is fully observed, there is thus no more need for the words of the prophets. Furthermore, all the laws derived from the Prophets and the Writings are (previously) alluded to in the Five Books of the Chumash — and in the Messianic era, we shall be able to understand how to derive these laws directly from the Chumash.10

The Oral Tradition

It is thus clear that all the exegesis and debate of the Oral Tradition will be abrogated and we shall be left with only the halachos, its clearly-defined laws. In the Messianic era, moreover, all the reasons for the commandments will be revealed. Indeed, our comprehension of the Torah will be on such a different level that when the prophet says that at that time11 תורה מאתי תצא — “a Torah shall go forth from Me,” the Midrash12 extrapolates: תורה חדשה — “a new Torah shall go forth from Me” (or, in another version, חידוש תורה — “a renewing of the Torah shall go forth from Me”). Since the Torah is eternal, it is obvious that the Midrash is not speaking of a new set of laws; rather, it is speaking of the inner dimension of the Torah, the reasons and mysteries that will be revealed by Mashiach. Thus all that will remain from our pre-Messianic presentation of the Oral Tradition will be the actual laws, without the surrounding exegesis.

This basic halachic framework of the Oral Law is foreshadowed in the Mishneh Torah of Rambam. As he writes in his Introduction, “One may first read the Written Torah and then read the present work and through it he may know the entire Oral Torah, without needing to study any other intervening work.”13

At any rate, it is clear that Rambam rules that the Five Books of Moshe and the halachos of the Oral tradition are eternal.

The Messianic Era and the Resurrection

There is however an opinion in the Talmud14 that the mitzvos will no longer apply after the Resurrection. According to this opinion, the Messianic era will comprise two distinct periods. In the first period after Mashiach arrives, the whole of Torah law will be in force and the mitzvos will be fully observed. However, from the time of the Resurrection (which is to take place forty years after the advent of Mashiach15 ), the mitzvos will no longer be in force.

But what of the principle that all Torah laws are everlasting?

In response to this apparent contradiction one could suggest that this means that they will last until the time of the Resurrection. In other words, the mitzvos apply only during the period of which it is written,16 היום לעשותם — “[You shall observe the commandments... which I command you] today, to do them.” As the Sages explain,17 the time to do the commandments is today, while in this world, but not “tomorrow, [when] you shall reap the reward,” i.e., in the World to Come.18 In this light, one may perceive the observance of the mitzvos as a means of refining and elevating the world, and once this has been achieved in the period of the Resurrection, they have no further function.19

Mitzvos as the Will of G‑d

However, though mitzvos have an elevating capability,20 the essence of a Divine command is the Divine Will — and this transcends time and place and even the world’s spiritual level at any given moment.21 The 613 commandments are a physical expression of the Will of the Divine Essence, which existed before the world was created and which will exist for all future time.22 If so, how can we maintain that the mitzvos were intended to be valid only in this world, but not in the World to Come (the World of Resurrection)?

One Problem Resolved, One Problem Posed

A careful analysis of the context of the Talmudic teaching cited above23 —that “the mitzvos will no longer apply in time to come [i.e., after the Resurrection]” — provides a solution to this apparently glaring contradiction.

The opinion is expressed that “a garment that includes kilayim [i.e., shaatnez, a prohibited mixture of wool and linen]... may be used for shrouds for the dead.” This statement sparks off the following debate:

Rav Yosef responded: ‘This means that the mitzvos will no longer apply in time to come’ [for otherwise, those resurrected would be wearing forbidden garments].

Abbaye (some say it was Rav Dimi) objected: ‘But R. Mani said in the name of R. Yannai that this permission applies only for the eulogy but not for the burial!’

“[Rav Yosef] replied: ‘Was it not taught that R. Yochanan said that it applies even for the burial? And in this R. Yochanan is consistent with his own teachings, for R. Yochanan taught: What is meant by the verse,24 “free among the dead”? — Once a man dies, he is free from fulfilling the mitzvos.’“

The commentaries find R. Yochanan’s opinion problematic.

(1) The reason given — that the dead are free of mitzvos — is valid only when the departed are in the grave. Upon Resurrection, however, surely they would immediately transgress the prohibition of kilayim.

(2) Elsewhere25 R. Yochanan says: “How is Resurrection deduced from the Torah?

“It is written,26 ‘Of [these tithes] you shall give G‑d’s heave-offering to Aharon the priest.’ But would Aharon live forever?! After all, he did not enter the Land of Israel and thereby make it possible that terumah be given to him! Rather, this verse teaches that he will ultimately be resurrected, and the Jewish people will give him terumah....”

Now, if R. Yochanan holds that the mitzvos (such as terumah) will be observed after the Resurrection, how could he permit the use of kilayim for burial?27

A Solution: From Obedience to Fusion

The Rebbe proposes the following answer:

In the above-quoted Talmudic discussion, the teaching of R. Yochanan — that the dead are free of the commandments — is cited as an explanation of Rav Yosef’s view that there is no observance of commandments after the Resurrection. However, though the dead are not obliged to observe mitzvos, the mitzvos remain.

By way of clarification: A solitary entity may indeed possess a will, but this cannot be expressed as a commandment. A commandment can exist only when there are two entities, the Commander and the commanded, and the commandment connects the two.28 Before the Resurrection, therefore, when man and G‑d are two separate entities, the notion of a commandment is conceivable. (Indeed, it is in the Messianic era, before the Resurrection, that the commandments will be observed to the ultimate degree.) After the Resurrection, when the entire world will be permeated with the knowledge of G‑d, man and G‑d will (so to speak) dissolve into one entity.29 At that time a mitzvah will not connect two separate entities; rather, it will express G‑d’s unique Unity.

This conception enables us to resolve the seeming contradiction between the two teachings of R. Yochanan: on the one hand, the use of kilayim for shrouds appeared to prove that there will be no observance of mitzvos after the Resurrection, and on the other hand, R. Yochanan’s evidence for Resurrection from the mitzvah of giving terumah appeared to prove the opposite.

In light of the above explanation, we can now understand that after the Resurrection the mitzvos will be observed not because they are commandments that connect two separate entities, the Commander and the commanded; rather, the entire creation will perform the will of G‑d as a matter of course.30 Terumah will automatically be given since it is the will of G‑d. Kilayim may be used for shrouds since at the moment of Resurrection there will be no such prohibitive commandment; yet since it is the will of G‑d that no kilayim be worn, the dead who will rise wearing kilayim will as a matter of course remove such garments upon their Resurrection.31

After the Resurrection, the relationship of Commander and commanded will make way for a world which is sensitive to the will of its Creator and responds to it spontaneously. In the same way, the link between mitzvah observance and reward and punishment will be severed. Instead, all of finite humanity will desire nothing more than to join hands in an ongoing quest for proximity with the Infinite Creator.

Mitzvah and Halachah

We can now clearly distinguish between a mitzvah and a halachah. The mitzvos will no longer apply after the Resurrection; the Halachah is eternal. A mitzvah is a commandment that connects; the Halachah is an expression of the Divine Will. The Divine Will is housed in the Torah, a “treasure” which existed before the world was created;32 in the Torah G‑d inscribed His very Essence.33 It is thus eternal and independent of any and all considerations.34

Torah and Mitzvos

The above concept can also be expressed in a slightly different manner, using the terms Torah and mitzvos. Mitzvos are designed to enable the world to function in accordance with the Divine Will. The Torah precedes the world. Indeed, the world was created for the sake of the Torah,35 so that the Divine Will expressed in the Torah which itself transcends the world, should also be expressed within the world. After the Resurrection, when the world will have been elevated, there will be no more observance of mitzvos, whereas the Divine Will as expressed in the halachos of the Torah is eternal.

We can now better understand the meaning of the above teaching of the Sages, that the time to do the commandments is today, while in this world, but not “tomorrow, [when] you shall reap the reward,” i.e., at the time of the Resurrection, in the World to Come. For the true36 “reward for a mitzvah is the mitzvah itself,” i.e., the present connection with G‑d that one achieves by its observance.37 The true reward for the observance of mitzvos is to be elevated to the level of the Torah in the state in which it existed before Creation, a state in which the only entity really existing is a world that reflects the Will of G‑d. This is the World of the Resurrection — a world which is truly connected and unified with G‑d.38

Beis Hillel and Beis Shammai

The above perspective also enables us to understand an otherwise perplexing teaching: Although nowadays (with a few exceptions) the law follows the view of the House of Hillel against the contrary view of the House of Shammai, in time to come the Halachah will accept the view of the House of Shammai as authoritative.39 Would this switch of direction not appear to contradict the principle that the halachos are eternal and not subject to change?40

The Mishnah states:41 “Any conflict of opinion that exists for the sake of heaven will survive... [such as] the conflict of opinion between Hillel and Shammai.” As the Alter Rebbe explains,42 the Mishnah means that both views are legitimate: in the present the Halachah follows the thinking of the House of Hillel and in time to come it will follow the thinking of the House of Shammai. In other words, the two views will (so to speak) take turns at being correct. The wording of the Mishnah, however, makes it clear that even when the law is changed so as to follow the House of Shammai, the difference of opinion will survive.

The Rebbe resolves this anomaly as follows. In the present era the Halachah follows the House of Hillel; when Mashiach comes the Halachah will follow the House of Shammai; at the time of the Resurrection, when the observance of mitzvos is suspended, only the halachos will remain — and then both views will be legitimate.

To explain: The views of the House of Hillel and the House of Shammai — so diametrically opposed that43 “these permit and those prohibit” and44 “the Torah resembled two Torahs” — are only opposed when the Halachah is translated into a commandment to be observed within mortal parameters. Within the finite confines of creation, only one of two opposing opinions can be “correct”. In the here and now of this world, only one can be practiced: the other must be left waiting in the spiritual realm. In the present era, therefore, and so too in the Messianic era when mitzvos will still be observed, the Halachah must follow either one view or the other. At the time of the Resurrection, however, when G‑d’s infinity will be manifest, both views will be correct:45 “Both these and those are the words of the Living G‑d.” Both opinions will then be relevant since G‑d in His infinity can contain a contradiction.46 This Divine capacity is echoed in the verse,47 “G‑d spoke one, and two I heard.”

In Conclusion

The Messianic era will comprise two distinct periods.48

1. From the arrival of Mashiach until the Resurrection: During this period there will be no obstacles to the full observance of the commandments. Indeed, their fulfillment in this world (“today — to do them”) will be at its zenith.49

2. The period of the Resurrection: This is the time of reward for the observance of mitzvos. The ultimate reward will be the fusion of the Commander with the commanded, resulting in the suspension of the commandments. Instead of prohibitions and obligations, the world will be so filled with the knowledge of G‑d that it will fulfill the Divine will spontaneously. This is the meaning of “delighting in the radiance of the Divine Presence.” At that time a mitzvah will not be perceived as a step towards a Divine reward: a mitzvah will be its own reward — the immersion of man in the Divine will.50

We opened this chapter with a simple question: If, as some authorities hold, there is no eating or drinking in the era of the Resurrection, how will one then observe the mitzvah of reciting the Grace after Meals?

The answer is that if a person were then to eat,51 he would recite grace not in conscious fulfillment of a formal obligation, but as the spontaneous response of a created being who is utterly attuned to the Divine will. A more basic answer is that the question itself can only be asked so long as we perceive ourselves as being in the same frame of mind after the Resurrection as we are now — whereas in fact we will then all be as utterly immersed in the will of G‑d as if immersed within the waters that cover the ocean bed.52