Only G-d Can Make an Identity

What is the true definition of Identity?

Why does the Midrash call the second blessing of the Amidah “HaShems blessing”?  as though the others are not.

I believe with complete faith that the Resurrection of the Dead will occur at the time when the Creator wills it … 

— 13th Article of Faith per Maimonides

 I will make you into a great nation. I will bless you and magnify your name. You shall become a blessing.

 — Bereishis 12:2

Rabi Chiya bar Ze’eerah said [How was Avraham’s name magnified? Through becoming a blessing! HaShem said] “Your blessing precedes mine for [in the amidah-silent standing devotion] only after they recite the blessing ‘Shield of Avraham’ do they recite the blessing of ‘He Who resurrects the dead’ “

— BeMidbar Rabbah-Nasso 11:4

 [The Caesar] Antoninus said: “I am well aware that the least one among you [Tannaim-authors of the Mishnah] can bring the dead to life”

— Avodah Zarah 10B

 An Angel comes to the grave and asks [the deceased] “what is your name?” He responds: “It is known and revealed before the Blessed One that I do not know my name.”  

— Pirkei d’Rabi Eliezer

Elokim made man level/straight; but they [men] have sought out many schemes.

— Koheles 7:29

[During the Resurrection HaShem] Desires to Straighten the crooked.

— Zohar Beshalach page 54A

People are resurrected in the same condition in which they died.  If they were lame, deaf or blind when they died; they will still be lame, deaf or blind when they are restored to life. Only afterwards will they be healed of their blemishes … they will even be wearing the same clothes …   [Why will HaShem resurrect the dead in this manner?] So that the wicked will not claim “[this is not true resurrection for] those who rose are not the same persons which He slew”. So the Holy Blessed One says “Let them arise in the same state as they went [while alive], I will heal them afterwards.”

— Midrash Tanchuma Vayigash 8

 Rabi Chiya bar Ze’eerah’s teaching seems odd. Why, asks the Bais Yaakov, the second Izhbitzer, should the first brachah-blessing; of the amidah be considered any less “HaShems blessing” than the second?  HaShem is both “He Who resurrects the dead” and the “Shield of Avraham”?

The answer, simply put, is that while human beings could, theoretically, approximate the role of protecting Avraham from harm and enemies and thus presume the role of  “shield of Avraham”; no human being can quicken the dead — even for a moment. Thus of all the many prayers, blessings and liturgy that praise Him, HaShem chooses to describe the second blessing of the amidah as “His” brachah.

But this answer dare not be understood on a superficial level.  As we believe in hashgachah peratis-micromanaged Divine Providence; we know that even if a human being were to protect Avraham from harm and enemies he could not possibly do so without HaShem enabling him to do so. But if deeds accomplished through Divine facilitation (in other words all human endeavors) are still counted among human accomplishments then so should resurrection! The prophets Eliyahu and Elisha and, possibly, Yechezkal resurrected the dead. Moreover, as the Caesar Antoninus observed, any Tanna had this capacity as well. Some might argue that current microsurgery techniques that reattach severed limbs and restore them to full function is a kind of resurrection. Likewise, if cloning technology continues apace to the point that a fully functional and completely identical human organism can be replicated from a cadavers DNA, everyone will acclaim this as a medical miracle of resurrection.

Medicine has long been concerned with memory and identity loss through amnesia and dementia. World literature and folklore is replete with tales of identity swaps e.g. The Prince and the Pauper. While infrequent episodes of identity theft have always plagued society, in our era, in which identifying personal and financial information is routinely stored electronically, identity theft has become a crime pandemic. The Bais Yaakov teaches that what we believe as a part of our theology, what makes the ultimate Resurrection of the Dead uniquely Divine, is not so much that HaShem will restore life to lifeless corpses but that He will return the truest, profoundest identity to those who have lost it.

While social security, credit card and passport numbers are the gold and gemstones of identity thieves in truth our identities do not inhere in any of these. Surnames are of fairly recent vintage and in most countries both forenames and surnames can be legally changed. Our faces and shapes can be radically altered through the ravages of time, exercise, diet, injury and/or reconstructive surgery. This begs the question: What is the true definition of identity?

The Bais Yaakov relates that of all the great secrets and mysteries the most secret and unknowable of all is the soul-root of every individual. As the following Talmudic narrative illustrates, souls are much more adept at recognizing their branches, i.e. the souls that derive from them, than at identifying their roots:

The father of Shmuel (whose name was Abba the son of Abba) had orphans’ money deposited with him. When he died … they called Shmuel, “The son who consumes the money of orphans”. So he tracked his father at the “courtyard of death” (i.e. the cemetery) and said to them [the dead] “I am looking for Abba. “They said to him: “There are many Abbas here.” “I seek Abba bar Abba” he said. They replied: There are also several “Abbas bar Abba” here. He then said to them: “I Want Abba bar Abba the father of Shmuel; where is he?” They replied: “He has ascended to the Academy on High.” (Brachos 18B)

The departed souls were unable to identify the soul of Shmuels father based on either his own identity or on the immediate root of his identity, his father (Abba the son of Abba).  They were only able to identify him based on an attachment to his “branch”; his son Shmuel, who was still rooted in the physical, temporal world. Apparently there is something about death that robs a soul not only of its physical plant but of its identity as well. This is what underpins the Pirkei d’Rabi Eliezer that reveals that the dead cannot remember their own names.

This idea is also the key to understanding the Midrash Tanchuma that teaches that in a theoretically perfected post-Messianic world there will still be those that claim “those who rose are not the same persons those He slew”. The Divine technique employed so that the resurrected souls will be able to recognize what HaShem will have done for them in restoring their very identities, is by having them bear the same infirmities they had when they first lived. The souls must recall their blemishes, particularly their inimitable spiritual blemishes e.g. jealously, lust and the pursuit of tribute et al, in order to be drawn after HaShem in dealing with those defects, to become wholesome, level and straight.

The essence of the Divine Resurrection of the Dead is that HaShem restores identity, not just a body.  The initially restored body is nothing more than a memory aid in helping the soul reacquaint itself with its own identity.  This; bringing lost, perished identities back to life, is something that only HaShem can do. He has never assisted even the greatest of human beings, those prophets and Tannaim who could quicken the dead, carry out identity restoration and resurrection.

This is why HaShem desires to “straighten the crooked” and why the praise we offer HaShem as “He Who resurrects the dead” is singular.  Since only G-d can make, and restore, an identity; the second brachah of the amidah is, uniquely, HaShems brachah.

The Bais Yaakov concludes that the soul apprehends itself only through its own blemishes and deficiencies as this is endemic to the human condition “For there is not a just man upon the earth, that does [only] good, and never sins/ misses the mark” (Koheles 7:20). Perhaps it is these defects that lie at the very core of our identities. For when we ask a person “what goodness did you achieve?” he will seldom remember. But when we ask him “what setbacks did you endure?” he will, almost invariably, recall immediately.

~adapted from Bais Yaakov ahl haTorah V’Hamoadim Lech Lecha D”H VaAgadlah