In the beginning ["Bereishit"], G‑d created the heavens and the earth…(Gen. 1:1) Just as heaven and earth were "firsts" in terms of the Creation, so also are the soul and body "firsts" in terms of man…
Humankind itself has an aspect of "heaven" and an aspect of "earth". This is slightly different that what we said above [see Anatomy of the Creation]. For his soul is the spiritual component of his makeup which parallels the heavens, and his body is the physical that parallels the earth. Concerning these two, the first verse in the Torah says, "Bereishit", meaning, there are "two" [the numerical value of the letter beit] things that are considered "firsts/beginnings" [in Hebrew, "reishit"]. For just as heaven and earth were "firsts" in terms of the Creation, so also are the soul and body "firsts" in terms of man.
This is why the verse contains seven words, paralleling the seventy years of a normal lifespan.
This is as the verse says, "The years of our lives number seventy, and if we are strong, eighty, but the honor (we attain in our short lives) is wearisome and futile, [for the end] cuts us off swiftly and [everything we have done] flies away". (Psalms 90:10)
The end of bodily existence is thus alluded to in the next verse, "And the earth [i.e. the body] was formless and void, with darkness on the face of the depths. But the spirit of G‑d [still] hovers over the waters".(Gen. 1:2) Tohu indicates a state of amazement and disbelief.
For a man cannot believe what he sees when he beholds the appearance of his friend's body after the latter has passed away. Just a short while ago, he was a young man, handsome and ruddy. Now, after his death, mortification and gangrene have set in. The smell of decaying flesh fills the air. This is a totally disorienting experience. Seeing such a sight, a person could conclude that all hope is lost, G‑d forbid: "After death, who could ever live again?" Death, which seems so final, is thus only a form of sleep from which we will awaken…
But this is not so. For the soul hovers over the Luz bone (the bone at the top of the spine where the knot of the tefillin rests) from the time a person dies until the final Resurrection of the Dead. Death, which seems so final, is thus only a form of sleep from which we will awaken.
This is the meaning of the continuation of the verse, "…with darkness on the face of the depths [in Hebrew, 'tehom']".(Gen. 1:2) The word "tehom" ["depths"] contains the same letters as "hamavet" [meaning "death"].
Tehom: tav - hei - vav - mem
Hamavet: hei - mem - vav - tav
This indicates that a person who dies resembles one who sits in the dark, waiting for the light to shine. And this is exactly what will happen, for the continuation of the verse states, "…but the spirit of G‑d [still] hovers over the waters."(Ibid.) This spirit of G‑d is none other than the soul that never abandons the body, for while the body was alive, the soul dwelled within it and gave it life. If, at the moment of death, it would depart completely, truly there would be no hope. All the bones, including the Luz bone, would rot and decompose entirely. We are therefore informed that this is not the case. On the contrary, the spirit of G‑d, which is the soul, hovers over the bones. [Why, then does it say that the soul hovers over the "waters"?] The waters here refer to the Torah that a person learned. In the merit of that Torah, the soul continues to hover over the body. Just as water leaves the high mountains and descends to the lowest valleys, so too does the Torah…
Concerning the fact that water symbolizes Torah, this is exactly what the sages say on the verse "Oh, all you who are thirsty, come to the water!"(Isaiah 55:1) "Why is the Torah likened to water? Just as water leaves the high mountains and descends to the lowest valleys, so too does the Torah; it will only be found with someone who is humble and unassuming".(Taanit 7a)
Water can also refer to the Dew [in Hebrew, "tal"] of Resurrection, in which case the soul's "hovering over the bones" would refer to its "waiting" impatiently for the 39 [numerical value of "tal", meaning "dew"] Lights that will eventually shine into the bones. This is seen in the verse regarding the "dew" with which the Holy One will resurrect the dead in the future: "Your dead will live again. My [people's] corpses shall arise. Awake and sing, O you who dwell in the dust! For Your dew is a dew of lights, and the earth shall cast forth the dead [who rested in it]."(Isaiah 26:19) G‑d will use the Luz bone to rebuild the newly resurrected body…
For all the while that the body is decomposing in darkness, it awaits the illumination that it will receive from that dew [tal]. When that happens, G‑d will use the Luz bone to rebuild the newly resurrected body. This is the meaning of the sages' statement that "the Luz bone remains intact forever." (Zohar III:222a:)
Rebbe Shimon said… Come and see what is written [concerning the Resurrection of the Dead]: "Remember, please, that You fashioned me like clay, and that You will return me to the dust again"(Job 10:9). What is written immediately following this? "You will pour me out like milk, and curdle me like cheese. You will clothe me with skin and flesh, and knit me together with bones and sinews"(ibid. 10:10). After a person's body decays in the ground, and the time of the Resurrection of the Dead comes, the Holy One will take that bone that remains and process it like dough, and like cheese is curdled from milk… That bone will then be mixed with the remainder of the body [that has already decomposed and become dust]. [That bone] will then also become liquid like milk. It will then be curdled and given a form, like cheese is curdled out of milk. Skin, flesh, sinew and bone will then be stretched over it. This is the meaning of, "You will pour me out like milk, and curdle me like cheese…" (Pirkey d'Rebbe Eliezer 34:)
Rabbi Shimon said: All bodies remain in the earth until all that remains of them is a spoonful of decayed material. This becomes mixed with the dust of the earth, just like yeast is placed in dough. In the Future, when the Holy One calls the earth to bring forth all bodies, this dust will germinate in the earth, just like yeast germinates in dough. It will then grow and bring forth the body without blemish.[Zohar 2:28b:]
Rabbi Chiya said: It is written, "Your dead will live again". (Isaiah 26:19) The Holy One will thus not create new bodies for the dead in the future, but rather resurrect their original bodies. For there is a single bone that remains of a person's body after it has decomposed in the ground. That bone does not rot or decompose. It remains intact forever. When the time comes [to resurrect the dead], the Holy One will soften that bone like yeast in dough. It will then rise up and expand in four directions. From it, He will reconstitute the body and all its limbs. Afterwards, the Holy One will infuse it with life.
Rabbi Elazar said to Rabbi Chiya: It is just so! And come and see: How will the Holy One soften that bone? With dew, as it is written, "For Your dew is a dew of lights".[(ibid)Shaar HaLikutim, Samuel I, 2:19:]
The highest level of the soul of the tzadik ascends to Atzilut; the Neshama itself ascends to the Supernal Garden of Eden in Beriya; the Ruach ascends to the Earthly Garden of Eden in Yetzira; while all the different aspects of the Nefesh (which itself is associated with Asiya), hover over the interred body as long as the flesh has not decomposed from the bones. After the decomposition of the flesh, even the Nefesh ascends to Earthly Garden of Eden. However, the lowest aspect of the Nefesh called "vapor of the bones" ["hevlei d'garmi"] does remain in the grave, as explained in Zohar, parashat Shelach.
[Regarding the different aspects of the Nefesh,] It is generally known that there are five levels of soul [Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya and Yechida], and that each of these has five sub-levels or aspects. For instance, the highest aspect of Nefesh is Yechida of Nefesh. After this comes Chaya of Nefesh, Neshama of Nefesh, Ruach of Nefesh, and finally, Nefesh of Nefesh. All of these aspects of the Nefesh are called by the general name Nefesh. It is the higher aspects that ascend above after the decomposition of the flesh. The lower aspects, namely, the "vapor of the bones" and the 288 sparks of holiness, stay below. These aspects will remain with the residue of the bones until the Resurrection of the Dead…
Now behold, this "vapor of the bones" itself has two aspects: The inner aspect remains within the residue of the bones, while the outer aspect hovers over the bones… This second aspect is alluded to in the verse, "His soul mourns over him"(Job 14:22) - "over him" precisely - for long after death, this aspect of the Nefesh continues to hover over the residue of the bones…
This, again, is why the Torah uses the word "bohu" [in the verse "And the earth was formless and void - bohu…."(Gen. 1:2)]. In addition to meaning "void", it can be broken up into two words, "bo" ["in it"]-"hu" ["he is"], referring to the miniscule amount of moisture that that bone retains - just enough to keep it intact until it is used to create the new resurrected body. Only the Torah that a person learned in this world illuminates the path before him…
Undoubtedly, the Luz bone could not retain even such a miniscule amount of moisture if not for the soul hovering over it. This is clearly alluded to in the verse, "When you walk [in this world in the way of the Torah], she [the soul] will guide you; when you lie down [in your grave], she will guard over you; and when you awaken [for the resurrection], she will converse with you". (Proverbs 6:22) That is, in the merit of the Torah that a person learns, the soul hovers over the bones.
This is true even at the moment of death. This is because there is, in This World, a certain path that is extremely dark. When a person passes away, the soul embarks on this dark path. [If he did not learn Torah] the soul doesn't know which path to follow. Only the Torah that a person learned in this world illuminates the path before him. This is the meaning of the following verse, "For the mitzvah is a candle, and the Torah is light". (Proverbs 6:23)
This again is the meaning of "When you walk, she will guide you; when you lie down, she will guard over you…." That is, in the merit of the Torah, the soul guards over the bones, keeping them from rotting.
The protection spoken of here is specifically over the bones. The verse thus says, "Many evils may strike the righteous man, but G‑d delivers him from every single one. He protects all his bones; not one of them [i.e. the Luz] is broken" (Psalms 34:20-21). The "one" special bone that does not decompose is the Luz bone. In the merit of this, all the other bones will stand.
For eventually, [all of them will stand] at the time of the Resurrection of the Dead. This is the meaning of the verse, "And G‑d said, 'Let there be light', and there was light". (Gen. 1:3) This is the light with which the Holy One is going to resurrect the dead. Then, the dark pallor that covered the face of the dead will be removed.
"And there was light".(Ibid.) This refers to the light that will shine after the Resurrection of the Dead. For after the advent of the 7th Millennium, there will be no more darkness. Rather, "Night will shine like the day"(Psalms 139:12) [and "It shall come to pass on that day that there shall be neither bright light nor thick darkness. Rather, a day will come, it is known to G‑d, that is neither day nor night… at evening time there will be light"(Zachariah 14:6-7).] This is the meaning of, "And it was evening and it was morning, Day One" (Gen. 1:5), [which can be reread as: "In the future, night and day will both be considered 'day'."]
This also alludes to the fact that the darkness of death will also come to an end. This is the meaning of the verse, "One who dies at age one-hundred will be considered a child" (Isaiah 65:20) [i.e. the general lifespan of humanity will be so long that a person who dies at age one-hundred will be considered a child]. For Israel, however, there will be complete freedom from death, as the verse attests, "Death will be swallowed up forever, and Lord G‑d will wipe the tears off every face. He will remove the insult against His people from the entire world. G‑d, the Merciful One, has declared". (Isaiah 25:8)
[Adapted by Avraham Sutton from Likutei Torah (Chumash HaAri, Bereishit, p. 6)]