Parshat Tazria-Metzora: Human development in two worlds
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Bones and cartilage certainly begin developing in the fetus two months into a pregnancy, long after the (somewhat) human shape has formed its skin. This is a fact that everyone – even Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel – can take for granted and cannot argue otherwise.
Aside from the physical reality, the message of human development would seem to suggest that the vessel is created first, and then the human has the opportunity to develop what shape or form the vessel will take. Please read the following descriptive words with their multiple meanings intended: will the person be tall and straight or bent and crooked? Will the mind be full or empty? Will the vessel be growth-oriented to reach great potential or will it be sedentary and take the shape of the couch it sits on its entire life? These are questions we can all appreciate.
But what about the end of life? What will be in the future, or in the World to Come? Many rabbinic figures of the past have weighed in on what the World to Come means and what it will be like for all of us on some "other side." I am not interested in entering that conversation, because I am comfortable saying, "I honestly have no idea." But Beit Shammai and Beit Hillel, in this minor debate, shared with us what their opinions are.
If some version of the World to Come refers to a resurrection of the dead, with former bodies somehow being reformed from DNA, then their debate in the physical realm of how bodies will be recreated speaks for itself.
But if the reality they speak of is a spiritual development, I think there is no harm in suggesting that the two approaches will both be influenced by how a person leads and lives life in this world.
According to Beit Shammai, the bones and sinews will develop first. This would indicate that the form or shape that a person created in life will inform the person's reformulation in the World to Come. In Beit Hillel's approach, on the other hand, one's "rebirth" is exactly as was one's original birth. In other words, one gets a new slate, just as each person had the first time around.