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In the Amidah, does מחיה מתים אתה mean "You revive the dead" or "You are a reviver of the dead"?

If it means the former, how does God presently revive the dead?

Please provide evidence (textual, reason or other) for your answer.

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  • I've always understood the phrase in the latter sense. My understanding of the blessing as a whole is that it is listing God's qualities (i.e. the ways in which he is גיבור/mighty), not the actions he is [presently/now] taking.
    – Tamir Evan
    Apr 19, 2022 at 5:21

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See the commentary of the Abudarham on the weekday prayers:

אתה גבור לעולם ה' על שם ה' כגבור יצא. ואמ' בתחלת ברכה זו לשון גבורה שכל אלה שמזכיר בברכה זו הם בגבורה כמו שנפרש. ומזכיר בברכה זו שלשה פעמים תחיית המתים הראשונה מחיה מתים אתה והשנית מחיה מתים ברחמים רבים והשלישית בא"י מחיה המתים. והטעם כי בשלשה עניינים הב"ה מחיה המתים, הראשונה כשאדם ישן על מטתו והרי הוא חשוב כמת ואומר בידך אפקיד רוחי והב"ה מעלה עננים ומוריד טללים וגשמים כדי לפרנסו ומחזיר לו נשמתו לכך נסמך זה לזה מחיה מתים אתה [...]

The Abudarham explains that "reviver of the dead" also implies that G-d restores our soul, and we can wake up. That's why, says the Abudarham, we say during Krias Shema al HaMitah, "in your hand I entrust my spirit". This is what the Gemara means: sleep is one-sixtieth of death; and a dream is one-sixtieth of prophecy.

However, it might also mean that G-d will revive us, Techiyas HaMeisim, as it says:

Surely You will revive us again,

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In Rav Schwab on prayer page 424 he says, "The gevurah of HaKadosh Brauch Hu in negating the Malach Hamaves is in preparation for the creation of a new, higher form of life, that of techiyas hameisim. Thus, אתה גבור לעולם means, Your Gevurah does not stop at extinguishing the existence of the Malach hamaves, but rather, it lasts forever as manifested by techiyas hameisim."

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The Gemara in Bava Metzia 85b cites a story:

Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi said to Elijah: And is there anyone alive in this world who is comparable to them and can produce such efficacious prayers? Elijah said to him: There are Rabbi Ḥiyya and his sons. Rabbi Yehuda HaNasi decreed a fast, and the Sages brought Rabbi Ḥiyya and his sons down to the pulpit to pray on behalf of the congregation. Rabbi Ḥiyya recited the phrase in the Amida prayer: Who makes the wind blow, and the wind blew. Rabbi Ḥiyya recited the next phrase: Who makes the rain fall, and rain fell. When he was about to say the phrase: Who revives the dead (מחיה המתים), the world trembled.

(Sefaria/Steinsaltz translation and commentary)

Ritva (Mosad Harav Kook ed. pg. תשכ) there appears to be wondering why the world only began to shake when they reached the end of the bracha since תחית המתים was already mentioned earlier. He thus clarifies:

כי מטא לתחיית המתים רגש עלמא: ואע"ג דמקמי הכי אדכר תחיית המתים בראש הברכה אתה גבור וכו' מחיה מתים ההיא אינה אלא להחיות חיים שהגיעו לשערי מות אבל תחיית המתים העתידה היא של סוף הברכה

Accordingly, מחיה מתים אתה can mean "You revive the dead" and yet it refers to the times when God "revives" someone who is about to die.

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    Another explanation of the Gemara is that Rabbi Hiyya had a text that didn't include the words מחיה מתים אתה. Such a text is attested in the Cairo geniza.
    – magicker72
    Apr 19, 2022 at 3:48
  • @magicker72 great point, but it seems that will only work for the second mention of תחיית המתים in the bracha, whereas according to Ritva's answer, the two subsequent times it is mentioned can also be referring to near-death salvation. (I understand that I'm extending his answer but it seems he would have to say that.) Does that make sense?
    – Yehuda
    Apr 19, 2022 at 3:54
  • I don't see how this answers the question. Ritva can easily be understood to say that in both place God is reviver (and not that He revives). The distinction Ritva makes is that in the first mention (מחיה מתים) God is "reviver of dead" (i.e. that can, and does, bring individuals back to life, from death), and that in the second mention (מחיה המתים) He is "reviver of the dead" (i.e. that can, and will, revive the dead, in the Resurrection/תחית המתים).
    – Tamir Evan
    Apr 19, 2022 at 5:55
  • @TamirEvan I wasn't entirely clear. You are correct; it answers the second question, not the first. My point was that Ritva allows for both readings (reviver and revive), whereas a typical interpretation of מחיה מתים would not. My motivation in asking the question was because I prefer the "You revive" translation but I could not see how this would make sense before I saw the Ritva.
    – Yehuda
    Apr 20, 2022 at 2:13
  • To clarify: I always personally translated מחיה מתים אתה as "You revive the dead" but I never understood how God revives the dead in present times. I've never seen or heard of someone rising from the dead nowadays. Now, with this Ritva, I can understand the bracha and maintain my translation.
    – Yehuda
    Apr 20, 2022 at 2:16

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