Re-incarnation and Jewish mysticism, an understanding based on mystic sources.

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Opinion & Society

Re-Incarnation in Judaism

By Yaakov Goldberger

Re-incarnation, does it exist or is it just a figment of our imagination?

There has been much speculation through out the generations about re-incarnation. Re-incarnation is the returning of a person who existed in a previous existence to this world. There have been many cases of people who have recalled events that have occurred to them in different lands, in different times. Much has been written about it. Science, on the other hand, can not show concrete evidence that such a phenomena can occur, nor can it disprove it.

There are many proponents amongst Jewish philosophers and theologians who also agree with the idea that re-incarnation actually does exist. Much is written about it in many books.

We find that in the mystical writings of the Kabbalists, those who studied the hidden and secret books of Jewish mysticism, much is said about this subject. As a matter of fact, the mystical sources, which include the most renown mystic, Rabbi Yitzhak Ashkenazi, known as the Arizal, base much of Jewish belief on re-incarnation. We will briefly explain traditional belief based on the Arizal's work, the "Shaar HaGilgulim" (the gate to re-incarnation). This is one of the chief writings on the subject of re-incarnation, and is traditionally known as being based on the "Zohar", the book of splendor, which was the basis of all mystical thought. The "Zohar" was written some two thousand years ago and remained hidden, being known only to selected individuals, who were considered to be worthy of learning the deepest secrets of the mystics.

With the era beginning with the Arizal, approximately four hundred years ago, the hidden mysteries of the mystics became more accessible to Jewish scholars, and with the passage of time, it has also infused our thoughts.

The basis for the concept of re-incarnation begins with the sin of the first man, Adam. Adam, was, prior to his sin, not a person on the level that we are today. He was a spiritual being, closer to a soul, than a body. He lived in a spiritual world which is called the Garden of Eden. Yet after he sinned, he, together with the entire world, descended into a more physical state. Yet Adam, in order to make repair for his sin, was sent back into this new world. Since his entire body reaped enjoyment from his sin, his body was sent once again into this world, not as Adam, but in "pieces". Various parts of Adam's body became souls.

The purpose of this was to enable Adam, who had caused the physicalization of the world, to descend into the now physical, and no longer spiritual world, and make repairs for the damage which he had caused. Each of the parts of Adam's body became souls, multitudes of souls, in new bodies. The purpose of these souls was to effect repairs in the world to atone for two things: one, the physicalization of the worlds, and two, the staining of the holy and pure soul.

The physicalization of the world was a direct result of the sin. Through sin, the holiness that was in the spiritual world that Adam had lived in, became trapped in the physical. Through the efforts of man, the descendants of Adam, that holiness could be released and returned to it's source. This became the root of all of the various commandment that are found in the Bible. These commands, which seemingly seem senseless, are rooted in the divine plan to cause a return of those holy sparks to their source.

The second aspect was the purification of the soul of Adam. Since each man has a part of the soul of Adam, he is responsible to purify that soul. That is accomplished through pure and honest living, in accordance with the tenets of the Bible. These two aspects go together.

However, this divine plan has one problem. What if man sins instead of living virtuously?

This is the source of the concept of re-incarnation. The various souls are divided into two broad categories. One category is called new souls and the second is called old souls. The old souls are souls that have descended into this world but have sinned. Therefore, with the kindness of G-d, they are sent into the world a second time to make amends. Sometimes souls come back several times. A soul that continues to sin is often punished by being sent down and having to endure pain and suffering, or as an animal or even an inanimate object such as a plant or a rock. Whereas this may not seem as a punishment to us, to the soul it is unbearible.

The other category is the new souls. This is further sub-divided into two types. One is souls from Adam that have never descended into this world before. The second is a soul that was especially created to perform a specific function in this world.

The first type of new souls are souls that have never been in the world before. They are the fresh souls who only have to make repair for the sin of Adam. They as themselves, have not sinned and therefore they do not have to make a repair for themselves.

The second type of new souls is a very special group. Only one such soul like this may be found in a generation. Some generations do not have such fortune for a soul like this to come down for them. The purpose of these special souls is not like the other souls. These souls have no repairs to make for themselves. They have a special mission to carry out down here on earth. They must give direction to those souls who must make repairs and are having difficulties. These souls are generally those persons who are very influential on a generation, themselves being very humble and holy. They have very little need for the world, yet the world seeks them for their advice and guidance.

Most souls today are in the category of being old souls. Since the world is coming close to the end of the six millenium, which is traditionally been known to be the time for the coming of the Messiah, the greater part of souls who presently inhabit the world are souls who have been here before. They must now make amends for previous mistakes which they did in previous existences.

However, there is a limit to the amount of times a soul is permitted to return to make amends and corrections. If the soul is unable to make this repair, the soul is "sent to the cleaners." This means that the soul, depending on the "stain" is purified by external sources in spiritual worlds. The pain undergoing these cleansing processes is considerable, but since this is in a world of spiritual dimension, we can not fathom the pain. The only alternative is for the soul to be careful in its carrying out its charge while here on the physical earth.

This explains that not only does re-incarnation exist, though we may not sense it, but it is an important and vital concept in Judaism. May we all merit to complete our spiritual assignment with the honesty, and integrity that is required, and that our souls may be allowed to enter into the palace of reward, in the Garden of Eden.


from theJanuary1999Edition of the Jewish Magazine

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