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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
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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