Reincarnation - The Jewish Concept
By David Wexelman
Reincarnation is often related to Eastern religions such as Hinduism and Bhuddism. Many Jewish people grow up in American Ashkenazic homes without knowing that reincarnation is a Jewish concept. The concept of reincarnation is part of the Kabballah, Jewish mysticism.
Reincarnation is not mentioned at all in the Talmud. The Talmud is the most fundamental part of Judaism. It is essential for its practice. The Zohar which is the father of all Kabballah texts, mentions the concept of reincarnation in its explanations in Exodus 21 where it says, "If you will purchase a Jewish servant, six years he will work, and the seventh year he will go free." Servitude is required to reincarnate, freedom is when the soul has reached enlightenment. Further reincarnation is then no longer necessary. The servant is free. He has fulfilled his obligations to G-d in this world.
Reincarnation like many other concepts of Jewish mysticism which are written in the Zohar are clarified and explained in depth by the Arizal in the writings of Chaim Vital his prize student. The Zohar relates the matter of Kabballah in a general way. The teachings of the Arizal are much more specific. All experts agree that without the teachings of the Arizal, it would be impossible to understand the Zohar. There are eight gates of the Kabballah of the Arizal. The Gateway to Reincarnation is one of them.
Sephardic religious tradition emphasizes the concept of reincarnation. The simple person understands very little about reincarnation but fears to be reincarnated as a punishment. It is a superstitious belief. The concept of reincarnation described in the Gateway to Reincarnation is more than superstition. The true concept of reincarnation requires of the soul perfection of thought speech and action to give it a greater reward in the afterlife.
Today it is hard for anyone to deny reincarnation whether Jew or non-Jew. There are stories of autistic children which have spoken clearly about events which happened to them in past lives. Perhaps they are being punished for the sins they have committed in past lives. These children have brought into the world a concept of spirituality, the eternal soul which is on a journey to its homeland, the eternal resting place called Eden.
Many Christians have today accepted the concept of reincarnation. Certainly the Jew cannot hide from it. He cannot hide from the obligations it places upon him which are above the normal requirements of religious observance. These obligations include the study of Jewish mysticism. The concept of hell, purgatory and other punishments of the soul in the afterlife are one part of the truth. Reincarnation is the other part. The goal of both of them is purification and an eternal reward.
The share which each person receives in the afterlife depends upon the good deeds done in this world. A Jew that lives piously according to the Torah merits to a share in the afterlife. The quality of this share is according to the quality of his service of G-d. Those that excel to the highest excellence receive a greater portion than those that are good people but did not sacrifice all their pleasures in life to do good deeds. Reincarnation allows for these souls whose portions are not yet complete to improve this portion through returning to the world again in a body as a reincarnated soul. This constitutes great mercy for the soul and not a punishment. God has been kind to the Jew by giving him abundant Torah and mitzvahs to fulfill for the sake of the reward in the afterlife. If he cannot complete them, the mercy of God gives him another chance.
The Arizal received the knowledge of reincarnation of the soul from a divine source. The book The Gateway to Reincarnation is the authentic source book for knowing about reincarnation. In chapter 9, it states " The attribute of reincarnation is accustomed to mean the males and not the females." Women do not have the obligations of men. They do not have to be Torah scholars. Women are perfect when they come into the world. Their souls have already made their atonement. After death, women enter into Gehinom (Hell) to be purified. Their portion in the Garden of Eden is even greater than men. Men are obligated in the commandments of action. For woman, most are not obligatory, only a few are obligatory. Torah learning, especially the study of the Oral law, is only for men. The Torah which the men learn in their lives protects them after they pass away. It protects them from entering into Gehinom, but they have to reincarnate. About this is quoted the passage, "This generation goes and another generation comes, and the earth stands forever." This generation goes and comes refers to the men. "The earth stands forever" refers to the women.
A woman reincarnates for the sake of the man. She does not need reincarnation. When a new soul comes into the world, his soul mate comes with him. When the time comes for him to marry her, she appears to him in an instant without any trouble at all. About this it says in Exodus 21, "if it is that a slave is married, then his wife goes out with him when he is freed." This wife in this first life will be reincarnated for his sake. If reincarnation will be required, in the second life his true soul mate does not appear instantly as before, but only after he has worked hard and suffered to find her. This is because the sin that has caused him to be reincarnated interferes with him finding his true soul mate.
The difference between New souls and Old souls is that New souls can complete all the levels of perfection in one lifetime. Old souls which have lost this chance must now work stage by stage. The soul is divided up into five levels. The perfection of the soul requires the completion of the first three levels which are perfection of deed, speech and thought. Speech refers to the study of the Oral law and thought refers to the study of the Kabballah. There have been great Talmudic scholars which were required to reincarnate to learn the Kabballah. Rabbi Chaim Vital was the reincarnation of the Maggid Mishne whose name was Don Vidal. The name Vital and Vidal are very similar. The Magid Mishne although he was a great Talmudic scholar and authority on law neglected to study the Kabballah.
The Arizal told Chaim Vital the sources of his soul. The first time his soul came into the world was as the Magid Mishne. Afterwards his soul was reincarnated as Rabbi Yehoshua Soriano, a very wealthy man old and charitable who would rise up early each morning to learn to learn and pray. Then after he was reincarnated as a young boy named Abraham who died at the age of 13. Then it was reincarnated as Chaim Vital.
There is a type of reincarnation discussed in The Gateway to Reincarnation called pregnancy incarnation. A pregnancy incarnation is like receiving a guardian angel. Normal reincarnation begins when the soul enters the body at birth. Pregnancy incarnation occurs during a person's life. Due to a great merit, one can receive a guardian angel even from the holy forefathers Abraham, Issac and Jacob. This soul comes to the man to help him in his life. It does not suffer his pains and can leave him when it wants. The Arizal told the Meharcu, Rabbi Chaim Vital that at the age of thirteen he received a pregnancy soul incarnation of Rabbi Elazar Ben Arad, the student of Rabbi Yochanon Ben Zachai. At the age of twenty he received a pregnancy soul of Rabbi Elazar Ben Shammua, the student of Rabbi Akiba, one of the ten martyrs. By the age of 29, he received a portion of the soul of Rabbi Akiba. The soul of Rabbi Akiba was his pregnancy incarnation the rest of his life.
Today the whole world is waiting for the coming of the Messiah. The Arizal asks the question, If old souls cannot complete reincarnation in one lifetime but must develop stage to stage, which after stage one, it must die and be reincarnated to complete stage two (which also applies to stage three,); how is it possible for the redemption to come today through the coming of the Messiah? The answer to this question is that the Messiah will be for all of mankind their pregnancy incarnation which will give to them perfection. The redemption can happen today. It is in no contradiction to reincarnation.
The most important teaching of The Gateway to Reincarnation is written on the first page. "It should be known that the man is the spirit that is within the body, and the body engarments the man and is not the man." Know who you are, a spiritual soul on the way to an eternal journey to be bound up in the bundle of life forever.
Rabbi David Wexelman is the author of "The Jewish Concept of Reincarnation and Creation" published by Jason Aronson Publishers, available through Amazon and Barnes &Nobles. Visit the author's web site at http://www.computerhometherapy.com
from the March 1999 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine