The soul is eternal, a spark of the Divine, or as the prophet Job calls it “a part of G‑d above.” The soul exists before it enters the body and it lives after the body is laid to rest. Though the soul’s place of origin is in the higher worlds, there is something that the soul can achieve in a body that it cannot achieve in the heavenly realms. It has already been explained that the purpose of creation is to make an abode for the Divine in this world. Although higher worlds are glorious in terms of revelation and offer the best reward for a soul after it has achieved its earthly mission, the heavenly realms are not the purpose of creation. It was G‑d’s desire to create a world where His presence would be acutely concealed and darkness and evil would prevail. He charged his children with the task of creating a home in this world, and the soul fulfills that mission by its adherence to Torah and Mitzvot.
Kabbalah explains that the soul is comprised of 613 channels, which parallel the 248 limbs and 365 blood Vessels of the body. These 613 channels attain eternal elevation when all 613 Mitzvot are fulfilled by a soul in its earthly descent.
Usually a soul does not manage to fulfill all the commandments in one descent, and the Arizal writes that every soul must be repeatedly reincarnated until it has fulfilled all 613 Mitzvot in thought, speech, and action. In the previous chapter, the notion of purification through Gehinom was introduced.
Here the soul is cleansed in order to be elevated to the Garden of Eden. How is this concept reconciled with the possibility of reincarnation and a return to our world? The Kabbalists explain that when a soul returns to this world, the part of the soul that was elevated by its Torah learning and Mitzvah performance is not reincarnated, rather it is only the other parts of the soul that were not affected by the first incarnation that return.
The possibility of a soul being divided and part of a soul being reincarnated is discussed at length in Kabbalah. The original idea stems from the fact that the soul of Adam was composed of all future souls, and the soul of Jacob was comprised of 70 parts which were then further subdivided into the 600,000 souls of Israel. These 600,000 were then subdivided further into another 600,000. Through various reincarnations all parts of the soul are elevated and once the entire soul has been elevated the soul is no longer reincarnated. This explains the strange phenomena of why certain people engage in a specific Mitzvah in which they excel. It could be that the person’s soul descended again for sake of that specific Mitzvah.
Gate of Reincarnations
There are several reasons for the reincarnation of souls. It can be because a person sinned against the Torah and must return to rectify it. It can be to perform a mitzvah he previously had not completed. A third reason is for the sake of another individual, to guide and rectify him.
In the first scenario, he can easily sin since he originally transgressed. In the second case, he is less likely to sin. In the third, he certainly will not sin.
Rabbi Yeshaya HaLevi Horowitz, Shnei Luchot HaBrit (Shaloh).
1. There are some sins for which the cleansing in the spiritual realm alone does not suffice. Thus souls who have sinned and have not properly repented whilst alive, are sometimes forced to undergo a second round of life in this world as rehabilitation for sins previously committed. For the most part, rehabilitation occurs when the soul is faced with the same challenge to which it succumbed in its previous life, and overcomes it.
(This is also the reason why one should endeavor to do teshuvah (repentance) even if he knows that he has not done anything overtly wicked. After all, he may still have leftovers from a previous lifetime that need fixing. In fact, many have the custom to say, “I hereby forgive anyone who has angered or vexed me . . . in this incarnation or in another incarnation,” before their bedtime prayers every night.)
2. Reincarnation provides an opportunity for souls to perform those commandments that they were unable to do in a previous incarnation. Rabbi Isaac Luria (known as the Arizal) explains that the soul is comprised of 613 channels, which parallel the 248 limbs and 365 blood vessels of the human body.
These 613 channels attain eternal elevation when the soul fulfills all 613 commandments during its earthly descent. Usually a soul does not manage to fulfill all the commandments in one go, and must be repeatedly reincarnated until it has fulfilled them all.
3. There are some souls who do not descend for their own growth or perfection. Rather, the only reason they return to this earth is to benefit others. This can be to help out an individual or the entire generation, spiritually or materially.
the Kabbalists point out that the Hebrew word for “reincarnation”—Gilgul—has the same “numerical value” (gematria) as the word Chessed—“kindness.”
Gate of Reincarnations
However, someone whose soul is not new, but one that has reincarnated and returned to this world, only has to complete those mitzvahs it has yet to fulfill in previous gilgulim.
Thus, the fulfillment of the 613 Mitzvahs may take place over the course of all the gilgulim.
With this we can understand why in the Talmud we learn of certain Torah scholars who were careful with respect to a particular mitzvah more than other mitzvahs, while another scholar was careful regarding a different mitzvah (Megillah 28a). For example, one Talmudic rabbi asked his colleague, "In what mitzvah was your father most careful?"…
The one who this posed question was interested in determining the tzadik's soul root and the focal point of its rectification. The more we understand about the tzadik's angle in spirituality, the more we have a handle to learn from him and to emulate his ways.
…and he answered, the mitzvah of tzitzit, or tefillin, or something of that nature.
However, this would seem to contradict the mishna that says, "Be [as] careful with a light mitzvah as you would be with a serious one!" (Pirkei Avot 2:1). The sod is that every scholar is careful with the particular mitzvah that is missing from his previous gilgulim, either all of it, or part of it.
his is also the sod of what we find in the Talmud where one person focused on a particular character trait, while another focused on a different one. For example, they asked one person, "To what do you owe your long life?" and he answered, "All of my life I was never particular about my honor."
Hence, each one worked on a certain trait that remained lacking from his previous gilgulim.
Gate of Reincarnations
When we speak of a certain person reincarnating into other people, we must not make the mistake of thinking that this refers to the "original soul." Rather, a person’s soul can divide into an unlimited amount of roots and within a single root there is an unlimited amount of sparks and each gilgul rectifies some of those sparks. Thus, it is the sparks that are not yet rectified that return, while those that are rectified ascend to their fitting level, where they will remain...From this you can make the necessary connections and understand all reinincarnations throughout history. Hence, it is never the rectified sparks that reincarnate, but rather those sparks that have yet to be rectified.
In the times of the first Temple, they served G‑d and did not cast from themselves the yolk of heaven, except in certain idolatrous practices for which they had tremendous desire, so much so that there were only left 7,000 people that had not succumbed to Baal worship in the days of Ahab. All the Kings who served these idols were great men, and they were tainted with this heinous sin of idolatry. All these generations, who were most elevated souls, did not receive their rectification and elevation until the times of the philosophers in the time of Rashi and the Rambam until the time of the Arizal, which was from the year 4856 (1096) in the days of Rashi until the expulsion of Jews from Portugal in the year 5252 (1492), and until the time of the Arizal in 5333 (1573). The Arizal explicitly stated that in his time, the period of destruction that had swept the Jewish world for the last nearly 500 years had ended. All those who had sacrificed their lives in sanctification of G‑d’s name in their thousands, and tens of thousands in each generation, all of them were souls of the first Temple. Their sin was that they had previously served idols and had nourished the Kelipot and therefore their rectification was to give up their lives in sanctification of G‑d’s name with simple faith which transcended any logic or philosophy.
Imagine a soul that entered the heavenly realms in the days of the first Temple that had been tainted by the grave sin of idolatry. The soul would greatly anticipate and appreciate an opportunity to descend once again to rectify its mistake. Any momentary pain involved, including the murderous moment of being burned alive is worth it to gain eternal elevation. Hence the soul descended to a body in a later generation for rectification.
There is, however, an important distinction between souls that reincarnate into human bodies and those that reincarnate into other creatures. When a human soul incarnates into an animal, it does so merely as an observer. That is to say that this creature is like any other creature of its kind, except that a reincarnated soul is trapped inside. The excruciating pain and sorrow the soul experiences while trapped inside the animal, forced to live and observe the life of this creature while powerless to control its behavior, serves to rehabilitate it.
Additionally, while this soul cannot really rehabilitate itself as it has no control over the action of the creature, it can sometimes be rehabilitated through the actions of others, for example, by someone reciting a blessing over it, if it is kosher.
Gate of Reincarnations
From those used to create Asiya, the most refined were used for man and they were separated out first. After that came the animals who cannot speak, then the vegetable kingdom, and after that inanimate creation. However, a righteous person through his actions such as eating for the sake of a mitzvah, can separate out aspects of the inanimate world and elevate them to the level of the vegetable kingdom, or the animal kingdom, or even to the level of man, as we have explained in Sha’ar HaMitzvot, in the portion Eikev on the mitzvah of Birkat Hamazon.
A wicked person, however, through his actions can cause just the opposite to happen and will lower [the sparks down] rungs. Some sins can cause portions of man[soul sparks] to descend until the level of domaim, some until tsoma'och, and some until chai. Thus, after a wicked person dies he can reincarnate into an inanimate rock as a result of the sins he performed in his lifetime, or into vegetation, or into an animal - if his sins were animal-like.
The person who reincarnates in this way will remain there for a set amount of time until he has become purged of the sin that caused him to reincarnate into vegetation. After, he will be elevated to the level of the animal kingdom, and when the time is complete, he will be elevated to that of man.
Gate of Reincarnations
Because of a certain sin he committed, he was reincarnated into this rock.
On many occasions I walked with my teacher through a field, and he would say to me, "This person was called such-and-such, and though he was a righteous person and Torah scholar, because of a certain sin he committed he was reincarnated into this rock, or this plant, etc." Even though he never knew the person nor inquired about him after his death, we always found that he was right. If we discussed this in depth, this book would never end!
Sometimes, he would look from a distance of five hundred amot [cubits, about 1000 feet] at a certain grave that was among twenty thousand others, and he would see the nefesh of the person buried there standing on the grave. He would say to us, "In that grave is buried so-and-so, and they gave him such-and-such a punishment for such-and-such a sin." We would then investigate the person’s life and find his words to be true. There are many great stories like this one.
The kabbalists said that when the soul of a person reincarnates into another person, the person who he is reincarnated into does not know he is a Gilgul. This is not the case when the soul is reincarnated in an animal or bird; then the soul does know that he is a reincarnation. The soul is deeply pained. How did he go from being the soul of a person to the soul of an animal?
G-d showed us an an example of how a soul can be reincarnated into an animal with King Nebuchadnezzar. King Nebuchadnezzar was taken from the palace to the forest where he crawled on all fours like the other animals.
There is a story of an ox being prepared for a fight. The night before the ox fight, a man who had passed away came to his son in a dream. He told him, “You should know my son, because of my many sins I was reincarnated into an ox. I am the ox who will be in the fight tomorrow. I will get hurt. Therefore, please redeem me and save me. Buy me with all the money that it costs and slaughter me in a kosher manner. Feed me to those who study the Torah. This is what they told me in heaven; they gave me permission to tell this to you. This is how you can redeem my soul from its incarnation into an animal so I can be reincarnated into a person.”
Our sages said, “There are many stories of reincarnation, ask your father and he will tell you, ask the sages and they will teach you. Therefore, whoever fear G-d should do all the commandments for one can be reincarnated for his sins and even for those good deeds that he failed to do”.
There are Jewish people who believe they will be reincarnated into another body. Some even say that there is a possibility of being reincarnated into an animal. There are four reasons for believing this. ...The 3rd reason is being that as G-d is just, he wouldn’t bring suffering to small children. We must say that if children suffer, it is not from their own sins, but from the sins their soul did in a previous body. There are rebuttals to this proof.
“They have forgotten what is written in other places; the reason why children or righteous men suffer is to give them good later on. ...In my opinion, this concept is foolish. “
(Rav Saadya Gaon)
I asked my teacher, “Why does the soul need to be reincarnated for it can purify itself in Gehenim?” My teacher answered me, reincarnation is for 2 reasons. 1) The soul did not do a Mitzva that he needs to fulfill. Gehenim only purifies sins; it cannot give you what you are missing. 2) There are things that gehenim cannot purify and one needs to be reincarnated in order to fix it.