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Rebirth in Christianity

Discussion in 'Christianity and World Religion' started by vajradhara, Jul 25, 2003.

  1. vajradhara

    vajradhara Diamond Thunderbolt of Indestructable Wisdom

    In Relationship
    Namaste all,

    i am destitute of learning and devoid of skill with words. what i post is to sustain my own understanding.

    Reincarnation as Taught by Early Christians

    George Borrow loved the Gypsies so much that he roved with them through many parts of Britain and Europe. Several of his popular books recount his experiences with them and tell a great deal about this mysterious people whose origins are still being debated. Some scholars claim they were the original Bohemians dispersed when their small empire collapsed a few centuries ago; others point to ancient Egypt -- hence the name: "Gypsies"; or to the Phoenicians; or again to India.

    In The Zincali; or, An Account of the Gypsies of Spain, Borrow speculates upon the reason for his lifelong fascination with them:

    Some of the Gypsies, to whom I have stated this circumstance, have accounted for it on the supposition that the soul which at present animates my body has at some former period tenanted that of one of their people; for many among them are believers in metempsychosis, and, like the followers of Bouddha, imagine that their souls, by passing through an infinite number of bodies, attain at length sufficient purity to be admitted to a state of perfect rest and quietude, which is the only idea of heaven they can form.
    Metempsychosis literally means "transference of souls," and is related to the process of reincarnation. It is often asked, why was reincarnation unknown in Europe until recently? Why does not Christianity teach it?

    Actually, the idea is found in the oldest traditions of Western civilization, as well as being taught throughout the ancient Near East and Orient. And there is solid evidence that during its first centuries, Christianity did indeed impart what it had learned about the pre-existence of souls and their reimbodiment.

    Josephus, the Jewish historian who lived during most of the first century AD, records in his Jewish War (3, 8, 5) and in his Antiquities of the Jews (18, 1, 3) that reincarnation was taught widely in his day, while his contemporary in Alexandria, Philo Judaeus, in various of his writings, also refers to reimbodiment in one or another form. Moreover, there are passages of the New Testament that can be understood only if seen against the background of pre-existence of souls as a generally held belief. For instance, Matthew (16:13-14) records that when Jesus asked his disciples "Whom do men say that I am?" they replied that some people said he was John the Baptist (who had been executed only a few years before the question was asked). Others thought he was Elijah, or Jeremiah, or another of the prophets. Later in Matthew (17:13), far from rejecting the concept of rebirth Jesus tells his disciples that John the Baptist was Elijah.

    John (9:2-4) reports that the disciples asked Jesus whether a blindman had sinned or his parents that he had been born blind. Jesus replied that it was in order that the works of God may be made manifest in the blind man, that is, that the law of cause and effect might be fulfilled. Or, as St. Paul phrased the thought: we reap what we sow. The blind man could not have sown the seeds of his blindness in his present body, but must have done so in a previous lifetime.

    The earliest Christians, especially those who were members of one or other of the Gnostic sects, such as the Valentinians, Ophites and Ebionites, included reimbodiment among their important teachings. For them it enabled fulfillment of the law -- karma -- as well as providing the means for the soul to purify itself from the muddy qualities resulting from its immersion in matter and the egoism we have developed in the first stages of our journey through earth life.

    After the original generations of Christians, we find the early Church Fathers, such as Justin Martyr (AD 100-l65), St. Clement of Alexandria ( AD 150-220), and Origen ( AD 185-254) teaching the pre-existence of souls, taking up reincarnation or one or another aspect of reimbodiment. Examples are scattered through Origen's works, especially Contra Celsum (1, xxxii), where he asks: "Is it not rational that souls should be introduced into bodies, in accordance with their merits and previous deeds . . . ?" And in De Principiis he says that "the soul has neither beginning nor end." St. Jerome (AD 340-420), translator of the Latin version of the Bible known as the Vulgate, in his Letter to Demetrias (a Roman matron), states that some Christian sects in his day taught a form of reincarnation as an esoteric doctrine, imparting it to a few "as a traditional truth which was not to be divulged."

    Synesius (AD 370-480), Bishop of Ptolemais, also taught the concept, and in a prayer that has survived, he says: "Father, grant that my soul may merge into the light, and be no more thrust back into the illusion of earth." Others of his Hymns, such as number III, contain lines clearly stating his views, and also pleas that he may be so purified that rebirth on earth will no longer be necessary. In a thesis on dreams, Synesius writes: "It is possible by labor and time, and a transition into other lives, for the imaginative soul to emerge from this dark abode." This passage reminds us of verses in the Revelation of John (3:12), with its symbolic, initiatory language leading into: "Him that overcometh will I make a pillar in the temple of my God, and he shall go no more out."

    We need at this point to recall what happened after Constantine declared Christianity to be the state religion of the Roman empire. The church forgot the injunction about rendering unto Caesar the things that are Caesar's only, and allowed itself to become entwined with the administration of Caesar's realm -- the political arena. Its destiny became linked to the fate of the empire itself and its rulers.

    The several differences in teaching among the Christian sects of the fourth century paralleled the provincial disturbances under the weak emperors, so that by the time Justinian took charge in 527, he had serious problems. He worked desperately to reunify his crumbling empire, and proceeded to do so on two lines: the first prong of his effort was the drive of his army against the petty states within the larger fold; the second set out to enforce a uniform canon of belief, to be strictly adhered to. No mean theologian himself, he launched his campaign against the beliefs of the Nestorian Christians and other minority groups, and to do so he had to circumvent the decisions of the Council of Chalcedon (451). He ordered Mennas, the Patriarch of Constantinople, to convene a local or provincial synod to deal with this and meet the demands of several churchmen who opposed certain teachings, including Origen's on the pre-existence of souls.

    The local synod accepted the bans phrased by Mennas, but this did not seem to achieve much. Ten years later, Justinian called the fifth Council of Constantinople, now known also as the Second Ecumenical Council -- but this is a misnomer. It was presided over by the incumbent patriarch of Constantinople, Eutychius, with the presence of 165 bishops. Pope Vigilius had been summoned by the Emperor, but he opposed the council and took refuge in a church in Constantinople. He was not present at the deliberations, nor was he represented.

    The Council drafted a series of anathemas, some say 14, others 15, mainly directed against the doctrines of three "schools" or "heretics," the documents relating thereto becoming known as "The Three Chapters." Only these papers were presented to the pope for his approval. Succeeding popes, including Gregory the Great (590-604), while dealing with the matters arising out of the Fifth Council, made no mention of Origen's concepts. Nonetheless, Justinian enforced the acceptance of the decision of what seems to have been merely an extra-conciliary session. He made it appear to have ecumenical endorsement or sanction. What concerns us here is that the clerics opposing Origen's teachings, mainly the one dealing with the pre-existence of souls, secured an official condemnation, which they tried to make binding.
    Although Gregory the Great made no reference to Origen when he took up the affairs of the Fifth Council, he did accept the trend toward codification of Christian belief that had been developing during the fifth and sixth centuries, and he could even say that he "reverenced" the conclusions of the first four Councils as much as he did the Four Gospels!
    From the point of view of public teaching, the idea of reincarnation disappeared from European thought after the provincial synod of 543 and the Fifth Council of 553 -- and this on the grounds that it conflicted with a proper understanding of the concept of redemption.

    Despite the anathemas, Origen's influence flowed down the centuries like a steady stream, through leading Christians of the day to Maximus of Tyre (580-662) and Johannes Scotus Erigena (810-877), the immensely erudite Irish monk. It even reached such late figures as St. Francis of Assisi, founder of the Franciscan Order (1182-1226), and St. Buonaventura, the 'Seraphic' doctor (1221-1274), who became a cardinal and General of the Franciscans. No less a theologian than St. Jerome said of Origen that he was "the greatest teacher of the early Church after the Apostles."

    Apart from Christian sects like the widespread Cathars that included the Albigenses, Waldenses and Bomogils, isolated individuals -- such as Jacob Boehme, the German Protestant mystic, Joseph Glanvil, chaplain of King Charles II of England, the Rev. William Law, William R. Alger, and many modern clerics, Catholic and Protestant -- have supported the concept of reincarnation on logical and other grounds. Henry More (1614-1687), the noted clergyman of the Church of England and renowned Cambridge Platonist, wrote in his long essay The Immortality of the Soul -- a considerable study of the whole subject of the soul, with cogent answers to critics of pre-existency. His poem A Platonick Song of the Soul tells it beautifully:

    I would sing the Prae-existency
    Of humane souls, and live once o'er again
    By recollection and quick memory
    All that is past since first we all began.
    But all too shallow be my wits to scan
    So deep a point and mind too dull to clear
    So dark a matter, . . .
    Speaking then to Plotinus in the poem, he adds:

    Tell what we mortalls are, tell what of old we were.
    A spark or ray of the Divinity
    Clouded in earthly fogs, yclad in clay,
    A precious drop sunk from Aeternitie,
    Spilt on the ground, or rather slunk away.

    As More said in his essay mentioned above, "there was never any philosopher that held the soul spiritual and immortal but he held also that it did pre-exist."

    The general opposition of some theologians in the last century is ebbing away as their successors take a more open-minded stance upon the subject. Clergymen of varying denominations are beginning to endorse the ancient teachings about the pre-existence of the soul, reimbodiment in general and reincarnation in particular. It is spoken about more widely than it has been for centuries, and the earlier derision based upon a misunderstanding of transmigration has given way to a more intelligent inquiry.

    One of the more common arguments against the idea of rebirth is that we do not remember our past existences. But there is a memory other than that stored up among the cells of the brain. Skills, or facility to do or understand certain areas of thought or activity, often evident in early childhood, surely betoken a resumption from a past familiarity. Does it matter what the name of a personality was, if the quality expressed through that lifetime continues into the present, modified according to the kind and intensity of the earlier period of self-expression? We so often think of life and death as a pair of opposites. Whereas in reality life is a continuum, with birth and death the two doorways into and out of our earth phase. Birth, death and rebirth -- the cycle turns and completes itself over and over until we refine the dross in our nature into the pure gold of spirit.

    Works consulted include The Ring of Return, An Anthology, by Eva Martin; The Cathars and Reincarnation, by Arthur Guirdham; Reincarnation, A Study of Forgotten Truth, by E. D. Walker; Fragments of a Faith Forgotten, by G. R. S. Mead; Reincarnation in World Thought, compiled by Joseph Head and S. L. Cranston; The Esoteric Tradition, by G. de Purucker; and Essays and Hymns of Synesius, translated by Augustine FitzGerald.
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  2. TWells

    TWells Active Member

    Other Religion
    Hey vajradhara :wave:
    Reincarnation was contrary to Jewish belief. The primary afterlife belief was of the ressurection of the dead. Josephus says of the Pharisee's "the souls of good men only are removed into other bodies, but that the souls of bad men are subject to eternal punishment." There is nothing in this to indicate reincarnation as these are a reference to ressurection bodies. Josephus also states concerning the future of good souls and bad souls that the good "have the power to revive and live again."
    The problem with this though is that your reading something into the text that there is absolutely NO evidence for. The Ressurection was the central Jewish belief concerning the afterlife. Also, where does a idea of Karma come into any of this? While there is a 'reep what you sow' element in the Christian afterlife - thats in reference to eternal seperation from God!
    Elijah did not actually die but was taken up in a whirlwind. And its very true that many of the Jews probably did expect for Elijah to return to earth (which in and of itself doesnt in any way constitute reincarnation) but your ingnoring the fact that scripture clearly explains this. John the Baptist refuted their mistaken views about him and the Messiah. When asked if he was literally Elijah, he told the Pharisee's he was not. Later Christ stated that indeed John was Elijah. The key is in Luke 1:17 which states:
    As with many of the phrophecies concerning the Messiah, the prophecy about John was typological as well.
    Your completely reading into the text something thats not there. Jesus states clearly:
    Notice he says "neither" his parents nor he sinned. He was blind so the work of God could be shown.
    You've been reading that Pagels nonsense again. ;) There is absolutely no evidence that the earliest Christians were Gnostic.
    Not really relevent since Valentinus lived in the 2nd century.
    First of all I think your taking most of these out of context but im not going to take the time simply because what does it matter what a completely different culture said a few hundred years later?
    This passage has nothing to with what we're talking about.

    After this you gave a history of the Catholic Church in an effort to show a la Pagels that reincarnation was stamped out by the "Evil-govermental-Catholic-Church-went-on-a-spiritual-rampage-stamping-out-"legitimate"-other-forms-of-Christianity". Christianized Gnosticism was a much later form of Christianity and was a break off from the original form. Nothing you've shown here leads me to believe in any way that 2nd Temple Judaism/Early Christianity held a belief in reincarnation.

    In Christ,

  3. Atkin

    Atkin Member




    JOHN COULD WELL HAVE BEEN ELIJAH.... but God does not want

    faithless followers so John would not know in order for people

    to really seek the truth for themselves.

    Jesus is the one who would know whether John was Elijah.

    God never revealed or told John the Baptist whether He was Elijah

    or not.

    Elijah's return to Earth CANNOT BE UNDERSTOOD BY HUMANS

    FOR HUMANS are expecting Elijah to drop down as He was taken.

    Nobody knows How God returns one like Elijah.

    God does not store old flesh.... God is the God of the living.

    From that I can easily tell that GOD HAS THE SOUL OF ELIJAH... not His old flesh body.. GOD IS ABOVE PETTY HUMAN FLESH.

    Thus Elijah could well have been born as John for The soul is given by God into humans IN A MANNER AS GOD SEES FIT.





    SEE JESUS HERE-- no body can dispute this
    DANIEL 10:5-6
    Then I lifted up mine eyes, and looked, and behold a certain man clothed in linen, whose loins were girded with fine gold of Uphaz:
    6 His body also was like the beryl, and his face as the appearance of lightning, and his eyes as lamps of fire, and his arms and his feet like in colour to polished brass, and the voice of his words like the voice of a multitude.
    7 And I Daniel alone saw the vision: for the men that were with me saw not the vision; but a great quaking fell upon them, so that they fled to hide themselves.


    DANIEL 10:16 O my lord, by the vision my sorrows are turned upon me, and I have retained no strength.
    17 For how can the servant of this my lord talk with this my lord? for as for me, straightway there remained no strength in me, neither is there breath left in me

    13 And in the midst of the seven candlesticks one like unto the Son of man, clothed with a garment down to the foot, and girt about the paps with a golden girdle.
    14 His head and his hairs were white like wool, as white as snow; and his eyes were as a flame of fire;
    15 And his feet like unto fine brass, as if they burned in a furnace; and his voice as the sound of many waters.




  4. vajradhara

    vajradhara Diamond Thunderbolt of Indestructable Wisdom

    In Relationship
    Namaste Travis,

    rebirth is, in fact, a teaching that is held in Judiasm. Please see this link: http://www.christianforums.com/t48356 for my posting on this topic.

    Josepheus was a historian, not a rabbi and it is to be expected that he would not be famaliar with all of the customes and traditions of the local populace.. even one that was intimate to him. We can readily agree that he wasn't privy to secret teachings and the like. there is even some dispute as to when Josepheus, himself, actually lived.. but that's discussion for another time :)

    i could be misinterpeting the textual clues, to be sure, however, i do think that the evidence is.. well... self evident.. in this regard. i will conceed that i'm molding it to fit my view if you do the same ;)

    i beg to differ. there is plenty of evidence that early Chrisitans were gnostic... if they were not, why did Ireneous write is "Refutation of All Heresies?" 2nd Century is well within the "early Church" time frame references as we know that the Church, per se, wasn't so codified until the Eucunemical Councils.
  5. TWells

    TWells Active Member

    Other Religion
    Hey vajradhara :wave:
    Well, I dissagree with you on that. Thats a pretty long article so im not gonna go through it but if you'd like I can provide you with plenty of articles concerning it.
    Have you read Antiquities?
    This is pretty vague...what "seceret" teachings would you be referring to?
    Anyone can dispute something but that doesnt mean its taken seriously. ;)
    I think more the key is to look at the social, theological, and historical context. Reincarnation simply wasnt a Jewish or Christian belief, the primary afterlife belief was the General Ressurection going all the way back to the earliest book in the OT.
    Such as??
    Since his 'heresies' was probably wrote around 130 years later its not evidence in the least bit that Gnosticism was actually the earliest form of Christianity. In fact most evidence we have shows that the Gnostic heresy showed up toward the end of the 1st century/early 2nd century.

    In Christ,

  6. Wills

    Wills Member

    HERE IS a question for all.

    Could Elijah be living on Earth today as a citizen of some nation?

    He was to come before an appointed time, which is in the future.

    If you think He cannot be living on earth as a fellow earthling today, kindly

    explain why and furthermore, explain your alternative means by which

    Elijah could fulfil prophecy ON EARTH, assuming prophecy requires Elijah to perform

    certain actions in the future.

    Of course if you believe that John was Elijah, then you need not answer this question.

    This is for those who believe Elijah is yet to exist on Earth post 20th century.
  7. Wills

    Wills Member

    How would John the Baptist, born to Zechariah and Elizabeth, know that He was

    Elijah? At what age would he know at all if he was Elijah?

    Who could have confirmed BEYOND REASONABLE DOUBT to John Himself

    that He was Elijah?

    How could John verify this information?
  8. vajradhara

    vajradhara Diamond Thunderbolt of Indestructable Wisdom

    In Relationship
    Namaste Travis,

    i'm not stating that Gnostic Christianity was the earliest form... actually, it was the Church of Jerusalem that is the earliest form of Christianity.. what i am saying, however, is that Gnostic Christianity was practiced during the early period, say the first 300 years, of the Christian movement. when viewed from the historical perspective, this is seen as "early".

    the Jewish concept is called Gilgul and you can find pleanty of discussion about it and what it is on the 'net.
  9. TWells

    TWells Active Member

    Other Religion
    Hey vajradhara,
    I understand what your saying but that Gnosticism popped in the first 300 years of Christianity means nothing when you're disscussing origins early veiws and everything to do as to why Christians considered it a heresy.
  10. vajradhara

    vajradhara Diamond Thunderbolt of Indestructable Wisdom

    In Relationship
    Namaste Travis,

    umm... what?

    Origen wrote during the time that the Gnostics were practicing.. there is solid evidence to support this... Origen's writing and the writings of the Gnostic sects attest to this.


    do you disagree with the OP's other points? what Constantine did and for what reasons? The various councils and so forth?

    if not, can you provide anything that contradicts those statements?
  11. TWells

    TWells Active Member

    Other Religion
    Hey Vajradhara :wave:
    Origen was born in 185, which is hardly early Christianity. He also had a lot of other wierd ideas, which is probably why the Catholic Church never made him a saint. What I was saying in my post is that because the Gnostic heresy crept up after the birth of the Church it doesnt mean that it had anything to do with the beginnings of Christianity.

    This was continuing my response to what you had mentioned earlier here:
    I was saying these were not 'early' Christians as far as the religions birth but later sects that grew out of it in the 2nd century, thus they cant be used as evidence for early gnostic beliefs among the first Christians.
    The First Council of Constantinople was called mostly to address the Arian heresy, whatever was decided conerning some of Origens beliefs I dont really see what relevence it has. We can see from the other Ante-Nicene fathers writings that reincarnation wasnt a belief that was held, the fact that Origen held to it and it was eventually denounced as non scriptural doesnt mean anything.

    I think where a lot of our confusion comes from is what we consider "early Christianity" as I see it as the formative years beginning in Jerusalam after the crucifixion through most of the first century.

    In Christ,

  12. vajradhara

    vajradhara Diamond Thunderbolt of Indestructable Wisdom

    In Relationship
    Namaste Travis,

    indeed... this is probably the issue :)

    i would generally tend to consider early Christianity as the period from 30 CE till about 300 CE, give or take. in fact, i'd go so far as to say that, that the day to day useage of the term "Christian" can only be used post 535 CE.

    again, in this instance i am speaking from an historical perspective. in truth, though, it is a matter of perspective what one chooses to deem "early", "middle" or "late"... and those terms probably have little value except for a scholarly discussion of dating and liguistics and so forth.
  13. TWells

    TWells Active Member

    Other Religion
    Hey :wave:

    I think I just figured out why you were confused by that earlier post:

    That should have read "disscussing origins AND early views" I wasnt referring to Origen the Church Father. Im about to leave work, so ill reply to your new post later.

    In Christ,

  14. supermagdalena

    supermagdalena The Shrubs and the Flan.

    Hey vajradhara,

    Sorry if I keep bothering you about this, but I think I understand what you're saying enough to ask a question. Wow.

    Since one of the elementary principles of the Christian religion as supported by the Bible is salvation by faith, accompied by works, how does that line up? Good works takes a backseat to faith, since none are perfect. And according to the Bible, which is the essential book of Christianity (we're not debating it's historical accuracy here), Jesus said that he was the only way to attain salvation. Therefore, how could a life principle like reincarnation, which is based on recent works, fit into the framework of Christianity?

    That's all. Thanks!

    God Bless,
  15. radorth

    radorth Contributor

    Actually THIS is rebirth

    I [size=-1]DID[/size] not think, I did not strive,
    The deep peace burnt my me alive;
    The bolted door had broken in,
    I knew that I had done with sin.
    I knew that Christ had given me birth
    To brother all the souls on earth,
    And every bird and every beast
    Should share the crumbs broke at the feast.

    O glory of the lighted mind.
    How dead I’d been, how dumb, how blind.
    The station brook, to my new eyes,
    Was babbling out of Paradise,
    The waters rushing from the rain
    Were singing Christ has risen again.
    I thought all earthly creatures knelt
    From rapture of the joy I felt.
    The narrow station-wall’s brick ledge,
    The wild hop withering in the hedge,
    The lights in huntsman’s upper story
    Were parts of an eternal glory,
    Were God’s eternal garden flowers.
    I stood in bliss at this for hours.

    From Masefield's The Everlasting Mercy

    Sorry Vaj. The Christian mystics described life in the timeless presence better than anyone. See Bartleby.com for lots more.

    [​IMG] Rad
  16. vajradhara

    vajradhara Diamond Thunderbolt of Indestructable Wisdom

    In Relationship
    Namaste Supermag,

    without putting too fine a point on it... things are different now than they were in 50 CE. [​IMG]

    mind you, the Jewish tradition already had an existing concept of rebirth that they were working with... would it really seem that odd if Christianity, when it was embryonic, would have most, if not all, of the same beliefs that the Jewish schools had?
  17. supermagdalena

    supermagdalena The Shrubs and the Flan.

    The God I believe in doesn't change with the times, vajradhara. He is the same as He always was and always will be, because a basic Biblical principle is that He is perfect. Perfect things don't need to change. He also doesn't change His mind. People change their minds, and people corrupt things, but God does not.

    Christianity is an extension of Judaism in a way, for we believe the prophesies have been fulfilled through Christ to offer salvation to all, unrighteous and more unrighteous alike. Thus they are different. I'd like to know more, however, how Judaism had principles of reincarnation within it? Judaism, not Phariseeism. It is known that in the late B.C. early A.D., many Jewish priests were taking God's law in their own hands and changing it, corrupting it, angering the people and prophets alike. They were very powerful men, but many of them were corrupted that they helped to corrupt Jewish religion into mysticism.
  18. dan67

    dan67 Guest

    There are missing details, in the Bible as to what Jesus was doing in the years between his teenage years and the time He returned to Israel, to assemble the apostles. I have heard and read from different sourses that Jesus had journeyed to the Far East, India and even China. Most recently, my brother was telling me about a TV documentary. There are records in India and China of a foreigner sharing wisdom with them, at the right time period.
  19. vajradhara

    vajradhara Diamond Thunderbolt of Indestructable Wisdom

    In Relationship
    Namaste dan67,

    thanks for the post.

    yes, the life prior to ministry is quite void of details... but shouldn't, in my opinion, lessen the teachings of Jesus.

    i, too, have heard of those claims, though i think it far more likely that the reverse was true.. i.e. that Buddhist monks were in the near east when Jesus was walking around. we know that King Asoka had sent emmisarries to that region.

    there was a german archelogist that claimed to have found proof that Jesus went to India... as far as i know, that claim has not been verified. i'd be interested to read anything you have related to that.
  20. vajradhara

    vajradhara Diamond Thunderbolt of Indestructable Wisdom

    In Relationship
    Namaste supermag,

    i'll disagree with your post to some extent. it was not until the destruction of the second Temple (though we can discuss) that the rabbi took over for the priests. in any event, here is the article that i had posted previously:

    Gilgul Neshamot - Reincarnation of Souls

    The subject of gilgul neshamot, the reincarnation of souls, is not mentioned explicitly in the Torah. In the Zohar, on the other hand, in Parashat Mishpatim, under the title Saba deMishpatim (the Old Man or the Grandfather of Parashat Mishpatim), the secrets of reincarnation are discussed at length. They are then further expanded upon by the Ari HaKadosh, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, in a book dedicated to this subject, Shaar HaGilgulim, The Gate of Reincarnations.

    There is a reason why we do not find any explicit mention of gilgul in the Tanach (only by insinuation and hint). God wants man to be completely free to do whatever he wants, so that he can be totally responsible for his actions. If a person were to be explicitly told that he will surely reincarnate if he fails to rectify his actions, he might remain indifferent and apathetic. He might not do all he could to accelerate his personal evolution. Thinking that he could have no influence on the course of his life, he might renounce all responsibility and leave all in the hands of "fate."

    In Shaar HaGilgulim, the Ari explains that Adam had a universal soul (neshamah klalit) that included [aspects of] all creation [i.e. every individual angel and every individual animal - all were asked to give an essence part of themselves to Adam; only as a miniature reflection of the entire universe could he be connected to all creation, and either elevate it or lower it...]. His soul also included all the souls of mankind in a higher- unity. This is why even one action on his part could have such a powerful effect. After he ate from the Tree of Knowledge of Good and Evil, his soul fragmented into thousands of thousands of sparks (fragments and fragments of fragments) which subsequently became clothed/incarnated in every single human being that was ever born and is alive now. [The main job of these soul-sparks is to bring about all together the tikkun (rectification) that Adam was to do alone.]

    It is important to understand the difference between one great all-inclusive universal soul being in one piece, on the one hand, and split up into many pieces (scattered into many bodies), on the other hand. There are two reasons for (differences to) this:

    1) In one great all-inclusive soul, it is difficult to discern the parts (the individual souls) because they are still bound in one great unity. This is not the case when each and every soul- spark takes on a separate body. We can then recognize the uniqueness of each and the characteristics particular to each.

    In the end, all souls will return to that higher level of Unity from which they all originated, but on a higher level (i.e. returning to Unity but retaining the special individuality they worked for and acquired). [The Sages have a code-name for this type of progression: Klal U'Prat U'Klal V'Ei Atah Dan Ela K'Ein HaPrat: Klal (moving from a primeval Unity) U'Prat (to a breakdown of Unity), U'Klal (and back to a higher level of Unity), V'Ei Atah Dan Ela K'Ein HaPrat (the final stage of Oneness does not negate the individuality earned during the stage of breakdown).]

    2) The second reason (or difference) is that many different souls playing a small (but significant) part in rectifying creation is "easier" than when all are together.

    By way of analogy, this is like a heavy load that requires being moved from one location to another. It is easier for many people to do their share and carry what they can of the entire load than for a single person to try carrying the entire thing alone.

    The same applies to Adam. When he ate from the Tree of Knowledge [before he was supposed to, instead of waiting for the first Shabbat to enter] he damaged all the souls that were part of him. His unified soul was subsequently splintered into many pieces, each destined to be born in a different body, such that each and every one would be able to fix its own small piece of the great soul of Adam of which it is a part, so they could all eventually reunite again as one.

    Based on this, the Or HaChaim HaKadosh (Rabeinu Chaim ben Attar, Parashat Veyechi) explains why the initial generations (Adam's and those immediately following his) lived hundreds of years. Only as the generations diminished in spiritual stature did people's lifespans dwindle to 70 and 80 years. The reason for this is because earlier generations had very large, inclusive souls. They therefore needed more time in each lifetime to fix whatever they had to fix. When they then did not utilize their long lives for this purpose, for the purpose of tikkun (for instance, the generation of the Flood), their souls were diminished and fragmented into "smaller" people with less soul illumination, in order to make the work of tikkun "easier" for each person. This is why people's lives became shortened.

    From the point of view of the whole system, all of these souls still are part of one great soul that is split up and incarnated into countless distinct bodies generation after generation.

    We see from this that the soul is a divine light that enlivens the body which in turn becomes a vehicle for the soul capable of revealing its (i.e. the body's) distinct qualities. This is similar to the power of electricity that flows into a household appliance and turns it on. The electric current itself cannot be seen. We can only perceive it through the medium of the particular appliance we are using. For instance, we can plug a heater or a fan, a washing machine or a dryer into an electric socket, and see that the differences between each appliance are due to slight modifications in their mechanisms (heating vs. cooling, washing vs. drying) rather than in the electrical current that makes them run.

    In the same way, we can understand that all the different bodies that ever existed were particular manifestations of one great soul. The differences between them (the souls) lie in the different bodies that they incarnated into, for no one body resembles the next (each incarnation is totally unique). This is why our bodies must presently be buried to return to the basic elements of which they are composed. The soul, on the other hand, that enlivens the body, is eternal. Thus, the bodies of each generation of souls that are born are likened to so many pairs of clothing that are taken off when a person goes up to heaven.

    The Law of Energy Conservation

    Modern physics has reached similar conclusions. Energy is always conserved. When a physical object burns or rots, the energy, or energy configuration, or information contained in that physical object is not destroyed. It merely passes on to another form. This is actually the same thing we said about the souls. A soul is life and energy, as the Torah states, "[God] breathed into his nostrils a nishmat chaim (living soul)." According to this, we again see that the sum total of incarnations of all the generations is really that of one great soul - Adam - that passes through many bodies. In each generation, and in each body, it takes on a different form. In the end, whatever change takes place takes place in the bodies.

    Ibur Neshamot - More than one soul inhabiting a single body

    There is another kind of gilgul that can take place while a person is still alive. The Ari calls this form of reincarnation, Ibur.

    It is usually thought that gilgul takes place after a person passes from this world, after the death of the body, at which time or soon after the soul transmigrates into another body. Ibur does not work like this. It involves receiving a new (higher) soul sometime during one's lifetime. That is, a new soul comes into a person's heart while he is still alive. The reason this is called Ibur, gestation or pregnancy, is because this person becomes "pregnant" with this new soul while he is still alive. This phenomenon is the deeper explanation behind certain people going through drastic changes in their lives. They either undergo a change of mind about certain things or change their lifestyle, and thereby ascend to the next spiritual level. This is also included under the general heading of gilgul-incarnation because they are now hosting a new soul [or an aspect of their own soul or a higher soul of which they are a part] in order to be a vehicle for that soul's rectification. This is what occurs when a person is ready to advance in his soul evolution. This is why the soul has five names, each higher than the other, nefesh, ruach, neshamah, chayah and yechidah. [According to the Zohar, the four higher levels of the soul usually enter a person during his lifetime in Ibur: First, a person receives nefesh when he or she is born; then, when they merit it, they receive ruach; when they merit it, they receive neshamah; when they merit it, they receive chayah. The higher the level, the rarer its occurrence. Very few have ever merited to neshamah, let alone chayah. Nobody has ever received the highest level, yechidah. Adam would have received it had he not sinned.

    The Names of Biblical Personalities who returned in Gilgul

    In the Ari's Shaar HaGilgulim, we find many instances of transmigrated souls. Moshe, for instance, was a gilgul of Hevel (Abel) and Shet (Seth), as his name indicates (the Mem of Moshe stands for Moshe, the Shin stands for Shet, and the Heh stands for Hevel). Yaakov's father-in-law, Lavan, later reincarnated as Bilaam (during the time of Moshe) and Naval (during the time of David). Rebbi Akiva was a gilgul of Yaakov Avinu. Yoseph's ten brothers who sold him were punished by having to reincarnate into ten great tannaim, the ten martyrs who were killed by the Romans. The reality of gilgul can also help us understand why God forbid young infants die. For there are souls that must descend into the world for a short time in order to do a minimum amount of rectification. Then they are free to leave.

    Gilgul in the Mineral, the Vegetable, the Animal and the Human

    We have mentioned the principle that everything contains a power that enlivens it. In a human being, this power is truly godly, and is called the neshamah. Animals as well have a soul which is called nefesh ha'behemit (animal soul). [Plants and other growing things have a vegetative soul.] Inert matter also contains a portion of that power called nefesh.

    A human soul can also incarnate in these lower forms as punishment for its sins. In Shaar HaGilgulim, the Ari brings numerous examples of such incarnations in which the soul of a person who has deliberately done wrong, depending on the severity of the sin, enters into various forms of inert or organic matter, or into animals. Only after a long and arduous journey can such a soul return [and be reincarnated as a human being again] and finally have become purified enough to return to its Source.

    In conclusion, we were recently engaged in Sefirat HaOmer, the Counting of the Omer. It is known that we mourn during this period for the 24,000 students of Rebbi Akiva who died because they did not treat one another respectfully. When we study Parashat Balak, we see that Bilaam failed time and again to curse Israel, but rather blessed them. At the very end, before he departed, however, he gave Balak advice on how to really undermine the Jewish people by enticing them to sin with the Midianite women, and incur Hashem's wrath... Balak took Bilaam's advice and the result was a plague in which 24,000 people died. It was these same 24,000 souls who reincarnated as Rebbi Akiva's students and died from Pesach until the 32nd day of the Omer.

    The total number of days that we count is 49, from the day after Pesach till the last day before Shavuot. Shavuot itself is the 50th day. The numerical value of the words Lev Tov (Good Heart) is 32 + 17 = 49. Rebbi Akiva's students only merited to Lev (Heart), not to Tov (Good). It was only Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai who merited to Tov (Good), as the verse says, "How great is the Good that You have stored up for those who fear you" (Tehillim), concerning which the Zohar says, this Good is none other than the Hidden Light that was concealed when Hashem created the world. It was Rebbi Shimon who brought this light down into the world, in the merit of which Israel departed Egypt and received the Torah on Sinai. The hint for this in the Torah (that we left Egypt in the merit of something that happened much later in history) is in the Aramic translation of the verse, U'Bnei Yisrael Yotzim BeYad Rama - The Children of Israel left Egypt with a triumphant hand - which Onkelos translates BeResh Galia - they left with a revealed head (i.e. a very exalted level of intellect). The word BeResh has the same letters as Rashbi, the initials of Rebbi Shimon bar Yochai (Resh-Shin-Beth-Yod).

    Similarly, in Tehillim, the verse states, "You (Moshe) ascended to the heights, and took a Shevi (hostage)." The word Shevi is again the same as the initials of Shimon bar Yochai.

    It is also known that Rashbi reincarnated in the Ari, who opened up the Zohar and made it accessible, and whose initials are also Yod-Beth-Shin (Yitzhak ben Shlomo = Shevi). The Baal Shem Tov's initials as well were Yod-Beth-Shin (Yisrael ben Sarah). In our generation as well, Rav Yehudah Ashlag, who authored a complete commentary on the Zohar - his initials also were Yod-Beth-Shin (Yehudah ben Simcha). In their merit, may we merit to the complete Redemption, in our days, Amen.

    by: Rav Avraham Brandwein, Dean
    Yeshiva Kol Yehuda Zvi