What are Gilgulim (reincarnations) all about? (Part I)

Updated: Sep 8



​One of the least known and most obscure areas of Judaism is the secret of Gilgulim (reincarnations). It’s so complex and difficult to understand that most people simply don’t bother studying it. But we find in it some fascinating and inspiring ideas for our lives, which we will delve into in this article and the next.

The first thing to know is that, at our core, we are all souls sent here in this world for many different purposes. The soul is divided into 5 parts: Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya and Yechida. Only the lowest one, the Nefesh, goes in the body and it is in fact the regular state of consciousness that animates it. However, even before the holy Nefesh comes to be vested in a body, it dresses up into many Levushim (spiritual garments) in order to mold the medium by which it will operate the body. These garments, writes Rabbi Chaim Vital in Sha’arei Kedusha (Gates of Holiness), were soiled from the sin of Adam HaRishon and taken by the Sitra Achrah (the “other side”, evil).

In order for us to merit the great Divine Revelation of Hashem and bring the reality Olam HaBah, which is the greatest pleasure of all, we need to bring back the spiritual system to order and rectify it. The way to do it is by purifying the Levushim through Torah, the performance of our Mitzvot and prayer. Once we do this, we don’t need to come back to this world again.And, as you guessed, if we don’t rectify what we need to do, we are sent back.

​Alas, the truth is very few people can fully rectify their Nefesh in their lifetime, as the great Rabbi Shimon Agassi (a friend of the Ben Ish Chai) writes. The Nefesh desires everything; pleasure, honor, money, power, and is seldom satisfied. Once it’s rectified, however, a person can receive its Ruach and then the Neshama. This is what gives people the amazing ability to know the future or perform miracles. The work to rectify the Nefesh is incredibly difficult, but after it is rectified, the Ruach and Neshama are comparatively easy to rectify since a person is already “on the track” and really doesn’t desire materiality at all.

​In Gates of Reincarnation (Sha’ar HaGilgulim), Rabbi Chaim Vital writes that sould can come down to be rectified in two different ways. One is reincarnation proper(Gilgul), in which it comes as a full fledged life and has to go through all the travails of living.So, we find that Moshe Rabbenu, according to the Zohar, was a Gilgul of the good part of Hevel and Seth. While, Korach on the other hand was the reincarnation of the bad part of Cain. In order to “rectify” Cain of his sin (and “avenge the blood of Hevel”), it was necessary for Moshe to kill Korach.

The second one is what the Zohar calls the “Ibbur” (pregnancy). In this mode, the soul temporarily vests itself in an already living body to help it achieve its mission, if the host is a good person. This second way comes with the advantage that if the soul that comes down helps the host do good deeds, it brings also merits to itself. At the same time, it can easily “fly away” if the host decies to sin. This is what happened to the spies which were sent to Eretz Yisrael while the Jews were in the desert. Each of them had an Ibbur of one of the sons of Yaakov Avinu, explains the Arizal. But, when these souls saw the plan of the spies, they flew away in order not to be tainted by sin.

In both cases, Gilgul and Ibbur, the souls are usually reincarnated when the host has either its same soul-root or if it has a strong connection to it.

The Arizal also taught us many Segulot to merit an “Ibbur”. One of them is to pray at Kivrei Tzaddikim. If the person is worthy, it can receive part of the soul (consciousness) that will guide him in life and bring him blessings. This is what happened when the Ben Ish Chai went to pray at the Kever of Benayahu ben Yehoyada, King David’s champion and a huge Tzaddik in his own right (also the reincarnation of Eliezer the servant of Avraham Avinu).

Another segulah is to sleep after the Shabbat day meal as the Arizal himself used to do. Not only is sleeping after the meal a great Oneg (pleasure) but a person can also merit to have an Ibbur with a soul he’s connected to. By connecting we mean, studying the words of the Tzadik, following his customs, visiting his Kever and so on.

​On a more practical level, we can understand better why we suffer so much in life. We may think that we are just one soul in a body when we can actually have a few of them together! It’s just that we can’t usually differentiate between our desires and and thoughts, and the souls’ desires and thoughts.

​We move from challenge to challenge, sometimes not knowing why certain things are happening, when Hashem is simply rectifying the souls that are in our bodies.

​One fascinating story from the Ba’al Shem Tov illustrates the point. Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezritch, once came to the Ba’al Shem Tov and asked to be taught the secret of reincarnations. “It would be better if you see it for yourself”, came the answer.

The Chassid was extatic and the Ba’al Shem Tov said he should go to a certain fountain in the forest nearby, at a certain date and time and observe a pathway through which people passed by every day.

The Chassid went to the forest at the given date and time, and waited. Suddenly, an armedsolder passed by the trail and dropped his wallet on the ground. Without realising, he went about his way and disappeared.

Then, a peasant came by the trail, found the wallet and happily went his way.

Finally, a third man came, clearly tired from a day’s work and decided to take a nap close to where the soldier lost his wallet.

The soldier came back looking for his wallet and began interrogating the third man, who obviously knew nothing about it. When he got angry, the solder began beating up the man until finally saw that he didn’t have the wallet and left him.

Rabbi Dov Ber went back to the Ba’al Shem Tov for explanations. “It’s very simple”, came the answer. “You see, in the previous lifetime, the soldier was someone who owed the second man a sum of money equal to the amount that was in his wallet. The second man (in the previous lifetime) pressured him to give money but to no avail. Now you see, here things were finally rectified. As for the third man who received the beatings, he was actually the judge Rabbi who dismissed the second man’s claims and now was getting his due punishment!”


This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!

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