Thursday, 27 April 2017

The Kabbalah and Reincarnation 4/5

Blavatsky on Gilgul
Although quite brief and mainly referencing Mackenzie’s Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia, Blavatsky's comments on the notion of Gilgul are original and intriguing.
Also the doctrine of Gilgul, held to the strange theory of the "Whirling of the Soul," which taught that the bodies of Jews buried far away from the Holy Land, still preserve a particle of soul which can neither rest nor quit them, until it reaches the soil of the "Promised Land." And this "whirling" process was thought to be accomplished by the soul being conveyed back through an actual evolution of species; transmigrating from the minutest insect up to the largest animal. But this was an exoteric doctrine.

But this doctrine of permutation, or revolution, must not be understood as a belief in reincarnation. That Moses was considered the transmigration of Abel and Seth, does not imply that the kabalists — those who were initiated at least — believed that the identical spirit of either of Adam's sons reappeared under the corporeal form of Moses. It only shows what was the mode of expression they used when hinting at one of the profoundest mysteries of the Oriental Gnosis, one of the most majestic articles of faith of the Secret Wisdom. It was purposely veiled so as to half conceal and half reveal the truth. It implied that Moses, like certain other god-like men, was believed to have reached the highest of all states on earth: — the rarest of all psychological phenomena, the perfect union of the immortal spirit with the terrestrial duad had occurred. The trinity was complete. A god was incarnate. But how rare such incarnations!(Isis Unveiled 2, 152-53)

The idea was metaphysical as well as physical; the hidden interpretation embracing “gods” or souls, in the shape of atoms, as the causes of all the effects produced on Earth by the secretions from the divine bodies.* No ancient philosopher, not even the Jewish Kabalists, ever dissociated Spirit from matter or vice versa. Everything originated in the one, and, proceeding from the one, must finally return to the One. “Light becomes heat, and consolidates into fiery particles; which, from being ignited, become cold, hard particles, round and smooth. And this is called Soul, imprisoned in its robe of matter;”† Atoms and Souls having been synonymous in the language of the Initiates. The “whirling Souls,” Gilgoolem, a doctrine in which so many learned Jews have believed (See Mackenzies Royal Masonic Cyclopaedia), had no other meaning esoterically. The learned Jewish Initiates never meant by the “Promised landPalestine alone, but the same Nirvana as the learned Buddhist and Brahmin do — the bosom of the Eternal One, symbolized by that of Abraham, and by Palestine as its substitute on Earth.‡ The passage of the Soul-Atom “through the Seven Planetary Chambers” had the same metaphysical and also physical meaning. (Secret Doctrine I, 568)

Part 5 

Thursday, 20 April 2017

The Kabbalah on Reincarnation 3/5

The higher levels, nehsama, chayah, and yehidah, function in a way that they connot be directly affected by what a person does to his or her consciousness. However, they are indirectly affected by the states of the nefesh and ruach. After death, the higher levels of the soul will return to their home “regions,” but they must await the redemption of the nefesh before finally resting in their natural states.
If the nefesh does not get redeemed, the ruach cannot be “crowned” in the lower Garden of Eden. If it cannot be crowned, the higher soul levels cannot reach the center of awareness. In this sense, all of the levels are “punished” by having to await the redemption of the lowest level of soul, the nefesh.
It is said that the nefesh wanders between the grave and the dwelling place of the deceased for the first seven days after death, looking for its living body. After, the nefesh is purified in gehennom, and then it wanders the world until it has a garment (signifying an awareness level) (Zohar I;226a-b). This process of purification takes twelve months. Once it has its garment, it gains access to the lower Garden of Eden, where it joins the ruach. The ruach then gets crowned, the neshama unites with the Throne, and all is well.
In a remarkable section, the Zohar outlines the process of the purification of the nefesh during the twelve months after death, suggesting a completely different scenario  from what most of us have been taught. The Jewish mystical system is designed to continue the process of tikkun olam (mending the universe) even after death. The reader must keep in mind that the language of Kabbalah is poetic, the images are metaphors, and the intention is to arouse the soul rather than the mind. Form this perspective, let yourself enter these mystical teachings as a garden of delights.
Once a nefesh no longer has a body, it loses its free will, which is associated only with living people. (Zohar II;225a). Therefore, it no longer can redeem itself, but needs the guidance and help of a living being with free will. In this context, there are a number of ways in which a nefesh can be redeemed. (p. 262)
Kabbalah adds another dimension to death, suggesting that it is not monolithic but has a number of levels. It says that the Angel of Death is protected and “ridden” by the Shadow of Death. Although they have different energies, they are inseparable partners. Moreover, they different gateways into the realm of death, for there are ”gates of death” and “gates of the shadow of death.” Indeed, it is said that there are innumerable, mysterious passageways to death “hidden from humankind, who know them not.” (Zohar I;160b).  (p. 280)
From God is a Verb, Rabbi David A. Cooper, Riverhead, 1997

Part 4

Thursday, 13 April 2017

The Kabbalah on Reincarnation 2/5

Eschatology: Descent, Ascent and Elevation
The process of descent, and subsequent elevation and ascent through rectification outlines a dynamic concept of spiritual progress and evolution. The Jewish Virtual Library gives the following description:
They maintain that transmigration occurs in all forms of existence, from the Sefirot ("emanations") and the angels to inorganic matter, and is called din benei ḥalof or sod ha-shelaḥ. According to this, everything in the world is constantly changing form, descending to the lowest form and ascending again to the highest. The kabbalists of Safed accepted the doctrine of transmigration into all forms of nature and, through them, this teaching became a widespread popular belief.
Dubrov gives details of the soul’s journey, which parallels the above-described cosmic process at a microcosmic level:
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. (Dubrov)
Furthermore, Dubrov notes that:
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. (Dubrov)
The Baal Shem Tov in his Instruction in Intercourse with God (Of the Holy Sparks and their Redemption), considers that humans are participants in the scheme of cosmic renewal:
"The Holy Sparks that fell when God built and destroyed the worlds, man shall raise and purify upward from stone to plant, from plant to animal, from animal to speaking being -- purify the Holy Sparks that are imprisoned in the world of Shells . . . And who, with the good strength of his spirit, is able to raise the Holy Spark from stone to plant, from plant to animal, from animal to speaking being, leads it into freedom; and no setting free of captives is greater than this. It is as when a king's son is rescued from captivity and brought to his father." (Buber, 89)
(Instructions on Intercourse with God, p. 188 in Hasidism and Modern Man by Martin Buber.)
Psychological Aspect
The body-soul relation in this process involves a complex explanation of the human constitution. Jacobs outlines a basic dualistic concept:
Rabbi Schneur Zalman explains in the Tanya that every Jew is composite of two distinct souls. The first soul is the Nefesh HaBehamit which animates the body. This soul is complete with an infrastructure of soul powers ranging from pleasure and will to intellect and emotions. Common to all the soul powers of the Nefesh HaBehamit is that they all wish to fulfill the base needs, passions, and desires of the body. Essentially the Nefesh HaBehamit is self-centered.From it stems the negative character traits, such as anger, apathy, and arrogance.
The second soul is the Nefesh Elokit. This soul is described by Job as “a part of G‑d,” and exists both before its descent into the body and after the ascent from the body. The Nefesh Elokit in itself is not in need of rectification; rather its descent into this world is to refine the base and the animalistic nature of this material world. (Jacobs)
Brandwein explains the more complex fivefold nature of the soul:
The Midrash states that the soul has five names:
Nefesh (soul of vitality),
Ruach (spirit),
Neshamah (breath of life),
Chaya (living one), and
Yechidah (singular one). (Brandwein)
He adds that:
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. (Brandwein)
Moreover, one can find a classic esoteric microsmic-macrocosmic correspondence in this system. Dubrov notes that:
Kabbalah explains that these five names of the soul correspond to the level of soul in each of the worlds. Nefesh corresponds to the soul in the realm of Assiyah, Ruach in Yetzirah, Neshamah in Beriah, and Chaya in Atzilut, while Yechidah represents the quintessential point of the soul (Etzem HaNeshamah) which is rooted in the Or Ein Sof. Hassidism teaches that the Nefesh resides in the blood, Ruach in the heart, Neshamah in the brain. Chayah and Yechidah are transcendent of the body, not enclothing themselves in any particular limb. The Kabbalists explain that through successive incarnations, all levels of the soul are elevated. (Dubrov)
Ibbur Neshamot
Jacobs gives a succinct summary of the basic types of reincarnation:
In the kabbalistic literature three types of reincarnation are mentioned:
1.      gilgul, transmigration proper, in which a soul that had previously inhabited one body is sent back to earth to inhabit another body.
2.      ibbur, “impregnation,” in which a soul descends from heaven in order to assist another soul in the body.
3.      dybbuk, a generally late concept, in which a guilt‑laden soul pursued by devils enters a human body in order to find rest and has to be exorcised. (Jacobs)
Brandwein gives the following explanation for Ibbur Neshamot:
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. (Brandwein)


The Jewish Encyclopedia offers the following explanation of Dybbuk:
This belief assumes that there are souls which are condemned to wander for a time in this world, where they are tormented by evil spirits which watch and accompany them everywhere. To escape their tormentors such souls sometimes take refuge in the bodies of living pious men and women, over whom the evil spirits have no power. The person to whom such a soul clings endures great suffering and loses his own individuality; he acts as though he were quite another man, and loses all moral sense. He can be cured only by a miracle-working rabbi ("ba'al shem") who is able to cast out the soul from his body by exorcisms and amulets. The usual exorcism in such cases consisted in the rabbi's reciting, in the presence of ten men (See Minyan), the 91st Psalm, and adjuring the soul in the name of God to leave the body of the afflicted one. In case of refusal on the part of the soul to yield to this simple injunction, the ban and the blowing of the shofar are resorted to. In order that it may cause the least possible amount of damage to the body, the soul is always directed to pass out through the small toe. (Jewish Encyclopedia)
Yaakov Astor . (Reincarnation and Jewish Tradition) Soul Searching, Targum Press
Rabbi Avraham Brandwein (Gilgul Neshamot - Reincarnation of Souls) (Transl. Avraham Sutton)
Martin Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 1958
Nissan Dovid Dubrov (The Soul and the Afterlife)
Rabbi Louis Jacobs (Is there a Jewish Afterlife?)
Jewish Encyclopedia (Gilgul Neshamoth)
Jewish Virtual Library (Gilgul)
Aryeh Kaplan. Sefer Yetzireh – The Book of Creation. Weiser, 1990.

Part 3 

Thursday, 6 April 2017

The Kabbalah on Reincarnation 1/5

The Isaac Luria Synagogue, Safed
Gilgul/Gilgul neshamot/Gilgulei Ha Neshamot (Heb. גלגול הנשמות, Plural: גלגולים Gilgulim) describes a Kabbalistic concept of reincarnation. In Hebrew, the word gilgul means "cycle" or "wheel" and neshamot is the plural for "souls." Souls are seen to "cycle" through "lives" or "incarnations", being attached to different human bodies over time. Which body they associate with depends on their particular task in the physical world, spiritual levels of the bodies of predecessors and so on. The concept relates to the wider processes of history in Kabbalah, involving Cosmic Tikkun (Messianic rectification), and the historical dynamic of ascending Lights and descending Vessels from generation to generation.

Rabbis who believed in the idea of reincarnation include, from Medieval times: the mystical leaders Nahmanides (the Ramban) and Rabbenu Bahya ben Asher; from the 16th-century: Levi ibn Habib (the Ralbah), and from the mystical school of Safed Shelomoh Alkabez, Isaac Luria (the Ari) and his exponent Hayyim Vital; and from the 18th-century: the founder of Hasidism Yisrael Baal Shem Tov, later Hasidic Masters, and the Lithuanian Jewish Orthodox leader and Kabbalist the Vilna Gaon; and - amongst others - from the 19th/20th-century: Yosef Hayyim author of Ben Ish Hai as well as Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag. (The above from Wikipedia article. Gilgul)
In the Bahir and the Zohar
In the Bahir, it is stated:

Why is there a righteous person to whom good things happen, while [another] righteous person has bad things happen to him? This is because the [latter] righteous person did bad in a previous [life], and is now experiencing the consequences? What is this like? A person planted a vineyard and hoped to grow grapes, but instead, sour grapes grew. He saw that his planting and harvest were not successful so he tore it out. He cleaned out the sour grape vines and planted again. When he saw that his planting was not successful, he tore it up and planted it again. (Bahir 195)20
The Jewish Virtual Library notes that, according to the Bahir:

transmigration may continue for 1,000 generations, but the common opinion in the Spanish Kabbalah is that in order to atone for its sins, the soul transmigrates three more times after entering its original body (according to Job 33:29, "Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man"). However, the righteous transmigrate endlessly for the benefit of the universe, not for their own benefit. (Jewish Virtual Library)
The same article adds:

After the Bahir the doctrine of gilgul developed in several directions and became one of the major doctrines of the Kabbalah, although the kabbalists differed widely in regard to details. In the 13th century, transmigration was viewed as an esoteric doctrine and was only alluded to, but in the 14th century many detailed and explicit writings on it appeared. In philosophic literature the term ha'atakah ("transference") was generally used for gilgul; in kabbalistic literature the term gilgul appears only from the Sefer ha-*Temunah onward; both are translations of the Arabic term tanāsukh. The early kabbalists, such as the disciples of *Isaac the Blind and the kabbalists of Gerona, spoke of "the secret of ibbur" ("impregnation"). It was only in the late 13th or 14th centuries that gilgul and ibbur began to be differentiated. The terms hitḥallefut ("exchange") and din benei ḥalof (from Prov. 31:8) also occur. From the period of the *Zohar on, the term gilgul became prevalent in Hebrew literature and began to appear in philosophic works as well. (Jewish Virtual Library)
In the Zohar, 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:

As long as a person is unsuccessful in his purpose in this world, the Holy One, blessed be He, uproots him and replants him over and over again. (Zohar I 186b)
All souls are subject to reincarnation; and people do not know the ways of the Holy One, blessed be He! They do not know that they are brought before the tribunal both before they enter into this world and after they leave it; they are ignorant of the many reincarnations and secret works which they have to undergo, and of the number of naked souls, and how many naked spirits roam about in the other world without being able to enter within the veil of the King's Palace. Men do not know how the souls revolve like a stone that is thrown from a sling. But the time is at hand when these mysteries will be disclosed. (Zohar II 99b)

In Lurianic Kabbalah
The concept of reincarnation gradually expanded, for example, The Jewish Virtual Library notes that:

The expansion of the notion of transmigration from a punishment limited to specific sins into a general principle contributed to the rise of the belief in transmigration into animals and even into plants and inorganic matter. This opinion, however, opposed by many kabbalists, did not become common until after 1400. Transmigration into the bodies of animals is first mentioned in the Sefer ha-Temunah, which originated in a circle probably associated with the kabbalists of Gerona. (Jewish Virtual Library)
Referring to the  Shaar HaGilgulim (The Gates of Reincarnation) of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-1572), otherwise known as the 'Arizal.', recorded by his foremost disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital, and amended by Rabbi Shmuel Vital, his son, Brandwein explains:

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.] (Brandwein)
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. (Brandwein)
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. 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. (Brandwein)
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. (Brandwein)
Kaplan gives some further details about the cosmic aspects of the Lurianic system:
There is, however, an aspect of creation that existed before the Sefirot. In this stage, the proto-Sefirot existed as simple non-interacting points. In the language of the Kabbalists, this is known as the Universe of Chaos (Tohu). In this state, the Vessels, which were the proto-Sefirot, could neitherinterect nor give to one another. Since they could not emulate God by giving, they were incomplete, and could therefore not hold the Divine Light. Since they could not fulfill their purpose, they were overwhelmed by the Light and “shattered.” This is know as the “Breaking of Vessels.”
The Broken shards of these Vessels fell to a lower spiritual level, and subsequently became the source of all evil. It is for this reason that Chaos (Tohu) is said to be the root of evil. After having been shattered, the Vessels were once again rectified and rebuilt into Personifications (Partzufim). Each of these Partzufim consists of 613 parts, paralleling the 613 parts of the body, as wells as the 613 commandments of the Torah. These Partzufim were then able to interact with each other. More important, through the Torah, they were also able to interact with man. This is the stage where the Sefirot become givers as well as receivers.In this rectified state the Vessels (or Sefirot) became fit to receive God’s Light. In Kabbalistic terminology, this state is called the Universe of Recitification (Tikkun). (Kaplan 140-41)

Yaakov Astor . (Reincarnation and Jewish Tradition) Soul Searching, Targum Press
     Rabbi Avraham Brandwein (Gilgul Neshamot - Reincarnation of Souls) (Transl. Avraham Sutton)
Martin Buber, Hasidism and Modern Man, 1958
Jewish Encyclopedia (Gilgul Neshamoth)
Jewish Virtual Library (Gilgul)
    Aryeh Kaplan. Sefer Yetzireh – The Book of Creation. Weiser, 1990.