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.