Monday, December 20, 2010

Reincarnation and Natsari Judaism Part I

Reincarnation and Natsari Judaism
Rabbi Yehudah ben Shomeyr

Those coming out of Christianity and into the Judaism of Messiah (Natsari Judaism) at one point or another in their journey pass through fields of Jewish mist such as traditions, Kabbalah, and the like, which cause a temporal confusion until one looks into the Torah concerning such things and the mist dissipates. Again, the Torah is the filter to all things, if one does not rely on the five books of Torah to find solid answers to faith, one can get turned around in the haze and end up lost in a forest of man-made laws, customs and traditions with not balance and confusion and vertigo set in and such people lose themselves and eventually end up rejecting the Messiahship and deity of Messiah. One such doctrine that is grossly misunderstood and has caused some confusion is the little known but nonetheless still found in Judaism is that of reincarnation. Reincarnation in Judaism is not mentioned much publicly and is a doctrine reserved for the spiritual elite who has mastered Torah, Talmud and Zohar. Reincarnation in Judaism isn’t considered to be vital for ones understanding of the Torah, nor does it directly affect ones soul in this life, so it remains a mystery to the average Jew. If reincarnation is real, it would help explain some enigmatic verses in the Bible, but of not, we must then dig deeper and flesh out the context of those perplexing passages. It would also account for some paranormal phenomenon.

In Hebraic Hermeneutics there are four levels of interpretation in which all levels must agree or said interpretation is wrong. In other words, all levels must line up. The Acronym for the Hebrew Word Paradise is used:


·        Pashat – literal, plain meaning.
·        Remez – Something hinted at or alluded too.
·        Drash – The practical application of a passage.
·        Sod – The spiritual or mystical meaning.

In my own personal study of the subject, in the Written Torah there are no explicit references to reincarnation, but there are hints. Thus there is no Pashat level verse in the Torah that mentions the concept of reincarnation but many verses has been used on a Remez and Sod level. This causes me to initially question, that if there is no Pashat level, how then can there be a Remez or Sod level of something that has no literal citation in Scripture? Then again, Messiah told his Talmidim that the Torah speaks of Him yet there is no strong Pashat passages that screams Yeshua in the Torah, but only Remez and Sod levels of Messiah Yeshua are found.

Louis Jacob says in his book, “The Jewish Religion: A Companion” to the shock of many that, “…there are no references to the idea in the Bible or the Talmud and it was unknown in Judaism until the eighth century CE, when it began to be adopted by the Karaites [a sectarian Jewish group] (possibly, it has been suggested, under the influence of Islamic mysticism).” Ironically the Karites claim to be Sola Scriptura and reject the Talmud and most Jewish traditions and yet they espoused their belief in reincarnation!? I do not know of any Karite today who believes in reincarnation, but then again I do not know many Karites. But “Anan ben David, who founded the Karaites in Baghdad about 765, said that all human souls have a common origin in the primordial human, Adam Kadmon, whose spiritual essence sends forth sparks which form individual souls. When the later Adam of Genesis committed sin in the Garden of Eden, his fall brought about confusion among higher and lower souls throughout creation, which resulted in the need for every soul to pass through a series of incarnations. Although Anan ben David's teachings were severely criticized as contrary to Orthodox belief, gilgul became a part of the Kabbalah, the compilation of mystical works collected in thirteenth-century Spain. Transmigration of souls is also a universal belief in Hasidism.” --

Some scholars and theologians believe that reincarnation infiltrated Judaism’s belief system via the influence of their various captivities and the pagan religions of their captors in Egypt, Babylon and Assyria and it made its way into the belief of the Jewish sect of the Pharisees in Yeshua’s day.
Though nothing in the Talmud directly speaks of reincarnation Philo of Alexandria, a Jewish mystic and philosopher believed in and spoke on reincarnation despite the doctrine being refuted by Sa’adai a prominent Rabbi, and Jewish philosopher of the Geonic period. “Other rabbis who rejected the idea of reincarnation include Hasdai Crescas, Yedayah Bedershi (early 14th century), Joseph Albo, Abraham ibn Daud and Leon de Modena. Crescas writes that if reincarnation was real, people should remember details of their previous lives. Bedershi offers three reasons why the entire concept is dangerous:
·        There is no reason for people to try and do good in this life, if they fear that they will nonetheless be punished for some unknown sin committed in a past life.
·        Some people may assume that they did not sin in their past life, and so can coast on their success; thus there is no need to try had to live a good life. In Bedershi's view, the only psychologically tenable worldview for a healthy life is to deal with the here-and-now.
·        The idea presents a conundrum for those who believe that at the end of days, God will resurrect the souls and physical bodies of the dead. If a person has lived multiple lives, which body will God resurrect? Joseph Albo writes that in theory the idea of gilgulim is compatible with Jewish theology. However, Albo argues that there is a purpose for a soul to enter the body, creating a being with free will. However, a return of the soul to another body, again and again, has no point. Leon De Moden thinks that the idea of reincarnation make a mockery of God's plans for humans; why does God need to send the soul back over and over? If God requires an individual to achieve some perfection or atone for some sin, then God can just extend that person's life until they have time to do what is necessary. de Modena's second argument against reincarnation is that the entire concept is absent from the entire Bible and corpus of classical rabbinic literature.” --
The concept of reincarnation in Judaism has been developed in the tradition of Jewish mysticism known as Kabbalah.

What I believe in regards to Kabbalah sometimes called by the Jewish mystical book of the Zohar:

I believe in holding to, but not being bound by, Jewish Traditions and customs that uphold and help fulfill Torah Commands, and enhance the meaning and significance of YHWH’s Word.  I believe all extra Biblical Documents, (which give us some of the “How To’s’” in fulfilling the Torahs commandments,) such as the Book of Jasher, the Books of Enoch, the Talmud, Shulchan Aruch, Pirkei Avot, Zohar (Kabbalah), etc. need to be filtered through the whole of Scripture.  I reject all that which annuls, or contradicts YHWH’s Word.  One has three choices in regards to Traditions:

1. If it lines up with Torah, Keep it!
2. If it is neutral, neither enhancing nor detracting from Torah one may choose or choose not to keep it.
  3. If it nullifies Torah then we MUST NOT keep it!

Jewish reincarnation has remained a jealously guarded secret of the spiritual realm. The Ramban (Nachmanides), who often delves into mysticism, only hints of the subject of reincarnation. Pythagoras who was sort of an assimilated Jewish mathematician also believed in reincarnation, but then again so did many of the Greek Philosophers.  

Before we look into the Torah about the possibility of reincarnation we must first know how Judaism defines it as opposed to other Eastern religions, like Hinduism and Buddhism.

In general the Eastern religions fatalistically believe that a person can come back from anything to a rock, to a bug, to an animal, to a person, depending on (karma) how good or bad a person was in their previous life and they must attempt to rectify the past faults in their new incarnation (new life) as a tree, worm, bird, person, what have you. And an individual stays in this cycle of incarnations until the soul purifies itself and reaches perfection and is then freed from the cycle of reincarnation to join with the collective soul of humanity in eternity in the spiritual real of the state of perfect nothingness. Some Eastern religion believes when you reached perfection in this world you move on to another cycle or incarnations in another world or realm, some believe you achieve a type of godhood.

Judaism, not motivated by a fatalistic belief, but acknowledging the free will and moral choices of every individual soul, dubbs the doctrine of reincarnation, “the transmigration of souls” or you may even hear the term, “metempsychosis” in which there are several forms meant by this:

1.      Gilgul, transmigration proper, meaning to roll, to cycle or revolve, in which a soul that had previously inhabited one body is sent back to earth to inhabit another body.
2.      Ibbur, meaning, “impregnation” or “transferring” in which a soul descends from heaven in order to assist another soul in the body.
3.      Dybbuk, a generally late concept, often mistaken as a Jewish version of a demon but rather is said to be a guilt‑laden soul pursued by demons who enters a human body for protection or in order to find rest and has to be exorcised.

According to some Jewish sources that there is a limit to how many times a soul can undergo transmigration, the minimal amount which is three, because we are a creature of three parts, body, mind and soul. And because of the allusions this passage in Job 33:29 implies, “Behold, God does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life.” Other Jewish sources claim one can return again only 1000 times based on Exodus 34:7 “Keeping mercy for thousands, forgiving iniquity and transgression and sin, and that will by no means clear the guilty; visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children, and upon the children's children, unto the third and to the fourth generation.”

Still other Jewish sources say a soul can revolve 600,000 times because that is how many souls G-d originally created and these souls can splinter and that is why we have a population of 6 billion people/souls on the earth today.

According to Jewish Mysticism, “When you first come into this world, your soul is called a “point.” We are all parts of one spiritual vessel or Kli, called Adam ha Rishon (the First Man). The soul of Adam ha Rishon was split into 600,000 souls, which come down to this world…. The number of souls in the universal system is 600,000, and it is unchanging. There are 6,000 years given for all souls to reach attainment.” – The Complete Idiots Guide to Kabbalah

Most of Judaism believes the soul or essence of things are unique; a plant has a unique essence, an animal has a definitive essence and mankind has a special unique essence or soul because we were created in the image of G-d Himself and despite us having an animalistic aspect of the soul due to the fall we cannot come back as a dog, or a mosquito or a weeping willow, only a human, and because it is believed Adam and Eve were one body and one soul prior to G-d extracting woman from Adam, we all are split from one soul and we are either the masculine or feminine part of the soul and thus if reincarnate our soul stays the same but the body we have may be different. Some believe a feminine soul can come back into a male body and some use this as justification for homosexuality, and others say it is G-d’s way of teaching that soul restrain and not succumbing to temptation and thus achieving purification through Torah obedience. It is believed by some that a Jew can come back as a Goy (Gentile) in order to fulfill the supposed seven Noachide and occasionally this is used as an explanation why some Gentiles have this insatiable desire to convert. I think this has more to do with the lost tribes of Israel from the Assyrian Captivity, how there are people who are Hebrews and do not know it and are drawn back to Judaism because of who their ancestors are, rather than they are a reincarnated Jewish soul.

According to Alan Unterman in his Dictionary of Jewish Lore and Legend (1994): “Proselytes to Judaism were Jewish souls which had been incarnated in Gentile bodies. [Transmigration] also allowed for the gradual perfection of the individual souls through different lives.”

I think it ironic that many of these Jewish mystics like Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, writes that Moshe was a reincarnation of Adam's third son, Seth, and that Seth was a reincarnation of Abel. (The "mem" of Moshe's name stands for "Moshe," the "shin" stands for Seth, and the "heh" for Abel (Hevel). The Mishnaic Sage Shamai was a reincarnation of Moshe, and Hillel was a reincarnation of Aaron.

It is said by the Jewish mystics that Josephs ten brothers who sold him into slavery was eventually reincarnated into ten martyrs who were ten scholars to rectify their sin, and one of these martyrs was Rabbi Akiva of the second century.

Funny how they seem to fails to record one returning as just a regular Joe; always a famous person or Biblical personage.

I will not delve too deep into the Mystic Jewish literature, for we only want to know what the Bible itself says about reincarnation, if anything. For the Bible and the Torah specifically is the litmus test for all literature that addresses aspects of our faith, belief and doctrine.

So if we come back again and again, why do we do so?

Part if Judaism believes that a soul must keep all 613 Mitzvot of the Torah before one can be released from the cycle of transmigration and enter eternal rest. And no one person can keep all 613 Commandments in one lifetime, because some are for men, some women, some priests, some kings and some farmers and the various incarnations allows every soul to keep all 613 Torah Commands. Other Jewish Sages believe we return as many times as it takes to tikkun (fix) the flaws of the individual soul due to our fallen nature via the sin of Adam. Just as Moses after breaking the first set of tablets had to return and fashion a new set for G-d to write on, so too we, by sin broke our souls and therefore must fix or repair the damage and this can only happen through a process of multiple lifetimes to repair what was broken in our soul.

I feel that we only need a lifetime to keep only the aspects of Torah that apply to us as an individual and that we only need one lifetime to tikkun ourselves as best we can by teshuvah (repentance) and the Grace of G-d will take care of the rest. Just as the first set of tablets Moses brought down from Sinai was hewn and written by G-d and the second set was hewn by Moses and written by G-d. Moses couldn’t write them, it was G-d’s Laws not Moses’ laws, so only G-d could write them. Just like a child breaking a neighbor’s window. He may have to work the debt of the broken window off to pay for the damage but someone else; a window expert actually installs a new window and finishes righting the situation. Same, I feel with our soul. We fix what we can and G-d fixes the rest. 

If reincarnation is a reality, the question arises, which part of the human soul returns for this refining?

Christianity has a simple saying to attempt to explain the Trichotomy of being: “I am a Spirit who lives in a body and posses a Soul.” And it is said that the Soul mediates between the Spirit and the Body. Judaism too has a Trichotomistic view of being but bypasses in a way the body.

There are three arenas of the Soul are:

The Nefesh which is the lowest, basest realm of being that is said to reside in the blood, so in a way this includes the body “For the life is in the Blood (Deut. 12:23).” This part of the Soul is sometimes called the Animal Souls and is mainly concerned with survival, eating, sleeping, procreating etc. This part of the Soul deals with instinctual things. This is the part of the soul which is capable of sin.

A second component to the Soul is called Ruach in the Hebrew and is usually translated as Spirit. The Ruach is the second level of the Soul and duels with the Nefesh for moral and rational dominance and are the mediators between the Neshamah and the Body. The Neshamah should rule our being and communicate to the Nefesh and Ruach what the Body should do. This realm of the Soul mainly deals with our mental functions and emotions. It is said in Jewish mystical literature that the Nefesh should be the throne upon which the Ruach sits.

To use an analogy from cartoons, the Ruach can be seen as the angel upon the right shoulder and the Nefesh can be seen as the devil upon the left shoulder, both whispering in ones ear to trying to get the person to do what it suggests. You can also view the Ruach as the Good Dog and the Nefesh as the Bad Dog and which ever one you feed the most will be the strongest and when they get loose and fight one another, who wins our determines on which one received the most attention and care. It doesn’t necessarily mean that the Nefesh is all bad, for it is the part of us that “Fights or Flees” when we are confronted with danger, but it is also the part that tries to make us grumpy because we are hungry or tired, or selfish when we don’t get our own way. Ruach tries to reason with the Animal Soul (Nefesh) and say, “Hey, calm down dinner is at six, you can wait till then, in the mean time you have no excuse for being nasty!”

The third and highest realm of the soul in the Hebrew is called the Neshamah which is considered the Divine Spark, the part of the Soul that was made in the Image and Likeness of G-d. This part of the Soul is pure, untainted and untouched by sin. This is the part of the Soul referred to in the Prayer Siddur when we Jews recite upon waking:

“I gratefully thank you oh Living and Eternal King for You have returned my soul (Neshamah) within me with compassion, abundant is your faithfulness.” 

And later it says: “My G-d the soul (Neshamah) you placed within me is pure. You created it, You fashioned it, You breathed it into me, You safeguard it within me, and eventually You will take it from me, and restore it to me in the Time to Come…”

It is said that the Neshamah leaves the body during sleep, because the Sages say sleep is 1/60th of death, and resides in the realm of angels and demons and that a righteous Soul who follows Torah will be with the angels and those who are unrighteous are assailed and troubled by demons. The only way one can protect their Soul is by walking in the Torah during ones waking hours. This is why the above prayers are said upon waking. It is during this time of sleep it is prophecy can come through dreams.

Because English doesn’t have a designation between Nefesh and Neshamah and translates both of them as “Soul” it is hard to know in the English translation of Scripture which on is being discussed unless you know Hebrew or understand well the context of the passage dealing with the word “Soul”. Sometimes the word “Ruach” translated as “Spirit” is also sometimes translated as “Soul” in the English.

In Genesis 2:7 Tells us that G-d breathed life into us. G-d breathed all
Three parts of the soul within us and it was the Nefesh that fell during the Fall. The Neshamah was the Divine spark of G-d that was made in the image of G-d that was left untainted by the Fall in the Garden of Eden. The Ruach tries to bring rationale to the primal instincts of the Nefesh.

This is where I differ slightly from what has been described above. I believe that the word Ruach and Neshamah are essentially the same because Ruach and Neshamah in Hebrew have similar meanings, Ruach is Wind, Breath and Spirit and Neshamah is Wind, Breath and Divine Inspiration. In making distinctions I would say that the Ruach is what the Neshamah is called before it is regenerated and the Nefesh is “saved” redeemed by the blood of Yeshua Ha Moshiach and the infilling of the Ruach Ha Kodesh (Holy Spirit), that the Ruach is actually latent within an individual until the regeneration occurs via the Holy Spirit (Ruach Ha Kodesh) and the Nefesh is transformed.

Gen. 2:7 And the LORD God formed man of the dust of the ground, and breathed into his nostrils the breath of life; and man became a living soul.

As one Rav put it, Gof (Body) or as he actually said, “mud hut” plus the Ruach (Spirit) together equals a Soul.

According to Some Jewish legends we have a Neshamah, a Divine Spark, it is believed our souls were preexistent basking in the Pure Light of the En-Sof (G-d) before being assigned to a body. Legend says that our soul is male and female and it is split apart and the male is assigned to one body and the female to another and that this is your soul mate that you are supposed to find and marry in this world, thus completing yourself. According to the Zohar the only way for people to find their soul mate is to walk the path of Truth (Torah).

I like this one Jewish Legend that explains why we have that crease, that indentation between the nose and upper lip. It is said that when the angel escorted our Soul to a body in a womb of a woman, that the angel stayed in the womb with us and taught us Torah for nine months and that when the mothers water breaks and we are about to be born that the angel places his finger upon our lips, causing the indentation and says, “Shhhhh!” and we immediately forget all the Torah we were taught and that is why we cry upon entering the world and that our purpose in life is to learn or really remember the Torah we were taught in the womb.

Rav Sha’ul who was a Torah master and a master of all things and concepts Jewish said in II Cor. 5:8 We are confident, [I say], and willing rather to be absent from the body, and to be present with the Lord.

It is the Ruach/Neshamah which is the “Divine Spark” that returns to its source which is YHWH who gave it.

Ecc. 12:7 Then shall the dust return to the earth as it was: and the spirit shall return unto God who gave it.

And it is the Nefesh that goes on into Paradise or Hell until the New Earth is created from the ashes of the old as Revelation and Peter says, and Hell is cast into the Lake of Fire. If it is Redeemed it goes to Paradise (Abraham’s Bosom) if it is not it goes to Hell, Gehenna

So in the issue of Judaism and the transmigration of souls, only the Nefesh is broken or as we would call it, fallen and needs to be refined and purified and this is the only aspect of the human being that returns in a succession of lifetimes. It is also believed that when a soul returns he is rewarded and must pay the penalty for good deed and sins of the previous incarnation; and so reincarnation in Judaism isn’t about salvation, but justice and refinement.  So if a Rich person snubbed the poor in his lifetime he may come back as a pauper to pay for his negligence.