When You Are Not Really You – Exploring Shaar HaGilgulim (Jewish Reincarnation)

Few works open your eyes as much as Shaar Hagilgulim by Rav Chaim Vital Zt’l.

I have one with commentary by R’ Shimon Agassi (Bnei Aharon), and found it fantastic (Hebrew only). So many difficulties are solved, not only in the Sod, but also in the Pshat in such incredible way that makes reading it quite a delight.

The book starts by describing the spiritual worlds and the parts of the soul.

  • The lowest rung Nefesh has its source in Assyah
  • Right above it, there’s Ruach which comes from Yetzirah
  • Then we have Neshama that is from Beriyah
  • Chaya is from Atzilut and
  • Yechida comes from Adam Kadmon

Then Rav Chaim Vital explains how people can have higher or lower souls in the Olamot, how the Tikkunim work and who needs reincarnation or not. Generally, Reshaim can get 3 tries to “get it right” and do proper Teshuva, while good people can get a lot more chances. But there are many aspects to this law, that are greater than the scope of this post.

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Why you are (often) not really you

First things first, how do we define the soul?

It always seemed to me as something nebulous that few people had awareness of it, until I heard some five years ago Rav Doniel Katz’s explanation (from the Elevation Seminar) that “Soul is consciousness”. These 3 words alone were well worth the money paid for the program. They resonated deeply with me because it opened my mind to understand many questions I had such as:

  • How do you experience the soul?
  • How do you know your soul is healthy?
  • How do you interact with it?
  • And maybe most important (for me): how can you acquire insights from it?

The answer is, for lack of a better word, being “mindful” of your state of consciousness.

Now, we are talking here about the Nefesh only, the lowest level. This is because Rav Chaim Vital explains that it’s very difficult for individuals to rectify it. It’s the Nefesh that sins, and it’s the Nefesh that needs Tikkun. We also need to rectify all the Sephirot present in the Nefesh, starting from Malkhut, then going to Yesod, then going to Hod and so on.

Once a person fixes the Nefesh, which can take a long time depending on the case, then he receives (or reveals) his Ruach. This happens mainly through performing Mitzvot and fixing the Middot.

If he rectifies the Ruach then he gets the Neshama. This is accomplished mainly through intense Torah Study.

The Chaya and Yechida are not “acquired” this way, rather they stay as a Makkif (surrounding) light, illuminating from afar, giving power to the other 3 levels which are Pnimi (internal). In Etz Chayim we find that Chaya is the first Makkif and the Yechida is the Makkif of the Makkif.

One fascinating insight by Rav Shimon Agassi is that once a person rectifies the Nefesh, the Ruach can be rectified pretty easily. This is because the bulk of the work rests on bringing the Tikkun to the Nefesh, which is the one most filled with desires and tum’ah of all sorts. The Ruach and Neshama are already in a pretty good state and don’t need so much work.

Expanding the mind and understanding the soul

So, being mindful of your state can reveal wonders about your soul, though as we just saw, this is still not very precise. Meditation can give you a lot of insights and allow you to access deeper states of consciousness. Yichudim may even help you rectify your soul further, as we find in Sha’ar Ruach HaKodesh.

By silencing the mind one can begin to probe into the soul, which is the real you.

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Mind you (no pun intended) that even getting insights from the Nefesh is not so easy since it may “speak” in non-verbal language. For more information, check this article on Chokhmah and Binah. As the internal chatter begins to fade, you start expanding your mind and accessing the higher levels of the soul/consciousness which can be a very powerful experience.

But here’s the problem

We learn in Sha’ar HaGilgulim that people can live in the physical world, not just with their own soul, but also 6 (SIX!) souls from other people. Up to three of them can come as Gilgulim Gmurim (pure reincarnation), from the time of birth and up to three of them as Ibbur (pregnancy), which can be acquired through life according to your deeds.

If you, for example, do a Mizvah with a certain hiddur (enhancement?) by a certain Tzadik, or meditate/pray/make yichudim on his grave, you may receive part of his soul reincarnated in you to help you.

We find in Sefer HaChezionot by Rav Chaim Vital a few cases in which Tzadikim received Ibbur from other Tzadikim. The most classical example is found in Sefer HaLikutim (if I’m not mistaken) where the Arizal explains in Parshat Shlach Lecha that the 12 spies received Ibbur from the 12 tribes from which they descended. When the 10 sons of Yaakov saw the spies were about to defame the land, they fled away, and only Yehoshua continued with Efraim while Calev continued with Yehuda.

And, this is the main difference between Ibbur and Gilgul Gamur as explained in Sha’ar HaGilgulim:

  1. Ibbur can be temporary and a soul that impregnates can come whenever it wants and leave whenever it wants. It may come as a result of a person’s Mitzvot, Torah Study or sins, in which case he can bring a bad soul to help him do aveirot (this is one of the reasons we should stay away from the graves of sinners).
  2. Gilgul, on the other hand, is permanent. A person starts life with this other soul a]nd keeps it until death.

So, we tend to think of consciousness as a monolithic construct, in which “I think therefore I am” or “my thoughts/feelings are mine, and act as a perfect mirror to who I really am”. Or that, we “know” who we really are”.

That’s false.

For starters, the fact that you may have up to three other souls makes it a lot more difficult to “see” who you really are. Are you acting now because it’s your soul or is it because the other guy is stirring things up inside you? Are these thoughts really yours? Knowing this can be very difficult, but it not impossible. The way to go about this, I believe, is through meditation and prayer. These are 2 important long-standing practices that have unfortunately fallen into forgetfulness by many.

shaar hagilgulim

Additional insights

It’s interesting to see that a lot of what we thought was true, is not. Or what seemed so difficult to understand, is actually simpler than we think. The Torah of Gilgulim makes a lot of sense and sheds light on why things happen in our lives and why we have to go through what we go through. Everything is custom-tailored for you to make your Tikkun in life, so long as we really want.

A person can also be reincarnated in any of the 4 kingdoms: inanimate (like rocks), vegetable (plants), animals and/or humans depending on their Middot. There are many details to this.

At the end of Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Rav Chaim Vital describes many Gilgulim. Yael, wife of Chever is actually a reincarnation of Eli and the proof is that both have the same letters in their names. Charan is Nachor for the same reason. Moshe Rabbenu is actually a Gilgul of Shet and Hevel as his name comprises both the initial letters of their names + the Mem for his own name. Terach, father of Avraham was actually reincarnated as Aharon HaKohen.

I also have difficulty understanding the Torah of Gilgulim for women.

On one hand Rav Chaim Vital writes that women generally don’t follow the same path of Tikkunim as men. They are sent here if their men need them (don’t tell your wife that) to help them. What usually happens though is that they go through Gehinom and finish their Tikkun there and then are free. In a way, this is simpler way than risking everything like men who can make their situation worse by coming back.

DALL·E 2024 03 07 12.26.11 In this new variation the scene unfolds with a large extended ancient Jewish family including the man with a turban his wife four children of var

On the other hand, he writes that Dvorah was reincarnated as a bee (as her name signifies) since she was, in his own words, “dabranit” (speaking too much). This is due to the fact that, in her song, she spoke a bit more than she should’ve.

I haven’t found a solution to this, but if someone can enlighten me, I’d be happy to post.

Personally, I think that if more people had answers like these to their problems, and were given a chance to acquire a new perspective to what is happening to their lives and why it’s happening, we’d have fewer people going off the derech, but that’s a subject for another post.

May we merit finishing our Tikkun in this reincarnation with flying colors.

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Chaim Apsan

Chaim is a teacher and Kabbalah enthusiast. He loves helping Jews connect with true Torah teaching and enhancing their spiritual growth. With a focus on meditation, he guides individuals on transformative journeys of prayer, contemplation, and connection with Hashem. He lives in Jerusalem with his wife and kids, and is committed to sharing the wisdom and power of Kabbalah in a genuine way.

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