The Mystery Of Gilgul In Real Life – Fascinating Teachings From Rabbi Chaim Vital

One of the lesser-explored facets of Judaism, often overlooked due to its complexity, is the concept of Gilgul (reincarnation)

The great Maran Yosef Karo (author of Shulchan Aruch) in his Maggid Meisharim relates that his Maggid (teaching angel) taught him that Gilgul is really a very natural part of the system of Creation.

Yet, many people tend to shy away from delving into its intricacies. Sure, it’s a lot more complex than most people can digest, but within this idea lie intriguing and motivating insights that can comfort us and guide our lives.

First and foremost, it’s essential to understand that at our core, we are souls sent into this world for various purposes. The body is only a garment which responds to it. As most people know, the soul is composed of five distinct components: Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama, Chaya, and Yechida. Among these, only the Nefesh, Ruach and Neshama enter the physical body, but only the lowest component (the Nefesh) serves as the driving force of our conscious existence, for most people.

Yet, even before the holy Nefesh assumes its role within a body, it adorns itself with various spiritual garments known as Levushim. These garments are instrumental in shaping the medium through which the soul interacts with the physical realm. It’s worth noting that these Levushim were tainted by the sins of Adam HaRishon and claimed by the Sitra Achrah (the “other side” or evil).

To attain the blissful perception of Hashem and usher in the reality of Olam HaBah, we must restore order to this spiritual system and rectify it. This purification process involves cleansing the Levushim through Torah study, the observance of Mitzvot, and prayer.

Non-Jews also do this work with the 7 Mitzvot of the Noahides, and also receive their part in Olam HaBah according to their effort.

By doing so, we can break free from the cycle of Gilgul, sparing us the need to return to this world. Conversely, if we fail to rectify our spiritual path, we may find ourselves returning for another chance at spiritual refinement.

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The difficulty in fixing the Nefesh

Regrettably, the truth remains that very few individuals can fully rectify their Nefesh during their lifetime, as articulated by the distinguished Rabbi Shimon Agassi, a close associate of the Ben Ish Chai in his commentary to Sha’ar HaGilgulim (Gate of Reincarnation). The Nefesh is insatiable, craving pleasures, honors, wealth, power, and seldom finding contentment.

However, once it undergoes rectification, a person can access the Ruach and subsequently the Neshama. This progression grants individuals extraordinary capabilities, enabling them to glimpse into the future or perform miraculous feats. While the task of rectifying the Nefesh is undeniably hard, it paves the way for a comparably smoother path to rectify the Ruach and Neshama, as the individual is already firmly on the right track, with diminished material desires.

In his work Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Rabbi Chaim Vital expounds on the two distinct ways in which souls can descend for rectification. The first is the traditional Gilgul, where a soul is reborn as a complete entity, subjected to the trials and tribulations of a new life. For instance, the Zohar suggests that Moshe Rabbenu embodied the good aspect of Hevel and Seth, while Korach represented the Gilgul of the negative aspect of Cain. To “rectify” Cain’s transgression and “avenge the blood of Hevel,” it was necessary for Moshe to confront and deal with Korach.

The second method, known as “Ibbur” or pregnancy, entails the temporary inhabitation of an already existing living body by the visiting soul. This generally occurs when the host individual is virtuous but can also happen when a person passes by a cemetery where in wicked people are buried, and the host is not careful or committed a sin. An advantage of this approach of Ibbur is that the assisting soul accrues merits if it aids the host in performing virtuous deeds. However, it can just as easily depart if the host chooses to engage in sinful behavior.

This phenomenon is exemplified in the case of the spies sent to scout Eretz Yisrael while the Jewish people were in the desert. According to the teachings of the Arizal, each of these spies had an Ibbur from the corresponding sons of Yaakov Avinu. Yet, upon witnessing the malevolent intentions of the spies, these visiting souls promptly departed to avoid being tainted by sin.

In both cases, Gilgul and Ibbur, the souls are typically reincarnated when there is a shared soul-root or a profound connection with the host.

The teachings of the Arizal have also provided us with numerous Segulot, special practices, to invite an “Ibbur” into one’s life. One such method involves prayer at the gravesites of Tzaddikim, righteous individuals. When a person proves themselves worthy, they may receive a portion of a soul’s consciousness, guiding them through life and bestowing blessings.

An example of this phenomenon is when the Ben Ish Chai visited the burial site of Benayahu ben Yehoyada, King David’s champion and a great Tzaddik in his own right, who was believed to be the Gilgul of Eliezer, the servant of Avraham Avinu. The Ben Ish Chai (Rav Yosef Chaim) then named his works after the names of Benayahu (Ben Ish Chai, Mekatziel and so on…)

Another Segulah entails taking a nap after the Shabbat day meal, a practice that the Arizal himself followed. Not only is this afternoon slumber a source of great pleasure (Oneg and a Mitzvah on Shabbat), but it can also potentially lead to an “Ibbur” from a connected soul. By “connection,” we refer to studying the teachings of the Tzadik, emulating their customs, learning their stories, visiting their gravesites, and so on.

Gilgul may sound strange but it's not

On a more practical note, this understanding sheds light on why we encounter various challenges in life. We may often perceive ourselves as a single soul inhabiting a body, when, in fact, we can coexist with multiple souls. The challenge lies in distinguishing between our personal desires and thoughts and those of the souls dwelling within us.

Our journey through life involves navigating these challenges, sometimes without a clear understanding of why certain events occur. In reality, these events represent Hashem’s way of rectifying the souls that share our physical vessels.

Gilgul in the 4 Kingdoms

The Zohar imparts valuable teachings about the existence of four distinct kingdoms or categories of life forms. The most basic of these is the “Domem” or the silent kingdom, encompassing inanimate matter such as rocks, minerals, metals, and water. Following this, we encounter the “Tzomeach” or sprouts kingdom, which includes all plant life, including trees and vegetables. Then, we have the “Chai,” representing all living beings in the animal kingdom. Finally, we reach the highest realm, the “Medaber,” inhabited by speaking creatures, which includes humans.

It’s important to note that there is a clear progression in these kingdoms, with the “Domem” at the lowest level and the “Medaber” at the highest. Each of us possesses specific middot, or character traits, that require refinement. Rabbi Chaim Vital, in his work “Sha’arei Kedusha” (Gates of Holiness), elucidates that these character traits are formed from the four foundational elements of creation mentioned in the Zohar: Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind. It’s essential to recognize that these elements have a spiritual dimension that parallels their physical manifestations as Earth, Water, Fire, and Wind.

For instance, an individual who struggles with anger or haughtiness is contending with imbalances in the Fire element within themselves, which give rise to these particular traits. Those who frequently engage in idle chatter must address the Wind element within them. The Water element is linked to the love for physical pleasures, while the unrectified Earth element is responsible for tendencies towards laziness and sadness. All these attributes represent fallen Middot, requiring diligent effort to be rectified and refined.

Furthermore, each of these elements corresponds not only to the four Kingdoms but also to the four letters of the Holy Name of Hashem and the four spiritual worlds, as depicted in the following table:

LetterWorldElementTraitKingdom
YodAtzilutFireAnger, HaughtinessHuman
HehBeryahWindSpeechAnimal
VavYetzirahWaterLove for PleasureVegetable
HehAssyahEarthSadness, LazinessMineral

What to do in order to reach Tikkun

When an individual embarks on the journey of rectifying their Middot, they are, in essence, also rectifying all the corresponding elements within the interconnected web of Creation. This interconnectedness underscores the awesome unity of all aspects of existence, behind all disparity. It’s important to note that every facet of Creation suffered a fall from its original state due to the sin of Adam HaRishon.

Sometimes, a person may not complete this rectification work within their lifetime. In such instances, Hashem’s boundless mercy and compassion come into play. Gilgul becomes a possibility, allowing individuals to return to address the specific Middah they were unable to rectify in their previous life. This process represents an opportunity for continual growth and refinement. However, it’s essential to understand that Gilgul can be a challenging and painful experience, as individuals might unintentionally cause more harm than good in their subsequent lives.

For instance, if someone failed to rectify a Middah associated with the mineral kingdom, a part of their soul might reincarnate into an inanimate object like a rock. Similarly, an unresolved Middah linked to the vegetable kingdom could lead to a Gilgul as a plant, and so forth. This underscores the intricate and profound interplay between an individual’s character traits and their place within the greater tapestry of Creation.

Sefer HaChezionot on Gilgul

In the quest for rectification, when an individual is reincarnated into an object or life form, their redemption depends on someone performing a Mitzvah or a blessing in the prescribed manner involving that particular object or entity.

For example, if one is reincarnated in an almond, the soul’s rectification necessitates someone picking that almond, reciting the appropriate blessing, and consuming it. The same principle applies to someone that goes through a Gilgul in a vegetable or any other entity. However, this process can present challenges when a soul finds itself in an object or entity with limited or no practical use within Jewish Law.

For instance, an individual reincarnated as a dog may have to wait until a tanner uses its droppings to create parchment for Tefillin or a Torah Scroll. In some cases, the dog may have to pass away to facilitate the soul’s rectification. Being reincarnated as an impure animal is considered one of the most agonizing experiences for a Jewish soul.

The process of rectification unfolds step by step. Once a particular level is rectified (for instance, the vegetable kingdom), the soul progresses to the next level (animal kingdom), and so on, until it reaches the pinnacle of human existence. However, one should never rely on Gilgul as a guaranteed path to rectification; it is a complex and uncertain process. Souls can take literally tens, if not hundreds of years until a suitable Gilgul appears in “Hashem’s plans”.

Rabbi Chaim Vital’s intriguing work, “Sefer HaChezionot” (the Book of Visions), serves as a sort of autobiography, offering a glimpse into many of the wondrous events he witnessed alongside the Arizal (Rav Yitzhak Luria), shedding light on these deep concepts.

Rabbi Chaim Vital shares a poignant story in which he dreamt of a recently departed Rabbi who appeared to be in immense suffering. In his dream, the man lay in bed with his liver exposed, crawling with worms, and he beseeched Rabbi Chaim Vital for rectification, his voice filled with sorrow. Rabbi Chaim Vital, puzzled by the request, inquired, “How can I possibly rectify you?” To this, the man assured him that he would come to him soon.

In a remarkable turn of events, while Rabbi Chaim Vital was engaged in study with his students in the Beit Midrash, a goat approached and rested its hooves on the shtender in front of him. The goat’s plaintive whining stirred Rabbi Chaim Vital’s heart, and he was moved to take action.

He made the decision to purchase the goat from the local Arabs, explaining to his students that he was undertaking a Siyum, marking the completion of the Tractate Chagigah. It was also the festival of Chanukkah, further adding to the sanctity of the day and emphasizing the Mitzvah of consuming meat in a festive meal.

Before opening the goat, Rabbi Chaim Vital instructed his students to meticulously remove all worms from its liver and ensure its thorough cleaning.

The students couldn’t help but wonder how their master knew that the goat had worms in its liver, but they were astounded to discover the extent of the infestation.

That very night, the Rabbi from his dream appeared to him once more, expressing profuse gratitude for the Tikkun that had been accomplished. This moving story illustrates the deep connection between the spiritual realm and the physical world and underscores the significance of performing Mitzvot and acts of kindness.

Gilgul is a very complex subject

Concluding remarks

In the profound exploration of Gilgul, the concept of reincarnation, we come to recognize the intricate web of existence and the boundless compassion of Hashem. It is indeed a remarkable act of divine kindness that we are given the opportunity to return, time and again, to this world, seeking to rectify our souls and refine our character traits.

Through the lens of Gilgul, we gain insight into the interconnectedness of all life forms, the interplay of our Middot, and the redemption of our spiritual systems. Each return to this earthly realm represents a chance to correct and purify, to shed the impurities of our character, and to move closer to our ultimate goal: to merit the blissful Olam HaBah, the World to Come.

As we navigate the challenges and trials of life, we should embrace the concept of Gilgul not as a guarantee but as an opportunity—a chance to mend, to evolve, and to ultimately ascend towards closeness to Hashem. In the grand tapestry of existence, every soul plays a vital role, and our journeys, though at times painful, are guided by His loving hand.

The pursuit of rectification is a path filled with spiritual depth and significance, with the promise of eternal reward, where the soul, having completed its earthly journey, can bask in the splendor of Olam HaBah, the greatest pleasure of all.

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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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