Did you know that reincarnation is a Jewish belief? Sure is. It’s mentioned in numerous places in our mystical texts, beginning with the Zohar.
I heard somewhere (how’s that for a source . . . if you want actual sources, here are some articles from Aish.com, Torah.org and Chabad.org on the topic) that at this stage in the world’s history, all of our souls are reincarnations of older souls. These (our) reincarnated souls need to “fix” one thing or another in order to move on up to the next stage of being, to get to the World To Come (also known as the World of Souls), which is the state of perfection and closeness to G-d.
There is a very righteous woman I know who was having an extremely difficult time getting ready for Shabbos. She was always running right up to the deadline. She commented to me that it must have something to do with her soul’s rectification, because she constantly struggled with it.
I’ve also heard reincarnation mentioned in the context of those who die young (lo aleinu). I’ve heard that those souls were extremely close to perfection, and only needed just a little work to reach their goal, and then they were finished, and graduated to the World to Come. It’s a beautiful thought, and perhaps can help take the edge off the pain of such a loss (though it’s not advisable to tell that to someone who has just experienced a loss, they may not find it so comforting at the moment).
In the context of reincarnation, this life is like opening to the middle of a book. There’s a whole backstory of which we are unaware. It affects us, in our choices, our tendencies, whatever. There are also future events that we are being placed in position for, but which we cannot see. So we sometimes end up in positions of confusion or pain, not understanding why we have to go through whatever difficulty it is we’re facing, when really, we are just being put in the place we need to be to get where we need to go.
Personally, I have found that idea comforting many, many times during my life. For instance, when I wasn’t accepted to any of my graduate school choices, it was devastating. Really hard to deal with. My whole existence had centered around becoming a professional clarinetist, and all of a sudden, the floor dropped out from beneath me. I was mad, scared, confused, and a bunch of other emotions.
However, that turned out to be the catalyst for my spiritual search which lead me to where I am today. It just took me several years to see the relationship between the events. It was a real “a-ha” moment.
We don’t always get to see that relationship, though. Sometimes the events have happened in a previous life. Sometimes the events from our life will be rectified in another life. We just don’t know.
And so we carry on, doing our best to be the best we can be, and looking forward to when, after 120 years, we might understand the events of our life in their proper context.