Torah Tuesdays

Torah Tuesdays: Who were you in your past life?

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, and 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.

12 thoughts on “Torah Tuesdays: Who were you in your past life?

  1. Although when I first learned about these concepts (and I still don’t really understand them), I was skeptical yet intrigued, I find them comforting. I once heard a shiur by Rav Sholom Kaminetsky explaining some of these issues. My favorite part of what he said was that even in a past life, we were with the family we are with now. So we have to help and support each other–grow together.

  2. This is a very Taoist post Rivki when it comes to the Clarinet comments. People often try to force their path in life and often our path is not what we think it will be. And as you have shared often when we feel frustrated with something that didn’t go our way it was because we had something better that we can’t see until hindsight.

    I live in Albany, NY after 17 years living at the beach in Los Angeles. My plans were to move down to NYC but my business has been slow in taking off. Much slower than I had hoped. If I had moved I wouldn’t of met the wonderful Lady in my life who lives in Vermont. Nor would I have discovered how wholesome life is in Vermont where people buy local sourced food and live much closer to nature. This has not changed my business plans. But it has changed where I will be living and who I feel is my destiny to be partnered with.

    As for souls I always wonder if all the animals on earth in number has stayed the same but with what the make up is changed and that maybe we all have souls. As Daniel Quinn wrote so succinctly in Ishmael humans have this misplaced notion that God created the earth just for humans. When in reality God created the earth for all living beings equally. Though I will say I really hope I come back as something fun if animals do have souls 8)

    So glad I helped inspire.

  3. Dodi ~ I hadn’t heard the concept that our family is *always* our family. Intriguing. I like it.

    Howie ~ So, people can be reincarnated into animals, and even into rocks or other inanimate objects. It’s not a good thing (sorry). Judaism does teach that every living being has a soul, not just people. Jewish law even forbids us to cause pain to animals. And if you have pets, it’s a mitzvah to feed them before you feed yourself.

    Vermont sounds really lovely, and I’m glad that you’re happy to be there. Thanks again for the inspiration.

  4. This is kind of tangential (okay, very tangential) but I can’t resist sharing this funny story I read in a book by Rabbi Reisman:

    A thief breaks into a farmer’s barn and steals one of his two horses. Then he comes back for the other one, but the farmer enters the barn right at that moment. The thief gets down on his hands and knees in the empty stall. When the farmer asks what he’s doing there, the thief replies, “I am your horse. I was a terrible sinner in a previous life, and it was decreed that I would come back to earth as a horse to make up for what I did wrong. Now I have completed my atonement and I once again can take the form of a human.” The farmer wishes his “horse” well and gives him some money to help him get started in his new life as a human.

    The next day the farmer goes to the market to look for another horse, and he finds his former horse standing there for sale! He shakes his head and sighs, “Only one day as a person again, and already you’re back to being a horse.”

  5. Sara – that was pretty funny! never heard that one.

    Rivki, this is one of my favorite posts from you. You are so very right. Our disappointments almost always become our blessings in one way or another.

    p,s, we need to get together. I went to 7 mile the other day and i realized I could have passed right by you and never have known it!

  6. Do you have any reason to come my way? a friend and i usually try to go to the park or a mid morning outing atleast once a week… are you interested in joining us? her kids are 2, 4, 6, and 11 (mine as 2, 6, and 11)

  7. (got to this from the other post) I also find the idea emotionally comforting, but doesn’t jive with me intellectually. Haven’t sat down and thought about it or studied it, but something about it seems off to me…. Luckily there is diversity in Jewish hashkafa!

    1. Yeah, it’s not something I’ve spent a great deal of time studying, as I think a lot of it is Kabbalistic. I just updated the post to include some links to a few online articles on the topic, if you’re ever bored (haha) and wanted to read more about it.

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