Carnegie Shul Chatter – February 6, 2014

Shabbbos greetings from Florida

Candle lighting time is 5:27


I have always been a fan of Broadway musicals, and although Fiddler on the Roof is one of my favorites, I must admit that, like Rogers and Hammerstein who wrote it, I like Carousel best of all.

Set in New England in the late 1800s, Carousel is the story of Billy Bigelow, a handsome, egotistical carousel barker, who falls in love with Julie Jordan, a young, innocent mill worker.  Billy is a man of immense pride, and it is his pride that proves to be his undoing.  When Mrs. Mullins, the jealous owner of the carousel, fires Billy because he marries Julie, Billy refuses to accept other jobs that he considers to be beneath him, strikes Julie, and falls in with a thug named Jigger Craigin.

When Billy finds out the Julie is going to have a baby, he agrees to help Jigger commit a robbery so that Billy can get money to take care of his child.  But the robbery attempt fails, and Billy falls upon his knife and dies (the movie portrays this as an accident, while the Broadway show portrays it as suicide).

Fifteen years later, Billy is dusting stars in what is a purgatory of sorts, when he learns that his daughter on Earth is in trouble and that he, Billy, can return to Earth to help her out and to set things right.  At first Billy allows his pride and arrogance to stand in the way of giving his daughter the help she needs, but finally Billy comes through, helps his daughter, and shows Julie the love she always knew was there.

In 1956, Carousel was made into a film starring Gordon MacRae as Billy ...

It is a tremendous show with tremendous music, but that is not why I am writing about it.

I am writing about it because I have always thought that it is a shame that in real life we never get a chance for the kind of do over that Billy got, a chance to go back and to set things right.

But maybe we do.  Because, you see, in Judaism we believe in reincarnation of sorts.  No, we do not come back as a horse or a cow, but our faith does allow for the reincarnation of the soul.

Judaism and Reincarnation

How does this work exactly?  Well, here are two articles which I hope will explain better than I can.

The first is by Yerachmiel Tilles and is from

How prevalent is the Jewish belief in reincarnation today? How does it differ from the Asian belief? What do the Rabbis think of it?

The root of the word “Torah” is the verb “to instruct”. Torah’s primary function is to teach us how to live Jewishly, in harmony with G-d‘s will. As such, the basic levels of scriptural interpretation lead to a practical understanding of mitzvot and related Jewish values.

Many Jews are surprised to learn, or may even wish to deny, that reincarnation…is an integral part of Jewish belief…

The Torah, however, is a multi-layered document. Many of its deeper levels of interpretation are not readily accessible; and they may not lend themselves to obvious, practical application in daily life. As such, these more esoteric aspects of Torah are not of interest to significant segments of the Jewish population, including some rabbis and scholars.

Consequently, many Jews are surprised to learn, or may even wish to deny, that reincarnation – the “revolving” of souls through a succession of lives, or “gilgulim” – is an integral part of Jewish belief. But this teaching has always been around. And it is firmly rooted in source-verses.

Examples abound. Ramban, one of the greatest commentators on the Torah (and on the Talmud), and a seminal figure in Jewish history, hints several times that reincarnation is the key to penetrating the deep mysteries involved in the mitzvah of yibum (the obligation of the brother of a childless, deceased man to marry the widow). In his explanation of Gen 38:8, he insists that Yehudah and his sons were aware of the secret of reincarnation, and that this was a major factor in their respective attitudes towards Tamar.

The responsibility
lies with us…

The Jewish understanding of reincarnation is different from Buddhist doctrines. It in no way leads to fatalism. At every point of moral decision in his life, a Jew has complete free choice. If not for freedom of choice, how unfair it would be of G-d to make demands of us – especially when reward and punishment is involved! Reincarnation does not imply pre-determination. It is, rather, an opportunity for rectification and soul-perfection.

The holy Ari explained it most simply: every Jew must fulfill all 613 mitzvot, and if he doesn’t succeed in one lifetime, he comes back again and again until he finishes. For this reason, events in a person’s life may lead him towards certain places, encounters, etc., in ways that may or may not make sense. Divine providence provides each person with the opportunities he needs to fulfill those particular mitzvot necessary for the perfection of his soul. But the responsibility lies with us. At the actual moment of decision in any given situation, the choice is ours.

One of the ways in which heaven maintains our ability to exercise complete freedom of choice is by not allowing us conscious knowledge of previous incarnations. Consequently, it might seem to some people that there is little practical benefit in being aware of this doctrine. Furthermore, many scholars contend that these mystical concepts can easily be misunderstood, or carried to erroneous and misleading conclusions. We can therefore understand why this and similar subjects are only hinted at in scripture, and why some knowledge and a great deal of determination are often required in order to gain access to this information.

And this is from

There are many Jewish sources dealing with what is popularly
called “reincarnation.” In Hebrew, it is called “gilgul
ha’ne’shamot,” literally the recycling or transmigration of

This concept can be compared to a flame of one candle lighting
another candle. While the essence of the second flame comes from
the first one, the second flame is an independent entity.

Still, the new flame contains imperfections inherited from the
initial flame, and it is these imperfections that are to be

Most of the written material is very esoteric, often written in
Aramaic. Some of the prominent works dealing with this subject
are the “Zohar” (1st century) and the Arizal’s “Shaar HaGilgulim”
(16th century). In the Bible itself, the idea is intimated in
Deut. 25:5-10, Deut. 33:6 and Isaiah 22:14, 65:6.

Many sources say that a soul has a maximum of three chances in
this world. One example given is that the great Talmudic sage
Hillel was a reincarnation of the Biblical figure Aaron.

The soul only comes into this world in the first place in order
to make a spiritual repair. If that is not fulfilled by the end
of one’s lifetime, then the soul will be sent down once again.
The return trip may only be needed for a short time or in a
limited way. This in part explains why people are born with
handicaps or may live a brief life.

It is not necessary that there be a conscious awareness in order
for the correction to take place. Conscious awareness is only one
level of understanding.




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