There are five categories of positive mitzvot with some additional subsections, and each one has a different law concerning the requirement of gilgul when a person does not perform one of the mitzvot from that category.
The 248 positive mitzvot are divided into five categories….
In this section we will explain four of the five categories. Because of the length of the explanation, description of the fifth category, which is one particular mitzvah, will be left until the next section. The accompanying Table will make understanding of this section easier. The numbers in parentheses refer to it.
A person must perform all the 613 mitzvot. If he is missing even one of them, then his Nefesh is deficient by the amount of the mitzvah that is missing.
However, the 248 positive mitzvot are divided into five categories:
(1) First, there are mitzvot that may be impossible for him to do, such as the mitzvot that pertain to the time when the Holy Temple was existing. An example of these is sacrifices. For these, a person does not return in gilgul to fulfill them. What advantage would there be in gilgul?
Even when he returns in gilgul, he would still not be able to perform them.
However, when the Holy Temple is rebuilt, then he will be able to fulfill them.
When the Holy Temple is rebuilt, then he can return in gilgul to do them.
(2) Second, there are those mitzvot that he can perform, such as tzitzit, tefillin and the like. If he does not do them, then he must necessarily return to reincarnate [even] many times, until he fulfills all of them.
Because of his refusal…he has also blemished his soul, which requires extra purification….
It is important to note that the Ari is not talking here about a person who could have done any of these mitzvot but refused to do them. Such a person was discussed in the last section. Because of his refusal, he must not only reincarnate to do the mitzvot that he is missing, but he has also blemished his soul, which requires extra purification.
In contrast, throughout this section we are dealing with people who did not perform mitzvot because they were not able to do so. In Jewish Law, a person who is prevented by overpowering circumstances from fulfilling mitzvot is called "anous", someone who is coerced. Thus, this second category includes people who did not do mitzvot such as tzitzit or tefillin because they were prevented as an anous from doing so. They must reincarnate to complete what is missing to them.
In addition, there are different gradations of anous. The mitzvot of the first category, those pertaining to the service in the Holy Temple, are entirely impossible of performance during our days. Concerning them, an individual gilgul is totally anous. It is the exact opposite with mitzvot of the second category. They are least likely to be impeded by overriding circumstances of anous.
Throughout the rest of this section we will be dealing with milder degrees of anous.
Now, we go back to the case of the second category where a person did not do mitzvot, such as tzitzit or tefillin, and he must reincarnate in order to fulfill the missing mitzvot.
In this gilgul [to fulfill missing mitzvot], for someone who has already reincarnated and performed some mitzvot, it is sufficient that he fulfills those mitzvot that are missing to him, which he had never fulfilled at all.
However, a person who reincarnates for this reason can sin or bring about other transgressions.
(3) Third, there are those mitzvot that he is not obligated to perform unless the circumstances [of the mitzvah] come to him. Examples are Teruma [Donations], Tithes and Shiluach Hakan.
He must necessarily reincarnate to fulfill them….
Shiluach Hakan is the mitzvah of chasing away the mother bird before a person takes for himself the pigeons or the eggs that are in the nest. This mitzvah is only applicable when he comes across the nest unexpectedly. If he knows the nest with pigeons or eggs is there and he goes to it, then the mitzvah does not apply. It only applies if he happens upon it.
The mitzvah of Teruma is the giving of one percent of the agricultural produce in the Land of Israel to support the Priests. According to one rabbinical opinion this mitzvah and the mitzvah of Tithes apply in our times. Even according to the alternative opinion, many hold that when the majority of the Jewish People live in the Land of Israel, then this mitzvah will be applicable once again. However, this is only relevant if a person grows agricultural produce in the Land of Israel. If he doesn't, then the circumstances of the mitzvah do not apply to him, and he is not required to run out and become a farmer in the Land of Israel (although in these days he could do that more easily than in previous times).
He is not obligated to run after them, but he must necessarily reincarnate to fulfill them.
In the first category are mitzvot that he could not perform at this time, under any circumstances. In the second category are mitzvot that the circumstances are right for the performance of the mitzvah, but he was prevented from doing it by some other reason. In this, the third category, are mitzvot that he could perform if the circumstances are right, and if they are, then he must perform them. However, the circumstances never present themselves, and the Halachah does not require him to run after them, to roam the fields until he comes upon a mother bird and her nest, to cross the ocean to buy land in Israel and become a farmer in order to give Teruma, etc. However, if he has not performed them in a previous gilgul, or in this one, then he must reincarnate in a new gilgul in order to fulfill them.
However, since he needs to reincarnate only for this reason [to fulfill the mitzvah], then he is assured that he will not sin in the second gilgul.
Since he needs to reincarnate only to fulfill a mitzvah of the third category, then he is assured that he will not sin.
(4) The fourth category consists of those mitzvot that he cannot do unless G‑d forcibly puts him in a position to do one of them. Examples are Redemption of the first born son, Yibum, Chalitza….
If the circumstances of the mitzvah are presented to him, but he does not do them, then he must necessarily reincarnate….
In this category are mitzvot that he cannot perform, even if he would run after them. There is no guarantee that he will attain the circumstances of the mitzvah by running after them because it is not entirely up to him. For example, even if he were to marry one woman after another there is no guarantee that any one of them would give birth to a first born son. Similarly, if his brother dies without leaving progeny in the world, he can perform either the mitzvah of Yibum or the mitzvah of Chalitza. He cannot perform both. Furthermore, this category includes mitzvot whose circumstances no one wants to attain, or whose circumstances people normally run away from rather than towards it, like the death of his brother. This will be clear in the Ari's next example as well.
[Another example of a mitzvah from the fourth category is] giving a bill of divorcement. He is not obligated to divorce his wife unless he dislikes her, as everyone knows. [Even then] it is hard to divorce, and the altar sheds tears.
According to the words of the Ari here, a person who dislikes his wife should divorce her and not transgress the mitzvah of "Love your neighbor like yourself" (Lev. 19:18). There are rabbinical opinions, however, that a person should not divorce his wife for any reason, except adultery. Neither are situations that people pursue or have any desire to attain. Furthermore, even if a person has no great love for his wife, it is still hard to divorce because of children or other reasons. Finally, it has been taught (Gittin 90b, Zohar II:102b) that the altar sheds tears when a man divorces the bride of youth. We may learn from here that the circumstances of divorce are no great boon to the well being of the universe. The altar makes peace between G‑d and humanity, and it laments the lack of peace among the divorcing couple. Although divorce by giving a bill of divorcement is a mitzvah of the Torah when necessary, it is nevertheless not a situation that people seek out or pursue.
There is a distinction concerning these [mizvot] and those like them. He does not return to reincarnate if the opportunity to do one of them has not presented itself. He will merely come as an ibur, temporarily, until it is fulfilled, and then he will depart immediately.
(4a) However, if the circumstances of the mitzvah are presented to him, but he does not do them, then he must necessarily reincarnate.
If the circumstances of the mitzvah are present, but he does not do them because of some other reason that prevents him, then he must reincarnate.
In this case I do not remember what my Master said, whether he is guaranteed not to sin as in the third category, or not.
He must return in gilgul, but he is guaranteed not to sin….
Since he was not obligated, in the first place, to run after the mitzvah, as in the third category, then the law concerning him is like the law of the third category. In that case he would be guaranteed not to sin in his second gilgul. Or alternatively, since the mitzvah was before him, unlike the third category, but like the second category, and he did not do it, then the law pertaining to him will be gilgul like the second category where there is no guarantee not to sin.
(3a) I am also in doubt concerning other mitzvot, especially those where a person is not obligated to run after them, such as ma'akeh or shiluach hakan, etc.
The mitzvah of ma'akeh is the commandment to the owner of a house to build a fence around the roof of it in order that someone on the roof will not fall off. "When you build a new house, you shall make a fence around your roof; and do not bring blood into your house if someone falls from there" (Deut. 22:8). Like shiluach hakan, it is one of the mitzvot of the third category where a person is not obligated to run after it. In this case, he is not obligated to go buy a house just to put a fence around the roof.
[What is the law] if a person ran to do them, but did not succeed? For example, he was poor and could not buy a house to build a fence.
In this case he is more of an anous than in the previous examples of the third category. In those examples he did not run after the mitzvah to try to do it. Here, he did, but still he did not achieve the circumstances to enable him to perform it.
Do we say that he is called an anous and ibur is sufficient for him, or does he need an actual gilgul?
In this case, is he like a person who does not do a mitzvah of the fourth category because the full circumstances of the mitzvah never presented themselves? He is like a person who never had a first born son to redeem. This is a high level of anous. He does not need to return in a full-fledged gilgul, but it is sufficient for him to come as an ibur and fulfill the mitzvah in that way.
Or alternatively, since the mitzvah that is missing is from the third category, then its judgment remains as one from the third category and he must return in gilgul, but he is guaranteed not to sin.
In another place we wrote that it appears that he is exempt from gilgul, and ibur is enough for him. On the other hand, it is possible that he does reincarnate, but G‑d arranges that the circumstances to do the mitzvah are definitely given to him.
[Commentary by Shabtai Teicher.]