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Where is reincarnation found in G‑d's word, as opposed to Man's word?

Where is reincarnation found in G‑d's word, as opposed to Man's word?

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The Torah was given to Moses, by G‑d, accompanied by an oral counterpart. The Oral Torah is just as much G‑d's word as the Written Torah.

As the years passed, the sages became concerned that the Oral Torah would be forgotten or garbled if it would not be recorded. Rabbi Judah the Prince and subsequent rabbis committed much of the Oral Law to writing. The oral traditions, combined with the rabbinical enactments, form the Talmud and much of the rest of Jewish literature.

There are many concepts which are alluded to in the Written Law but were only recorded fully in subsequent writings. This does not mean that they are any less G‑d's word. G‑d, in his unfathomable wisdom, decided that they be recorded that way.

Reincarnation is one such concept. Allow me to share just a few places where reincarnation is alluded to in the Written Torah. These are not places which shout "reincarnation" in bold letters but they do form part of a greater picture.

Ecclesiastics 1:4: "A generation departs and a generation comes." If this would refer to the normal flow of generations, a generation cannot come after the previous generation has gone. Rather this refers to the same soul(s) returning in consecutive lives.

Job 1:21: "Naked I left my mother's womb and naked I shall return there." Who comes back to their mom's womb? Enter reincarnation.

These are just a few samples. There are a number of such places scattered throughout the Torah. The bulk of what we know about reincarnation is from the Oral Torah and these are just a few places where this dynamic is evident in an almost offhand manner in the written part.

The question remains though: Reincarnation is a major theological issue. Why is such a major issue not explicitly discussed in the Written Torah?

Allow me to point out, however, that neither does the Written Torah include any information about what happens to the soul after death, heaven and hell, the nature of the soul--or even much about G‑d for that matter. The Five Books of Moses simply cannot be seen as a theological work. It is principally a practical guide, couched in story form. As for the rest of the Scriptures, even Proverbs and the Book of Job read as commentary on tacitly assumed knowledge.

It is quite apparent from reading these texts that Jewish Theology (which is all that the Kabbalah is), was meant to be transmitted orally, not in writing.

True many of the ancient cultures transmitted their theology and mystical teachings in writing, including the ancient Egyptians and Hindus. But the difference is quite simple: Ancient Egypt, India and the like were illiterate societies, save for a small number of priestly elite. When that elite wished to transmit secrets for the initiated, they committed it to writing--and such forms of writing that could only be deciphered by the initiated.

The Jews, on the other hand were uniquely a literate society. To read Hebrew, you only needed to master 22 letters--as opposed to the hundreds or even thousands of glyphs used in several ancient scripts. The common Jewish child in the ancient world was expected to be literate. Therefore, those matters that could easily be misunderstood, distorted and misused had to be transmitted orally.

This is especially true of reincarnation. As Rabbi Moshe Cordovero asserted, "Those who know do not tell and those who tell do not know." In other words, the secrets of reincarnation are meant to be held only by those who can be trusted not to spill the beans.

I hope that I've been helpful today.

Yours truly,

Rabbi Menachem Posner

Rabbi Menachem Posner serves as staff editor for Chabad.org.
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Gabriel B. US March 28, 2016

A bit nebulous a response, but I do thank you. A lot. Every bit, is a piece of a puzzle. Reply

Anonymous March 28, 2016

With all due respect to the Jewish Teachings, mysticism and the Kabbalah, Judaism needs to make the inner teachings and philosophies more available to the community at large, in the best and highest way possible, because there is a lot of competition out there! Reply

Rude Cherub Appleby September 15, 2015

Thanks for you post.

It is interesting that reincarnation is a topic devout Jews can discuss - among Christians it is considered new age.

However I do not think either the Hebrew Bible or the Christian teachings make sense without it.

Even in the ten commandments Exo 20:5 thou shalt not bow down unto them, nor serve them; for I the LORD thy God am a jealous God, visiting the iniquity of the fathers upon the children unto the third and fourth generation of them that hate Me;

Now why mention grandchildren and great grand children.

Why in the next verse bless to the thousandth ( an expression of immensity )

But it seems to me that a man can be reborn as his grandchild but not his son, and more probably his great grandchild.

In this way we can make sense of a just judge, why sins can be visited on succeeding generation.

The distinction between the Truth and Eastern traditions, is that God comes to man. In Reincarnation outside, Man is trying to build himself up by his own power Reply

Kate Gladstone Albany, NY, USQ June 28, 2015

Oral Torah If the Oral Torah comes straight from Moses, why is it full of the statements of rabbisn disagreeing with one another about just what the Torah commands? Reply

e USA June 27, 2014

Jewish soul In the article, "Jewish Soul in a Non-Jewish Body," by Aron Moss, it states the souls are children of rightious couples, could they also be reincarted? & how would we know the difference? To-Dah Reply

Steve Shay Seattle, wa June 10, 2012

Reincarnation Will my golden retriever be reincarnated? Reply

Gavriel Sofer Anaheim, CA April 18, 2012

This is GREAT! Thank you Cabad.org, and everyone. I knew whn I asked the question, I would just get more questions raised up!! And this is a GOOD thing! Reply

Rabbi Menachem Posner March 30, 2012

To Gavriel I suggest that you have a look at Why & When Does Reincarnation Occur? for a fascinating and informative window into how reincarnation operates. Reply

Gavriel Sofer Anaheim, CA March 28, 2012

Re-Incarnation. So many questions... Ok, Re-incarnation is accepted as a true fact by great men. Well, I hope there are more cause I got some questions! :)

And please, do not think I reject the accepted idea of re-incarnation. I just don't know. And, just thinking about it, question, after question, after question, rises up. Questions that question it as even possible.

If you are re-incarnated, what of your family you left behind? And why in the world would you grieve a year for one who has passed?

And another question, if you are one of those spoken of, who have committed such giant transgressions of their souls, they can not ascend ever to heaven, but keep going down in some grand devolution of humanity. What reason would they have to live? How do I know if I am one of those or not? When I fight and fight to reach some grander place, how do I know I will ever get there? Will I go there alone, or will my wife from a previous incarnation be there too? Huge topic for such small man an me. :) Reply

Ed Coconut Creek, Florida June 24, 2011

Reibcarnation My question is simple: Have I ever been somewhere else ( I mean my soul and never knew it?) That we are not allowed to know where we have been and only have 3 chances to make up for 6110 mitzvahs? Reply

Anonymous Bishopville, SC April 13, 2011

re- mila, feb 28th As far is I am aware, yes. Look around this website, I think it mentions this. If you can consult a rabbi and/or use ask a rabbi on this website.

p.s. a non jew can chose to convert, or stay a non jew and follow the 7 laws of Noah.

Good Luck on your journey and G-d bless Reply

Mila February 28, 2011

Can a Jew be reincarnated as a non-Jew? This is very interesting to me. Don't laugh but I am African American and have always been interested in Judaism, although I never truly knew what it is about. Something about it has been drawing me in since I was a little one.

I ask this question (can a jew be reincarnated as a non jew) because my mother once told me about a very realistic dream she had when she was younger. This dream consisted of her as a young jewish boy who was running in the sewers from racist nazi-like soldiers. She said she remembers being very afraid, and then something hit her chest, like a knife or gun and the pain was so real she woke up crying and still in pain. My mother was born in 1946, close to the end of WWII and the Holocaust. She had this dream in her 20s (which would have been in the 60s) and had a period of spiritual turmoil. She went to a few people about this dream as well. Anyway, I was wondering if anyone could expand on this?

My mother is a wonderful, sweet woman who has always been interested in judaism as well. However she is a Christian. Nevertheless she has always taught us that the Jewish people are God's people first and foremost.

I wanted to add that many Christians ARE ignorant of jewish beliefs and practices but most of them dont mean to offend with their remarks about jesus or about feeling a kinship with the jewish faith. i understand now that people saying this is somewhat offensive, so please forgive my ignorance if it rubs you the wrong way.

Her dream has always stuck with me. I wasnt even aware that there is reincarnation in the Word, and the fact that is exists made the dream pop up in my memory again. Reply

Shlomo Spring Valley, NY November 22, 2010

Don't Other Jewish Authorities Disagree? I know that belief in reincarnation is taken for granted amongst many in the Orthodox world today, but Isn't it true Rambam never mentions reincarnation and that Rabbi Sa'dia Gaon called it an "absurd" concept that comes from the cultures of idolaters?

WOuld it not be worthwhile to mention this, given the importance of these great figures? Reply

Menachem Posner for Chabad.org November 4, 2010

RE: Job 1:21 One must therefore conclude that those who see a reference here to reincarnation see this verse in a different light than Rashi and the other commentaries who see it as he does. The infinitely deep words of Torah can accommodate many, many interpretations. Reply

Anonymous City, Earth November 4, 2010

Job 1:21 Dear Menachem Posner

Your interpretation of Job 1:21 stands in contradiction with Rashi who states:

"and I will return there naked": He is not referring to the womb. What then is the meaning of “there” ? To the place of his return, for which he is destined, and he will not change the law, to return anywhere but to the earth. Therefore, it was not necessary to mention it. Reply

barbara March 11, 2009

your article Dear Rabbi Posner, Thank you for the wonderful article! I had never thought of the oral word as a way to safeguard info in a literate society and I really appreciate that insight. I found the passages from Ecclesiastics and Job fascinating also. Are there any other bible verses you would recommend? I'm very interested in reading anything related to the soul, reincarnation or the afterlife. Reply

Menachem Posner (author) December 5, 2008

To Marilou: I find it very hard to measure spirituality in a concrete manner. However, we do know that truth exists on all levels. Perhaps all of the material advances which we are experiencing are a reflection of the spiritual growth which the world is going through? Reply

Marilou Macias N.Hollywood, CA via chabadla.org December 4, 2008

Dear Menachem Posner,
The world is getting better but about material things and technology not in spirituality, which is what matters to me. I thought that reincarnation was about cleansing our souls in each life. So the world will be a better place to live. This is the reason why I would like to know more about this matter. To comprehend and understand this concept. Blessings, Reply

Menachem Posner (author) via chabadla.org December 4, 2008

To Marilou: But the world is getting better. There may be a few bumps along the road, but we certainly are light-years ahead of where we once were.

Please read Is the World Really Getting Better? and Technology of the Redemption for a fascinating perspective on this. Reply

Marilou Macias N.Hollywood, CA via chabadla.org November 23, 2008

Reincarnation I would love to know more about this topic. Meanwhile, as I know nothing, I wonder why the world keeps getting worse and worse instead of being a better place after reincarnated in better souls. Can you please tell me more about it. I try to get the book The Key to Kabbalah by Nissan David Dubov but I could not find it anywhere. Can you please recommend another one? I thank you very much! Blessings, Reply

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