A righteous person may reincarnate many times to cleanse his sins while he is increasing his reward, but a wicked person will be sent straight to Gehinom to "burn out" his sins.

There is another difference between a righteous and an evil person that will be elucidated now, and in doing so we will be able to understand what the sages wrote regarding Elisha (who was called) Acher.

Elisha ben Abuyah was one of the four rabbis who entered the "Orchard" or "PaRDeS". PaRDeS is spelled peh, reish, dalet, samech, the initial letters of peshat, remez, drush, and sod, the four levels in which Torah can be learned. They are, respectively, (1) the simple meaning, (2) the intimated meaning, (3) the expounded meaning, and (4) the secret coded meaning, which is the most mysterious level that can be known by mankind. Rabbi Akiva was one of these four rabbis who entered the realm of Kabbala on a mission to bring spiritual rectification to the world during the horrible time of the Roman occupation and oppression. Elisha also entered the PaRDeS at that time. Although he was a great Torah scholar, he had not been properly prepared for what he was to witness in the Upper Realms. As a result, he became a heretic until his dying day. For this reason he was called "Acher", meaning the "Other One".

The sages in Talmud Chagigah 15b made the following statement concerning Elisha. This statement coincides with a broader general rule that will be considered immediately afterwards.

"He (Elisha) cannot be judged because of his involvement with Torah."

If a righteous person learned Torah, especially if he is one of those from the "early generations," then he is not sentenced to Gehinom.

Gehinom is the Jewish equivalent of Hell, or Purgatory. A person may be sentenced to that place after death in order to purify him from the sins that he committed during life. Although it is usually a temporary punishment that does not last more than one earth year, the subjective experience may well seem interminable.

The Arizal will explain in Chapter Nine, based upon the Talmud (Chagigah 27a), that the fires of Gehinom cannot affect someone who has learned Torah. Thus, in spite of the terrible sin of Acher, he could not end up in Gehinom because of his many years of Torah learning and scholarship. Nevertheless, he, as well as any other tzadik who may come under the aegis of this rule, needs to be cleansed of his sins.

…there is no other tikunfor him except reincarnation

He must be cleansed of his sins [to the extent] that he will be able to enter Paradise. Therefore, there is no other tikun for him except reincarnation. For each and every sin for which he did not atone through suffering during his lifetime, and for which he cannot receive punishment in Gehinom, he will have to reincarnate. He will reincarnate as many times as is necessary in order to rectify each and every one of them.

The original text is obscure here. The translation is according to the generally accepted meaning.

An evil person … will not need to come back to reincarnate

Therefore, he will reincarnate through many gilgulim in order to atone and rectify his sins. This is not the case for an evil person who can go to Gehinom to be cleansed there of all his sins. He will not need to come back to reincarnate.

Upon this teaching, the disciple and author, Rav Chaim Vital (may his memory be a blessing), asks a question.

Now there is room for a question. Would it not be preferable to go to Gehinom to immediately clear all of one's sins, instead of returning through many reincarnations?

Would it not be preferable to go to Gehinom to immediately clear all of one's sins?

Humbly, I, Chaim, will answer this question. The Holy One, blessed is He, is Omniscient and knows that if an evil person reincarnates he will only add to his sins and the abundance of his transgressions will outweigh his merits. Since it is known that he has already completed the few mitzvot that are absolutely vital to the root of his Nefesh, it is better for him to be removed from the world. G‑d removes him from the world, and lowers him into Gehinom to cleanse his sins, while the merit of his mitzvot remains intact. "G‑d desires kindness!"

However, with respect to a righteous person whose sins are less than his mitzvot, the suffering during gilgulim can cleanse them.

The Rabbi is alluding to an important rule concerning reward and punishment. The Talmud defines a wicked person as one whose sins outweigh the merits of his good deeds. On the other hand, a righteous person is one whose mitzvot outweigh his guilt. Here it seems the rule is being applied to determine whether his gilgulim should continue or not. If he is deemed righteous because his mitzvot outweigh his sins, then his reincarnations will continue.

His many merits will remain intact even while he is increasing them with each gilgul. His reward will be tremendous, without limit. This is along the lines of what the sages have said: "The Holy One, Blessed be He, wanted to merit Israel. Therefore, He gave them much Torah and mitzvot" (Makkot 23b).

[Commentary by Shabtai Teicher.]