Return again: Reincarnation in the Jewish tradition

“As the Zohar says explicitly, you move up with the soul and return to higher worlds.”

Reincarnation (photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
(photo credit: Wikimedia Commons)
I am not surprised to be writing this article, although it was not initially my idea. I have had intuitions and experiences that have afforded glimpses into past lives, and I don’t doubt that there is a structure that includes the coming down of souls into bodies again and again in order to fix what remains to be fixed.
What I have learned since conducting interviews for this article, however, is that this aforementioned understanding was elementary. But it was a starting point.
In Hebrew, the word for reincarnation is gilgul, which is related to the word galgal, meaning wheel or cycle. We are all in this cyclical Ferris wheel of souls. What follows was derived from esoteric Kabbalistic teachings. My task was to find those who have proficient understanding of these teachings and could share them with me, so that I could synthesize them here.
I also underwent my own past life regression in preparation for writing this piece. While I won’t divulge the details here, it was an impactful experience. In general, past life regressions are done by guiding someone into a semi-hypnotic state; where higher consciousness can be accessed. In my experience, I counted backwards from 10. When it was over, I remembered everything and no one dangled a pocket watch in front of my eyes at any point. I was able to access information from three past lives and to take the wisdom that would be helpful for me in this life.
“MANY JEWS who are not connected to their own heritage and are spiritually seeking, are involved with reincarnation, and would never think for a second that that’s a part of Torah tradition,” says Rabbi Doniel Katz. “But it’s everywhere in our texts in such a deep way.
“I remember, as a secular Jew growing up in Melbourne, Australia, the moment when someone first told me that Judaism also believes in reincarnation. I thought, ‘No it doesn’t! They’re just taking Hinduism and projecting it.’ The amount of ignorance in that statement is profound, which I know now, since I’ve been blessed to spend a couple of decades studying countless sources that discuss this. Whether hidden or revealed, it’s there in abundance in our tradition.”
Katz has been guiding people in past life regressions for many years now. He has found that the experience of accessing past lives can act as a wellspring of clarity and healing. But he is also pragmatic, emphasizing caution with those he guides, since a regression can open up a tremendous amount of new information that not everyone has the capacity to integrate into the life they are currently living. But for those who can, the experience is often transformative. Katz has had many people come to him who are suffering ongoing trauma and challenges in their lives. He is continually amazed by the amount of “download context” they receive.
“The supernatural knowledge, for lack of a better word, that comes up from things that happened in past lives so ingeniously zips up things that are happening in this life,” Katz states. “Even if someone were to say that it’s not a direct download from a higher source and even if you don’t believe in God or Torah or the supernatural world, the potential of human consciousness to generate understanding and give context to life experience on a level that is deeper than the functioning of a rational mind is beyond question.”
According to Katz, there are many realms of exploration when doing past life regressions; one is the life between lives. When someone is moving into a place of awareness of soul and consciousness outside of this life, then naturally, the implication is that the soul lives on. It is infinite. Katz has found a world of clarity and breakthroughs through helping people transition through their death in one life, into the incredible love and compassion that they can access, which gives more context about the meaning of their present life and struggles.
“As the Zohar says explicitly, you move up with the soul and return to higher worlds,” Katz adds. “As a rabbi and a guide, I am always in awe watching someone go through that process. These are people, by the way, who don’t necessarily believe in God. Yet they are speaking these truths with this incredible energy and power.”
 ARK IN the Ari Ashkenazi synagogue in Safed. The Ari – Isaac Luria, author of ‘The Gate of Reincarnations’ –is symbolized by the lion (CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons) ARK IN the Ari Ashkenazi synagogue in Safed. The Ari – Isaac Luria, author of ‘The Gate of Reincarnations’ –is symbolized by the lion (CREDIT: Wikimedia Commons)
Katz does not offer past life regressions as his main profession; he teaches internationally through the Elevation Project, with the goal of taking the myriad teachings on meditation, transformation and spiritual experience from the Torah, and disseminating them online and in person for all those seeking it. For Katz, past life regression in both theory and practice is simply one of these untapped teachings. He is also quick to point out that science today discusses the idea of multiple dimensions in the realm of quantum mechanics; that you can only explain the three-dimensional reality in the context of there being other dimensions at play.
“One of the main questions people have is, ‘Why am I going through what I’m going through?’ When you expand the dimensions to multiple lives, you suddenly see the profundity of our individual struggles,” Katz asserts. “Some people may think that that’s just a projection because it brings comfort, but we are talking about a very sophisticated model here. This system is complex and rich. These past life experiences can shift trauma and pain.”
KATZ’S JOURNEY with reincarnation began many years ago, when he was a spiritual seeker and an unaffiliated Jew. He was having unusual and unexplainable experiences and was trying to understand them. He began reading secular works which proposed this was something he could tap into. Fast forward many years later, and both secular and observant Jews are coming to him with questions relating to this subject. Students have told him about dreams where grandparents who have passed away come to them. Others have intuited certain memories or connections to things with no rational explanation for it. People are having these experiences and are increasingly willing to talk them about and ask for guidance.
“When it happens to you, it’s not a question of if you believe it or not, it’s a question of understanding it,” Katz says. “Many people have moments either during near-death experiences or upon the death of a loved one, and they’re seeking an explanation that fits into the reality that they live in. Our tradition has incredible insight to offer, but we’re just not familiar with it. It’s not the go-to place.
“When I began to connect more to my Judaism and went to learn in yeshivas, I learned all the wonderful mainstream things, but I was always asking where this is in our tradition. I wanted to run to any holy works in Kabbalah or hassidut that discussed these concepts. I wanted to understand how Torah explains reincarnation and how it fits in to our fundamental understanding of reality and consciousness. I believe that these things will become much more mainstream in the next decade or two, in the same way that mindfulness has. Torah can really lead the way – it has so much to offer in this area, but we don’t even know it ourselves yet. So it’s an exciting opportunity.”
Katz cites the teachings of Rabbi Israel ben Eliezer, aka the Baal Shem Tov, on reincarnation, as well as more modern masters like Rabbi Yitzchak Meir Morganstern. Morganstern discusses the part of consciousness called daat elyon (higher consciousness), which has access to wisdom within us that we can retrieve through meditation and thereby gain incredible insights. Katz also cites Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, aka the Vilna Gaon, who wrote in the 18th century that one of the six signs of moshiach will be rapid personal transformation that was not possible in previous generations.
“If you ask anyone in the world where mindfulness comes from, they will respond that it comes from Buddhism,” Katz states. “But I’m going to say that it came from Judaism. Historically, what that means is the people who brought it to the mainstream, to research, and to the West were Jewish: Richard Alpert (Ram Dass), John Cabot-Zinn, Richard Davidson, Daniel Goleman and Sharon Salzberg. Mindfulness was brought down through our tradition by people like the Baal Shem Tov, Rabbi Kalonymous Kalman Shapira (aka the Piaseczne Rebbe), Rabbi Joseph Caro and Rabbi Moses ben Nachman (aka the Ramban) – it’s all through our tradition. In inner work, mindfulness is always a psychological preparation to connect more deeply to our creator and then to be guided by the inner voice, higher than our conscious mind.
“Jewish law dictates that you have to clear your mind before you begin to pray – that’s mindfulness. We hold that mindfulness is going public because that is the first step to unleashing the levels after that and after that. I believe that psychic ability will go mainstream as well in the next 20 years because it follows directly as a skill set. Prophecy is coming back – mindfulness is the first step, intuition is the second, and living with dveikut (constant cleaving to God) is the third. The messianic period is not some guy who says, “Game over.” It’s really, as is said explicitly in our sources, that the whole world is full of divine consciousness, that prophecy will return, that everyone will fix their character attributes in an unprecedented way.
“That’s the end game; that humanity is healed emotionally, we enter into a higher level of existence, and the true potency of divine consciousness is revealed. As the Zohar says, when Hashem [God] wants this time to come, He will exponentially increase the wisdom in the world from below and above. When cutting-edge science (the waters from below) and ancient Kabbalah (the waters from above) meet and inform each other.”
RABBI YITZCHAK SHWARTZ, a kabbalist and teacher, references The Gate of Reincarnations, written in the 16th century by Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, aka the Ari, as the main Jewish sourcebook on the topic of reincarnation. Based on that and associated commentary, Schwartz co-authored with Rabbi Yaakov Yisrael Lugasi Gilgulei Yisrael, a compendium of questions and answers on soul reincarnation.
According to this, the idea of reincarnation is that we are all old souls; we’ve all been here before many times and we will come back again. Returning is in order to reach a place of perfection, where we will have fixed all that needed fixing. As a result, our experiences in this life are ones of taking care of unfinished business. This means that whatever we are driven to take care of is what we have not finished in previous times. We will encounter people and situations that help us, which is God assisting us in finishing what hasn’t yet been finished. What has been finished in previous lives goes into a kind of spiritual savings account.
“It’s what I would call the smoothness factor,” Schwartz says. “If what you run into in life is something that feels smooth and effortless, that’s not really what you’re here to take care of. Unless it’s something that no one else can do, then you are meant to do that. But if it is not so smooth, that means you’ve run into blocks from previous lifetimes and that is meant to be taken care of in this lifetime. When you put on your reincarnation glasses, basically everything is some kind of a manifestation of a previous lifetime. The people we run into who we feel more connected to are most likely those who we have been connected to in previous times. We come here with a soul family. A good indication of who is a soul family member is the feeling that what’s good for them is good for me. Not because I’m being altruistic; what’s good for them actually raises me up in my soul level.”
There is a metaphysical mechanism called a levush, which in terms of reincarnation is a type of garb that we share with parents, siblings, children, spouses, best friends and close teachers. We share this bonding mechanism that keeps us connected beyond even death. We therefore have a subconscious connection to these closest of relationships and can sense what’s going on with them even when we’re not together. This can also keep a spouse who has passed away connected to the spouse who is still alive.
“One of the main questions people have is, ‘Why am I going through what I’m going through?’ When you expand the dimensions to multiple lives, you suddenly see the profundity of our individual struggles,” Katz asserts.(CREDIT:  TZIPORA LIFCHITZ PHOTOGRAPHY)“One of the main questions people have is, ‘Why am I going through what I’m going through?’ When you expand the dimensions to multiple lives, you suddenly see the profundity of our individual struggles,” Katz asserts.(CREDIT: TZIPORA LIFCHITZ PHOTOGRAPHY)
Schwartz tells a story of being in a kabbalistic yeshiva where a widow wanted to remarry, but the couple was running into incredible trouble. The rabbi of the yeshiva brought together 10 men to form a Jewish court, whereby they decreed that the levush that the husband had in the post-world should be cut, along with whatever feelings of jealousy he had that were blocking the couple, and that it should no longer have control over what was happening. Afterward, there were no more problems.
“Unlike common parlance, having an old soul is not something to brag about,” explains Schwartz. “It means that you still have a lot of work to do. Being a new soul, which happens only once in every two or three generations, like a Baal Shem Tov or an Ari, is somebody who has not been here before. They are able to scramble up the ladder to the highest levels, effortlessly and very quickly.
“As far as the post-life is concerned, the worst situation is what’s called the kapakela, where a person goes into a slingshot, still in the parameters of this world. Often, they inhabit one of the four elements: mineral, plant, animal or human, meaning they’re in that place knowing that they’re still a person. That’s a very hard situation. It’s a netherworld. The second worst is reincarnation, believe it or not. Because you have to start again and you don’t even remember the previous time. Then there is gehenom, which is more of an expedient type of rectification because you’re very vulnerable and exposed in a shameful way to that which you did not take care of during your lifetime and that burns away whatever was holding you back. The best situation is the Garden of Eden, where you basically resonate with all of the good that you did in this lifetime and you just go deeper and deeper with that.”
A soul will typically experience the Garden of Eden and then come back down into reincarnation. Eden functions as a very pleasant waiting station and as a taste of what will happen in olam habah (the world to come) after the messianic era. These ideas are quite different from the traditional views of heaven and hell, which although not Jewish, have inundated everything from literature to Hollywood to the collective consciousness. Schwartz points out that another popular misconception, according to the Ari, is that people choose what their state will be prior to coming into this world. After a thorough search and questioning of his teachers, Schwartz found that this is not true. We are essentially born against our will and come into the world to rectify what God chose for us, not what we chose.
“In a way, that’s comforting, I’d rather not be the one responsible for those kind of choices,” Schwartz adds. “I trust God more than I trust myself.”
Since reincarnation is a matter of souls coming to their tikun (repairing their soul), another surprising teaching from the Ari is that it is not one soul per body per lifetime. We all have ‘host souls’ that constitute our primary awareness and ‘guest souls,’ which are either lifetime guests (up to three or four) or temporary guests, which come either to assist themselves or to assist us.
“Maybe we’re doing a very important mitzvah and we need help,” Schwartz explains. “We’re going to feel this extra surge of energy at that particular time. That doesn’t mean we’re all schizophrenic, but what it does mean is that the host soul is at the center stage and these others can be very helpful. It speaks to the complexity of a human being. A big part of what reincarnation is meant to do is to tip us off to what our calling is – that’s super important because we do have one.”
Schwartz’s colleague, student and friend, Yocheved Rindenow-Kalev, is a licensed psychotherapist and now a practicing spiritual energy healer who sometimes draws on past life regressions in her practice. Rindenow-Kalev learned approximately 30 different healing modalities and synthesized them with hassidut from the Baal Shem Tov to create a comprehensive healing system.
“Through my own experience of getting very sick with something akin to fibromyalgia, which included chronic pain, chronic fatigue, brain fog and severe asthma, I had to actualize healing within myself,” Rindenow-Kalev shares.
“It was progressive to a point where I didn’t realize how sick I was because I was so out of tune with my body. About seven years ago, it finally got so bad that I couldn’t ignore it anymore. I learned hands-on energy healing work and how to move energy with consciousness. I used these modalities on myself and others, and what I found was that the more I worked with healing others, the more I healed.
“When I was studying psychology, I thought, ‘This is great, but it’s a man-made system.’ The idea is that we’re actually infinite beings and we can move far beyond what psychology has determined. I was driven toward understanding what a human really is according to God and the incredible transformations we are capable of making. Psychology provides a good starting point, but like all of the sciences, we have to allow for it to evolve. Human potential is now becoming more clearly understood as limitless and we are learning the ways to harness that.”
Rindenow-Kalev sees the soul as being multi-faceted, with different facets coming down as distinct personalities and going back up when they’re completed. We can connect to those past-life perfected parts because they are a part of our overall greater soul, but it’s not us in the here and now. Rindenow-Kalev has helped some of her clients travel back through past life regressions in order to heal and to access those parts of the soul that have abilities, skills, or knowledge that can be helpful in this lifetime. She always asks permission from God first.
“If I’m doing a past life regression with a client for healing, we’re working on a certain issue, so we want to heal that and we don’t want to get stuck in the story line of a past life, because there could be thousands of those,” Rindenow-Kalev adds. “We can give recognition to the vibration of the issue at hand with the understanding that it originated in a past life (or lives) and allow it to move energetically in the current physical body, and then all of those story lines have been released and healed without having to travel back into them. If there is a need to, we will go there, but I find that it’s not necessary most of the time.”
YOCHI RINDENOW: ‘You can understand your mission because you know what you’re drawn to and what you’re good at, and you also know your struggles.’ (CREDIT:  LEVI DOVID PHOTOGRAPHY)YOCHI RINDENOW: ‘You can understand your mission because you know what you’re drawn to and what you’re good at, and you also know your struggles.’ (CREDIT: LEVI DOVID PHOTOGRAPHY)
Although Rindenow-Kalev has found that in terms of reincarnation, men will generally stay men, women will stay women, Jews will stay Jews and non-Jews will stay non-Jews, crossover can happen. It all has to do with what’s necessary for that soul’s journey. In a number of cases, Rindenow-Kalev had women come to her because they were unable to date or have an intimate relationship. Through feeling into the source of the blockage, they were taken to past life trauma that was carried over to this lifetime in order to be healed, thus creating beliefs in this lifetime that were limiting their ability to have a relationship. Once the past life trauma was brought to the forefront and given recognition, the person was easily able to realign with the healthy reality of who they truly are. Rindenow-Kalev has been privileged to witness the amazing shifts that have taken place as a result.
“We are a compilation of all of our experiences through our main Experiencer, which is our higher level consciousness,” Rindenow-Kalev explain. “Our soul’s lower levels are going through it, but all of the experiences we have are registered in that higher soul. When you die, that’s the self you take with you. That self has a mission: something positive it needs to achieve and something negative it needs to overcome. You can understand your mission because you know what you’re drawn to and what you’re good at, and you also know what your struggles are. To the degree that you’ve accomplished that, is the degree to which you’ve created eternity for yourself.”
If the sharing of Jewish sources on reincarnation will help lead humanity to messianic consciousness, then this article and you who are reading it now, are part of that process.