These are the journeys of the Children of Israel who left Egypt as a
nation under the leadership of Moshe and Aharon. (Bamidbar 33:1)
Journeys: Life is about journeys - your journey, my journey, the next
person's journey. We're all on a journey, and not only in this lifetime
but throughout history. We travel through the course of one lifetime and
then stop after death for a bit to integrate the lessons of the previous
journey before moving on again into another incarnation. We are born into
the world and into a family, and it feels as if it is the first time we're
here, but it isn't. It is only the next stop on our cosmic journey to
personal completion before G-d.
When one learns Sha'ar HaGilgulim (the Gates of Reincarnation) by the
Arizal, one gains an appreciation of just how true this is. The following
is one of the more famous examples of a soul in motion throughout the ages:
As we already know, a Ruach cannot reincarnate until the Nefesh has done
so and has been rectified. When the Ruach has been rectified, then the
Neshamah will also undergo rectification. In Hevel's case, though the
Nefesh and Ruach were damaged and mixed together with evil, his Neshamah
remained completely good. Thus, when his Nefesh reincarnated, it first
went into Shais, the son of Adam HaRishon. This caused the evil to be
separated out and later given to Bilaam, the evil one. Both of these
levels, the good and the evil of the Nefesh had previously been included
in Hevel, as his name alludes, with the Heh of Hevel alluding to the good
which was given to Shais. This is the sod of the posuk, "Everything You
placed (shattah) under his feet" (Tehillim 8:7), which has the letters
Shin-Tav (Shais) and Heh (of Hevel) . . . The evil of Hevel's Nefesh is
represented by the letters Bais-Lamed, which is the sod of the
posuk, "Such judgments, they know not (Bais-Lamed)" (Tehillim 147:20).
For, these two letters refer to the Klipos and the Bais-Lamed of Bilaam
(Bais-Lamed-Ayin-Mem). We mentioned before that even the level of evil
that was separated from the good must, by necessity, contain an element of
Holy Sparks. This is the sod of Bilaam the prophet and what Chazal mean
when they say that "he was equal to Moshe" (Bamidbar Rabbah 20), who was
from the good of Shais, as we will explain. The little amount of good that
was in Bilaam, reincarnated into Naval HaCarmelli, and that was the
beginning of the tikun. Bilaam's only power was in his mouth by speaking
loshon hara and cursing. Therefore, after Pinchas killed him, he
reincarnated into a rock that could not speak, to rectify the loshon hara
that came from his mouth; as we have said: a person can reincarnate into a
Domaim, Tzomayach, Chayah, or Medabehr (Mineral World, Vegetation World,
Animal World, and Human World). . .
However, when Naval followed in his ways and spoke loshon hara about Dovid
HaMelech saying, "Who is Dovid and who is Ben Yishai?" (I Shmuel 25:10),
he reversed the tikun. Not only did he not rectify the previous sin but he
added to the damage. Therefore, it says, "and he was a rock" (I Shmuel
25:37) since his mazel saw how previously he had reincarnated into a
silent stone, and then "His heart died within him." (Sha'ar HaGilgulim,
Hevel, of course, was Adam HaRishon's second son, born at the beginning of
history and died shortly thereafter. Part of his soul went into Shais, who
was Adam's third son born 130 years later, and the other part of his soul,
the bad part, went into Lavan (hence: LAMED, BAIS, Nun), Ya'akov Avinu's
father-in-law over 2,000 years later. After he died, the Bais-Lamed part
of Hevel's soul reincarnated into Bilaam who lived in Moshe Rabbeinu's
time, hundreds of years later.
After that, to rectify Bilaam's problem with loshon hara, he returned
again inside of a rock for a period of time, before returning to the world
in human form in Naval HaCarmelli in Dovid HaMelech's time, again hundreds
of years later. More than likely that soul, like so many others, has since
returned many other times, but Sha'ar HaGilgulim only goes up until the
When I was a young boy, there was a program called "The Time Tunnel." For
those who do not recall it, it was about two scientists who were part of
an experiment to travel through time, which they did by walking the length
of some cone-shaped spiral tunnel. The experiment only partially worked;
they were able to go into the past but could not come out of it.
So, basically, the program was a dramatized history show, with the two
main characters going in and out of major events of the past, knowing what
was going to happen because they were from the future, but unable to
change anything because it was history. All they could do was bear witness
to what had unfolded, and play some sort of role along the way, knowing
full well that their true lives lay beyond their present, fictitious lives.
It is a good analogy for life. Our souls are time travelers, though our
bodies are not. Our souls know the past because they were there, and they
can even know the future since they are capable of rising above time, even
at night while we sleep. In fact, déjà vu, when a person has a sense that
he already knew what was going to happen before it actually did, might
simply be some of that future knowledge filtering down into the physical
brain, allowing for a sense of recognition at the time of the event.
So much has already been written about this idea, movies have been made,
and some psychiatrists even use hypnosis to perform past-life regression.
As to whether or not it is possible today to truly know who we were in
previous lives remains to be seen, in spite of the claims of success. (I
have personally heard some pretty convincing stories from reliable
people.) There is no question that in the past it was indeed possible to
know such information, as Sha'ar HaGilgulim makes perfectly clear.
One of the dramatic elements of "The Time Tunnel" was how the crew back
home was some how able to get the main characters out of a life-
threatening jam just in the nick of time by moving them into another
period of history. And, as involved as the two characters had been in the
slice of time they had just visited, once they began to roll through time
again, they could afford to just let go of the past, though the characters
they left behind were stuck in it.
Life is very, very absorbing. It has a way of convincing us that nothing
ever existed before it and nothing will ever exist after it. So much
appears to be a matter of do-or-die, and as a result, people invest so
much into the present with little or no regard for the future. And, I
don't just mean future as in tomorrow, next week, or even the next decade,
but future as in the next lifetime, and principally, as in the World-to-
The trick in life is being able to rise above it. It's like being a rocket
ship trying to break free of the earth's gravitational pull. It's a real
tug-of-war as gravity madly pulls downward as the rocket thrusters
violently push the space ship upward, until the rocket gets to a height
where gravity is too weak to hang on, and the space craft is finally able
to drift effortlessly into the quiet of space.
We know what pulls us down, what holds onto us with great power, and what
keeps us from being objective: life itself. Between temptations and
crises, we are constantly being kept on earth and mired in subjectivity.
The question is: What has the ability to thrust us up and out in order
that we see life in a more objective manner, in order to make decisions
that take into account far more than just the immediate past, present, and
The answer to that question is short on letters but long on understanding:
Insight. However, we're not talking merely about a new approach to an old
idea, but about actual insight, or more accurately, the ability to see in.
The Pri Tzaddik on this week's parshah points out that the Jewish people
made forty-two stops in the course of their forty years of wandering. This
is significant, he explains, because each stop corresponded to one letter
of G-d's forty-two letter Name, which you can see from the prayer
called "Ana b'Koach" in all siddurim. This prayer is comprised of seven
stanzas of six words each, and when the first letters of each word are
brought together, they formed one of the forty-two letter Names of G-d.
What is the point of this correlation? Explains the Pri Tzaddik, each
letter from this Name represents a particular level of spiritual growth on
the path to a person's personal completion. When a person acquires all
forty-two letters, (stops along their personal journey to completion,) he
has no need for any further rectification; he is said to have acquired HIS
world, that is, his intended portion in the World-to-Come.
The Arizal explains in Sha'ar HaGilgulim that it can happen in a single
lifetime. And, if it does not happen in a single lifetime then it is
likely to happen over several lifetimes. And, if history comes to a close
before the person can acquire all forty-two levels of growth, then there
is Gihennom to finish off the refinement process - not a pleasant prospect.
Eventually, when history has ended and we stand before the Heavenly
Tribunal on our day in court, they will replay all of our gilgulim. We
will watch with the Bais Din all the events of all of our lives, and we
will be shown how each particular event was designed to help us move a
notch or two in the direction of personal completion.
We will be detached from the situation, like time travelers who happened
to drop in on the past, and we will see ourselves act out in ways that are
obviously incorrect, literally wasteful. We will be amazed at how easily
we were overwhelmed by the situation at hand, emotionally drawn in until
we acted in a way that suggested there was no tomorrow.
And, we will probably say to ourselves: "If only I knew then what I know
The truth is, if we knew now what we will know then, it would be
impossible to exercise free-will. We'd be like the scientists in the
program who knew the outcome of events while the people around them did
not, and we could afford to make the appropriate sacrifices because we'd
know what the pay off will be and what it will not be. There would be no
reason for us to be rewarded in Heaven for that.
Therefore, Heaven compromised for our benefit. We don't get to know much
about our pasts or our futures, at least not much that we can translate
into conscious knowledge and use to better navigate the present. But we do
get to learn works such as Sha'ar HaGilgulim, or the idea of
reincarnation, and past lives surface in one way or another to sensitize
us to the possibility so that we can take some time to contemplate the
finiteness of the events of everyday life. All that lives on past them was
our response to the crisis.
Ultimately, this is what the Vilna Gaon has taught us. He has said that
life is about sheviras hamiddos, the overcoming of bad character traits,
like anger, for example. Nothing allows for this more than being able to
rise above of the moment until you become an objective observer instead of
a subjective participant. It is when one can do this that one is able to
correctly assess a situation and appropriately respond to it, each time
earning another one of the letters of G-d's Name and one's own completion.
I say this because there is much happening in the world today, and more
which promises to only intensify the struggle to break free of that which
wants to dishearten us. All of it will be a test of our ability to rise
above the moment and the crisis, and remain positive in the face of
tremendous negativity. The redemption of G-d can come in the blink of an
eye, and even faster if we remain positive and trust in G-d.
Hear the word of G-d, O House of Ya'akov and all the families of the
House of Yisroel . . . (Yirmiyahu 2:4)
These are the first words of this week's Haftarah, the second Shabbos of
the Three Weeks. They are pure rebuke by the prophet who brought us
Eichah. The entire Haftarah is about how the Jewish people strayed and
turned to idol worship instead of seeking out G-d. It doesn't even end on
a positive note, which is why the First Temple was destroyed shortly
Actually, it is the fast of the 17th of Tammuz today as I write this, the
first day of the Three Weeks. I have just gotten off the phone with
someone who has told me, in the name of a certain Mekubel, that events
will occur by the Shabbos of the parshah for which this is being written
that will impact the entire world. Apparently certain signs are supposed
to occur to indicate this, and have been quickly since last Lag B'Omer.
The news doesn't faze me. The truth is, I am usually better prepared for
the Three Weeks long in advance, but this year my son's Bar Mitzvah was
somewhat of a distraction, coming on Rosh Chodesh Tammuz. That ended, and
all of a sudden the 17th of Tammuz is upon me, and the period of
disengagement that seemed months away is actually here.
The tension is unbelievable. The situation is serious, but we don't yet
know how serious. Yesterday, the government admitted what seemed to be the
case from the start: disengagement has very little to do with appeasing
the Arabs and everything to do with making George Bush happy. Entire
cities that took years to build up and millions of dollars of investment
to make into an example of beauty and efficiency is about to be scrapped
for political agendas that have little, if anything, to do with the safety
of the Jewish people.
As the prophet says in this week's Haftarah, the people we turned to in
order to defend ourselves have themselves become the persecutors.
And what about us? So close to the moment of crisis and we're not quite
sure what to think: for disengagement, against disengagement, or impartial
to it? Tie an orange ribbon or don't tie an orange ribbon? Make a stand or
don't make a stand? It's a done deal; no, it's not a done deal? Be
positive; give up the ship already?
There are a lot of people doing a lot of talking, and it becomes more
confusing by the moment. However, the prophet offered one solution that
puts all of it in perspective: HEAR, specifically, "Hear the word of G-d."
If you are quiet for a moment, you can hear it, like a breeze rustling
through the trees on a quiet day. That's what Adam HaRishon heard in the
Garden of Eden:
Then they heard the voice of G-d moving through the garden like the day
breeze, and the man and his wife hid from G-d among the trees of the
garden. (Bereishis 3:8)
To many it seems as if G-d is holding out, keeping His peace while we go
through Gihennom down here. It's not true. The difficulties we encounter
are to get our attention, which is only meaningful if there is something
to hear. That is what the Three Weeks are about: learning to become a
listener to the Divine message that resonates through every event and
thing in Creation, but even more so when history intensifies.
If we incline our minds to listen, our ears will learn to hear. Then the
positive ending can finally come, and our journey through history can end
gracefully. Otherwise, G-d will just keep talking louder until we learn to
May we see a happy ending in our time.
Text Copyright © 2005 by Rabbi Pinchas Winston and Torah.org.