If you buy a Hebrew servant, he shall serve six years, and in the seventh
he shall go out free for nothing. If he came in by himself, he shall go out
by himself. If he was married, then his wife shall go out with him (Shemos
Every time I have given a shiur and the topic of reincarnation has come up,
it has hijacked the shiur. While some people do not like to talk about the
concept of gilgulim, most people, I have found, do not like to stop talking
about it. And, just as souls reincarnate, so too does the discussion about
reincarnation, and given that this week’s parshah is the basis of much of
that discussion in the Zohar, specifically the verses mentioned above, it is
a good week to return to the subject once again.
There are two principle works that discuss the Torah idea of reincarnation,
both by students of the Arizal based upon the teachings of their rebi. One
is called Sefer HaGilgulim—The Book of Reincarnations—and the other is
called, Sha’ar HaGilgulim—The Gate of Reincarnations, and as to be expected,
there is a lot of overlap between the two. However, for this week’s parshah
sheet, I am going to use material from the latter, and annotate it.
(Anyone who wants more details can purchase my book on the topic, ‘Just
Passing Through: The Impact Of Reincarnation On Daily Life’ from my online
bookstore at www.thirtysix.org. It is also purchasable as an audio book as
It says in Sha’ar HaGilgulim:
When a person is born, his Nefesh (the lowest level of soul) enters him. If
he is adequately rectified through his actions [during his first
incarnation], his Ruach (the next level of soul) will enter him at the end
of his thirteenth year when he becomes a ‘complete person’. His Neshamah
(the third level of soul) will enter him only when he completes his
twentieth year, as it says in the Zohar (Mishpatim 94b). (Sha’ar HaGilgulim,
This is talking about the ideal situation, when a person successfully
completes the rectification of all three levels of soul in a single
lifetime. Such a person would not need to reincarnate ever again, at least
not for the sake of personal rectification. However, few people ever achieve
such perfection in a single lifetime, and are forced to reincarnate.
However, if he does not completely rectify his Ruach, then the Neshamah will
not enter him and he will remain with only his Nefesh and Ruach. Likewise,
if he doesn’t completely rectify his Nefesh, then he will remain with only
his Nefesh, lacking both his Ruach and Neshamah. The Ruach and Neshamah will
remain in a place known to The Holy One, Blessed is He, where a place is
prepared for each one.
In other words, until a person is able to receive all parts of his soul, the
parts he has yet to receive remain hidden away with God until the person is
ready for them. Hence, if a person does not perfect himself in a single
lifetime, he will not receive the next level until another lifetime.
Therefore, a person can go an entire lifetime with even just one level of soul.
If a person does not completely rectify his Nefesh the first time (i.e., in
his first incarnation) and dies, then his Nefesh will have to reincarnate,
perhaps even many times until it is sufficiently rectified. However, even
after complete rectification is achieved a Ruach will not enter him since he
only achieved tikun through a gilgul … Therefore, he will have to die and
return in order to receive the Ruach. Furthermore, once the Ruach is
sufficiently rectified, then he will also have to reincarnate before
receiving a Neshamah, as was the case with the Ruach.
In other words, had he completed his Nefesh during his first gilgul, then he
could have received his Ruach while still living in his original body.
However, once a person is forced to reincarnate the rules change somewhat,
meaning that even should he be ready for the next level of soul during a
particular lifetime, he can’t receive it, in general, until after he dies
and returns in another lifetime, slowing down the process of personal tikun.
If the Ruach is not sufficiently rectified, then the Nefesh and the Ruach
will have to come back again, perhaps many times until the Ruach is
rectified. Once rectification is achieved, then the person will die and his
Nefesh and Ruach will come back with the proper Neshamah until all three are
rectified. One this is done, there is no need for any further gilgulim; he
has become a ‘complete person’.
This is the general system. Now Rabbi Chaim Vital explains what he learned
regarding the impact of sin on the gilgulim process.
If a person rectified his Nefesh and came back to receive and complete his
Ruach but sinned, it will not affect his Nefesh. For, this would force the
Nefesh to have to come back by itself to become rectified once again.
Rather, because he now has a Ruach, the sin will only damage the Ruach, and
only this will require rectification.
In other words, once the Nefesh has been completely rectified and he has
reincarnated to work on his Ruach, he does not start from Square One once
again. Rather, the Nefesh is protected against any further damage for
otherwise, the rectification process would go on forever for some people.
Therefore, if an additional reincarnation is necessary to rectify the Ruach,
then both the (rectified) Nefesh and the (blemished) Ruach will come back
again together. This will continue until the Ruach is rectified, after which
time he will have to die in order for the rectified Nefesh and Ruach to
reincarnate with the Neshamah. If he has accomplished this and then sins,
then it will only damage the Neshamah, just as we explained with respect to
the tikun of Ruach.
In other words, only the part of any level of soul that has yet to be
rectified is vulnerable to the impact of sin. That which has been rectified
in a previous lifetime is closed off in future reincarnations to the impact
of sin, so that the rectification process can go further in future lifetimes.
It can also happen that the Nefesh becomes rectified and purified to such an
extent that it need not come back again with the Ruach for its
rectification. Rather, it remains above in a place fitting for it, “bound up
with the Bundle of Life” (Shmuel 1:25:29).
Obviously there are different levels of rectification, one of which is so
complete that the level of soul never comes back again but instead remains
with God. For example, it could be that someone so completes the
rectification of his Nefesh that:
The Ruach would have to come back alone to rectify itself. However, this is
not possible and therefore it must reincarnate with the Nefesh of [another
person], as it says in Sabba of Mishpatim. They will reincarnate together
until the Ruach is rectified. Once that is achieved and the person dies,
then the first Nefesh will come back with it (i.e., the Ruach) in order to
receive and rectify the Neshamah. Or, the Ruach may come back itself with
the Neshamah until the Neshamah is rectified, after which time the three of
them no longer need to return and are instead “bound up with the Bundle of
Life,” as is fitting for them.
The rectified Nefesh and Ruach do not necessarily have to reincarnate
together to receive the Neshamah and to rectify it.
There are obviously many more details just in order to understand the
standard process of reincarnation and rectification. However, it turns out
that there are more than one type of gilgul, as the Arizal explained:
Gilgulim which occur during the lifetime of a person are called by the
rabbis, ibur. This is the basic difference between a regular gilgul and
ibur, and sometimes it is even possible for the Ruach of a righteous person
to come as an ibur, even from the Forefathers, even this late in history. It
will all depend upon the level of the mitzvah being performed by the person.
For, some mitzvos have the power to draw down the Nefesh of a righteous
person whereas others can draw down the Ruach. It is also possible for a
person to receive the Nefesh of one righteous person and after that merit
another Nefesh from another righteous person, even greater than the first.
In such a case, he will have his own Nefesh, the Nefesh of the first
righteous person as his Ruach, and the second, higher Nefesh acting in place
of his Neshamah.
In other words, an ibur is a soul that comes to a person who is still alive,
on top of the soul that he already has and upon which his body depends. For,
as the Arizal explained, a person can have up to four souls in his body at
one time. Souls, apparently, do not get claustrophobic.
The question is, why ibur?
Ibur occurs for one of two reasons. To begin with, through the ibur of the
righteous soul, the Nefesh of a person can become rectified to the level of
the Nefesh of a righteous person. In the World-to-Come he will ascend to
that level since the righteous person will have helped him to add mitzvos
and holiness to his life. This reason serves the person himself. The second
reason is for the sake of the righteous person who is the ibur. For, by
helping a person with mitzvos and rectification, the guest soul gains a
portion in them. This is the sod of what Chazal wrote: Great are righteous
people, for even in death they merit children (Sanhedrin 47a). In other
words, when they cause the person to increase his merit they become like
“fathers” who guide and help. This is to their merit.
An ibur, usually a righteous soul, after entering a person acts like a
spiritual, internal navigation system for the host person. It helps its host
to perform mitzvos, and as a result, it receives reward for doing so. Hence,
it is a soul that is able to increase its reward in the World-to-Come even
Thus, ibur benefits both the host body and the guest soul, provided that the
person maintains the appropriate level of righteousness to merit keeping the
extra soul. And, as the Arizal explained, if such a relationship between
person and ibur is maintained the rest of the host person’s life, the
connection will remain even after death. And, that can help a person to
achieve a much higher level of reward in the World-to-Come than he otherwise
might have received on his own.