Section One, Lesson Fourteen:
Gilgul Neshamot and the Final Resurrection,
Part One: "What is Humanity that You should remember us?"
By Rabbi Shlomo Nachman © January 11, 2018
13. I believe with perfect emunah
that the dead will live again
at a time of the Creator's choosing:
blessed be His Name and exalted be His mention for ever and all time.
We now come to Rambam's final point in his Thirteen Principles of Judaism. His Thirteen Principles each begin with "I believe with perfect emunah." There is an important theme to this. "I" indicates the personal element. While we are one people what we do and believe as individuals establishes the collective righteousness of our people as a whole, or the lack thereof may G-d protect us.what is man that You should remember him, and the son of man that You should be mindful of him? -- Tehillim 8:5.
Our beliefs need to be as accurate as possible and based squarely on Torah and our rabbinic sages, empowered by our emunah. The issue of the resurrection of the dead was one of the major disagreements between the Sadducees and the Pharisees/Rabbis. History demonstrates the correctness of the Rabbinic conclusions. Today, for all intent and purposes, "Rabbinic Judaism" is Judaism. While there exists a few other forms, such as Karaism, these play no real role among our people. Sephardic and Ashkenazi Judaism, in all of their divisions and sects, are "Rabbinic." This is the paradigm within which all Jews (and Noahides) should strive to live. Rabbinic tradition, as stated by the Rambam, believes the dead will live again, at a time and manner of the Creator's choosing. So we must ask, "Who am I?" "What is my relationship with HaShem and my people?"
Shlomo HaMelech, "King Solomon," provides the following important insights into our nature. Shlomo the Wise Koheleth or "Teacher of the Assembly" reveals incredibly deep truth his Sefer Kohelet (or Book of Ecclesiastes) that we will scratch the surface of in this lesson. His teachings addresses the destiny of every human being, save perhaps the eight individuals who did not taste of death according to Jewish Midras (see note below). This is therefore an incredibly important topic. What happens when the body dies? Do we return to earthly life or do we meet our end? Do we go to "Heaven" as conceived by other religions? How about Hell? To begin, let's look at a excerpt from Kohelet (Ecclesiastes) 11:9 - 12:7, Sefaria translation about the nature of human existence:While at first glance this may appear as a negative presentation of our earthly lot, for those with wisdom of how things truly are, these verse reveal glorious spiritual principles. There is a wonderful flavor to this text that Sefaria brings out admirably, however it does so with a poetic, less literal voice. So let's consider these truths with the help of Rashi and the Judaica Press translation.
שְׂמַ֧ח בָּח֣וּר בְּיַלְדוּתֶ֗יךָ וִֽיטִֽיבְךָ֤ לִבְּךָ֙ בִּימֵ֣י בְחוּרוֹתֶ֔ךָ וְהַלֵּךְ֙ בְּדַרְכֵ֣י לִבְּךָ֔ וּבְמַרְאֵ֖י עֵינֶ֑יךָ וְדָ֕ע כִּ֧י עַל־כָּל־אֵ֛לֶּה יְבִֽיאֲךָ֥ הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים בַּמִּשְׁפָּֽט׃
O youth, enjoy yourself while you are young! Let your heart lead you to enjoyment in the days of your youth. Follow the desires of your heart and the glances of your eyes — but know well that God will call you to account for all such things —
וְהָסֵ֥ר כַּ֙עַס֙ מִלִּבֶּ֔ךָ וְהַעֲבֵ֥ר רָעָ֖ה מִבְּשָׂרֶ֑ךָ כִּֽי־הַיַּלְד֥וּת וְהַֽשַּׁחֲר֖וּת הָֽבֶל׃
and banish care from your mind, and pluck sorrow out of your flesh! For youth and black hair are fleeting.
וּזְכֹר֙ אֶת־בּ֣וֹרְאֶ֔יךָ בִּימֵ֖י בְּחוּרֹתֶ֑יךָ עַ֣ד אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹא־יָבֹ֙אוּ֙ יְמֵ֣י הָֽרָעָ֔ה וְהִגִּ֣יעוּ שָׁנִ֔ים אֲשֶׁ֣ר תֹּאמַ֔ר אֵֽין־לִ֥י בָהֶ֖ם חֵֽפֶץ׃
So appreciate your vigor in the days of your youth, before those days of sorrow come and those years arrive of which you will say, “I have no pleasure in them”;
עַ֠ד אֲשֶׁ֨ר לֹֽא־תֶחְשַׁ֤ךְ הַשֶּׁ֙מֶשׁ֙ וְהָא֔וֹר וְהַיָּרֵ֖חַ וְהַכּוֹכָבִ֑ים וְשָׁ֥בוּ הֶעָבִ֖ים אַחַ֥ר הַגָּֽשֶׁם׃
before sun and light and moon and stars grow dark, and the clouds come back again after the rain:
בַּיּ֗וֹם שֶׁיָּזֻ֙עוּ֙ שֹׁמְרֵ֣י הַבַּ֔יִת וְהִֽתְעַוְּת֖וּ אַנְשֵׁ֣י הֶחָ֑יִל וּבָטְל֤וּ הַטֹּֽחֲנוֹת֙ כִּ֣י מִעֵ֔טוּ וְחָשְׁכ֥וּ הָרֹא֖וֹת בָּאֲרֻבּֽוֹת׃
When the guards of the house become shaky, And the men of valor are bent, And the maids that grind, grown few, are idle, And the ladies that peer through the windows grow dim,
וְסֻגְּר֤וּ דְלָתַ֙יִם֙ בַּשּׁ֔וּק בִּשְׁפַ֖ל ק֣וֹל הַֽטַּחֲנָ֑ה וְיָקוּם֙ לְק֣וֹל הַצִּפּ֔וֹר וְיִשַּׁ֖חוּ כָּל־בְּנ֥וֹת הַשִּֽׁיר׃
And the doors to the street are shut— With the noise of the hand mill growing fainter, And the song of the bird growing feebler, And all the strains of music dying down;
גַּ֣ם מִגָּבֹ֤הַּ יִרָ֙אוּ֙ וְחַתְחַתִּ֣ים בַּדֶּ֔רֶךְ וְיָנֵ֤אץ הַשָּׁקֵד֙ וְיִסְתַּבֵּ֣ל הֶֽחָגָ֔ב וְתָפֵ֖ר הָֽאֲבִיּוֹנָ֑ה כִּֽי־הֹלֵ֤ךְ הָאָדָם֙ אֶל־בֵּ֣ית עוֹלָמ֔וֹ וְסָבְב֥וּ בָשּׁ֖וּק הַסֹּפְדִֽים׃
When one is afraid of heights And there is terror on the road.— For the almond tree may blossom, The grasshopper be burdened, And the caper bush may bud again; But man sets out for his eternal abode, With mourners all around in the street.—
עַ֣ד אֲשֶׁ֤ר לֹֽא־ירחק [יֵרָתֵק֙] חֶ֣בֶל הַכֶּ֔סֶף וְתָרֻ֖ץ גֻּלַּ֣ת הַזָּהָ֑ב וְתִשָּׁ֤בֶר כַּד֙ עַל־הַמַּבּ֔וּעַ וְנָרֹ֥ץ הַגַּלְגַּ֖ל אֶל־הַבּֽוֹר׃
Before the silver cord snaps And the golden bowl crashes, The jar is shattered at the spring, And the jug is smashed at the cistern.
וְיָשֹׁ֧ב הֶעָפָ֛ר עַל־הָאָ֖רֶץ כְּשֶׁהָיָ֑ה וְהָר֣וּחַ תָּשׁ֔וּב אֶל־הָאֱלֹהִ֖ים אֲשֶׁ֥ר נְתָנָֽהּ׃
And the dust returns to the ground As it was, And the lifebreath returns to God Who bestowed it...Remember your Creator in the days of your youth, before the days of evil come, and years arrive, about which you will say, "I have no desire in them."It is commonly said that "Youth is wasted on the young."! If only we could roll back the clock and return to our youth with the knowledge and emunah we now posses!"Rejoice, O youth, in your childhood, and let your heart bring you cheer in the days of your youth, and go in the ways of your heart, and in the sight of your eyes, but know that for all these God will bring you to judgment."Alas most youths, and most seniors for that matter, are seemingly incapable of understanding this foundational truth. We will each give an accounting for the choices we make. Our decisions at the present moment directly impact our future, both individually and collectively. All our actions are vain if they do not strengthen our emunah! (Ecclesiastes 1:2-11)
Skipping forward, concerning 12:1 our Sage Rashi notes the following:There [at Avot 3:1] we learned: Akabia the son of Mahalalel says: Reflect upon three things etc. And he derived it from this verse: And remember your Creator, that you will give an accounting and reckoning before Him; and remember your pit, your grave, a place of earth, maggots, and worms; and remember your well, the well that flows from its source: that is the putrid droplet of seed and semen."Without advancing the soul physical life is meaningless, only "a putrid droplet of seed and semen." With the soul however the body is a sacred carrier, a vehicle of righteousness.
Our Tradition holds that life has a certain rhythm and purpose to it. As we go through our lives we are held accountable for the decisions we make. Like spiritual musicians we are expected to make mistakes, however to work to perfect our performances as we develop Hence we say, "Don't let the perfect defeat the good." In truth our mortal lives are like fleeting specks of dust on an eternal breeze, however those who remember the Creator and who work on their own development are blessed, both in their youth and in their old age. They alone understand that the "breeze" that carries them is in truth the ruach hakodesh, the inspiration of HaShem drawing us ever forward to our true destination, devekut or attachment to the Holy One. Once anchored in that consciousness the soul achieves the true freedom and joy of the tzadikim (or holy, enlightened ones of, as Ramchal describes it, the Perfected Community).Before the sun, the light, the moon, and the stars darken, and the clouds return after the rain.This references the 'light of knowledge' within the pineal gland, in the forehead, at various stages of development (as the sun, as the moon which reflects the sun, as the stars and so on. From the point between our eyes, to the rear of the forehead, HaShem kindles the light of vigor that shines brightly during youth through the eyes and ones diverse activities, but which gradually weakens and dulls as we age. This inner light of higher consciousness dims and finally ceases to shine as we leave physical existence.
As stated at Tehillim 92:14-16 however, "Planted in the house of the Lord, in the courts of our God they will flourish. They will yet grow in old age; fat and fresh will they be." Why is this? It is "To declare that the Lord is upright, my rock in Whom there is no injustice" (Tehillim 92:16). Consider also Tehillim 30:9.On the day that the keepers of the house tremble, and the mighty men are seized by cramps, and the grinders cease since they have become few, and those who look out of the windows become darkened.These "keepers of the house" are the ribs and the flanks that protect our physical 'house'. As we age these weaken. Cramps and other bodily distractions demand our attention. Our eyes and minds weaken and we become forgetful. Our weakening short term memories, concentration, and attention spans limit our abilities to hold onto to what we study. So many difficulties arise. Rashi also identifies this with the physical nose. This suggests that those who have not been recognized as people of character while their vigor was strong find it increasingly difficult to become such now as their vigor withdraws.
This line of thoughtful comparison continues through verse five. Then comes a very mysterious and often discussed text:Before the silver cord snaps, and the golden fountain is shattered, and the pitcher breaks at the fountain, and the wheel falls shattered into the pit. And the dust returns to the earth as it was, and the spirit returns to God, Who gave it.On a primary level the "silver cord" refers to the spinal cord as stated plainly by Rashi and other of our sages. The context and certain of our mystical schools add to this that energies exist throughout creation including within the body. These energies may be likened to translucent luminous fibers. As alluded to in Ya'akov's experiences with the ladder to Shamayim (i.e. the heavens), these luminous fibers carry divine messages in the form of diverse energies to and fro, upward and downward through the existing systems.
By the Will of HaShem (Highest Wisdom) these eternally existing luminous fibers, which have their being in the Ohr Kodesh or Light of creation, arise from and are 'fed' by the lower fires of vigor, which is to say, the passions. Vigor, which is so powerful among the young, feeds the upper fires of Higher Consciousness, physically associated with the penial gland of the body. Those who utilize this power while young attain amazing things. As the fires of vigor subside with age however, so too does the vitality of the luminous fibers.
Rashi teaches us that the physical spine is "white as silver." Likewise are the luminous fibers that travel along it. Once physical death occurs "its marrow diminishes and empties out and dries, becoming crooked within the vertebrae." Then the spine becomes like a silver chain. Burial is done as quickly after physical death as possible in part so as to loosen the soul from this binding chain, freeing the soul to continue its journey towards devekut.
As physical death approaches the "golden fountain" is shattered. This refers to the male sex organ which emits a flow of water (urine) like a fountain. Further, the male organ is the vehicle that dispenses life in potential (pending conception). From the testes arise the vigor (and seed) used by the vehicle through which all future generations arise and thus enables a vital mitzvah to be fulfilled, that male Jews should father children with Jewish wives. In youth this 'fountain' flows strongly but in old age it often produces but a trickle and may even lose its ability to produce seed.
As described at Joshua 15:19: "And she said, "Give me sustenance, for you have given me an arid land; give me also springs of water." And he gave her the upper springs and the nether springs." Onkelos explains that this "arid land" references the pointless desires of youth. Rather, we are to desire with full passion the upper springs and the nether springs of Torah. These springs waters all the earth.
The 'upper springs' shatter the lower vessels of those devoid of spiritually. In other words, those who regularly bathe their consciousness in HaShem's Presence defeat their lower desires and advance spiritually.
The "pitcher breaks at the fountain" refers to the stomach and the lower gluttonous desires. As with misapplied carnal desires, the stomach is depicted as being 'thick and splits upon death'. For those who forget HaShem and our Covenant, gluttonous desires for rich foods and taking in more than is needed may seem to be the measure of success however this delusion is shattered by diabetes and other such ailments and finally by physically death. Such desires only harm us, both physically and spiritually.
The reference to the "wheel falls shattered into the pit" reveals that upon death the various desires of the eye are shattered and only the truth of Torah remains. We are more than these physical bodies and its various appetites. These must be controlled and utilized wisely for the good of the soul and its path towards devekut (attachment to HaShem). That which once drew upon contaminated waters seeking to satisfy physical thirst and desires fails. Neither the physical body nor the soul will achieve its desire through that path. The body returns to the dust of the earth. At the same however, through proper utilization of this life both the soul and body can transcend this causal existence and achieved Devekut.
There are of course various interpretations for each of the symbols in this chapter. What I have shared here however is a generally accepted overview and in harmony with the teachings of Rashi and others significant Jewish sages. Deeper interpretations also exist. They are typically harmonious with what I have shared here.
Ultimate Redemption requires the elevation of both the body and the soul. History however demonstrates our apparent inability to achieve this goal. How then can we achieve the final Redemption?
Gilgul Neshamot or "the Rolling of Souls" answers this challenge. This is the topic of part two of this lesson.
Points to Consider:
1: According to Jewish Midrash eight people went to Gan Eden without tasting death:
Elijah (II Kings 2, 11)
Serach, the daughter of Asher – one of the sons of Jacob (Kallah Rabbati 3:23; Masekhet Derekh Erez, 1:18; for the various traditions, see L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, vol. 5, chap. 18, 95–96, n. 67).)
Enoch (Genesis 5:22–24)
Eliezer, the servant of Abraham (Kallah Rabbati 3:23; Masekhet Derekh Erez, 1:18; for the various traditions, see L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, vol. 5, chap. 18, 95–96, n. 67).)
Hiram, king of Tyre (Kallah Rabbati 3:23; Masekhet Derekh Erez, 1:18; for the various traditions, see L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, vol. 5, chap. 18, 95–96, n. 67).)
Ebed-Melech, the Ethiopian (Kallah Rabbati 3:23; Masekhet Derekh Erez, 1:18; for the various traditions, see L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, vol. 5, chap. 18, 95–96, n. 67).)
Jaabez, the son of Rabbi Yehudah ha-Nasi (Kallah Rabbati 3:23; Masekhet Derekh Erez, 1:18; for the various traditions, see L. Ginzberg, Legends of the Jews, vol. 5, chap. 18, 95–96, n. 67).)
Bithiah, the daughter of Pharaoh ("Bithiah". JewishEncyclopedia.com. Retrieved 2014-03-05.)
See also JWA.org for more information.
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