Toward a Meaningful Life with Simon
Radio Show Transcript - August 1, 1999
Dedicated by Sharon
Mike Feder: Okay, thank you very much,
Mr. Announcer. Here we are again and we are talking tonight
about Reincarnation and the Afterlife.
First of all, let me mention, before we plunge into the
program, that last week we got some really great calls,
and we want you to call again. The number to call at WEVD
is 212-244-1050. Okay, let’s start right off.
Simon Jacobson: Well, first letís say hello.
Jacobson: I must second that it was really gratifying
to hear calls come in last week.
Feder: So let me start by asking you the first question.
Jacobson: Letís plunge in as usual.
Feder: As usual. Iíll ask you straight out. Is there
an afterlife and is there a thing called reincarnation and
what is it from your point of view?
Jacobson: Okay. I remember when we were planning
this topic that I said it was going to be a heavy topic
and I do hope that it provokes many responses, but I think
I should say at the outset—I always have to begin
with my disclaimers (I do apologize for them but they’re
necessary) particularly with a topic like this—there
are certain axioms that I believe I should state for the
record because based on those premises, our discussions
can really flow from there.
Jacobson: So to begin with a disclaimer, it’s
going to be difficult to cover this topic in the allotted
time. But as we hope this show is going to be a long-term
educational process for ourselves and for the listeners,
if we set the tone and cover certain basics, we can always
do a follow-up show to embellish and elaborate. That’s
Now, regarding the issue of reincarnation and the afterlife,
I think the first thing that should be stated is that this
is built and predicated on the concept of a soul. If there’s
no soul, then there’s no afterlife and there’s
Feder: Well, your body as it is now doesn’t
go to some other place, only your soul does, right?
Jacobson: Yes. And I think I should define for myself
and for all of us how exactly we’re interpreting the
There are many different issues. What does a soul mean?
You hear the clichť today, that the soul is like spirit,
like soul music, the soul of music, or the soul of the matter.
I would say that the soul is more than just a spirit, more
than just an energy. In the context of the mystical teachings
of the Kabbalah, Jewish mysticism, the concept of a soul,
is essentially the reason for our being.
Let me give an example. When someone writes a book, the
words on the page are the body, the expression. But the
soul is the message and the vision, the feeling, the energy
of the author (or musician for that matter) that’s
between the lines. Actually, musical notes are an even better
example. Musical notes on a paper are static, inanimate.
But when you play them, something called music comes to
So to use that as a metaphor for “existence,”
you, Mike, myself, every one of us is a musical note. Our
bodies are the physical manifestation/expression of that
note, the way it looks on a page, but when we live up to
our calling, to our destiny, our soul emerges. And that
is usually not expressed or experienced in a very tangible
Feder: I was going to say, this is an intangible
Jacobson: Exactly. As music is intangible comparatively
speaking to the note on the page. The note is very tangible:
Someone will say, I see the note, but what does the music
look like? And you’ll say, you can’t see music,
you have to listen to it.
So in life I would say the same is true. You can see the
human body, the human personality, but where do you see
the soul express itself? In love, in sadness, in tears,
Feder: Maybe in the expression of art.
Jacobson: Yes. Generally in the creative energies
and experiences that are, what we call, the sublime.
So essentially, each of us has a soul. That soul is that
spirit or energy, the purpose of your being. So we can live
a “body” life, which really means you’re
driven by materialistic concerns, materialistic drives and
needs: I need to eat, I need to sleep, I need shelter, I
need to drink, I need some other physical needs.
Then there are spiritual needs, soul needs. Love, nurturing,
the need to give, to build something that’s bigger
than selfish personal gain. That essentially is the soul
being nourished. And each activity that we do, whether it’s
a meal that we eat, or how we deal with our friends or associates,
in each of those areas we have those two choices. And those
two choices are essentially between the self—those
that are materialistically driven— and those driven
by the soul and spirit, a more selfless and transcendental
Now, that being said, if we ask, for example, the question,
“What is reality?” is it our material bodies,
is it the food we eat, is it the musical note on the page?
Or is it the spirit that the note imbues us with, expresses,
when you play the music?
So in music no one will argue of course that the notes
are simply vehicles. The same would be, for instance, with
the human body. The body is just an inanimate corpse without
a spirit. So love is expressed when you have that sublime,
But because we are material human beings living in the
material universe, we can be distracted and we can live
for the here and now and neglect or forget that there is
another, let’s call it, reality.
Feder: Iíve heard some people described as ďsoullessĒ
people sometimes. No animation, no higher feelings.
Jacobson: Exactly. Like on days when you just trudge
along and you can barely lift your head. But the reason
I’m elaborating—you’ll see I’m leading
up to reincarnation and afterlife—but because of this
shroud, or ability for us to live in a very materialistic
reality, we can almost forget—because of our daily
needs for survival—that there is another reality.
But generally the concepts of souls, spirit, and by extension,
afterlife and reincarnation are very exotic and difficult
to relate to because that’s not the reality that we
see here and now. It’s not the reality of Wall St.,
it’s not the reality of vacationing, it’s not
the reality of the headlines that we read every day and
we see on TV.
Spirit is a reality that’s experienced in a completely
different environment, for which we need to create a conducive
scenario for us to be able to be receptive to it.
When you are struggling for survival, it’s very difficult
to pay attention to the sublime. Yet, clearly, the soul
is the essence of what life is really all about, and I don’t
even say this in a religious context, I say it in a human
context, a universal one, that everyone has a need for soul
experiences, transcendental experiences.
Some call it G-d, others call it art and music, or some
other form, but it’s clearly not the morass of the
Now, the connection is, of course, that once you understand
this and say “Yes, I can relate to the fact that there
is another reality called ‘soul,’ now let me
hear what that reality looks like?” This is where
we enter into a world of a discussion like this evening,
a discussion about reincarnation and afterlife.
Feder: Well, for someone who is a complete an utter
skeptic, they would say, and which they do all the time,
“Well, prove it to me. Where is the evidence?”
Jacobson: Okay. I was about to say something along
that line. I’m glad you and I think alike. And this
is a show for skeptics and seekers, and often they
overlap. We can be a skeptical seeker and a seeking skeptic.
So it’s a very legitimate question but I must say
that to really get into that requires a different discussion,
because for a show about reincarnation and afterlife, you
have to accept that the concept of soul is a given.
If you donít, then we should do a whole show about the
ďSoul Ē instead.
Feder: Okay. So letís presume today, because I believe
it enough, that thereís a soul, so now letís talk about
Jacobson: I want to add one thing. I don’t
believe that there always exists empirical evidence, mathematical
proofs for different things. But there are issues in life
that I believe of us don’t require proof and evidence
in quite the same way.
If someone says to you, ďProve to me that this investment
is going to be a good investment, or prove to me that 2+2=4
and not 5,Ē thatís one thing. But if someone says, ďProve
to me that human beings need love,Ē or ďProve to me that
we feel bad when innocent people suffer,Ē or ďProve to me
why are you feeling so sad that youíre crying about somethingĒ
-- all these are dealing with an area of life thatís sometimes
irrational and emotional, and frankly, I think intelligent
people know that asking for proofs when youíre dealing with
the sublime is like asking to see a microscopic subatomic
particle with the naked eye. Itís a different world, a different
realm, and you need different tools.
Feder: And yet almost everybody would agree about
the things you just talked about, that they are absolute
requirements to exist in the world.
Jacobson: Exactly. And therefore Iíd rather not
get into a long discussion on evidence, but suffice it with
what I just said.
Jacobson: So, with that being said, then essentially
there’s the science of materialism. The science of
materialism is the laws of economics, the laws of history,
the laws of science in general: social science, physical
science, and political science. Then there’s the science
of spirituality, the study of the soul.
The study of the soul is, in a way, as complex, if not
more complex, than the study of the body. Doctors can give
us an anatomical or physiological map of the structure of
the human being. That we know is complicated. Take the circulatory
system. Someone will say, in the circulatory system there’s
the heart: the heart beats and the blood circulates all
over the body. That sounds simple but we all know it’s
quite complicated, for example, what happens when there
Take any element in the human body, any system, and it’s
very complicated, to the point that most doctors, all knowledgeable
doctors will say that with all our knowledge, we still know
Now, Iím not even discussing the brain. So the soul too
has its own science, its own journeys. The journey of the
soul is essentially our topic of discussion here. Reincarnation
and the afterlife: the journeys and the understanding, the
science, the psyche of the soul. By understanding that,
you begin to relate to the idea of how the soul transmigrates,
where is the soul before weíre born, what happens after
Feder: So redefine quickly, so we understand what
we’re talking about: the soul is that special essence
in each person which is from the Creator, and it comes from
before you were born and it lasts after you die, right?
Jacobson: Well, Iíll summarize with an analogy.
Itís the vision of the cosmic architect called G-d in creating
us, similar to the vision of the musician internally in
his or her soul, before he or she puts down on paper the
musical notes. Because musical notes are just an expression
of a feeling, as music is a certain expression of a passion,
of a mood, of a venue and so on.
Feder: So, therefore, each soul is distinctly and
invisibly different from every other soul, right?
Jacobson: Exactly. Like every musical note. So in
that sense you can say that our bodies are the actual note
and the soul is G-d’s vision, the energy that makes
us be who we are, the essence of the human being.
Now, are we ready for step two?
Feder: Okay. The soul moves onÖ
Jacobson: Well, hereís the key, and here I ask myself,
and you, and all our listeners, to put yourself in a different
mindset than the one you are accustomed to, because itís
a prerequisite to really appreciate this.
You see, we think again in terms of the tangible. Our sensory
tools are our most dependable and primary tools: sight,
sound, taste, touch and smell. From the perspective of the
senses we can ask the question, “Where does the soul
go after it dies, after the human being dies?”
And my response is, and this is the springboard of our
discussion, “What do you mean, where does it go? You
make it sound like we are where it’s at and the soul
has to go somewhere. Maybe the soul is where it’s
at, and we go somewhere.Ē
Feder: You have to explain this.
Jacobson: Of course. But I see from your smile that
you get it somewhat. But let me explain. Where does electricity
go when an appliance is shut off, or when you pull the plug
(no pun intended)? Where does electricity go? If a child
asks that question, the parent will say that electricity
doesn’t go anywhere. It goes back to its natural environment,
which is everywhere. On the contrary, electricity was with
us from the beginning of time, and at some point in history,
human beings just learned to tap it, whether it was an accident,
or from one of the different legends…Benjamin Franklin
with the kite and the lightning, whatever it may be.
We then learned that there’s a power in the air,
so to speak, called electricity. We learned to build generators.
We learned to tap that electricity, to generate it, to transmit
it through wires, and bring it to homes and cities and light
up our homes and energize appliances.
Feder: We also learned how to turn it on and off.
Jacobson: Exactly. But what do you mean by turning
it on and off? You’re not destroying electricity when
you turn it off, it’s just that the circuit is closed
so the electricity doesn’t continue to flow in your
direction. It’s as if you built a dam and didn’t
allow the water flow, the electric current to continue.
Feder: But itís still there.
Jacobson: Right. Exactly. So what happens is as
follows: you plug something in to an outlet, you turn on
a switch, the circuit is now open and the current can flow
through, and it energizes the light bulb which is now shining.
The air conditioner is on, the refrigerator is cooling.
You shut off the switch or you pull the plug and essentially
electricity goes back to its natural state, which is in
a very “non-tangible” state, and it is now not
energizing this particular appliance.
So now letís apply the analogy to the soul and body. And
I beg you to indulge me: the soul is not like electricity
but itís a similar idea.
The soul is a form of energy, upon conception, upon birth,
the† body, which is the appliance, is now suddenly connected
to the circuit, to this electric current. The flow enters
the body, the body is vivified and energized, and lives
its life. Upon death, what happens is essentially the equivalent
of the switch being shut, where the body ceases to be connected
to that flow of energy.
So the soul goes back to its essential state before it
entered this appliance or box called the body.
Feder: And what is that state?
Jacobson: Okay. The thing is, the more spiritual
we are, the more we can relate to that state. But clearly,
it’s a state of being that is difficult for us to
relate to because and while we are in the box. When you
are here in the appliance, think of it from the perspective
of the refrigerator. The refrigerator will ask you (meaning
electricity—obviously I’m speaking here in metaphor),
“What are you? Where are you? I understand when you
enter me and you allow me to cool and I can cool the food
that I carry inside of me. Or I light up the room as a lightbulb.
But where are you?”
The answer is, Iím in a different world than you are, and
we donít really communicate. The only place where we have
some interaction is when I enter you, and you see me through
the evidence of my expression. You see that youíre alive.
The difference between a corpse, G-d forbid, and a live
body—even if the corpse is completely intact: eyes,
ears, a heart and a brain—is that it does not have
that electric flow called the soul or the spirit.
So itís hard for us, people of bodies and people of the
material world, to really fully comprehend that existence.
That is precisely why reincarnation and afterlife are very
exotic and non-spatial and difficult concepts to relate
to. And thatís also one of the reasons that when it is discussed,
itís always discussed by people who are familiar with the
topics with the disclaimers that this requires a good understanding
of souls and spirituality. You shouldnít just jump into
Now, for most of us, we often hear someone say, “Okay,
reincarnation. Great. What was I in a previous life? Was
I a frog, a caterpillar?”
Feder: Richard Nixon? You could be anything, right?
But listen, let’s take it for granted that the people
who are listening now, and myself included, all have the
faith that this exists—let’s make the leap of
faith—and then we can go on to just say, where is
the soul before and where does it go after?
Jacobson: No, no. I intend to discuss it. But to
tell you the truth, when I speak about this, I don’t
feel like I am educating others, I’m speaking also
to myself when I say this.
Feder: Or asking a question out loud.
Jacobson: Right. Itís like thinking out loud. Iím
always trying to relate to a world where, remember, when
you look around, you see a room, you see chairs, you see
people, you see bodies. You see materialism. And you can
sense something more, but itís always something elusive,
so I speak to myself as well when I say itís not something
that you can easily travel in.
Feder: You know, maybe unfortunately, the first
time that I ever really believed absolutely that there was
something called the soul is when my mother died, and I
went to see her, and there was her body. She had just died
a couple of hours before. And I looked at her body and I
realized that whatever it was that was essentially her was
absolutely gone. And it was the lack of something, the missing
quality, that made me realize that that thing existed, if
you understand what I mean.
Jacobson: For sure. Because what you loved in your
mother was not her eyes and her arms and her legs, it was
Feder: But it was so totally gone that I realized
it must have been some kind of special essence. And it was
the first time I ever realized that. Maybe other people
have had that experience.
Jacobson: Okay, so what youíre saying really testifies
and demonstrates the point I made, that you needed to actually
Feder: In front of me with my own eyes…
Jacobson: And the truth is, I hope we all can appreciate
this in life and not have to wait to see it in death. In
other words, when you look at someone you love, and they’re
lying there or they’re awake, but they’re here
alive with us, that appreciation, what you are loving, is
not just a body, it’s not just arms and legs, it’s
not just their limbs and organs. You’re talking about
a person, a contributor, a person who has a special unique
musical note, essentially. You love the musical note that
they’re playing, and even when the music isn’t
always perfect or something irritates you, it’s the
person you love, it’s not just their actions, not
just the sum of the parts. It’s something that every
one of us knows is not tangible.
You know how profound love can be. You can’t even
point your finger at it. What do you really love in the
person? Is it their eyes, is it their physical body, is
it their mind, their heart?
Feder: Itís almost impossible to express that.
Jacobson: Exactly. That would be the best example
of us entering that soul world. But the thing is, it does
remain hard to articulate, because you hug the person or
in some other way embrace them, and for you, that’s
an expression of love, you don’t need to analyze it
with your mind and say, “What exactly is this?”
That’s also the point. It’s not even necessary
for us to understand it fully.
Yet that doesnít mean we donít discuss it, because we do
want to educate ourselves in a way that we rise to the occasion.
Feder: It seems ironic to me that oddly enough,
the things that are the most intangible, the things that
have the least evidence, are the things that people talk
about more than anything else.
Jacobson: The things that are most real to us are
the things that are the hardest to articulate. That’s
the law of human nature.
Feder: So letís talk about something that is easy
to articulate, which is that you are listening to Rabbi
Simon Jacobson, and this is Toward a Meaningful Life
with Simon Jacobson. My name is Mike Feder and we’re
here every Sunday night from 6-7pm and you’re listening
to WEVD, 1050AM in New York City.
This show is an outgrowth of the Meaningful Life Center
in Brooklyn, and this show is also based very much on Rabbi
Jacobson’s book called Toward a Meaningful Life,
in which almost every subject that you hear discussed
on the air here is discussed in the book.
We really want to thank everyone who has emailed us or
written or called us. Here are some of the ways you can
get in touch with us, and we want to hear from you. The
most important thing is the telephone number: 1-800-3MEANING
or 1-800-363-2646. You can also email us at firstname.lastname@example.org. You can always write to
us at The Meaningful Life Center, 788 Eastern Parkway, Suite
303, Brooklyn, NY 11225.
Iíd like to also tell you that we have a new website where
you can download transcripts of this program, and previous
and future programs. Itís www.meaningfullife.com.
Let us move on. Say whatever you have to say, otherwise
I have some questions I want to ask you.
Jacobson: I do want to say one thing about afterlife
and reincarnation that may preempt your questions or may
lead to them. After this preface, I do want to get to the
heart, or meat of the thing: “Where’s the beef?”
as they say.
So to sum up, the soulís transmigrations, or the understanding
of that spiritual reality, essentially, allows one to really
relate to the concept of afterlife. So the question was
asked, where does the soul go after death?
And my answer was, it doesnít go anywhere. It essentially
goes back to its initial state, and for a while, in between
birth and death, it energized the appliance, the box called
the body, which was energized by the soul.
Now, of course, itís not like just turning the clock back,
life will never be the same. Because once the soul did enter
the body, and they did live together, and they did good
deeds, and mitzvos, which means they fulfilled G-dís† Will
for them, body and soul together, they are partners forever.
And in some way, which is really another discussion but
part of this one in a way, they even remain connected after
Feder: Thatís something that obviously needs more
Jacobson: But I want to say this. Really, I would
change the word “afterlife.” I would say what
happens as the soul’s life continues.
Feder: The life of the soul continues, even if that
of the body doesn’t.
Jacobson: Correct. So afterlife essentially means
that life continues but on another dimension. Now
the soul continues to travel on its own journey, but it
has been transformed by the experience that it had together
with the body.
Feder: Oh, now thatís interesting.
Jacobson: Okay, so with electricity, for instance,
electricity leaves the appliance but the electricity doesn’t
change. The appliance may change. But the electricity just
goes back to its natural state. It is dispassionate and
impersonal and is unaffected by the time that it energized
the light bulb.
Feder: But the soul has been changed or adjusted
or altered in some way by its encounter with your body as
it moves ahead in its journey.
Jacobson: In both ways. If a person lived up to
his or her destiny, the soul is enriched and empowered,
and you could even say more, that it has been actualized.
Because look at the soul (now I’m going beyond the
electricity analogy) the soul is like a reservoir of resources
In a personís life, when you allow that potential to actualize
itself through love, through giving, through graciousness,
through kindness, the soul is actually ďexercised.Ē Itís
like any talent. You can have a muscle, but if you donít
use it, it will atrophy. Itís the same with the soul. When
you donít use that resource called love, or that resource
called compassion, what happens is the soul remains untapped
and therefore in some way stagnates.
In other words, when you stretch out your arm to lend a
helping hand, or you walk somewhere to visit a sick person,
or you speak nicely, kindly, you give good advice, or any
other way that you’ve used your appliance called the
body to express soul experiences, the soul is then nourished
by that and is exercised and cultivated.
Feder: So youíre implying then that there is a purification
or almost an upward journey that the soul can take, or it
can even go down.
Jacobson: Precisely. If the soul, for example, was
used by the body in a negative way, let’s say someone
used their mind or heart to hurt someone else, they used
their ingenuity to be destructive, or they used their arm
to raise it against a friend or a stranger. Or they used
their mouth to libel someone or to hurt someone. Then what
happens is the soul, in a sense, is negatively influenced
and impacted by it. Mind you, not the essence of the soul,
but definitely many of its forms of expression have been
affected by the, so to speak, body’s misuse of that
Now, interestingly, the word in Hebrew for reincarnation
is gilgul. Gilgul means a cycle. The word galgil
in Hebrew means a wheel. This alludes to the fact that
the journey of the soul continues on. If the soul has not
fulfilled its calling, if that musical note did not play
its music fully or completely or in some way played some
distorted music, it then needs to return to this world again
to complete, fulfill, complement, or in some other way,
correct or repair what was missing.
So, in a sense, the science of gilgul, the science
of reincarnation, is a spiritual immune system so to speak
that makes sure that the soul will continue to transmigrate
and go through its journeys and return to this world. That’s
why you find in many cases—from the holy AriZal
and the Kabbalahósituations where a person may come back
to do just one mitzvah, one good deed that they missed
in a previous life. They return and are given a new opportunity
and once they accomplished the mitzvah, the soul achieves
peace because the wheel, the cycle is complete.
That is essentially, in brief, the concept of reincarnation.
Feder: Okay, we have a caller. Allen from New Jersey.
You’re on the air.
Caller: Can you explain please, Rabbi, the concept
of the luz, the bone in the body that’s responsible
for reincarnation, and also how the soul and body will reunite
in the future?
Jacobson: Very good questions, Allen.
Feder: Youíll have to explain that word.
Jacobson: Luz. Luz is a word in Hebrew.
It’s called the “etzem luzĒ which refers
to a bone, and there are two opinions as to which bone that
is: some say itís the top of the spine, and some say that
itís the bottom of the spine. Itís a bone that even after
the body decomposes and deteriorates in the earth, the Talmud
says that that bone always remains intact. And the reason
being, itís almost a testimony, a witness to eternity. Even
the body continues on, remains somewhat intact, because
this refers to the concept that Allen was referring to which
is resurrection, which really is an extension of reincarnation,
the belief that because the soul and body did live a life
together in this world, there is a belief in Judaism that
one day they will reunite and live on together.
Feder: In which case, part of that body would have
to be preserved, right?
Jacobson: Exactly. So the Talmud says that this
luz bone will be the basis upon which the rest of
the body will be rebuilt. Actually, I must say as a footnote,
particularly for the skeptics, I don’t know about
Feder: Youíre talking to one right now, because
I find this one a hard one.
Jacobson: Well, Mike, thatís why we need to dedicate
another show to resurrection, but Iíll say this. There was
a book last year that was about resurrection and science,
and essentially, even the idea today of cloning DNA is not
so strange (Jurassic Park was based on that), but medicine
and science do not preclude the possibility that we will
be able to extract that DNA from even a hair follicle and
reconstruct and rebuild a life through that. So itís not
as wild as it sounds.
But I must say, we should really dedicate a different show
to that because otherwise, we’ll really go off on
a tangent here. And that’s why I prefaced this by
saying that this show will lead to more questions than answers.
Feder: Well, speaking of questions, we do have one
person who’s been holding on for quite a while. Okay,
we have Angel from New Jersey.
Caller: Yes, good evening, Rabbi. The question I
have is, in my reading of the Old Testament up until King
Saul’s time, I had the impression that after the body
dies, the essence of the person goes to rest, and that everybody
thought that that was it. There was nothing that was going
to happen afterwards. And I was wondering where the idea
of reincarnation came from.
Feder: In other words, where in the Scripture or
in the books does it appear first?
Jacobson: Very fair question, Angel. The truth is,
there are opinions and questions about where the idea of
reincarnation originates from, because in the Talmud you
don’t find any direct reference (although there are
many allusions). But essentially, even when there are differences
of opinions among the Sages, ultimately there are usually
trusted authorities that are relied upon. Essentially, the
Kabbalists are the experts and authorities† who can talk
about gilgul. Those who deal with halachah, or
the laws, deal with the legal aspects, and gilguls or
reincarnation doesnít necessarily have legal applications
Feder: Youíre losing me a bit here with the legal
Jacobson: What Iím trying to say is that ultimately
we rely upon the authorities, from a Jewish perspective,
and these are the Kabbalists, Jewish mystics, who
talk about the gilgul, and primarily I mentioned
the Zohar, the Book of Splendor, the classical text
of Jewish mysticism, authored by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai,
who has an entire section in the chapter of Mishpatim
(the chapter in Exodus called Mishpatim), where he talks
at length about what he calls Toras hagilgul, the
Torah or the science, the study of reincarnation.
Now, the reference in the actual Bible is obviously based
on the concept of the soul. How does G-d create man, meaning
Adam and Eve? “And He blew” and imbued or instilled
a breath into the earth, and that created the human being.
So clearly, that breath of energy, that breath of life
is not something that was created at that moment, clearly
it is a spiritual nature, and doesn’t disappear after
a person dies.
Feder: Is that another word for the soul then, that
Jacobson: Thatís what it is in Hebrew. Nishmas
chaim means the breath, the breath of life. Remember
that in Hebrew neshamah (soul) is the same word as
breath actually. So essentially the concept of a soul is
clearly referred to in the Bible.
Now the concept of reward and punishment is also based
on the fact that if a human being has a relationship with
G-d, and to simply say that that relationship ends upon
death is essentially negating the whole idea of achieving
something eternal from what we accomplish on this earth.
Feder: When you say ďreward and punishment,Ē are
you referring to the upward and/or downward journey of the
Jacobson: Precisely. Iím also referring to the idea
that when you do a good deed in this world, Mike, something
lives on forever, itís not just while youíre here.
Feder: And if you do a bad deed?
Jacobson: Itís exactly the same. Youíve done something
that needs to be repaired. With a bad deed, we say that
it goes on forever until itís repaired, because obviously
the goal is to have a second chance which is the concept,
again, of reincarnation.
But the questions are really good and I must say, and I
hope you’ll mention, that I invite Angel and Allen
and all the listeners to look up the show, once it’s
a transcript on the website, and continue to ask questions…
I think reading the transcripts on the website is a great
opportunity, particularly on a topic like this which is
so dense, to understand the basics of these concepts, and
I invite the listeners to visit the website and follow up
with more in-depth questions (I’ll be happy to answer
individual questions on line and perhaps we can create a
follow-up show) but both Allen and Angels’ questions
were very good questions.
Feder: Let me ask you a question which follows the
path that we’re taking. When you were talking about
the transmigration of souls, the movement of a soul from
one body to another level, or another body which is reincarnation,
this is a question a lot of people ask and wonder about.
Does a soul have a remembrance or recognition of itself
in a former incarnation? Like when I die and am reincarnated
and my soul goes to another place, do I know it’s
me and do I remember what I was like and what I’m
all about and what my lesson is to be?
Jacobson: Excellent question. Iím glad you asked
that, as always, because it follows from where we were.
Now, I want to distinguish between two things. Often when
people who are interested in issues such as reincarnation,
past lives, and destiny, ask me questions, itís important
to distinguish between sensationalism and the search for
exotica, and real practical application.
Often, we human beings like the sensational, we like the
unknown, and I don’t want to analyze it or criticize
it, but I believe that this is perhaps because in a way
it absolves us of responsibility. Like if someone says they
can read your palm, or they read your stars…
Feder: Your destiny.
Jacobson: Yes. In a way itís like, ďOh this is my
destiny.Ē So itís an excuse to say that Iím not completely
responsible. Thatís why when you go to a true Kabbalist,
a true mystic he will refuse to reply to a sensational question
or one that comes merely out of curiosity. (Iíve often made
the statement that the people who really know, donít say,
and the people who say, donít know, usually) because someone
who really knows is very wary and very skeptical that this
shouldnít be used or abused.
Like someone will say, Okay, can you tell me where I reincarnated?
Now a person who really knows that answer will usually not
answer because the real question would be, why is it important
for you to know? To make you a better person? Would you
become more responsible? Would you be able to resolve issues
you carry with other people
Now, in certain exceptions thi information will be shared
if the person who’s asking the question is responsible
and will definitely use it in a positive way. But if it’s
just to satisfy some type of curiosity, then there is no
legitimate reason to get into it.
Feder: Well, itís like these psychic hotlines on
TV that you see all the time. Will I get a new watch next
week? Will I get a raise? Will my boyfriend this that and
the other thing.
Jacobson: In Judaism, weíre very careful and respectful
of human dignity and responsibility, and this means that
youíre responsible for your life. So we shouldnít over-rely
on reincarnation and the concept of soul alone, but rather,
it ultimately comes down to: are you going to live a better
life? What kind of person are you going to be?
But with that qualification, I will say the following:
Thereís no doubt that the effects of the soul in the previous
lifetime or letís say its journeys on the path, definitely
have an impact on our lives today.
It may be an impact on our personality, on opportunities
that come our way, in the way you deal with problems. It’s
not necessarily coming from that place, because clearly
according to the nurture/nature argument, there are many
factors that shape us.
Feder: So what youíre saying is that the essence
of my soul, or whatever it was before it entered
my body and became my life, will affect who I am?
Jacobson: To some extent. There are several factors
that shape who you are. One, of course, is your genes, your
genetic make-up, which are your parents. Now that, of course,
is also complicated, because often you see that these things
can skip generations, for example, if you have a red-headed
grandfather and red hair has skipped a generation.
So clearly genetics is complicated, it’s not just
black or white.
Now, the second thing that impacts who you are, of course,
is nurture: your education, the attitudes, for good or for
bad, that you had in your environment, in your home, in
your schooling, and so on.
In addition to all of that, there are definitely elements
in the human personality, the human experiences and opportunities
that G-d may present for you. He may give you opportunities
to repair or to complement or to fulfill something you may
have missed in a previous lifetime.
So the attitude essentially would be, like the Baal Shem
Tov said in a very powerful, beautiful way, “Sometimes
the soul comes down to earth for 70 or 80 years, just to
do a favor for another person.”
Feder: For one person, in one moment.
Jacobson: In other words, the concept of reincarnation,
when it comes down to the practical, is developing the sensitivity
we have to have every moment for every opportunity that
comes your way.
You meet someone today, tonight, tomorrow, it may be a
stranger, it may be someone you know, that’s an opportunity
for you to accomplish something, And you do not know, perhaps
whether your soul came to this life for you to fulfill something
in your interaction now, some good deed, to say a good word,
to do a kind gesture, that in some way fulfills something
the soul missed in a previous part of his journey.
So itís a very powerful message.
Feder: So this is a way that I could look at my
life and transcend what might be immediate or short-sighted
suffering. If I look at all my sufferings, I can wonder
and curse it and blame it on everybody, but if I look at
all my sufferings as not a new thing, but as an opportunity
to repair something that didn’t go right the last
time, it’s a way of looking at it, right?
Jacobson: Yes. And itís a way of saying that there
is never despair, thereís always hope, always another chance.
It may not be about people, it may be the fact that you
gravitate to a certain part of nature, it may be that you
are suddenly brought to a location and you donít know why
you are there. You may have gone traveling for vacation
or for business purposes and you meet someone unexpectedly.
Itís opening your eyes to possibilities and horizons, so
So though we may not be able to point our finger at where
we have reincarnated from, those opportunities, in a way,
are like the soul speaking to you, to us, saying, “You’re
here for a reason. Listen to my call. Listen to my beckoning.”
Feder: Could the reason be that you are here to
meet the particular person who you are truly to fall in
love with and then repair something that went wrong last
Jacobson: Yes. Repairing doesnít always mean that
you did something wrong. It could mean that something wasnít
completely fulfilled, consummated, or other situations.
Love is often very much that way. Love between two people
really, when itís on a profound deep levelÖ itís almost
like they feel that they knew each other somewhere. Itís
that uncanny feeling of, ďHow did that person know that
Feder: Okay, we have one more call before we have
to approach the end of the program. Caller, you’re
on the air.
Caller: My wife was sick for 36 years with cancer,
she suffered a lot. She was a tzedeikis (a righteous
woman). She passed away more than a year ago. Afterwards
I felt that she was around me. I couldn’t separate
from this feeling. I have grandchildren and great grandchildren
and they have the same name as my wife. I feel that her
soul is in these children, but the person who lived and
did good deeds, the soul lives in them, as the Rabbis explain.
That’s my feeling, what’s your opinion about
Jacobson: First of all, I want to share my feelings
of both condolence and compassion for your loss. But at
the same time for your gain, as you just described it. It’s
very powerful and a clear demonstration of what we say,
you know, when we name someone for a grandmother or a mother
or father, G-d forbid, who have passed on, or other relatives,
that naming in a way is a way of channeling the soul energy
of that person into that child’s life. Because a name
has power to it. A name is a channel for spiritual energy.
The spirit of your wife, as we know in Jewish faith, never
died. The sad part is that it is disconnected from our perception,
that we can’t see it, like there’s a curtain
that doesn’t allow us to see it, which is the sad
But when you see grandchildren and people who have been
moved and inspired and who continue the legacy…
Thereís an entire chapter in the Bible called Chayei
Sarah, ďThe Life of Sarah,Ē about the wife of Abraham,
and interestingly, when you read that chapter, the chapter
begins with her death: how she lived 127 years, how Abraham
went and bought her a plot in Hebron, and so on.
So the question is asked, her life was described in the
previous chapter. Thatís the chapter we should call
ďthe life of Sarah.Ē But why is the chapter called ďthe
life of SarahĒ after she passes? Because how do we see if
a person is truly alive? Not when theyíre walking around
biologically breathing, but when you see their eternal impact
and influence on the people they left, on Abraham, on Isaac,
in the case of Sarah.
So in a way, many people who are great moguls, who are
powerful, etc., and people tremble before them… once
they’re gone, no one remembers them, except if they
build a memorial. But there are people who, even when they’re
not here physically, their spirit is so imbued and so inspiring
to others, that you really see that their life lives then
in a way that was not apparent during their lifetime. During
their lifetime, their physical presence was there.
Feder: You know, I hate to do this, but this show
went so rapidly—I think because it’s so meaningful
and so interesting—but we are right about at the end,
and I want to say a few details that we usually say at the
end, and ask you a final question.
You are listening to Toward a Meaningful Life with
Simon Jacobson. This is Mike Feder and we thank you very
much for your calls. Write down the number, engrave it somewhere,
212-244-1050, because we want you to call in. We’re
here every Sunday from 6-7pm.
Weíd like to mention that this program is based on the
book Toward a Meaningful Life, written by Simon Jacobson
and available at bookstores everywhere. These programs are
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And also Iíd like to say before we end that we have received
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Next week weíre going to talk about a nationwide plague,
something thatís touched everybody: depression and mental
illness. And let me ask one more question before we go on:
If the spirit, the soul, is moving on an upward or purifying
path, what is its ultimate journey, or destination?
Jacobson: The ultimate destinationÖ Iíll cite a
Talmudic statement that says, ďTzadikim (righteous
people) and talmidei chochamim (Torah scholars),
true, refined human beings, don’t have peace, not
in this world and not in the World to Come.”
And let me qualify that. It doesn’t mean they have
no peace in a negative way, it means a restlessness. And
it cites a beautiful Psalm from King David that says “The
journey, the travel, is from strength to strength, from
level to level.” True spiritual journeys really never
end, and that does not mean (I don’t want to scare
any of the listeners or ourselves) that we never come to
any plateau, it means that true growth is like an infinite
journey of goodness, it’s like, when you love someone,
can you ever say “I love them to the fullest capacity?”
No, love is a continuous journey that continues on. And
in that sense, the soul always continues in its journey.
So I would not say that there’s an ultimate destination.
But the first destination is reached by our efforts,
and with our spiritual input, that when you use your options,
and opportunities, to be more spiritual instead of more
selfish, when you travel somewhere (now it’s vacation
time), when you meet people today or tomorrow, and you use
it not just for personal gain but for some spiritual growth,
that is† soul travel.
The ultimate goal, in a way, is creating a chain reaction
where people, spirits, all over the world bond with one
another, and we each allow our personal light to shine,
and connect with the light of others. In Jewish faith this
is the concept of Redemption, a personal redemption, a universal
redemption, a world where spirituality is the priority and
materialism is just a means toward that end.
And from there, you ask me where we go? It’s only
upward. Instead of being a battle between good and evil,
it should be a battle between good and better, as the Yiddish
expression goes: “If good is good, is better not better?”
Feder: Thank you very very much.
Jacobson: Thank you, Mike. See you next week.