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 let’s 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: Let’s plunge in as usual.
Feder: As usual. I’ll 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 one statement.
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 no reincarnation.
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 word “soul.”
There are many different issues. What does a soul mean? You hear the cliché 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 life.
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 way…
Feder: I was going to say, this is an intangible essence…
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, in joy…
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 dimension.
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, transcendental element.
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: I’ve heard some people described as “soulless” 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 mundane.
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 don’t, then we should do a whole show about the “Soul ” instead.
Feder: Okay. So let’s presume today, because I believe it enough, that there’s a soul, so now let’s talk about that.
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, “Prove to me that this investment is going to be a good investment, or prove to me that 2+2=4 and not 5,” that’s one thing. But if someone says, “Prove to me that human beings need love,” or “Prove to me that we feel bad when innocent people suffer,” or “Prove to me why are you feeling so sad that you’re crying about something” — all these are dealing with an area of life that’s sometimes irrational and emotional, and frankly, I think intelligent people know that asking for proofs when you’re dealing with the sublime is like asking to see a microscopic subatomic particle with the naked eye. It’s 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 I’d 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 are clogs.
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 very little.
Now, I’m 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 we’re born, what happens after we die?
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, I’ll summarize with an analogy. It’s 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 on…
Jacobson: Well, here’s 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 it’s 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.”
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 it’s 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 let’s apply the analogy to the soul and body. And I beg you to indulge me: the soul is not like electricity but it’s 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, I’m in a different world than you are, and we don’t 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 you’re 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 it’s 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 that’s also one of the reasons that when it is discussed, it’s always discussed by people who are familiar with the topics with the disclaimers that this requires a good understanding of souls and spirituality. You shouldn’t just jump into it.
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. It’s like thinking out loud. I’m 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 it’s always something elusive, so I speak to myself as well when I say it’s 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 her person.
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 you’re saying really testifies and demonstrates the point I made, that you needed to actually see that…
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: It’s 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 doesn’t mean we don’t 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 let’s 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 email@example.com. You can always write to us at The Meaningful Life Center, 788 Eastern Parkway, Suite 303, Brooklyn, NY 11225.
I’d like to also tell you that we have a new website where you can download transcripts of this program, and previous and future programs. It’s 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 soul’s 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 doesn’t 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, it’s 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-d’s 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 death.
Feder: That’s something that obviously needs more explanation.
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 that’s 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 and energy.
In a person’s life, when you allow that potential to actualize itself through love, through giving, through graciousness, through kindness, the soul is actually “exercised.” It’s like any talent. You can have a muscle, but if you don’t use it, it will atrophy. It’s the same with the soul. When you don’t 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 you’re 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 soul.
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 Kabbalah—situations 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: You’ll have to explain that word.
Jacobson: Luz. Luz is a word in Hebrew. It’s called the “etzem luz” which refers to a bone, and there are two opinions as to which bone that is: some say it’s the top of the spine, and some say that it’s the bottom of the spine. It’s 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, it’s 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 the seekers…
Feder: You’re talking to one right now, because I find this one a hard one.
Jacobson: Well, Mike, that’s why we need to dedicate another show to resurrection, but I’ll 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 it’s 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 doesn’t necessarily have legal applications or implications.
Feder: You’re losing me a bit here with the legal thing.
Jacobson: What I’m 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 breath?
Jacobson: That’s 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 “reward and punishment,” are you referring to the upward and/or downward journey of the soul after…
Jacobson: Precisely. I’m also referring to the idea that when you do a good deed in this world, Mike, something lives on forever, it’s not just while you’re here.
Feder: And if you do a bad deed?
Jacobson: It’s exactly the same. You’ve done something that needs to be repaired. With a bad deed, we say that it goes on forever until it’s 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. I’m 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, it’s 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 it’s like, “Oh this is my destiny.” So it’s an excuse to say that I’m not completely responsible. That’s 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. (I’ve often made the statement that the people who really know, don’t say, and the people who say, don’t know, usually) because someone who really knows is very wary and very skeptical that this shouldn’t 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, it’s 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, we’re very careful and respectful of human dignity and responsibility, and this means that you’re responsible for your life. So we shouldn’t 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:
There’s no doubt that the effects of the soul in the previous lifetime or let’s 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 you’re 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 it’s 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 it’s a way of saying that there is never despair, there’s 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 don’t know why you are there. You may have gone traveling for vacation or for business purposes and you meet someone unexpectedly. It’s opening your eyes to possibilities and horizons, so to speak.
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 time?
Jacobson: Yes. Repairing doesn’t always mean that you did something wrong. It could mean that something wasn’t completely fulfilled, consummated, or other situations. Love is often very much that way. Love between two people really, when it’s on a profound deep level… it’s almost like they feel that they knew each other somewhere. It’s that uncanny feeling of, “How did that person know that about me?”
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 it?
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 part.
But when you see grandchildren and people who have been moved and inspired and who continue the legacy…
There’s an entire chapter in the Bible called Chayei Sarah, “The Life of Sarah,” 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. That’s the chapter we should call “the life of Sarah.” But why is the chapter called “the life of Sarah” after she passes? Because how do we see if a person is truly alive? Not when they’re 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.
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Next week we’re going to talk about a nationwide plague, something that’s 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 destination… I’ll cite a Talmudic statement that says, “Tzadikim (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.