Monday, June 26, 2017

Who Knows the Secrets of the World?

By Rabbi Yaakov Meir Schechter of Jerusalem
Part I

Translated and edited by Rabbi Eliezer Shore

This two-part selection from “In All Your Ways” (Yesod 1994), is posted is in memory of Rabbi Shore’s beloved father, Mr. Sidney Shore, alav ha-shalom, who passed away on the second day of Shavuos. We extend our condolences to Rabbi Shore, his mother, his sisters and the entire extended family. May we all share only joyous events in the future.

Rabbi Yitzchok said, “No two figs, or even grains of wheat are alike.”
Jerusalem Talmud, Sanhedrin 4:9

“Not even the leaves of a tree are alike.”
Rabbi Nachman’s Stories

It is known that scientists, having examined thousands of snowflakes, concluded that no two of them are exactly the same. Of the millions that fall upon the earth, each one has its own remarkable design. Thus God said to Job: “Have you entered into the treasuries of snow, did you see the storehouses of hail? Who has divided a watercourse for the overflow of waters?” (Job 38:22). Chazal comment on this: “I created many raindrops,” said God. “Each has it’s own distinct shape, yet I do not mistake one drop for another.”[1] If this is true of snowflakes, that melt away in an instant, how much truer is it of human beings. As Chazal said: “Just as their faces are different, so are their attitudes different.”[2] Each person is a world unto himself, unlike any other.

This becomes even clearer when we study the secrets of reincarnation. We can begin to see how the differences between people are derived from the roots of their souls, or from the influence of past lives. We learn how each person is led upon a specific path of rectification and, through this path, can attach himself to God and Torah. Then a special type of satisfaction rises to Heaven, which never existed before.

Why Should Jealousy Exist?

With this in mind, it becomes obvious that there is never any reason to become jealous, even when another person seems much more successful than ourselves. Every person’s life is directed by God, from the root of his soul in the higher worlds, down to the minutest details of this mundane one; and all that happens, even the smallest occurrence, is actually part of a larger plan, either as payment for a past deed, or as compensation towards the future. A person cannot lift a finger in this world without some profound accounting taking place above, specifically related to his life and actions.

I once saw a commentary of the Chida on the verse: “And it came to pass after two full years, that Pharaoh dreamed” (Genesis 41:1). Pharaoh, he explained, is a reference to all humanity, for a person is always in a state of pera’on—repayment—either over some past debt, or towards some future tally. For instance, a person who is successful in a particular venture may be being repaid for some good deed he has done, or for some pain that he experienced in this or a previous life. Whereas the wicked, who apparently prosper, are merely awaiting retribution. God is patient and long suffering, but if the wicked do not repent, in the end, they will be appropriately punished. If a person suffers in life, and especially if he takes pains to fulfill a mitzvah, he will eventually be repaid. God does not withhold His reward from any creature.[3] He knows the secret workings of creation and, to Him, everything is just and clear. There is simply no reason to be jealous. Whatever happens, even a person’s strong points, stems from the very root of the soul, or from previous lives.

Former Abilities

Rabbi Yosef Vital, the father of Rabbi Chaim Vital, was one of the outstanding scribes of his generation. The Arizal declared that half the world was sustained by the merit of the perfect tefillin that he wrote. Sefer HaGilgulim states that Rabbi Yosef’s soul was derived from the soul of the holy Tanna, Rabbi Meir Baal HaNess, who was also a great scribe of his time. It further states that the soul of Rabbi Shmuel Vital, the son of Rabbi Chaim Vital, came from that of his grandfather.[4] He too had a gift for writing, and almost all the works of the Arizal were actually transcribed by R. Shmuel Vital, at his father’s dictation.

Kabbalistic texts identify many such examples of talents recurring in successive lives. In general, when a person. studies the teachings of reincarnation, many apparently bewildering statements of Chazal become clear. Likewise, processes in creation that would otherwise be completely incomprehensible are clarified.[5] The study of reincarnation is one of the fundamental tools for answering difficult problems in the Torah.

Success in Your Father’s Trade

With this, we can understand a puzzling statement of the Talmud: that a person should take up his father’s trade.[6] Yet, many times, the son’s success obviously lies in a different profession. According to the Zohar, “Father” actually refers to one’s first incarnation, while all subsequent incarnations are called “sons.”[7] When the Talmud says that a person’s success lies in his father’s trade, it means that one’s greatest achievements will come when one acts in accordance with one’s previous lives.

An Amazing Story about Rav Yehuda of Modenah

The Chida wrote the following tale about Rabbi Yehuda Aryeh of Modenah, one of the rabbis of Venice, a grammarian, poet and speaker, and author of HaBoneh, a commentary on Ein Yaakov.

“Rav Yehuda wrote that, at first, he did not believe in reincarnation (for the writings of the Arizal had not yet reached his part of the world). It happened that his neighbor had a son. Within a month of the birth, the child became seriously ill and, five months later, neared his end. The neighbor called Rav Yehuda to come and recite the necessary verses as the child’s soul departed (as was the custom in Italy). Rav Yehuda saw that the child was indeed dying and read a few verses of Psalms. Suddenly, the child opened his eyes and said, “Shema Yisroel—Hear 0 Israel, the Lord is our God, the Lord is One,” and passed away on the word “Echod‑One.” It was an amazing thing! From that moment on, Rav Yehuda believed in reincarnation. With his own eyes, he saw a child of six months recite the Shema with the clarity and pronunciation of an adult. [The Chida continues] I saw these words in his own handwriting.”[8]

Until that moment, it was difficult for Rav Yehuda to understand why the child had to suffer. In fact, without the knowledge of reincarnation, there was no explanation. But heaven saved him from error, and arranged for him to be there when the child cried out. Then everyone realized that no simple matter was going on here. Hidden things were being worked out from previous lives.

Memory of Past Lives

Sometimes a person learns a foreign language or a particular skill with such speed and retention that he soon surpasses his teacher. Meanwhile, his friend proves successful in a completely different area. Again, this is related to past lives. Perhaps he already spoke this language or worked in this field once before, and is only now remembering what he already knew. This is also true in Torah study. One person may learn the entire Talmud easily, while his friend, apparently equal in his ability and desire to learn, progresses only with the greatest difficulty. The first person may have already toiled at the Talmud in a past life until he broke the “learning barrier.” Now his job is to study ten times harder. The second person, on the other hand, is studying the material for the first time.

The Arizal said that his contemporary, the great Rabbi Yosef Karo, author of the Beis Yosef and the Shulchan Oruch, had a soul derived from that of Rabbi Yehuda bar Iloy, one of the major Tannaim of the Mishnah.[9] I saw an interesting commentary on this (from the Chida, I believe). The Talmud says: “On all occasions, Rabbi Yehuda bar Iloy was the first to voice his opinion.”[10] Even today, whenever a question of halacha arises, the first place a person loks is the Shulchan Oruch—by Rabbi Yosef Karo! Only afterwards does one consider other authorities.

If we understand the secrets of reincarnation, then jealousy and selfishness could not exist. We would realize that each person’s life is as different from another’s as day is from night.

[1] Bava Basra 16a.
[2] Talmud Yerushalmi, Brochos 9:1.
[3] Bava Kama 38b; Nazir 23b; Pesachim 118a.
[4] Sefer HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 39, p. 59a
[5] See the introduction to Seder HaDoros.
[6] Archin 16b.
[7] As the Zohar explains the verse: “He visits the sins of the fathers on the children until the third and fourth generation” (Exodus 20:5); Zohar 2:91b. See also Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Hakdamah 4 and 5.
[8] Shem HaGedolim, section 10.
[9] Quoted in Shem HaGedolim by the Chida, section 10:165, in the name of Rabbi Chaim Vital. Rav Yehuda was a student of Rabbi Akiva, as explained above.
[10] Brochos 63b.

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