There is a concept in Jewish mystical thought known as gilgul, which can be translated as reincarnation. Gilgul does not necessarily mean that a soul in its entirety has been reincarnated; it may only be a nitzotz, or spark of a soul, that is reincarnated. That is to say that an individual can possess a nitzotz from the soul of someone who has lived previously. Gilgul occurs when the preceding incarnation of that soul has more to accomplish.
Rabbi Menashe Ben Israel of the 17th century writes that the word, gilgul, in Hebrew letters equals the numerical value of 72, which is also chesed, the Hebrew word for kindness. When this type of numerical connection occurs,it implies a conceptual relationship. In this case, reincarnation is seen as the ultimate kindness, in that a soul is given another chance for the refinement of its past and the spiritual advancement of its future.
Ultimately, a soul can never fail. To succeed, the soul will come back as many times as necessary to fulfill its spiritual mission. This is the view of the Kabbalists, who call the process of the soul’s returning for the purpose of rectification tikkun, or repair. Sometimes it is discussed as the birur hisaron, or the clearing of a shortcoming.
If greatness is your soul’s destiny, then to achieve it, it’s only logical that you have a plan. Just as you would not head off to college without knowing about the school you’ll be attending, souls do not randomly incarnate into this world. Rather, souls arrive with a very specific curriculum containing both goals and challenges. Your parents are a big part of that program.
It is in this respect that the Hasidic master Rabbi Yisrael of Rhizin teaches that our souls choose our parents. While the reasons for a soul’s choice of parents will vary, it is always significant. Reasons can include past life relationships, or simply the conducive environment that the parents can provide for the soul in achieving its overall goal.
In a broad sense, your parents are the guarantors of your mission. How this works is different in every case. One possibility is that your parents will provide positive mentoring, as guides and as a support system. Another is the opposite – that they will model for you what you do not want to become and thus clarify the positive direction in which you need to go. The key is to know that directly or indirectly, your parents create the fire behind your passion to grow toward your spiritual advancement.
Here is an exercise to help you find out what your purpose is in this world and what role your parents are playing in it. Ask yourself these three questions:
1. Regardless of what I do for a living and what my obligations are, what is the theme that most obviously is pushing my soul forward in life, day after day?
2. What is the one theme that best describes the force pulling my soul off track day after day?
3. What role have my parents played, directly or indirectly, in developing these themes?
Why bother looking at these themes at all? Because through them we can discover the real reason we chose to come here this time around, and as an added bonus, we may discover why we chose our parents to raise us. Ultimately, the biblical commandment does not obligate us to love our parents, but to honor them. Honor in Hebrew is kibbud, which literally means “to make heavy”. To honor our parents means to acknowledge them as people of tremendous worth in our pilgrimage of life. It demands effort and often requires a tolerance for emotional pain, yet it is the most dignified endeavor of an entire lifetime.
Rabbi Michael Ozair and his special guests lead OLAM Mystical Wednesdays every week at 7:30 PM at B’nai David Judea, 8906 Pico Blvd. in LA. He is also the rabbi and founder of the Happy Minyan of L.A. His last article in OLAM was “Raising the Serpent Within.” For more information, visit www.rebmichael.com