Gilgulim: An Overview


    By Rabbi Yair Hoffman for

    Recently, a student had asked about the concept of Gilgulim.  I promised a response, but was unable to fulfill the request.  Unfortunately, I misplaced the contact information and thus offer this short overview of the topic.

    The concept of a Neshama coming back to earth in another body was a matter of dispute among the early authorities. Rav Saadya Gaon did not accept that this was one of the methods that Hashem used for rectifying. The Ramban (see Bereishis 38:8), the Ohr HaChaim and others, of course, disagreed.  However, after the Zohar was made more public, its acceptance became more widespread.   What follows is a brief overview of the who, the what, the when, and the where of the underlying concept.

    One of the richest sources of information on the concept of Gigul is the Zohar in Parshas Mishpatim.  Decades ago, I posed a number of questions regarding these matters to several Gedolei Torah who had immersed themselves in the study of the Zohar, Kabbalah, and related Seforim.  Some had, for example, questioned the accuracy of several matters in the Kisvei HaArizal.  The statement found there that the Rambam had to return as a gilgul because he had not studied the Zohar was dismissed by many of these Gedolim.

    How could this be?

    They pointed out that the Kisvei HaArizal was actually copied over in one night from the notes of his devoted talmid, Rav Chaim Vital (1543-1620), when he went away for a Shabbos.  The room for error here, they pointed out was significant.  Other concepts are debated between the great masters of the Zohar and Kaballah.


    A neshama comes back to earth when it needs some sort of a tikkun – a rectification – big or small.  Since man has bechira chofshis – free choice, it is not necessarily a given that the rectification will take place.  At times, a neshama must return in several gilgulim over a longer period of time.

    The Tikkunei Zohar (Tikkun 70 p. 132a) writes that each Jewish Neshama must fulfill  the 248 positive Mitzvos and must observe the 365 negative commandments in order to be shalaim – whole.  Otehrwise, they must return as a gilgul.  One of my Rebbeim explained that this is one of the reasons that one should study the Taryag Mitzvos because after the destruction of the Beis HaMikdash, learning it is counted as if one has performed the Mitzvah.

    The Chofetz Chaim (Shmiras HaLashon, I, Sha’ar haZechira, Chapter 9).cites the Sefer Chareidim (chapter 7) that one who speaks lashon hara h(habitual gossiper) will come back after his death as a dog. Someone who eats treif meat or feeds it to Jews also comes back as a dog. This is alluded to in the Torah because between the prohibition against eating treif and speaking lashon harah we fine the words — “l’kelev tashlichun oso – as a dog they shall send him.  The general understanding is that treif meat should be given to a dog because they did not bark when we left Mitzrayim (see Rashi).


    Rav Chaim Vital in the introduction to his Shaar HaGilgulim (22) that even Tzaddikim can come back in a Gilgul.  Others, however, have taken issue with this.


    The Ramban in his commentary on Bereishis 38:8 in regard to Tamar, explains that the Mitzvah of the Levirate Marriage – Yibum is intricately associated with the notion of Gilgulim.


    The Sefer Chessed L’Avrohom writes that the most difficult form of a Gilgul is as a rock or stone.  The Ohr HaChaim HaKadosh writes in Bereishis 1:26 that the most difficult form is a sheretz – a creepy crawly thing.  In that same section of the introduction, Rav Chaim Vital writes that one can be a gigul in the form of water or of salt.

    Rav Chaim Vital further states (ibid) that there is often a progression that a Neshama undergoes from Mineral to Vegetable to Animal to a Speaking Individual – but on occasion the neshama can make two steps simultaneously.

    The Rikanti in Parshas Tzav writes that we do not bring Korbanos from a chaya – a non-domesticated animal, because man cannot come as a gigul of a Chaya.  Others, however dispute this idea.


    Rav Chaim Vital in the introduction to his Shaar HaGilgulim  (#36) explains that Rachav, who eventually married Yehoshua, was later Chaver the Kenite the husband of Yael.  Later, Chaver became Chana, the mother of Shmuel. So we see that Neshamos can interchange in gender when it comes to Gilgulim.


    The Zohar (parshas Emor 88b) informs us that a Neshama cannot return as a gilgul until the body is buried.  If it is determined in the Heavenly court that this Neshama’s rectification is to return as a gilgul, the Neshama undergoes anguish until that actually transpires. The Ramah MiPano  in his Sefer Gilgulei Neshamos (see Idis – her name) writes that Lot’s wife has no gilgul because she was never buried.


    Rabbi Moshe Cordevero writes (Shiur Komah under Gilgul p. 290) that the time frame under discussion could range from immediately after it is buried to several years.  We know that the Neshama of Hevel came back as Shais which was 130 years later.  His Neshama came back as Moshe Rabbeinu close to 1000 years later. The new Oz V’Hadar Mikraos Gedolos in the Biur Ohr HaChaim explains that Moshe Mem Shin Hay is the abbreviation of Hevel Shais and Moshe backward.

    According to the Arizal in Sefer HaKavanos 51a, Nadav the son of Aharon was Shimshon.  Terach was Iyov and Lavan was Bilaam. We see from all of this that the time frame can be extended for quite some time.

    It also does not necessarily mean that each person’s Neshama comes back exactly as the second person’s Neshama.  Sometimes it is just a section of the first Neshama according to many of the great Kabbalistic commentaries.


    The author can be reached at [email protected]

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    3 months ago

    I like to say that this gilgul of me does not believe in reincarnation, but maybe another one did.

    3 months ago

    Lost opportunity not mentioning the concept of Eebur.