Ask The Rabbi

For the week ending 16 November 2002 / 11 Kislev 5763

Jewish Missionary; Reincarnation

The Color of HeavenArtscroll

Jewish Missionary?

From: A. M. in England
Dear Rabbi,
One of my work colleagues asked me yesterday why Jews do not missionize, and Christians do. To me it just seems obvious that we would not, but it is difficult to explain this intrinsic notion to him. Could you help me out?


Dear A. M.,

Jews do not missionize among non-Jews. There are two reasons for this.

First of all, we believe that when a non-Jew keeps the seven Noachide laws, he merits a portion in the World-to-Come, and therefore there is no imperative for him to become Jewish. If, like many Christians and Moslems, we believed that those of other religions are condemned to damnation, then we would also desire to convert people. However, we believe that a person can be completely righteous and merit the World-to-Come without conversion, by adhering to the basic moral laws revealed to Noach. Therefore we feel no compulsion to convert others, unless they show a true desire to convert.

Secondly, since sincerity is one of the criteria for conversion, we can determine that the candidate is sincere by discouraging him from converting. If he persists and does so for the love of Judaism, we accept him with open arms.

Reincarnation

From: H. in Florida
Dear Rabbi,
I just read on your website something about reincarnation? Are we not given only one life to live? Are we to come back from the dead in another body and correct any mistakes we made in this life? This was very confusing to me. I have never read about reincarnation in the Torah. Can you give a scriptural basis for this belief? Thank you so much for your time and effort. I read your "Ask the Rabbi" series religiously (pun intended).


Dear H.,

Reincarnation is one of the teachings of the Oral Torah. In the Written Torah there are no explicit references to reincarnation, but there are hints.

Perhaps the closest Scriptural hint to this idea is Deuteronomy 25:5-10 which says that "when brothers are on the earth at the same time, and one of them dies childless, the wife of the dead brother must not marry a man outside the family. [Rather] her brother-in-law shall come to her and perform levirate marriage with her. And he shall be the first-born whom she bears; he shall succeed to the name of his dead brother, and so the name of the dead brother shall not be erased from the people of Israel... But if he refuses to marry his sister-in-law... she shall remove his shoe... His name shall be called in Israel: ‘The house of him whose shoe was removed’."

The main reason for reincarnation is for the soul to fulfill its role in the Creation and achieve the spiritual level for which it is destined. If a soul does not manage this in its first life, it may be given another chance, and another. If the soul did not succeed in three times, it will have to settle for whatever it has gained in the everlasting afterlife.

Another reason for reincarnation is to repay a soul for its deeds in a way parallel to its sins; for example, a rich miser might be reincarnated as a poor beggar and be disregarded by a rich man, who was himself one of the paupers disregarded by the rich miser in his previous life.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, (the Arizal) writes that Moshe was a reincarnation of Adam’s third son, Sheit (Seth), and that Sheit was a reincarnation of Hevel (Abel). (The mem of Moshe’s name stands for Moshe, the shin stands for Sheit, and the heh for Hevel). The great mishnaic Sage Shamai was a reincarnation of Moshe, and Hillel was a reincarnation of Aharon.

Sources:

  1. Zohar, Mishpatim, Exodus 1:1
  2. Sha'ar Hagilgulim, Hakdama 36

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