G‑d, in His great pity for His creatures, has made thoughtful provisions so as not to totally cast out a sinner. This is why He established the principle of re-incarnation, or transmigration of souls. By allowing a soul to return to earth once more, it is given a "second chance" to rehabilitate itself and recapture its original place in the world of the spirits.

This principle of transmigration of souls is applied in three different ways, corresponding to the attributes in which our three patriarchs excelled respectively.


Some souls do not return to earth because they have to rehabilitate themselves for positive commandments neglected, or for negative commandments which they transgressed when they were on earth previously. The only reason they return to earth is in order to perform acts of kindness for the people of their respective generations. Details of this are explained in Sefer Haflia, Sefer HaTumuna and Sefer Livnat Sapir. The Torah alludes to this in the verse: "And G‑d passed over me for your sake." (Deut. 3:26) The Hebrew term for "pass over me", "avor", is compared to gilgul [reincarnation], both meaning a kind of "transfer". Moses [in the above verse] is in effect telling the Jewish people that his being transferred from this world at that time and place was for their own good. This parallels the attribute of kindness in which Abraham excelled.

Some souls are forced to undergo a second round of life in This World as…rehabilitation for sins….

Some souls are forced to undergo a second round of life in this world as a punishment, i.e. rehabilitation for sins committed in this life which cannot be atoned for in the purely spiritual regions. This is the way the King of Kings has arranged it. When one has broken a number of covenants, one may have to return to earth for each covenant one has broken during a previous life on earth.

This is the mystical dimension of the deaths of infants or small children. They obviously did not commit a sin in their most recent incarnation, yet they may have to experience death a second time to expiate having broken G‑d's covenant with Israel in a previous incarnation. All of this occurs when the sinner failed to repent properly while he lived on this earth. This is why it is appropriate even for a person who is not knowingly guilty of any major sins in his present life on earth to repent thoroughly for any sins he may have been guilty of in a previous incarnation and for which he had not then obtained forgiveness. If such a person engages in thorough repentance in this round of life on earth, the vicious circle of transmigration will be broken and his soul will find eternal rest in the Hereafter, not needing to return to life on this earth again.


A different fate awaits those who have failed to take advantage of their third round of life on earth, as we know from the words of Elihu in Job (33:29). During the first two or three incarnations the souls are reincarnated in the bodies of human beings. If they have failed to rehabilitate themselves, they will be reincarnated as "pure" animals, i.e. the kind of animals fit for consumption by Jews; their eventual fate may be reincarnation as impure animals.

G‑d arranges for the 'lost object' to be restored to its owner….

Anyone who has failed to understand Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai [the author of the above description in the Zohar] properly, believes that he explains that G‑d puts ever greater distance between Himself and the sinner. In fact, the reverse is true; G‑d arranges for the "lost object" to be restored to its owner. This kind of reincarnation is based on the attribute of fear, the outstanding characteristic of Isaac [meaning not relying on or appealing to G‑d's attribute of Mercy. Ed.]


The third category of transmigration provides an opportunity for the souls in question to perform those commandments which they had been unable to in a previous incarnation due to lack of opportunity. This kind of reincarnation could theoretically continue for one thousand generations under the aegis of the sefira of tiferet, the outstanding characteristic of Jacob. Thus far Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz.

[Translated and adapted by Eliyahu Munk.]