Joe: I agree with your claim that the idea of reincarnation is not Jewish, but I question your interpretation of pasukim. For instance “I place before you today; life and goodness and death and evil,” which you interpret as final death. That is OK for the case of choosing death, but what does it mean to choose “life”? Could one not interpret that “life” in this context means reincarnation; that is, life over and over again? I don’t see how logic forces the conclusion you draw.
Secondly you point to Karase as proving the end of the soul therefore foreclosing the possibility of reincarnation. OK again, but could one not logically conclude that only those subject to Karase don’t come back, and others do? Again I don’t see how logic forces your conclusion versus one that proves reincarnation.
I look forward to understanding how these pasukim conclusively prove your point.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: Joe, I agree. You ask a good question, and a further explanation is required. Let us consider: Moshe said one might choose life or death. You suggest that perhaps, “life”, refers to a cycle of reincarnations. However, let’s analyze this: Reuven sins, and then returns as a reincarnated “Shimone”. But inside Shimone is Reuven’s corrupted soul, now reincarnated to fix (tikkun) his past life’s flaws.
Now as Shimone, Reuven reads the Torah anew, never recalling his past life. In it he finds rewards and punishments for what he must do NOW. But reincarnation proponents argue against the plain meaning f the Torah: they suggest that even if Shimone is sinless now, he will receive punishment because of a past life’s sins, as Reuven. So a sinless Shimone find himself receiving punishment for things he never committed! This violates Torah and reason, and why you cannot read that verse that “life” means a cycle of reincarnations.
Reincarnation is the opposite of what our Torah discusses everywhere, and we may use Job (Iyov) as an example. Job is smitten with blisters from head to toe; he lost his wealth and children, and is accused by one of his close friends that he deserved what befell him due to his sin. Job insists that he is sinless. But our Torah says “What is hidden (sins) is God’s, and the revealed (sins) are ours and our children’s…” (Deut. 29:28) Meaning, one is held responsible for what he recalls, “they are ours” to atone for. But for the hidden sins – those we forgot – man is exempt. God does not punish a man for a sin that he forgot, and on which he is humanly incapable of repenting. Thus, according to reincarnation proponents, that which man forgot – even if a previous life were tenable – he is not held accountable. So the Torah refutes this view that one must atone for any forgotten, previous sins.
But keep in mind that just because many people echo a belief in reincarnation or anything else, this does not place the burden of proof on those who never considered reincarnation real. Those suggesting something not vocalized by our Written or Oral Torah are the one’s who deviate; I need not disprove reincarnation, an idea never before proven, just like I need not disprove the existence of fire-breathing dragons. For this reason your latter question is also answered. To suggest that, which the Torah did not, is not the proper method of proof. If I follow your line of reasoning, I too can suggest something; that animals are reincarnated, since Karase only applies to man. But you see, this is faulty reasoning, which leads to a corrupt view of reality. So we do not follow this path where anyone may suggest, “since it is not ruled out, it may be true.” No, we admit truth to only that which is proven.
As one final thought, when anyone in our Torah experienced any punishment, what does the Torah say the cause was: a previous, corrupt life as another person, or a current sin? In all cases, it is the latter. God always punishes a person in this life for his sins, in “this” life, as this is the only life we each have. This is so clear in innumerable instances in Torah. I will leave you with some additional statements of the Rabbis
Chazal said, “Yaakove and Moshe “lo mase”, “did not die”. Only certain people didn’t die - not ALL people. (And even this is metaphoric, for the Torah says Moses died at 120 years of age.) Thus, all others do in fact die.
Chazal said, “Repent one day before your death. But does one know when he dies? No, therefore, repent everyday.” Chazal teach there is death. Why repent if one returns?
“Rabbi Tarfone said, ‘The day is short, the work is great, the workers are lazy, the reward is greta and the Owner is impatient’.” (Ethics, 2:15) Now I ask you, how can Rabbi Tarfone say “the day is short” if one return via reincarnation?
Reader: Not everything works in a method that man can comprehend.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: With this statement, you admit of another method. But how can you admit of that which you cannot “comprehend”?
Reader: Many Ashkenazim are taught that we are born with faults that we did not correct in previous lifetimes, and now we have to correct them in this lifetime, or run the risk of either having to come back yet again, or maybe chas v’sholom not meriting even the permission to return and try again. The Chofetz Chayim writes that a person should never complain about his situation, like being lame, because many times a neshamah in shamayim begs Hashem Yisborach to allow him to return and be born again under certain difficult situations that might help him overcome sins he did in a previous lifetime. Therefore, a person should be aware that his own problem may have been something HE HIMSELF asked for before being born, in order to correct sins of a previous lifetime. Furthermore, the Steipler Gaon wrote a letter in which he told someone that the troubles and pains he is suffering are probably a kapara (atonement) for sins he did in a previous lifetime, and he must be mekabel (receive) those yisurin b’ahavah.”
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: And Saadia Gaon, Sforno, and Moshe Rabbeinu say otherwise. So now, how do you decide whom to follow? The answer: we are not to follow a “person” (regardless of distinguished reputations which I do not belittle) but rather, we must follow “truth”. This mode of following the leader, to which you adhere, is crippling Jewish minds. When faced with the question of following Moshe or the Chofetz Chaim, Jews are dumbfounded, and understandably so. But this dilemma is borne out of the poor teachings of today’s leaders, as they train students in the falsehood that anyone with a title of “Rabbi” is infallible. But this is strikingly false, as our Torah exposes the sins of Moshe, Aaron, and all errors of our leaders. As a Rabbi one taught, “Torah has no hero worship.” Had Jews followed this “follow the leader” thinking during the times of Jeremiah, they would follow those Jewish prophets who followed Baal, an idolatrous cult. They would stumble, with your opinion, saying, “we must follow the prophets”. Yes, the Jewish prophets followed idolatry, as stated in last week’s Haftorah of Maasey. Now, if God called “prophets” false, then someone titled a “Kabbalist” has no monopoly on truth. I personally know a case where a Kabbalist told a close friend that he would wed in that year, and he did not. I know of another case where a woman went to a “Rebbe” and asked if her cancer-smitten sister would survive her ordeal, and the Rebbe said she would…but she did not, and died.
As we stated, when Moshe told the people to live proper lives, he said “And choose life”. This means that the correct life is that which one must “select”, he must use his free will. Now, if, as proponents of reincarnation claim, that man may return as an animal, so he may be sacrificed on the altar, and this will atone for his previous life’s sins, where in the slaughter of an animal is man following Moshe’s words to “choose life”? Where is man perfecting himself via his free will, if an animal has no free will? From where in our precious Torah, upon which we are forbidden to add or subtract, do these proponents of reincarnation find God saying that He changes man to an animal and returns him to be sacrificed? This idea is alien to Torah and defies all reason, and as Rav Saadia Gaon stated, is “absurd” and “stupid”.
Reader: What the Chovos Halevovos says there, in what I see, is that we should follow our own reasoning in order to UNDERSTAND what the Rabbis say, not that on the basis of our own understanding we may disagree with the Gedolai Chachomim. Quite the contrary. We may NOT disagree with the Gedolai Chachomim.. But we must use our own sechel to understand what they say. The Torah says “Ahrai rabim lihatos.” When the majority of Gedolai Torah say something, that’s who we are supposed to follow. Certainly we cannot say that the majority of Gedolim believe in something that is against the Torah.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: As I already stated, we follow the majority as a means of deciding “halacha”, Jewish law, not what we are to know as a truth in philosophy. Chovos Halevavos says this:
“Devarim 17:8-10 states: "If a case should prove too difficult for you in judgment, between blood and blood, between plea and plea, between (leprous) mark and mark, or other matters of dispute in your courts, you must act in accordance with what they tell you. The verse does not say simply accept them on the authority of Torah sages,...and rely exclusively on their tradition. Rather, (Scripture) says that you should reflect on your own mind, and use your intellect in these matters. First learn them from tradition - which covers all the commandments in the Torah, their principles and details - and then examine them with your own mind, understanding, and judgment, until the truth become clear to you, and falsehood rejected, as it is written: "Understand today and reflect on it in your heart, Hashem is the G-d in the heavens above, and on the Earth below, there is no other”. (Ibid, 4:39)
Look at what he writes, “examine them with your own mind, understanding, and judgment, until the truth becomes clear to you, and falsehood rejected”. This means that one is to reject that which his mind says is false. And man cannot operate otherwise; for if you see something as false, you cannot fool yourself that it is truth! Even if stated by a Rabbi. God recorded Aaron’s disagreement with Moses to prove this very point. And Moses was wrong. Aaron did not simply follow everything he heard, but he used his mind, and detected in Moses an error, and then conveyed this to Moses. Moses acquiesced.
Reader: I think that the fact that such Gedolim believed in reincarnation tells me that there is a very good reason to believe in reincarnation, even if I don’t know what that reason is.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: So you deny King Solomon’s words that all men err. What is worse is you also earn no reward, as you do not follow what your Tzelem Elokim says is real and true. You are absent minded, and say, “whatever he says is truth.” But that is foolish, for such a statement is meaningless. It is as if you say, “what is in that black box is of value”, when you have never looked inside.
Reader: I do not have to bring a proof that reincarnation is true. I’m not even trying to make you believe in it. I’m just saying that we must be careful of how we speak about the Gedolai Torah. I am sure you will agree that Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, the Arizal, the Ramchal, and the Shelah, even if they were mistaken about reincarnation, did not violate any principles of the Torah and said nothing that was against the Torah. I am sure you will agree that they were not heretics.
Rabbi Moshe Ben-Chaim: My discussion is not about labeling someone as a heretic, or condemning any Rabbi in specific, other than the Rabbi who spread falsehoods on national radio. When this Rabbi said suicide bombers are “victims” and not villains, that God judges man differently than what He writes in His Torah, that aliens roam the Earth, and that reincarnation is a Torah Fundamental and disbelievers are “placed outside the parameters of Judaism”, anyone who knows the truth must speak out. It is intolerable to a true Torah student to allow lies and fabrication about Torah to go unopposed. Abraham our forefather spoke out for this very reason, for his concern that truth be revealed.
In general, any Rabbi should be praised for his earnest work in caring for the minds and hearts of his fellow Jews, or proven false when he errs, so others are not misled by reputation alone. My concern is how we are to arrive at truth. And what I have heard thus far from the followers of reincarnation is no intelligence whatsoever. Conversely, the only sound reasoning has emanated from Saadia Gaon, Sforno and Moshe, for they expose reincarnation as riddled with problems, and in violation of God’s words. You must now decide for yourself.