The Rabbis and Gilgulim Ha'Neshamot
There is a trend today of Rabbis attacking what is a misunderstanding of what the true Kabbalistic thought is regarding "Gilgulim Ha'Neshamot," versus the heretical teachings regarding it. And sadly, like the confused Rabbis who assert that Yeshua of the NT is mentioned in the Talmud, they are sadly mistaken about this too.
Because so many people were misapplying the concept to Greek and Eastern concepts of Reincarnation, the Rabbinic Sages had to address the matter so as to defuse the confusion.
Sa'adia Gaon is referring to a specific School of Jewish Thought in Gnostic Hellenism (which was contrary to the teachings of Philo and the two movements called Ma'aseh Mervakah and Ma'ash Bereshit Mukubalim), and without a thorough grasp of the two schools of thought between Greek/Eastern wisdom and Jewish Kabbalah one can quickly confuse the two.
This is why the Talmud forbids the study of Greek wisdom, due to its easy-to-confuse nature, the only Sage who was permitted to study and teach it was Rabban Gamliel and his 1,000 students (Paul of Tarsus was one of these).
Sa’adia Gaon’s seemingly denial of Gilgulei Neshamot, cannot be denied, rather this is to be understood what he actually is referring to and why he said what he said. First of all, Sa’adia Gaon was a Kabbalist, and the concept of Gilgulim Ha'Neshamot is an intrinsic and integral aspect of the entire system of Kabbalah. To condemn it, would mean condemning the entire system of the Soul of Judaism and the Soul of Torah.
We have available today many of Sa'adia Gaon's Kabbalistic writings, as he translated the ancient text of the Sefer Yetzirah which clearly discusses the Gilgulim Ha'Neshamot. The Sefer Yetzirah is even older than the Talmud, and it is referenced in the Talmud as well. The Sefer Yetzirah is one of the oldest seferim on Kabbalah, and it is one of the most authoritative, if not the most authoritative aside from the Zohar.
In fact, Sa'adiah Gaon, in his writings mirrors the very concepts that are extra in the Zohar, the very work that consists of the entire body of Kabbalistic realm. Without having a solid knowledge base on the subject of Kabbalah and the texts that were written about it, one will never realize that Sa'adiah Gaon was literally word for word explaining the very same material as found in the Zohar.
As leader of Bavli Judaism and as a citizen living in the Muslim world, Sa'adia Gaon's works were read far outside the Jewish community, many were originally written in Arabic. Islam, like Christianity, in their vast and grave errors, served to be a conjuring of misinterpreting the Kabbalistic teachings, thus making their misinterpretations an abomination. Even in Islam, the Sufi movement was steeped in Qiblah (Kabbalah), however the Sufis also treated their sacred teachings the same as the Jewish Sages did when it came to the masses who were so easily swayed by idiocy.
If Sa'adia Gaon, the leader of the Jews were to come out and publicly endorse a religious position that could be cause for an outrage amongst the majority and authorities, he would have endangered his life and the lives of all Jews. We also have to consider the fact that the Halachah of the time was to never publicly reveal Kabbalistic material. This Halachah was all across the board in all of Jewry.
The legitimacy of Gilgulei Neshamot being a valid and Kosher Torah position cannot be denied. Indeed, those who do deny this may rightly be questioned if they are faithful to our Torah traditions and the authority of our Sages.
We also need to consider the fact that Rambam was also a Kabbalist, in fact his Kabbalistic background cannot be denied. Maimonides was indeed steeped in Kabbalah, the seeming absence of references to Kabbalah in his writings is very much in keeping with accepted practice of that period and is also consonant with his personal literary style of the Rishonim.
In fact, all of the Rishonim state that Rambam was a master of Kabbalah. This can be traced in Sefer HaChinuch 545, Sefer HaZikaron, and Ramban (Nachmonides) in his Perush Ha'Torah and Koran P’nei Mosheh, Devarim 22:6,7.
In addition, the Ba’al HaTcheilet published the work Ta’amei Ha'Mitzvot (Rationales of the Torah Commandments) of the Guide to the Perplexed are actually Kabbalistic teachings couched in rationalistic terms. Maimonides was apparently an adherent of the position that Kabbalah was, in fact, a “hidden” and “secret” branch of Torah, and its study must not be conveyed by any other means than Rabbi to student.
This is precisely why Rambam avoided any direct reference to Kabbalah in his writings, yet a person with a firm grasp of Kabbalah will quickly realize that Rambam "clothed" his writings in manner that demonstrates the very concepts of Kabbalah without using its terminologies and phraseologies.
The renown Sage Abulafia, wrote that Maimonides’ Guide (1:71) has reconstructed the Kabbalistic secrets of the Torah, the “Sitrei Torah”. Since Biblical stories are viewed as allegories of spiritual progression of the human soul and the transmigration of the souls (Gilgulim), and that the Torah is aimed a directing man to attain the prophetic experience.
Rabbi Eliyahu Touger explains a section of Yesodei Torah in these words: “we can understand why the Rambam explains “important principles regarding the deeds of the Master of the worlds” The Mishneh Torah is a book of law and does not include philosophical and metaphysical Kabbalistic principles unless they are Halachot, directives for practical behavior.
In this light we find that Rambam was in fact teaching Kabbalah but in the guise of Halachah, which we know that the Talmud according to Halachah, and the Maran Yosef Karo, the author of the Shulchan Aruch has clearly stated (Beyt Yosef, Oravh Chayim 141) that “Mi’ahar Sh’lo Nizkar Zeh Ba'Talmud Ba’hedia Lo Shi’vaki'nan Divrei Zohar Mip’nei Divrei Ha'Poskim.”
This ruling, indicates that Halachah take precedence over the Kabbalah because this is the method of "from Lo Lishma to come to Lishma"... Also, regarding the holy Torah, the great Sage Ben Bag Bag is quoted as saying, “Hafukh Bah W’Hafukh Bah Ki Kula Bah” Turn it over again and again for everything in the universe is in it.” (Mishnah Pirkey Avot 5:25). In other words, to arrive at Lishma, we need Lo Lishma first. This is the purpose of corporeal Judaism, also there is another purpose for it.
In fact, the Mishnah/Talmud is far more than a simple book of laws. Within the fabric of the text Rabbi Yehudah Ha'Nasi weaved in codes and clues to the secret metaphysical Torah that underlie and support physical reality. By studying, understanding and performing the laws as outlined in the Mishnah one would not only be observing the laws of the holy Torah and thus maintaining the Jewish religion, one would also be aligning the spiritual and physical domains in perfect unity.
Physical and metaphysical reality thus met, merged and were harmonized through the observance of Halachot and Mitzvot. Even the name that Rabbi Yehudah Ha'Nasi chose for this work hints to its secret component. The word Mishnah is spelled with the same letters as the word Neshamah, which means upper soul.
Additionally, The Zohar (3 244B) itself clearly states that the Mishnah and Talmud were written based upon the secrets of the Torah. In the Zohar Ha'dash (Ruth 108A) it is revealed that both the Talmud Yerushalmi and the Talmud Bavli stood before G-d as part of the holy Torah prior to the creation of the universe. No Sage or Kabbalist has ever disagreed with this, for the Sages who made this rule were the same Sages who wrote and guarded the Zohar.
Hence, the statement that it is necessary to contemplate G-d's greatness to achieve love would appear sufficient. Nevertheless, the Rambam continues, elaborating on Ma'aseh Merkavah and Ma’aseh Bereshit (two Kabbalist movements that endorsed the concepts of Gigulim Ha'Neshamot) because the knowledge of G-d attained through the study of these Halavhot constitutes the fulfillment of the mitzvah of loving G-d.” (Likutei Sichot, Va’etchanan, 5748).
Hidden within all of Rambam’s teachings are Kabbalistic truths. Avraham Abulafia knew this, he saw through the facade of Maimonides. Like the Torah given to us by Mosheh from Sinai, which came complete with both a revealed aspect and a concealed aspect, so too the Torah of Maimonides has with it both Peshat (surface) and Sod (secrets).
The Rambam lived during a time when Kabbalah was meant to be kept secret. Therefore, he could not openly reveal the sources for his material. He nevertheless taught people the “left brain” path that unites intellect with that which is higher than it, i.e., spirit. Rational intellectualism is what was predominant in Rambam’s day. Philosophy was in. Mysticism was out. Therefore, with great wisdom and care, Rambam concealed and clothed the teachings of Jewish mysticism in the garments of philosophy. This explains why he made such great use of the works of the Greeks. He used them to cloak the hidden teachings of Torah.
A master like Abulafia was able to penetrate this veil and reveal the truth, but he could have only done this when the time was right. "Hilchot Yesodei Torah" (the Laws of the Foundations of Torah) and the "Guide to the Perplexed" conceal within them some of the greatest Torah secrets. They are accessible to anyone wishing to make use of his intellect to contemplate their deep and secret implications. It was Rambam that revealed to us all of this information. Only a Kabbalist could have done this.
Rambam's writings was pure Greek minded in matters of philosophy, however only to conceal the Kabbalah he was teaching. Maimonides rejected many texts of Heichalot. The question is, how could Rambam reject the Heichalot which are preserved in the Talmud? In going back beyond Rambam's influence of Aristotle we come to Pythagoras’ religious and scientific views where, in his opinion, inseparably interconnected. Religiously, Pythagoras was a believer of metempsychosis. He believed in transmigration, or the reincarnation of the soul again and again into the bodies of humans, animals, or vegetables until it became immortal.
Maimonides strove to reconcile Aristotelian philosophy and science with the teachings of Torah, this is how he was able to "clothe" and conceal the teachings of Kabbalah within his works. In some ways his position was parallel to that of Averroes; in reaction to the attacks on Avicennian Aristotelism, Maimonides embraced and defended a stricter Aristotelism without Neoplatonic additions. Rambam was just as philosophical as Philo was but more strict with his learning of Aristotle which Philo rejected.
Rambam was more geared towards Greek Gnostic philosophies which is technically not forbidden by Torah, and Philo was more geared towards the philosophies of the Mekubalim which w as direct "Shelshechet Ha'Kabbalah" (unbroken chain of teachings from Sinai). The Rabbi's cannot knock these concepts because in Talmudic times there was the Kabbalist movements called Maaseh Bereshith and Maaseh Merkavah, these were the Mukubalim of that time period; Even Rambam interprets these texts as referring to Aristotelian physics and metaphysics as interpreted in the light of Torah.
As we can see, these issues are a lot more in depth and complicated than it might appear at the surface. One really needs to dig deep and arm themselves well with the material because, all of what appears to be is really not what it seems at all. And unfortunately, a lot of people have misunderstood this... namely authors such as Jose Fauer who wrote very incorrect and inaccurate things about these topics.
Now for those who need Tenakh or NT references to accept these things regarding the Gilgulim Ha'Neshamot, we need to first consider the fact that the Mekubalim were an amalgam of Pharisees and Essenes, as both mystical schools of thought brought a reconciliation of concepts between the two sects, not only in Halachah but also in Mysticism. We also know that the Pharisees and Essenes were both Chasidim sects.
Aside from that, we know that based on the texts of the NT, which demonstrate almost word for word concepts, terms and phraseology that is not only found in the Talmud, but even more so in the Midrashim, Sefer Yetzirah and the Zohar.
We also know that Yeshua and his Netzarim sect were Chasidim comprised of Pharisees and Essenes, it is no wonder why the NT contains the very same material we find in Jewish Law and in Kabbalah - Chasidut. Also, during the time of Yeshua and Paul, the Jewish Mekubal Mystic School of Thought were none other than the Ma'aseh Merkavah and the Ma'aseh Bereshit. Interestingly, we find that the words of the NT contains language that reflects these schools of thought as well.
I will post a few verses that do suggest the validity of the Gilgulei Ha'Neshamot for your review.
Job 1:21: "Naked I left my mother's womb and naked I shall return there."
Job 33:29: “Behold, G-d does all these things, twice, three times, with a man, to bring back his soul from the pit, that he may be lighted with the light of life.”
Yochanan 9:1-2: "As he went along, he saw a man blind from birth. His disciples asked him, "Rabbi, who sinned, this man or his parents, that he was born blind?"
Matityahu 11:11-15: "I tell you the truth: Among those born of women there has not risen anyone greater than Yochanan Ha'Tavilei; yet he who is least in the Kingdom of Heaven is greater than he. From the days of Yochanan Ha'Tavilei until now, the Kingdom of Heaven has been forcefully advancing, and forceful men lay hold of it. For all the Navi'yim and the Torah prophesied until this Yochanan. And if you are willing to accept it, he is the Eliyahu who was to come. He who has ears, let him hear."
Matityahu 17:10-13: "The disciples asked him, "Why then do the teachers of the Torah say that Eliyahu must come first?" Yeshua replied, "To be sure, Eliyahu comes and will restore all things. But I tell you, Eliyahu has already come, and they did not recognize him, but have done to him everything they wished. In the same way the Son of Man is going to suffer at their hands." Then the disciples understood that he was talking to them about Yochanan Ha'Tavilei."
Luke 9:7-8: "Now Herod the tetrarch heard about all that was going on. And he was perplexed, because some were saying that Yochanan had been raised from the dead, others that Elijyahu had appeared, and still others that one of the Navi'yim of long ago had come back to life."
Matityahu 16:15-16: "When Yeshua came to the region of Caesarea Philippi, he asked his disciples, "Who do people say the Son of Man is?" They replied, "Some say Yochanan Ha'Tavilei; others say Eliyahu; and still others, Yerimiyah or one of the Naci'yim." "But what about you?" he asked. "Who do you say I am?" Shimon Kefa answered, "You are the Moshiach, the Son of the living G-d."