Various Reasons for Gilgulim
First is to rectify a transgression which this person did. In this case, the new gilgul could definitely transgress, since it originally had done so. A dramatic example would be if one had, G-d forbid, murdered someone. The nefesh of the one that had been killed could end up coming back in a gilgul as the son or the grandson of the murderer. Giving life to the soul of the one that he had killed, and all of the effort to raise him, would then be the tikun for having ended his life in his previous existence. Alternatively, if one had stolen from someone and never done teshuva, he and his victim could both return in gilgulim to give the thief the opportunity to pay the money back.
Second would be for a person to reincarnate in order to fill in some mitzvah which he had never done. In this case, the new gilgul is unlikely to transgress.
Third would be to guide and to rectify others. In this case, the new gilgul will have some special degree of protection to help him to avoid transgressing.
Fourth is to return in a gilgul to marry one’s soul mate, according to their shoresh neshama (soul root). (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, chap. 8).
Reincarnation and Marriage
Our Rabbis have explained, in the beginning of the Gemara Sotah, that there is a first and second zivug (pairing of husband and wife). The explanation of the first and second zivug is not according to the simple understanding, because in many cases, the second zivug can actually be better than the first one.
When a man is in this world for the first time, his soul mate will be born with him. When it comes time to marry her, it will be quick and easy. If, however, he committed an aveirah that required him to reincarnate, and his soul mate also reincarnated for his sake, when it comes time for him to marry her, it will only be after much difficulty. Since he returned because of an aveirah, there are accusing Angels who want to prevent him from her, causing them to fight. This is the situation where it says — “It is as difficult to pair them as Kriat Yam Suf (the splitting of the sea).” While she is his real soul mate, since they were already paired in a former life, now in this gilgul, it is considered to be the second pairing.
This will explain why sometimes a man marries a woman quickly, and without any difficulty or fighting, and sometimes he does not marry her unless they go through much arguing, until they are married. Only after they are married do they achieve peace and tranquility, indicating that she is indeed his soul mate, but that this is the second pairing. If she was not his soul mate, there would not be peace [even] after he had married her. (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, chap. 20).
Some will reincarnate and not yet meet their soul mate until a later lifetime. Others may have already been married to their soul mate, but, forced to reincarnate because of an aveirah, they lost the merit to be married to their soul mate in their next reincarnation. (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, chap. 8).
In a case where a man did not merit to marry his soul mate during his first lifetime, but instead married someone else, he will end up closer to this woman than to all the other women in the world. If he then returns in a gilgul as a result of his transgressions, he will return with this other woman, even though she was not his actual soul mate. This shows that it is possible to be happily and productively married to someone other than one’s true soul mate. (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, chap. 8).
How to Avoid Needing to Return in a Gilgul
Tikun (rectification) is achieved through learning Torah and doing mitzvot. (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, chap. 11) The higher the level of Torah learning and mitzvot that one does, the greater his tikun will be. (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, chap. 16,18).
Anyone with a new soul must fulfill all 613 mitzvot. The 248 positive mitzvot correspond to 248 spiritual “limbs,” and the 365 negative mitzvot correspond to 365 spiritual “tendons.” Each mitzvah, therefore, impacts and rectifies a different part of a person’s spiritual being. (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, chap. 16).
The 248 positive mitzvot which need to be fulfilled can be divided into different categories.
A). The first are those mitzvot which one can and must fulfill, like tzitzit or tefillin. One will need to return in a gilgul, even many times, until one completes them all. Only those mitzvot which he did not yet fulfill in one gilgul will be necessary for him to make up in a subsequent gilgul. However, since he will be susceptible to transgressing in these gilgulim, any aveirot which he commits will need to be rectified, and this rectification can itself necessitate many further gilgulim.
B). Some mitzvot can only be fulfilled during specific time periods. An example would be when there is no Beit HaMikdash (Temple), and korbanot (offerings) can not be brought. One will only reincarnate to fulfill them once the Beit HaMikdash has been rebuilt.
C). Other mitzvot are only relevant for people in certain situations. This would include a farmer who can and must separate terumot and ma’aserot from his crops, or one that sends away the mother bird before taking her eggs if he happens to come across a bird’s nest. While these situations may not be relevant for many people, it is certainly possible for one to change his circumstance in order to then be able to fulfill these mitzvot. While one will need to reincarnate until all of these have been fulfilled, in this gilgul, one will be protected from transgressing.
D). There are also mitzvot which are only possible for people in certain life situations, like pidyon haben (if one’s firstborn child is a boy, as well as other requirements), yibum or chalitzah (if, G-d forbid, one’s brother dies childless), and giving a get (divorce). These situations are completely independent of us. They depend upon external factors over which we have no control. One will need to reincarnate to fulfill these only if one could (and, therefore, should) have originally done them, but did not do them. Otherwise, it will be sufficient for him to temporarily return in an ibur with someone that is about to fulfill them, after which he will return to his place above fully rectified.
E). One must run after the mitzvah of procreation to try to fulfill it. In terms of gilgul, this is the strictest of all the mitzvot. Normally, with a gilgul because of missing mitzvot, each body from every gilgul will arise and live again, at the time of Techiat HaMeitim (the resurrection of the dead) with whichever sparks of the soul were rectified through the mitzvot performed in that particular body. Here it depends:
- If one never had children, but the gilgul which followed it did have children, then all of the sparks which this first person had rectified in this guf will ultimately be transferred to the gilgul which followed it.
- If, however, this person without children did have children in a previous gilgul, then this body will keep whichever sparks it itself rectified.
- And if this person without children was a talmid chacham (Torah scholar) and a tzadik, who had been married, it will also be able to resurrect by itself, since the main toldot (offspring) of a person are their Torah and mitzvot.
F). The mitzvah of Talmud Torah(learning Torah) is considered equal to all of the 613 mitzvot. There are four levels of learning Torah, which are known as PaRDeS — P’shat (the simple surface explanation), Remez (hints to deeper levels of understanding), Drush (elucidation), and Sod (the secret of the Kabalah). One must work hard in all of them as much as he can, including seeking out a teacher who can teach them to him. If he ends up lacking any of these four aspects, relative to what he could have grasped, he will need to reincarnate to be able to accomplish them.
The rectification of the ruach comes from learning Torah properly and for its own sake, particularly the Mishnah and Talmud. The rectification of the neshama depends upon the knowledge of secrets (i.e., the Kabalah) and inner Torah mysteries from the wisdom of the Zohar. However, even one who does a mitzvah or learns Torah without these ideal intentions will be able to rectify the nefesh and ruach on a lower level.
It is also important to know that a person needs to fulfill all of the 613 mitzvot in action, speech, and thought. One who has not performed all of them on all three of these levels will have to reincarnate until he has done so. In addition, whichever mitzvot happen to be more related to the root of one’s own soul, one will need to complete to a greater degree. (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, chap. 11).
Suggestions for Completing Mitzvot Beyond our Grasp
In terms of completing those mitzvot which are currently beyond our grasp, one could help another person, both physically and/or financially, who is capable of doing them. This will be especially helpful when this other person has kavanah (intention) to do these mitzvot for all of the Jewish people. One could also have kavanah when doing any mitzvah, to merit to be able to do all of the other ones, since all of the mitzvot are connected.
One should be particularly careful and excited with those mitzvot which Chazal (our Sages of blessed memory) tell us are equal to all of the others, like tzitzit, Shabbat, etc. And one should try very hard to fulfill both the first and the last mitzvah in the Torah — p’ru u’revu (be fruitful and multiply) with kedusha (sanctity), and to write a sefer Torah. (Mishnat HaGilgulim, pg. 425).
The 365 Prohibitions and Tikun
The Ramak, Zohar, Reishit Chachmah (Sha’ar Anavah 5:40), Gra, and the Chafetz Chaim (S’fat Tamim, Chap. 4) all wrote that one of the primary aveirot which causes people to return as a gilgul is gezel (stealing), in order for the thief to be able to return what was stolen, to either the person or his descendants. (Mishnat HaGilgulim, pg. 393; Shome’ah Tefillah, Rav Yeshau Braver). In any case where one is reincarnating because of an aveirah, he will not have any special protection from transgressing in his new gilgul.
The best way to avoid needing to return in a gilgul is, of course, to do teshuva while still alive, and rectify whatever damage one caused. If one gets a new name and a new place through the teshuva process, as the Rambam describes in Hilchot Teshuva (2:4), he won’t need to then have this happen through returning in a gilgul.