A Theory of Reincarnation (Vaetchanan)
To make an end is to make a beginning. The end is where we start from. -TS Eliot
In the Torah reading of Vaetchanan, Moses advises the nation of Israel to follow the laws which God commanded them “today.” The Berdichever explains the meaning of “today” based on the basic Kabbalistic concept of reincarnation; the belief that our souls are reborn into “new” bodies over the course of history.
According to the Berdichever, when the Torah here says “today,” it means in “this incarnation.” Meaning, get it right this time, so you don’t have to come back again in another incarnation. He raises a related question as to a soul which has lived through successive incarnations. At the End of Days, when we merit the Resurrection of the Dead, (the thirteenth and last of Maimonides’ fundamental Jewish beliefs), in what body will we be resurrected? Will it be our first body? Our last body?
The opinion of the Kabbalists is that we’ll be resurrected in our original bodies. However, the opinion of the “mechakrim” (the investigators – I’m not sure exactly who he’s referring to) is that we’ll be resurrected in our final bodies.
The Berdichever explains that they’re both right, and that in fact the resurrection will occur from some amalgamation of the limbs of all our bodies throughout time, the limbs which are really the same in each incarnation.
He clarifies further by detailing that the Mitzvot, the commandments, are each connected to a different limb or part of the body. Each commandment which we perform sustains a specific part of the body, while each commandment which we neglect or violate harms a specific part of the body. So, for example, if we failed in a commandment which is related to the eyes, the eyes will become spiritually damaged (and perhaps physically as well).
Because our eyes (and any other body parts) were damaged, the soul needs to be reincarnated. The next body which our soul inhabits will have the same eyes as our previous body, because we will still need to rectify that part of the body. So, it is not only our souls which keep coming back to this earth, but also a replica of the same body parts which will keep coming back into new incarnations.
As long as we haven’t rectified all of our body parts over the course of our multiple incarnations, our souls need to keep coming back until we get it right and have a complete and fully rectified set of limbs. Our souls, apparently, really don’t like coming back again and again, and would much rather we get it all done in one shot – but alas, it doesn’t always seem to be the case.
So it’s possible that the bodies we successively inhabit are physically identical to each other and therefore there would be no physical difference between the body of our first incarnation and the body of our last incarnation and we would be instantly recognizable by all of our likewise recognizable family and friends across our many incarnations when we are all resurrected at the End of Days.
To our earlier and future selves.