DEVOTEE: Do the Jews believe in reincarnation and the
possibility that we can take birth in an animal body?
RABBI: Although not commonly discussed, most Rabbis accept
reincarnation (or transmigration of the soul). In the Zohar, R Simeon says,
"that verse Ex. XX, 10 assuredly speaks of the soul of the Righteous One,
teaching us that even though she may have to undergo transmigration, even in a
manservant, or a maidservant, or an animal, in it thou shall do no manner of
DEVOTEE: The Vedas teach of two important concepts in
spiritual science--karma and transmigration of the soul. Karma means that for
whatever action we perform, we will suffer or enjoy a proportionate reaction.
And reincarnation or transmigration of the soul means that the soul accepts one
material body after another according to how one's life is led. The
Bhagavad-gita teaches that whatever one is thinking at the time of death will
determine the next body. [Bg. 8.6] Therefore, if we have developed an
animalistic mentality at the time of death, the soul will accept an animal body
just suiting that mentality. If we have been sinful during one lifetime, then
we will suffer the reactions to those sins in our next lifetime. That is why
some people are born into very nice situations and others are born into extreme
difficulty. If we accept that God is all powerful and all good, then without
accepting the principle of karma and reincarnation, there is no theistic way to
explain why things happen the way they do in this world.
RABBI: Actually, many people give up their faith in Judaism
and other religions because they do not understand or agree with that important
THE GARDEN OF EDEN AND VRINDAVAN
DEVOTEE: Rabbi, the Vedas clearly and explicitly describe
the spiritual world, the eternal abode of the Supreme Personality of Godhead,
and the activities of the Lord and His devotees there. Do the Jewish scriptures
give us any information about the spiritual kingdom of God and what activities
take place there?
RABBI: Yes, the Jewish scriptures do describe an eternal
place where God takes pleasure in being with righteous souls. R. Simeon says in
the Zohar that it is written: "King Solomon made him a palanquin (apiryon)
of the trees of Lebanon. He made the pillars thereof of silver, the bottom
thereof of gold, the covering of it of purple, the midst thereof being paved
with love by the daughters of Jerusalem" [S.S. III, 9,10] Apiryon
symbolizes the Palace below which is formed in the likeness of the Palace
above. This the Holy one, blessed be He, calls 'The Garden of Eden,' for He
created it in order to satisfy His own ardent desire for joyous and continual
communion with the souls of the righteous who have their abode there-these
being those souls who have no bodies in this world. These all ascend and are
crowned in that place of perfect delight, and have each their appointed places
from whence they can perceive the "loveliness of the Lord", and
partake of all the delicious streams of pure balsam (aparsamon). This aparsamon
symbolizes the hidden Supernal Palace, whereas apiryon is the Palace
below." [Zohar 127a Terumah (Exodus)] In other words, there is a Garden of
Eden in the eternal spiritual kingdom of God, and there is also a manifestation
of the Garden of Eden that exists within the material world.
DEVOTEE: In the spiritual world, everything is
self-effulgent and there is no need for the (*) sun, moon, nor electricity.
There is a spiritual world where God and His devotees eternally enjoy together.
The highest level of the spiritual realm is the spiritual planet known as
Goloka Vrindavan. The spiritual world also exists within this material world.
One such place is known as Vrindavan or Gokula Vrindavan. When Lord Krsna comes
to this world, He does not come alone, but He brings with Him all of His
associates and paraphernalia to perform loving pastimes with His devotees.
Those who have become pure devotees of the Lord while in this material world,
go back to the spiritual world to be permanently with God. According to Lord
Krsna, in the Bhagavad-gita, "After attaining Me, the great souls, who are
yogis in devotion, never return to this temporary world, which is full of miseries,
because they have attained the highest perfection." [Bg. 18.15]
RABBI: You said that the pure devotees of God engage in
intimate loving pastimes with Him. The Jewish scriptures describe a dance that
the Lord prepares for the righteous in the hereafter. It is stated, "In
the hereafter, the Holy One, blessed be He, will arrange for a dance for the
righteous in Gan Eden." [Every Man's Talmud, XI, VI}. Do the Vedas
describe any dance arranged by God for the righteous?
DEVOTEE: Yes, there is an intimate dance known as the
Rasa-Lila dance performed by the Lord and some of His intimate devotees. I will
not go into detail about that dance, but the important point to understand here
is that having become perfected souls, or souls who have revived their perfect
love for Lord Krsna, they became qualified to associate intimately with the
Lord in devotion. In fact, the Lord prefers to associate with His pure devotees
in intimate loving relationships rather than to be worshiped in awe and
reverence. But that is only for the perfected souls. Until we have perfected
our lives, we must worship the Lord with great awe and reverence and strictly
follow His laws.
RABBI: In reference to God's desire to associate with the
righteous intimately it is described in the Jewish scriptures: "The Holy
One, blessed be He, will walk with the righteous in Gan Eden in the Hereafter;
and the righteous, on beholding Him, will retreat in terror before Him. But He
will call to them, 'See, I am the same as you!'
The above statement is in the Torah, while also emphasizing
the need to be extremely reverent and fearful of God. This seems to imply that
in both Hinduism and Judaism the righteous, the pure in heart, can look forward
to associating intimately with the Lord in the eternal spiritual realm.
DEVOTEE: As we are all pleasure seeking living entities, it
is most important to understand that in the spiritual realm there is unlimited
pleasure and variety. Otherwise, no one would want to go there. Generally,
people think of the spiritual world as being impersonal or void, because they
have a very vague idea, at best, of what really goes on there. If we do not
understand what goes on in the spiritual world, our tendency may be to consider
it similar to this temporary material world which is so full of miseries. Why
would anyone want to practice religious or spiritual life seriously if they
thought that it would lead them to another situation similar to what we
presently experience? Therefore, the Vedas give vivid descriptions of the
spiritual world, while teaching us the means by which we can qualify ourselves
to return there. One picturesque description of the spiritual world is found in
the Brahma-samhita, where it is stated, "I worship Govinda, the primeval
Lord, the first progenitor, who is tending the cows, yielding all desires, in
abodes built with spiritual gems and surrounded by millions of purpose trees.
He is always served with great reverence and affection by hundreds and
thousands of goddesses of fortune." [Brahma-samhita 5.29]
RABBI: The Jewish scriptures state, "The virgins
without number" are those angelic hosts of whom it is said, "Is there
a number to his bands?" [Job.XXV, 3] Perhaps this Jewish reference is
related to the goddesses of fortune mentioned in the verse you just quoted.
* Also New Testament quote Rev. 22: 5:
DEVOTEE: What is the meaning of the name Israel?
RABBI: This must be one of the most esoteric questions you
could ask. According to the early Kabbalists, the 231 gates are alluded to in
the name Israel. In Hebrew, Israel is spelled YisraEl, which literally means,
"there are 231." "The Midrash states that at the beginning of
creation, 'Israel rose in thought,' The name Israel thus alludes to the fact
that creation took place through these 231 gates. According to the later
Kabbalists, those 231 gates are what remained in the Vacated Space that
preceded creation." [Sefer Yetzirah 2:4]
DEVOTEE: Your mention of Israel as existing as the vacated
space preceding creation is interesting. The Vedas also describe the
unmanifested material energy, known in Sanskrit as pradhana. It is from this
energy that the whole material creation becomes manifest. You said that at the
beginning of creation, "Israel rose in thought". The Vedas describe
how everything is manifested from subtle to gross. The subtlest thing in the
material creation is the false ego or the material conception of life. In other
words, from that original misconception that life comes from matter, and under
the influence of the three modes of material nature, the entire gross and
subtle elements of the material world become manifest. This is described in the
thirteenth chapter of the Bhagavad-gita.
I am also looking at the word Israel from another
perspective. Israel, in a broad sense seems to refer to the entire material
creation. On that basis, "Israelites" referred to throughout the
Torah could, in a broader sense, be referring to much more than the multitudes
of people who Moses led out of Egypt by God's order. It could be pertaining to
all people in this world because all people are expected to follow the laws of
God and to return to God's abode. Regardless of whether one's religion is
Jewish, Hinduism, Christianity, etc., he is meant to follow the laws of God.
God loves all living entities in this world, not just those who may designate
themselves as belonging to a particular religious path. What do you think,
RABBI: Yes, I agree. God's love and mercy are unlimited, and
He would certainly not restrict that mercy to a particular group of people. You
should be aware that Israel is also another name for the Bride referenced to in
the Song of Songs, as well as being the same as the letter He in YHVH.