Reincarnation and Dreams
I have been reading about the Jewish idea of reincarnation and this has raised a few questions: Does reincarnation explain why it is believed that we were all at Mount Sinai to receive the Torah? Secondly, how do we explain dreams, for example dreaming of a prior historical event? Is it a window to a previous life, or just your imagination? Or when people who have died visit in your dreams? Is that just your imagination or something more; does that mean their soul is not back on earth?
I appreciate whatever light you could shed on this vast topic.
The Aish Rabbi Replies:
Technically, reincarnation, as the word implies, is the return of the soul to a second corporeal body after it has already occupied its first one. It does not apply to the first-time entry of a soul into a body.
The Sages teach that all Jewish souls were present at Mount Sinai to participate in the acceptance of the Torah by the entire Jewish people for all time. In this way, all Jewish souls endowed into Jewish bodies throughout history are included in the national and individual responsibility of upholding and fulfilling of the Torah.
Since most of those souls at the time had never been contained within a physical body, you could not evoke the concept of “reincarnation.” The lessons inculcated into the soul at Sinai were done to souls alone, which yet lacked the usual partnership between body and soul. You do, however, see from that event the ability of the eternal soul to receive messages and missions that continue when joined to a body; this is the foundation of the idea of reincarnation.
The notion of dreams is a multi-faceted one in Judaism. The Talmud and Kabbalistic writings refer to numerous categories of dreams. Some dreams, particularly for those on a very high spiritual level, can be a type of divine inspiration, revealing a nearly prophetic type of message or intuition into the future. There have been rabbis and other spiritual Jews who have received profound insight into concepts of Torah through dreams, some even on a steady basis. This is predicated upon the understanding of sleep; the partial detachment of the soul from the body to refresh itself in the higher, heavenly realms to have a “recharge,” giving it the strength to traverse yet another day in the physical world. While “up there,” the soul could receive heavenly insights not available in its normal, corporeal state.
The Talmud and other writings discuss the rare visitations of lost loved ones through dreams, especially to send a particular message to save one from harm’s way. There are formulas in the Talmud and the Siddur for dealing with certain types of ominous nightmares where vivid images of terrible things befalling the dreamer or others. There is a very moving prayer of “reversing the dreams” reciting during Birkas Kohanim, the priestly blessing recited by the Kohanim on holidays, said to annul or overturn certain dreams, transforming them “from curses into blessings”.
There have been many situations where vivid, intricate details were revealed, about a person no longer alive, in a series of dreams which could have only been known by the person they dreamed about. This alludes to a reincarnation, and has been the basis of much research by psychologists.
Alas, the sages explain that most of our dreams are a largely meaningless byproduct of our thoughts during the day, things we have read, and our unshackled imaginations running wild and unhindered with the freedom of unconsciousness and sleep. Pleasant dreams!