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Ask the Aish Rabbi a Question

Recent Questions:

Reincarnation

I was astonished by your explanation of suffering in little children as being due to their souls being "old" and having experienced past lives. I have always understood this notion as being a component of Buddhism and as being central to Hinduism. I have never heard of this in connection with Judaism. What is the scriptural basis for such a belief?

I am also puzzled by the reasoning. The child would presumably have no recollection of its past life. So how can it make the connection between its past misdeeds and present sufferings? And if all this is supposed to happen at some other undetectable, subliminal "soul" level, then why involve a body at all?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

There are many Jewish sources dealing with what is popularly called "reincarnation." In Hebrew, it is called "gilgul ha'neshamot," literally the recycling or transmigration of souls.

This concept can be compared to a flame of one candle lighting another candle. While the essence of the second flame comes from the first one, the second flame is an independent entity. Still, the new flame contains imperfections inherited from the initial flame, and it is these imperfections that are to be corrected.

Most of the written material on this topic is very esoteric. Some of the prominent works dealing with this subject are the "Zohar" (1st century) and the Arizal's "Shaar HaGilgulim" (16th century). In the Bible itself, this idea is intimated in Deut. 25:5-10, 33:6 and Isaiah 22:14, 65:6.

Many sources say that a soul has a maximum of three chances in this world. One example given is that the great Talmudic sage Hillel was a reincarnation of the biblical figure Aaron.

The soul only comes into this world in the first place to make a spiritual repair. If that is not fulfilled by the end of one's lifetime, then the soul will be sent down again. The return trip may only be needed for a short time or in a limited way. This in part explains why people are born with handicaps or may live a brief life.

In order for the correction to take place, it is not necessary that there be a conscious awareness. Conscious awareness is only one level of understanding.

This idea is explored in an interesting book called "Psychic Phenomena," by Dorothy Bemar Bradley, M.D., and Robert A. Bradley M.D.: "Mentally retarded children have been known to burst out with unexpected abilities under altered awareness, manifesting the contents of the undamaged and theoretically undamageable unconscious mind."

In other words, there are levels of understanding that transcend the conscious level, even in children.

Re: your second question. Why does this have to involve the body in the first place?

Truly, some "corrections" do not have to take place through the body, but rather take place in the soul world, in the afterlife.

However, sometimes the correction must occur in the physical world. For example, it may involve a certain challenge of choosing the "right thing" over choosing the "comfortable thing." Or other people may have to be involved. And the soul cannot interact with the physical world in any other way expect through a body.

The bottom line is that a person's life situation provides everything necessary to achieve ideal growth. Our task is to employ our free will -- i.e. to properly and effectively use the opportunities that we have.

All the best to you in this and future lives.

Concerned Parents

Our son is planning to intermarry. We are very upset, and feel strongly that he is making a mistake. In the meantime, he has given us an ultimatum: Either accept her, or I don’t want to have anything to do with you. We want to protest, but we don’t want to alienate either of them. What should we do?

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

This is indeed heart-breaking for you and your family.

It used to be that when a child intermarried, the family would sit shiva, as if the child had died. This is not the custom today; since intermarriage has become so common, the "shiva" is not a deterrent and we must find other approaches.

You need to be careful not make things worse. Your goal is to bring your son close. Being confrontational will only drive him further away. It gives him an "excuse" to ignore you. So you need to act with warmth, understanding and love.

I suggest that you communicate two things:

1) We are totally opposed to your being in this relationship. We believe you are doing something damaging and harmful to yourself, and as parents who care deeply about you we cannot condone this. Not because Judaism is racist (clearly not, since any human can convert to Judaism), but because we believe that the Jewish people are a precious – and endangered – species. When a Jew marries a non-Jew, it is a step that weakens the Jewish people, who have a mission to bring morality and monotheism to the world. Non-Jews are fine people, but intermarriage pulls the Jewish partner away from the mission.

2) We love you and care for you totally, and nothing that you do can ever change that.

This is a tricky balance, but both these must be communicated clearly and effectively.

Remember that he is not doing this to hurt you. He is confused.

The most important thing is to not get into fights, but to remain calm and always emphasize that you love him and will always love him.

In practical terms, what can you do about it?

1) Get him to realize how important his Judaism is, and how this woman does not share that. For example, why is it that when Israel is under attack, your son is extremely concerned – but she cannot relate. Why is it that through the centuries, our ancestors have endured the torments of exile, torture and ovens – yet continued to remain loyal to the Jewish people?

Of course, there is no way to understand the deep riches of Judaism, with a 13-year-old's Hebrew School view. Before making this most important decision of life, urge him to find out what's been driving the Jewish people to greatness for the past 3,000 years. Suggest that he attend a Discovery seminar, an excellent presentation of Jewish history and philosophy which is given in hundreds of cities throughout the world. For a current schedule, visit www.aish.com/dis/

Also, you could send him the book, "Why Marry Jewish?"

http://www.targum.com/excerpts/marryjewish.html

2) Raise serious doubts that this will work long-term. If she is Christian, get them to discuss the topic of Jesus. It is the most deeply-engrained cultural difference between Jews and non-Jews. Will she want their children to be baptized? It is a documented fact that intermarried couples have a 3-times higher divorce rate (USA Today – Dec. 4, 2002). Would your son ever consider going into a business with a partner who carries such a greater risk of failure?

Once you've raised sufficient doubt, you can advise them to try a separation, while pondering this question: "Do I need to be married to this person to find happiness in life, and is it worth all the trouble? Or would I be better off looking for someone else to marry?"

3) Remind your son that he may experience a spiritual awakening. People who do not profess a belief in any particular religion often turn back to religion later in life. A Gallup Poll showed that religious commitment is lowest from age 18-39 – precisely the time when people are making decision about who to marry. I have a folder of emails from intermarried people whose lives turned to horror when they (or their spouses) turned back to religion. The issues become insurmountable.

By marrying Jewish, his children will be Jewish and his married life will be free of these liabilities. I guarantee that his Jewish soul has a Jewish soul mate. He deserves it all and can have it all.

As far as his ultimatum to "accept her," that is a decision that you and your husband will have to make. If you feel you are strong enough, you should just tell him: “A relationship between a Jew and non-Jew is not recognized by the Torah as having validity. So you are not married to her. It's not a question of us accepting or not. We accept you fully as our son; we do not accept your relationship with this woman.”

Also you can explain to him that it is he who is closing the door, not you. Even before he was born you established your family guidelines, and if he voluntarily wants to continue this relationship and cut himself off from that, that is his decision, not yours.

The main thing is to keep the relationship with your son strong and positive. Keep the door open, so that when he starts having doubts about this woman, he feels he has a Jewish home to go back to.

Baby Girls

I just got back from the hospital where my wife gave birth to a gorgeous baby girl! My question is: If it had been a boy, I know we would given the name at his Bris. But in this case, is there a special ceremony when a girl is born. When my brother had a baby girl recently, they didn't make any ceremony.

The Aish Rabbi Replies:

First of all, Mazal Tov! May you merit to raise her to Torah, to the wedding canopy and to good deeds!

The naming of a Jewish daughter is a most profound spiritual moment. The naming ceremony is linked to the public reading of the Torah. During the Torah reading, a special "Mi Sheberach" blessing is said. The blessing begins with a prayer for the mother's health. It continues with the giving of the baby's name -- and a prayer that this new Jewish daughter should grow to be a wise and understanding Jewish woman of goodness and greatness.

The baby naming is traditionally followed by a "kiddush" in honor of the baby girl, where friends and relatives gather to share good food, speak words of Torah, and share the family's profound joy.

For details of how to choose a name for the baby, and the significance of a Jewish name, see the article, "Naming Your Baby"