What is déjà vu?

Some believe it’s an echo of recognition resonating through the curtain that separates one incarnation from another. For one brief moment, two separate but interconnected lives make contact through a flicker of metaphysical commonality.

Maybe that’s true; maybe it isn’t. But a recent article in Learning-Mind cited a study of reincarnation by Dr. Ian Stevenson supporting the belief that our souls do in fact return to this world after we die.

In the article, Nick Harding offers a sampling of far-eastern and new-age explanations for reincarnation. But the earliest references are found in biblical narratives and are elucidated by the classical religious philosophers.


One of the most persistent dilemmas in spiritual philosophy is why bad things happen to good people, followed closely by its sister conundrum, why good things happen to bad people. If we believe in Divine justice, why does our world operate according to a system in which justice seems to be the exception rather than the rule?

The earliest appearance of this question confronts us in the Book of Job, perhaps the most disturbing and impenetrable narrative in the entire Bible. Although Job is described as a righteous man, the Almighty – for reasons that go unexplained – gives permission to Satan to torment Job with all manner of human suffering.

One fine day, Job receives simultaneous reports that all his possessions have been carried off by marauding hordes or destroyed by heavenly fire, and that all his children perished when an unnatural storm caused the roof to collapse upon their heads. Suddenly bereft of all that was his, Job replies stoically, “The Lord giveth and the Lord taketh away.”

Not content, Satan lobbies God to harass Job further and receives permission to afflict him with painful boils all over his body. This proves too much for Job, who finally questions whether there is justice in the world.

For nearly 40 torturous chapters, Job debates with companions who try to argue against the apparent injustice of Job’s fate. And when, finally, the Almighty does reveal Himself to Job, it is not to explain His actions but to reprove Job for the arrogance of thinking that he should be able to fathom the mysteries of the Divine plan. In the end, Job is at least partially consoled by the restoration of his health, his fortune, and more children.

But the questions remain, and not without good reason. Why should Job have had to endure such apparently purposeless suffering? And what was the purpose of God’s ultimate revelation if not to answer that very question?


Maimonides, the great 12th-century Talmudist, offers a seemingly simple explanation: reincarnation. Sometimes our souls are sent back to this world to finish unfinished business, either to correct wrongs committed in previous lives, to complete jobs left undone, or to atone for transgressions and thereby escape eternal punishment in the next world.

But that solution still does not satisfy. How does it benefit me to suffer for sins I can’t remember? And how does this explain the prosperity and tranquility of the wicked?

Even among theologians, few can claim true understanding of the human soul. According to the 18th-century kabbalist Moshe Chaim Luzzato, the human psyche comprises three distinct components which, together, make us who we are.

The first is called the nefesh, or animal soul.

All of our base drives and instincts are functions of the nefesh, which seeks food, warmth, shelter, safety, and reproduction – all the fundamental needs for physical survival – as well as immediate physical pleasure. The nefesh lives in the moment, with little thought of the future and no interest in a higher purpose.

The second component of the human being is called the ruach, inadequately translated as the spirit because it mimics, rather than describes, spiritual yearning.

The ruach seeks long-term satisfaction and cultivates more refined pleasures, eschewing immediate physical gratification in favor of long-term fulfillment from loftier pursuits such as literature, music, and communal involvement. But the ruach is still self-serving; it willingly forgoes visceral satisfaction for the more enduring rewards of power, recognition, and intellectual enlightenment.

Inevitably, the nefesh and the ruach are perpetually at odds with one another, with the former lusting after immediate pleasure and the latter attempting to suspend indulgences of the flesh in anticipation of more profound gratification later. Only through some outside arbitrator can the two ever be prodded into cooperation.

This is function of the soul, the neshoma

This is the Divine spark through which man can elevate himself to a level of Godliness by harnessing the opposing impulses of the nefesh and the ruach and forcing them to work together toward the fulfillment of a higher purpose.

When the soul succeeds, it unifies the spiritual and the physical in an orchestration of ethereal harmony and, by doing so, achieves the purpose for which it was created.

The three disparate components of nefesh, ruach, and neshomabecome fused into a single entity, producing a perfected consciousness able to transcend this world and enter into the next, ultimate phase of its existence.


But when the soul fails to control the baser aspects of the human being, it allows spiritual dissonance to prevail. In order to fulfill its destiny, the soul needs a second chance to restore divine harmony. And so it must make the tortured journey back into this world to try again.

If we failed to take advantages of past blessings then, measure for measure, we may have to live lives of profound loss or deprivation. If we inflicted pain on others, we might have to learn to live with pain ourselves.

If we stood idly by indifferent to the suffering of our fellows, we might have to experience loneliness and abandonment to restore the balance of our souls. In the end, we have to learn to trust that not only is justice blind, but that we are blind to the workings of Divine justice.

The final tikkun, or rectification of our souls, cannot be compared to editing a flawed manuscript or altering an ill-fitting garment. If we knew exactly where we had failed and why we were here, our job would be all too simple.

Instead, we have to grapple with uncertainty, groping our way through spiritual confusion, guided only by the echoes of conscience and our desire to navigate the storms of earthly existence.

Only a very few are given memories of their past lives, for reasons that may remain a mystery to all but the One who returned them to this world for another chance.

And what of the wicked who prosper? This may be the most frightening aspect of reincarnation altogether.

What can be done for the soul that has been given chance after chance and failed time after time? Such a soul may be given one final opportunity to recognize its true purpose.

Unmoved by tribulations, the soul’s final transmigration may take the form of undeserved comfort and ease, providing the ominous prospect of payment in this world and forfeiture of eternal life.

Nothing should frighten us more than a life of repose disconnected from any evident merit. The last hope for such a soul will be that it may finally respond to the realization that the Master of the Universe has given up hope that it will ever choose to save itself.

But few of us are so far gone. And few of us have memories of past lives. And so the best formula we have for spiritual success is to heed King Solomon’s concluding words in Ecclesiastes:

The sum of the matter, when all has been heard, is to stand in awe of the Eternal and keep His ways, for this is the entirety of Man.

The more we seek truth and justice, the more we can influence the world to become faithful and just, and the more quickly we will enable our souls to move forward toward their spiritual destiny.

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This Post Has 5 Comments

  1. LJ Bothell

    Interesting. Here’s the practical thought: the soul (or whatever one names it) is eternal, and the only way a soul can grow is through experience. Everything else would be more or less a dream-state of no actual action. Experience is gleaned through life – practicing and experiencing cause and effect, action vs theory, etc. In this, reincarnation would be an eternal part of the learning process, not just a punishment or a specific lesson-learning session.

    Essentially,the soul begins from its first experience in life, grows and matures through many types and forms and experiences of life, evolves from primarily fear/body-based control toward maturity/bigger-picture thinking, and may in time evolve to become able to willingly merge with other similar souls, thus pushing the context for life experience further than our short-short fear-filled lives. Sentience would not be immediate, and sentience would begin at love levels considered lesser than human, though with different perceptions, priorities, and brain-capacity ability to communicate upward. Who knows how far this goes, and/or the end picture?

    In other words, almost every one of us has lived many, many lives, from lower life forms to where/what we are now, and will continue evolving into levels as yet unimagined. Others have likely gone before, and others are coming after / during. Some deeply immature and childishly destructive people often may be those who have not yet learned how to be human – just now entering their first few human experiences.

    Justice/and balance (?karma?) is, basically what we make for ourselves as individuals, communities, societies, worlds, galaxies. . . Our struggle for balance is between self-control and control-BY-others, for our OWN sense of what is fair and worthy and evocative of finding OUR place in reality, vs. others trying to dominate, force, and inform us what THEY think our place in THEIR reality should be. It truly is an ongoing, eons-long process. It is also impossible in this evolution to know where the heavier side of the balance will be: dominating control by elite (hyper-experienced) souls with an aim of competition, or individual self-control of all in the masses with an aim of cooperation.

    Regarding the 3 souls part isn’t really about a single soul fused from 3 things. The body one is born into has its own core life force that is focused on the essential physical needs f the body; the “ego” or “id” per se, might be the portion of the mind that tries to make sense of the life’s place in the environment it is in. The higher soul, if you will, is YOU – the part that steps out of your body at death and moves into another body. All three levels of energy and experience suggested here are just ways to help separate out how we seem to have such conflicting priorities in life. Considering that death, space and time out of a body between lives, and the process of birth are generally traumatic (like a car accident can be), our “soul” doesn’t seem to develop the ability to consciously remember details of previous lives in any realistic way. Sometimes through dreams, likely much of one’s first year of life as a baby (when you can’t actually communicate your memories), and eventually after many, many lives at humanesque-level sentience in which one has repeatedly experience so much similarity that fear of death, loss, abandonment, etc. have faded as something to be constantly conscious of.

  2. Yonason Goldson

    Interesting thoughts, LJ. In Jewish philosophy, a fundamental problem arises from the contradictory ideas that the soul is created perfect yet needs to perfect itself. Perhaps the way to resolve the paradox is by understanding that the soul has to persist in asserting its influence over the body until all physical impulses become totally subservient to the promptings of the soul.

    I think this is consistent with what you’re saying. Thanks for your input.

  3. Johan

    We are not just afloat in the Universe, alone but for a soul given by God. Instead, we are all part of Him (and Her) and not separate at all. One should not think God would create beings and then leave them to try to find their way through a multitude of lives in hope of one day reconnecting to ”home”. No, there is no real separation, only different stages of forgetting.

    It’s more a question of evolution. As LJ Bothell points out, a universe without continued experience would stay in a dream state where nothing evolves. Everything needs to move on, to reach higher – even God needs this. Else creation would just be a pretty picture, ”painted” eons ago and staying the same for ever and ever.

    God’s problem is that if you are all-knowing, all-encompassing and all-present – what is there left to learn? You would have nowhere to go to seek out new knowledge since you are already there! One thing to counter this is to separate a part of yourself and ”set it free” to experience creation by itself. As God, you have created a multitude of beings and there are differences between them as to how much they can remember of you. Some beings have completely forgotten about you, some knows OF you but can only experience you by turning to a spiritual path, some has full knowledge of you and are thus way ahead of the rest of us.

    So when one being dies he/she has experienced things God himself couldn´t have done ”as God” and thus they contribute with their own unique experiences to His ever increasing knowledge. In a sense, we are all his scouts in His own creation, trying out every possibility of it and then reporting home!

    But why even bother with such an immense project like this one? Why not just create a universe, let everyone have full knowledge of you, and then let them live happily for ever after? Why instead allow all this meaningless cruelty and killing that just goes on and on without no sign of ever stopping, especially on this planet?

    There are a few things to take into consideration (this, btw, is an explanation of the theodicy problem that atheists like to throw in the face of spiritual people):

    1. This universe is not – as especially religious people would like to see it – a perfect creation. God Himself in all his love is not wholly perfect. For sure, from the viewpoint of humans he is of course immense and overwhelming in his glory. But there are other viewpoints as well. Anyway, to create something as an universe you need an ego. And this ego is telling you ”I want things to be like this but not like this”. So God has an ego. For sure, he is all love but there were imperfections in His creation that lead to division and separation. This separate part of creation has been counteracting God’s plan almost since the beginning of the universe. But luckily for everyone much, much less so in the last 15 years since it has realised that in the long run it’s counterprodictive. But there are still fractions that will do everything to stop the universe from evolving towards it’s ultimate goal: unification.

    2. With separateness comes more free will depending on how much separateness you are born into. If you don’t know God fully or has just heard about Him, you will follow your own intuitions more instead of following His will. It’s nothing bad, after all it’s God’s plan. No one will be left out just bacuse he/she doesn’t believe in God.

    3. Lastly and by far most important: there is a plan for all this. And it’s not God’s. Yes, he may have created this universe but the plan or rather ”game” has been set up elsewhere. For instance, we as humans have things that we must experience and learn to get on with our spiritual path. Reincarnation is a good way to ”catch up” with things you didn’t manage to realize in your former life – be they good or bad. But you are also a part of that greater plan that encompassess many more universes than ours. And that plan is of immense importance and has also been played many times before. It’s, as I said, about unification. This time the ”gamekeeper” has proclaimed that the plan must end in success.

    So the universe is on the verge of taking its final step to fullfill the plan. As a gift to ”speed up” the process, karma itself has been ”cut off” by God as a gift to all. No one has longer to carry the burden of having to right a wrong in the next life, in a sense being a slave to ones own mistakes for ever. Does this mean we can do what we want now? Oh no, everything good or bad you do in this life will come back in this life instead. So tread carefully knowing that your karma can decend on you anytime.Hopefully your next life will be little bit better…

  4. Music Alchemy

    It appears you draw your information from secondary sources since you reference only biblical and jewish theology. There are theologies prior to Judaism from which jewish texts were derived. Manly P.Hall’s reference book “The Secret Teaching of the Ages” explains in less distorted terms what is our incarnation purpose is and how reincarnation comes into play. I suggest you broaden your horizons a bit, go deeper. Don’t sell yourself short. Just a little suggestion!

  5. ymaont

    Never seen such a contradictoring article. Quote : “we have to learn to trust that not only is justice blind, but that we are blind to the workings of Divine justice” and “Such a soul may be given one final opportunity to recognize its true purpose” and “The last hope for such a soul will be that it may finally respond to the realization that the Master of the Universe has given up hope that it will ever choose to save itself”. How can you say this when you cant fathom. And God almighty doesnot judge you however good or bad you are. It is you who decide what you want to do (judge yourself or not). Even to the point whether you want to finish unfinished business (reaping fruits of karma) or being punished by it. Bhagawad Gita mentions that all negative actions dont lead to negative karma. Its intention. If you hurt someone unintentionally, the almighty knows this and doesnot punish. Hence there is neither good nor bad, only love. You, I, them, others are all souls (part of god). We all have dormant manifestation powers. Moksha is not realized through righteous austerity. Instead a simple loving heart is necessary. Love others as much you can. Dont judge anyone. Above of all love God immensely in your heart and know that you, I and others are also God. The consciousness is God. Nothing else exists. Even subatomic particles are just strings (String Theory). Love for God will reduce the number of reincarnations needed to achieve that love (what you call perfection). Where no one can bias you otherwise, not even the satan. This is the only ticket out of here.

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