flame inside six-pointed Star of David
The Hasidic Stories
Home Page

>Articles > Themes In Hasidic Stories > Transmigration of Souls, Part 2

Features of the Month
What's New?

The Baal Shem Tov
Rabbi Nachman of Bratslav
Rabbi Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev
Other Early Rebbes
Later Rebbes
Rabbi Pesach Mendel
Stories of Our Times

Background and Sources
Hasidic Theories of Storytelling
Themes in Hasidic Stories
Learning from Hasidic Stories
Interpreting Individual Stories
Preparing and Telling

The Soul of Hope

envelope icon Email this page to a friend


Transmigration of Souls, Part 2

by Gedalyah Nigal

An Excerpt from Magic, Mysticism, and Hasidism
[Continued from Part One]

The hasidic story devotes special attention to gilgul [rebirth of a soul in another form] in a dog, both because of the influence of the kabbalistic sources - both the theoretical ones and the stories - and because of the fear and revulsion many Eastern European Jews of that period felt for the dog of the non-Jew, especially that of the paritz (landowner).(63)

Tikkunei Zohar already states, "There is a soul which is placed in a dog."(64) Gilgul within a dog is meant, according to Rabbi Hayim Vital, for one who engaged in adultery with a non-Jewish woman,(65) and even the Safed story speaks at length about the gilgul into a dog of a man who had committed adultery with his Jewish neighbor.(66)

A story that presumably took place during the time of Rabbi Isaac Luria states that gilgul into a dog is likely to be a punishment for weak faith and the nonfulfillment of the commandment of a holy man and a prophet. It is related that once Rabbi Isaac Luria was late to a wedding. He explained his tardiness by saying that on the way he encountered a dog that barked at him. Luria asked him who he was, and the dog replied that he was the gilgul of Gehazi. When Elisha ordered the reviving of the son of the Shunammite with his staff, Gehazi did not believe in the miracle that was about to take place. On his way he saw a dead dog that had been cast at the side of the road, and he tried out the prophet's staff on it. The dog did indeed come back to life, but the staff could no longer have an effect on the body of the youth. Gehazi's punishment was to transmigrate in a dog.(67)

In the wake of an opinion prevalent in Safed,(68) the hasidic story regards gilgul in a dog as the punishment of the informer, as well as of those who speak ill of tzaddikim and hasidim. Rabbi Arye Leib, the Mokhiah of Polonnoye, once acted disrespectfully toward the corpse of someone who had been an informer in his lifetime, thereby saving him from gilgul in a dog.(69) A drowning dog containing the gilgul of an informer saved as it drowned the life of Rabbi Yudel of Chudnov, thereby effecting the correction of the soul.(70) It is related about an informer who bothered Meir [II] of Peremyshlyany that he was transmigrated in a dog that collected bones from under the table of the tzaddik's son-in-law.(71) Rabbi Isaac Eizik of Komarno related, in the name of Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshits (Ropczyce), that one who speaks ill of tzaddikim is transmigrated in a dog.(72) It is related that once a group of hasidim traveled together to Rabbi Naphtali. On the way they saw a large dog that barked and chased them. They thought that it must have been the gilgul of a mitnaged in a dog, and when they were traveling to the tzaddik, it barked at them. A wagon that passed by them ran over the dog, and it died. When they came to the tzaddik, Rabbi Naphtali told them, "Know, young men, that what the world says is true, that the gilgul of a mitnaged was in the dog!"(73)

The belief in transmigration resolves problems, removes doubts, and explains incomprehensible situations. A story is related about a Torah scholar from Medzibezh who did not have the means to marry off his sons and daughters. His wife persuaded him to pour out his woes before the Baal Shem Tov. The Baal Shem Tov sent the man to the distant city of Kazmir, to inquire about a certain artisan, and then his soul would be at peace. The poor man traveled to the distant city, where he learned that this artisan was exceedingly wicked and had died about sixty years previously. The poor man returned, disappointed, and told the Baal Shem Tov what had happened to him. The Baal Shem Tov replied, "You are a Torah scholar and undoubtedly believe with complete faith in the matter of gilgulim, as the sages said. You must know that you are the person who was transmigrated for sixty years in this wicked person, who did not pass by a single transgression in the world. Now this gilgul has come to correct what you damaged sixty years ago. Now, do you desire any more human delights and pleasures?"(74)

The mother of an infant who had died at the age of two heard from the Baal Shem Tov that in a previous gilgul, her son had been a non-Jewish king who had converted to Judaism. He had "to return to the world, to live his first years as a Jew." (75) In another story, the Baal Shem Tov asked an extremely poor widow, who wandered about for her livelihood, to let him raise her son, and he even promised to pay her generously. The child grew up and turned into a prodigy. Many matches were proposed, but the Baal Shem Tov rejected them all. He sent his beadle to a distant city, to request for the prodigy the daughter of an onion seller, promising that all the expenses of the wedding and all the needs of the father of the bride would be paid for by the Baal Shem Tov. The latter explained that in a previous gilgul, the prodigy and the daughter of the onion seller had been married to each other. The young man, who was the son of a king, had converted to Judaism in his youth, but he had to come back to the world a second time, in order to live his first years as a Jew. His wife resigned herself to his death, on condition that he promise her that in the second gilgul he would marry her again. It was the Baal Shem Tov who caused this promise to be kept.(76)

Gilgul is not, therefore, always a punishment; rather at times it constitutes an opportunity to correct distortions that occurred in the previous gilgul. Rabbi Moses Cordovero discussed such situations:

And similarly, a gilgul will take place at times to bring to the world a soul which had been killed, and just as He took out of the world, so does He bring into the world; or to bring his father into the world - just as He brought him, so will He bring him; this is done in order to pay his fellow money which was stolen, thereby giving him his property, or to give all his property to one of the sons, or to do well to a stranger, as he desires to do this kindness, and he does not know of this, only the One Who knows all secrets, Who causes this to occur, knows this; or marries his daughter to him, or bestows upon him his property, etc., according to the laws of the Lord and under His unfathomable guidance.(77)
Transmigration for the purpose of arranging monetary matters is already mentioned in the Safed stories. (78) Similarly, the Baal Shem Tov teaches Rabbi Dov Ber, the Maggid of Mezhirech, the secret of gilgul by means of a horseman whose money has been lost. The man who found the money was the person who, in an earlier gilgul, had paid the horseman money that was not coming to him. (79) Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf of Zbarazh, son of Rabbi Jehiel Mikhel of Zloczow, once passed through Lvov, and one of the people who greeted him was a well-known wealthy man. The tzaddik related the following story: A man had two sons - one wealthy and the other poor. The wealthy man lent the poor man one thousand gold coins to engage in business; when he became wealthy, he would return them. Years passed, and the wealthy brother became impoverished, but the poor brother, who in the meantime had become wealthy, did not want to return the loan, and his brother died in total poverty. Soon afterward, the borrower also died. The Heavenly Court decreed that both of them would transmigrate and come to the world a second time: the wicked one as a wealthy man, and the righteous one as a poor man. All his life, the poor man would collect charity from the rich one, until he attained the sum of one thousand gold coins. When, in the second gilgul, the poor man came to [his wicked brother], the wealthy one, and implored him to give him a few coins, the latter drove him away. The poor man fell down and died.

As he told this, Rabbi Ze'ev Wolf turned to the wealth man and said, "You are the wicked person! Yesterday you did such and such to a poor person, who was your brother, from whom you borrowed one thousand gold coins in your first gilgul!"(80)

A similar motif appears in a story not about brothers, but rather about friends. Rabbi Shalom of Kamenka related this story, in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, when all the tzaddikim had gathered in Ropshits on the anniversary of the passing of Rabbi Naphtali of Ropshits. At this time, a woman came to the tzaddikim and complained that she had given one thousand gold coins to a partner, who had gone away and whose whereabouts were unknown. As was their practice, all the tzaddikim attempted to console her and to make assurances to her. Rabbi Shalom, on the other hand, declared that all these assurances were worthless and that the woman could not hope for anything, for 'who knows which gilgul this man is and why it was proposed to him to take the coins the woman gave him [thereby repaying] a debt?" Incidentally, he related the story.(81)

At the same time, however, it may be stated that most of the transmigrations in the stories have the purpose of correcting transgressions. A few instances were cited previously, and we shall now continue with a number of additional examples. A hasid was transmigrated because he prayed until Hodu ("Give thanks," in the preliminary Pesukei De-Zimra section of the Shaharit service) without tallit or tefillin.(82) Another was so punished because he improperly pronounced the words of the prayers.(83) Another one was transmigrated because he was not careful regarding the Saturday night Melaveh Malkah festive meal.(84) Yet another, because he studied Torah in order to provoke.(85) A judge who did not deliver just judgments was compelled to come into the world a second time.(86) An extreme example is provided by the story about a person who was transmigrated because he denied the basic tenets of Judaism, and only thanks to the Baal Shem Tov did he die as a repentant, therefore not requiring a third gilgul.(87) A few stories tell of transmigrations due to murder and, at any rate, about acts that led to perdition. Rabbi Isaac Eizik of Komarno related, in the name of the Baal Shem Tov, about the gilgul of the person who first struck the prophet Zechariah.(88)

For in the cities of Ashkenaz there was a tzaddik who said before he passed away that he would die an unnatural death at the hands of murderers. And he already had been in this world one hundred times, and each time he had been killed. During the time of the Temple he had been the head of the Sanhedrin - sharp, wise, and knowing the deadly drug of the Torah(89) - and he had been the first to strike the cheeks and face of the prophet Zechariah: "You, an uneducated person, utter prophecies?" And after this, completely wicked common people fell on him and killed him. He ordered that it be written on his tombstone: "Here lies the one who killed the prophet Zechariah. He also said that his correction had already been effected.(90)
If the Baal Shem Tov did indeed relate this story, and if he intended to warn his audience against Torah study not for its own sake, it may be assumed that he referred to the haughty Torah scholars among the first opponents of Hasidism. The aim of this gilgul story is therefore not distant from that of the first hasidic gilgul story, that of the gilgul into a frog. It is instructive that in another version of the story, the person is not punished by this gilgul but by his being brought to the world as a dybbuk spirit. The Mogalinzer Rebbe related that a dybbuk that was brought before Rabbi Israel ben Shabbetai, Maggid of Kozienice [and afterward before Rabbi Jacob Joseph, "seer" of Lublin], revealed, "I was captain over a thousand, and I lived during the First Temple, and I struck first the prophet Zechariah in the Temple."(91) Living testimony to the vitality of the subject among hasidim in the twentieth century is provided by the book Shomer Emunim, by Rabbi Aharon (Areleh) Roth, which contains an extensive theoretical discussion of the topic and in which an entire chapter is devoted to gilgul and dybbuk stories. The topic of gilgulim, along with the current belief in gilgulim among hasidim, is worthy of a separate study.



(63).The following, in concise form, is a surprising hasidic story from Safed (the narrator is the matron Ester bat Hayim Zaltz, whose daughter, the matron Yehudit Gutt, related it to the poet Natan Yehonatan, who related it to Prof. Dov Sadan, who was kind enough to give it to me): On a cold and snowy night, a Jewish merchant found himself in the courtyard of the landowner, who stole his property and set his dog on him. The excited dog, however, spared the Jew and killed its owner. The merchant took the treasures of the landowner and his dog and went on his way. After he arrived home, the dog died. When the Jew told the tzaddik of Berditchev what had happened to him, the latter said that the dog was the gilgul of a Jew who had converted to Christianity and who had corrected his soul by saving the Jew from the death the landowner intended for him. The tzaddik ordered that the dog be buried "close to tzaddikim" [!] and participated in the funeral. A cantor recited Kaddish, and the mourner's meal (held after a funeral) was also held!

(64).Tikkunei Zohar, Tikkun 70, 132a.

(65).Shaa Ruah Ha-Kodesh, Tikkun 20: "Know that regarding a person who has relations with a non-Jewish woman, the rabbis, of blessed memory, said, 'If a person has relations with a non-Jewish woman, she is connected to him as a dog' [Sotah 3b]. The intent of the rabbis, of blessed memory, is that a person who has relations with a non-Jewish woman will, after his death, be transmigrated in a dog." Sefer Ha-Hezyonot, 13a: "And that man was transformed into the image of a dog." See also Sefer Ha-Kavanot U-Maaseh Nissim (Constantinople, 1620), 6a, 1Oa; Shevet Mussar (n. 58 [in Part One]), chap. 36, cap. "Ve-Gam Nishmato Titgalgel Be-Kelev"; G. Scholem, Pirkei Yesod Be-Havanat Ha-Kabbalah U-Semalehah (n. 1 [in Part One]), p. 336. Regarding the dog in the works of Agnon, Baruch Kurzweil wrote, "The dogs symbolize transgression, desire" (Masot Al Shai Agnon [Essays on S. Y. Agnon] Jerusalem and Tel Aviv, 1970], p. 107). It would seem that the image of the dog in Agnon's works should be examined in light of the kabbalistic and hasidic story.

(66). The neighbor of Rabbi Abraham Ibn Puah had adulterous relations with the latter's wife, and was transmigrated "in a very ugly black dog." See Sefer Toldot Ha-Ari, pp. 237-238. The author of Kav Ha-Yashar, who brings this story in his book (chap. 34), concludes that "the insolent are punished by gilgul in a dog, such as the sin of [relations with] a married woman." The story is also brought in Hemdat Ha-Yamim, Pt. IV, chap. 4, 56a; Sefer Ha-Maasiyot (Baghdad, 1866), sect. 95, pp. 118-119; Shomer Emunim, Pt. II, "Reward and Punishment" (Hebrew), 315b. Regarding two adulterers who were transmigrated in dogs, see: Minhat Yehudah, 57b. See also ibid., 66, and n. (78) below. A gilgul in a black dog came to the author of Hidushei Ha-Rim to attain his correction. See Yitzhak Alfasi, Gur, 175-176 (and see n. 27 [in Part One]).

(67). See Siah Sarfei Kodesh, Pt. II (n. 12 [in Part One]), sect. 475, p. 124. This gilgul was corrected by the dog that jumped into poisoned and boiling food, thereby saving many Jewish lives. Cf. Raphael Moses Elbaz, Eiden Mi-Kedem (Fez, 1940), 25a, q.v. Gehazi, in the name of "an extremely old manuscript." This story is different from, and shorter than, the story in Siah Sarfei Kodesh, and therefore it cannot be assumed that they drew upon the same source. See II Kings 4:29. Cf. also MS Budapest Kaufman 570 and MS Madrid 7542. These Aramaic texts speak of a lion and not a dog. My thanks to Prof. Rimon Kashar, who drew my attention to these texts.

(68). Sefer Ha-Gilgulim, p. 135: "And anyone who causes the money of an Israelite to be given over to idolators as a result of his informing is sentenced [to transmigrate in] a barking dog."

(69). See Shivhei Ha-Besht, pp. 88-89; Sippurei Hasidim [for the holidays] (n. 12 [in Part One]), p. 147.

(70).See Shivhei Ha-Besht, pp. 176-177.

(71).See Eser Kedushot (n. 17 [in Part One]), Maarekhet Rabbi Meir Mi-Premishlen, sect. 16. Raza De-Uvda (n. 8 [in Part One]), Gate of Letters, pp. 35-36. Mair Margoliot, Or Ha-Meir (Lvov, 1926), p. 21. Cf. Abraham Judah Schwartz, Derekh Ha-Nesher (Satu-Mare, 1928), p. 26, in the name of Rabbi Akiva Joseph Schlesinger, in his book Shimru Mishpat, Pt. II, p. 72 (under the table of his father-in-law, Rabbi Hillel Lichtenstein lay a dog containing the gilgul of a soul awaiting correction). Zvi Moshkowitz, Otzar Ha-Sippurim, Pt. VIII Jerusalem, 1951-1956), sect. 3. Regarding an informer who transmigrated in a mouse, see Hemdat Ha-Yamim, Pt. IV, chap. 4, 56a. Regarding the gilgul of a Jerusalem landowner by the name of Shimon in a very large mouse, see Kitvei Kodesh Ramam (n. 36 [in Part One]), sect. 754, p. 136.

(72).Rabbi Isaac Eizik Safrin, Heikhal Ha-Berakhah (Lemberg, 191 1), sect. 155.

(73).See Israel Berger, Eser Tzahtzahot (Piotrkow, 1910), Maarekhet Rabbi Naftali Mi-Ropshitz, sect. 35; Ohel Naftali, sect. 33.

(74). Maaseh Ha-Tzaddikim, p. 5. Bodek emphasizes that we must not complain about bad luck. For a different version, see Migdal Oz (ed. Yehoshua Mondstein) (Kfar Habad, 1980), pp. 244-245.

(75). See Maasiyot Ve-Sihot Tzaddikim (Lemberg, 1895), pp. 21-22. See also Sippurei Hasidim (on the Torah), pp. 138-140; Ha-Sippur Ha-Hasidi, pp. 240, 261-263.

(76). See Devarim Areivim, "Stories from the Baal Shem Tov" (Hebrew), sect. 7. Cf. the story in Midrash Va-Yosha cited in Sefer Eliyahu Ha-Navi by Rabbi Judah Yudel Rosenberg (Piotrkow, 191 1), pp. 34-44. According to Rabbi Hayim Vital, the souls of women do not transmigrate, for "gilgul applies to men and not to women, for women receive their punishment in Gehinnom, which is not the case for men, who study Torah.... The woman, however, also transmigrates when she is required for [the gilgul of] her husband." See Shaar Ha-Gilgulim, Introduction, 20; Sefer Ha-Gilgulim, chap. 13, p. 42. Cf. Shaar Ha-Gilgulim, Introduction, 8: gilgul for the purpose of marrying a partner whom he did not marry in the first gilgul; Sefer Ha-Gilgulim, chap. 4, p. 17: "And there also are those who transmigrate because in their first gilgul they did not marry their true wives or partners, and they return in a gilgul to marry them." In the wake of all this, it is understandable why most dybbuks are male in gender [see my article, n. 2, [in Part One]]. Rabbi Ephraim Reischer ["Ephraim Baal Shem"] writes in his book Shaar Efraim (Furth, 1628), 16a-16b, "When wives quarrel with their husbands, in the end they are transmigrated in a cat and a dog, which hate each other."

(77). Rabbi Moses Cordovero, Shiur Komah (Warsaw, 1885), sect. 84, 84a.

(78).See Sefer Ha-Kavanot Ve-Maaseh Nissim (n. (65) above), 6b.

(79). Maasiyot Mi-Tzaddikei Yesodei Olam (Podgorze, 1903), sect. 5; Moshe Yosef Friedlander, Batei Avot [Jerusalem, 1965), pp. 130-131 (= Ha-Sippur Ha-Hasidi, pp. 254-255).

(80).See Kahal Hasidim He-Hadash, sect. 83. Cf. Aaron Walden, Shem Ha-Gedolim He-Hadash (Warsaw; 1865), q.v. Wolf Mi-Zberzh. See also Sippurei Yaakov, Pt. II, sect. 60: the Maggid of Mezhirech explains that a presumed miscarriage of justice has its basis in a monetary debt of a previous gilgul; Taamei Ha-Minhagim U-Mekorei Ha-Dinim, P. 545 (which cites Divrei Yehezkel, Peirush, Kavanot Ha-Zohar Ha-Kadosh, Shemot). See also my article "Transmigration as a Means for the Correction of a Financial Injustice" (Hebrew), Sinai 106 (1990): pp 63-71.

(81). See Peer Mi-Kedoshim, sect. 1 (= Sippurim Hasidim (n. 53 [in Part One]), pp. 143-147). See also Ha-Sippur Ha-Hasidi, pp. 214-218. Regarding a monetary payment as compensation for troubles caused by two people (in a previous gilgul) to a third person, see Sippurei Yaakov, Pt. II, sect. 55. Once, the Baal Shem Tov effected the correction of a debtor who was transmigrated in a horse after he died owing money to a lender; it was decreed that he serve the latter faithfully. The owner of the horse refused to give the animal to the Baal Shem Tov as a present but willingly gave him the promissory note that he requested, for he did not attribute any importance to a note signed by someone who had died. The Baal Shem Tov tore up the note, and the man completely forgave the dead person. When they went to the stable, they found the horse dead, for the gilgul it contained had been corrected (Shivhei Ha-Besht, p. 151; cf. the shortened version: Sippurei Anshei Shem, sect. 12). Rabbi Israel Meir Ha-Kohen, Hafetz Hayim (Vilna, 1876), Kuntres Sefat Tamim, chap. 4, mentions this story: "And I saw in books a wondrous event that occurred in the time of the Rivash, that a person came back in the gilgul of a horse, and he labored with all his strength in order to repay his debt." Beginning with the eighth edition (1895), the words "in the early days" were printed in place of the words "in the time of the Rivash." Cf. Rabbi Israel Teusig, Rabbi of Mattersdorf, Beit Yisrael Ha-Shalem, pt. VIII (Jerusalem, 1972), 117, who relates this story about Rabbi Meir of Przemyslan.

(82).See Devarim Areivim, "Stories from the Baal Shem Tov" (Hebrew), sect. 30.

(83).See Menahem Mendel Bodek, Kahal Kedoshim (Lemberg, 1865), sect. 11, p. 11b (= Sippurim Hasidim [n. 53 [in Part One]], pp. 227-229). Cf. Yoetz Kim Kadish Rakatz, Tiferet Ha-Yehudi (Warsaw, 1910), sect. 125, pp. 54-55: the outstanding tzaddik of the generation came a second time in a gilgul "because in the first gilgul, he did not have all the proper intents while reciting the verse 'Where is their place,' before prayer." See also ibid., sect. 124.

(84). See Tzeror Ha-Hayim (n. 51 [in Part One]), sect. 70; Eretz Ha-Hayim (n. 34 [in Part One]), sect. 45, p. 27.

(85).See Maasiyot Peliyot, sect. 24.

(86).See Maasiyot Me-Tzaddikei Yesod Olam (n. 4 [in Part One]), sect. 5.

(87). See Isaiah Wolf Tzikernick, Sippurim Nehmadim (chap. 2, n. 42, [in Part One]), pp. 7-10. Historical figures who committed the sin of idolatry also were sentenced to gilgul. Jeroboam was transmigrated in the body of Rabbi Isaiah Pinto and was corrected when the latter destroyed an object used for idolatrous purposes (Pe'er Mi-Kedoshim, sect. 3). Menassah, who erected a statue in the Temple, was transmigrated in the form of a customs official who uprooted statues of idolatry (i.e., crosses) at crossroads (ibid., sect. 4).

(88). For the killing of Zechariah, see Gittin 57b; Sanhedrin 96b. For more regarding gilgul as punishment for murder, see Minhat Yehudah 60a.

(89).See Yoma 72b.

(90).Notzer Hesed, 21b. This is brought in the book Taamei Ha-Minhagim U-Mekorei Ha-Dinim, p. 530; Isaiah Wolf Tzikernick, Sefer Maasiyot U-Maamarim Yekarim (Zhitomer, 1902), p. 23; Sefer Baal Shem Tov (Lodz, 1938), Balak, p. 141. See also Toldot Yaakov Yosef (Koretz, 1780), 169c: "The third exile is the hardest of all. This refers to the God-fearing Torah scholar who suffers exile because of the Jewish demon [i.e., evil] Torah scholar, as I heard, in a joking manner; that these were the ones who killed Zechariah; and [that] 'The words of a wise man's mouth are gracious'" [Ecclesiastes 10:12]; ibid., 187c: "As it is written in the Talmud, Shabbat: Jerusalem was destroyed only because Torah scholars were held in contempt in it, as it is written, 'But they mocked the messengers of God . . . [2 Chronicles 35:16], i.e., by the scholars who are called false prophets, and as it is written, But they mocked the messengers of God . . . [2 Chronicles 36:16], i.e., by the scholars who are called false prophets, and as it is written, 'Your prophets have seen visions for you of vanity and delusion...'[Lamentations 2:14] and when I heard that they had killed the prophet Zechariah...."

(91). Sihot Hayim, pp. 17-18. Cf. Rabbi Solomon Rabinowitz of Radomsk, Tiferet Shlomo (Warsaw, 1867), Gate of Prayer (Hebrew), 13b; Shaar Ha-Gilgulim, "Introduction by the Publisher" (Hebrew); Moses Goldstein, Masa'ot Yerushalayim (Munkacs, 1931), 25a.

As published in Magic, Mysticism, and Hasidism, by Gedalyah Nigal. Reprinted by permission of the publisher, Jason Aronson, Inc., Northvale, NJ. Permission was also obtained from the author. To order: The Jason Aronson Home Page



envelope icon Email this page to a friend


The Hasidic Stories Home Page
email: [email protected]
A service provided by Doug Lipman

This page was last updated on Monday, March 10, 2003
Copyright©2003 Doug Lipman