Thursday, November 3, 2011

The Vilna Gaon on Yonah: Secrets of Reincarnation

A Glimpse into the world of Remez

Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna, commonly known as the Gaon [literally "genius"] was probably the most influential Jewish leader in modern history. He never assumed any official position of leadership and spent his time in almost total isolation toiling day and night in torah study. He became the undisputed greatest torah scholar and kabbalist in modern history.

The book of Yonah is read every Yom Kippur in all orthodox synagogues. The simple meaning of the story contains the theme of repentance. However, as is known there are 4 main dimensions of interpretation in the torah. They are 1: "Pshat" [simple,literal meaning], 2: Remez [allusion, hinted], 3: Drosh [not explicit interpretation], 4: Sod [secret meaning, which form the acronym PaRDeS (orchard)]. The Vilna Gaon on Mishlei [1:6, commentary "chemda genuza"] explains: "The 4th level of Torah, called "Sod" [secret] is the inner and primary meaning. The other lower meanings, are also true, but serve primarily for the purpose of straightening a man in order that he be sufficiently spiritually developed to understand the Sod". These four dimensions of interpretation exist certainly in the 24 books of the bible but even in the mishna and in the talmud. 

Very few people can delve properly beyond the pshat. Only one who has attained mastery in the four levels can be capable of deciphering the hidden code. The Vilna Gaon was such a rare person and offers us a spectacular view of a parallel book of the Yonah story in the realm of "Remez". Note that the simple meaning of the book is also true as we see, for example, that the Midrash Raba lists the "special fish" which swallowed Yonah as one of the creatures specially prepared during the 6 days of the creation of the world. Yet in the Vilna Gaon's "remez" version of the story, the fish is not real but is only symbolic of the grave of Yonah. 

This parallel story of Yonah is one of a human being who got caught up in materialism, dies, goes through Gehinom [purgatory], and returns in a reincarnation. The Sages teach that the vast majority of people alive today are reincarnations, which are sent back down because they did not complete their previous "mission". So this book, can very well speak personally to many of us. In Chapter 4 verse 3 the Vilna Gaon gives us a sign into how to see what went wrong in our previous lives.

And how could one know what he corrupted before [in his previous gilgul]? There is on this 2 signs. One - that [sin] which he stumbles many times in this gilgul. On this they said "let him examine his ways", which ones does he stumble. Two - which sin does his soul desire greatly, because it was used to it previously and became second nature. Therefore there are some men who desire one sin more, and others who desire a different sin. And on this they said "examine his ways" - that he should also fix his ways.

To read the whole thing go to: a glimpse into the world of Remez


Anonymous said...

This actually makes more sense to me. But how does one know what their mission is? Do we stumble upon it? I'm still trying to figure out what mine is..

Devorah said...

Some people know instinctively what they are meant to do, from an early age. Other people find out much later in life. I guess some people never find out at all, you need to pray and ask Hashem to show you what you need to be doing.

Something that was very helpful to me recently was getting my name analyzed by Rabbi Katz (who uses remez as taught by the Vilna Gaon) to decode your name: at Soul Mazal Blog

[Rabbi Katz will be interviewed by Tamar Yonah on INR sometime in the next few weeks]

Anonymous said...

what about people with exact same names ?
Are they sent here for the exact same purpose ?

Devorah said...

It's not just your first name(s) - the names of both of your parents are included in your name.

But even then there are people with the same name, so no doubt they have a lot in common.

Anonymous said...

"It's not just your first name(s) - the names of both of your parents are included in your name"

What about converts? All converts have the same parents - Avraham and Sarah...Does the birth date have anything to do with it?

Devorah said...

In the overall scheme, yes the birth date has a lot to do with it.

As for the names... you'll have to ask Rabbi Katz that one.