Tuesday, January 15, 2008

One of these things does not match the other

I'm reading a book of stories about Hasidic rebbes. It has some interesting reincarnation tidbits.

The Apter Rebbe once said he had been the High Priest in ancient Jerusalem. The Berdichever was the reincarnation of Rabbi Akiva. Israel of Stolin claimed to have Rashi's soul, which was convenient, since his father, Asher of Stolin was said to have been the reincarnation of none other than King David.

Ok, so far it's pretty standard. But apparently the Yismach Moshe, the first Moshe Teitelbaum, had some really interesting reincarnation claims.

In reverse order, he claimed to have been:

1- the prophet Jeremiah.

2- A member of the original group of Israelites in the Exodus (he wouldn't answer if he supported Moses or Korah)

3- and the last, and original soul... well, that's where things get weird.

Apparently Rabbi Teitelbaum was one of the sheep in Jacob's flock when he worked for Laban. I'm not sure what we're supposed to learn from this, other than that souls can move between species. Also, I'm disappointed that there's no further commentary in the book about this. Are we supposed to infer that being a sheep of a patriarch is just as high-prestige as being the prophet Jeremiah? Did the rabbi take certain insights away from his time as a sheep? Like vegetarianism, or the importance of treating animals humanely? Making sure to shear them on time?

Hey, wait a minute! Israel of Rizhin was also one of Jacob's sheep! I wonder if they were friends. You know what some Jewish studies grad student should do is research whether any of the rebbes or rabbis claiming to be reincarnations ever overlapped with each other... like, at any given point, were there multiple claimants to be King David? It would be pretty impressive if there weren't.

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