BRINGING A SOUL INTO THE WORLD
A common belief in currency these days is that a soul chooses its parents. Often this is an ironic observation, "Well, you must have chosen a difficult father for a reason!" "I guess the fact that you don't get along with your mother was to teach you something about a past life."
An opposite belief is that randomness is the operative factor. Out of millions of spermatozoa, only one penetrates the wall of the ovum. It is happenstance which is closest, fastest, strongest, and this will determine the DNA of the fetus.
Jewish mysticism rests between these viewpoints. On the one hand, the existence of free will in the universe guarantees that a certain degree of randomness will always be present. On the other hand, as everything occurring in the lower worlds has its reflection in the upper worlds, there will be a relationship and mystical attraction between souls.
"When desire brings man and woman together, the child that issues from their union will be a combination of both of their forms because God produces the child in a mold that draws from both. Therefore the man and woman should sanctify themselves at such a time in order that the form be as perfect as possible."2
This zoharic statement suggests that the outcome of conception is based not only on "what is," but also on "what could be."
On an individual basis, our "what is" part is related to our genetic makeup, the raw materials that we have to work with. Our "what could be" part is the result of choices we make in life, the way we condition ourselves. The interplay of these two factors determines who we are at any point in time.
The mystical level adds another dimension. The "what is" encompasses a history of soul connections, the complex assortment of assignments each soul has set before it as well as the relationship of the soul to higher and lower realms. The "what could be" centers on simple acts of spiritual awareness expressed through free will which become the fulcrum upon which the world turns.
Our lives, and the universe itself, are balanced on scales that measure deeds, words and thoughts. Everything can turn on a word. A momentary thought can set a new spin to the universe. Each deed has the capacity to alter fate. Thus, the incredible drama that unfolds in each moment is awesome, for we never know what lies ahead. This mystical teaching is epitomized in conception, the archetype of newness.
BODY AND SOUL
We know that alcohol, drugs, and cigarettes can be detrimental to a pregnancy. We intuit that undue stress during a pregnancy may be harmful, and that a well balanced, relatively tranquil nine months may be beneficial; but there is no way to measure this. Moreover, wonderfully healthy babies are often born after a traumatic pregnancy, and babies with colic or other complications are sometimes born after ideal pregnancies.
When we consider the soul, the teachings become even more ethereal. The Jewish mystic believes strongly that the state of mind of both parents affects the soul that will be attracted. This applies at all levels including when we are engaged in the act that leads to conception, during the time of conception itself (even though it may be hours later), and throughout the entire pregnancy. The level of our consciousness is a key factor in the attraction of souls.
A great deal of commentary in Jewish oral tradition discusses an array of ideas related to why someone becomes pregnant, and why not. Many of these concepts relate to merit, prayer and past lives. In addition, on the mystical level, it is clear that souls have tasks to achieve while associated with physical form. Thus, it is assumed that there is a degree of selectivity, a choice process in the parents and physical situation that will relevant to the soul's task. Clearly, the level of consciousness of the parents would be considered an important factor. Numerous stories in hasidism describe specials souls selection either saintly parents, on the one hand, or very average parents, on the other.
In addition, the sexual act has enormous mystical implications.2
Mystics suggest that during love-making we should view each other as a representations of the divine image. Moreover, we are advised that "it is important to avoid any extraneous thoughts during the sexual act. Partners should not think of any member of the opposite sex other than the sexual partner."3
Aryeh Kaplan, one of the most prolific modern writers of Jewish mysticism, suggests that deep meditation "can have an effect on the genetic structure of one's offspring, as well as the child's spiritual makeup."3
He draws upon the description in the Torah in which Jacob controls the genetic reproduction of his sheep so that they will have body markings of spots, bands and stripes. Jacob did this because he had to give the unmarked ones to Laban, who was corrupt. So Jacob pealed the bark off of rods and meditated on these rods to produce the desired effects in the propagating sheep.
The operative mystical theory in this instance is that consciousness is connected with the soul realms. As such, our awareness will be a magnet to attract souls at similar levels. This is not something we can perceive logically. But if we are able to visualize all of creation as layers of awareness, each layer representing a different reality, we can begin to appreciate the dynamics of interaction with the soul realms.
We have a tendency to misunderstand the relationship between soul and body. If a body is lovely, emotions are balanced, and intellect is grand, we think that the soul of this person must be from a higher realm. If the body is impaired, the emotions are volatile, or the intellect is so-so, we assume that the soul must be from relatively lower realms. This is not at all the way it is presented in the teachings.
It is said that "when God delights in a soul, God inflicts suffering on the body so that the soul may gain full freedom."
Or, in another place, "When suffering comes to a good person, it is because of God's love. The body is crushed to give more power to the soul, so that it will be drawn nearer to God in love."
This teaching is difficult for us. It should be another way, we feel. Good things should happen to good people. But this clearly is not the mystical viewpoint. A soul has the task of mending itself and the world, to raise everything to a higher level of consciousness. There are an infinite number of ways to do so. Sometimes an impaired physical body is precisely what is needed to raise consciousness. Sickness, a difficult environment, a troubled relationship, poverty, suffering, untimely death of a loved one, any of a wide variety of demanding human experiences can lead to higher awareness. As higher awareness is another way of saying we come closer to God, fulfilling a primary purpose of creation, whatever we experience in these physical bodies that brings us to this goal is viewed as another opportunity to raise holy sparks.
Indeed, overcoming life's challenges does a great deal more to mold the character of a person than not being tested at all. Obviously, there are many trials we would rather not have. Yet, this may be what is on our plate. We do not necessarily get to choose. The way we learn to handle what we are given as our portion will affect the development of the soul.
I have worked with many families who suffer significant tragedies. Perhaps the most heart rending situations occur when parents have a child diagnosed with a terminal disease--especially when the process lasts for years. God forbid this should happen to anyone you know, and yet, the parents with whom I have worked in this plight are usually profound souls who have attained extraordinary levels of consciousness--not to speak of the amazing children I have encountered. We can never justify tragedy on this basis, but it helps us gain insight and compassion.
It need not be as dramatic as a terminal illness. A friend who had a difficult child once asked me: "How did this happen? We live well, we gave Tommy everything he needed. We loved him. We tried to give him the best education; which he resisted. We did not spoil him with too many material things, but gave him what counted. Yet, from the beginning, he was angry, miserable, combative, hateful and destructive. He burned everything he could. He was a bully and stole from smaller children. We got all kinds of help for him: emotional, psychological. Nothing worked. What happened?"
I asked him, "Did you stop loving Tommy because he has a difficult life?"
"No, of course not," he answered. "It just causes me such pain to see him suffer so much."
Tommy's father did not love him any the less because of Tommy's difficulties; perhaps this love was felt even more deeply because it was breaking his heart. We would not choose this scenario for ourselves. And Tommy's father did everything in his power to turn things around.
The question we must ask, however, is what was happening with Tommy's soul? Or that of Tommy's father? Mother? Teacher? Psychotherapist? Brothers? Sisters? Friends? The entire world that he lived in was impacted by Tommy. He drew a great deal of attention to himself. And he touched many souls.
Who knows? Geniuses are born to poorly educated parents; mentally or emotionally challenged children are often born to the brightest, holiest, or most charitable people; seriously asocial or amoral, incorrigible children are born to all kinds of families. We cannot draw soul comparisons to these events. We live in physical reality, but the soul dwells in many others.