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The Neshamos of the Sheep

Written by Rabbi Yehoshua Alt, 3/12/2019

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The Neshamos of the Sheep

There are those who remembered events from a previous lifetime. It is known that the Yismach Moshe[1] (1759-1841) showed the mark on his shoulder that remained from the hit by Yaakov when he was one of his sheep. The Apta Rav, author of the Sefer Oheiv Yisrael, (1748-1825) would sing a melody that Yaakov would play on his flute to gather his sheep.[2]


The sheep that Yaakov rescued from Lavan, says the Zohar, contained the נשמות, souls of the Jewish[3] people.[4] These נשמות needed to be rectified as they were the נשמות from the דור המבול and דור הפלגה. This is also hinted to in the Midrash[5] in this week’s Parsha that says Yaakov had 600,000 herds of livestock as this is the number of נשמות of Klal Yisrael in each generation.[6]


The purpose of Yaakov’s work by Lavan was to redeem these נשמות from under the domain of Lavan who wanted to uproot everything—ביקש לעקור את הכל as we say in the Haggada. Is it any coincidence that we are called צאן as in צאן מרעיתו, sheep of his pasture.[7]


Rabbi Alt merited to learn under the tutelage of R’ Mordechai Friedlander Ztz”l for close to five years. He received Semicha from R’ Zalman Nechemia Goldberg. Rabbi Alt has written on numerous topics for various websites and publications. He lives with his wife and family in a suburb of Yerushalayim where he studies, writes and teaches. The author is passionate about teaching Jews of all levels of observance.

[1] While the Yismach Moshe spread the light of Chassidus to Hungary, he strongly opposed Chassidus (מתנגד) in his earlier years. When he was a young boy, he traveled to see the Gra and even ate a Shabbos Seuda with him.  The Yismach Moshe asked him if he could remain in Vilna to become his student.  The Gra advised him to return home because Hungary needed him.  What the Gra meant is subject to interpretation but surely had he remained in Vilna, the course of Chassidic history would have been altered. How did he become a Chassid? After the Yismach Moshe’s daughter married R’ Aryeh Leib Lipshitz, he noticed strange behavior by his new son-in-law.  When he realized that R’ Aryeh Leib was a Chassid, he admonished him.  His son-in-law agreed to give up Chassidus if the Yismach Moshe would travel with him to visit the Chozeh of Lublin, his Rebbe. The Yismach Moshe not only left his son-in-law alone, but he himself became a Chassid of the Chozeh and a Rebbe to thousands founding the great Sighet-Satmar dynasty.

[2] Emunas Itecha, Mattos, s.v. וידוע. The Apta Rav said that his Neshama had lived in this world ten times before and that he knew who he had been each time.

[3] The word צאן forms an acronym of צאן, אותיות, נשמות since the sheep were the souls of the Jewish people who are each rooted in a letter in the Torah. 

[4] They were reincarnated as animals since they lost their צלם אלה-ים, Godly image, through their sins. Incidentally, at times we see people with traits that resemble that of an animal. This is because, explains the Arizal, in a previous Gilgul they were an animal.

[5] Breishis Rabba 73:11.

[6] See R’ Gershom to Eruchin 33a.

[7] Tehillim 100:3.

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