Most people would say that fortunate is the one who controls his own destiny. Sometimes it takes something as simple as a snowstorm to remind us the impossibility of that desire. The heavy snow in Jerusalem over the weekend brought many lives to a halt. Many were separated from their families as the roads were closed and the city was placed under siege-like conditions. Thousands of families huddled in freezing temperatures as they lost electricity and running water for up to 72 hours. A 37-year old resident of Rishon Letzion fell to his death as he tried to repair a roof leak. Despite weather warning systems, the severity of the storm was unforeseen and left many of us feeling out of control.
I always imagined that once I reached adulthood, I’d finally be able to take charge of my life. But when I look at the world—whether it be a snowstorm, strife among nations or the threat of nuclear capability in the hands of evildoers, I wonder how much control I really have. Terror in certain neighborhoods and roads affect whether I leave my house, and if I do, what path I will take to safely get to my destination. There is a little-known midrash (in Kohelet Rabba) that sheds some insight on this:
We are normally happy and excited upon hearing of the birth of a baby because it represents a new life and joy to the family. When one departs, we are generally sad and bereaved that our loved one is no longer with us. Nonetheless, the midrash teaches us that we ought to be apprehensive upon the arrival of a newborn because it is likened to a ship about to set sail. We are unsure whether stormy seas will put the ship in danger, we worry about the long journey and how it will affect the ship’s passengers. We don’t know whether the ship will dock safely at its ultimate destination. On the other hand, to be genuinely happy for a departed soul makes total sense because we can now see how much that person accomplished in his life, how many people he touched in a positive way, and that he made it to his ultimate destination with honor and respect.
So in our search for arriving safely at our destination, what can we actually control? Why does one person die at age 95 and another at age 7? Why do people lie in a coma for months or even years? Do these things happen by chance or as a part of some master plan?
In order to begin to understand the answers to these questions, it requires a shift in our thinking. As Dr. Eben Alexander, the well-known neurosurgeon and author of Proof of Heaven testifies, we must first be cognizant of the fact that each of us have a personal history rooted in our individual pasts in the form of previous incarnations, and we have a future that, in effect, we revisit. The latter part of that statement seems to be an oxymoron – how could we go back to our future if the future hasn’t happened yet? It sounds like a page taken out of Back to the Future.
Each individual is made up of a physical body and a soul. They are destined to work in tandem in order to accomplish certain predetermined life objectives that are designed and outlined by none other than each of us. Surprised that God isn’t the one makes that determination? Well, according to research done via hypnotic regression studies and backed up by kabalistic sources, while God is a prime fixture in the picture, the actual choice to inhabit our particular bodies and circumstances are made by our souls alone.
Before the soul’s descent into its physical body, it goes through a process of reviewing its previous lifetime. Having learned its lessons, it will then choose whether it wants to return to this world in order to correct mistakes made, or to simply accomplish that which has not been attained as of yet. It is even possible for a soul to come to this world if only to help some other individual in reaching its objectives.
So while we do have a choice before our descent to this world, it is our job to then navigate the complexities of life in order to try to reach our individual goals. We are faced with many challenges along the way, and we often do not understand why certain things happen to us, or don’t happen to us.
I recently heard a story told about a holocaust survivor who begged his concentration camp guard, a Jew assigned to the task, to grant him kitchen duty which offered a warmer environment and the possibility of eating potato peel scraps. The response he received was always a resounding “no”. “How cruel could someone be,” he thought. In the aftermath of the war, he survived, and it was only because he was denied kitchen duty. The guard knew that anyone assigned to kitchen duty punched his own date with the crematorium the next day. Sometimes, what plays out on the surface doesn’t always explain the entire picture.
Often our “why” questions aren’t sufficient to satisfy our thirst for an answer. Instead, we ought to be asking, “What am I going to do about it?” In this way, we control our actions and thoughts within the confines of a world beyond our control.
Dr. Bernie Kastner is the author of four books on the subject of the Afterlife. His latest book, Back to the Afterlife: Uncovering the Mysteries of What Happens to Us Next (RVP Press, New York), was recently released.