Rabbi Shmuly Yanklowitz presented an argument in the Jewish Week, positing for a Jewish Moral Argument for Reincarnation. His primary argument seems to be that we should be moral beings because of our interdependence, not just with other people who are alive but with all the souls past and future. His piece reminds me of the present story from the Gemara about the old man who planted a Carob tree knowing that he would not benefit from it. His reason for planting the tree was for the future, just as his grandparent had done for him. Our actions are often needed not for ourselves but for the future.
To take a more specific approach, if the soul I am entrusted with is an incomplete soul, then my goal would need to be to improve on the soul. However, if I have a sense of that improving the soul is a timeless task, I might be less inclined to work too hard for whatever gets left over will be made up by the next person responsible for my soul. At the same time, if I cannot be aware of what is left to be done for this soul, then it could be less work might be more than enough.
Regarding Rabbi Yanklowitz’s opening presentation, I am caught off guard as to how his fear of death and dwelling on dying might be detrimental to morality. Is he arguing that recognizing our mortality would be an impediment to our striving to be moral? I look at death and dying as a motivator to take advantage of doing valuable things for the world and for humanity, not as an opening for hedonism.
Overall, I find his piece to be food for thought. What does ground us in life? Is life about the here and now or is it about the collective existence of all throughout history? To see additional thoughts on this editorial, see Shmuly Yanklowitz: Reincarnation and a Moral Conscience, comments on that post and the subsequent response by Rabbi Yanklowitz.