The Ari Hakadosh
Name and place:
The Ari Ha’kodosh (Hebrew:ׂארי הקדוש ) the holy lion” is the designation for R. Isaac ben Solomon Luria Ashkenazi for he was the lion of his generation. The title Ari is also an acronym for Eloki Rabbi Yitzchok. The Ari Hakadosh was born in the year 1534 in the old city of Jerusalem. He passed away in Zefat in the year 1572 at the young age of 38, and was buried on the mountainside in the cemetary in Tzfat.
Even though the Ari was so young-just 36 years old, he towered head and shoulders above his contemporaries. His holiness and great grasp of both niglah (the revealed Torah) and nistar (the hidden Torah) was obvious to all. There was no area in Torah that eluded him. Even the great and mighty came to quench their thirst from his waters, begging to be let in to his inner circle of students.
Although the Ari Hakodosh truly authored lots of Kabbalistic works he himself never published his teachings. Rabbi Chaim Vital the Ari’s prize pupil recorded almost everything that is known today. The only writings that we have from him are some piyutim and some of the beautiful zemiros, such as a'zameir bishvochin, a'sader lesudosei and benei heicholei, which we sing each Shabbos. It is unbelievable to note that all the Ari’s accomplishments were done in the short amount of time, only two and a half years, for the Ari passed away at the young age of 38.
To truly appreciate just a bit of the Ari's greatness, one must read some of the things Rabbi Chaim Vital says about him. "My Rabbi could look at a person's face and know at once all that transpired during his lifetime", is just one of his many observations. "Many times people would come to him and ask him to look at their foreheads and tell them if they had any sins for which they had to do teshuvah." The Ari was also capable of reading one's palm, this ability is called chochmas ha'yad.
The Ari Synagogue:
Every Friday evening the Ari would walk with his students to a spot overlooking the hills of Zefat and greet the Shabbat queen. It is on this very place where the Ari's Sefardic synagogue stands. It is one of the largest and most magnificent synagogues, and was known as the Eliyahu the Prophet Synagogue, because this is the place where Eliyahu would reveal himself to the Ari. A little further up the hill (on Najae St.) there is another synagogue known as the Ashkenazi synagogue, the place where the Ari learned and prayed. (It was these synagogues that protected the besieged Jews of Zefat during the 1948 Arab riots.)
These synagogues are not the original ones but have been rebuilt in their former places. That's because they were all destroyed by a series of earthquakes (in the year 1759 and 1837) that destroyed most of the city's ancient buildings and caused much death and suffering.
Directions to the synagogues:
The Ashkenazi synagogue is in the old city of Zefat. The Sefardic synagogue is next to the old cemetery.
Mikva Ha ari:
His famous mikvah, in which he would immerse himself many times a day, stands right over the top of the cemetery and is fed by a small spring coming out at its side. Tradition has it that anyone that immerses himself into this mikvah will surely do teshuvah before he dies. And so, to this very day, people come from everywhere to dip themselves into its ice cold waters.
Tale of a Tzaddik:
The Ari arrived in Tzefas with his wife and children and his mother. He found a city replete with Torah sages. He was reunited with the Radbaz, with whom he had studied in Egypt. But the Radbaz had no idea of the lofty heights the Ari had reached. For that matter, nor did anyone else, since the Ari was so unassuming and humble, and even engaged in an occupation to support his family.
The Ari first gained a name for his mystical poetry, which sang the praises of Shabbos. Soon he was grew friendly with other scholars, and formed a group that met each Friday to confess their sins to each other and to develop their character traits.
However, one person recognized the Ari's true greatness-the Ramak, Rav Moshe Cordovero, who studied with the Ari and earmarked him as his successor as the Rav of Tzefas and head of his yeshiva.
The very same year that the Ari arrived in Tzefas, 5330, the Ramak, who had studied under the great kabbalists was niftar. The greatest sages in Tzefas had flocked to the Ramak to listen to his teachings.
When the Ramak was on his deathbed, he did not reveal his successor's name, but hinted to the manner in which he could be identified. "The man," he said, "who will see a cloud preceding my bier will be my successor."
At the funeral, many of Tzefas great scholars eulogized the Ramak. When the eulogies ended, one of the Ramak's students invited the Ari to speak. This aroused much surprise, and a bit of dismay, too. True, Reb Yitzchok Luria was a revered scholar, who had even studied with the Ramak. But he was a newcomer to Tzefas, and he was considerably younger than the other Torah scholars. Why had the Ramak's student selected the Ari for such an honor, when there were many other eminent scholars in the city who could have delivered eulogies?
At the end of the funeral, the student revealed his reason for having asked the Ari to speak. "While we were preparing a plot in the cemetery for the burial," he said, "Rav Yitzchok Luria told us that we had chosen the wrong place, and that the cloud hadn't stopped there, but further on. Then he pointed to a different site."
No more had to be said. The Ramak's students unequivocally accepted the Ari Hakadosh as their spiritual mentor, drinking his words eagerly despite the fact that his approach to kabbala was different from the Ramak's.
It looked as thought the time had finally arrived for the Ari to begin teaching the kabbala he had learned and developed over his many years of preparations.
On the slope of the old cemetery in the cemetery in Zefat.
The stone that marks his gravesite today is not the original one, but was put up years later.