5 Menachem Av: Remembering the Arizal – HaAri HaKadosh

Rabbi Chaim Vital: “When he looked at a person’s forehead he saw what his soul would learn in Gan Eden this night”

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Rabbi Yitzchok Luria Ashkenazi was born in Yerushalayim in 1534. The story has it that Eliyahu HaNavi came in person to his brit. He chose the name Yitzchok and blessed him that he would reveal secrets of the Torah and disseminate them.

HaAri lost his father at a very early age. His family had to move to Cairo, Egypt, where Mordecai Frances, the rich brother of his mother, took care of his upbringing and education. At the age of fifteen, HaAri married the daughter of R’ Mordechai.

He attended the Yeshiva of Rabbi David ben Zimri, the Chief Rabbi of Egypt, known as the author of many great commentaries and responsa under the name of Radbaz. Yet, much of his learning was done alone. At an early age he began his long stays in the solitude of the Nile River. There he spent years in isolation as he studied the secrets of the Torah.

It was only on Shabbos that he would return home to his family, and even then, he was careful to speak only the holy tongue – lashon hakodesh. During these years, Eliyahu Hanavi would visit the Arizal and teach him the innermost secrets of the Torah.

When his son turned three, the Arizal made a short visit to Eretz Yisroel and davened at the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in Miron, where he cut his son’s hair and stayed there three days.

It is from him that we have the custom of cutting boys’ hair at age three at the Rashbi’s place of rest.

Upon his return to Egypt, when the Arizal was 36, prophet Eliyahu revealed himself to him again. He told him he was soon to leave the world, and so the time had come to reveal and spread the wellsprings of his teachings in the world. Arizal went up to Tzfas (Safed) and settled there with his family and widowed mother.

The Arizal lived in Tzfas for just two years, and the voluminous teachings we have from him were all communicated during that short period. Yet his influence was so strong that his name is inextricably linked to the city and her Kabbalistic traditions.

 

Rabbi Chaim Vital writes in the introduction to his “Eitz Chaim”:

– He merited that from Heaven they opened all the wellsprings of wisdom for him in prophecy and ruach ha’kodesh. Eliyahu HaNavi revealed him deep secrets of the mysteries of the Creator and Creation (Maaseh B’Reishit and Maaseh Merkava). The souls of tzaddikim in the Supernal world revealed secrets of the Torah to him…

• He understood the speech of trees and grass, the language of birds, the language of angels and the language of the candle flames…

• He was able to discern the secret of everybody’s previous incarnations (gilgul) and he knew how to help souls achieve their rectification…

• He knew a person from the smell of his clothes…

• He could read faces and palms and interpret dreams…

• When he looked at a person’s forehead he saw what his soul would learn in Gan Eden this night, since at night souls ascend on High to give an account about their day and they also study Torah until the person wakes up…

—–

The Arizal’s teachings are vast – despite the fact that there are very few surviving writings of the Arizal himself. Among those preserved there are Aramaic hymns for each of the three Shabbat meals and a treatment of the laws of sacrifices.

However, the Arizal’s teachings were recorded by his close disciple Rabbi Chaim Vital and his son and spiritual successor, Rabbi Shmuel Vital. These writings are collectively known as ‘Kitvei HaArizal’ – “the writings of the Arizal.” One of the best known among these books is ‘Etz Hayyim’ (“Tree of Life”).

In addition, hundreds and thousands of commentaries on the Ari’s teachings have been published since his time. The teachings of the Baal Shem Tov and his disciples also represent an ongoing explanation of the Arizal’s works. The songs and prayers of Arizal have been widely adopted and partially incorporated into the Siddur. Many communities guide themselves by the “Nusach HaAri” and much of his teachings has been used to form the basis of the great Chassidic movement.

The Arizal revolutionized the concept of ‘Tzimtzum’ (Divine Contraction) – the topic which is thoroughly discussed in the Alter Rebbe’s “Tania”. Another concept developed by the Arizal is deeply familiar to everyone who learns chassidus:

in fact, there is a great purpose to our lives. Within every being lies a Divine spark waiting to be elevated through using that item for good.

The whole universe is yearning to be uplifted and purified through these uplifting deeds of the people, which will unite it with its Divine source…

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