Rabbi Yitzchak Luria
(1534-1572)

Also known as the Arizal, he is the central figure of Kabbalah as it is studied today. The vast body of his teachings revolutionized the study of Kabbalah and is the basis for all Kabbalistic thought since his time, as well as the prism through which we view today all the prior works of Kabbalah - including the Zohar. The Arizal's thought has had an indelible influence on Jewish philosophy, liturgy, and even Jewish law. Among the most fascinating of the Arizal's teachings are his expositions on the Torah itself. "Apples from the Orchard"
Little Yitzchak was born in Jerusalem in 1534. By the time he was eight, he was recognized as a wonder child, a prodigy who already outshone the greatest minds of Jerusalem. At this tender age, he had already mastered the intricacies of the Talmud and committed dozens of volumes to memory.

His father died while he was still a child. Under the pressure of poverty, his mother went to Egypt, where they lived with her brother, Mordecai Frances, a wealthy tax agent. The Ari's brilliance continued to shine. The young prodigy was placed under the tutelage of Rabbi Betzalel Ashkenazi (1520-1592), best known for his important Talmudic commentary, the Shita Mekubetzet (Embracing System). There is also evidence that the young lad also studied under the great Radbaz, Rabbi David ben Zimri (1480-1573) who was then the chief rabbi of Cairo.

By the time he was fifteen, his expertise in Talmud had overwhelmed all the sages in Egypt. According to a reliable account, the Ari himself also wrote a large Talmudic commentary around this time. Had he remained nothing more than a Talmudic scholar, he would have joined the ranks of the greatest of all times.

Ari's shul Ark
At this time he married his uncle's daughter. At age seventeen, he discovered the Zohar, obtaining his own manuscript copy. After, he spent fifteen years meditating, at first with his master, Rabbi Betzalel Ashkenazi, and then alone, reaching the highest levels of holiness. Eventually, he spent two years meditating in a hut near the Nile, utterly isolated, not speaking to any human being. The only time he would return home would be on the eve of the Sabbath, just before dark. But even at home, he would not speak. When it was absolutely necessary for him to say something, he would say it in the least possible number of words, and only in the Holy Tongue.

It is accepted that the Ari became worthy of Divine Spirit. At times, the prophet Elijah revealed himself to him and taught him the mysteries of the Torah. Every night his soul ascended to heaven. Angels would escort him, asking which academy he chose to visit. Sometimes it would be that of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He also visited the academies of Rabbi Akiba and Rabbi Eliezer the Great, and on occasion the academies of the ancient Prophets.

At the end of this period he received a command to go to the Holy land, from Elijah the Prophet. He arrived in Safed during the summer of 1570, and began by concealing his gifts completely. He was only there a short time when the Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero 1522-1570), head of the Safed kabbalists, died on June 26, 1570 (23 Tammuz, 5330). By identifying the heavenly pillar of fire that followed the great kabbalist’s funeral procession, the Ari established himself as the new leader.
The Ari passed away on July 15, 1572 (5 Av, 5332), barely two years after he had arrived in Safed. During his brief stay there, he had assembled a group of approximately a dozen disciples, with Chaim Vital at their head, and they continued to review his teachings. For the most part, it was Rabbi Chaim who put them into writing. The main works are the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life) and Pri Etz Chaim (Fruit of the Tree of Life), as well as the Eight Gates, which deal with everything from Bible commentary to divine inspiration and reincarnation.

The Ari also authored the liturgical poems "Azamer Bishvachin," "Asader Lisudata," and "Benei Heichala," sung at the three Shabbat meals respectively and included in nearly every Chassidic and Sephardic prayerbook.

There are 2 synagogues associated with him here in the Old city of Safed until today, once the "Ashkanazic Ari synagogue" [pictured below on the left] which, according to tradition, stands on the spot where Rabbi Yitzchak Luria first initiated the Kabbalat Shabbat service, and the "Sefardic Ari synagogue" [pictured below on the right], where according to tradition, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria actually prayed.
Ari gravesite
Ari Ashkenazi Synagogue


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