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Is it Safed or Tzfat? or Tsfat?

by: Rena Goldzweig

So where do you live?? Our historic city - some claim that it dates all the way back to the Temple days - goes by many different names, some due to pronunciation differences, others dating from different bygone eras. According to the Reishit Chochmah, a mystical book written in Tzfat, it was in this city that Joshua first began the systematic destruction of idol worship, preparing the Land of Canaan to become the Land of Israel.

During the 16th century, Tzfat's "golden period", it was home to many illustrious Jewish sages and mystics including Rabbi Yosef Caro, whose Code of Jewish Law is definitive to this day, and the holy Rabbi Yitzchak Luria who revealed great depths of Kabbalistic secrets while living here. The Zohar, a primary source of Jewish mysticism, states that the air of Tzfat is the purest in all of Israel.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk established the first Chassidic community in Tzfat more than two hundred years ago, but soon moved to Tiberias. When asked why he had moved, he answered that the air in Safed is so pure and holy that he kept hearing heavenly voices calling through the night and he couldn't get a decent night's sleep.

A town high in the mountains in the north of Israel, it is considered one of the four "holy cites," along with Jerusalem, Chevron/Hebron and Tiberias. Each of these cities corresponds to one of the four Kabbalistic elements of the world: Jerusalem relates to fire, as the fiery altar was placed there - ever since Adam first offered a sacrifice to G-d upon his creation at that very spot. Chevron, the burial place of our Forefathers, relates to earth; Tiberias, on the coast of the Sea of Galilee, to water; Safed corresponds to air and wind.

This is well experienced both in the physical windiness of our lovely city, along with its metaphysical attraction to artists, along with spiritual seekers. The Old City of Safed today is a picturesque neighborhood of narrow alleys and cobblestone streets where synagogues dating back to this historic time are still in use, sheltering prayer, Torah study and Shabbat celebrations. Due to its high elevation, Safed experiences warm summers and cold, often snowy, winters.