Tuesday, 5 August 2008

The Holy Arizal - Yahrtzeit 5 Av


THE HOLY ARIZAL – Yahrtzeit 5 Av

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-1572), whose Yahrtzeit is today – the 5th day of Av, was one of the most influential true Kabbalists of all time. While Moses himself received the entire Torah from G-d at Mount Sinai, it would be up to Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai to make the inner secrets of Torah more easily accessible to the Jews forced into exile about 1000 years later. But even then, anyone taking a close examination at the Zohar realises that unless he understands the vocabulary used, the Zohar can be a mystery of nonsensical concepts, words and descriptions. In fact, while the Zohar revealed the inner secrets of Torah, it was exceptionally good at also concealing the mysteries of the Torah!

It would take a man on the level of the holy Arizal (the initials of his name being “The G-dly Rabbi Yitzchak") to be able to unravel the mysteries of understanding the Zohar and the entire kabbalistic tradition, and write them out in a more easily understood language. This he did by teaching his pupil Rabbi Chaim Vital the most important principles to understand. The entire tradition we have from the holy Ari was actually taught to Rabbi Vital in a period of less than two years! In fact, if not for Rabbi Chaim Vital, none of the Ari’s teachings would be available today. In truth, the Ari HaChai wrote down nothing of his own, it was all written by his pupil.

The Kabblah of the Ari was not much easier for Rabbi Chaim Vital to understand than it was for others, and it is taught that he could not understand a thing of what the Ari would teach him (much like Moses was unable to understand the Torah taught by G‑d, until eventually G-d gave it to him as a gift.) The Ari took his pupil for a boat ride along the Kinneret. At a certain point, the Ari placed a cup into the water, and drew it out, offering it to Rabbi Chaim to drink from. Rabbi Chaim said that from the time that he drank from those waters, he was able to understand everything the Ari taught him! The Ari explained that he had taken Rabbi Vital out to the very place where the Well of Miriam (which went with the Children of Israel out from Egypt) is hidden to this day!

His main work – the Eitz Chaim, describes the levels of creation and how creation came about. Thereafter, Rabbi Chaim Vital wrote 8 main works entitled the Shemonah Shearim – the Eight Gates, in which he describes everything from the basic theoretical structures of the kabbalistic system – to the practicalities of how to implant Kavanot – intentions in prayer and Mitzvot, and various other practical implementations in order to actually bring the theory into the practical. Nevertheless even with a good understanding of the Hebrew language, without having someone to learn from, most of the Ari’s writings are a closed book as well. (For those who cannot find a teacher… do not give up. One never knows if one may merit Elijah the Prophet appearing to one to teach him personally… see below!)

This posting is not to go into depth about the writings, the names of the books and what each one is about – but rather to give a small glimpse into something about this holy man – who although was just 38 years old when he died – was familiar with every part of Torah, filled with Ruach HaKodesh – Divine Inspiration and had the good fortune of being visited by Elijah the Prophet on a regular basis in order to learn even higher levels of Torah not readily available through ordinary books. In fact, the Ari was on such a level, that he could even tell everything that a person had done, including his sins, by simply glancing at the markings on his forehead!

On one occasion, he was approached by a man who had committed numerous sins. The man was wearing a hat, and had pulled it down over his forehead in the hope that the Ari would not be able to see the markings on his forehead. The Ari remarked, “Don’t you think that someone who can see through the markings on a forehead can also see through the material of a hat?!”

Learning about the life of the Ari (and his teachings) is extremely fascinating and encouraging. One learns about a man who lived Torah – who breathed it, who saw the heavenly realms with his spiritual eyes, like we are able to see clearly the physical world with our physical eyes. He did everything he could possibly do to serve G-d day and night. He was a man focused on bringing this world to a state of complete perfection and ultimately to bring Moshiach. Perhaps, in fact, he was Moshiach – as he once told his students that they would merit to see Moshiach… Much time passed after his death, and the students complained to his main disciple, Rabbi Vital asking why they never merited to see Moshiach – just like the Ari had promised them. Rabbi Vital responded, “But you DID see Moshiach!” What could he ever have meant?!

The story is told in the book “Emek HaMelech”. It was once the eve of the holy Shabbat, close to the time when Shabbat would be coming in. The Ari and his pupils were outside in the city of Tzefat wearing garments of white in order to receive the Shabbat day. They began to welcome the Shabbat with the first Psalms recited – before actually bringing in the Shabbat day.

While they were singing, the Rav said to his disciples, “Friends, do you wish to go to Jerusalem before Shabbat and we can make Shabbat in Jerusalem?” Now… Jerusalem is a 4 hour journey by ordinary transport… let alone going by horse, let alone taking a jog there. Shabbat was literally a few minutes away… There was simply not enough time to get there – by any ordinary means anyway!

Some of his students responded in the affirmative, and some said that they wished to go home to inform their wives first.

Since they said that they wished to go home first, the Rav trembled in great fear and hit his hands together stating, “Woe to us, that we did not have the merit to be redeemed. If only you had all answered with one voice that you wished to go in great happiness, immediately all of Israel would have been redeemed! Since now was the moment of Divine favour for this auspicious time to be redeemed, and since you refused in this matter, the exile has returned to its full strength – due to our many sins!”

We can learn much from every story – but this story highlights the importance of understanding the true reality of everything.

  1. We are currently in exile… a state which is uncomfortable and abnormal for any Jewish soul to be in.
  2. Everything we do in life must be directed to the purpose of bringing Moshiach. All Torah and Mitzvos is nothing more than to perfect this world so that Moshiach should come.
  3. Redemption should be our main focus – at all times and at every moment. Whether one minute before Shabbat, on Shabbat itself or any other occasion… the redemption can come even then. (For those who hold that various sources may point against Moshiach arriving on certain days, this is not our concern. Let us hope for Moshiach even then, that he reveal himself. Afterwards we’ll ask Moshiach to explain the Gemaras! In fact Moshiach can come even if we haven’t yet finished learning ShaS!)
  4. The leader of the generation knows well what is happening Above. Therefore when he says things that are necessary to follow, he already understands the implications of what he is saying and that now is the time to attend to what he is asking.
  5. We can always come up with a dozen excuses as to why something *shouldn’t* be done a certain way. We can check with the Shulchan Aruch – just to make sure though. We can even go and ask our wives first… In fact when the leader of the generation says things that simply don’t make sense to us, we can even prove him wrong through all of our own means. Yet, he too has learned Shulchan Aruch and knows what is written there – and he too has a wife… If he has spoken of the importance of doing something, even something totally strange and foreign, the chances are (so long as he is truly a leader of the Jewish people and not someone out for his own honour,) – that he knows why he is saying what he is, and therefore we need to listen.
The Ari was the Moses of his generation, just as our generation has a Moses too. Our duty is to be aware of who this person is, to listen to his teachings, and to realise that if he is saying that we are in need of doing something, then this something must be done – even when everything in our logical senses tells us the opposite. It is for us to know that the Moses of the generation is already familiar with the Shulchan Aruch – and even the Zohar, the writings of the Ari, the entire oral tradition, Talmud, Midrashim and everything in between. Our duty is to now realise that we are like the students of the Ari – the lion – who is telling us what needs to be done to welcome the Shabbat day. It is for us to go forward now in action, ready to fly to Jerusalem NOW – even if it looks like we have no wings, and the trip will be a bumpy one!

The moment we are ready to hear the words of Moses speaking and telling us what we need to do, immediately we will be redeemed, each of us being taken with a private cloud of glory, flown through the cool peaceful air through the heavens as we are taken to Jerusalem. There, we will see a spiritual/physical building coming down from above… and as it does so, Moshiach will announce our freedom. The world will suddenly be filled with complete goodness and kindness and we will be taken to a realm of beauty that none of us has ever even imagined before.


May we merit – in the merit of the holy Ari, that we humble ourselves to understand what needs to be done, and that we set ourselves up to do what is necessary – and then, even before we do it, the Great Shofar will be heard and we will all be taken out of the constraints that we are in, and merit the final redemption! Amen!

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