When Rabbi Isaac ben Solomon Luria arrived in Safed, in 1569, the town had already become a center of Jewish learning, with a particular emphasis on the kabbalah (Jewish mysticism). By the time Rabbi Luria died in 1572 (less than three years later), his name had been irrevocably tied to the city of Safed.

A child prodigy raised in his uncle’s house in Egypt, Rabbi Luria was considered an expert in the Talmud by age 15, and, shortly after marrying his cousin, he began to explore the wisdom of the Zohar (“The Book of Splendor,” the quintessential book of Jewish mysticism). After dedicating himself to the study of the Zohar for fifteen years, he isolated himself in a hut near the Nile for several years and spoke to no one except for his wife when he returned home each Friday for Shabbat.

Stating that he had been commanded to do so by Elijah the Prophet, Rabbi Luria moved to Safed, where he assumed leadership of the kabbalistic scholars after the death of Rabbi Moses Cordovero in 1570.

The kabbalists soon began referring to Rabbi Luria as Ha’Ari, which means “the lion,” but was actually an acronym for Eh’lohi Rabbi Yitzhak – the Godly Rabbi Isaac. (He is frequently referred to as the “Arizal,” the extra “zal” standing for zichrono liv’racha, may his memory be a blessing.)

While the Ari never published any books, all of his teachings were written down and compiled by his disciples. One of the most well-known concepts of Lurianic Kabbalah is Tikkun Olam, the idea that humanity’s job is to perfect the world. Another important idea that comes from Lurianic Kabbalah is tsimtsum, the idea that, in order to create the world, God contracted Himself, allowing humankind freewill.

Copyright © 2010 National Jewish Outreach Program. All rights reserved.

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