From my column in Ynet: “The Man Who Paved The Spiritual Way Of The Nation Of Israel”
At the age of 35 he appeared in Safed, mysterious and majestic, and during the two and half years before his sudden death he changed the course of history and brought about a tremendous change. Thanks to him the wisdom of Kabbalah was revealed to anyone who wished to study it and not just a chosen few. The ARI, Rabbi Isaac Luria Ashkenazi, the greatest Kabbalist of Safed passed away on the 5th of Av 444 years ago. He left behinda method of study and a relevant message, which were adapted to our times by Baal HaSulam, Rav Yehuda Ashlag.
“If I had found even one righteous among you, I would not have been taken away from this world before my time,” said the ARI sorrowfully to his students a few moments before he passed away
Rav Isaac Cohen, who was by his side, sobbed bitterly and said “What shall we do now?” and the ARI answered: “Tell the friends on my behalf that from now on they will not engage in the wisdom that I have taught them at all, since they did not understand it properly and only Rav Chaim Vital will engage in it in hiding and by whispering.” Rav Isaac Cohen was very upset and asked “Is there any hope?” “If you are rewarded I will come and teach you,” the ARI answered. “How will you come and teach us after you pass away?!” asked Isaac Cohen again. “You have no business inquiring what is hidden,” answered the ARI and passed away at the age of only 38! (Shaar HaGilgulim)
The Zohar: The ARI’s Whole World
The ARI was the greatest Kabbalist in 16th century Safed and one of the central and most significant figure in the history of the nation of Israel and the wisdom of Kabbalah. He was born in Jerusalem in 1534. His father died when he was eight and the family encountered many hardships as a result. In order to improve their situation, his mother decided to move to Egypt to live with her brother. There the ARI lived most of his life, and delved into the study of The Zohar.
After attaining tremendous spiritual levels and by his special concealed understanding of the development of humanity, he felt that the time had come to reveal it. He moved to Israel and settled in Safed. The ARI knew that he would meet Rabbi Chaim Vital, his loyal student, who would later write his teachings and spread his wisdom in the world.
Thus in 1570, at the age of 36 the ARI moved to Israel and settled in Safed, the city of the Kabbalists. It was centuries after the time of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi) and the Zohar group, years during which humanity had waited for the right teacher who would open the next spiritual level of the wisdom of Kabbalah. The ARI’s arrival to Israel and the publication of The Book of Zohar were clear signs that the time had come.
The Spark of Rashbi
Once he reached Safed, the ARI began to study with the great Kabbalist of the time, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (the Ramak). But shortly afterward the two exchanged roles, the ARI began to teach the group of Kabbalists and the Ramak learned from him.
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero was to first to acknowledge the young Kabbalist’s greatness and as his friend and student he used to say: “You should know that one man who sits here will rise after me and enlighten the generation with the wisdom of Kabbalah. If the pipes were clogged in my time, the pipes will be revealed in his times. You should know that he is a great man, the spark of Rashbi.”
At that time humanity was in an unprecedented turmoil: the Middle Ages were over; the Renaissance began and brought about revolutionary changes in technology and in industry. The human ego erupted and pushed the world to an accelerated evolution and to many storms. Two hundred years later humanity was about to undergo fierce radical changes in Europe, especially bloody revolutions and civil wars.
The ARI who had foreseen the changes in human nature realized that he had to develop an alternative path of spiritual development that would balance the eruption of the ego in order to avoid the terrible suffering. He thus adapted the wisdom of Kabbalah and turned it into a scientific, practical academic method, instead of the method of connection, which until then was allowed only to very few special people. According to his method, if his instructions are followed correctly, people would be able to and the masses would engage in it. The method of correction, which he developed (and is still studied today) lead to an unprecedented shift in the spiritual development of humanity and totally changed history.
The Baton Is Given to Rabbi Chaim Vital
Only two and a half years were enough for the ARI to leave his significant hallmark on the history of Kabbalah. At the same time he never wrote any of his teachings. His whole Kabbalistic theory is known to us only from the writings of his students and the most prominent one and his follower Rabbi Chaim Vital (Harav).
Just as Rabbi Aba served by Rabbi Shimon’s (Rashbi’s) side to write down his teachings, which were to be published in The Book of Zohar, so did the Harav write down the whole wisdom from the mouth of his teacher, which today is known as the ARI’s Kabbalah.
“First a person should arrange his prayers and accept the commandment of love thy friend as thyself and tune his heart to love all of the children of Israel as his own soul, since by that his prayer that includes all of the prayers of Israel rises and will be fruitful. Everyone should include himself as an organ of his friends. If a friend is in trouble, everyone should share his sorrow, and pray for him, and thus he should share all his prayers and his actions and his words with his friend, and my teacher greatly warned me regarding the matter of our love of friends.” (Shaar HaKavanot)
The Harav didn’t add anything to the words of the ARI, and when he wasn’t sure whether he understood his teacher, he specifically said so. One of the major works of the ARI is the book Etz HaChaim (The Tree of Life), which describes all the systems of the upper worlds and the laws of the creation as a clear scientific method, and also the Eight Gates, a series of books, which also includes explanations about reincarnations.
“The Holy ARI was Messiah Ben Yoseph, and so he could reveal such a great wisdom,” said Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag. His great wisdom symbolizes the point between the end of the period of exile, which was characterized by a great division between people and the beginning of the redemption, characterized by wonderful unity between all of mankind. “If I could say words of praise I would praise him every day and say that his wisdom is being revealed every day just like the day the Torah was given to Israel.”
Baal HaSulam was the first in the 20th century to reach the spiritual level of the ARI and could therefore interpret his writings for our generation. He wrote a wonderful connection called The Study of the Ten Sefirot and in the introduction he wrote that the book was meant for anyone in our days who wishes to find the answer to the question of “What am I living for?”
This question has not disappeared and is hidden in every person’s heart. Just as terrible crises erupted in the time of the ARI, which shook humanity and spurred many into asking this questions, so do such crises occur today: a series of terrorist attacks all over the world, the rise of radical Islam, the fading of the EU, the growing polarization between different sectors and communities, and so on. It is actually by studying and reading the special method developed by the ARI with the commentary of Baal HaSulam , his follower, that we can find an answer to the meaning of life. They immediately raise a person to spirituality and enable him to feel the unity on top of the separation that rules us and leads to global destruction.
“If my people listened to me at times when the evil grows strong, they would spend all their time studying The Book of Zohar and the writings of the ARI and thus annul all the afflictions and draw an abundance of Light (Notzar Hesed). It is enough to study from these two great Kabbalists who have paved the way for us to the attainment of happiness, wholeness and eternity in order to build the right connections between us for a good life and to climb up the spiritual ladder, which they have placed for us, a ladder that reaches the sky.
From Ynet article 8/8/16