Dreaming of Moshiach

Sunday, July 30, 2006

5 Av - Hillula of the AriZal

Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534–Vav 5, July 25, 1572) was a Jewish scholar and mystic. He is the founder of one of the most important branches of Kabbalah, often referred to as Lurianic Kabbalah.[+/-] show/hide text

יִצְחַק לוּרְיָא, Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi, and Yitzhak Ashkenazi. He is also known as Ari אֲרִי and He-Ari ("The Lion") from the acronym for Adoneinu Rabbeinu Itzhak ("Our Master Our Rabbi Yitzhak"), thus Arizal with "ZaL" being the acronym for Zikhrono Livrakha ("of blessed memory" or literally "let the memory of him be for a blessing"), a common Jewish honorific for the deceased, and known as Ari Ha-Kadosh ("Ari the Holy").

Early life
He was born in Yerushalyim to an Ashkenazi father and a Sepharic mother; passed away in Tzfat (5 Av 5332). While still a child he lost his father, and was brought up by his rich uncle Mordecai Francis, tax-farmer at Cairo, Egypt, who placed him under the best Jewish teachers. Luria showed himself a diligent student of rabbinical literature; and, under the guidance of Rabbi Bezalel Ashkenazi (best known as the author of Shittah Mekubetzet), he, while quite young, became proficient in that branch of Jewish learning.

At the age of fifteen he married his cousin, and, being amply provided for financially, was able to continue his studies. Though he initially may have pursued a career in business, he soon turned to asceticism and mysticism. About the age of twenty-two years old, he became engrossed in the study of the Zohar, a major work of the Kabbalah which had recently been printed for the first time, and adopted the life of a recluse. He retreated to the banks of the Nile, and for seven years secluded himself in an isolated cottage, giving himself up entirely to meditation. He visited his family only on the Shabbat, speaking very seldom, and always in Ivrit. Arizal became a visionary. He had frequent interviews with the prophet Elijah through this ascetic life, by whom he was initiated into sublime doctrines. He also asserted that while asleep his soul ascended to heaven and conversed with the great teachers of the past.

In 1569 Arizal moved to the Eretz Israel; and settled in Safed. There he formed a circle of kabbalists to whom he imparted the doctrines by means of which he hoped to establish a new basis for the moral system of the world. To this circle belonged Rabbi Moses ben Jacob Cordovero, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz, Rabbi Joseph Karo, Rabbi Moses Alshech, Rabbi Elijah de Vidas, Rabbi Joseph Hagiz, Rabbi Elisha Galadoa, and Rabbi Moses Bassola, a'h. They met every Friday, and each confessed to another his sins. Soon Arizal had two classes of disciples: (1) novices, to whom he expounded the elementary Kabbalah, and (2) initiates, who became the depositaries of his secret teachings and his formulas of invocation and conjuration. The most renowned of the initiates was Rabbi Chaim Vital of Calabria, who, according to his master, possessed a soul which had not been soiled by Adam's sin. In his company Luria visited the grave of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai and of other eminent teachers, it is said that these graves were unmarked and the identitys of each grave was unknown and through Elijah was each grave recognized . Arizal's kabbalistic circle gradually widened and became a separate congregation, in which his mystic doctrines were supreme, influencing all the religious ceremonies. On Shabbat Arizal dressed himself in white and wore a fourfold garment to signify the four letters of the Ineffable Name.

Teachings about the Sefirot
The characteristic feature of Arizal's system in the theoretical Kabbalah is his definition of the Sefiroth and his theory of the intermediary agents, which he calls partzufim (from πρόσωπν = "face"). Before the creation of the world, he says, the Ein Sof ("Without Ending") filled the infinite space. When the Creation was decided upon, in order that God's attributes, which belong to other beings as well, should manifest themselves in their perfection, the Ein Sof retired into God's own nature, or, to use the kabbalistic term, God "concentrated" (Tzimtzum) Himself. From this "concentration" proceeded the "infinite light". When in its turn the light "concentrated", there appeared in the center an empty space encompassed by ten circles or dynamic vessels (kelim) called Sefirot, ("Circled Numbers") by means of which the infinite realities, though forming an absolute unity, may appear in their diversity; for the finite has no real existence of itself.
However, the infinite light did not wholly desert the center; a thin conduit of light traversed the circles and penetrated into the center. But while the three outermost circles, being of a purer substance because of their nearness to the Ein Sof, were able to bear the light, the inner six were unable to do so, and burst. It was, therefore, necessary to remove them from the focus of the light. For this purpose the Sefirot were transformed into "figures" (parzufim).
The first Sefirah, being Keter ("Crown"), was transformed into the potentially existing three heads of the Macroprosopon (Erech Anpin); the second Sefirah, being Chochmah (Wisdom"), into the active masculine principle called "Father" (Abba); the third Sefirah, being Binah (Understanding"), into the passive, feminine principle called "Mother" (Imma); the six broken Sefirot, into the "male child" (Ze'er), which is the product of the masculine active and the feminine passive principles; the tenth Sefirah, Malkut which is ("Kingship"), into the female child (Bath). This proceeding was absolutely necessary. Had God in the beginning created these figures instead of the Sefirot, there would have been no evil in the world, and consequently no reward and punishment; for the source of evil is in the broken Sefirot or vessels (Shvirat Keilim), while the light of the Ein Sof produces only that which is good. These five figures are found in each of the four worlds; namely, in the world of Emanation (atzilut), Creation (beri'ah), Formation (yetzirah), and in that of Action (asiyah), which represents the material world.
Arizal's psychological system, upon which is based his devotional and meditational Kabbalah, is closely connected with his metaphysical doctrines. From the five figures, he says, emanated five souls, Neshamah ("Soul"), Ru'ach ("Wind"), Nefesh ("Spirit"), Chayah ("Life"), and Yechidah ("Singular"); the first of these being the lowest, and the last the highest. (Source: Etz Chayim). Man's soul is the connecting link between the infinite and the finite, and as such is of a manifold character. All the souls destined for the human race were created together with the various organs of Adam. As there are superior and inferior organs, so there are superior and inferior souls, according to the organs with which they are respectively coupled. Thus there are souls of the brain, souls of the eye, souls of the hand, etc. Each human soul is a spark (nitzotz) from Adam. The first sin of the first man caused confusion among the various classes of souls: the superior intermingled with the inferior; good with evil; so that even the purest soul received an admixture of evil, or, as Luria calls it, of the element of the "shells" (Kelipoth). From the lowest classes of souls proceeded the pagan world, while from the higher emanated the Israelitish world. But, in consequence of the confusion, the former are not wholly deprived of the original good, and the latter are not altogether free from sin. This state of confusion, which gives a continual impulse toward evil, will cease with the arrival of the Messiah, who will establish the moral system of the world upon a new basis. Until that time man's soul, because of its deficiencies, can not return to its source, and has to wander not only through the bodies of men and of animals, but even through inanimate things such as wood, rivers, and stones.

Return of the soul
To this doctrine of gilgulim (reincarnation of souls) Arizal added the theory of the impregnation (ibbur) of souls; that is to say, if a purified soul has neglected some religious duties on earth, it must return to the earthly life, and, attaching itself to the soul of a living man, unite with it in order to make good such neglect.
Further, the departed soul of a man freed from sin appears again on earth to support a weak soul which feels unequal to its task. However, this union, which may extend to three souls at one time, can only take place between souls of homogeneous character; that is, between those which are sparks of the same Adamite organ. The dispersion of Israel has for its purpose the salvation of men's souls; and the purified souls of Israelites unite with the souls of men of other races in order to free them from demoniacal influences.
According to Arizal, man bears on his forehead a mark by which one may learn the nature of his soul: to which degree and class it belongs; the relation existing between it and the superior world; the wanderings it has already accomplished; the means by which it can contribute to the establishment of the new moral system of the world; how it can be freed from demoniacal influences; and to which soul it should be united in order to become purified. This union can be effected by formulas of conjuration.

Influence on ritual
Arizal introduced his mystic system into religious observers. Every commandment had for him a mystic meaning. The Sabbath with all its ceremonies was looked upon as the embodiment of the Divinity in temporal life; and every ceremony performed on that day was considered to have an influence upon the superior world. Every word, every syllable, of the prescribed prayers contain hidden names of God upon which one should meditate devoutly while reciting. New mystic ceremonies were ordained and codified under the name of Shulkhan Arukh heAri (The "Code of Law of the Ari") (compare Shulchhan Aruch by Rabbi Joseph Karo).

Influence on modern Judaism
The teachings of the Ari have been almost universally accepted in Judaism, although not all groups follow the customs he initiated or revived.

To view via WebTV the Arizal's burial, http://tvisrael.net/tvisrael/chanel.asp?chanel=90

May the merit of the ARIZAL יִצְחַק לוּרְיָא, HaRav HaTzaddik Yitzhak Ben Shlomo Ashkenazi protect us all, Amen.



והיה השם למלך על כל הארץ, ביום ההוא יהיה השם אחד - ושמו אחד ישתבח שמו לעד לנצח נצחים בכל העולמות Blessed is His name for eternity in all worlds אין עוד מלבדו