#143 (s5760-43/9 Tammuz)
Rabbi Yisrael Najara, a kabbalist in 16th century
Tsfat, liked to walk in the river-valley below the town.
Three Safed Stories
THE MUSICIAN OF TSFAT
Rabbi Yisrael Najara, a contemporary in 16th century
Tsfat of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the holy ARI, liked to walk in the river-valley
below the town. There he would compose the tunes and songs through which he expressed
his love and awe for the Al-mighty.
Once, he was set upon by a band of Arab
ruffians, who upon discovering that their captive had neither money nor wealthy
relatives who would pay a ransom, promptly decided to kill him. Grudgingly, they
consented to his request to be allowed to say his final prayers and play one last
tune. As he played his flute, the donkeys and camels of the thieves rose on their
hind legs and began to shuffle, as if dancing to the music. The robbers became
terrified at the sight and fled.
Rabbi Najara, meanwhile, had become so
absorbed in his music that he was oblivious to what was happening around him.
Strolling back towards Tsfat, he continued to play his flute. The townspeople
stood mesmerized as he entered the city, followed by a procession of dancing donkeys
2. THE REBBE AND THE EARTHQUAKE
5,000 people lost their
lives in the deadly earthquake of 24 Tevet 5597 (January 1, 1837), of whom 4000
were Jews. It was between the afternoon and evening prayers, when most of the
men were in shul, that the tremors and rumblings suddenly began. Of all of Zefat's
shuls only two remained standing (Ari-Sephardi and Abuhav), and many hundreds
of Jews perished under the collapsed debris. In the small shul of Rabbi Avraham
Dov Auerbach, the Avrusher Rebbe, as elsewhere, panic set in, and the congregants
began to bolt for the outdoors.
"Come to the ark if you wish to be
saved!" shouted the Rebbe in a powerful voice. Immediately everyone crowded
around him. The Rebbe threw himself on the ground, praying and weeping. Local
tradition records that although most of the building collapsed, the part where
the men were clustered remained upright and everyone was saved. A plaque outside
the shul today testifies to this miracle. The line between the original structure
(over the Ark) and the reconstructed portion is clearly visible. One book (Eden
Zion) states that while nearly all the walls collapsed, the domed ceiling miraculously
remained aloft, almost as if it were suspended in the air! (based on Anaf Etz
3. HELP FROM HEAVEN IN THE ARI SHUL
The slaughter of hundreds
of Jews in Hebron and Jerusalem in 1929 is now sad history. Not so well known
is that only a week later, on 23 Av (August 29), the madness finally infected
the Arabs of Zefat. A frenzied horde poured out of the main mosque (now the General
Exhibition Hall) and charged up two parallel streets, Alkabetz and Tarpat (named
after the year of the Riot - úøô"è in Hebrew).
During this initial rampage they murdered seventeen people. Eventually twenty-six
would die and countless others be injured, while the British troops turned their
backs, maintaining that they were powerless to restore order.
The mob headed
for the Ari-Ashkenazi Synagogue, where they knew that a large number of Jews would
be congregated for the afternoon prayer. Brandishing knives and guns and flinging
stones, they began to break the windows of the synagogue and to storm the door.
Many of the Jews inside expected to die. The Rabbi remained standing in prayer,
immobile. As the first wave of Arabs crossed the threshold, the leader carefully
aimed his rifle at the Rabbi's head. The rabbi ignored him and continued to pray.
Suddenly the armed man collapsed! (Oral traditions differ: some say he suffered
a heart attack and died; others claim that he tripped and cracked his head; still
others say merely that in his fall his rifle went off.) Pandemonium set in. The
mob ran off in search of less discomfiting victims, and for the duration of the
riots, the ARI synagogue remained a haven of safety.
Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of
Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He
has hundreds of published stories to his credit.back
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