Day of "The Lion of Safed"

Words and pictures by Dan Posner

August 3-6, 2008

[Many photos at end of article]

THE first nine days of the month of Av is the period of intense mourning over the destruction of the two holy temples, leading up to Tisha B'Av, the anniversary of their destruction 1940 and 2410 years ago. Exactly in the middle, on the 5th of Av in 1572, we lost the Holy Ari, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, also known as the "Arizal" and "the Lion of Safed" (Ari is both an acronym of his name and the word for lion in Hebrew), at the young age of 38

The Arizal lived in Tzfat for only two short years. Many Tzaddikim have lived in or near Tzfat, and for much longer periods, so what makes this particular man's passing all so important? Because The Arizal is the most dominant teacher of Kabbalah in the last 18-1900 years, and his teachings are the basis on which we build our understanding of the Zohar and Kabbalah, and are the foundation for nearly all schools of Chassidic thought.

Over three thousand Jews arrived during the course of the night and day of the yahrzeit of the Holy Ari, to spend minutes or hours at his gravesite (with a prerequisite dip for the men in the famous Mikveh of the Ari, of course). A smaller number of about twenty Jews, most for the first time, came two full days earlier for a four day ASCENT seminar, in order to learn and do in preparation for the special occasion.

This small group of individual Jews came to Tzfat and learned about the Holy Ari and his teachings. They learned what happens to the soul of a Tzaddik and why we visit the gravesite of a Tzaddik on the anniversary of his leaving this world, and that his yahrzeit presents the opportunity to connect to his soul and his teachings on this day of his annual soul elevation at the place in the world where his presence is felt strongest.

Four days of classes to learn just a taste of all this, and as it was once said, "…until you taste it you don't really know it". This taste of Kabbalah and its connection to Chassidus was the preparation for the day when these students would experience the deepest connection to the Al-mighty at the gravesite of the Holy Ari.

One of the participants said, "I have been to the gravesites of other Tzaddikim in Israel, like the Rambam and the Rashbi, but this time I felt something different". She attributed it to the classes and preparation for the correct way to visit a Tzaddik's gravesite. She said, "First you need to understand who the Tzaddik was and why his teachings are so special. Then you need to find a personal connection; mine was the fact, new to me, that the Kabbalat Shabbat prayer service that we use today was originated by the Arizal and his associates here in Tzfat".

The learning did not stop there. With a walking tour down the same streets that are so special in the Old City of Tzfat and a class on the miracles that happened here during the earthquake in 1837, the connection became revealed so when the students went to the gravesite of the Holy Ari it was like he was not just a Tzaddik from the past, a part of history, but "The Living Lion". The Living Lion of summer, the soul that would help elevate our prayers to the Heavenly Throne. Then these times when the whole Jewish world cries will end and Moshiach will come -- to some extent in the merit of our studying the Inner Teachings as championed by the Arizal and promised in the Zohar -- to dry our tears and help us complete our work of making everything right in this world, and making it into a place that G-d can call His home.

Words and pictures mostly by Daniel Posner, a computer maven and photo journalist who recently moved to Tsfat from Crispin in the Golan. Yerachmiel Tilles helped with the word content and Marlen Esterson added a few photos.


(for all 18 photos, go to our Facebook)

Class in our newly completed Tea Garden

Meditation session onthe porch

The director of teaching about the 10 sefirot

Rabbi "Big Mo" discoursing on location atthe Ari Synagogue

Mrs. Leiter relating by cndlelight the history and praises of the Holy Ari

Newly ordained Rabbi Effie Ehrenberg on "Sparks, Lights and Vessels"

After midnight, in the cemetery

Not just yahrzeits, also "Happy Birthday!"
(for all 18 photos, go to our Facebook) See other recent photos

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