The Holy City of Tsfat (Safed, Zefat)

Tsfat, a town high in the mountains in the north of Israel, is considered one of the four "holy cites." The others are Hevron ('earth'), Yerushalayim ('fire'), and Tiverya ('water').

Tsfat is associated with the element of air, and "the air of the Holy Land makes one wise." The Zohar, a primary source of Jewish mysticism, states that the air of Zefat is the purest in all of Israel. It is no coincidence that the holy Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as "the Ari", revealed great depths of kabbalah while living in Tsfat. The Zohar also states that the Moshiach will come first to the Galilee, in the north of Israel; the Remaz, a main commentary on the Zohar, states unequivocally that this is referring to Tsfat!

R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk established the first Chassidic community in Tsfat more than two hundred years ago, but soon moved to Tiberias. When asked why he had moved, he answered that the air in Tsfat is so pure and holy that he kept hearing heavenly voices calling through the night and he couldn't get a decent night's sleep.

According to the first chapter of Reishit Chochmah, a mystical book written in Tsfat, Tsfat was the city where Yehoshua began the systematic destruction of idol worship, preparing the Land of Canaan to become the Land of Israel. Modern Tsfat dates back to the 16th century, when it was home to many illustrious Jewish sages and mystics, including Rabbi Josef Karo whose Code of Jewish Law is definitive to this day, and the holy Rabbi Yitzchak Luria who revealed great depths of kabbalistic secrets from the Zohar, the Book of Splendor, which in turn was written by the holy Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai in nearby Meron.

Street in TsfatASCENT stands at the edge of the Old City of Tsfat, a picturesque neighborhood of narrow alleys and cobblestone streets where synagogues dating from the 16th century are still in use, sheltering the prayer, Torah study and Shabbat celebrations of the Jews of Tsfat. These streets clinging to the side of the mountain, connected by stone staircases and navigable only by foot possess a serene quality rarely found in today's world. Ascent Walking Tours and every private stroll is punctuated by breathtaking views of Mt. Meron and the rolling hills of the Galilee.

The adjoining Artists' Quarter is unique and the artist's home studios are open to the public. Originally established by Jewish immigrant artists escaping Europe during and after World War II, the Artist Quarter today is also home to new immigrant artists and craftsmen from Russia, Ethiopia and English speaking countries.

Tsfat was also the scene of a community military miracle in the War of Independence in 1948.

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