• Issue: June 1972
  • Designer: Y. Zim
  • Plate no.: 356
  • Method of printing: Photolithography

Rabbi Yitzhak ben Shlomo Ashkenazi Luria, known widely as "The Ari," was a central figure in Kabbalah (Jewish mysticism) and the father of the newer system known as Practical Kabbalah. The name Ari, which means "the Lion," is an acronym from the initials of the Ashkenazi Rabbi Yitzhak, or Adonenu (= our master) Rabbi Yitzhak.

He was born in 1538 in the Old City of Jerusalem. According to legend, the prophet Elijah informed his father of his birth, came to his circumcision ceremony to act as godfather, and told his father to pay attention to the child because a great light was to shine from him. When he was still young his father died, and his mother took him to Cairo, the home of her brother, Mordechai Francis, a wealthy and respected man, who was a tax-collector. In Egypt his teachers were the famous rabbis Bezalel Ashkenazi and David Zimra ("The Radbaz"). When he was 18 years old he married one of his cousins.

When the Zohar appeared in print, he began to study Kabbalah and withdrew to holiness and abstinence. All week he would live in a remote room near the Nile, and immerse himself in his studies and thought, and every Sabbath eve he would return to his father-in-law's house and to his wife and children. At home he was taciturn, speaking briefly and in the Holy Tongue, and on Sabbath night he would again return to his lonely room. At the age of 36, he moved to Safed to be with the famous Kabbalists of that city, and studied for several months with the most celebrated of them, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero ("The Ramak").

When the Ramak died, the Kabbalists gathered around the Ari. In contrast with accepted practice, the Ari would preach in public, but he set up a special house where he lived and studied with his pupils. He would take them out to the hills of Safed, to the nearby fields, and to the tombs of righteous men, and there preach on the secrets of the Bible and lofty thoughts. He wrote nothing, and did not permit his students to take notes of what he said. His students, who were known as "the lion's cubs," were all great scholars, of both the revealed and the secret, and outstanding among them was Rabbi Haim Vital, who collected and arranged the Ari's teachings, but refrained from publishing them in accordance with his master's wishes. His son, Rabbi Samuel Vital, however, saw to the publication of the teachings of both the Ari and his father's in a number of volumes, the principal one being Etz Hayyim ("Tree of Life").

The Ari's system is built on the Zohar and based on well-known Kabbalistic ideas such as the secret of the ten emanations, the secret of reduction, and the secret of reincarnation, and he gave these a particular practical direction according to a combination of meanings, letters, and special names. Many customs based on his way of life and his system were crystallized in his school and then spread to all Jewish communities. These customs include the reception of the Sabbath, the "small Yom Kippur," midnight prayers for the restoration of the Temple (Tikkun Hatzot), and the expiatory sacrifice of a chicken before the Day of Atonement (Kapparot). He also composed songs, and three of his Sabbath songs - Azamer Bi-Shevahim, Asader li-Seudata, and Bne Hekhala - became famous throughout the Jewish world, both Sephardi and Ashkenazi, and are recited or sung at Sabbath tables everywhere.

The Ari became a legendary figure. His students considered him the spiritual descendant of Moses and called him the "Holy Lion." He is the subject of many moralistic and educational legends about his actions aimed at bringing redemption closer. He was even awarded the halo of the Messiah, son of Joseph, as he urged people to redemption and repentance. Thanks to him and his system, many sages were impelled to immigrate to Israel and perform deeds of redemption. The immigration to the Holy Land of the group founded by the Vilna Gaon and of the Hassidic sect of the Baal Shem Tov both derived from the system developed by The Ari.

The Ari died on the 5th of Av, 1572, and 1972 marks the 400th anniversary of his death. A special committee under the patronage of the President of Israel proclaimed it the "Year of the Ari."

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The Ari