Note: the 5th of the month of Av is the anniversary of the passing of perhaps the most significant kabbalist of the last millennium, the Arizal (the acronym for "Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, of blessed memory", 1534-1572).
When the Maharshal heard of the wonders that the Arizal was performing in Safed, he feared these miracles were black magic and seriously considered excommunicating the Arizal and his disciples. The Arizal became aware of this development and decided to send his two most important students to Lublin to present his teachings to the Maharshal and prevent such a terrible mistake. The disciples were great righteous men in their own right, none other than Rabbi Chaim Vital (who was later to become the chief disseminator of the Arizal's teachings in North Africa and the Mideast) and Rabbi Yisrael Srug (who would be the major exponent in Europe).
[The "Maharshal", Rabbi Shlomo Luria, was one of the leading Torah scholars of the sixteenth century. His writings are studied and venerated still today. He served as rabbi and head of the rabbinical court in Lublin, one of the most important centers of Jewish life at that time. He was a relative of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, probably his great uncle.] As a reward for your efforts, you may visit the Mashiach of our time…
As "payment" for the trip, the Arizal revealed to them a deep secret: the name and whereabouts of the Mashiach ben David of their generation. In every generation, the Arizal explained, a Mashiach descended from David and a Mashiach descended from Joseph is born. If the generation is undeserving, they pass from the world without revealing themselves. "The current candidate to be Mashiach ben David is called Eliyakim ben Shmuel and lives in the village of Tisavitch which is not far from Lublin. After finishing your mission, as a reward for your efforts, you may visit the Mashiach of our time," said the Arizal to his students as he blessed them on their departure.
Rabbi Chaim and Rabbi Yisrael set out, taking with them special delicacies of Safed, hot from the oven. Shortly thereafter they were picked up by a passing cloud that took them all the way to Lublin and deposited them - not surprisingly - at the entrance to the synagogue where the Maharshal prayed. They arrived exactly on time for the afternoon prayer.
The sudden appearance of these two Jews of holy countenance dressed in the impressive garments of 16th century Safed caused quite a stir. As a result of a certain incident which then took place in the shul (a long story in itself) the Maharshal understood that these were very special and holy visitors indeed.
The two men introduced themselves and their mission. They told the Maharshal that only that morning had they left Safed and, as proof, their Israeli food was still warm. The Maharshal asked them to reveal the teachings of their master, the Arizal, so that he could judge for himself. "So secret and holy are the teachings," explained the visitors, "that we can reveal them only in an isolated location, away from over-sensitive ears."
They went down to the Maharshal's dark basement. As soon as the tzadikim began to relate the teachings of their master, the whole room lit up. Afterwards, the Maharshal declared that his attitude had changed. He promised them that not only had he given up any idea of declaring a ban, but from then on he would consider himself to be one of the Arizal's great admirers. In desperation, they revealed to the rabbi the true nature of their mission…
The Arizal's two disciples went on to Tisavitch to claim their reward. Upon arriving, however, they found Reb Eliyakim's whereabouts to be unknown. Indeed, his very existence was seriously doubted by even the most informed elders of the town. The Safed Kabbalists proceeded to the house of the local rabbi and asked him about Eliyakim, the son of Shmuel, but to no avail. In desperation, they revealed to the rabbi the true nature of their mission.
After much effort on the part of many different people, they finally succeeded in tracking down the elusive Reb Eliyakim. Needless to say, the two visitors wasted no time making their way to his home, along with the Rabbi of Tisavitch who insisted on accompanying them.
Once at the house of the acclaimed Mashiach ben David of the generation, to their surprise they found only one small room, two broken down beds, and one table ready to fall apart and a chair. Reb Eliyakim himself lay in bed, and his wife was at the stove which stood in the middle of the house.
After being greeted by the hosts, who were surprised but excited to have visitors, especially the rabbi and such holy looking travelers, the guests introduced themselves: "We are the students of the holy Ari, from the holy city of Safed, in the holy land of Israel, and we have been told that you are our generation's candidate for the task of Mashiach ben David." As a result of this secret becoming uncovered
…I must depart from the world…
"Oh! The Ari and his revelations! He has done me and himself great damage," Reb Elyakim exclaimed. "As a result of this secret becoming uncovered," he continued, "I must depart from the world. My last request is that you personally take charge of the funeral and all involved. On the gravestone please write: Here lies a truthful and honest man. 12 Elul 5332."
With these words, Eliyakim ben Shmuel passed away, leaving behind him a world unworthy of Mashiach. (There are some who say that this revelation had such a tragic end because of the presence of the rabbi of the town; had the Arizal's pupils come by themselves, the result would have been different.)
After the funeral, Rabbi Chaim and Rabbi Yisrael went to visit the widow in her mourning. They questioned her about the deeds of her husband.
"I married very young," his wife replied. "All those years my husband was very ill. I myself provided whatever living we had. Most of the time he lay in bed. However, right before Shabbat there would always be a drastic change - the house would become wider and longer, and a fully set table with the best of Shabbat dishes would appear. Then a group of very holy looking visitors would arrive, always bringing with them a Torah scroll. My husband would become strong and healthy and together with the guests, would spend the entire Shabbat in prayer, study and eating the three traditional meals. After the Saturday night prayer
…the house would shrink back to its weekday size…
"After the Saturday night prayer and Havdala, the house would shrink back to its weekday size, the guests would disappear and my husband would return to his bed. This was the schedule every week since our marriage."
"Why didn't you ever tell anyone about this wondrous miracle?" she was asked. Seeing how amazed everyone was by what she had so innocently told, she explained, "I know that a bride is like a queen and the groom is like a king. Therefore I assumed that this happens in every Jewish household, on every Shabbat after the wedding!"
The author notes that as of the time of his writing, a gravestone with the above inscription could still be found in the Jewish cemetery of Tisavitch!
Translated by Yehuda Rubin of Elon Moreh, rewritten by Yerachmiel Tilles
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