Printed from kabbalaonline.org
The Preeminent Master Kabbalist

The Holy Ari

The Holy Ari

Beginner Beginner
 Email
The Holy Ari
The Preeminent Master Kabbalist

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria was undisputedly the greatest practitioner and expounder of Kabbalah since Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, author of the Zohar. Rabbi Yitzchak Luria founded a new school in Kabbalistic thought, known as “the system of the Ari.”

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria ben Shlomo Ashkenazi, whose father was related to the famous Maharshal, was born in the Old City of Jerusalem in 5294 (1534) in what is now the Old Yishuv Court Museum, and passed away on the 5th of Av 5332 (1572). He is buried in the old cemetery of Safed, where tens of thousands make the pilgrimage to his gravesite every year.

...tens of thousands make the pilgrimage to his gravesite every year.

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria is commonly known as the Ari, an acronym standing for Eloki Rabbi Yitzchak, “the G‑dly Rabbi Isaac”; ari is also the Hebrew word for “lion.” No other master or sage ever had this extra letter aleph, an abbreviation for Eloki (G‑dly), prefixed to his name. This was a sign of the esteem in which his contemporaries held him. Later generations, fearful that this appellation might be misunderstood, explained the aleph as standing for Ashkenazi, indicating that his family had originated in Germany, as indeed it had. Alternatively, some explain that the aleph stands for adoneinu, “our master.” To this day, among Kabbalists, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria is referred to as “Rabbeinu HaAri” (our teacher the Ari), “HaAri HaKadosh” (the holy Ari), “the Ari,” or “the Arizal” (the Ari, of blessed memory).

A Special Sandek

The following story is told about the birth of the Arizal:

There was once a very pious scholar living in Israel, named Rabbi Shlomo Luria...One day he remained in the study hall alone, learning, when Elijah the Prophet appeared to him and said, “I have been sent to you by the Almighty to bring you tidings that your wife shall conceive and bear a child, and that you must call him Yitzchak (Isaac). He shall begin to deliver Israel from the kelipot (“husks,” forces of evil). Through him, numerous souls will receive their tikkun (rectification). He is also destined to reveal many hidden mysteries in the Torah, and to expound on the Zohar. His fame will spread throughout the world. Take care, therefore, that you not circumcise him before I come to be the sandek (the one who holds the child during the circumcision ceremony).”

He finished speaking and disappeared. Rabbi Shlomo Luria went home, but did not reveal this secret to anyone, even to his wife. When the Ari was born, the house was filled with light, and on the eighth day he was brought to the synagogue to be circumcised. His father searched everywhere to see if Elijah had come as promised, but he did not see him. Everyone was urging the father to proceed, but he replied that not all the guests had yet arrived.

An hour went by, but Elijah still did not come.

An hour went by, but Elijah still did not come. Then he thought bitterly to himself: My sins must have prevented him from fulfilling his promise. But as he was crying, Elijah appeared and said, “Do not cry, servant of G‑d. Draw near unto the altar and offer your son as a pure sacrifice dedicated entirely to Heaven. Sit on my chair, and I shall sit upon you.” Whereupon, invisible to everyone present except Rabbi Shlomo, Elijah sat on his lap, received the child with both hands, and held him during the entire circumcision. Neither the mohel nor those assembled saw anything but the father holding his baby. After the circumcision, he again promised Rabbi Shlomo that the child would bring great light to the entire world, and then he disappeared.

Rabbi Shlomo passed away when the Ari was still a child. In 1541, unable to support the family, the Ari’s mother traveled to Egypt with her children, where they lived with her brother, Mordechai Francis, a wealthy tax collector. The boy’s brilliance continued to shine in pilpul (Talmudic dialectic) and logic. Rabbi David ibn Zimra (the Radbaz) taught the Ari both the revealed and the concealed aspects of the Torah. The Ari also studied under Rabbi Betzalel Ashkenazi, the author of Shitah Mekubetzet.

By the time the Ari was fifteen, his expertise in Talmud had equaled or surpassed that of all the sages in Egypt. At this age he married his uncle’s daughter, and then spent the next six years in intensive study with Rabbi Betzalel Ashkenazi. It was around this time that a copy of one volume of the Zohar came into his hands. He studied the Zohar in seclusion for another six years. He then isolated himself completely in a house near the Nile for another two years. He remained alone, not speaking to any human being throughout the week. He would return home on the eve of Shabbat, just before dark. But even at home, he would not utter a word, even to his wife. When it was absolutely necessary for him to say something, he would say it in the least possible number of words, and then only in the holy language —-Hebrew. The Ari and his wife had a number of children, including a son named Moshe, who passed away at a young age, and a daughter, who married the son of Rabbi Yosef Caro. Details are sketchy regarding his other children.

He continued to progress in this manner until he was worthy of divine inspiration (ruach hakodesh). On numerous occasions Elijah the Prophet revealed himself and taught the Ari the mysteries of the Torah. Every night his soul ascended into the heavenly realms. Troops of angels would greet him to safeguard his way, bringing him to the heavenly academies. These angels would ask him which academy he chose to visit. Sometimes it would be that of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, and other times he would visit the heavenly academies of Rabbi Akiva or Rabbi Eliezer the Great. On occasion he would also visit the heavenly academies of the ancient prophets.

Elijah told him the time had come to move to Safed...

In 5330 (1570), after he had attained an extremely exalted rung of holiness in Egypt, Elijah told him the time had come to move to Safed, a city in the Galilee in the north of Israel. There he would meet Rabbi Chaim Vital, the man to whom he was destined to transmit the keys to the ancient knowledge.

When he first arrived in Safed, the Ari joined the circle of students who studied Kabbalah under Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (Ramak). His discipleship was short-lived, for the Ramak passed on soon afterwards.

After the passing of the Ramak, the Ari began teaching Kabbalah. The Radbaz, who had also settled in Safed, warned him not to teach Kabbalah in public. However, later the Radbaz recanted after receiving a sign from heaven that he had erred in his ruling. (Some say that Elijah the Prophet himself visited the Radbaz and revealed to him that he had erred.) Soon a group of the leading Kabbalists in Safed gathered around him, among them Rabbi Chaim Vital, who became his chief disciple.

Rabbi Chaim Vital writes in the introduction to his Shaar HaHakdamot:

The Ari overflowed with Torah. He was thoroughly expert in Scripture, Mishnah, Talmud, pilpul, Midrash, aggadah (the non-legal portions of the Talmud), maaseh bereishit and maaseh merkavah (esoteric disciplines). He was expert in the language of trees, the language of birds and the speech of angels. He could read faces in the manner outlined in the Zohar (vol. 2, p. 74b). He could discern all that any individual had done, and could see what they would do in the future. He could read people’s thoughts, often before the thought even entered their mind. He knew future events, and was aware of everything happening here on earth, and what was decreed in heaven.

He knew the mysteries of gilgul (reincarnation)—who had been born previously, and who was here for the first time. He could look at a person and tell him how he was connected to higher spiritual levels, and his original root in Adam. The Ari could read wondrous things [about people] in the light of a candle or in the flame of a fire. With his eyes he gazed and was able to see the souls of the righteous, both those who had died recently and those who had lived in ancient times. Together with, and from, these departed souls, he studied the true mysteries.

From a person’s scent, he was able to know all that he had done. (See Zohar, vol. 3, p. 188a.) It was as if the answers to all these mysteries lay dormant within him, waiting to be activated whenever he desired. He did not have to seclude himself to seek them out.

All this we saw with our own eyes. These are not things that we heard from others. They were wondrous things that had not been seen on earth since the time of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. None of this was attained through magic, heaven forbid. There is a strong prohibition against these arts. Instead, it came automatically, as a result of his saintliness and asceticism, after many years of study in both the ancient and the newer Kabbalistic texts. He then increased his piety, asceticism, purity and holiness until he reached a level where Elijah would constantly reveal himself to him, speaking to him “mouth to mouth,” teaching him these secrets.

The Ari’s Writings

The Arizal himself wrote relatively little. From his own hand we have novellae on two Talmudic tractates. These have been included in his teacher’s Shitah Mekubetzet. His writings in Kabbalah were included in Rabbi Chaim Vital’s Eitz Chaim, and are marked by Rabbi Chaim with the preface, “Found written in manuscript.” There is also a commentary on a small section of the Zohar, and a few hymns for the Sabbath, from the master himself. The bulk of his teachings were recorded by his disciples in numerous works, primarily by Rabbi Chaim Vital. His disciples also recorded his customs in a work known as Shulchan Aruch HaAri, published in Venice in 5440 (1680).

Every custom of the Ari was scrutinized, and many were accepted...

The teachings of the Ari were afforded the status of a rishon (primary authority). Every custom of the Ari was scrutinized, and many were accepted, even against previous practice. The Magen Avraham (Rabbi Avraham Gombiner, 5395–5443 (1635–1683)) accepts many of the Ari’s customs as legally binding. In deciding disputes that had remained unresolved for centuries, he often cites the Ari’s custom as the final authority.

Main Students

Included among the main students of the Ari are Rabbi Chaim Vital (Calabrese), Rabbi Yisrael Sarug, Rabbi Shmuel de Uceda (author of Midrash Shmuel), Rabbi Yitzchak Cohen, Rabbi Masoud HaMaaravi, and Rabbi Gedalia. Even among these select few, only Rabbi Chaim Vital was permitted in his master’s lifetime to write down the Ari’s teachings.

Click here to send your own personal prayer to his gravesite.

Rabbi Moshe Miller was born in South Africa and received his yeshivah education in Israel and America. He is a prolific author and translator, with some twenty books to his name on a wide variety of topics, including an authoritative, annotated translation of the Zohar. He has developed a coaching-type approach to dealing with life's issues based on Chassidism and Kabbalah—a tool for dealing with normal issues that everyone faces as well as issues psychologists usually address, often ineffectively. He also gives free live classes over the Internet.
 Email
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
15 Comments
1000 characters remaining
batya avraham Dallas, TX via kabbalaonline.org September 7, 2016

Ari Shul in Safed It was my honor to clean his shul in Safed. While there(2008-2013) I was going there with a few women who would show up on Shabat,the upper room was being remodeled and needed a overhaul. I was there for five years and hope to return to the city of hope that fed me!
batya avraham Reply

mary peyton virginia beach February 21, 2015

I've always known that I am an old soul. Isolation to study is the only way for me to study Torah. There is so much beauty in it, so much so that it can occupy every thought every day. Just like now i can remember a reference that applies to what I have just read. I have given up the worldly things more and more every day for the love of Torah. Reply

Ben Marquez Evans, Colorado via kabbalaonline.org February 1, 2014

The Holy Ari I too have found that only in isolation can one study The Torah and the very deep waters it swims in. Then again one does not make the choice on his own, rather the soul is the student that teaches its learning to its vessel. Reply

Anonymous Bellevue, usa via kabbalaonline.org July 8, 2013

The Holy Ari Thank you. Ever so interesting and beautiful. Reply

Webmaster Tzefat, Israel via kabbalaonline.org November 14, 2012

RE: haari and maharshal The Maharshal was the uncle of the Ari's father. Reply

hannah liory new york city, ny November 5, 2012

haari and maharshal thanks for this fascinating article.how were they related? is there a family tree from the ari to the luria family of our time? Reply

Anonymous Penticton, Canada via kabbalaonline.org July 23, 2012

The Holy Ari had the gift of prophecy It seems clear to me that the Holy Ari had the gift of propehcy which would indicate that there are still amongst us prophets to this day. If one has faith then we must believe this to be true and one can not accept that G-d has totally abandoned the nation of Israel without having a single prophet for future generations, to guide the world as we know it. Reply

Webmaster Tzefat, Israel via kabbalaonline.org June 28, 2012

Re: to Everado All the links in the right menu of this article are to teachings of the Holy Ari. Reply

Everardo Moreno Bogota, Colombia via kabbalaonline.org June 25, 2012

WHERE CAN I SEE THESE WRITINGS ? It would be fascinating to read the Master's writings for study and meditation. Reply

Bernard Gordon WPB, FL/ USA May 10, 2012

the holy ari Most informative & enlightning
t/u so much. Reply

Kallah Chayah Yisra'el Colorado, USA via kabbalaonline.org January 31, 2012

Shalom. Where there is contention, there is no illumination. Strife brings more strife. "Peace I give to you my children." Reply

zaneta garratt trelleborg, sweden August 5, 2011

the Holy Ari totally fascinating to read this article and very revealing Reply

Dov Silverman Ra''anana, Israel August 3, 2011

Greetings It has been some time since we met in Safed. Your articles are well written and I wish you to go from strength to strength. Reply

Anonymous via mychabad.org December 4, 2010

ari - source Every primary source of biographical information on the Ari, without exception, contains the fact of his relationship to the Maharsha. Reply

Anonymous new york, ny November 29, 2010

ARI what is your source for sayiing the Ari's father was related to the mahrshal Reply

Related Topics

The larger, bold text is the direct translation of the classic text source.

The smaller, plain text is the explanation of the translator/editor.
Text with broken underline will provide a popup explanation when rolled over with a mouse.