One weekday Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the holy Ari, was in his house discussing Torah with his chief disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital, when a local young man, Shmuel de Uceda, bashfully entered, dressed in Shabbat garb.

Immediately the ARI stood up and greeted him. “Baruch Haba! Welcome!” He shook the fellow’s hand and invited him to sit beside him.

Rabbi Chaim gaped in amazement. His mentor never acted like this. Why did he stand up for a man younger than him, and of a lesser level of scholarship? And why did he seat him on a chair?

As soon as the boy left, Rabbi Chaim could no longer contain his curiosity. “I’ve never seen you act in this manner with anyone before. What is the reason for showing Shmuel such honor, if I may ask?”

“What are you saying!” replied the Ari. “I did not stand up for this young man, nor was it him I greeted. What really happened was this. I saw the soul of the Mishnaic sage Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair [father-in-law of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai], hovering over the boy’s head—a merit the lad earned today by performing a commandment for which that sage was famous when he was alive. It was for him that I stood up, and it was him that I greeted.”What had the young man done to deserve such a special reward?

Rabbi Chaim marveled at this revelation. What had the young man done, he wondered, to deserve such a special reward? With permission, he dashed outside in pursuit of him.

Finding him in one of the cobblestone lanes, he asked, “Tell me, Shmuel, what extra commandment did you do today?”

“The only thing I did out of the ordinary today,” the fellow answered hesitantly, “happened this morning while I was going to shul. As usual, I left my house at the crack of dawn and walked in the direction of the synagogue. As I turned a corner, I suddenly heard crying from one of the windows. Why would adults be crying, I wondered?

“I decided to find out. When I entered the house, I saw the room was in shambles. The residents, still in their sleeping garments, were standing in the middle, sobbing. A band of thieves had taken everything of value, they told me, even their clothes.

“I gave the father my clothes, and dashed home to put on my only other garments, my Shabbat clothes. As you see, I’m still wearing them.”

Delighted, Rabbi Chaim kissed him and returned to his master.

“In the merit of this mitzvah,” remarked the Ari, “Shmuel certainly deserved that the tzaddik’s soul should envelop him. Rabbi Pinchas ben Yair was famous precisely for redeeming captives and helping forsaken people whenever he could.”

Adapted by Yerachmiel Tilles from Safed: The Mystical City by David Rossoff (available from the author at: POB 5437, Jerusalem).]

Biographical note:
Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534–1572), known as “the Holy Ari,” revolutionized the study of Kabbalah and its integration into mainstream Judaism during the two years he spent in Tzfat before his death at 38.
(For more on the Ari, please click here.
For teachings of the Ari translated into English, click here, and see

Rabbi Shmuel de Uceda (1538–1602) became, in 1578, the head of a major yeshivah in Tzfat for the study of Talmud and Kabbalah, and was the author of a classical commentary on Pirkei Avot, Midrash Shmuel.

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