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Sunday, July 26, 2009


What the Arizal Saw

Today, 5 Av, is the 437th yahrzeit of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as "the holy Ari [or Arizal]." He revolutionized the study of Kabbalah and its integration into mainstream Judaism during the two years he spent in Tzfas before his death at the age of 38. Much of Chassidic thought is based on the Ari's teachings, as recorded by his main disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital.

Our previous post: Songs and Praise of the Holy Arizal

The following is my translation of a story that appeared in this week’s Sichas HaShavua, the very popular Chabad parsha sheet here in Israel. It should be noted that the R. Yitzchak in the story is not the Arizal, but his disciple, R. Yitzchak HaKohen. Rabbi Luria is referred to as "the Ari" throughout the story…


What the Ari Saw

Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the holy Ari [Lion], together with his students, made their way quietly from Tzfas to the grave of the Prophet, Hoshea ben Beari. They were accustomed to study in the mountains, and occasionally the Ari would invite the members of his group to pray at the various cemeteries that were scattered throughout the area. They already knew that by such visits, one could attach his soul to that of the Tzaddik, and learn secrets of Torah.

The Ari stood near the grave of the Prophet in a long, silent prayer, surrounded by his students. Then they sat and listened to his discourse, words of Torah and Kabbalah that were beyond [most] human comprehension.

Suddenly, the students noticed that their Rav’s face had changed. The joy that always reigned turned to an expression of stressful concern. For quite a time the Ari was thoughtful, and then he turned to his students: "I have just been informed that a difficult decree is now hovering over the inhabitants of Tzfas. A plague of locusts will descend on Tzfas, that will eat all the grass of the land and consume all the fruit trees, until there will be no source of sustenance remaining in the area."

[a swarm of locusts]

The students became very frightened and asked: "Rebbe, for what has this severe punishment been decreed? What sin have the residents of Tzfas committed?"

The Ari replied: "All this has come about because of one Jew, named Yaakov Altrin. He is terribly poor and has lost his source of parnasa [livelihood]. He poured out his grievance about his severe condition to Hashem. When they saw from Heaven that none of the inhabitants of Tzfas had come to help, the harsh decree was issued."

"But, Rabbi," the students called, "perhaps it is possible to do something, to save the whole town from distress, Heaven forbid. What should we do?"

The Ari ordered each of his students to contribute a certain sum of money, which amounted to a respectable sum. Then the Ari summoned R. Yitzchak HaKohen, his student, gave him the bundle of money, bidding him to take it and deliver it to the poor man.

R. Yitzchak went out and searched the entrances to the city, until he located the house of the man. The external appearance of the house was quite miserable. The student knocked on the door, but was not answered. Only the sound of bitter weeping could be heard coming from the house. Strengthening himself, the student opened the door, and lo and behold, he saw R. Yaakov Altrin sitting in the center of the house, surrounded by his family. His speech was directed upwards, and he was crying...

The surprise entry of the Ari’s student immediately silenced R. Yaakov’s crying. He looked into the visitor’s face in wonder and, asked: "What do you want?"

R. Yitzchak told him that he was a student of the Ari, and he had just heard that R. Yaakov was in deep trouble and would like to help him. "What happened to you, and why do you cry?" asked R. Yitzchak.

R. Yaakov poured out his heart before his guest. He told of his daily struggle to earn a livelihood, to bring bread home. He had a large ceramic jug, with which he brought water to the homes of his neighbors in the region. With the little he earned from this, he had managed to support his family. Now the jug had broken, and his livelihood went down with it. Without a jug, there was no point to go out to work, and he could no longer feed his children and family.

"In my distress, I turned to Hashem," the simple Jew added. "I claimed: Is this proper for me? Has the penalty of hunger been decreed upon me and my family? Am I more evil than the rest of the world? Does He not sustain the World with grace, lovingkindness and mercy? Why did He take away the source of my income from me?..."

The student was amazed to see how right the words of the Ari were. He took out the bundle of money collected by the students, turned to the Jew and said: "Listen R. Yaakov, Hashem has heard your prayers, and from now on you will no longer lack anything. We, the residents of Tzfas, will support your family, for whatever is needed."

His face lit up, and his joy knew no bounds. He looked happily at his family, and at the coins placed into his hands, and did not stop thanking Hashem and expressing his thanks to the guest who came just at the right moment, to save his family from the shame of hunger.

However, R. Yitzchak paid no heed to these words of thanks. With a serious face, he turned to the Jew in a tone of reproof: "Do you know that on account of you, almost all the residents of Tzfas were at risk of extinction and hunger?! When you come with your claims against Hashem, they looked down and saw from Heaven - that you were without any help from your brethren and neighbors, and a harsh decree was cast. If not for our holy Rabbi who heard of this, and in whose merit all the residents of the city were saved..."

The man was very sorry about the things he said in his distress, and promised that henceforth he would put his trust in Hashem, and complain no more. He departed from R. Yitzchak excitedly, and the latter returned to his friends to tell them the story of R. Yaakov.

The group of friends [disciples] asked the Ari whether the decree had indeed been averted. He responded to them, that indeed, the charity money they had gave to the poor man worked to remove the decree from the residents of Tzfas.

Time passed - and suddenly, what seemed to be a heavy cloud of locusts was seen approaching the hills of Tzfas. Horror befell them all. The students turned to their Rebbe, and asked if the Divine decree had not been averted after all. The Ari’s face was peaceful and shining, and he did not seem to worry at all. "Continue to learn, my sons," he said, "and your concern will pass."

A few moments passed, and a strong wind appeared and moved the entire cloud of locusts out to the sea, until not one remained.

The story spread and made waves, everyone learned that in the merit of the holy vision of the Ari, the entire area was saved from a plague of locusts.

Zechuso yagein Aleinu, v’al Kol Yisrael!

lovely story
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