Jew of the Week: the Arizal

The Arizal’s Grave in Tzfat

Itzchak ben Shlomo Luria (1534-1572) was born in Jerusalem to an Ashkenazi father and a Sephardi mother. His father passed away when he was still a child, forcing his mother to move back to Egypt. There, he was raised by his wealthy uncle and placed under the tutelage of Cairo’s greatest rabbis. He married at the age of 15, and continued his religious studies while also entering the business world. (Several business documents signed by his hand have been found in the famous Cairo Genizah, along with a few letters.) At 22, he was introduced to the study of Jewish mysticism and began learning the Zohar, the central text of Kabbalah. Some time later, he left his home and spent seven years meditating in a small cottage along the Nile River. Rabbi Luria would return home only on Shabbat, and spoke only in Hebrew, the holy tongue. During this time, he conceived of an entirely new system and interpretation of Kabbalah. Around 1569, he left Egypt for Tzfat, then the capital of Jewish mysticism, and home of the greatest Kabbalists of the time. Shortly after his arrival, the leader of the Tzfat Kabbalists, Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, passed away, and Rabbi Luria quickly filled the void. He was soon known as HaAri HaKodesh, “the Holy Lion”. Although he did not gain a very large following (focusing on a small group of astute disciples) and although he wrote very little himself, Rabbi Luria’s teachings would revolutionize Judaism. His students diligently recorded his teachings. His primary disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital, together with his son Shmuel Vital, laid out the entire Lurianic system in a series of texts called the “Eight Gates”. These works describe the origins and anatomy of the cosmos as well as the dynamics of souls and spiritual forces. They provide deeper explanations for the narratives of the Torah and for the Jewish holidays, and are filled with gematria (Jewish numerology), kavvanot (meditations), and tikkunim(spiritual rectifications). Among the most famous of the treatises is Sha’ar HaGilgulim, “Gate of Reincarnations”, the standard Jewish textbook on transmigration of souls. Rabbi Luria’s teachings spread rapidly all over the world, and went on to completely transform Judaism. They would give rise to the Hasidic movement, while at the same time providing the fuel for the first sparks of Zionism. Rabbi Luria’s teachings were even translated into Latin and impacted Christian mysticism and the European Renaissance. His prayer style (Nusach haAri) became the standard for all Sephardic, Mizrachi, and Hasidic communities. His own life was mysteriously cut short at age 38, just two years after arriving in Tzfat. He has since become more commonly known as the Arizal, “the Lion of Blessed Memory”. He was scrupulously observant, avoiding consuming meat and dairy on the same day, and immersing in a mikveh regularly, even in the cold of winter. He studied and meditated to the point of sweating, well past midnight, and was up again before sunrise. He avoided harming anything, even the tiniest of flies. The Arizal was famous for being able to peer into people’s souls. It is said he could speak to angels, and understood the speech of animals and trees. His impact on Judaism, and the world at large, is immeasurable. The Arizal’s hillula (or yahrzeit) is on Tuesday.

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Words of the Week

It is incumbent for a person to take upon themselves each day the mitzvah of “love your fellow as yourself”.
– Rabbi Isaac Luria, the Arizal

The classic Kabbalistic “Tree of Life” (left) is often associated with the Arizal. Though he did not originate the diagram, his teachings explained it in an entirely new and profound way. The diagram at right was produced by Christian Knorr von Rosenroth, who translated some of the Arizal’s teachings together with passages from the Zohar into the Latin ‘Kabbalah Denudata’, once very popular in Christian Europe.

Jew of the Week: Bob Iger

The Man Behind “America’s Most Admired Company”

Bob Iger (Photo Credit: Angela George)

Robert Allen Iger (b. 1951) was born in New York City and raised on Long Island. He studied television and radio at Ithaca College (with the dream of becoming a news anchor) and there had his first media job on the college television station. After several months working as a casual weatherman, and struggling to find a reporting job, Iger joined ABC as a “studio supervisor” helping out on the set of soap operas and game shows. A few years later he joined the production team at ABC Sports, a position he held for nearly a decade. From there, he became a VP of ABC Sports, and a few years later a VP of ABC. In 1992, he became the company’s president, having incredibly worked his way up from an entry-level position, with just a bachelor’s degree in hand. Iger went on to launch some of ABC’s most popular television shows, including Home ImprovementAmerica’s Funniest Home Videos, and Who Wants To Be a Millionaire?Meanwhile, because of his tremendous success and famous foresight, he was one of only a few executives to survive the buyout of ABC, first by Capital Cities Broadcasting, and then again by The Walt Disney Company. In 1999, Iger was made president of Walt Disney International. By 2005, he took over as CEO as well, and was put in charge of Disney’s day-to-day operations, vowing to fix the struggling company. Soon, Iger engineered Disney’s takeover of Pixar, and then its acquisition of Marvel Entertainment. To the latter he gave the necessary boost to bring out the “Marvel Cinematic Universe”, now the highest-grossing film franchise of all time. Iger had a vision to do something similar with Star Wars, and in 2012 acquired Lucasfilm. Star Wars has since become the second highest-grossing film franchise of all time. Iger has expanded Disney in other ways, too, including a new $5.5 billion Disney Resort in Shanghai. All in all, he increased Disney’s value from $48 billion to some $170 billion, and hired over 18,000 people during his tenure, earning the company multiple accolades including “America’s Most Admired Company” (Fortune Magazine), the “World’s Most Reputable Company” (Forbes), and the “Best Place to Launch a Career” (BusinessWeek). Iger, meanwhile, has been called the “Best CEO”, won multiple “CEO of the Year” awards, as well as a “Corporate Humanitarian Award” and “Equal Opportunity Award”. He is ranked among the 25 most powerful people in business. Iger is also a generous philanthropist, and has been given the Ambassador for Humanity Award for his efforts.

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Words of the Week

For the scientist who has lived by his faith in the power of reason, the story ends like a bad dream. He has scaled the mountains of ignorance; he is about to conquer the highest peak; as he pulls himself over the final rock, he is greeted by a band of theologians who have been sitting there for centuries.
– Dr. Robert Jastrow, renowned astrophysicist