Tag Archives: Gematria

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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The Jewish View on Cards and Gambling

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: Moshe Rabbeinu

The Greatest Prophet

“Moses Leads the Jews out of Egypt”, by Stephen Howard

Moshe “Moses” ben Amram (c. 1393-1273 BCE) The Pharaoh’s astrologers told him that the “Saviour of the Hebrews” will be born in the month of Adar. Pharaoh decreed all male newborns be drowned in the Nile river. Yocheved was able to hide little Tuviah for 3 months until placing him in a basket on the river. The Pharaoh’s daughter found the floating baby and named him Moshe – meaning “draw” for she drew him from the river. He would later “draw” the Jews out of Egypt. Ironically, the baby that Pharaoh was trying to kill was raised in his own palace! More ironic still, just as Pharaoh drowned the children, his men were ultimately drowned in the Red Sea. Moses was the greatest prophet that ever lived, as well as the humblest man to walk the Earth. He wrote the Torah, as dictated by God, and brought down the 613 commandments of Judaism. It is thus no surprise that the numerical value of “Moshe Rabbeinu” (משה רבינו) in gematria is 613. This coming Monday night begins the 3323rd Passover since Moses led us out of Egypt.

Words of the Week

In the Haggadah we read, “The Torah speaks of four sons: One is wise, one is wicked, one is simple and one does not know how to ask.” In our generation, however, we also have a “fifth son” – the Jewish child who isn’t even at the seder! Our task is to go seek out these sons and daughters and bring them to the Passover table.
The Lubavitcher Rebbe, in a public letter issued shortly before Passover of 1957