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Reports of Miracles From Safed – Tablet Magazine

Reports of Miracles From Safed – Tablet Magazine

One of the formative texts of the Safed fable, which first portrayed the city as a singular place and which was chargeable for spreading phrase of it all around the Jewish world, is the four letters that Rabbi Solomon Shlumil of Dreznitz despatched, in 1607, to his kin in Bohemia after immigrating to Safed in 1602. These paperwork modified the image and historical past of the Upper Galilean mysterious city for modern European Jews. A passage from the first letter states:

And had I come to announce his eminence, all the wonders, and the good deeds of Luria, might his reminiscence be a blessing, earlier than all of Israel within the land of glory, here in Safed, might it’s built and established shortly in our day, which have been advised to me by my instructor and rabbi, Mas‘ud Ma‘arabi, might God shield and bless him, and from a number of the rabbis and great students of the Land who poured water on his arms [studied directly under him] and who saw with their very own eyes wondrous things from him that have not been seen in your complete land because the days of the tanna’im. Like Rashbi [Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai]might he relaxation in peace, he had all the virtues such that he had information of all the deeds of human beings and even their ideas. He had information of the wisdom that was within the countenance and soul of human beings and their incarnations and could say what evil men had been reincarnated in timber, stones, or in beasts and fowl, and he might say what transgressions a person had comprised of the commandments and the transgressions [he had committed] since his childhood, and he had information of when amends had been made for this fault, and he had information of the chirping of the birds and from their flight comprehended fantastic things, and that is like [the biblical verse, Ecclesiastes 10:20] “for a chook of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.” And he comprehended all this via his piety and abstinence and holy purity.

It’s arduous to know how we could not have observed that this text, which has been learn and examined so many occasions, incorporates a most vital inner contradiction. Shlumil, who in his first letter consists of testimonies concerning the environment and traditions of Safed as he felt and heard them during his years of residence there, speaks of “wondrous issues from him that haven’t been seen in the whole land because the days of the tanna’im.” In different phrases, in Safed Isaac Luria (1534–1572) performed (“before all of Israel”) wondrous and exceptional deeds. Together with his supernatural powers he carried out deeds that elicited the awe of the individuals of Safed, who saw these acts with their very own eyes.

Shlumil data these specific testimonies conveyed by individuals in Safed in his letter, and it’s from this letter that European and Oriental Jewish communities shaped their mythical picture of Safed, centered on the determine of Luria and his miracles. But when Shlumil goes on to recount what these deeds have been, the expression that gets repeated virtually in all places is “he knew”: He knew concerning the reincarnation of evil individuals in timber and stones, beasts and fowl; he knew concerning the transgressions of every individual from delivery and the amends he had made for them; he knew the which means of the chirping of the birds and their flight.

In writing that we have now not observed this contradiction, I have in truth finished an injustice to the good and incisive early-17th-century Venetian rabbi and scholar Leon of Modena (Judah Aryeh). Leon wrote in ‘Ari Nohem, “And the wonders of Luria they tell, the idea of most of them is that he had information about everyone what his soul had been in earlier lives [gilgul].” His cautious selection of words shows his precision—he does not assert that Luria performed wonders but relatively that they tell of such wonders. Leon says that he is presenting us with tales about Luria’s wonders, not details, because he didn’t consider that the wonders had certainly occurred. Writing in 1620, the Venetian sage perceived that in these stories Luria doesn’t truly do something. As an alternative, he “recognized,” or in Shlumil’s formulation, “he had information of.”

Thus on the basis of the Lurianic fantasy lies a highly vital distinction between the declare that Luria carried out awe-inspiring deeds that elicited the veneration of his contemporaries and the actual accounts of his deeds, which reveal that they involved not more than recognition or information of a world hidden to others.

That is exceptional even from the viewpoint of comparative folklore. The trademark of saints’ legends from the top of antiquity to the fashionable age is that holy women and men perform supernatural acts. They remedy the sick, abrogate the laws of nature, rescue people and communities from numerous dangers, and make intensive use of magical powers (similar to using the Tetragrammaton). Even the determine to whom Luria’s students, in addition to later generations, compared him, Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai, stands out in the Talmudic corpus for his magical powers and supernatural deeds. Virtually all Jewish legends exalting medieval heroes—Rashi, Maimonides, Avraham ibn Ezra, Judah the Pious—embrace supernatural motifs through which these figures are depicted as capable of change the traditional course of events in a miraculous method.

To be somewhat less cautious than Leon was, I might say not that a lot of the unique legends about Luria contain his information or recognition of one thing but that they’re all of this type. Not a single legend advised about Luria during his sojourn in Safed (or the fifty years round 1600 that this e-book is targeting; I am not talking right here about legends original centuries later) recounts a miraculous deed. There are not any tales of sick individuals lining up in front of his door in order that he might remedy them, or tales of threats to the Safed Jewish group that he averted or undid.

This claim is strengthened by Rabbi Joseph Karo, who relates originally of his intimate journal Magid Meisharim his potent want to perform miracles like these performed by the good Jewish figures who had come earlier than him:

And so adhere all the time to the blessed identify [God] and you’ll be favored to have miracles carried out by you as they have been performed by the ancients, and this individuals will know that there is a God in Israel, for now there are not any miracles, because the heavenly identify shouldn’t be sanctified, because the world does not see that miracles are performed by the clever men, and once they see that they’re performed by you, the identify of heaven shall be sanctified.

Karo’s language right here is innocent, which means that the center of interest is himself, not what is occurring around him. He feels that he’s not as saintly as the “ancients.” He subsequently should attempt to realize their degree of sanctity so that he might be favored to perform miracles. His miracles will in turn deliver the Jewish individuals to “know that there is a God in Israel.” This widespread concept in medieval Judaism was referred to as “a memorial for his works” (Psalms 111:four). In accordance with this idea, recognition of God’s existence and his involvement on the planet is produced by the manifestation of miracles in everyday life.

Karo makes two claims of curiosity to the subject beneath dialogue here. First, he does not even contemplate the likelihood that another man—for instance, Luria—may have the ability to obtain the religious degree needed to carry out miracles. Although this text was virtually definitely written before Luria’s arrival in Safed, Karo might confer with other well-known miracle staff there. In accordance with his self-estimation, if he himself were not to take action, the identify of heaven wouldn’t be sanctified.

Second, Karo states clearly and explicitly that “now there are not any miracles.” In different words, the parable of Safed that later generations fostered and disseminated, that Safed had then been filled with miracle-performing saints with Luria at their head, was completely unknown to a man who lived in that town throughout its golden age and who ranks as probably the most preeminent of its scholars. Luria himself addressed this level immediately, in line with the testimony of his disciple Rabbi Hayyim Very important.

[This is said] for a person who makes use of practical Kabbalah [mystical magic]. I will first comment on what its sin is. And these are the words of my late instructor, might peace be on his reminiscence. I, the author, Hayyim, asked my late instructor about using practical Kabbalah, which is forbidden in all of the works of the current masters of Kabbalah. And in that case, how did Rabbi Ishmael and Rabbi Akiva, might peace be on them, within the Pirkei Heikhalot use names of awe for the matter of remembering and opening the guts? And he responded to me that in their time the ashes of the [red] heifer have been out there, and they might solely purify themselves of all pollution, but all of us are in a state of impurity brought on by the lifeless, and there are not any ashes of the heifer to purify us from impurity brought on by the lifeless… and subsequently we aren’t permitted in these occasions to use the holy names and one who uses them is responsible for an incredible punishment, as I will write under.

Orthodox Jews stroll to wish on the tomb of Rabbi Isaac Luria Ben-Shlomo (Ha’Ari Ha’Kadosh) at the historic cemetery of the northern Israeli metropolis of Safed (Photograph: Menahem Kahana/AFP/Getty Photographs)

And another time my instructor, might peace be on his reminiscence, responded to the same man differently, on this method: “Know that each one the names [of God] and charms that can now be discovered written in books are in error, and even the names and charms that have been tried and perfected by the specialists have many mistakes. Thus it’s forbidden to use them. But if we knew the names of their proper and true means, we too can be permitted to use them.”

Luria does not deny the validity and fact of Jewish magic—what Very important calls sensible Kabbalah. He in fact can’t dismiss the lots of of historic sources that mention using magic, from rabbinic by means of medieval to modern texts. However, as he all the time does, he frames magic as a theoretical risk that can’t truly be manifested in his personal time.

At two totally different alternatives Luria gives two totally different explanations for the absence of magical powers from Jewish life of his time; one is the ritual air pollution brought on by lifeless our bodies, which there isn’t a method of purifying now, and the other is the ignorance of those who write holy names to be used as charms. In both instances the conclusion is similar: There was no magic in his time in Safed. But tales, whether informed intentionally or spontaneously, have a life of their very own. Despite the fact that Luria himself explicitly denied reviews of him performing miraculous deeds and even the very risk that such deeds might be carried out in his time, his fame as a wonder-working saint stays firmly ensconced to today.

But, significantly, outdoors the overall rumors hooked up to Luria’s figure, the legends recounted in Shlumil’s letters, which have been the idea of the later Lurianic vitae Shivkhei ha-’Ari (Praises of the Ari [Luria]), make no point out of any miracles that he truly performed. Regardless of the temptation to trend magical legends around the figure of Luria, no such stories came into being in Safed in the years around 1600. This reality demonstrates that legends of Jewish saints of this time shouldn’t be seen because the merchandise of unchecked fantasy and creativeness. Slightly, they’re narratives that relate to the elemental nature of their lives, stories that intricately interpret those lives while typically remaining trustworthy to the precise details about them.


Think about a famous legend a few calf that enters the classroom of Luria’s circle and locations his forefeet on the table. Luria tells his disciples that they need to purchase the calf at any worth, slaughter him ritually, and eat its meat communally. The calf, he informs them, homes the soul of a ritual slaughterer who had prompted the Jews of Safed to sin. Right here, too, Luria does not do something. He solely knows something. Because of this data, he tells his college students what to do, but his instruction doesn’t embrace any act that takes it out of the realm of everyday life. In other phrases, Luria, once more, does not act like different saints.

One other such instance is the Story of the Locusts. Right here, Luria, sitting together with his students outdoors the partitions of Safed, is aware of that an enormous swarm of locusts is on its method to the town to punish its inhabitants for not helping a poor man who was in dire straits. As soon as again, he takes no motion. Sure, he instructs his students to collect alms for the poor man, however he uses no magic to avert the disaster:

And as soon as Luria advised our instructor, Rabbi Yitzhak Cohen, to go to the village of Ein Zeitun, to the tomb of Rabbi Yehuda bar Ila‘i, and convey to him his interpretation of a passage from the Zohar. And he commanded him not to converse with anybody and never to answer anybody. Then he, might peace be on him, went and prostrated himself on the grave of Rabbi Yehuda bar Ila‘i, might peace be on him, within the village of Ein Zeitun and did as he commanded him, and the holy tanna didn’t make any reply to him. Then he returned to his instructor and stated, “Grasp, I went to the tomb of the tanna and I did as you commanded, and I acquired no answer from him.” Luria, of blessed memory, responded to him, “And did I not see in a imaginative and prescient that you simply spoke with an Arab lady? Not only did she not greet you, but you went first and greeted her in such and such a place, and I commanded you to not converse with any individual!” Then our venerable instructor Rabbi Yitzhak Cohen recalled that so it had been and confessed to him … and he also discovered the grave of Rabbi Kruspadai near here, which had not been recognized, and there had by no means been any marker upon it, and it lies close to the bank of the river, and in addition the grave of Rabbi Pinhas Ben-Ya’ir, which no man had ever recognized, he, might peace be on him, revealed, and like these he revealed burial places of untold and innumerable tanna’im and prophets. And he used to say that because the tanna’im and saints who’re from the hidden world, no markers have been positioned on them and their location was not recognized. And when he went to the cemetery of Safed, might it’s constructed and established shortly in our day, he would say here lies a sure pious man whose identify is this, and here one other pious man whose identify is that, they usually investigated after him and found that he had been directed to the reality, as if he had been there at their funerals.

This can be a typical account in Shlumil’s letters, which I have cited solely partially right here. All of them persistently and insistently repeat the identical claim: Luria knows. He doesn’t cause issues to happen; he doesn’t intervene in mundane or divine occasions utilizing supernatural information or powers. Fairly, he is aware of issues that exist solely within the hidden world, which are invisible to creatures of flesh and blood. For probably the most half, he does nothing with this data. Typically, as in these examples, he tells considered one of his disciples to act in this world—to purchase a calf and slaughter it, to provide alms to a poor man. However this data and the actions that derive from it have nothing in widespread with the magical deeds attributed to the saints, whether Christian or Jewish, in the saints’ legends of the medieval and early trendy period.

One essential testimony in this regard, the reliability of which is testified to by the text itself, is said by Shlumil in his fourth letter:

And a disciple of Luria, might his righteous memory be for a blessing, the scholar Rabbi Gedaliah Halevi, advised me that within the time of Luria, might his righteous memory be for a blessing, he would tell his disciples awe-inspiring and fantastic things that he noticed each day time after time. He would place himself on a mountain that stood outdoors the city, and from there he noticed the entire cemetery of Safed and noticed hosts of souls that ascended from the graves to ascend to the divine paradise and the other as properly, he noticed myriads that descended in their place and these have been the additional souls which are added to [the people of] Israel on the Sabbath. And out of all of the confusion and mixing of the souls and hosts there, his eyes dimmed and couldn’t see and he needed to close his eyes, and yet he noticed all the same things when his eyes have been closed. And in addition as soon as Luria, of righteous reminiscence, went to review Torah together with his disciples in a area and he saw that sitting on all the timber have been tens of hundreds of souls, and in addition there was a stream close by and he noticed that hundreds and tens of hundreds of souls have been floating and teeming on the water. When he saw them, he requested what their nature was, they usually answered him that that they had heard about his saintliness, that he had it in his power to rectify them, and that they have been souls who had been pushed outdoors the curtain [of the divine presence] for not having repented, and concerning the reincarnations that they had gone by means of in this world. And the holy sage promised to do all he might to obtain their ascent. And the sage associated this afterward to his disciples because that they had seen him ask and respond and didn’t know what about, and he advised them all the prevalence.

This testimony is necessary for a variety of causes. First, it is reliable. The chain of transmission is direct and clear—from the occasion itself to the disciple who was current and heard Luria converse, to the oral account that Shlumil heard instantly, to the written text.

I don’t imply to say that the incident befell exactly as described. In any case, greater than a era had passed by between the time of the event, 1571–1572 (Luria’s arrival in Safed to his demise there a yr later), and Shlumil’s letter, which was written in 1607. Furthermore, it’s arduous to consider that Rabbi Halevi heard precisely this story and was not influenced by the burgeoning of Luria’s status over the intervening thirty-five years. But the chain of transmission and the fact that the idea of the account is anchored within the religious milieu of Luria’s Safed appear to be past doubt.

The story’s fascination lies in Luria’s conduct. He closes his eyes, murmurs some words to himself, enters into himself, and completely ignores the presence of his disciples. Such conduct enormously amplifies the mystery that his students sense in his firm and the charismatic energy that derives from that aura, as shall be seen later. Furthermore, absolutely the, unquestioning credence with which his disciples settle for his report can’t but elicit our marvel. Some stories of this sort embrace “proof” that Luria speaks the truth and possesses miraculous information. However it’s clear that such proofs are directed largely at individuals outdoors the group of believers. None of his disciples seeks to confirm the master’s story. It is accepted, right here and in almost all comparable stories, with none shadow of a doubt and with none demand for substantiation of any type.

In any case, if we anticipated “awe-inspiring and fantastic things,” as we’re promised right here, the promise just isn’t stored. Again, Luria does not do anything, nor, as far as we know, does he maintain his promise to do anything later. He simply has miraculous information and perception of events “backstage.” He isn’t concerned in any instance of supernatural action. Even the souls that gather around him to request that he rectify them do not receive this. Luria does not act; moderately, he sees and knows.

Rabbi Halevi’s story additionally demonstrates another necessary level. In all the miracle stories about Luria, the world doesn’t change. What modifications is perception of the world. To the surface observer of the Safed cemetery, the stream at its ft, and the timber and stones surrounding it, nothing has happened. The world remains simply as it was earlier than Luria’s miraculous manifestation within it. However after Luria reveals to his disciples what actually has taken place, a huge change occurs in the best way they see the world. After hearing their master, they sense no physical change in reality, however they may by no means again view the world as they did before. From this level on, they may observe the world round them via the prism of Luria’s awareness.


One of the essential elements of the thriller that surrounded the determine of Luria was the fact that a sage of his stature wrote so little. Solely a handful of texts that may be ascribed to him instantly and a number of other Aramaic liturgical poems for the Sabbath have survived. No extra. His doctrine, as is well known, has come right down to us by way of his teachings to his disciples, recorded, mainly, by Rabbi Hayyim Very important. It is troublesome to guage the place Luria’s genuine teachings end and Very important’s transforming and interpretation of them begin. This problem is not any much less complicated than the query of easy methods to distinguish which of the doctrines and arguments that Plato attributes to Socrates in his dialogues are actually ones taught or made by Plato’s instructor. The question of why Luria didn’t write down his teachings and ideas triggered his students sleepless nights during his lifetime. They did not hesitate to ask him.

And indeed in one occasion the sages of Safed once requested him, “Our Master, Candle of Israel, the Almighty gave Your Eminence so much wisdom, why ought to the Rabbi not compose a single good and illuminating work in order that Torah not be forgotten by Israel?” He responded to them in these phrases: “Have been all the seas ink and all the sky parchment and all of the cane pens, they might not suffice to put in writing down all my wisdom. And once I begin to divulge to you a single secret from the Torah, a lot plentitude multiplied inside me, like a swift-flowing river, and I search ploys, from the place to open for you a skinny small channel to inform you a single secret from the Torah, a tiny thing that you can bear, to not multiply for you more than your power can bear and thus cause all of it to be misplaced, like a child choking as a result of too much milk came for him. Subsequently my recommendation is that this, that you simply yourselves write down all that you simply hear from me, and it will remain in your reminiscence and for the generations to return.

This story, which makes several appearances in the Safed corpus, is of main importance for understanding the best way through which Luria’s character is mirrored within the legends. Right here, too, Luria’s claim relating to the good knowledge granted to him shouldn’t be perceived by his disciples as satisfaction or boastfulness but quite as an unquestionable fact.

Luria’s assertion that his wisdom is huge is introduced right here as one other occasion of the miraculous information with which he had been endowed. However Luria really grapples with the question solely in the second half of the story, the place he provides two totally different explanations. The first has to do with him, the second together with his students. The second rationalization is easier and simpler to know; it is largely a didactic challenge. Luria is aware of that his disciples, like a baby at his mother’s breast, can’t drink from the profuse channel of his knowledge. They want a skinny stream. Thus he counsels that they write down his teachings in accord with their capacity to absorb them. If Luria himself have been to put in writing down his miraculous information, his college students would choke on its plentitude and would not be capable of absorb any of his wisdom.

The first rationalization is extra complicated and more fascinating, in that it accommodates an necessary and revealing component of private confession. Luria admits that every time he tries to place his educating into phrases, “so much plentitude multiplied inside me, like a swift-flowing river, and I search ploys, from the place to open for you a skinny small channel.” In different words, his concepts come so profusely that he can discover no method to order and verbalize them in a method that others might understand and plumb their depths.

To place it one other means, Luria here admits, if obliquely, that he suffers from some kind of communication disorder that arises from a curse of profusion. There’s such a wealth of prospects, worlds, and concepts, so many ways of considering and creating, that he can’t give attention to anybody thing, on a single concept, to offer it a clear formulation with an orderly line of thought from starting to finish—which might be the only approach they could possibly be put into writing. This confession directs us precisely to the subject to which this text is devoted: Luria is a person of data, not action. He and his disciples are aware of the large and astonishing abundance of his information but acknowledge that when this abundance must be transferred into the dimension of action, from awareness into writing, he fails completely. The same phenomenon notable in the miracle tales about Luria right here manifests itself in his learning; he’s unable to show his miraculous talents from potential into action.


This text is tailored from “And He Had Information About Everybody,” in The Legend of Safed: Life and Fantasy within the Metropolis of Kabbalah, trans. Haim Watzman. Reprinted with permission of Wayne State College press.

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