BIRTH AND DEATH, one day flows into the next. Souls are brought into the world while others depart. The generation of the Arizal was no different in this regard. Yet, every few centuries or so, heaven sends down a great soul for the betterment and tikkun of the creation—a caliber of tzaddik who holds the root of all other souls. This was the characteristic that distinguished the soul of Moses, and is the power held by any tzaddik on this same redemptive level. Human beings they are, not gods. But each is endowed with the same noble mission: to bring more goodness and healing into a world begging for ultimate repair.
THE ARIZAL WAS A TZADDIK ON THIS LEVEL. He came quietly into the world and departed a short 38 years later, leaving his mark to forever change the world. His parents lived in Jerusalem. His father Shlomo, was a wholehearted, simple, and upright individual who feared heaven and avoided evil. One day, while alone in the synagogue praying and pleading to HaShem, Elijah the prophet appeared to him and said, “I was sent from heaven to inform you that your wife will conceive and bear a son, and you should call him ‘Yitzchak’. He will save the souls of Israel from the hand of the klipot and repair souls reincarnated many times while waiting for their tikkun. Through him, knowledge of the kabbalah will be revealed; he’ll know every wisdom in the world, and his name will be famous far and wide.” Before Elijah disappeared, he cautioned, “Just be careful to wait for me to appear again on the eighth day before you circumcise him, since I will be the sandek.”
Shlomo wondered greatly about the vision and remained the rest of the day in the synagogue crying and praying to HaShem, “Please G-d, fulfill the words of Elijah. No misdeeds of mine should prevent this, since I am small and without merit. Do this for Your sake, not mine.”
He returned home that evening without revealing his secret. It thus happened and his wife conceived. Every day the pregnancy progressed, he would cry from joy. His wife carried to term and bore a son who filled their house with light. On the eighth day, as the community came together for the circumcision, Shlomo searched the crowd to no avail for the prophet Elijah. He began to suffer greatly while the guests began to pressure him to begin the circumcision without delay. He put them off, claiming that all of his relatives had not yet arrived. The situation continued for about a half an hour, as he anguished in his heart, until he let out a bitter cry, thinking to himself, “If the prophet Elijah has not come, it means that this is not the child he spoke about. Obviously my transgressions have prevented this good from happening.” In the midst of his weeping, Elijah appeared and called to him saying, “Don’t weep, I only tarried in order to test you as to whether or not you would honor my word.” He then joyfully sat on the sandek’s chair as the infant was placed on his knees to begin the circumcision. No one but the infant’s father, Shlomo, was aware of what had transpired. The child was then circumcised and given the name Yitzchak. He was returned to his mother and before they arrived back home, the circumcision had healed completely, much to their amazement.
After the child grew and was weaned, he went off to school where he stood apart from the other children in his level of learning. By the age of eight, like a seasoned scholar, he was a wellspring of halacha, and no one matched his sharpness. During this time, his father Shlomo passed away and his mother told him, “My son, I am now a widow with no ability to buy the books you need. So you must go down to Egypt to live with your uncle. You will be able to progress there since he is very wealthy and you won’t lack a thing. The boy said, “I am ready to do whatever you ask of me.” He then traveled to Egypt to live with his uncle, who received him with great honor and as his own son. In time, the boy’s extraordinary brilliance in learning and wisdom gained the attention of the famous sage, R’ Betzalel Ashkenazi, who contacted his uncle requesting that the boy become his student. Yitzchak studied with R’ Ashkenazi until he was fifteen years old, at which point his wisdom had already begun to impact on all the older and more established scholars in Egypt. Yitzchak soon married and continued to progress step by step in the service of G-d, attaining spectacular heights.
This was all preparation for his brief stay in Tsfat, where he and his followers concretized the highest spiritual levels into daily life, preparing a heavenly template to be accessed in the future by anyone willing to make the effort. ♦
Based on Shivchei HaAri (“Praises of the Arizal”), Chapter 1.