Rabbi Isaac Luria (The Ari)
This stage in the development of Kabbalah is extremely important to the Kabbalah of our generation. This is the period of "the Ari," Rabbi Isaac Luria. The Ari proclaimed the start of a period of open mass study of Kabbalah.
Until the arrival of the Ari, the predominant study method was that of the Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordovero) of Safed. It was a method where a Kabbalist simply experienced the Upper World, almost intuitively.
When the Ari came to Safed, however, it was clear that times had changed. It was the middle of the 1500s, and the world was moving toward the age of science and industry. The Ari realized that Kabbalah study required a new and more systematic method to meet the terms of a new and more scientific era. Not all agreed so enthusiastically, but the Ramak himself, by then the predominant Kabbalist of his time, abandoned his own method and sat down to learn the new way from the new teacher, the Ari. Many brows were raised at this step, but the 36-year-old Ari knew what the generation needed, and the Ramak acknowledged it.
A Method that Suits Its Time
Rabbi Isaac Luria was born in Jerusalem in 1534. A child when his father died, his mother took him to Egypt, where he grew up in his uncle’s home. During his life in Egypt, he made his living in commerce but devoted most of his time to studying Kabbalah. Legend has it that he spent 7 years in isolation on the island of Roda, on the Nile, where he studied The Zohar, books by the first Kabbalists, and writings of the Ramak.
The Ari arrived in Safed, Israel, in 1570. Despite his youth, he immediately started teaching Kabbalah. For a year and a half, his disciple, Rav Chaim Vital, committed to paper the answers to many of the questions that arose during his studies. In fact, the Ari didn’t write anything himself. “The writings of the Ari” are in fact, the notes that Chaim Vital took while studying with his master.
The Ari’s important works include The Tree of Life, Mavo She’arim (Entrance to the Gates),Sha’ar HaKavanot(The Gateway of Intentions), and Sha’ar HaGilgulim(The Gateway of Reincarnation). The unique part of the Ari’s method is its systematic order, which was suitable for the approaching era of the scientific and industrial revolution.
Today, his method, called “Lurianic Kabbalah,” is the leading study method of Kabbalah, since it is adapted to the souls of today’s humanity. The Ari died of a sudden illness in 1572, still a young man.
The writings of Kabbalah shed a unique light on history and can be said to comprise a history of the Light of the Creator. During most of this time, however, Kabbalah was hidden, studied in the dark, away from the public eye. It was a private affair and, for the most part, even secretive.
With the prophecies of The Zohar and the work of the Ari, Kabbalah was meant to shed its light on all. The journey of how Kabbalah sheds its light publicly continues with the work of Rabbi Yehuda Ashlag, who, as the next chapter shows, opened the study of Kabbalah to more people than ever.