The Yahrzeit of the Holy Ari (July 2012)

Today is the fifth day of the Hebrew month of Av. It is also the yahrzeit/hilula of the Holy Ari—Rabbi Yitzchak Luria (1534-1572). 

 “As a young man, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, the founder of the Lurianic Kabbalah, removed to the banks of the Nile. For seven years he secluded himself in meditation, visiting his family only on the Sabbath, speaking seldom and then only in Hebrew”
(from “A Passion for Truth” p 214, Rabbi A.J.Heschel)

Last night I was reflecting on the legacy of this great “saint” of both halakhah and  kabbalah  and I “came across” an inspiring short video by Rabbi Avraham Sutton.  It is said that  the Holy Ari studied under the tutelage of Eliyahu HaNavi, and Rabbi Sutton explains that this may be taken as referring to a state of consciousness.

We may not share the spiritual greatness of one such as the Holy Ari, and the state of Gilui Eliyahu (Elijah consciousness) which is described by Rabbi Sutton is not something which is easily or frequently granted.  Nevertheless, we can all aspire to improve our receptivity to whatever  Divine input we might be granted  in our  private prayer.

 The  tutelage of  Eliyahu haNavi may not be within our  own  personal reach and experience, but we can at least attempt to be chassidim  of the Ari and approach the “cave of Elijah” in his merit.  As  “lion cubs” who also spend time in secluded prayer—whether it be hisbodedus or hisbonenus—we are engaged in avodah, and work to become “open” in receptive prayer.

The connection between attentive listening in such secluded prayer and the “return” of prophecy (or at least the development of ruach haKodesh) is one of the main reasons I seek to promote “contemplative living”   and  times of regular contemplative prayer, as I wrote in 2005:

“If  the Torah which is written on our hearts is ever to be understood and if the spirit of prophecy is to return in its fullness:  the individual, personal  communication and the spiritually receptive attentiveness which they require is not only desirable, it is crucial.  For all  Jews.

Ultimately we are said to be destined to become a nation of prophets.  For that time to be approached there has to be somebody listening.  The parallel development of contemplative lifestyles and contemplative prayer in the life of all Jews might go some way towards making sure that those “listeners” are in place.”
(Kuntres M’arat haLev p25)

In a recent video talk on prayer from Rabbi Jonathan Sacks, the Chief Rabbi of the UK, I noted a remarkable passage which you can view here.

He reminds us that Jewish life depends on three things: Torah, Avodah, and Gemilut Chasadim (Prayer, Learning, and Acts of Kindness).   He points out that though there are many people studying Torah, and though there are many clear examples of Jewish welfare activities, he says many people do not feel “engaged” by (liturgical) prayer which he calls the “motor” of Jewish Spirituality.  Though he was  talking about liturgical prayer, his point  may be applied by extension to all forms of spiritual “avodah”.  

At a time when secular approaches often  minimize (or even squash) the place of the holy in the life of Israel it is even more imperative that those who can do so should spend time in hisbodedus –not as an exercise in ethical or spiritual refinement, but as a form of  service.  The service of “being attentive” to HaShem.  

The Holy Ari believed that this modern age is the time for that which was “secret” to become revealed.  In these days, this is most often achieved by the spiritual army of those who study in Yeshiva and Kolel, and by the hidden souls the world over who approach the Throne of Mercy in their davening and in their contemplative prayer—making an avodah for the sake of all Israel and all the worlds.

It may be true that we are “neither prophets  nor the sons of prophets”… but  when we offer our attention to The One Who Spoke, we can become open to receive the legacy of Elijah, and in so doing, we can prepare the way for the time when “all the Earth will be filled with the Daas of  the Glory of HaShem as the waters cover the sea.” (Habakkuk 2:14)  May that time come speedily, in our days.

July 24 2012