By David Hellerman, World Israel News
Rabbi Isaac Luria, a renown 16th century Kabbalist who had immense influence on Jewish thought and customs, left behind no personal writings on Jewish mysticism. What’s known of his teachings were transmitted to future generations through summaries written by his students.
However, the National Library of Israel has revealed the existence of a letter which sheds new light on Jewish life in the Holy Land and in Egypt.
According to Israel Hayom, the letter, written by a man named David, was sent to Rabbi Luria — also known as “The Arizal” or “Ha’Ari” — while he was living in Egypt. The letter discusses everyday matters and requests the Arizal’s support for a certain Jewish emissary sent to collect charity in the Diaspora to help poor Jews living in the Holy Land.
“The letter was preserved because it had been used to bind another book, a common practice before the invention of cardboard. Bookbinders would take paper or vellum pages from worn-out volumes and stick them together into dense stacks that would serve as stiff enough material for book covers,” Israel Hayom reported.
Rabbi Luria was born in 1534 in Jerusalem but raised in Cairo by an uncle after his father passed away. The Arizal began engrossing himself in the study of the Zohar, the foundational teachings of Kabbalah or Jewish mysticism. He moved to back to Holy Land in 1569, eventually settling down in the Galilee city of Safed (Tsfat), where he studied with Rabbi Moshe Cordavero, then regarded as the world’s leading Kabbalist.
When Rabbi Cordavero died in 1570, the community turned to the Arizal for rabbinic leadership. Rabbi Luria was very particular about his kabblalistic teachings not being published. But after the Arizal’s death in 1572, his leading student, Rabbi Chaim Vital, began organizing his notes into what became several books — most prominently among them the eight-volume Etz Chaim, or “Tree of Life.”
The Arizal’s teachings became a cornerstone of the Hasidic movement, and his grave in Safed remains a popular pilgrimage site to this day.
“The letter, which was preserved in an unusual manner in the binding of old books, is a major discovery about the influence Ha’Ari had, not only in the field of Kabbala but also worldly matters,” said Dr. Yoel Finkelman, curator of the library’s Judaica collection.