Jewish tradition teaches that the city of Tzfat (Safed), located in the north of Israel in the beautiful Galilee region, is one of Israel’s four holy cities (the others are Jerusalem, Tiberias, and Hebron). Yet it is Tzfat that is praised for its exceptional spiritual presence.
This special status of Tzfat is keenly symbolized by the physical element most connected to it. All four holy cities are specifically associated with one of the four elements – earth, wind, fire, and water. Tzfat is linked to the most ethereal of them all, wind.
While the other elements are defined by the mundane – to the point that they can be given clear and distinctive measurements – wind escapes any precise dimensions, thereby upholding its infinite essence. For this reason, the Hebrew word for spirituality, ruchniut, has the root ruach, which means wind. Just as wind cannot be measured and defined, similarly spirituality, the Almighty’s infinite presence in the universe, cannot be measured and defined.
Tzfat’s extraordinary character has attracted spiritual giants who revolutionized the face of the Jewish religion – most notably, the masters of the hidden, mystical dimension of Torah known as Kabbalah.
The 16th century stands out as one of the greatest eras in the history of this divine study, spearhead in Tzfat by the saintly Rabbi Isaac Luria, who expressed its teachings in a remarkably lucid and clear fashion, opening its previously closed doors for those seeking entry. Naturally, this form of Kabbalah was called Lurianic Kabbalah.
As a result of this phenomenal period, Tzfat has been know ever since as the holy city of Kabbalah.
Only one other period can compare to it. In the second century, the eminent Kabbalist Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai was the first to transcribe these divine teachings, in the foundational work called the Zohar. For centuries this collection puzzled even the greatest of scholars, until Rabbi Luria applied his brilliance to its elucidation.
When strolling through Tzfat’s antiquated alleys and cobblestone pathways, one will not be struck by any of the conventional attractions offered by a world-renowned city – indeed, its two major attractions are a stream and a graveyard.
In spirit with the city’s heartbeat, the hot spots here are not ones that indulge the eyes but, rather, that rivet the soul. The mikvah (ritualistic cleansing pool) of Rabbi Luria attracts hundreds of thousands of visitors each year who come to dip in its mystical waters and receive its promised benefits.
Besides being the mikvah in which the great tzaddik himself dipped, it is also fascinatingly constructed – an underground stream supplies it constantly, to the extent that the entire bath is refreshed every fifteen minutes.
Tzfat also houses the Jewish world’s most renowned cemetery. In it are buried some of the greatest Jewish leaders, whose gravesites attract the masses to come and connect with their sublime presence.
Jewish mysticism teaches that the soul of a tzaddik descends in a fiery pillar to his grave. Therefore, anyone who comes to a tzaddik’s grave can connect to this powerful spiritual presence, which is most active on the date of the righteous one’s passing.
The famous personalities buried here include Rabbi Joseph Caro, compiler of the code of Jewish law; Chana, the mother murdered with her seven sons for refusing to serve idols; Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, one of the most accomplished Kabbalists who for a short period taught Rabbi Luria; and Rabbi Luria himself, Tzfat’s most renowned spiritual luminary.
This precious gem of a city, which will never lose its resplendent supernal nature, allows hungry souls to comprehend the truth that Mystery can also be an answer.
This lovely city of wind wraps us in its compassion as a father wraps his child within his soothing tallit during the height of a fervent, heartfelt prayer.
In this magical city of dreams, the spirit’s imagination glows with the glimpse of the one true love – the kiss of the transcendent to the finite.