Contact Us

The Arizal

The Arizal


In 1492, the Jews were expelled from Spain. Some went West to discover the Americas, yet the bulk went East to Turkey, and it was in the beginning of the sixteenth century that a number of Jews settled in the Holy Land in the city of Safed.

For an eighty year period there was a renaissance of Jewish life and activity in this mystical city that was to change and shape the Jewish world.

The rabbi of the city was none other than the famous Rabbi Joseph Karo. After writing his monumental work called the Bet Yosef, in which he traces the source and origin of contemporary Jewish Law, he summarized all practical legalistics in his book the Code of Jewish Law (Shulchan Aruch).

The city’s mystics were no less famous. Rabbi Moses Cordevero, known as the Ramak, wrote a monumental Kabbalistic work called Pardes Rimonim. However, the most famous Kabbalist of the day was Rabbi Isaac Luria (1534-1572), universally known as the Arizal, an acronym for “The G‑dly Rabbi Isaac of Blessed Memory.”

Though the Arizal only lived for 38 years, he possessed a phenomenal soul, and all secrets of the creation were open to him. It was only in the last two years of his life that he met his foremost disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital. While the Arizal himself never wrote any books, however all his words were faithfully recorded by Rabbi Chaim Vittal and recorded in what we call Kitvei Ari, the “writings of the Arizal.”

The Zohar is difficult to decipher without extensive knowledge and guidance. The main relationship between the Kitvei Ari and the Zohar is that without the Arizal’s teachings the Zohar does not make much sense. One could study the Zohar, which is a very poetic text, but it is hard to detect any system or structure. Once one knows the Kitvei Ari, the knowledge of Zohar begins to unfold.

The main work of the Kitvei Ari is the Etz Chaim (Tree of Life). This work expounds the theoretical foundation of the Kabbalah. For one who has mastered the contents of this work, the rest is essentially revealed. Next, the Pri Etz Chaim (Fruit of the Tree of Life) and Shaar HaKavanot (Gate of Meditations) show one how to apply the various teachings of the Etz Chaim to all kinds of daily situations such as meditations for when one puts on tzitzit or tefillin, when one prays, or when one eats matzah.

It is at this point the works known as the Shemonah Shearim (Eight Gates) were produced. The first gate, Shaar HaHakdamot (Gate of Introductions), covers the same theoretical ground as the Etz Chaim. The second is Shaar Maamarei Rashbi, the “Gate of Zoharic Teachings”; the third is Shaar Maamarei Chazal, the “Gate of Talmudic Teachings”; the fourth is Shaar HaPesukim, the “Gate of Biblical Verses”; the fifth is Shaar HaMitzvot, the “Gate of the Commandments”; the sixth is Shaar HaKavanot, the “Gate of Meditations”; the seventh is Shaar Ruach HaKodesh, the “Gate of Divine Inspiration”; and the eighth is Shaar HaGilgulim, the “Gate of Reincarnations.” In many ways, the Shaar Ruach Hakodesh, which is a general recapitulation and describes how to use the Arizal’s system as a meditative discipline, is the key to the entire Kitvei Ari, because all the previous gates deal with theory while the Shaar Ruach Hakodesh teaches how to put this into practice.

It was the Arizal who formulated the Kabbalah into a comprehensive system. Today we refer to this system as Lurianic Kabbalah. Of great significance is that Rabbi Chaim Vital writes in the name of the Arizal that, “It is a Mitzvah to reveal this wisdom.” This means that although until the period of the Arizal, the Kabbalah was held only within a close circle, the time had come for the teachings of the Kabbalah to be taught widely. The Lurianic school of Kabbalah, which follows the teachings of the Arizal, and its disciples, revolutionized the Jewish world and popularized the study of Kabbalah.

Rabbi Nissan D. Dubov is director of Chabad Lubavitch in Wimbledon, UK.
© Copyright, all rights reserved. If you enjoyed this article, we encourage you to distribute it further, provided that you comply with's copyright policy.
Join the Discussion
Sort By:
1000 characters remaining
Jorge Qro. Mexico May 25, 2016

It's a long way to Tipperary. My mind highlights the curious fact that the Arizal never wrote any text; Rabbi Chaim Vital wrote what his Lord said. Especially what he said to explain the Zohar. What follows, looks like an Everest ascent: there are several routes. What is the way forward? I think the answer is: - the route illuminated by the Baal Shem Tov. Reply

Anonymous Glendale January 8, 2016

pursuing > To Jairon Guerrero Cuesta, who asked about << the Kitvei Ari, (the “writings of the Arizal.”) >>, on April 12, 2014 :

When I tried a search for "Kitvei Ari" [1], the first 'hit' was [an external URL] (not on "www dot chabad dot org"); ... if you want to pursue the ideas there ... then, that is outside the scope of this comment.

The second 'hit' was on this website, the article titled the Transmission of Kabbalah
so you might want to start by reading that, and pursuing the ideas (and the further links!) there.
On that page there are further links to Recommended Resources on Kabbalah

I hope this helps. Reply

Jairon Guerrero Cuesta Oslo, Norway April 12, 2014

The Holy Ari Where can I get the Kitvei Ari, the “writings of the Arizal.” Reply

Jim Monde Orlando April 8, 2013

Columbus Many Jews decide to leave the country instead of becoming christians.Those jews end up in this Island called Quisqueya/Haiti. Reply

Carmine Chicago February 21, 2013

Columbus No one has dug up the patriarchs so the DNA of Israel scattered among the nations and sons and daughters marrying the stangers..
There were many Jews brought into Southern Italy and Sicily in the Roman exile and the Judean women was raped and force to marry the Romans. Reply

Ari Gerald, Mo July 5, 2010

Columbus wasn't Jewish The idea that Columbus was Jewish is a myth. The body of Columbus' son (Columbus' own body was too deteriorated) was exumed and a DNA test was performed. The finding revealed that there was no Jewish connection. Further it is clear from the historical record that Columbus was a devout Catholic. Reply

Anonymous La Jolla, CA/USA August 4, 2006

Columbus and 1492 Why no mention of Columbus sailing from Spain in 1492, and that he or his sailors might have been Jewish, and escaping Spain? I hear the ships (Nina, Pinta, Santa Maria) left the last day Jews were allowed to leave Spain! Reply

Related Topics
This page in other languages