September 19, 2019

Miracles from Safed

“One of the formative texts of the Safed myth, which first portrayed the town as a unique place and which was responsible for spreading word of it all around the Jewish world, is the four letters that Rabbi Solomon Shlumil of Dreznitz sent, in 1607, to his relatives in Bohemia after immigrating to Safed in 1602. These documents changed the image and history of the Upper Galilean mysterious city for contemporary European Jews. A passage from the first letter states:

And had I come to announce his eminence, all the wonders, and the great deeds of Luria, may his memory be a blessing, before all of Israel in the land of glory, here in Safed, may it be built and established quickly in our day, which were told to me by my teacher and rabbi, Mas‘ud Ma‘arabi, may God protect and bless him, and from some of the rabbis and great scholars of the Land who poured water on his hands [studied directly under him] and who saw with their own eyes wondrous things from him that have not been seen in the entire land since the days of the tanna’im. Like Rashbi [Rabbi Shimon bar Yohai], may he rest in peace, he had all the virtues such that he had knowledge of all the deeds of human beings and even their thoughts. He had knowledge of the wisdom that was in the countenance and soul of human beings and their incarnations and could say what evil men had been reincarnated in trees, stones, or in beasts and fowl, and he could say what transgressions a man had made from the commandments and the transgressions [he had committed] since his childhood, and he had knowledge of when amends had been made for this fault, and he had knowledge of the chirping of the birds and from their flight comprehended wonderful things, and this is like [the biblical verse, Ecclesiastes 10:20] “for a bird of the air shall carry the voice, and that which hath wings shall tell the matter.” And he comprehended all this through his piety and abstinence and holy purity.

It is hard to understand how we could not have noticed that this text, which has been read and examined so many times, contains a most significant internal contradiction. Shlumil, who in his first letter includes testimonies about the atmosphere and traditions of Safed as he felt and heard them during his years of residence there, speaks of “wondrous things from him that have not been seen in the entire land since the days of the tanna’im.” In other words, in Safed Isaac Luria (1534–1572) performed (“before all of Israel”) wondrous and exceptional deeds. With his supernatural powers he performed deeds that elicited the awe of the people of Safed, who saw these acts with their own eyes.

Shlumil records these explicit testimonies conveyed by people in Safed in his letter, and it is from this letter that European and Oriental Jewish communities formed their mythical image of Safed, centered on the figure of Luria and his miracles. But when Shlumil goes on to recount what these deeds were, the expression that gets repeated almost everywhere is “he knew”: He knew about the reincarnation of evil people in trees and stones, beasts and fowl; he knew about the transgressions of each person from birth and the amends he had made for them; he knew the meaning of the chirping of the birds and their flight.”

Read more

JJ Editor's Picks

"Blackface. I’ve been writing about, and researching – and opposing – racism for more than thirty years. And make no mistake: blackface isn’t funny. It’s racist. Ask Megyn Kelly. A year ago, the former Fox News star was filming a segment about..."

"Sen. Elizabeth Warren’s “selfie line” may be a “political phenomenon,” according to CNN, but it’s also a misnomer, twice over: The photos that supporters end up with aren’t technically selfies—campaign aides snap them—and no one waits in a line..."

"In the archives of the Wildlife Conservation Society in New York, there is an old postcard from the city aquarium of a large sea turtle with four boys straddling its back. The turtle lies flattened upon a pathway in front of a fence. At the feet..."

"As we celebrated my granddaughter’s third birthday this summer, I made the following rough calculation: I’d trekked from my home in New Jersey to her Brooklyn apartment roughly 150 times to provide once-a-week day care, plus other times as needed."

"That seems to be the emerging bipartisan consensus. “On the evidence we have, the meritocratic ideal ends up being just as undemocratic as the old emphasis on inheritance and tradition,” writes New York Times columnist Ross Douthat. “Our..."

"It was the 2019 Pet Sematary that finally broke me. Was this really necessary? I seethed in a theater earlier this year, at a loss for why anyone would green light a self-serious update to a 30-year-old so-bad-it's-good movie. "Update," even, was.."

"Tuesday was election day in Israel. But no winner has yet been declared. As of this writing, it appears that the parties committed to supporting Benjamin Netanyahu for prime minister will not win a majority in Knesset. At the same time, the..."

"The last time Netflix asked me “Are you still watching?” I had to think really hard about it. Was I still watching? Or at least enough to make my $16-a-month payment worth it? The subscription economy can be a wonderful thing. We don’t have to..."