Isaac Luria & Kabbalah in Safed

After the expulsion of Jews from Spain in 1492, the center of kabbalistic study moved to the town of Safed in northern Palestine.

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Clearly, the act of repairing the world is arrogated to the Jewish people exclusively in this system. At first, God was hoping that Adam would be a perfect human being and therefore would complete the redemption by himself, but Adam’s sin shook down more of the sparks. When God chose the Jewish nation and they heard the Revelation at Sinai, it became their task to restore the world.

The responsibility placed on the Jewish people is a collective one; under Luria’s terms, the Jewish people should be seen as a fighting army under siege. No days off, no respite, a hard battle to live by the Commandments and to repair the world. If one falters, others must take up his burden. Consequently, Lurianic thinking combines a radical understanding of God and Creation with a profoundly conservative atti­tude towards Jewish observance. But it also reanimates the daily routine of observing the mitzvot, giving them a new and more intense signifi­cance than ever before.

One can easily see how appealing this notion--that merely by fulfill­ing the mitzvot one could do battle against evil--must have been to the persecuted, weary Jews of Luria’s time.

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George Robinson

George Robinson, author of Essential Judaism, is the recipient of a Simon Rockower Award for excellence in Jewish journalism from the American Jewish Press Association. His writing has appeared in The New York Times, The Washington Post, Newsday, Jewish Week, and The Detroit Jewish News.