(1543 - 1620)
Rabbi Chaim Vital was unquestionably the leading
disciple of the Holy Ari, Rabbi
, and his foremost interpreter. The Ari himself wrote
very little and what is commonly known as the Aris writings,
were in fact transcribed by Rabbi Chaim.
The Divine flow experienced by the Ari was so overwhelming
that he was unable to commit it to writing. As he himself expressed
it: When I begin to reveal a Torah secret to you the flow of knowledge becomes like a mighty stream and
I look for ways to open a small channel that you will be capable of
absorbing . Rabbi Chaim Volozhin bears witness to the fact that
when he mentioned the Ari to the Vilna
Gaon the Gaons whole body trembled.
Rabbi Chaim was born in Eretz Yisrael, probably in Safed. He studied nigleh (the revealed Torah) under Rabbi Moshe Alshech and Kabbalah under Rabbi Moshe Cordevero. However, when the Ari arrived in Safed
from Egypt in 1570 Rabbi
Chaim soon became totally devoted to him. The Ari is reported to have
said that his sole reason for departing Egypt for Safed was to transmit
his Torah to Rabbi Chaim. It is an amazing fact that the Ari who died
in 1572 (at the age of 38) studied with Rabbi Chaim for less than two
years and that the extensive body of writings transcribed by Rabbi Chaim
came from that short period.
There were a number of editions of the Aris
writings. At one point Rabbi Chaim decided not to publicize them.
However, in 1586 he took sick and the writings were removed from his
house, copied and returned. His son, Rabbi Shmuel prepared an edition
years later. Another version was edited by Rabbi Meir Popperis.
Some idea of the Safed environment can be gained from
Rabbi Chaims statement in his Gates of Holiness (Shaarei
Kedusha) that the holy spirit (Ruach HaKodesh) can be attained
even in our own times and that such people in fact exist in our midst.
Rabbi Chaim wrote an autobiographical work (Sefer
HaChizyonot) which is extant in his own handwriting and was published
The impact of the Holy Ari on subsequent Jewish history
was incalculable. But that influence was made possible only through
the work of Rabbi Chaim Vital.