#547 (s5768-37 / 15 Iyar 5768)
The Tall Elder in the White Robe
One Lag B'Omer, the holy Ari and his disciples ere dancing enthusiastically with the multitudes at Meron.
Tall Elder in the White Robe
One Lag B'Omer the Ari and his disciples were dancing enthusiastically together in the courtyard of the burial hall of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in Meron with the multitudes who had gathered to celebrate the special day. Circles upon circles of dancers filled the courtyard. In one were the kabbalists of Tsfat, dancing with otherworldly enthusiasm. Their souls seemed to depart from their bodies. In another, a group of visitors from Damascus, in their distinguished attire, joined hands with Jews from Egypt and energetically stamped their feet.
In yet another circle, in the middle, danced an old man who stood out from all the rest by his remarkable stature and features. Taller by a head than all, wearing a white robe, he danced with an ethereal ecstasy - eyes tightly shut, feet barely touching the ground. His thoughts seemed to be roaming in the upper realms. All eyes were drawn to the distinctive figure and soon many encircled him, clapping their hands and singing while he danced alone. "Who was he?" people wondered. "Surely, he must be a most saintly person."
The holy Ari, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, who was totally absorbed in dance and joy, raised his eyes briefly. His gaze fell directly upon this singular figure and he became very excited. R' Yitzchak left the circle of his disciples and cut a path through the merrymakers until he reached the old man. Extending both hands to him, he began dancing with the stranger.
The Ari's disciples quickly followed him and joined the circle of spectators. The stranger stopped for a moment to seek out the janitor of the Tsfat beis midrash (Torah-study hall) to include him in their dance. The three men twirled and whirled around in rapture for a long time and when the stranger pulled away, the remaining two continued to dance, grasping one another's shoulders. The Ari's students looked on and wondered, "What was the master doing, dancing so long with the simple shamash of the study hall, Elazar Ascari, in such devotion?"
At the end of the day, when they were on the road leading back in Tsfat, one of the disciples turned to his master. With a note of disquiet, he asked, "Please do not take offence, my master, if I ask you a question. Could you explain that strange dance with the mysterious stranger, who was clearly someone special, and our janitor? Was this showing proper respect for the Torah to include him too?"
The Ari smiled and said, "Perhaps you can tell me what I should have done. The saintly Mishnaic sage and teacher of the Zohar, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, drew him into our dance! Should I, the younger, have protested?"
The listeners were overwhelmed by this revelation. They had been wondering who the venerable stranger was. Now it turns out that he had been Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai himself, come to join the celebration at Meron. Instantly they regarded the 'simple' shamash in an entirely different light. "Can you imagine how great Elazar must be and we thought him to be a common person," they remarked to one another.
From that day on the Ari's disciples were particularly respectful towards Rabbi Elazar Ascari, the reticent janitor of their beis midrash who later became famous as the author of Sefer Chareidim.
Luria (1534-5 Av 1572), Known as "the holy Ari," revolutionized
the study of Kabbalah and its integration into mainstream Judaism during the two
years he spent in Zefat before his death at 38.
Eliezer Ascari (1533-1600), a disciple of the Ramak (Rabbi Moshe Cordevero), subsequently became famous as the author of Sefer Chareidim. He also authored a commentary on the tractate of Brachot in the Jerusalem Talmud, and is the composer of the popular Shabbat prayer-hymn: Yedid Nefesh.
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and stories on Lag B'Omer, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai and Meron, you will enjoy visiting
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Yerachmiel Tilles is co-founder and associate director of Ascent-of-Safed, and editor of Ascent Quarterly and the AscentOfSafed.com and KabbalaOnline.org websites. He has hundreds of published stories to his credit, and many have been translated into other languages.
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