Tsfat, a town high in the mountains in the north of Israel, is considered
one of the four "holy cites." The others are Hevron ('earth'),
Yerushalayim ('fire'), and Tiverya ('water').
Tsfat is associated with the element of air, and "the air of the Holy
Land makes one wise." The Zohar,
a primary source of Jewish mysticism, states that the air of Zefat is
the purest in all of Israel. It is no coincidence that the holy Rabbi
Yitzchak Luria, known as "the Ari", revealed great depths of kabbalah
while living in Tsfat. The Zohar also states that the Moshiach will come
first to the Galilee, in the north
of Israel; the Remaz, a main commentary on the Zohar,
states unequivocally that this is referring to Tsfat!
R. Menachem Mendel of Vitebsk established the first Chassidic community
in Tsfat more than two hundred years ago, but soon moved to Tiberias.
When asked why he had moved, he answered that the air in Tsfat is so pure
and holy that he kept hearing heavenly voices calling through the night
and he couldn't get a decent night's sleep.
According to the first chapter of Reishit Chochmah, a mystical book written
in Tsfat, Tsfat was the city where Yehoshua began the systematic destruction
of idol worship, preparing the Land of Canaan to become the Land of Israel.
Modern Tsfat dates back to the 16th century, when it was home to many
illustrious Jewish sages and mystics, including Rabbi
Josef Karo whose Code of Jewish Law is definitive to this day, and
the holy Rabbi Yitzchak Luria who revealed great depths of kabbalistic
secrets from the Zohar, the Book of Splendor, which in turn was written
by the holy Rabbi
Shimon bar Yochai in nearby Meron.
stands at the edge of the Old City of Tsfat, a picturesque neighborhood
of narrow alleys and cobblestone streets where synagogues dating from
the 16th century are still in use, sheltering the prayer, Torah study
celebrations of the Jews of Tsfat. These streets clinging to the side
of the mountain, connected by stone staircases and navigable only by foot
possess a serene quality rarely found in today's world. Ascent Walking
Tours and every private stroll is punctuated by breathtaking views
of Mt. Meron and the rolling hills of the Galilee.
The adjoining Artists' Quarter
is unique and the artist's home studios are open to the public. Originally
established by Jewish immigrant artists escaping Europe during and after
World War II, the Artist Quarter today is also home to new immigrant artists
and craftsmen from Russia, Ethiopia and English speaking countries.
Tsfat was also the scene of a community military miracle in the War
of Independence in 1948.