#143 (s5760-43/9 Tammuz)

Three Safed Stories

Rabbi Yisrael Najara, a kabbalist in 16th century Tsfat, liked to walk in the river-valley below the town.

Three Safed Stories



Rabbi Yisrael Najara, a contemporary in 16th century Tsfat of Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, the holy ARI, liked to walk in the river-valley below the town. There he would compose the tunes and songs through which he expressed his love and awe for the Al-mighty.

Once, he was set upon by a band of Arab ruffians, who upon discovering that their captive had neither money nor wealthy relatives who would pay a ransom, promptly decided to kill him. Grudgingly, they consented to his request to be allowed to say his final prayers and play one last tune. As he played his flute, the donkeys and camels of the thieves rose on their hind legs and began to shuffle, as if dancing to the music. The robbers became terrified at the sight and fled.

Rabbi Najara, meanwhile, had become so absorbed in his music that he was oblivious to what was happening around him. Strolling back towards Tsfat, he continued to play his flute. The townspeople stood mesmerized as he entered the city, followed by a procession of dancing donkeys and camels!


5,000 people lost their lives in the deadly earthquake of 24 Tevet 5597 (January 1, 1837), of whom 4000 were Jews. It was between the afternoon and evening prayers, when most of the men were in shul, that the tremors and rumblings suddenly began. Of all of Zefat's shuls only two remained standing (Ari-Sephardi and Abuhav), and many hundreds of Jews perished under the collapsed debris. In the small shul of Rabbi Avraham Dov Auerbach, the Avrusher Rebbe, as elsewhere, panic set in, and the congregants began to bolt for the outdoors.

"Come to the ark if you wish to be saved!" shouted the Rebbe in a powerful voice. Immediately everyone crowded around him. The Rebbe threw himself on the ground, praying and weeping. Local tradition records that although most of the building collapsed, the part where the men were clustered remained upright and everyone was saved. A plaque outside the shul today testifies to this miracle. The line between the original structure (over the Ark) and the reconstructed portion is clearly visible. One book (Eden Zion) states that while nearly all the walls collapsed, the domed ceiling miraculously remained aloft, almost as if it were suspended in the air! (based on Anaf Etz Avot)


The slaughter of hundreds of Jews in Hebron and Jerusalem in 1929 is now sad history. Not so well known is that only a week later, on 23 Av (August 29), the madness finally infected the Arabs of Zefat. A frenzied horde poured out of the main mosque (now the General Exhibition Hall) and charged up two parallel streets, Alkabetz and Tarpat (named after the year of the Riot - úøô"è in Hebrew). During this initial rampage they murdered seventeen people. Eventually twenty-six would die and countless others be injured, while the British troops turned their backs, maintaining that they were powerless to restore order.

The mob headed for the Ari-Ashkenazi Synagogue, where they knew that a large number of Jews would be congregated for the afternoon prayer. Brandishing knives and guns and flinging stones, they began to break the windows of the synagogue and to storm the door. Many of the Jews inside expected to die. The Rabbi remained standing in prayer, immobile. As the first wave of Arabs crossed the threshold, the leader carefully aimed his rifle at the Rabbi's head. The rabbi ignored him and continued to pray. Suddenly the armed man collapsed! (Oral traditions differ: some say he suffered a heart attack and died; others claim that he tripped and cracked his head; still others say merely that in his fall his rifle went off.) Pandemonium set in. The mob ran off in search of less discomfiting victims, and for the duration of the riots, the ARI synagogue remained a haven of safety.

Yrachmiel 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.

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