The National Library has announced a new and exciting discovery that sheds light on hitherto unknown details of the life of the Ari Hakadosh, also known as the Arizal, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria zy”a, and his life in Egypt and the Land of Israel.
The Ari Hakadosh did not leave behind any books or letters in his own hand; what we know today of his teachings was transmitted primarily by his foremost disciple, Rabbi Chaim Vital zy”a. The new details now revealed about his life have been preserved in a torn fragment of a letter that was sent to the Ari Hakadosh by a Jew named David who wrote to him in the sixteenth century, while he was still living in Egypt.
The letter deals with issues of regular daily life; the letter-writer had written to the Ari Hakadosh, asking him to vouch for a certain emissary who had been sent by the inhabitants of the city of Tzfat to raise funds for them among the Jews abroad. Even though the Ari Hakadosh was known, even during his lifetime, as someone who lived a very simple life, to the point of ascetism, his advice on this matter was still sought on issues related to normal daily life, as this letter makes clear.
The letter was preserved through a unique set of circumstances, as it was used as part of a book’s cover, as was common practice in earlier times when other materials such as cardboard were as yet unknown. Bookbinders would take old letters and manuscripts, glue them together, and use them to form the binding of new books, and this letter was discovered in the binding of an old book by a Jerusalem collector by the name of Ezra Gordetzky.
Gordetzky, who passed away a year ago, engaged in the laborious pastime of restoring old documents from the bindings of other books, and it was he who donated this letter, among other findings, to the National Library. He would make regular trips to the National Library to donate the treasures he had unearthed.
Dr. Yoel Finkelman, the curator of the Judaica collection in the National Library, told Israel Hayom: “This invaluable letter is one of the most prized items among the valuable collections held by the National Library. It provides information regarding the history of the Jews in the Land of Israel, and was uniquely preserved in the binding of an old book, a significant finding that attests to the influence of the Ari Hakadosh not just in the area of Kabbalah but also in matters of daily life.”