We heard more English spoken in the holy city of Tzfat than we did Hebrew. Tzfat is the hippie hang-out of Israel, home to spiritual seekers, mystics, artists, and holy warriors awaiting the arrival of the Messiah, whom legend has it, will pass through Tzfat on the way to Jerusalem!
For us, our bodies had to be fed before our souls, so our first stop was the vegetarian Elements Cafe, owned by Zev Padway, an old Berkeley friend of our friend Nancy’s. The dahl and veggie burgers were delicious! Zev and I played Jewish geography (when I lived in Santa Cruz, CA, I was a sometimes-visitor to the hippie Jewish community in Berkeley), and he gave us some great tips for our visit to the Hula Valley tomorrow.
Tzfat was already a richly creative and mystical Jewish community when Rabbi Isaac Luria (the “Ari”) — considered the father of contemporary kabbalah — settled there in the late 16th century. Joseph Caro (author of the Shulchan Arukh), Shlomo Alkabetz (author of the hymn“Lecha Dodi”), Elazar Azikri (author of the hymn“Yedid Nefesh”), and Rabbi Moshe Cordovero (best-known for his kabbalistic Mussar text Tomer Devorah) were among those who lived there. The Jewish tradition of Kabbalat Shabbat with its psalms and the singing of “Lecha Dodi” was born in Tzfat. (A great article about this history by Noam Zion of the Hartman Institute can be found here.)
So in light of this Jewish mystical history, I wasn’t surprised to see this stained glass rendition of the mystical “tree of life” just hanging out on a building, not even a synagogue as far as I could tell.
Of course, we visited the Ari’s synagogue.
And the stunning Abuhav synagogue.
Our day in the lofty heavens ended with a parking ticket here on earth.
And so it is — the spiritual life can be so ephemeral and hard to maintain. Even driving in Israel (today was my first time ever) was a sort of gauntlet of holding the temptation of the spiritual landscape in its proper place while trying to keep my eyes on the road. How to balance the heavenly and the earthly is the eternal challenge.