Rabbi Chaim Vital & The End of Days

arizal kabbalah rabbi chaim vital Jan 10, 2024

By Rabbi Amichai Cohen

Rabbi Chaim Vital was born on the 1st of Cheshvan in the year 5303 in the city of Safed. His father was Rabbi Yosef Calabrese, of blessed memory, who came to the Land of Israel from Calabria, Italy. Rabbi Chaim devoted himself to Torah study and service of God, sanctifying himself throughout his life.


In his early years, he studied under the great Torah scholar Rabbi Moshe Alshich, one of the leading darshanim (preachers) of his generation. It was in the study hall of Rabbi Alshich that Rabbi Chaim grew, immersing himself in his teacher's Torah and learning much from him during those years.


Continuing his ascent on the spiritual ladder, Rabbi Chaim showed great dedication and constant love and fear of God. He also began to incorporate the study of Kabbalah, which had come from the Beit Midrash of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, known by his acronym as the “Ramak."


Rabbi Chaim was a remarkable scholar in all aspects of Torah, and he also excelled in practical skills. He invested some of his time and effort into studying alchemy and even wrote on the subject (the book Sefer Hat'khunah).

When he reached the age of thirty, Rabbi Chaim received the mantle of leadership from his teacher, Rabbi Yitzchak Luria Ashkenazi, the "Ari" of blessed memory.


It was God's will that Rabbi Chaim should be the one to receive the teachings of Kabbalah from his teacher's mouth, and the Ari ordained him through the "smicha" (ordination) process, as only Rabbi Chaim had reached the depth of understanding that was necessary.


He achieved profound spiritual levels that are beyond human comprehension, thanks to his study of the wellspring of Miriam.

He unraveled and revealed hidden secrets, putting his own insights into the concealed Torah.


In due course, his teacher, the Ari of blessed memory, revealed to him that he was sent to this lowly world to teach him this wisdom.

There was a heavenly commotion after twenty months of studying with his teacher, the Ari of blessed memory.


Rabbi Chaim Vital knew that the work was not yet complete and that he had to organize the writings he had received from his teacher during his lifetime.

Therefore, he sat down and compiled the teachings he had heard from the great teacher of teachers, concealing them in writings that only those of the highest spiritual level could access.


Ultimately, he decided that the time was not right and that his generation was not wise enough to attain this wisdom. Thus, he commanded that the writings be buried with him in the depths of the earth.


The Sequence of the Publication of His Writings among the Holy Congregation


Towards the end of his days, Rabbi Chaim Vital arrived in the city of Damascus and established his residence there. During that period, he served as the rabbi of the Jewish community of the Sephardic immigrants in Sijilieh (who settled in Damascus due to the expulsion of Spanish Jews, which also influenced them). The years passed until the end of his days (his passing).


The city was in the heart of a wise man named Rabbi Yehoshua ben Nun. God placed it in his mind to visit Rabbi Chaim Vital's place of residence and discuss how to extract some of the writings and distribute them to the masses.


When Rabbi Yehoshua arrived in his city, he approached Rabbi Chaim Vital's wife with a pretext, saying, "Give me some of the writings of the wise man for a while." When Rabbi Chaim Vital's wife handed him those hidden writings, he hurriedly ran without delay and immediately turned to the scribes. There were 600 young men in number. Each of them sat down to write one page from the pages. With this effort, the teachings of Kabbalah became publicized at that time.


This was not the end but only the beginning. Indeed, after a few years, two sages, Rabbi Yaakov Tzemach and Rabbi Avraham Azulai, were aroused to extract more from the hidden writings, which remained concealed, hidden under the earth. When Rabbi Chaim Vital was still alive, Rabbi Chaim Vital gave them this directive. They acted as he instructed, and they buried his writings with him, as no one else had them in mind.


They deliberated, acted, and with great fear of Heaven and heartfelt prayers, they extracted the mystery from the depths of the earth.

In this manner, the writings of the ARI, which were written and elaborated upon by his talented disciple, were published to the world and spread this Torah.


The MarChu – Abou Seifin


During the period of his settlement in the holy city of Jerusalem, something occurred, and God placed in the heart of the leader Abou Seifin, known as Shemtze, to oversee Rabbi Chaim Vital, who would open up before him the contents of the writings from the Gihon, based on the names of the Kabbalistic teachings. His name had already been known in the streets of the city, where he was considered a wise man.


When Rabbi Chaim Vital heard of these things, his soul became greatly troubled because he knew the seriousness of the punishment that awaited those who engaged in practical Kabbalah. Therefore, he devised a plan to escape from this event. In the name of a saint whose name he had known in advance, he caused the land to leap beneath his feet.


In an instant, the land transitioned from holy to secular, and he found himself in a foreign land, the city of Damascus. On that very night, his teacher, the ARI, came to him in a dream and revealed his secret. These are the matters ordained from Above.


Rabbi Chaim Vital was the soul of King Hezekiah, and Abou Seifin was the continuation of Sennacherib, the King of Assyria, whose deeds are known from the Book of Kings (2 Kings). It is written there that King Hezekiah concealed the waters of the Gihon so that Sennacherib would not find much water when he came to wage war on the city of Jerusalem. He said, "Why should the kings of Assyria come and find abundant water?" (2 Chronicles 32:4).


However, the sages of that generation did not praise him for this, as he should have opened the waters of the Gihon in front of that tyrant. Then, he would have become a different person and would have become the savior of Israel, and the wondrous end would have been fulfilled. But now, he intended to "know hidden things," and this is how it would be. His time had already passed, and his mission was nullified.


The End of His Days


Rabbi Chaim Vital passed away on the 30th of Nisan in the year 5306. He was old and full of days. According to the explanation in the Zohar on the verse "And it came to pass in the end of days" (Genesis 24:1), it means that in heaven, a person's life is counted by precise days, not years, for each day is a complete world in both time and quality.


Rabbi Chaim fulfilled this concept himself, spending his years and days immersed in Torah and in the constant love and fear of God. His pure soul grasped the Torah handed down to the "individual who understands from his own knowledge" (Hagigah 11), and after a long and extensive path of learning, refining, writing, and editing the Kabbalistic teachings, he brought forth the hidden wisdom.


His Works


The works of the MarChu (Rabbi Chaim Vital) were published to the world by his students, who organized and arranged the material accordingly.

"Eitz Chaim" (Tree of Life): Edited by Rabbi Meir Poppersh.

"Shemonah Sha'arim" (Eight Gates): Edited by his son, Rabbi Shmuel Vital.

"Kehillot Yaakov," "Adam Yashar," "Olat Tamid": Edited by Rabbi Yaakov Tzemach.

It is also known that in the "Sha'arim" (Gates) section of his book "Sha'arei Kedusha," the entire work is dedicated to the awe of the Lord your God. "You are all beautiful, my love, and there is no blemish in you.”


Rabbi Chaim Vital on the End of Days


The following is a quote, written about 400 years ago, from his book "Etz Hadaas Tov" section Tehilim 124.


   "You already know that the exiles (from Egypt until the Mashiach) are four, Babylonia, Persia, Greece, and Rome (as represented by the four cups of wine on Pesach, the four beasts in Daniel 7, and many other places. The fourth, Rome stretched out from the 2nd temple destruction and apparently ended with the holocaust.) However, the Jewish people are destined further in the end of days to be in the exile of Yishmael, as mentioned in Pirkei D'Rebi Eliezer, and in the Midrashim of our Rabbis, and in the Zohar end of Parsha Lech Lecha. And there in (Zohar) Parsha Lech Lecha it says that being that Yishmael is the son of Avraham, and was circumcised, he is called "Pereh Adam" ("A wild donkey of a man" - Bereishit 16:12), implying not a full man, because he was circumsized without Priah (an integral part of the Bris Mila). But the other four exiles are compared to beasts as mentioned in the book of Daniel (Chapter 7).

Behold King David prophesied with ruach hakodesh in this psalm (Psalm 124) all that the future holds for the Jewish people to be in, in these exiles. (here's a quote of the Psalm 124:)

1 A Song of Ascents; of David.

'If it had not been the L-ORD who was for us', let Israel now say;

2 'If it had not been for the L-ORD who was for us, when a man (Adam) rose up over us,

3 Then they had swallowed us up alive, when their wrath was kindled against us;

4 Then the waters had overwhelmed us, the stream had gone over our soul;

5 Then the proud waters had gone over our soul.'

6 Blessed be the L-ORD, who hath not given us as a prey to their teeth.

7 Our soul is escaped as a bird out of the snare of the fowlers;

the snare is broken, and we are escaped.

8 Our help is in the name of the L-ORD, who made heaven and earth.

Behold, while in the fourth exile, they will say (verse 1) "If it had not been for the L-RD who was for us', Israel will say;", which means now in these four exiles we would have been destroyed completely, as he says afterward "Then they had swallowed us up alive" (verse 3). And expound the verse as if it says "Israel will say 'if it had not been for the L-ord'", which means, now during these four exiles. But there is an additional fifth and final exile for all of them and which is harder than all of them. And this is the exile of Yishmael, who is called "Pereh Adam" ("A wild donkey of a man"), and he is not compared to a beast (like the other 4 exiles).

Then Israel will call out differently, which is (verse 2) 'If it had not been for the L-ORD who was for us, when a man (Adam) rose up over us'. (the "man" refers to Yishmael, who is the "Pereh Adam"), because being that he is a man due to being the son of Avraham, and therefore he has the merit of his forefather, as we find, (Avraham praying for Yishmael to G-d): "would that Yishmael live before You (Bereishis 17:18)", and he also has the merit of the Mila (circumcision). Due to this also, he is called "Adam", therefore his exile is harder than the other four kingdoms, as our Sages have said: "Because for this he is called Yishmael, that in the future Yisrael will scream out, tremendous screams in the days of his exile, and the 'Yishma' - 'El' (G-d will hear), and will answer them.

And since other nations always had some form of rulership over other (smaller nations), unlike Yishmael, who dwelled alone in the deserts and who would not deal with other nations...And afterward, Yishmael will rise and become king over the entire world and over Yisrael. And this is what is meant by "when a man rose up over us" (verse 2), similar to what is said in the Zohar on the verse "a new king rose up" (Shmos 1), because at first he was lower than all the nations and now he rose to Kingship...

And this is what Israel will say then: "If it had not been for the L-ORD who was for us, when a man (Adam) rose up over us", which is Yishmael, "Then they had swallowed us up alive" (verse 3), which means then during the fifth exile it will be different than all that passed over us. Because they will want to swallow us alive, in the manner of "and the sheathes swallowed them", (Bereishis 41:24), "and it was not noticeable that they were inside them", because G-d forbid, when their wrath will be kindled against us, they will desire to erase the name Yisrael from under the heavens, like something which is swallowed, whose existence is no longer noticeable at all, and as if it never existed.

Unlike the other four exiles, who are referred to as "Then the waters had overwhelmed us" (verse 5) because their exiles are easier, and we were compared to one who was overwhelmed by water but whose body still exists and was not swallowed up completely.....

.....and he will cause suffering to Israel, great and terrible sufferings, such that none like these had ever been seen, and we will not know what to do. And we will have no hope but to trust His great Name to save us from his hand. And this is what is meant in verse 8, "Our help is in the name of the L-ORD, who made heaven and earth. Which means who made heaven and earth for the sake of the Torah and Yisrael who as in verse "if not for my covenant day and night (study of Torah), I would not have appointed the ordinances of heaven and earth (Yirmiyahu 33:25)". Therefore He is forced to help us from their hands and redeem us a full future redemption so that there will be a purpose for the existence of heaven and earth.


Check out more on this in the following class: https://www.livekabbalah.com/blog/the-war-of-yishmael

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