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Thursday, December 11, 2008

You just don't know how good you (could) have it

Recently a close friend of mine came up with an amazing idea. He, I, and another friend rented a car and spent the day driving all over Israel to visit and pray at kivrei tzaddikim (the graves of very holy and righteous Jews). Notice I said pray "at" and not "to." Praying at the graves of tzaddikim is an age old Jewish custom. As Jews, we believe that there is a whole other world after this one... even though somebody may have appeared to have left us they are definitely still around. Not only that, Chassidus teaches us that when a tzaddik dies, he becomes spiritually more powerful and more able to affect changes in this world than he ever could when he was alive. Therefore many people who are much lower in spiritual standing than the tzaddikim will pray to G-d at their graves in order that they should couple their merit with that of the holy person they are standing near, hopefully increasing the chances of a successful prayer.

As far as our little trip went, we hit up some pretty big names. First we prayed at the grave of Rebbe Meir Baal HaNes and that of his main pupil. Rebbe Meir was a Torah Scholar of unbelievable proportions and whenever there is an anonymous line in the Mishna it is attributed to him. Next we went to the grave of Rachel, the wife of Rebbe Akiva. When she met Rebbe Akiva he was already 40 years old, had no money and didn't even know how to read the Aleph Bet. Yet she was so holy that she was able to see the potential within him and gave up a life of luxury to live with him in a barn. With her love and support he was able to become one of the greatest Torah scholars of all time, learning secrets it is said even Moses didn't know.

The next stop on the list was that of the Rambam, Rabbi Moses ben Maimon, and his father. It's said that since the time of Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses) until the Rambam nobody named their child Moses because nobody had enough merit in Torah to have such a name. Next we went to the graves of Rebbe Akiva and one of my absolute favorite Rabbis and kabbalists- the Ramchal (Rabbi Moshe Chaim Luzatto). Apparently they are buried next to each other because while Rebbe Akiva didn't start learning Torah until he was 40 years old, the Ramchal passed away at 40, and it is held that he was a reincarnation of Rebbe Akiva who lived those first 40 years teaching the deepest secrets of the Torah to make up for that period of Rebbe Akiva's life that he missed out on.

All of these graves were in the Tiberias reigion, and while there were many more in the area we moved on to the forest kever of Amuka. There is a grave of a tzaddik there, and it's a tradition that those who pray there will have assistance in finding their soulmate. Regardless of traditions, it's worth going just for the amazing views (pictured above). After that we traveled to the mountain-top mystical city of Tzfat. We dipped in the mikvah of the famous kabbalist the Ari, and prayed at his grave as well well as that of the Beit Yosef Rabbi Yosef Caro (author of the Shulchan Aruch, the most widely followed book of Jewish law today). We were also able to track down Rav Kennig, the head Breslov Rabbi in Tzfat and get a bracha from him. I've been told that he once met with the Lubbavitcher Rebbe who told him, "Some say you are the head Breslov rabbi of Tzfat, but I say you're the head Breslov rabbi of the world." The humbleness of the man was amazing. He answered the door himself, and though we came totally uninvited to his private home, he was excited to see us and greeted us with a beaming smile. We topped off the night with a trip to pray at the grave of Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, Tanna and author of the Zohar. We then returned back to Jerusalem (not so shabby itself- home to the site of the Temple), and wanted to continue on to Kever Rachel (grave of our Matriarch Rachel) and Hevron (burial city of Abraham, Sarah, Issac, Rebecca, Jacob, and Leah... and tradition holds Adam and Eve as well) but were prevented to only by lack of time.

If that amazing road trip wasn't enough, this past Shabbat, I was able to spend it in Beit El, site of Jacob's famous dream of the ladder to heaven, during the exact Torah portion in which this event takes place! And several days ago I was able to attend a class and receive a bracha from Rabbi Yaakov Hillel, possibly the top English speaking kabbalist in the world today.

I don't mean to brag, as often my life isn't this jam packed with excitement. So what is the point I'm trying to make here? Many of us who live here in Israel often take for granted the holiness of the place and all the opportunities to access Hashem in different and exciting ways. For roughly 50 dollars a piece and a day of our time, my friends and I were able to visit the graves of some of the holiest and most famous people in Jewish history. To even come to the land of Israel itself was a privilege most Jews in the past 2000 years couldn't have. And before the days of car travel such a trek would have taken weeks instead of a single day. Just for hopping on an Egged bus I was able to make the Torah real and live out the words on its pages in my own life. These are the opportunities available to any Jew who lives here and wishes to take advantage of them. So to anyone who does live here in Israel please take some time to remember what you have here, and do something about it! And to those who have yet to come join us... if you have any appreciation of Torah or spirituality, then I don't care how comfy your house or job is, how settled you feel, or how prestigious the day school you send your kids to is... the way I see it none of that compares to being able to have all this at your fingertips.

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  • At 7:29 AM , Anonymous Anonymous said...

    That is such a holy day, it seems so far off to Jews living in the US...
    I appreciate that you wrote you davened AT and not TO the Kevarim, some people get confused and it is an important reminder of where our tefilos should be aimed ( G-d).
    I hope we'll merit the day soon where we won't be going to kevarim to daven but rather to the Beis Hamikdash and serve Hashem in the ultimate way...KT

  • At 12:29 AM , Blogger BreslovBlogger said...

    WOW. I've been living in Israel for over twenty years and it's been ages since I made a trip like yours. Thanks for stirring up fond memories and hopefully inspiring me to hit the road again


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