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Many many moons ago, deep in a forest in Jerusalem in the middle of the night I followed a long line of people filled with fear and excitement. It was the eve of Hoshanna Rabba, (lit., the “Great Supplication”), the observance which marks the end of the Festival of Sukkot. We were headed towards a rabbi versed in the mystical arts. There is a venerable tradition in the Kabbalah, that on this night a sage is endowed with the power to gaze at your shadow formed by the moon and see whether your penitence over Yom Kippur and the High Holidays has been accepted by the Almighty and you’ll be given another year to live. Some, like this rabbi, were also said to be able to glean details of your immediate future.

When it came my turn, the rabbi pondered the illuminated ground and assured me that I’d make it. He then told me that I’d be studying the Kabbalah.

The news that I was to survive was then of no moment, in my early 20s with thoughts of my mortality far from my mind. Little did I know that in bookends with the beginning of my Kabbalistic training in Israel there would be a close brush with death.

That I was to study Kabbalah also came as no surprise nor was especially prophetic. I had just started in the rabbi’s yeshiva the prior week at the beginning of Sukkot.

I had met the rabbi when he led a tour of Safed (“Tzfat”), the sublimely spiritual city in the north. One of Israel’s four holy cities, this was where the Kabbalah was reborn amid the Spanish Inquisition.

The rabbi told me that our encounter was no mere coincidence and he invited me to be the lone American in his yeshiva. Although the very reason I came to Israel was to study the Kabbalah I had some hesitancy that he would be the teacher of what I was so ravenously hungry to learn. Indeed, this was not the first time that a teacher had proclaimed as providential our encounter. Just........

© The Times of Israel (Blogs)

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