On the shelves sits one of the founding texts of kabbalah, the Zohar, containing a spiritual commentary on biblical scriptures, a must-have for all students of this discipline.
Walking through Safed, it is easy to explore the origins of Jewish mysticism and learn about the sages who moved here 500 years ago. Their teachings still form the basis of kabbalah philosophy today.
In the early 16th century, some of the Jews who were expelled from Spain by the Inquisition found a new life in Safed. Soon enough the town became a magnet for kabbalist sages like Rabbis Isaac Luria, Chaim Vital, Moshe Cordovero and Eliahu de Vidas.
A kabbalah tour can’t leave out the Ari Mikveh, a ritual bath with natural spring water said to have special powers. For that, one needs to leave the town center and head back to the cemetery with its long row of tombs. Those painted in bright blue are dedicated to the most important rabbis and kabbalah sages.
Right above the cemetery is the Ari Mikveh. Legend has it that it was regularly used by one of the most revered kabbalists of all times.
Riess said tens of thousands of people immerse themselves in the bath each year. Some well-heeled visitors even fly into town by helicopter, visit the bath and leave. He said he has arranged private visits for some celebrities, but declined to reveal any of their names, saying secrecy is at the core of what he does.
Luria, known as the Ari, or lion, lived in Safed in the 16th century and is one of the most important figures of kabbalah, a spiritual leader who brought new insights into the studying of Jewish mysticism.
Two ancient synagogues in Safed bear his name, including the Ashkenazi Ari Synagogue where he used to pray on the Jewish Sabbath.
Centuries have passed since his death, but hundreds of thousands still flock every year to pray at the Ari’s gravesite, which is placed on a special platform that makes it stands out among all others in a peaceful slope at the bottom of the Old City.
From the top, the Old City offers an impressive bird’s eye view of the ancient cemetery and the landscape surrounding it, from Mount Hermon on the nearby Golan Heights to the Sea of Galilee.
“When you learn kabbalah it affects your life totally,” said Doron Tal, a teacher at the Kabbalah Center. “It affects all of your life, from when you go to sleep, when you’re eating, everything gets another vision.”