Rabbi Cordovero & Safed
During the 16th century Safed became famous as a center for Kabbalistic study. One of the greatest Kabbalists of this time was Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, and the history of Safed is not complete without understanding his life and teachings.
Rabbi Cordovero's Early Years
Rabbi Cordovero was born in Safed in 1522 and was seen, very early on, as a genius. He was respected for his knowledge of Kabbalah, of the Talmud and of philosophy. He received a special semicha-ordination from Rabbi Yaakov Beirav in 1538 along with three much older and well known Rabbis: Rabbi Yosef Caro, Moshe of Trani and Yosef Sagis.
His Studies and Recognition
Rabbi Cordovero was mostly interested in studying Kabbalah. He was the first person who studied Kabbalah who had the word the added before his initials. He was referred to as the RaMaK, and is still known in this way today. At the age of 20, he heard a heavenly voice telling him to study Kabbalah with his brother-in-law, Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz. He learned the Zohar, which include the teachings of Rabbi Shomon bar Yochai and then went on to write two books. The first, Ohr Yakar (the Precious Light) was a large commentary on the Zohar. The second, Pardes Rimonim (Orchard of Pomegranates) sealed his reputation. This book became known as "The Pardes" and it was a systematic analysis of all Kabbalistic thought up until that time.
There are also two other books for which he is well known. These include Tomar Devorah (The Palm Tree of Devorah) where he discussed morals and ethics based on Kabbalistic concepts; and Ohr Ne'erav, where he explains the important of studying the Kabbalah and introduces people to a system for doing so.
His Academy and a Legend
Around the year 1550, he founded a Kabbalah academy in Safed. He led this academy for about 20 years until his death. Before he died in 1570, legend has it that the Ramak said, "I shall soon leave this earth. Yet after my death, someone will replace me. And even though many of that person's statements may seem to contradict mine, do not oppose him and do not argue with him, for they stem from the same source as do mine and are absolutely true. His soul is a spark of Shimon bar Yochai's, and whoever opposes him opposes the Shechinah - the Divine Presence." The Ramak said that he couldn't reveal who this person was, but that the person would be the one to see the cloud proceeding his coffin at his funeral.
Rabbi Moshe Cordovero died on the 23rd of Tamuz in the Hebrew calendar. The entire Safed community came to mourn for him, including one of his disciplines, the Ari. The Ari saw a cloud proceeding the coffin and directed everyone about where to bury the Ramak. He subsequently became the next great teacher in Safed and carried on Rabbi Cordovero's teachings and ways.