On Sight in Tzefat
What is so significant about the city of Safed in Israel, and what major events took place there?
The Hebrew name for the city of Safed is “Tzefat”, which has several connotations relating to the significance of the city’s location, character and essence.
The most obvious and literal meaning is based on the word “tzofeh” which means “to view” and relates to Tzefat’s breathtaking and commanding panoramic view which includes Mount Hermon to the north, the Golan heights to the east, Lake Kinneret to the south and Mount Meron to the west. The spectacular view from Tzefat is both awe-inspiring and strategic.
Another connotation of Tzefat is related to the word “tzaf” which mean elevated or floating. Physically, this describes the way Tzefat floats and hovers like a shimmering jewel above the surrounding plains and valleys. Spiritually, it refers to the elevated, and elevating, quality of the city. Rabbi Avraham Azulai, the 17th century Kabbalist, writes that the refined air of Tzefat is especially conducive to Torah learning and spiritual growth.
This allure accounts for the many Torah giants, tzaddikim and Kabbalists who settled there: Rabbi Yosef Karo (author of the Shulchan Aruch), Rabbi Yitzchak Luria - the Arizal, Rabbi Yisrael Najara (author of the Shabbat song “Ka Ribon Olam”), Rabbi Shlomo Alkabetz (author of the Friday Night prayer “Lecha Dodi’), Rabbi Chaim Vital and others.
During one 50-year period in the 16th century, Tzefat’s sages reinstituted ‘semicha’ - the official Rabbinic ordination that began with Moses but was discontinued after the destruction of the Second Temple. Rabbi Yosef Karo and Rabbi Chaim Vital were among those who received this renewed semicha.
A third meaning associated with Tzefat is based on “tzapot”, to foresee or harbor hope for the future. This refers to the fact that in addition to its illustrious past, Tzefat also anticipates a glorious future. According to the Zohar – the ancient work of Jewish mysticism – at the future time of Resurrection, the dead will initially arise and gather in Tzefat; there the Mashiach will be revealed to the world; and together they will march to Jerusalem to usher in the final Redemption!