Visit the Mystical Holy City of Tzfat
A winding drive up the northern mountains of the upper Galilee will bring you to the holy, mystical city of Tzfat, one of Israel’s four Holy cities and the highest city in Israel. Located 900 meters above sea level, the drive alone is sure to bring you to heightened spiritual levels as you gaze out upon the awesomely inspiring vistas of mountains, valleys, and horizon of open, undeveloped land where horses, cattle and other domestic and wild animals graze freely.
A trip to Tzfat requires good walking shoes, strength in your legs, and a few days worth of time. If you want to enjoy one of the best Shabbat experiences in the Holy Land, then check into one of the Old City’s many small hotels, guesthouses or zimmers for an unforgettable time. As erev Shabbat services conclude, the ancient streets fill with Safed’s residents and tourists, faces aglow with the still lingering energies of our Holy Teachers from centuries ago.
The outer city of Tzfat is growing, mainly due to the new teaching hospital which opened its doors to an international student body over a year ago. Construction is now underway for expanded facilities, and along with the prospect of new employment opportunities fueled by ancillary business growth, many are choosing to make their home or investment in Tzfat’s southern neighborhoods.
The heart of Tzfat, though, is the Old City, where you can stroll along the ancient, narrow, cobble-stoned streets, and with your imagination see our Holy Masters—ARI HaKadosh, or R. Yosef Caro, R. Chaim Vital, or maybe even Eliyahu HaNavi walking along with you! There are buildings and structures in the Old City that survived Tzfat’s earthquakes, so I always make a point of touching as many stones as possible to connect myself with these Torah giants.
You can navigate fairly easily through the Old City, but be prepared for a lot of steps. It helps to go with a tour guide and Ascent of Tzfat provides some outstanding tours of the Old City.
Here are some highlights that you just do not want to miss: Two synagogues are associated with the Holy ARI—Rabbi Isaac Luria—who came to Tzfat in 1569 and is known for expanding the emanations of the Kabbalah: the ARI Ashkenazi and the ARI Sephardi. The ARI Sephardi synagogue is the oldest synagogue in Tzfat. The Jews of northern Africa referred to it as the “Eliyahu HaNavi Synagogue.” The room where the ARI learned with Eliyahu HaNavi still exists in the ARI Sephardi synagogue.
The Yosef Caro Synagogue, was built over the cave where R. Yosef Caro sat with the Maggid to write the Shulchan Aruch. The Synagogue was built in the 16th century, destroyed in the 1759 earthquake, rebuilt, destroyed in the 1837 earthquake, and rebuilt again. Today you can also access the cave.
The Old Tzfat Cemetery is home to many kevrei Tzaddikim, including ARI HaKadosh. Near to the Cemetery is the ARI Mikveh, open to men only. In addition to these must-visit sites, the city is home to a thriving artists’ quarter, where you can watch the artists hard at work on their wares, and indulge your desires for something unique to beautify your home.
The city is a little snowed in at the moment, but it should be thawed out by Shabbat. So, consider loading up the car and heading north. Or take one of the many egged buses that will bring you comfortably and easily to the mystical Holy City of Tzfat, where residents claim that Mashiach will first be seen.