Isaac Luria: The Ari
Rabbi Isaac Luria (or Yitzkhak Luria in Hebrew), is known also as the “Ari” (the holy “Lion”), an acrostic for the divine (meaning “mystical master”). Rabbi Luria was born in Jerusalem in 1534 of an Ashkenazi father and a Sephardi mother. His father died when he was very young and his mother then raised him in his uncle's house in Egypt.
He was an excellent student in the nigleh tradition that is in Talmud and halakhah (Jewish Law) and he began studying Kabbalah also. Eventually he moved back to Israel, settling in Tzfat either in 1569 or 1570, where he studied with Cordovero until the latter's death in the fall of 1570.
Luria taught a small number of disciples, probably not many more than 30. He first attained fame as a poet. Since his Kabbalistic thought was not publicly known and he preferred to keep it that way, it was his personal charisma and saintly behavior that was recognized during his lifetime. Luria died on July 15, 1572, during an epidemic.
Within a number of years after his death, legends about his life abounded. A book called Shivkhei Ha'Ari (Praises of the Ari), written about 35 years after his death, is a biography of Luria's life. It contains factual information embellished with legends about his saintliness.
A plague in Israel between Passover and Shavuot killed 24,000 of Rabbi Akiva's students. The day the plague ceased, Lag BaOmer, became a semi-holiday. It is also the date of the death of Shimon bar Yokhai, who is believed to be buried in Meron where there has been a celebration at his gravesite on that date since 1522.
Part of the power of Luria's personality is attested to by the fact that within a matter of months of moving to Tzfat, where there was already a cluster of stellar Kabbalists, he became by far the dominant figure.
Luria's Kabbalistic system has a few central issues, and like most Kabbalistic thought, there are a few major themes: understanding Creation, redemption, and our relationship to the Divine and the world in which we live. Included within this is always the problem of the existence of evil in a world created by a perfect God.