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Rabbi Yosef Karo and the Code of Jewish Law


 

​Most people know Rabbi Yosef Karo as the writer of Shulchan Aruch, which has become the most accepted work on Jewish Law since. This grand work is based on 3 great poskim (law authorities) that came before him, namely the Rambam (Rabbi Moshe Ben Maimon), the Rif (Rabbi Yitzhak Alfasi) and the Rosh (Rabbi Asher Ben Yechiel). The Shulchan Aruch has become the standard code for Jewish practice observance as it covers his decisions on all areas of life, with all the applicable Mitzvot.



So, many people associate Rabbi Yosef Karo with the Pshat (simple meaning of the text). However, few are aware that this Tzadik was also a tremendous Kabbalist who lived together during the time the Arizalwas in Tzfat (in fact, Rabbi Yosef Karo’s son married the Arizal’s daughter). The proof of this is in his less known work Maggid Mesharim in which he relates the secrets his Maggid (angel) revealed to him while in deep meditative states.

 

The Nature of Angels

It should be pretty clear that receiving the visit of an angel, especially one who teaches the person Torah, puts him on a very high level. Obviously, not all angels are created equal and some may even be liars, as we learn from Sha’ar HaYichudim (Gate of Unifications).One doesn’t simply “see” an angel, rather he trains his body and mind to be less and less anchored in the physical reality until the spiritual reality is slowly revealed.

In Maggid Mesharim the angel warns Rabbi Yosef Karo to not drink too much water, not to eat heavy foods and only speak about Torah and Fear of Heaven. In doing this he’d also merit to speak with Eliyahu HaNavi himself and receive many secrets from Heaven. During Shavuot, when Rabbi Yosef Karo was in Salonica, after completing the Tikkun of Shavuot, he received a tremendous outpour from the Shekhina and began speaking secrets non-stop. It was even revealed to him that he needed to move to Israel.

While this might sound extreme, in an interesting turn, we also find the angel admonishing Rabbi Yosef Karo when codifying in the Shulchan Aruch the procedure for “skipping” parts of prayers for those who arrived late. The angel contested that there should be no skipping since each part is crucial for the Tikkun (rectification) of the spiritual worlds. However, Rabbi Yosef Karo paid no heed to it, as he realized that putting an excessive burden on the people would distance them from Hashem. Yes, ideally one shouldn’t skip, but if one is late or can’t pray fully for whatever reason (like he’s sick), then skipping is acceptable.Surprisingly, the angel also complained that Rabbi Yosef Karo didn’t write everything he heard, because if he did, he’d receive a lot more.

 

Secrets of Reincarnation

A lot of the content of Maggid Mesharim deals with the secrets of reincarnation. In fact, the angel revealed to Rabbi Yosef Karo that the entire world is built upon this secret, and that the souls come and go like rushing stream, up and down, to be rectified and increase their rewards even. This corroborates with what the Arizal wrote in Sha’ar HaGilgulim.

There’s a fascinating idea that Rabbi Yosef Karo writes regarding his wife. In Maggid Mesharim, the angel says:

"I have already revealed to you last Shabbat concerning your first two wives. Now I have come to reveal to you the secret of your third wife. You should know that this woman was in the past, a proper Torah scholar. However, he was stingy with his money and would not give charity. He was also stingy with his wisdom and would not teach others. He was therefore his soul migrated into a woman, measure for measure. Therefore, his soul was incarnated into a female, who is a receiver, and needs someone to bequeath to her. Therefore you see, that she does abundant charity and loves you very much because you work to spread Torah and toil in writing books to teach others…because these things bring about the rectification of her soul, she therefore loves you… It is because she has the soul of a male that you have not had children from her, because a male and another male [soul] cannot produce offspring. If you shall point out that she has children from her first husband, this is because the first husband had the spark of a female soul within him…"   

 

We see therefore that a man may reincarnate in a woman, and vice-versa. In an ideal world, we wouldn’t have this, but Hashem rearranges souls so that they can fulfil their Tikkun (rectification) according to the Torah and with incredible wisdom.

While we may not understand why things don’t go our way, we can appreciate the fact that Hashem’s wisdom is always true, by both reading the Maggid Mesharim and the Shulchan Aruch, and therefore connecting ourselves to Tzadikim like Rabbi Yosef Karo. He is buried in Tzfat, in the old cemetery. His place is a powerful and very famous place of prayer, which we can visit on our Prayer Treks.

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