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Gate to Heaven

Aryeh Ehrlich

When the holy Arizal came to two Yerushalmi sages in a dream and begged them to open a yeshivah for learning Kabbalah, he promised that the study of the concealed Torah would bring the Shechinah back to Jerusalem from its exile. A hundred years later, in a quiet corner not far from the hawkers at the bustling shuk, the elderly scholars of Shaar Hashamayim continue to refract the light revealed by Rabi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Tuesday, April 28, 2015

As I walk into a little room on the first floor of Yeshivas Shaar Hashamayim on this cool Jerusalem night, the first thing I hear is the sound of jangling coins. Looking around, I spot Rosh Yeshivah Rav Reuven Gross, who has invited me to enter this hundred-year-old sanctuary of Kabbalah; he’s surrounded by a minyan of elderly men, sitting in utter silence as they wait for him to continue. Rav Gross is now pronouncing various combinations of Divine Names to the accompaniment of those rattling silver coins — American silver dimes minted in the 1960s — putting down a coin for each Name. First are the Names of judgment, then the Names of mercy, and finally the names of two critically ill people who are the subject of their prayers. A tiny slip of paper is passed around, and when the coins corresponding to all the sacred Names have been put down, the mekubalim begin davening for the two patients from a pile of yellowed pages filled with combinations of Divine Names and supplications from other worlds. Once the pidyon hanefesh ceremony concludes, Rav Gross, who leads the yeshivah together withRavYaakovMeirSchechter andRavGamlielRabinowitz, is happy to talk about it — although he stresses that this is not what the yeshivah is all about. If someone is looking for a house of amulets, incantations, and mysticism, 71 Rashi Street isn’t the right address.

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