Vilniaus Gaonas

INDEPENDENT TRIAL: Keep putting Scripture to memory

What is the life-source?

  • A man must know that Torah is our life-source. Just as fish live in water, and if they are separated from the water the die, so too a person who separates from the Torah, even for a moment, is as if dead. That is why we say in the blessing over Torah study, '... and He has implanted eternal life within us...'" BL

Repeatedly covering vast amounts of material

  • ...found him studying Chullin. He noticed that with one sweeping glance the Gaon covered a whole page and then proceeded immediately to the next. Within half an hour, he finished seventy blatt. ... His shock only increased when the Gaon began to explain his chiddushim of the previous half-hour concerning a number of disputes between the Rif and the Rosh throughout Chullin.
  • Every day he reviewed one hundred blatt (folios) of Gemara, completing the entire Babylonian Talmud each month. Every Shabbos he completed tractates Shabbos and Eruvin; on Pesach, tractate Pesachim; on Yom Kippur, Yoma; and on Rosh Hashanah, tractate Rosh Hashanah. BL-46

Know by heart backwards and forwards

  • We say Ashrei, and all of us know it by heart. ... But if someone were to ask us what word precedes this verse, the answer might not come so quickly. ... Not only did he know by heart every teaching of the Holy Torah, everything revealed and hidden that has come down to us from the Tanaaim and Amoraim - but every single word stood clearly in front of his eyes, so that he also knew without hesitation the word that comes before it. BL-50

Know all of the associations

  • the Gaon excelled above all others not only in his knowledge of every aspect of the Torah but also in his knowledge of how the Talmud, its commentaries, and the other works of the Oral Torah are hinted at in the words of the Written Torah. BL-50
  • Every letter and vocalization mark was familiar to him like a treasured possession. ... what could be learned from the way in which certain words are spelled ... "In this passage there are so many alephs, so many vavs, and so many yuds." BL-50
  • Everyone should have a particular tractate that he knows perfectly so that he is able to recite it even when he finds himself in a place where no seforim are available. BL-51


TAKE A STAND Set expectations

  • In order to increase his powers of concentration and diligence, he would set learning quotas for himself which had to be met within a fixed time. BL-33
  • Set challenges for himself

FOLLOWING THROUGH Strenuous efforts

  • Torah scholars achieve an honored place in Heaven by dint of their strenuous efforts. BL-42

Refrain from sleeping

  • In his younger days, he studied in an unheated room, with his feet in a basin of cold water, to prevent himself from falling asleep. ... He did not sleep for more than two hours a night. And even this brief sleep was broken up into snatches of no more than half an hour at a time. BL-45

REFLECTING Noting one's own faults

  • Any moment taken away from Torah learning was noted in a ledger, and on Yom Kippur the Gaon would cry copious tears over the moments he was not involved in Torah study. The total never exceeded three hours in any given year. BL-47
  • The Dubno Maggid, whom the Gaon used to invite to Vilna in order to hear his words of reproof, once criticized him for this refusal to accept any public position. BL-48

Sorrow from failure after intense efforts

  • He was greatly pained at the thought that he would not be able to hear Megillas Esther with a minyan that night. ...one of the wheels hit a rock, overturning the overloaded wagon and sending passenger and cargo crashing to the ground ... the wagon driver ... began to beat the Gaon with all his strength ... the money already in their pockets, the Gaon's minyan decided to play a trick on him. Soon after he began the reading, they disappeared. ... For the rest of his life, the Gaon felt intense sorrow over this "failure". He retold the story on a number of occasions, and each time he wept long and hard. BL-40-41

ALGEBRA: Take the law to heart absolutely

CENTER Fear God (also: Unrestrained positivity)

  • Immediately, he would rise like a lion, in fear and dread of his Creator, wash his hands, and recite the morning blessings with a mighty joy and love which are beyond description. BL-45
  • In the World to Come, I will be called to account for all my deeds. BL-47

Noting divine warnings

  • "Surely you noticed, my sister, that my hair has turned white, a warning from the Heavenly Court that my end is near." BL-47

BALANCE (Be off-balanced and thus balanced by God) Preference for conscious efforts. Singlemindedness

  • When unable to clarify some aspect of Torah to his complete satisfaction, the Gaon would stop "eating and drinking for days and nights in a row, and drive sleep from his eyes until his complexion grew dark from weariness. He gave up his very life until Hashem enlightened him on the topic he wished to fathom." BL-42-43
  • "Now I can restore my spirits with a bite to eat" ... since he had first encountered his difficulty in the Yerushalmi three days earlier, the Gaon had not eaten

Compulsion that overcomes embarassment

  • He interprets the Hebrew words (beggar) and (pauper) as referring to two types of poor people - and their poverty as poverty in the Torah. The beggar is starving and past the point of embarrassment at being forced to go begging from door to door - i.e., traveling from one beis midrash to another, even one land to another, to learn Torah. By contrast the pauper remains at home and strives to grow in Torah. But he is too embarassed to go forth to seek it, and therefore does not grow in Torah learning, as the Sages say, "A shy person cannot learn". BL-38

POLYNOMIAL (Look from different sides.) Discussing the issue with somebody (also: Noting contradictions. Completing a half-formed thought.)

  • "Reb Chaim expressed astonishment at the idea that he could possibly offer enlightenment on anything that had eluded the Gaon, but the Gaon insisted that two heads are always better than one and that he would benefit from having someone with whom to discuss the issue. As the Gaon began to present all the contradictions that he had found in this particular topic, Reb Chaim listened carefully. Suddenly a possible approach to resolving difficulties appeared to him, but he found himself unable to express it fully. At that moment, the Gaon's eyes lit up, and he completed the half-formed thought that Reb Chaim had begun. BL-44
  • General method (against pilpul): Understand what they say and take them for what they mean. And identify errors in a text. (Takes wide shoulders.) Would fast before ever undertaking a change in the text.

VECTOR SPACE (Levels of understanding) Divine assistance

  • He frequently quoted the Gemara in Megillah (6b): "True understanding comes only with Divine assistance." BL-42

Harnessing the unconscious (also: Finding the purpose in everything)

  • The Gaon told Reb Chaim that the entire purpose of sleep was to allow a person to grasp certain matters which are beyond his capacity to understand while awake. During a person's waking hours, his soul is attached to his body, which constitutes and impenetrable barrier to certain levels of understanding. BL-45

ANALYSIS: Be smart in satisfying the law

INDUCTION Valuing what offers a further reward above what is a reward in itself (also: Making efforts)

  • Revelations while asleep are themselves a reward for one's toil in Torah - a small taste of the World to Come - but for insights gained in this fashion one receives no further reward. Thus the Gaon always placed a much higher value on the insights obtained directly through his own efforts. He comments on Mishlei (19:23): "From these insights one receives no reward at all [in the World to Come]. Rather they are themselves the reward [for previous wakeful learning]. On the other hand, that which one learns during the day makes on worthy of life in the World to Come." BL-45
  • "It's hard to believe that there is anyone in our family who would take off time from learning to pursue lost valuables." BL-47

MINIMUM / MAXIMUM Noting the minimum to satisfy the law

  • His morning and evening meal consisted of a piece of dry bread soaked in water. He swallowed it without chewing, eating only the minimum amount necessary to recite the blessing over the washing of the hands. BL-44
  • The mitzvah of Torah learning has no minimum shiur. BL-52

Being maximally prepared. Take the commands to heart and be prepared accordingly

  • In this way, he will be able to fulfill the command, "You shall meditate upon it day and night." BL-51

Keep the highest standards (to minimize risk of distraction)

  • A short time before Pesach, he presented himself at the door of Rabbi Mordechai Zev, rav of the city, and asked to be his guest for the duration of the festival. "Why do you prefer me over others?" asked the rav. The Gaon answered, "With Your Honor I can be sure that the matzah and all the other needs of Pesach will be of the highest standard of kashrus, as they should be." BL-39

Be influenced by holy intention

  • When the early masters wanted to meet together in order that the Divine Presence (Shechinah) should rest upon them, they did not do so in a man-made house, since it might contain some part which was not made with holy intention. Therefore they took shelter among the trees, which are the work of Hashem, for the Shechinah rests only upon a righteous work.

LEAST UPPER BOUND / GREATEST LOWER BOUND Comparable value - what takes precedence

  • Every single word of Torah that one learns constitutes an independent mitzvah. This is part of the reason that one is not permitted to interrupt his Torah learning to do another mitzvah unless there is no one else capable of doing the other mitzvah. Since every word of learning constitutes an independent mitzvah, in the time it takes to perform the other mitzvah one can perform many mitzvos of talmud Torah. BL-52

LIMIT What is necessary and what is optional (Also: considering gain vs. risk)

  • Big kuntz (accomplishment) it is to sit in your room and be the great man you are. ... "Who says one must be a Kuntz macher (someone who accomplishes something out of the ordinary)?" BL-49
  • did not consider that the risks involved were worth the possible gain. He told the Maggid that he was unwilling to take those risks, for spiritual danger lies in wait for a man when he turns away from eternal life and becomes involved in temporal matters. BL-49

Whose portion is greater (and surplus, beyond what is needed)

  • Channah died in 1783. In his eulogy for her, the Gaon said: "How could I add anything to her praises? But this much I will say. Her portion is greater than mine, for she knew how to bear the suffering of poverty." BL-37


Avoid distractions

  • The shutters of his room were always closed, so that he would not be distracted by the sights of the outside world. BL-33
  • He continued to devote his days and nights to Torah study and steadfastly refused all the communal positions that were offered him. BL-48

Total concentration

  • The Gaon was so absorbed in his learning that he did not notice that anyone had entered. R'Hillel waited and waited, but the Gaon only became more deeply involved in the matter at hand. ... Only when R'Hillel placed himself directly in the Gaon's path did he notice the younger man's presence. BL-46

Devoting time

  • Every single moment that could be devoted to Torah study was precious to the Gaon. BL-47
  • "I must count every minute of the time that remains". BL-47

Occupy one's mind with what one must be prepared to do

  • As a kohen, you will be called upon to perform the sacrifices in that great House to which all eyes and hearts are turned. How can you fail to occupy yourself every day with the laws of the Temple services?

Studying together (also: make the principles clear in one's mind)

  • the Gaon sent for his disciple, R' David Shmuel Tzeiges, and said to him, "Wouldn't it be right for us to go 'from strength to strength' and promptly drive in the first peg of the succah, in accord with the custom of all Israel?" ... they did not budge from the room until they had finished the entire tractate and the halachos of Succos were clear in their minds.


CONTRADICTION It is not impossible to follow the law

  • The basic commandment to pronounce the words of Torah day and night can be discharged in an infinitesimal amount of time. If this were not so, one would never be able to fulfill the other commandments incumbent upon him because the mitzvah of learning Torah would always take precedence.

MODEL (Internal cohesion) Counting (bookkeeping)

  • the Gaon began to enumerate the teachings of the various Tannaim and Amoraim in the tractate like someone counting out precious pearls.BL-51
  • He counted the number of distinct issues discussed and enumerated the different approaches to the topics in the Rishonim. BL-51

Linguistic and orthographic relationships

  • He pointed out that the number of invalid succos was eighty-five, written as (hvs) and the number of valid succos was ninety-one, written as (hvus). BL-51-52
  • "If you don't know math, and you don't know science, how can you be a master of the Torah?"
  • He got everything he needed from the Torah.

IMPLICATION Observing the progression of topics

  • He outlined the progression of topics and showed their interrelationship, pointing out the areas of dispute and clarifying which opinion the halachah follows. BL-51

VARIABLE Noting points of disagreement (also: Counting)

  • How many disagreements are there between R' Meir and R' Yehudah? How many between R' Akiva and R' Mishael? BL-51
  • Three layers of commentary. (On Esther: Pshat, Remez, Sod). PaRDeS is an acronym for Pshat, Remez, Drush and Sod. Pshat is the most basic literal, traditional meaning. Remez searches for hints and allusions, using linguistic analysis and gematria. Drush, is the homiletic exposition, and derivation of legal rulings. Sod is the secret, esoteric interpretation, the subject of Kabbalah.
  • The various "forms" of the Torah, as when Moses wrote the "hidden" form regarding his death, but Joshua wrote the literal form. Could not have disagreement on the same level: could not have Moses write about his future death as if it already happened.


Returning to the answer as a distillation

  • a number of very challenging questions were posed. Rather than respond to each of the questions in turn, the Gaon simply repeated the class he had given, neither adding nor subtracting anything. The assembled scholars were still not satisfied that their questions had been answered, so the Gaon repeated the shiur several more times. Only after the tenth repetition did it become clear that all the difficulties were accounted for and resolved by his original interpretation. BL-49

Thoroughly chew

  • the Gaon was capable of spending as much time on a short sugya in the Gemara as it would have taken him to complete the entire Babylonian Talmud. The Gaon himself used to say that just as when one eats he must grind the food with his teeth if the body is to benefit, so must one thoroughly chew words of Torah. Without such effort, a person cannot arrive at the truth. "If there is no flour, there is no Torah" (Pirkei Avos 3:21). If the Torah is not ground into fine flour, through relentless mental exertion, it cannot be truly comprehended. BL 43-44

Read widely the holy books

  • Among those places which the Gaon is said to have visited are the cities of Germany in which unpublished manuscripts of the Rishonim were housed in archives. BL-38


  • His hopes were sparked when he saw a wagon coming, piled with a full load of cooking pots. Flagging down the wagon, he begged the driver to take him to the nearest town with a Jewish population. BL-40


  • A man must know that Torah is our life-source. Just as fish live in water, and if they are separated from the water the die, so too a person who separates from the Torah, even for a moment, is as if dead. That is why we say in the blessing over Torah study, '... and He has implanted eternal life within us...'" BL
  • "Wouldn't it be right for us to go 'from strength to strength' and promptly drive in the first peg of the succah, in accord with the custom of all Israel?" ... "We've driven the first peg in exactly the right place." BL-46

Be forbidden to think about the Torah

  • He became so absorbed in the Torah that he completely forgot his family. Only a month later, upon entering a bathhouse, where it is forbidden to think about the Torah, did the Gaon focus on more mundane matters. He suddenly recalled his son's illness and returned home to inquire after his condition.
  • Wrote books about math, astrology, linguistics in the bathroom.


Be taken for an ordinary person

  • He kept his identity hidden though his genius was often detected by local scholars and rabbis. However, as soon as his identity became known, he would flee. BL-38

Not worthy

  • I'm not worthy to be called the Hassidim of Vilna because all I do is obey the law. Was offended at being called such.
  • Where are you in the Torah? "Honest weights and measures".
  • What is not conceivable or expressible to the human mind - the underlying divine unity of the Torah, beyond human language - which we can appreciate by recognizing our mind's insufficiencies.


  • Betzalel Landau. The Vilna Gaon. The Life and Teachings of Rabbi Eliyahu the Gaon of Vilna. 1994.

Raštų paieškos

Jo raštai

Knygos apie jį

Straipsniai apie jį

Vilniaus Gaono vienišumas kaip Lietuvos civilizacijos šviesybė.

The Vilna Gaon as "the ordinary person", the upshot of all the Torah knowledge. Lithuanian civilization - Lithuanian ethnic characteristic - Litvak characteristic - the ordinary person.

Three aspects of reclusivity - absolute devotion to the Torah, complete removal of distractions, being an ordinary person


  • Vilniaus Gaono išsiaiškinimo būdai, kaip raktas į Lietuvos šviesybę.
  • Kaip Vilniaus Gaonas gali įsipinti į mūsų laikus.
  • Per jo išgyvenimus, susipažinti su jo mintimis, ir su šventuoju raštu.
  • Per savo išgyvenimus, ir savo šeimų išgyvenimus, susipažinti su mūsų laikmečio išgyvenimais.
  • Augant susidomėjimu jo gyvenimu, ir žydų kultūra, padaryti tai labiau prieinama.
  • Žydų kultūra ir ypač Vilniaus Gaonas kaip raktas į Lietuvos didžiąją kunigaikštystę.
  • "Palikti ramybėje" - ramybės reikšmė, jos suveikimas pasrovėmis - kaip veikia pasrovės - šventraščiuose ir gyvenimuose.
  • Kaip žydų kapinės galėtų būti židiniu tokio mokslo.
  • Kaip ir kodėl litvakai paveikti lietuvių.
  • Vytautas Didysis? spektras aktyvumo ir pasyvumo. Jie vienas kitą atsveria. Panašiai, Voldemaro ir Smetonos aktyvumas ir pasyvumas.
  • Sukurti lietuvišką civilizaciją.
  • Reclusivity - Lietuva pelkėse, didžiųjų migracijų nepaliesta.
  • Jin ir jang - Alpha Zero smauglys ar Stockfish
  • Ką reiškia ekskomunikaciją žmogui, kuris vertina vienatvę?
  • Torą suprasti mokslo pagrindu - tad ir išgyvenimų mokslu
  • Hierarchija išgyvenimų, nuo mūsų iki šventraščio - bandant juos naujai suprasti
  • Pasyvumas Holokausto akivaizdoje
  • Jewish exegesis - Peshat over Pilpul.
  • Misnagdim
  • Perushim
  • Gaono santykis su Dievu, kaip jis su juo bendravo.

the Gaon returned to Vilna and his family. It was 1748, and he was only twenty-eight years old. The leaders of the community allotted him a small weekly sum from the fund established by his great-great-grandfather, Rabbi Moshe Rivkas, for the support of men who dedicated themselves completely to Torah study. BL 41



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