Genius Is His Middle Name
Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman Kramer (1720-1797) was born in a small village in what is now Belarus. Known popularly as the Vilna Gaon – the Genius from Vilnius – it is said he committed the entire Torah to memory by age 5, and by age 11 the entire Talmud. It wasn’t long before he was one of European Jewry’s greatest legal authorities. A prolific writer, he penned commentaries on the Tanakh, Talmud, Mishnah and many other works (a large number of them Kabbalistic). Dedicating every moment of his life to Torah learning, he generally studied secular subjects only while in the bathroom (where study of Torah is forbidden). It was there that he became an expert in astronomy and Euclidean geometry, later instructing his disciples to write a mathematical treatise called Ayin Meshulash. The Vilna Gaon led a simple, saintly, ascetic lifestyle, sleeping just 2 hours a day, usually in 4 half-hour segments. For much of his life he was a travelling nomad, though his aim was always to settle in Israel. Himself unable to accomplish this goal, at least three groups of his students and their families did succeed in making Aliyah, bringing over 500 people to Tzfat and Jerusalem long before the Zionist movement. The Vilna Gaon passed away on Tishrei 19, the 5th day of Sukkot.
Words of the Week
“On Simchat Torah the Torah scrolls wish to dance, so we become their feet.”
– Chassidic saying