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.
Psalm of the Day on the day of Gilad Schalit’s release from captivity. Incredibly, the psalm explicitly mentions Gilad’s name, as well as freedom from captivity, the holiday of Sukkot, and Tuesday. Schalit was freed on Tuesday, during the holiday of Sukkot!
Words of the Week
“On Simchat Torah the Torah scrolls wish to dance, so we become their feet.” – Chassidic saying
Beruria (c. 170 CE) Despite the fact that her parents were executed by the Romans for the crime of teaching Torah, Beruria went on to become a famous Jewish sage herself, exceeding the greatness of many rabbis of her time (and all-time). She is said to have learned 300 chapters of Jewish law in a single day (a bad day, no less) and settled quite a few rabbinic disputes. Married to the miracle worker Rabbi Meir, they were forced to flee Israel from the Romans and lost two of their sons in a plague. A well-known story narrates the couples’ heroic rescue of Beruria’s kidnapped sister from a brothel. In a nod to the modern-day adage that women are always right, the Talmud ends a debate between the sages by stating simply: “Beruria has spoken correctly.”
Words of the Week
“Seek G-d when He may be found, call upon Him when He is near” (Isaiah 55:6) These are the ten days between Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur. – Talmud, Rosh HaShana 18a