Saturday, June 20, 2015

Gaon of Vilna's Plans For Israel

Nadene Goldfoot                                                                       

The Gaon of Vilna, AKA Rabbi Eliyahu  ben Shlomo Zalmen of Vilna (1720-1797)  of Lithuania was about the most famous of rabbis in our history.  He set the world in motion for Jews to return to Eretz Yisrael.

He was an expert in understanding the Torah, all our literature, had a possible photographic  memory, expert in science, math and  music.  He disagreed with the Rambam and Rabbi Yosef Caro, author of the Shulkhan Arukh of Safed.  His idea of Redemption differed from rabbis of his day.  Redemption was the start of the Messianic era.

Other rabbis had the opinion that they could not bring Redemption on with any actions.  They thought it would arrive by a miracle. This meant they told people not to carry out any actions against the Gentile civil authorities, an idea the Satmar group seem to follow.   He didn't believe in any restrictions from his understanding of the Torah.

The Gaon of Vilna considered the period he was living in was the end of the Diaspora and the beginning of the Messianic era.  That fits because many today of all religions feel this is the beginning of the Messianic era.                                                                                
Gaon of Vilna, another painting.  His ancestors were Rabbi Mohe Rivkas, and Rabbi Moshe Kremer, Chief Rabbi of Vilna.  Eliyahu married Khana, daughter of Yehudah Leib of Keidan about in 1738 at his age of 18.  She died in 1782 and he remarried  the widow Gittel, daughter of Rabbi Meir Luntz of Krezhe, Lithuania.  Her brother was also a rabbi, Rabbi Eliyahu Krozher.
The Gaon of Vilna believed in rebuilding the Land of Israel.  He felt the time had lapsed involving doing nothing.  The Diaspora (Jews outside of Israel) had come to the end of their existence.  Redemption had to be started by human actions.  The commandment to settle in Eretz Yisrael was the most important thing to do.
Safed, Israel, built on a mountain-this is in the Old city section, today has an art colony, galleries.  
Safed, Israel 
Rabbi Eliyahu had tried to immigrate to Eretz Yisrael.  His last will and testament included the admonishment to his students to make aliyah.  This would be Redemption by natural means.
Hurva Synagogue in Old Jerusalem
A group of his students did just this.  They wanted to rebuild Jerusalem.  They took ownership of the ruins of the Yehudah Hekhassid synagogue.  They rebuilt the courtyard of the Jews, with all the communal institutions, including a Beit Midrash, and a synagogue.   They saw this as a sign that soon, before their eyes, the beginning of the Redemption was set in motion.

One of the signs of this era was the restoration of judgment.  Those students who lived in Safed tried to restore the rabbinic ordination based on the line of divine authority given to the rabbis and the Sanhedrin--the great assembly of the sages that had Divinely authorized legislative power.
Yemenite Jew reading from Torah
 The head of the Safed community, Rabbi Yisrael of Shklov, sent an emissary to the Yemenite wilderness to find the Ten Lost Tribes.  "By means of the Yemenite sages, who had been ordained in an unbroken chain from Moses, it would be possible to ordain the Eretz Yisrael sages and restore the Sanhedrin.  "
Jerusalem in Old City 
Haifa view
Another sign was the blossoming of the wilderness in the Holy Land.  This was based on "Hills of Israel, give your branches to the Nation of Israel--you have no better end to the Diaspora than that."   These early pioneers felt it was their duty to buy land during the reign of Muhamad Ali and to transfer some of the settlers in Eretz Yisrael to rural living.  This was carried out on the followers of the Gaon already living in the country.
  1. "Muḥammad ʿAlī, also called Mehmed Ali (born 1769, Kavala, Macedonia, Ottoman Empire [now in Greece]—died August 2, 1849, Alexandria, Egypt), pasha and viceroy of Egypt (1805–48), founder of the dynasty that ruled Egypt from the beginning of the 19th century to the middle of the 20th."
Another sign was that the nations of the world's reaction to aliyah of Jews to Eretz Yisrael.  These students living in Eretz Yisrael made close contacts with Christian emissaries who arrived in the country at that time. This was fearful to Jews in Europe as it spelled danger of Christians proselyting  or throwing them out.

By 1840 there was a congress in London and the nations of Europe debated the fate of Eretz Yisrael. The decision was to restore the Ottoman authority in Eretz Yisrael, and subject to British control.  This kept Eretz Yisrael open as an option for aliyah.

Thanks to the students of the Gaon of Vilna, British policy during the 19th century was harnessed into starting the Redemption and turning the land into a revived center for the ancient Jewish nation.
Immigrants to Israel 
Many Jews fleeing from the pogroms in Russia in 1882 wouldn't have had a safe haven to reach if the students of the Gaon hadn't put the idea to return in motion.  The first aliyah was at about this time.  The Zionist movement started a little later.

The Gaon attributes his skills, and his qualities of righteousness and personal isolation, qualities he inherited from his great-grandfather, Rabbi Eliyahu Khassid.

Vilna Gaon was buried in the Zaretsha Street cemetery in Vilnius/Vilna, Lithuania.  Other family members there are his father, Shlomo Zalmen and his son, Avraham Vilner.

Resource; Book:  Eliyahu's Branches-the descendants of the Vilna Gaon and his family by Chaim Freedman, article by Dr. Arye Morgenstern on Faculty of Jewish History of Hebrew University in Jerusalem.

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