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.
|Safed, Israel, built on a mountain-this is in the Old city section, today has an art colony, galleries.|
|Hurva Synagogue in Old Jerusalem|
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|
|Jerusalem in Old City|
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|
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.