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Real Life Lessons from the Real Life Vilna Gaon

April 27, 2014

Our sages say that you can learn a lot form the simple conversations of our heroes, and the Vilna Gaon was no exception. Once upon a time, he determined to try to move to the Land of Israel, and sent this letter to his family when he got on his way:

Iggereth HaGra (The Gra’s Letter)



Some notes and explanations:

The Gra really loved his children, but he also loved his books.

To the Gra, one should not be stingy with regards to Sabbath expenses and paying tuition, and he was for making sure that women never have to leave the house. Maimonides ruled that women should leave the house as little as possible.

The Vilna Gaon was also opposed to using the Sabbath meal as a time for socialization. Eat your meal, don’t talk much, and get back to studying…

If you can’t understand Hebrew books, read the translations.

The Vilna Gaon held like Maimonides: The cemetery is for burying people and nothing else, and by going there, one contaminates himself in a manner that prevents him from performing the commandments. Therefore, one should avoid going to the cemetery. Cemeteries are certainly not a place for prayer.

The Vilna Gaon felt that for many, even the synagogue should not be a place for prayer. He feared that if his daughter would attend it on the Sabbath, she would start talking about what the other women were wearing. I guess things never change. Speaking of which, this is the last of the Vilna Gaon’s requests:

“Mom, please be nice to my wife. Dear, please be nice to my mother.”


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  1. Rabbi Eliyahu of Vilna Was a Real Boy! –

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