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27 Sivan 5764 - June 16, 2004 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








Hashem's Torah is Perfect and Complete: The Vilna Gaon's Monumental Torah Edifice

by Rabbi Dov Eliach

This the last of three articles based closely on Chapter 21 of the work, HaGaon by Rabbi Eliach. The second part was in the issue of parshas Bamidbor, and the first was in the Pesach edition.

Part Three: Blueprint of Creation

Further Wonders of the Written Torah

Thus far we have shown, based on the Gaon's writings and teachings, how the entire body of the Oral Torah, from the Mishnah and the Talmudim to the works of the latest poskim, as well as the Kabboloh in its entirety from Safra Detsni'usa (SD) and the Zohar to the teachings of the Arizal and Eitz Chaim -- are all contained within the Written Torah.

The Gaon also made other startling revelations about the Written Torah. For example, he maintained that every one of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos is alluded to by one of the six hundred and thirteen words in the song of Ha'azinu (Aderes Eliyahu, Devorim 32:45, see box).

The Gaon also wrote that the entire Written Torah is alluded to in parshas Bereishis and that its general principles are all alluded to in the first parsha, the account of the world's Creation, from the words "Bereishis boro," to "la'asos." Moreover, he continued, the fundamentals of these principles are alluded to in the very first posuk -- "Bereishis boro" -- and that even the word "Bereishis" contains hints and allusions to all the others (see box).

Similarly, we find that, "It is brought in the name of the Gra z'l that throughout the Torah, the first time a topic is mentioned, or the first word or first letter of a posuk, encompasses the entire matter." (Toldos Yitzchok by Rav Y. Cahana zt'l, a talmid of HaRav Isaac Chover zt'l, Yerushalayim 5637, pg. 39b, who also quotes the Zohar Chodosh. In his commentary to the tefillos, the Gaon's son Rav Avrohom explains the first brochoh of the Amidoh following this approach, as well as those mitzvos which Chazal say balance all the mitzvos together.)

It is also said in the Gaon's name that each of the five Chumoshim contains allusions to the entire Torah (Peninim Mishulchan HaGra, Bamidbor 10:35).

Plan of Creation

In his commentary to Safra Detsni'usa, the Gaon points to a third sphere of knowledge -- besides the revealed Oral Torah and the Kabboloh -- with allusions to which the Written Torah is replete. He writes:

"The principle is that everything that has existed, that exists and that will exist is all contained within the Torah, from "Bereishis" to "le'einei kol Yisroel." Not just the general principles; but even the details of each type and each individual person and everything that befalls them from the day they are born until the end of their lives, all their circumstances, down to the smallest detail.

"And of every type of animal, wild animal and living creature in the world, and every grass, growing thing and inanimate material, in the greatest detail of every species and type . . . for all time and what happens to them and their roots.

"And everything that is written about the Ovos, Moshe and Yisroel; they are all in every single generation, for sparks [of their souls] are reincarnated in every generation, as is known. And all their actions, from Odom Horishon to the end of the Torah, are in every generation, as those who possess understanding know. And so it is with each and every individual, as the Medrash Hane'elam begins explaining by allusion.

"All of this is contained in parshas Bereishis until parshas Noach. It is contained in the first parsha, until "boro . . . la'asos," and the fundamental principle underlying all others is contained in the first posuk, whose seven words correspond to the [world's] seven thousand years" (Commentary to SD, perek 5, beginning "vehaclal," pg. 55).

In Toldos Yitzchok [vol. I:2, pg. 20b.] Rav Yitzchok Cahana writes, "No explanation of the approach mentioned above has yet been heard of or has appeared in any sefer. Perhaps its meaning was only conveyed orally. At the time of the Final Redemption . . . the secret of its inner meaning will be apparent, thereby allowing comprehension of the entire creation and all it contains, in general and in detail."

Elsewhere however, the Gaon does shed a little extra light on this idea. He writes, "In speaking about the Creation, the posuk says, `Bereishis boro E-lokim.' The first six days were the general representation of all of the [world's] six thousand years. Thus, anyone who thoroughly understands the events of each day in the account of Creation, will know what will happen at each moment of the years" (Likutei HaGra, from a manuscript, Yeshayohu 2:2).

The Gaon notes that this method will even yield the time of the Final Redemption: "All the detailed events of these six days happen in the six thousand years, each one on its [corresponding] day and hour. You can thereby discover the time of the Redemption that is to take place `in its time.' "(Commentary to SD, pg. 54b).

Basing himself on the Zohar's well-known statement that Hakodosh Boruch Hu, "looked into the Torah and created the world," Rav Chaim of Volozhin zt'l, explains that all the Upper and Lower worlds that Hashem created correspond to the words of the Torah. Thus, it should come as no surprise that the Torah contains a record of the history of the entire creation. Hashem created the heavens because in the Torah it is written, "In the beginning Hashem created the heavens." The Torah writes, "And Hashem said, `There shall be light,' " so He created light, and so on.

"Thus," concludes Rav Chaim, "all the Torah in general and all the worlds, their principles and details, their arrangement and all their affairs are all contained and alluded to within the ten statements in the account of Creation, as our great teacher . . . wrote in the fifth perek of his commentary to Safra Detsni'usa, and see the Zohar (Bereishis 47:1) concerning this" (Nefesh HaChaim, sha'ar 4:10).

A Root in the Torah

"All the generations, for all time, are contained within the Torah; it is known that this is the reason that the Torah was given to Yisroel -- because each individual's soul is alluded to therein" (Commentary to Tikkunei Zohar Chodosh, 49:1, beginning, "And the Torah").

"Everyone has a root in it [i.e. in the Torah], as is written, `There are six hundred thousand letters to the Torah and to Yisroel,' and each individual has a root in either a letter, a stroke, a dot or a crown, according to the greatness of his soul" (Ibid. 34:1, beginning "An omer per head").

HaRav Yisroel of Shklov testified that the Gaon succeeded in actually attaining this knowledge, writing, "He knew where the names and affairs of every person in the world are alluded to in the Written Torah" (Introduction to Pe'as Hashulchon). Rav Yisroel also relates there that the Gaon was visited by "a certain elderly gaon from a distant country [who wanted] to ask him about certain doubts and questions he had in [the course of] his occupation with the holy Torah." The visitor expressed his certainty as to the Gaon's knowledge of where everyone's name was alluded to in the Torah, as is related in the story about the Ramban and his talmid Avner (see box) and the Gaon confirmed it.

The visitor asked, "Where is your own name alluded to in the Torah?"

The Gaon replied, "In the [first words of the] posuk, `Even shleimoh votsedek . . .' (Devorim 25:15). `Even shleimoh' stands for Eliyahu ben Shlomo." The Gaon added that the reason why only the initial of his first name is alluded to is that the letters of the word alef (alef-lamed- peh) also form the word pele, meaning something wondrous and hidden which, he said, characterized his Torah, which is also concealed. The Gaon indeed wrote with extreme brevity, in a style that conceals much more than it reveals. (This story also appears at the beginning of Even Sheleimah [from manuscript], the Gaon's teachings on Tikkunei Zohar, which is in Rav Yisroel's own handwriting.)

Rav Chaim of Volozhin heard from the Gaon that Chumash Devorim alludes to the world's sixth -- and present -- millennium, each of its parshos corresponding to one century [counting Nitzovim and Vayeilech as one parsha].

On hearing this, Rav Chaim asked his teacher where they were alluded to in parshas Ki Tetzei, the sixth parsha, corresponding to the sixth century, when they lived. The Gaon pointed to the above posuk. (Heard from Rav Chaim by Rav Yitzchok Margulies zt'l, av beis din of Schuchin. Rav Chaim did not tell Rav Margulies the allusion to himself, either because of humility or because the Gaon withheld it from him.)

Further Allusions

It was apparently pointed out to the Gaon that his father's full name was Shlomo Zalman and he responded that the Zalman was also alluded to, though he himself did not show how. His intention has been explained as follows. The gematria of the letters beis and nun of the word "even" and the lamed, mem and hei of "shleimoh" (leaving the initial letters alef and shin to allude to Eliyahu and Shlomo) is 127, which is also the gematria of Zalman.

The truth and beauty of the Gaon's words has been borne out in later generations, with the discovery of additional allusions to his name and to the name of his mother. HaRav Isaac Ausband, rosh yeshivas Telz Cleveland and a descendant of the Gaon, has shown that the gematria of the words "votzedek yiheye loch" (280) is that of the name of the Gaon's mother, Traina (tes-reish-yud-yud-nun-alef or, without the vov of votzedek according to the Hebraized spelling of the name, tes-reish-yud- nun- hei).

Rav Avrohom Yeshaya Trop told me that by using the approach of jumping from letter to letter, he discovered an allusion to the Gaon's full name. Starting from the alef of even, moving twenty-six (the gematria of Hashem's name of Havaya) letters back each time, spells out Eliyahu. Rav Trop also points out that according to the opinion that there are 5847 pesukim in the Torah (quoted at the end of Hakesav Vehakabboloh), the posuk "Even shleimoh votzedek" is number 5558, which was the year of the Gaon's petiroh!

Here are three examples of later chachomim who followed the Gaon in finding the allusions to certain names. The Chasam Sofer was asked where the Rambam is alluded to in the Torah and he pointed to the words, "[lema'an] Revos Mofsai Be'eretz Mitzrayim, ([in order to] multiply My wonders in the land of Egypt)" (Shemos 11:9), whose initials spell "RaMBaM," who lived in Egypt (brought in the addenda to chapter 3 of Sichas Chullin shel Talmidei Chachomim by Rav Tzvi Shalez).

Rav Heschel of Cracow found an allusion to his name in the words, "Hineni Omed Shom Lefonecho al hatzur, (Behold, I [shall] stand there before you on the rock)" (Shemos 17:6), whose initials hei-ayin- shin- lamed spell "Heschel," while the gematria of the words "al hatzur" (401) is that of the name Cracow, spelt kuf-reish-kuf-alef (quoted in Maamar Mordechai by Rav S. Dubinsky, on Bava Kama).

And, lehavdil, it is said that Rav Refoel Hacohen of Hamburg zt'l, revealed an allusion to the name and city of Moses Mendelsohn, the head of the Berlin maskilim, in the posuk, "ki Moshchosom Bohem Mum Bom (for their corruption is within them, there is a blemish in them)" (Vayikra 22:25). The initials mem-beis-mem-beis are also the initials of Moshe Ben Menachem Berlin.

Obviously, the discovery of an allusion to an individual's name in retrospect has no implications regarding the freedom of choice that he exercised throughout his life. In the above three cases, the pesukim do not correspond to the period in which these men lived. Had any of them chosen different paths, other allusions in other contexts would certainly have applied to them. This is true even of the Gaon, the plentiful allusions to whom do correspond to his period.

In regard to this point, Rav Aharon Kotler zt'l remarked that a person can have his name alluded to in a context of praise such as, "even shleimoh votzedek" or, R'l, it can be alluded to among the princes of Eisov. It all depends on him and the choices that he makes (quoted in the sefer Noam Siach by his son Rav Schneur Kotler zt'l).

The Seven Thousand Years

HaRav Shmuel Maltzan zt'l is quoted as having written that the account of the Creation at the beginning of parshas Bereishis is considered a separate sefer, corresponding to the world's first thousand years. The remainder of Chumash Bereishis and the other four chumashim correspond to the following five thousand years. As mentioned, our millennium, the sixth, corresponds to Chumash Devorim.

"Thus," writes Rav Maltzan, "it is clear that the `many evils and misfortunes' (Devorim 31:17) that befell us, in our many sins, during this present, seventh century (5600- 700/1840-1940) are alluded to in the curses of [the seventh parsha] Ki Sovo" (from Rav Maltzan's Emunah Vehasgochoh, at the end of Likutei HaGra).

Rav Yoel Kluft zt'l writes, "We all know how the previous century ended -- corresponding to parshas Ki Sovo, the parsha of the Reproof -- with the dreadful Holocaust. We are now in the century that corresponds to Nitzovim-Vayeilech, the parsha of Repentance, which is why we see such a growth in the number of baalei teshuvoh" (Daas Yoel, p. 5).

Rav Chaim of Volozhin also heard from the Gaon that not only the Torah contains allusions to all the names and experiences of the members of Klal Yisroel but sefer Divrei Hayomim too. Rav Yissochor Ber zt'l the maggid of Ritoveh, was a great nephew of the Gaon (i.e. a grandson of the Gaon's brother Rav Avrohom zt'l). In his sefer of droshos (in manuscript) he writes that his father, Rav Shlomo Zalman zt'l, was present when the Gaon told Rav Chaim that the Torah contains allusions to everything that will happen in all the worlds from Creation onwards, "and even [to what comes] after the six thousand years of this world's existence, namely, the seventh millennium . . . I heard this from my father's lips . . . how he heard it clearly from the mouth of the holy of Holies, the Gaon z'l who told Rav Chaim z'l of Volozhin, `Would that I had such a man, to instruct him in sefer Divrei Hayomim, wherein everything is alluded to.' "

Scope of the Gaon's Torah

This series has given us a glimpse of the extent of the Gaon's Torah knowledge, both its breadth and its depth -- a glimpse that transforms our understanding of what "knowing Torah" can mean.

The Gaon had an intimate and detailed knowledge of Torah that extended to levels that most people do not even imagine exist. He showed how the Written Torah encompasses and contains every part of the Oral Torah, both revealed and concealed. He knew how each of the rabbinical mitzvos and enactments and how every single creature and event in the world's entire history, is hidden within and alluded to by the Torah's words and letters.

At the same time, it is important to bear in mind the Gaon's opinion that the pshat, the simple meaning of every posuk can never be forced or distorted. While every posuk can be expounded according to drash [the traditional methods of deriving laws] and remez [allusion] (besides pshat and sod [the concealed meaning]), these are separate and distinct methods, not embellishments of the pshat. The posuk must always retain its simple and straightforward meaning which must fit the words comfortably. Moreover, the Gaon maintained, for an interpretation to qualify as pshat, its reading of the posuk must also be grammatically correct.

Though a posuk may be the starting point for countless worlds of expounding, allusion and concealed Torah, it never loses its plain meaning, as the Gaon showed for example, with the numerous synonyms throughout NaCh. He explains each word's specific meaning, showing that it makes its own distinct contribution to the posuk's plain meaning, without resort to any of the other methods of interpretation.

The Gaon's revelations give us new understanding and appreciation of both Torah's Heavenly origin and of Heaven's kindness in bestowing his great soul upon our latter generations. This is the thought underlying the following paragraphs, excerpted from a wonderful essay on the Gaon by Rav Aharon Kotler zt'l, which serve as a fitting conclusion to this survey of the Gaon's unique understanding of Torah.

Conclusion: Torah is a Restorative -- When it is Perfect and Whole

Chazal's statement -- " `Hashem's perfect Torah is a restorative for the soul' (Tehillim 19:8), When is it a restorative? When it is perfect" -- is well- known.

Now, everything in the Torah testifies about itself and proves from within itself its veracity and its having been given by the Creator -- `Hashem's testaments are faithful' (ibid.). However, not only do individual Torah topics elucidate and complement themselves, they complement each other and elucidate each other too. Every topic and statement matches and interlocks with hundreds of other parts of Torah. Each part of Torah fits every other one -- they were all given through one Shepherd and originate from the Master of all things.

The concealed portion of Torah and the secret meaning of a topic match its plain meaning and the halochoh. They are all like one balanced, towering column, rising gradually, with each stage being built upon the preceding one. They start from the simple meaning and progress to the ultimate stage, and vice versa.

So it is in all the divisions of PaRDeS. The secrets of the account of Creation and of the account of [the vision of] the Divine chariot correspond entirely to the halachos and to Chazal's homiletic teachings. Similarly, all the Toseftos are alluded to in the Mishnah, to the point where they can be derived from the mishnayos, as the gemora explains. The entire Oral Torah is firmly implanted -- and plainly so -- within the Written Torah. All the secrets of all the worlds, of what was, what is and what is going to be, are also concealed in the Torah.

This is one of Torah's wonders. When one merits full understanding, one retroactively finds every subsequent event, with tremendous and astounding precision, within the topics themselves, in each and every word. This vast spectacle proves and testifies to Torah's truth, just as the Revelation at Har Sinai did.

This approach, of showing Torah's wholeness and unity, was in particular evidence with our teacher, in the most sublime way. He showed how everything was contained within the sources and foundations, from which it all progresses and develops up to the very highest levels and how everything matches and is interconnected and interwoven together, when it is truly understood. Many wondrous things of this nature can be found in his teachings.

It is also known that he revealed comfortable and firmly anchored sources in Scripture for all of Chazal's statements. Everyone clearly and tangibly saw the truth of these things and the light that they radiate, in the tiny proportion that he was able to reveal and that the sages of his generation were able to grasp. This too -- our teacher's appearance in our times -- comes from Hashem's Providence . . . (The essay appears in Reb Aharon's haskomoh to Ruach Eliyahu by Rav E.M. Bloch, Lakewood 5714 (1954).

Book on p. 664: Title page of the sefer Shiroh LeChaim (whose gematria is also 613)

All in Ha'azinu

The Gaon taught that just as the Aseres Hadibros encompass the entire Torah, the song of Ha'azinu also contains allusions to each and every one of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos. Although the Ramban had said that all the mitzvos are alluded to in Ha'azinu long before, it was the Gaon who showed how. The words "kol hadevorim" appear both in connection with the dibros -- "And G-d uttered, es kol hadevorim ho'eileh, all these matters" (Shemos 20:1) -- and also with the song of Ha'azinu -- "and Moshe finished speaking, es kol hadevorim ho'eileh, [of] all these matters to bnei Yisroel" (Devorim 32:45), meaning literally everything because they both contain allusions to the entire Torah (Aderes Eliyahu ibid.).

Rav Chaim ben Zevulun, av beis din of Satorpali zt'l, wrote a sefer entitled Shiroh LeChaim [Warsaw 5574] in which he shows how each of the six hundred and thirteen words in the song of Ha'azinu alludes to another one of the six hundred and thirteen mitzvos. On the title page he states that he used the Rambam's listing of the mitzvos and employed the notrikon method (taking the letters of a word as the initials of the words of a phrase or sentence) as the Baal Haturim does in his commentary on Torah.

Rav Yosef Shaul Natanson zt'l, author of Sho'el Umeishiv, expressed his amazement at this achievement in the following passage. "The holy . . . Gaon . . .of Vilna z'l revealed this secret. He wrote in Aderes Eliyahu that there are six hundred and thirteen mitzvos in Ha'azinu, that each word alludes to one of the 613 mitzvos and that the wise man will understand. A holy individual, Rav Chaim z'l, arose and took this in hand, publishing a sefer named Shiroh LeChaim in which he explains how each word alludes through notrikon to one of the mitzvos, following the Torah's order and all the mitzvos that the Rambam z'l enumerates in Sefer Hamitzvos. Happy are we to have merited seeing this; it was almost a minor prophecy on the part of our master . . . the Gaon . . . "

Rav Natanson then uses the Gaon's approach to resolve a point of discussion in the Rishonim concerning Shiras Ha'azinu and adds, "perhaps this thought occurred to the Gaon . . . and led him to reveal this wonderful treasure, that [astounds] whoever sees or hears of it" (Divrei Shaul, Chidushei Aggodos, Nedorim 38).


The Gaon's teachings about the principles contained in the Torah's opening parsha, posuk and word, belong to the realm of concealed Torah and cannot be dealt with here. It should be noted though, that in Aderes Eliyahu on the Torah, the Gaon lists a number of allusions that he discovered in the word Bereishis, for example:

"It hints at six fundamentals in serving Hashem: Beis- bitochon -- to trust in Hashem; Reish-rotzon haBorei -- striving to fulfill Hashem's will; Alef- ahavoh -- to love Hashem; Shin-shetikoh -- silence; Yud-yiroh -- to fear Hashem; Tov-Torah" (Bereishis 1:1, 3).

It is related that while attending the seudah for a pidyon haben, the Gaon was asked by one of the participants whether it was true that all the Torah's mitzvos are alluded to in parshas Bereishis. The Gaon affirmed this.

The man asked where the mitzva of pidyon haben was alluded to and the Gaon replied that it was in the word bereishis, whose initials stand for: Ben Rishon Achar Sheloshim Yom Tifdeh -- a firstborn son after thirty days redeem.

Rav Chaim of Volozhin was once asked where the Torah alludes to the halochoh that an ignoramus is more afraid to lie on Shabbos than he is on a weekday, because "the fear of Shabbos is upon him" (Rambam, Commentary to Demai 4:1, explaining why someone who purchased produce from an am ho'oretz and forgot to separate ma'asros before Shabbos can ask the seller on Shabbos whether he took ma'asros and rely on a positive response). Rav Chaim replied that the allusion is in the word Bereishis. The Tikkunei Zohar writes that the letters of Bereishis also spell "yorei Shabbos (he fears Shabbos)"! (Toldos Odom, perek 4)

The Ramban and Avner

In referring to the story of the Ramban and his talmid Avner, the Kav Hayoshor (perek 23) quotes the Ramban in his commentary to parshas Ha'azinu as writing that Ha'azinu, "includes all the mitzvos and all the world's affairs . . . but Heavenly assistance is needed in order to merit understanding all the different matters and secrets that are there."

Here is the full story, as brought in Seder Hadoros (Ramban, Elef Hachamishi, 4954).

I have a tradition that the Ramban had a certain talmid whose name was R' Avner. He became an apostate and his fortunes were such that he rose in rank and was feared throughout the country. After a time, he sent for his teacher the Ramban on Yom Kippur. He himself slaughtered a swine in front of him, and cut it up, cooked it and ate it. After having eaten, he asked the Rav how many times he had incurred koreis. The Ramban replied, "Four," but he said that it was five. He wanted to argue with his teacher but the Ramban gave him an angry look and he was silent, for he still maintained a little reverence for his teacher.

In the end, the Ramban asked him who had led him to become an apostate. He replied that he had once heard him speaking about parshas Ha'azinu, saying that it contained all the mitzvos and all the affairs of the world. Since he considered that to be impossible, he became a changed person. The Ramban declared, "I still maintain it. Ask me anything you want."

Avner was amazed and said, "If so, then show me whether you can find my name written there."

The Ramban said, "Fine. I undertake to do so," and he went into a corner and prayed and the posuk, "[Omarti,] af'eihem, ashbiso mei'enosh zichrom ([I said,] `I shall abandon them; I shall wipe out every trace of them from humanity)" (Devorim 32:26), came to his lips. The third letter of each word (alef-beis-nun-reish) spell the man's name, Avner.

On hearing this he was dismayed and he asked his teacher if there was any way he could remedy the evil he had done.

His teacher said, "You heard what the posuk says," and he went on his way.

The man immediately took a boat without any sailor or oar, got into it and went wherever the wind took him. Nothing more was ever heard from him.

Picture of Menorah:

The Menorah in the Pesukim

In addition, the first pesukim of each Chumash allude to the Menorah: the seven words in the first posuk of Bereishis to its seven branches; the eleven words in the first posuk of Shemos to its eleven knobs (kaftorim); the nine words in the first posuk of Vayikra to its nine flowers; the seventeen words in the first posuk of Bamidbor, with the kollel making eighteen, an allusion to the eighteen tefochim of its height; the twenty-two words in the first posuk of Devorim to its twenty two cups (gevi'im) (see Rashi on Shemos 25:35, Aderes Eliyahu, beginning of parshas Devorim).


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