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28 Nisan 5766 - April 26, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Vilna Gaon: No Secret Escaped Him

by Rav Dov Eliach

Part II

In his three-volume work HaGaon (that was put together under the supervision of HaRav Chaim Kanievsky) Rav Dov Eliach brought together an enormous amount of material to try to give us some concept of what the Vilna Gaon was. The Gaon was outstanding in many aspects of human development. Our concepts do not do justice to what the Gaon really was. The section printed here is taken from Chapter Five, and is centered around the breadth of knowledge of the Gaon. When reading it, one should keep in mind that this is just one of many areas in which the Gaon lived at such an outstanding level.

Rav Eliach has added a new series of volumes to the bookshelf of works related to the Gaon with the ongoing publication of Chumash HaGra, an arrangement of the comments of the Gaon arranged according to the parshiyos of Chumash, with the full Chumash text. So far Bereishis, Shemos and Bamidbar have appeared, and we eagerly await the completion of the series.


Immediate Responses

The Sages say, "The words of Torah should be sharp in your mouth so that if someone asks you something . . . you [can] answer him immediately." The Vilna Gaon always answered this way. Almost before a question was finished, he had already answered it.

Rav Yehuda Leib of Levov writes in his introduction to Shenos Eliyahu: "He did not neglect any matter, large or small . . . he saw everything with absolute clarity. Not [merely] as a boki; rather everything was preserved and organized before him, so that he could answer every questioner immediately."

The Gaon's mechuton, HaRav Avrohom Danzig, author of the Chayei Odom, testifies:

He was a great scholar, boki in all of Shas Bavli, Yerushalmi, Sifro, Sifrei, Tosefta, halachos, aggodos, large matters meaning Ma'aseh Merkovoh , small matters meaning the arguments of Abaye and Rovo. The entire Torah was arranged before him like a set table, so that if one asked him something, he would respond while the question was being posed. Who is a greater Torah scholar than he? (Sha'arei Rachamim )


An incident involving Rav Chaim of Volozhin proves that the previous two accounts are even understated.

When Rav Chaim became the rav of Volozhin, his responsibilities forced him to reduce his visits to his rebbi in Vilna, but he still managed a visit three or four times a year. He would spend up to a month with the Gaon, asking him all his questions in revealed and hidden matters, learning the secrets of the Torah from him, and observing his ways — and then he would return to his city. This was his pattern for over twenty years (Se'aras Eliyahu).

This shows, incidentally, that from the time Rav Chaim first met the Gaon, he did not cease to learn Torah from him, sometimes even for long weeks at a stretch.

Before leaving his home in Volozhin, Rav Chaim would prepare a written list of questions for his rebbi which, on one particular occasion, amounted to a very long list. When he arrived in Vilna at midday on a Wednesday, he was told that he could not meet with the Gaon at that time and that the Gaon had been secluded in his chambers for a few days already.

Such was the Gaon's custom. When he would delve deeply into a difficult topic, he would seclude himself for days — or even weeks — until he found a satisfying answer. All that time the people of Vilna knew that they could not disturb him. Rav Chaim, who had just arrived after a prolonged absence, was disappointed, but he resolved that he would not leave Vilna until he had seen his rebbi, even if the delay lasted a long time.

On Friday afternoon when he went to the bathhouse in honor of Shabbos, people came to tell him that the Gaon's study room had reopened. Rav Chaim immediately turned around and rushed to his lodging, exchanged his clothing bundle for his list of questions, and hurried to his rebbi's house. Since he was beloved and respected in the home of the Gaon, he was received with great warmth and much excitement.

The Gaon was very happy to see his beloved student once again. He greeted him and expressed his surprise that he had not seen him for nearly a year. Rav Chaim apologized that circumstances beyond his control had kept him away and that even now he had to set aside all his business in order to come. As is well-known, the Gaon kept his non-Torah conversation to a minimum, and he immediately turned to his student: "Nu . . . surely you have brought a list of questions in your bag . . . "

Later, Rav Chaim described his impressions of that encounter to his students: "I took out the page from my pocket — a large, full sheet, covered on both sides with the questions that I had prepared, and I began to read to him all that had weighed upon me all that time. I read to him and he responded; I questioned and he answered. Within a short time, he had answered all the questions that I had brought with me."

Rav Chaim was used to this, as he once mentioned in a responsum of his: "When I came then before my master and teacher, I wanted to get involved in the issue that was being disputed between us . . . But when I began to present the issue to him, he decided it simply . . ." (Ibid.).

Even so, Rav Chaim was astonished once again by the clarity and speed that he witnessed. Moreover, the whole time the Gaon did not need to look inside a sefer, except for one time that Rav Chaim asked a question and the Gaon requested that he bring him a gemora — which itself was surprising.

When Rav Chaim expressed his surprise to the Gaon. The Gaon explained to him that the matter in question was so subtle and precise that it was nearly impossible to understand it by heart (Se'aras Eliyahu).

Another question dealt with a section of the holy Zohar, where the word "chessed" is written, seemingly without any connection to the context. Rav Chaim could not resolve this difficulty.

The Gaon responded, with a smile on his face: "The truth is that a number of lines are missing here and they were printed in another place. The copyist, therefore, wrote the word `chosseir' (missing) on the side, referring to the missing lines. The printer mistakenly read the word as `chesed' and inserted it into the text without any sense or meaning" (Ibid.).

Incidentally, there was another time that the Gaon refused to respond without a sefer before him. The Gaon and R' Chaim were discussing whether there were halachic contradictions between the revealed and the hidden portions of the Torah. The Gaon said that if they appear to contradict each other, it is a result of a misunderstanding in the meaning of either the Zohar or the Gemora.

Rav Chaim pointed out that regarding whether one's bed should be aligned north-south or east-west the two do, in fact, differ. The Gaon responded that the Zohar is to be understood differently, so that there is no contradiction at all. However, the Gaon refused to tell Rav Chaim the correct meaning of the Zohar because they did not have a copy of it before them (Ma'alos HaSulam).

The Gaon's Use of Mnemonics

The Sages say: "The residents of Ya'avetz were of a family of sofrim. What is meant by `sofrim?' [It cannot just mean that they counted.] Rather, they made the Torah into many numbers [sefuros, sefuros]." (Yerushalmi Shekolim 21a).

Since we are commanded by the Torah to make sure that we do not forget, "Only guard yourself and guard your soul very much, lest you forget these things" (Devorim 4:9), the Sages made mnemonics and numeric devices for remembering halochos. This idea is mentioned in the Talmud: "Make signs in the Torah and acquire it" (Shabbos 104a). This is widespread throughout the Talmud, for example "four categories of damages" (Mishna Bava Kama 1a), "forty melochos minus one" (Shabbos 6b), and many more.

One of the many ways in which the Gaon would analyze the Torah was through the approach of "sefuros, sefuros" — with sums and rules that he wrote down. The Gaon demonstrated an amazing ability to make "sefuros, sefuros" from the laws in the Torah and the words of the Sages, creating numeric handles with which to grasp the Torah.

Sums like these can be found in all the Gaon's works, on every subject in the Torah. A work that is based especially on the sefuros is Ma'aseh Torah. It begins with the Beraissa Ma'aseh Torah, attributed to Rebbi Yehuda Hanossi, who made "sefuros" from aggodoh. The Gaon completed it with material from Shas, Bavli, Yerushalmi, Tosefta, Sifro, Sifrei, and Mechilta. The Gaon's son, Rav Avrohom, followed suit and added more from the Midroshim.

"The sefer Ma'aseh Torah lists all the numbers that are found in the words of the Sages, which he gathered in his wisdom. It includes the numbers from one to thirteen, as well as the number seventy and, at the end, a collection of some Torah principles" (Aliyos Eliyahu).

Tremendous beki'us is needed to gather together all the laws and dictums regarding a particular matter from the whole Talmud. Moreover, this work was composed by the Gaon when he was ill, and was dictated to a student who transcribed it (Aliyas Kir). Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson says that he did this at a time when, on doctor's orders, he was forbidden to delve deeply into his studies, as was his usual practice. Rather, the Gaon merely wished to test his own proficiency.

Even so, a great project like this is not merely a matter of arithmetic, or a demonstration of beki'us. These sefuros go to the depths of the laws and are related to the essence of their content. For only by clarifying the key points of the halacha can one accurately count its distinctions and details.

An example: One of the topics that the Gaon mentions under the number three is the blessings over the Torah. Rav Yitzchok Isaac Chover writes in a handwritten comment on the page, "From this it seems that the Gaon considers [the section] `Veha'arev no . . .' to be an independent blessing." In other words, the Gaon follows the opinion that there are three morning blessings over the Torah, not two.

Thus, from this example it is clear that the Gaon did not merely collect information, but rather he clarified and analyzed to resolve halochoh in order to find the correct number.

Following his usual practice of keeping his comments to the minimum, the Gaon did not cite many sources for the principles that he applied. Rav Yom Tov Lipman of Mir, author of the Malbushei Yom Tov, explained: "For the Vilna Gaon, in his tremendous genius, all the pathways of Torah were bright. He therefore only recorded, as a reminder, the general concepts" (Introduction to Malbushei Yom Tov).

Therefore, while the work was still in manuscript form it was brought to many Torah giants for them to try to decipher his words and to reveal the sources. Among them were Rav Akiva Eiger of Posen and Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson, av beis din of Levov and author of the Sho'eil Umeishiv. When the work was published in the year 5624 (1864), it boasted a list of sources that the publisher had gathered and the glowing approbations of Rav Yitzchok Elchonon Spector and Rav Yosef Shaul Nathanson.

Revelations Not Merited by Previous Generations

Besides his total mastery of the entire Torah, he had a complete grasp of the works of all the commentators and poskim.

First, as Rav Chaim of Volozhin wrote:

For the knowledge of the Gaon, of blessed memory, was organized in the form of clear halochos in the entire Torah, free of any doubts, together with fluency in Mishna, Shas Bavli and Yerushalmi, Mechilta, Sifro and Sifrei, Tosefta, Midroshim and Zohar, and all the words of the Tanoim and Amoro'im that are in our hands. He merited to maintain a portion in all of them, to resolve the doubts that are engendered by their words and to originate novel thoughts regarding them . . . (Kol Hakosuv LeChaim)

The Gaon himself, as was mentioned earlier, testified that at the end of his life, "No uncertainty remained with him in any halochoh or topic in the entire Torah."

The Gaon originated and revealed many things in Torah that had not been revealed even in the generations of the Rishonim, that is, at least from the end of the period of the gemora.

In his work on the mishnayos of Seder Zeraim (Shenos Eliyahu), the Gaon dealt extensively with the explanation of and commentary on the Yerushalmi. Rav Chaim of Volozhin explains that the Yerushalmi uses very difficult language and because few people study it, many mistakes crept in. The Gaon, however, blazed a path to understanding the Yerushalmi. He cleared out all the "thorns that had grown upon it" — clarifying all the difficult text versions — and explained it with clarity in accordance with the relevant mishnayos.

"It was he, in his holy works, who turned and paved and illuminated the path before us, the path of sanctity that no one had passed even in several preceding generations. A paved and clear path in the revealed and the hidden. With a road that leads us higher and higher, up to the source — and the source of the source — of the words." (Rav Chaim of Volozhin, Introduction to the Biyur HaGra on Safra Detzni'usa)

Rav Yitzchok Isaac Chover found this trait of originality in the Gaon's novellae in the realm of hidden wisdom. "Lofty things were revealed to him that no one had merited for several generations and that did not appear in the words of the Kabbalists among the Rishonim, from the Ramban and onwards" (Mogen Vetzino).

The Chazon Ish declared: "Torah was revealed through him as a holy one destined for this, for he illuminated what had not been lit up until he came and took his portion, and he was considered like one of the Rishonim" (Kovetz Igros).

The Kabbalist HaRav Yitzchok Kahane, a disciple of Rav Yitzchok Isaac Chover, praised the Gaon greatly, as in his opinion the Gaon was privileged to receive revelations that are destined to be widely revealed only at the end of days, for "he was privileged to understand it as it was given at Sinai."

He Did Not Fail to Toil over Even One Word

To the limited extent that we can evaluate such matters, we must try to understand how the Gaon reached such high levels in his knowledge of Torah and how he merited to grasp such great, secret matters that even those of previous generations did not attain.

In his commentary on Safra Detzni'usa, the Gaon explained a certain matter and wrote that by understanding this topic, it is possible to know when the Final Redemption will occur. He then imposed an oath in the name of G-d upon anyone who understands his esoteric words, not to reveal them to others.

Rav Yosef Chaim Sonnenfeld, rov of Yerushalayim, asked why the Gaon had the unique privilege of knowing the true time of the Final Redemption, while everyone would certainly be very happy to know this.

He answered as follows:

Every person who longs to know the date of the Final Redemption should be surprised at himself. Is he worthy of having this secret revealed to him?

The Gaon, in contrast, studied the entire Torah for its own sake; he worked to understand and grasp every small thing. When he reached the verses in Doniel that are known to hint to the Final Redemption, he attempted to understand them and to grasp their true meaning, just as he did with every other word in the Torah. It is a known principle that Heaven does not withhold knowledge of Torah from one who longs to grasp it and who has labored properly. As such, the secret meaning of these verses was not withheld from him (Me'at Devash).


Regarding the verse, "Place in your hearts all the words that I bear witness to you today . . ." (Devorim 32:46), the Gaon explained, "He commanded them to understand on their own, as much as they can grasp — `all the words,' for he did not neglect even one word by failing to toil and labor over it" (Aderes Eliyahu).

One can see how this interpretation was a G-dly mission and a guiding light for the Gaon throughout his life. He focused all his attention on understanding each thing himself, commensurate with his great spirit and soul. He took the verse "all the words" literally, meaning all the words of the entire Torah.

Moreover, he did not neglect "to toil and labor over even one word." The Gaon considered every word, every letter — and even every one of the tagim of the Torah — important and its value priceless. He considered it worthwhile to expend all the might in the world over them. In his eyes, every part of Torah was equally worthy of his attention and his devoted effort to know and understand it, down to its finest details. He, therefore, did indeed merit great achievements that even the great and good of our nation did not attain.

Furthermore, the Gaon's toil and labor to achieve what he did were above and beyond any scale. He would focus his concentration on understanding something properly, shutting out all distractions and disturbances, nearly to the point of actually giving up his life for Torah study.

As his disciple, Rav Chaim of Volozhin said:

How greatly did this giant toil — it would be unbelievable if fully described. [He toiled] until he had brought every topic out into the light, with its true meaning clear, with all its ins and outs. Even though his abilities were great, with his broad intellect and profound understanding, and he was filled with the understanding of many preceding generations, nevertheless his pure heart did not rely on his initial perceptions; [he was not satisfied] until he had weighed every matter on the scales of his intellect, his holy intellect, several hundred times with awesome toil.

He did not eat or drink for a days and nights on end. Sleep fled from his eyes until his countenance darkened to blackness. He devoted himself to his study totally until Hashem illuminated his eyes to reach the outer limit of his comprehension, and then his holy face would immediately light up with the joy and light of Torah. (Introduction to Safra Detzni'usa)

Rav Avrohom, son of the Gaon, added: "And he devoted his life to each and every detail of the words of the Sages, to learn and to teach and to fulfill all the words of their teachings. His soul nearly left him over this" (Introduction to Shenos Eliyahu).

Now, "since he devoted his essence to this more than the other scholars, it is associated with him" (See Rashi, Shemos 37:1 in discussing the work of Betzalel).

"And Rovo said, `At first it was associated with the Holy One, blessed is He, and in the end it was associated with him, as it says, "His desire was the Torah of Hashem and he contemplated his Torah day and night" (Avodoh Zara 19a) - first it is called the Torah of Hashem, but then it is called his own Torah.' "

All His Written Works Are But a Drop in the Sea of His Wisdom

"They said regarding R' Yochonon ben Zakkai that he did not neglect any verse or any mishna, gemora, halachos, or aggodos, details of Torah or details of the Sages, minor matters or severe matters alike, astronomical calculations, gematrios, conversations of the angels, sheidim, or trees, the parables of the washers and parables about foxes, `great matters' meaning Ma'aseh Merkovoh, `minor matters' meaning the arguments of Abaye and Rovo" (Succah 28a, Bava Basra 134a).

The meaning of "did not neglect" is explained there: "That is to say, he devoted his heart to learn and understand everything and `when one comes to purify himself, they help him (from Heaven),' and [`if one says] I have toiled and I have found [success], believe him'" (Iyun Yaakov, ibid.).

The written works of the Gaon, which were composed on all topics, subjects and parts of Torah, show that he fulfilled these words of the gemora. He did not neglect any part of the Torah of Hashem; there was no section in which he failed to "devote his heart to learn and understand everything" and he even corrected and interpreted them, as mentioned previously.

The Gaon fulfilled his own comment on the gemora which says that one should buy a commodity while it is cheap, because eventually its value will go up: "So too regarding Torah: that which the world does not study you should analyze and learn and correct, for it will eventually be sought out from you" (Bi'urei Aggodos).

Yet even after the entire list of impressive works that he left, we have reliable testimony from his disciples and acquaintances that all this was only a tiny drop of his vast, vast knowledge of Torah. In the words of Rav Chaim of Volozhin: "[We have grasped] a bit of a bit of the hem of his ways in Torah; his holy works will endlessly testify" (introduction to Shenos Eliyahu).

He also stressed:

Even if the generation will merit to have his holy works widely disseminated, you would not see even a bit of a bit of his Torah and wisdom. You will not see and you cannot guess the full extent of it. But know and believe that there is no end to his understanding and wisdom and his intellect; it is wider than the sea. As a drop is to the entire great sea, so are his written works to the full extent of his great wisdom.

Even if a person were to live for a thousand years, he would not have enough time to transcribe all the wisdom which was revealed to him, . . . However, would that we had a mouth to eat and a palate to taste just a bit of the honey that he left for us — then our eyes would be opened.

What is more, the Gaon wrote all these works before the age of forty. From that time on, he received so many Torah revelations that neither he nor a scribe could possibly transcribe them (Introduction to Nefesh HaChaim).

His Works Are a Mere Shadow

When we recognize the abundance of G-dly wisdom that the Gaon acquired with endless labor and devotion, we can imagine, to some extent, how all who met the Gaon trembled at his every word and we can see why they attached significance to each of the tagim and commas of his Torah, like words given at Sinai.

Clearly, such mastery over the Torah multiplies the weight of the Gaon's words and obligates one to tremble and be in awe of the holiness of every explanation and approach that he innovated in his works. After all this, who could casually question or contradict any of his words, words that were chosen and written with the entire Torah before him, as it was engraved on his pure heart?

Many of the Gaon's admirers criticized those who were quick to reject one of his conclusions or emendations, despite the fact that the Gaon himself taught his students to pursue absolute truth, with no extraneous considerations such as the honor of a particular author.

In his usual manner, the Gaon exerted unlimited effort before deciding each and every emendation. Rav Chaim of Volozhin described how carefully the Gaon analyzed the language, evaluated and counted the letters, testing to determine what was missing and what was extra, especially in the holy Zohar. There he found a line that had been switched with another, at times even a few pages later. "His tremendous, extensive efforts were unbelievable and immeasurable," until Heaven opened his eyes, enabling him eventually to present a new textual edition that was true to Torah.

Rav Chaim adds:

He did not allow himself to decide that something was the absolute truth until he had reviewed and toiled awesomely, with investigation and examination, and very intense searching . . . If it illuminated the eyes, so that it would resolve many other areas of the Zohar and the Ra'ayo Mehemno and the Tikkunim, he then understood that the wisdom of the Lord was within him, to perform true Divine justice . . .

The Gaon himself told Rav Chaim that he was unable to emend and establish a new version of a mystical matter unless it explained and resolved many other areas in Chazal. At times, he was able to resolve as many as one-hundred-fifty difficulties in the words of Chazal at once in this way.

Every thinking person understands that such a mammoth undertaking must produce unparalleled results. The truth of his conclusions is incomparable. Before one considers challenging one of the Gaon's resolutions or emendations, one should focus first on how they were established. Only then can one properly understand that rather than being quick to challenge them, he must gather all his strength and focus all his attention in order to understand their truthfulness.


This was the point made by the Gaon's students, whether in their warnings against questioning the words of their rebbi or in their criticism of those who did so. Nevertheless, since it is Torah and we must therefore study it, we find that his disciples and their students after them, as his greatest admirers, evaluated and elaborated on his words, albeit with great reverence.

It was with that same holy awe that the family and disciples of the Gaon sometimes criticized their colleagues who published the works of the Gaon — whether because they felt that their colleagues did not properly explain the Gaon's words or that they did not pay enough attention to the precision and clarity of the Gaon's words. At times, they were critical of seemingly insignificant matters such as the type of printing or paper used. They even found it necessary to publish their attacks. What, for example, was the point of publicizing their disappointment with the printing and paper used for the Shenos Eliyahu that was published by their brother-in-law, the son-in-law of the Gaon?

It was because of their strong feelings about the greatness of the Gaon and the absolute accuracy of his words, that they became extremely sensitive when his works were published. Their intense concern for his honor and the honor of his teachings burned like a fire within them and led to their criticism. Their goal was to warn the public: Beware! These printed words are not as perfect and complete as when they emerged from the great spirit of our master.

This is all because for the rest of the world that was not part of the Gaon's inner circle, his works are like a lens through which we may glimpse his inner chamber. As previously quoted, Rav Chaim said, "His holy writings endlessly testify only to the minutest number of his approaches to Torah."

As such, the slightest imperfection in these works could mistakenly be seen as a stain on his pure image. Since this was a matter of the Gaon's honor, it was not enough to ensure precise wording so as not to cause confusion; even the quality of the paper and the print had to be "majestic, to honor his teachings," in the words of his sons (introduction to the Biyur al Kamma Aggados).

The "Gaon"

The Tiferes Yisroel (as previously quoted) said, "It is not for naught that Jews everywhere call him simply `the Gaon,' as though a heavenly voice went forth [and named him thus], for it is true and correct" (approbation to the Biyur HaGra on Shulchan Oruch).

Rav Menachem Mendel of Shklov said that he heard from "the holy mouth of the Admor, the Gaon of the world, our master, the Gaon, the holy pious one" a reason why all the leaders of the generations after the period of the Talmud were called "Gaon."

It is based on the Midrash that says, "Sixty are royalty — these are the sixty halachic tractates" (Midrash Rabbah, Shir HaShirim 6:21). The custom was to appoint someone as a leader of the generation only after he knew all sixty tractates of the Talmud by heart. All of the Oral Torah is concealed within these sixty tractates.

The leader of the generation was called "Gaon," because that word in Hebrew is numerically equivalent to sixty, hinting to a Gaon's knowledge of these sixty tractates.

This was true of the Vilna Gaon, as Rav Mendel says: "He himself was a true Gaon, as he knew all sixty tractates by heart and the whole Torah was clear to him, . . ." (Introduction to the Biyur HaGra on Ovos).

In a eulogy on the Gaon delivered in Vilna, the Chayei Odom said, "We experienced a fulfillment of the verse, `I will break the pride (ge'on) of your strength' (Vayikra 26:19) — that in which you take pride. That was [our master,] the Gaon of the Jewish nation and its holiness, for everyone would say, `How fortunate you are to have this Gaon in your community!'

The letters of the word `gaon' hint to the following: `gimmel' [numerically equivalent to three] hints to Tanach — Torah, Prophets and Scriptures, `alef' [one] is study of G-d, `vov' [six] to [the six orders of] Shas, ` nun' [fifty] to the fifty gates of understanding. Our holy master, of blessed memory, was the Gaon of the Jewish nation, an expert in all of Tanach, in study of G-d, in Shas and in the wisdom of the Kabboloh . . ."

In his book, Emunah VeHashgochoh, Rav Shmuel Maltzen writes: "I heard from trustworthy people that they asked the Gaon if his soul had been in this world before, and he answered that a long time had passed since then. Once, one of the Gaon's students happened to be in Bovel. He found an ancient manuscript: emendations on the Tosefta in the name of Rav Hai Gaon. He sent it to Vilna, where they compared it to a manuscript of the emendations of the Gaon and found the two to be identical.

"It is, therefore, reasonable to believe that the soul of the Gaon was the soul of Rav Hai Gaon. As a result, everyone always calls both of them simply `The Gaon.' "

As an extra precaution, Rav Maltzen adds, "It seems to me that this was said in the name of his student, Rav Moshe Shlomo, of blessed memory, of Tolchin. If it is a tradition, then we will accept it."

Rav Yechezkel Abramsky said: It is a fact "that just as when the Rishonim write merely `the Gaon' they are referring to Rav Hai Gaon who excelled and was unique among the leaders of the period of the Geonim, so too when the Acharonim mention just `the Gaon,' they are referring to the Gaon, Rav Eliyahu of Vilna.

"That is to say, that just as Rabbeinu Hai was unique, outstanding and select among the earlier [leaders], so too, Rabbeinu Eliyahu of Vilna was singular and unique among the great Acharonim."


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