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I have heard a story that the Vilna Gaon was offered torah insights by some sort of divine source, either an angel, a maggid or something else. The story goes that he refused those insights because they did not come through his own efforts. I would like to know from a hashkafik perspective if this is something that would be considered an appropriate response for anyone or only for someone on the spiritual level of the Vilna Gaon.

Edit: A friend informs me, but I have not confirmed, that the source is recorded by R' Chaim of Volozhin in the introduction to the commentary of the Vilna Gaon on the Tzafra d'Tzniusa

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  • @Alex I don't see any way to prove the story's veracity nor to disprove it short of writings from the Vilna Gaon. If you can provide a source that it is not appropriate for anyone no matter their spiritual level I would accept that answer as well. Apr 1 '19 at 4:31
  • related, particularly Yishai's comment judaism.stackexchange.com/a/44707/4794 Apr 1 '19 at 5:00
  • or, more directly, judaism.stackexchange.com/a/44879/4794 Apr 1 '19 at 5:02
  • The way you heard this is missing some critical details. The concept detailed in the story (as I heard it) was that the Gaon knew how to ‘bind’ the type of angels called Maggidim. This is possible through the use of angelic names. It compels the angel to serve. But in proper development of ruach hakodesh, the revelation comes via the spiritual development of the individual. The revelation is given voluntarily. With compulsion, the veracity of the message is dependent upon the personal development of the individual. Apr 1 '19 at 11:07
  • לא יגעת ומצאת אל תאמין - explicit Gemmorah see tora.us.fm/tnk1/klli/mdrjim/ygat.html.
    – Al Berko
    Apr 1 '19 at 14:34
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So the following is not regarding a Torah insight from something like an angel. But if a person receives a Torah insight through siyata dishmaya, namely G-d plants a Torah idea in his head he shouldn't ignore it.

The Sefer Chasidim 530 writes:

וכל מי שגלה לו הקב"ה דבר ואינו כותבה ויכול לכתוב הרי גוזל מי שגלה לו כי לא גלו לו אלא לכתוב דכתיב (תהלים כה יד) סוד ה' ליראיו ובריתו להודיעם וכתיב (משלי ה טז) יפוצו מעינותיך חוצה וזהו שכתוב (קהלת יב יד) יביא במשפט על כל נעלם שגורם שנעלם אם טוב שגילה לו אם רע שאינו כתבה.

Anyone to whom Hashem has revealed something and he does not write it down, though he had the opportunity to do so, is thereby stealing from He Who revealed it to him - for He only revealed it to him for the purpose of recording it, as it is written, "Hashem reveals His secrets to those who revere Him; and His covenant does He make known to them" (Tehillim 25:14), and it is written, "May your wellsprings burst forth" (Mishlei 5:16). This is the meaning of the verse (Koheles 12:14), "He will bring [man] to judgement over every hidden thing, good and bad" - Hashem will judge the man who keeps hidden the 'good' that He revealed to him, and did 'bad' in not recording it.

So it would seem from the Sefer Chassidim that if one gains heavenly assistance in the area of Torah it is incumbent on that person to not just ignore it but rather to take active steps to record what has been given over to him.

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As stated in the comments, there does not seem to be a known source for that Vilna Gaon story.

But, there is a Sefer called Q&A from Heaven - or שאלות ותשובות מן השמים in the original.

The author - יעקב הלוי ממרויש - was one of the Ba'alei Tosafos, passed away in 1243.

Apparently back then they didn't mind asking for heavenly help in Torah matters.

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    Notably, R. Reuven Margoliot's introduction discussing the issues of getting answers from Heaven is nearly as long as the sefer itself.
    – Alex
    Apr 1 '19 at 15:34
  • @Danny Rabbeinu Yaacov was utilizing a method similar to Yosef HaTzaddik called, in English, Dream Inquiry. It is a legitimate part of the Torat HaNevuah but is not what the Gaon of Vilna was discussing. The ‘Binding of Angels’ is a different activity. Dream inquiry is a lower level of prophecy and is not dependent upon ritual purity so much. It’s worth noting that the use of Goralot, another activity connected to the Gra, is also a lower level on the path of Nevuah which is not so dependent upon ritual purity. May 25 '20 at 20:10
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'אנו עמלים ומקבלים שכר' - A mitzva is worth proportionately more according to the effort invested. Therefore, the Vilna Gaon preferred to learn the Torah himself rather than learn it through the Divine assistance (or Maggid, as it was known to the Beis Yosef. See writings of R' Moshe Kordevero about Ruach Hakodesh who explains in detail the exact definition of this Malach).

This would be an appropriate response for anybody who had the capacity to acheieve the same status without assistance. Somebody like the Vilna Gaon, who indeed knew כל התורה כולה, could reject the offer on the basis of being able to achieve the same thing with his own effort, rather than being gifted. However, any of us, who cannot hope to complete the Torah without Divine Revelation, would be required (under the commandment of ידיעת התורה) to accept the offer.

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