Sunday, May 25, 2008

Table Talk - Bamidbar

The Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Eliyahu ben Shlomo Zalman, had a deal with community leaders of his city. They agreed not to bother asking him to come to community meetings unless they were considering a new community decree.
Once the communal council wished to enact a decree that the community charity fund would not support the poor from other cities, and would encourage local residents not to accept guests from other cities (to collect money, of course), in order to increase support for the local poor and the needy institutions in Vilna. (Sounds familiar, doesn't it?) So they called a meeting, and of course invited the Gaon to attend.
When he got to the meeting, the Gaon looked at the council and said, "I thought we agreed that you wouldn't call me to meetings unless you were considering a new city ordnance!"
The men answered, "But we are considering a new law!" The wondered what the Vilna Gaon was talking about. The Gaon flashed an angry look at them and said, "Oy you leaders! This law you want to enact is a very old law already established by the Four Lands!"
Still the leaders wondered what he meant, asking the rabbi, "To the best of our knowledge, there is no record of any such law in the record books of any of the Four Lands." (The Council of Four Lands (Va'ad Arba' Aratzot) in Lublin, Poland was the central body of Jewish authority in Poland from 1580 to 1764.)
The Vilna Gaon responded angrily: "I didn't mean the Four Lands of our time. When I said 'four lands', I was referring to the four lands during the time of our forefathers, Sodom, Gemorrah, Admah and Tzovoyim. These were the first localities to enact this vile piece of legislation, to prevent poor visitors to their cities from the outside."