The name of the Gaon of Vilna conjures up an almost mythical figure of brilliance and saintliness. After Maimonides, it is Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon of Vilna (1720–1797) who epitomizes the highest achievements in learning and piety in post-Talmudic rabbinic Judaism. A man of great fame in his own life time, he left few manuscripts behind. Shortly after his death, writings attributed to him began to circulate. The rabbinic court of Vilna found it necessary to issue a statement declaring that any work that was to be published under the name of the Gaon had to be authenticated by the court. Indeed, today only four manuscripts are known as being genuinely in the hand of the Gaon. The work displayed here is one of them. Two other leaves are treasures of the National Library in Jerusalem; a third is reproduced in a biography of Rabbi Elijah. In addition, his autograph notes appear throughout a printed edition of the Palestinian Talmud, Seder Zera’im, Amsterdam, 1701.
The text of this manuscript contains comments by the Vilna Gaon on a passage of the Zohar, the classic work of Jewish mysticism. The Gaon’s fame rests mainly on his contributions to Talmudic and rabbinic literature; it is less well known that he was also a great scholar of Kabbalah. The comments seen here were printed in the nineteenth century by one of the highly respected experts on the Gaon’s kabbalistic writings. In that publication, the beginning and end of the present text are clearly and explicitly marked as having been printed from an autograph manuscript (mi-guf ketav yad kodsho). Indeed, the marginal notes and the corrections in the Braginsky Collection copy appear exactly as in the printed edition, indicated by parentheses and square brackets. All other aspects of the manuscript, including even the dimensions of the paper, are identical with those of the other documented autographs. [ms]
Avivi 1993, pp. 12–13, 19; Etkes 2002; Jerusalem Talmud 2007; Landau 1978, pp. 410–415; Printing the Talmud 2005, pp. 274–277; Sefer Yahel Or 1882, pp. 72–74; Selected Manuscripts 1985, p. 27, no. 53b.
Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, Kitzur Hekhalot ha-Kedushah (Abridgment of [the treatise on] the Holiness of Celestial Palaces)
[Vilna, autograph of author, second half of the eighteenth century]
Paper, 5 leaves, 160 × 100 mm (6.3 × 3.9 in.), modern leather binding with silver ornaments
Braginsky Collection 104