Sanhedrin

Sanhedrin 66a: Using the Goral HaGra

Sanhedrin 66a: “Do not attempt to discern the future from random events” means, for example, taking a weasel or birds or fish as a sign of good or bad fortune.

Chullin 95b: Any fortunetelling that is not similar to Eliezer, servant of Avraham, and Yonasan ben Shaul, is not fortunetelling.

Rambam Avodah Zarah 11:4: Making signs for oneself, saying if such and such happens to me then I will do such and such, and if not I will not, like Eliezer the servant of Avraham, it is forbidden, and whoever acts on this is punished with lashes. Raavad: This is permitted, and the Gemara calling it fortunetelling does not mean that it’s forbidden, but rather that it’s reliable.

Rambam Avodah Zarah 11:5:  One who asks a child which verse he is learning, and if he says a verse of blessing, he will be happy and take it as a good omen – this is permitted because he didn’t act or refrain from acting based on the omen. 

סנהדרין סו ע”א: תנו רבנן: (ויקרא י״ט) לא תנחשו ולא תעוננו ־ כגון אלו המנחשים בחולדה בעופות ובדגים.

חולין צה ע”ב: כל נחש שאינו כאליעזר עבד אברהם וכיונתן בן שאול אינו נחשִ.

רמב”ם הלכות עבודת כוכבים יא,ד: אין מנחשין כעכו״ם שנאמר לא תנחשו, כיצד הוא הנחש כגון אלו שאומרים הואיל ונפלה פתי מפי או נפל מקלי מידי איני הולך למקום פלוני היום שאם אלך אין חפציי נעשים, הואיל ועבר שועל מימיני איני יוצא מפתח ביתי היום שאם אצא יפגעני אדם רמאי, וכן אלו ששומעים צפצוף העוף ואומרים יהיה כך ולא יהיה כך, טוב לעשות דבר פלוני ורע לעשות דבר פלוני, וכן אלו שאומרים שחוט תרנגול זה שקרא ערבית, שחוט תרנגולת זו שקראה כמו תרנגול, וכן המשים סימנים לעצמו אם יארע לי כך וכך אעשה דבר פלוני ואם לא יארע לי לא אעשה, כאליעזר עבד אברהם, וכן כל כיוצא בדברים האלו הכל אסור וכל העושה מעשה מפני דבר מדברים אלו לוקה.

השגת הראב״ד וכן המשים לעצמו סימנים אם יארע לו כך וכך וכו׳. א״א זה שבוש גדול שהרי דבר זה מותר ומותר הוא ואולי הטעהו הלשון שראה כל נחש שאינו כאליעזר ויונתן אינו נחש והוא סבר שלענין איסור נאמר ולא היא אלא ה״ק אינו ראוי לסמוך ואיך חשב על צדיקים כמותם עבירה זו ואי הוו אינהו הוו מפקי פולסי דנורא לאפיה.

רמב”ם שם הלכה ה: מי שאמר דירה זו שבניתי סימן טוב היתה עלי, אשה זו שנשאתי ובהמה זו שקניתי מבורכת היתה מעת שקניתיה עשרתי, וכן השואל לתינוק אי זה פסוק אתה לומד אם אמר לו פסוק מן הברכות ישמח ויאמר זה סימן טוב כל אלו וכיוצא בהן מותר הואיל ולא כיון מעשיו ולא נמנע מלעשות אלא עשה זה סימן לעצמו לדבר שכבר היה הרי זה מותר.

ובשו”ע יו”ד קע”ט ס”ד: מותר לומר לתינוק פסוק לי פסוקיך (טור) י״א דאדם מותר לעשות לו סימן בדבר שיבא לעתיד כמו שעשה אליעזר עבד אברהם או יהונתן (טור והר״ד קמחי) ויש אוסרין (רמב״ם וסמ״ג) וההולך בתום ובוטח בה׳ חסד יסובבנו:

ולכאורה גורל הגר”א במקום שמכוין מעשיו על פיו יהיה תלוי במחלקת הרמב”ם והראב”ד.

Rav Elazar Shach heard the following story from Rav Reuven Feinstein, rav of Suvolk, R’ Moshe Feinstein’s brother, with whom he studied in Slutzk.  World War I began on Tisha B’av 5674. During the Aseres Yemei Teshuva, the advancing German army drew close to Radin and confusion reigned. No one wished to remain in a battle zone. The civilian population knew that their food and other vital supplies would be commandeered by one side or another. No one could know in whose favor the fighting would go, and being at the mercy of an enemy army was an unpleasant prospect. On the other hand, for hundreds of yeshivah students to suddenly take flight was itself fraught with danger. Transportation was in turmoil and military forces were everywhere. Nor could one know in which direction safety lay or where a Jewish community capable of harboring them might be found. Shortages of vital commodities existed everywhere, and no community would be able to accommodate a sudden mass influx of Torah students. The responsibility rested squarely on the shoulders of the roshei yeshiva. The fate of hundreds of students rested in their hands.

The critical time drew close yet no decision had been made. Finally a delegation of bochurim went to Rav Tzvi Hirsch Levinson to ask what they should do, but he was at a loss as to how to answer them. He went to confer with his father-in-law the Chofetz Chaim, but he too said that he was not sure what the plan of action should be. 

The next morning Rav Tzvi Hirsch decided that the time had come to cast the Goral HaGra to determine the proper course of action. Normally, the commandment, “You shall be complete with Hashem your G-d” (Devarim 18:13) prohibits attempts to foretell the future. But in a situation where the correct course of action is totally unclear and so much is at stake, there was little other choice.

The lot was cast and it came out on the verse, “For with my staff I crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps” (Bereishis 32:11). This seemed a clear indication that the yeshiva should split in two. Just then, the Chofetz Chaim entered Rav Tzvi Hirsch’s house and announced that he had come to a decision as to what should be done. He expressed his decision by quoting a verse from the Torah: “For with my staff I crossed this Jordan and now I have become two camps.” The bochurim were amazed at this coincidence. Rav Tzvi Hirsch informed the Chofetz Chaim that he had performed the Goral HaGra and that the result has been that very same verse from the Torah. The Chofetz Chaim was heartened when he heard about this and declared, “If so, then it is very good.” Nevertheless, since the stakes were so high and the situation so dangerous, Rav Tzvi Hirsch suggested that the Goral HaGra be performed again by the Chofetz Chaim himself. But the Chofetz Chaim demurred, telling them, “Ich vil nisht matriach zein der Eibershter tzvei mol – I don’t want to trouble the Almighty a second time.”

Source: The Rosh Yeshiva Remembers, p. 178

[There are many stories about the Goral HaGra, but I chose this one because it mentions the reason for the hesitation to use it: because of the verse תמים תהיה עם ה’ אלקיך. Actually the Rambam’s reason to forbid it is לא תנחשו. And the problem is not attempting to tell the future; the problem is acting on a sign one has set up for himself. But perhaps those who cited the posuk תמים תהיה meant that the Rema recommends following the Rambam because of תמים תהיה.

The Chida in Shiurei Bracha (Yoreh Deah 179:6) quotes the Maharikash who says that all opinions – even the Rambam – would agree that it is allowed to open the Torah randomly and follow whatever posuk comes up. His proof is from the story of Yoshiahu Hamelech, who was shocked by the discovery of a Sefer Torah in the Beis Hamikdash, and tore his garments. Chazal say that he found the sefer open to the Tochacha, with the posuk, “Hashem will lead you and your king that you will appoint over you to a nation that neither you nor your fathers ever knew…” at the top of the column.

One can argue, however, that although Yoshiahu certainly saw that verse as a prophecy, he did not make any decision based on it, other than to consult a navi and lead a mass teshuva movement – things that were correct to do in any case.

(It’s interesting that although this story – that the Sefer Hatorah was found open to the Tochacha – is quoted as a Chazal by many of the commentaries on Tanach, such as Radak, Metzudas Dovid and Malbim, it is not to be found in any extant Gemara or Midrash. The Gemara (Yuma 52b) merely says that because Yoshiahu saw the Torah’s prophecy “Hashem will lead you and your king…” he hid the Aron so that the conquering enemies shouldn’t get their hands on it. It does not say that the Torah was found open to those words.) 

The Chida goes on to bring a proof from the Yalkut on Mishlei 219: “If you want to take counsel from the Torah, take; and similarly it states of Dovid, I will speak about Your commandments.” He argues that one way of taking counsel from the Torah is to open the Torah and pick a posuk at random. However, the simple meaning is to use one’s knowledge of the Torah and apply it to life, as the Chofetz Chaim said, quoted by Reb Elchonon in Ikvesa D’meshicha: “The Torah contains advice for every situation; all is hinted in the Torah. One who has to make a difficult decision should consult the Torah, and what he finds there is Hashem’s own advice.”   

הקדוש בעל חפץ חיים זצ”ל היה רגיל לומר: יש בחיי אדם רגעים אשר הוא נאלץ להחליט בענין ידוע ואינו יודע מה להחליט, יש והענין נוגע לו עד נפש ומשאינו יודע מה לעשות, הוא בא לידי יאוש. והנה לוחש לו אחד על אזנו: הרי תוכל לשאול בעצתו של השי”ת בכבודו ובעצמו. איכה זה? ישתומם האדם. ובאמת, אמר החפץ חיים זצ”ל, נתנה אפשרות זו לכל אדם ואדם. יש לנו תורה, הכוללת תשובות על כל שאלות שבעולם. ליכא מידי דלא רמיזא באורייתא. הפתרון שמוצאים אותו בתורה, הוא עצת ה’. יש לדעת, כי מלבד המצוות והאסורים הכתובים בתורה, רשומות שם גם עצות, עצות מנוסות וכשם שהתורה נצחית היא, כך גם עצת התורה נצחית היא. לדוגמא: לעולם ישליש אדם מעותיו, שליש בקרקע, שליש בפרגמטיא ושליש בכספים (בבא מציעא מ”ב ע”א). כי במקרה שיפסיד עסק אחד והיה הנשאר לו לפליטה. זאת היא עצה מנוסה. מי שלא נהג לפי כלל זה לא בטל מצוה, אלא סרב לקבל עצה טובה. ועוד מרגלא בפומי’ של החפץ חיים: דרושות עינים מאירות לראות את הכתוב בתורה ואיפה שכתוב בה, כי הכל כתוב בה. (מאמר עיקבתא דמשיחא)

The Chida also quotes a manuscript of Rabbi Eliyahu Hakohein (d. 1729), author of Shevet Mussar, where he writes that he received a tradition from his teachers that whenever they were faced with a hard decision, they would open a Chumash or a Tanach, see what posuk comes out at the top of the page and follow what it said. Thus they took counsel with the Torah, in keeping with the Midrash in Mishlei.

In passing, we see from this that the basic concept of the “Goral HaGra” did not start with the Gra. In fact, we don’t really have any proof that the Gra taught this Goral (“Hagaon” by Dov Eliach, p. 1117).

Even though it does seem to be a machlokes in Shulchan Aruch, with the Rema recommending following the Rambam, the Biur HaGra brings a number of proofs to the Raavad and seems to rule that way. 

It seems that Reb Tzvi Hirsch Levinson and all those gedolim who used the Goral did not completely hold like the Raavad and the first opinion in Shulchan Aruch (which the Shevet Mussar evidently followed) that one may use the Goral in all situations. They reserved it for especially difficult circumstances.

It’s fascinating that in this very same story, the Chofetz Chaim followed his own method, as conveyed by Reb Elchonon, and “consulted with the Torah” not by a goral but by finding the correct advice in a posuk. In fact, according to the version of this story printed in the book “Hagaon” p. 1122, the Chofetz Chaim replied the first time too, when casting the Goral was suggested, that he did not want to trouble the Almighty.  

Nevertheless, the same book on pages 1110 and 1116 brings cases when the Chofetz Chaim did use the Goral.]

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