This week’s Torah portion, Vayera, describes the dire consequences for the cities of Sodom and Gomorrah when their burghers attempt to bar the entrance of two angels disguised as paupers. We find all too much resonance from this passage in our broken world today.
Those of us who hope to heed its warnings may be encouraged to know that the Vilna Gaon (1720-1797) also took this particular passage to heart, as the following story about that great master of Torah attests. The Gaon, who was famous for his single-minded devotion to study, did not care to spend his time consulting with the lay leaders of the Vilna community — and when he was compelled to, the results could be unpredictable.
The story alludes to the Council of Four Lands (“HaVa’ad Arba’ Aratzos”), the central body of Jewish authority in the Polish-Lithuanian Commonwealth during most of the Gaon’s life.