The Haredi population in the U.S. is being hit especially hard by the coronavirus. A representative of that community was sent to request that Rabbi Benjamin Eliyashiv in Jerusalem perform the mystical goral ha’Gra ceremony in order to know how to respond to the pandemic.

Performed by a series of random openings of the Bible in a specified manner, the ceremony is only used in the most dire of circumstances. The practice is attributed to Rabbi Elijah ben Solomon Zalman, an 18th century Torah scholar known as the Vilna Gaon (the genius of Vilna) or simply by the acronym ‘Gra’ though similar ceremonies are reported in classical Jewish literature to have taken place in the time of the Second Temple. 

Very few people are considered to be on a sufficient spiritual level to perform the ceremony. One of those universally accepted is Rabbi Benjamin Eliyashiv, the son of Rabbi Yosef Shalom Elyashiv, who was one of the leading rabbis of this generation until he passed away in 2012. 

Rabbi Eliyashiv told the emissary, “Because the community is so afraid, I was forced to perform the ceremony of the goral ha’Gra.

The verse produced was in the beginning of Deuteronomy.

רְאֵה נָתַתִּי לִפְנֵיכֶם אֶת־הָאָרֶץ בֹּאוּ וּרְשׁוּ אֶת־הָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר נִשְׁבַּע יְהֹוָה לַאֲבֹתֵיכֶם לְאַבְרָהָם לְיִצְחָק וּלְיַעֲקֹב לָתֵת לָהֶם וּלְזַרְעָם אַחֲרֵיהֶם׃

See, I place the land at your disposal. Go, take possession of the land that Hashem swore to your fathers, Avraham, Yitzchak, and Yaakov, to assign to them and to their heirs after them. Deuteronomy 1:8

“This shows that the safest place during the outbreak of the coronavirus is in the land of Israel,” Rabbi Eliyashiv said.”Even though there are cases here but it will end quickly.”

“This also shows that after the virus, when the Jews come to Israel, the geual (redemption) will take place.”

“There is nothing to be afraid of and people can be relaxed. Everyone should strengthen themselves in performing commandments, repenting, prayer, and being kind to their fellow man. With all this, the Messiah king will appear very soon.”

One especially powerful use of the spiritual tool was described in the book, “A Tzaddik in Our Time: The Life of Rabbi Aryeh Levin,” by Simcha Raz.

“One dramatic instance of the use of the Gra Goral was in the identification of the bodies of 12 members of the Lamed Heh (the Convoy of 35, with the Hebrew letters lamed and heh being equivalent to the numbers 30 and 5, respectively ). The 35 fighters, members of the Haganah pre-state militia, were killed in January 1948, during the War of Independence, at the foot of the Arab village of Tzurif, during their attempt to reach the Etzion Bloc of Jewish settlements, south of Jerusalem. The bodies of the fighters were mutilated by the Arab attackers who killed them, and only in 1951 were the corpses gathered. By that time, it was possible to identify only 23 of the bodies conclusively.”

“The chief rabbi of Jerusalem at the time, Tzvi Pesach Frank, ruled that the identification of the remaining bodies would be determined by the Gra lottery, and the task was assigned to the revered Jerusalem sage Rabbi Aryeh Levin.”

“The identification took place in Levin’s beit midrash, in the presence of representatives of the bereaved parents. Twelve candles were lit, the Bible was opened at random seven times and Rabbi Levin ruled that as they stood in front of the remains of each of the fallen fighters, the last verse on the page had to include the name, or an allusion to the name, of each of those whom they were trying to identify. ‘How amazed everyone was when one of the verses that first appeared was ‘The earth is the Lord’s, and the fullness thereof; the world, and they that dwell therein,’ a verse that [in Hebrew] begins with the word ‘to the Lord,’ which is abbreviated in Hebrew with the initials lamed-heh. “Moreover, to everyone’s amazement, every page spoke unequivocally. In the first verse they reached there was a specific name that clearly identified one of the fallen … One after the other … the identity of the fallen was determined.”