Friday, November 12, 2010

The Great Maharsha

How is it that one of the greatest Talmudic commentators in Jewish history, the Maharsha, has a name that sounds like the name of an Indian yoga master? Maharsha is actually an acronym for the words Moraynu Harav Shmuel...” our teacher, the Rabbi Samuel Eidels (Poland 1555 - 1631).

Recognized early in life for his brilliance, Rabbi Samuel chose to dedicate his life to Torah study. After his marriage, he moved to the town of Posen to oversee the yeshiva there, established and maintained through the incredible financial generosity of his widowed mother-in-law, Eidel Lifschitz. In her honor, Rabbi Samuel became known as Rabbi Samuel Eidels. After the death of Eidel Lifschitz, when the yeshiva no longer had sufficient funds, the Maharsha served as the rabbi of Chelm, Lublin, Ticktin and Ostrog.

That the Maharsha was a brilliant scholar is best attested to by the fact that his commentary on the Talmud, called Chiddushei Halachot, is included in almost every printing of the Talmud. The initial writings were printed anonymously, but their overwhelmingly positive reception encouraged the Maharsha to continue. He also published Chiddushei Aggadot, which is a commentary on the non-legal portions of the Talmud.

The Maharsha was intimately involved in the politics of his time and was an active member of the Council of the Four Lands (link). It is interesting to note that he refrained from writing commentaries on those sections of the Talmud that his yeshiva studied while he was away at Council meetings.

Known for his humilty and generosity, it is reputed that the door of Rabbi Samuel Eidel’s home was inscribed with a quote from the Book of Job (31:32): “No sojourner spent the night outside, my door was always open to the guest.”

The Maharsha passed away on the 5th of Kislev, 5392 (1631).

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