The history of Reb Shlome's chiddushei Torah dates back to when he was but a child. In one of his seforim, Reishis Bikkurim, chapter 39, we find Torah novellae that were written in his youth. He points out there, that these chiddushim were written before he was bar mitzvah!
Due to his exertion in limud Torah way beyond his physical endurance, already as a young man, Rabbi Shlome became dangerously weak and ill. His worried family summoned the best doctors and after running the gamut of tests, a cure was found.
However, there was one clause upon which the doctors insisted: Under no condition could Rabbi Shlome resume his learning. In no uncertain terms, they warned the ailing man that returning to his Torah learning was detrimental. Even if he pulled out completely from his illness, his body was too weak to handle the exertion and he would endanger his life.
"According to your words," countered Rabbi Shlome sharply, "if I continue learning I will die, choliloh. What is definite, however, is that if I don't learn, I'll surely die, choliloh. If I am to die anyway, I'd rather die from learning Torah than from bitul Torah."
Reb Shlome continued learning full force and lived many more years, rising ever higher.
Rabbeinu the Chazon Ish, spoke very highly of Rabbi Shlome. He was even once heard to say, "Rabbi Shlome HaKohen was one of the ma'atikei shemuoh," an expression reserved for the greatest of our gedolim. It means that he was a primary transmitter of the mesorah.
In the introduction to his sefer, an interesting episode depicting Reb Shlome's ahavas haTorah is told:
For a long time Rabbeinu wished to buy the sefer Rabbeinu Yeruchom of one of the Rishonim (not to be confused with the mashgiach R' Yeruchom). However, it was many years before he could pay the exorbitant price that this choshuve sefer cost. Reb Shlome scraped together penny after penny until he had saved up enough to buy the sefer of his dreams. With such joy did he march home carrying it aloft, peeking into its pages from time to time already on the street, unable to wait until he was sitting at home.
One day, Reb Shlome was sitting in the beis medrash, teaching his talmidim as usual, when someone came to report to him the shocking news. Thieves had broken into Reb Shlome's house.
Jumping up, R' Shlome closed his seforim and ran home, a feeling of dread in his heart. He made his way straight to the seforim shelves, and upon seeing that Rabbeinu Yeruchom was still on the shelf, heaved a sigh of relief.
"Everything's alright," he reassured his family, "Nothing's been stolen, for I see the sefer here." Meaning that if they left the most precious article behind, they couldn't have taken much!
When the Chofetz Chaim wrote his famous sefer, Mishna Berurah, he asked for a haskomoh from Reb Shlome, who was at the time a moreh horo'oh in Vilna.
Said the Chofetz Chaim of Rabbeinu, "He is so erudite in the halochos pertaining to the avodoh in the Beis Hamikdosh and the korbonos that if Eliyohu Hanovi were to come and the Beis Hamikdosh be rebuilt in our days, Reb Shlome would be able to go out of his beis medrash in Vilna and walk straight into the Beis Hamikdosh to start doing the holy avodoh."
"More so," he would add, "not only the avodoh of the Kohen Hedyot, but even all the avodoh of the Kohen Godol. So clear is everything to Reb Shlome HaKohen."
The Sdei Chemed, in his sefer quotes Rabbeinu and attributes to him the most wondrous and honorable praises. Among other descriptions, he writes, " . . . he is mechadesh chiddushei Torah and brings out pearls in them like the Kohen Godol who enters lifnai velifnim" into the inner Holy Sanctuary.
Rabbi Shlome's nephew wrote in the introduction to one of Rabbeinu's seforim that in addition to R' Shlome's outstanding hasmodoh, he was the epitome of veSoras chesed al leshono, joining Torah and chesed together.
Often talmidei chachomim would come to him to be tested in the hope of receiving a heter horo'oh. With some, R' Shlome saw while testing their knowledge that they had not reached the required level; their learning was insufficient or they could not remember everything one has to remember. Unable to turn these people away disappointed and empty- handed, R' Shlome set aside time from his busy schedule to learn with these avreichim. Patiently he showed them a derech halimud and chazoroh until they were eligible to receive the heter horo'oh for which they had come.
Similarly, points out his nephew, although Rabbeinu had approximately three thousand (!) booklets of chiddushei Torah that he himself had written, nevertheless, when he was asked to give an approbation for a sefer, he would not make do with just a haskomoh. He would look into the sefer and work to find a he'orah that he could add in order to support the author of the sefer and raise his esteem in the eyes of the public.
As with many of our gedolim, the greater they are, the greater their humility. The elders of Vilna relate that as soon as he was old enough to say so, when Rabbeinu would enter and everyone stood up in his honor and in honor of his Torah, R' Shlome would point out that the public are rising because he was an elderly person and they were fulfilling the mitzvah of mipnei seivo tokum."
In the eulogy that is printed at the end of the sefer Binyan Shlome, a heartwarming incident is related.
A year before Rabbeinu's passing, Czar Nikolai II decided to travel with his entourage through his provinces and cities in a "meet-the-people tour."
On motzei Simchas Torah in 5665, he was to arrive in Vilna. Rabbeinu, who was already frail and old, stood for three hours waiting together with the huge crowd for the Czar's grand appearance.
As was his way, Rabbeinu did not push to be up front, but allowed others to elbow past and try to stand closer to the head of the delegation. When the Czar arrived, his eyes scanned the crowd of eager subjects waiting to receive him. His gaze fell upon Rabbeinu, a venerable figure, standing quietly dignified. He made his way to R' Shlome and accepted from him the gift that the Jews of Vilna had prepared for His Majesty — a beautiful small sefer Torah. Visibly moved, the Czar thanked R' Shlome and the Jewish community for honoring him with the gift.
Turning to continue on his way, the Czar remarked to all those present, "I'm deeply impressed by the sight of this Rabbi — his face is similar to that of an angel!"
These words coming from a gentile — the mightiest ruler of an empire — were the talk of the day among Jews and gentiles alike and even among the reformed Jews.
Rabbeinu had brought a Kiddush Hashem and a great honor to the Torah in the eyes of the greater public.
Zechuso Yogein Oleinu.