"Any bird that flew above his head while he was learning became singed by the kedushoh of his Torah, just as the gemora tells us of the tanna Yonoson Ben Uziel."
Thus writes the Rema zt"l in Sheilos Uteshuvos HaRema (Par.8) of the Maharshal, giving us the smallest inkling of the magnitude of his greatness.
In his introduction to his sefer Yam Shel Shlomo, the Maharshal writes:
Once, it happened to me through ner mitzvah veTorah or. It was as though I was being shown from Heaven, and the gates of light were opened for me, telling me, "Be busy with Torah and write in the sefer."
The Chidah writes on this in his sefer Shem Hagedolim. When the Maharshal was writing his sefer Yam Shel Shlomo, his candle once had burned very low and was about to be extinguished, yet a neis occurred and it continued burning for another few hours until dawn broke. Rabbeinu took this as a Heavenly sign that he should continue writing his great work.
Indeed, his sefer was embraced by Jews the world over. In reply to someone who asked about a differing opinion in the poskim to that of Rabbeinu, the Nodah Biyehudah notes that there is no question, ". . . for the Maharshal, his heart is like that of a lion and is sometimes of different opinion even to the Rishonim."
The Chasam Sofer, in his haskomoh to the sefer Tzohar Lebinyan, praises the greatness of the Maharshal and his seforim at length, quoting in reference to him the posuk that is written of Shlomo Hamelech, "And the wisdom of Shlomo was more than the wisdom of all people before."
In his sefer on maseches Bava Kama, the Maharshal writes an interesting insight to a psak. The Maharshal was of the opinion that when one celebrates a siyum masechteh with a seudas mitzvah, one should bentch with the words shehasimcha bime'ono, for surely there is no greater joy for Hakodosh Boruch Hu than the joy of Torah. However, he relates that having decided this at a siyum that he was celebrating, he then saw that the entire event was spoiled by a mehumah gedolah as a result of various circumstances.
"I decided," writes the Maharshal, "that this was due to my having contradicted the daas haposkim who did not write this chiddush."
In conclusion, Rabbeinu states that although such a meal is definitely a seudas mitzvah, the poskim say that shehasimcha bime'ono is only said at a wedding and a pidyon haben, and their psak is through their traditions and the innermost secrets of the Torah.
In the sefer hamaso'os about the journeys of the Chidah, Ma'agal Tov, he writes about the gaon Rabbi Avrohom Taib, "who was the godol hador," that the latter, together with Rabbi Tzemach Tzorfati zt"l were once sitting together on an erev Yom Kippur, deeply absorbed in a chiddush of Rabbeinu the Maharshal on Tosafos. So taken up were they with the depth of Rabbeinu's Torah that they forgot completely to eat the seuda hamafsekes, their last meal before the fast of the holy day.
HaRav Yosef Shaul Nathansohn zt"l, a grandson of Rabbeinu, relates in his haskomoh to an edition of the sefer Reishis Chochmah, that his grandfather hired a mochiach, a man who would come to his house every day and rebuke him as though he were an ordinary person. The Maharshal would stand before him, head bowed, and accept the rebuke with awe and fear.
When the sefer Reishis Chochmah first came out, the rebuker brought along a copy to rebuke Rabbeinu from this holy sefer. In his humility the Maharshal commented that until now he had not known from whence comes pure fear of Hashem.
Not many details are known of Rabbeinu's lineage. The Maharshal himself relates in his sefer Sheilos Uteshuvos Maharshal (Par 98) of his grandmother the Rabbanit Miriam who had a yeshiva. She sat in a tent covered by a curtain and from there taught chiddushei Torah to outstanding bochurim.
It is known of the father-in-law of the Maharshal, HaRav Klonimus zt"l that he was a baal mofes. On one occasion, the gentiles perpetrated a blood libel against the Jews, presenting the dead body of a Christian child as proof. The Yidden knew that in a moment the cry "death to the Jews" would go up, and they were in mortal danger. Rabbi Klonimus davened to Hashem and a miracle occurred: The boy awoke and told the police clearly who it was that had murdered him — and the Yidden were saved.
Before his histalkus, the Maharshal gave instructions as to who should be appointed as leader in his stead. He named Rabbi Avrohom, the vegetable-seller, ". . . for there is no one like him."
Naturally, Rabbeinu's words were accepted with more than consternation. Who is this "vegetable-seller" chosen by Rabbeinu as his successor?
The Chidah explains the entire story. "Under the beis medrash of the Maharshal there lived an owner of a vegetable store. In order to guard the store at night from thieves, he hired a Jew whom everyone came to know as Rabbi Avrohom mocher yerakot. R' Avrohom was a simple, humble man who spoke to no one.
One night the Maharshal overheard R' Avrohom learning a deep and difficult sugya, and being mechadesh amazing chiddushim. Subsequently, Rabbeinu sent him a profound shailoh in Shas, but the man pretended not to know what Rabbeinu wanted of him, claiming he was an am ho'oretz and did not know how to learn at all.
After much pressing and urging, R' Avrohom relented, sending a wonderful answer. But he begged the Maharshal not to reveal his secret to a soul in the world.
From then onwards, the two of them would enjoy many a pilpul in Torah. When the time came for the Maharshal to leave this world, he decided it was time for R' Avrohom to be revealed.
The astonished talmidim came to R' Avrohom with Rabbeinu's instructions, but he tried to continue his act, insisting he was a simple am ho'oretz and there must be a mistake. However when he saw that the talmidim were determined to fulfill the wishes of Rabbeinu the Maharshal, he was forced to accept the rabbonus.