Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

10 Shevat 5766 - February 8, 2006 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly








The Maharsham: Daas Torah

by M. Lavi

Once, when the Chofetz Chaim was asked a very serious question which required a swift response, he said: "I can't answer it immediately, but have to delve into the sugya and clarify the halacha in depth. There is one man though, who is familiar with every aspect of the Shas, R' Sholom Mordechai Hacohen Schwadron. Only he is capable of answering such a question immediately."

Zlotchov was a typical chassidic town. Its residents, yereim and shleimim, regarded earning a livelihood as a secondary pursuit and Torah as their main one. From the early hours of the afternoon until late at night, the town's kloiz teemed with both young and old, who toiled over their Torah studies.

One of the most outstanding Zlotchovers was a man named R' Moshe Hacohen Schwadron, who had come to Zlotchov from his birthplace, Barzhen. R' Moshe's father was a silversmith by trade but, as the gedolei chassidus of his time testified, he was like one of the lamed vov tzaddikim.

Like his father, R' Moshe was also a merchant who made Torah pursuit his primary occupation and his trade a secondary one. His honesty and outstanding righteousness were well known.

It is related that R' Moshe once called one of his business contacts to a din Torah. When R' Moshe was asked to state his claim, he replied that he was actually the claimant and the merchant the plaintiff. When asked to explain, R' Moshe said, "This merchant has been purchasing a certain amount of alcohol from me for years. But recently, when I measured the container he always brings me to fill, I realized that it contains less than the original amount we agreed on. This means that for a long period of time, the merchant has been paying me more than I deserve. I have come to the beis din today, to ask the Rov how much I owe the merchant."

R' Moshe's son, R' Sholom Mordechai, was born in 5595 (1835). When Sholom Mordechai was very small his father, who was very concerned about his son's chinuch, hired a great talmid chochom to teach him. When Sholom was only three, he displayed a tremendous will to learn and to understand, and would study with his rebbe for many hours.

When he was five, he had already studied Shulchan Oruch, Orach Chaim and Yoreh Deah. This was discovered quite incidentally by one of the men who was learning in the kloiz, who angrily told him not to play with the copies of the Shulchan Oruch because they were very rare. Innocently, Sholom Mordechai replied that he wasn't playing with them, but studying. The man, who thought that the child was just trying to clear himself of the blame, suggested that Sholom Mordechai be tested on what he had learned. And in that way, the five-year-old's amazing mastery of these two parts of the Shulchan Oruch became known.

Due to his great diligence, his fame as a wonderchild became known even to the maskilim, who made every effort to ensnare their fellow Jews, especially younger people who were destined for greatness. One of them, who appeared to be truly G-d-fearing, persuaded the child that it was worthwhile to study Hebrew grammar. "This will help you understand the fine points of Rashi on the Chumash, and Chazal on the Tanach," he said. When the maskil saw that the child was nearly convinced, he brought him a Hebrew grammar book, warning him not to tell his father who belonged to a chassidic circle that disapproved of dikduk studies.

Sholom Mordechai, who was influenced by the smooth talk of the maskil took the book and hid it in his attic. On the very same erev Shabbos in which he received the book, he leafed through it.

On the following Sunday, which was a rosh chodesh, Sholom Mordechai joined his father on a visit to the tzaddik, R' Meir of Premishlan. Every rosh chodesh, R' Moshe would visit that tzaddik and give him his ma'aser money. When they went in, R' Meir sat in a darkened room on the floor, dressed in sackcloth, and covered by earth. (R' Meir had taken this hanhogoh upon himself until the release of R' Yisroel of Ruzhin from prison in Russia.)

R' Moshe asked R' Meir to bless the child who so yearned to study Torah. But a terrible shriek of pain burst from R' Meir's throat the moment he placed his hand on the child' head: "My son, al teilech bederech itom! Keep your feet away from their path. Don't listen to anyone except for your father. I know that he is an upright Jew."

R' Meir repeated this a number of times. When the two left, R' Moshe asked his son if he understood what R' Meir had meant, and then the child told him about the incident with the dikduk book. When they reached home the book was, of course, immediately destroyed.

The older Sholom Mordechai grew, the greater became his tremendous hasmodoh. His knowledge and expertise in the Shas and the poskim were amazing. Even before he was bar mitzvah, he managed to complete the entire Shas a number of times.

After his bar mitzvah, he would study for sixteen hours a day. During the first eight hours of the day, he would study four pages of gemora with poskim in depth, with all of the rishonim. During the other eight hours, he would study sixteen pages in bekius.

During those years, he began to visit the Admor Sar Shalom, the first Admor of the Belz dynasty. The Admor became very close with him, and predicted for him a glorious future in Torah.

When Sholom Mordechai was fifteen, he married the daughter of one of the neggidim of the town of Biklaman. During the wedding feast, R' Sholom suggested that the guests pose their hardest questions in all of the sugyos of the Shas to him. On this occasion, R' Sholom displayed his tremendous grasp by explaining every aspect of the sugyos presented to him.

After his marriage, R' Sholom Mordechai remained in his father-in-law's home in Biklaman. During those years, his hasmodoh grew even greater, and he would study Torah round the clock, barely taking a respite for sleep.

He resorted to an original way to overcome his natural tiredness, and would tie his payos to the ceiling with a string. Whenever his head drooped, his payos would be tugged, and his eyes would snap open.

During that period, every time he performed a mitzvah or even a daily activity, he would review the related halachos. Thus when he did nettilas yodayim or made a hamotzi, he would review all of the pertinent laws, and during the meal itself, would review the laws of bircas hamozone. On Shabbosim, he would study hilchos Shabbos and eruvin, and on every Yom Tov, the laws of the particular day. From rosh chodesh Elul until Succos, he would seclude himself for the entire day in the beis medrash, growing in his hasmodoh and prishus. During Tishrei, he would remain wrapped in tefillin and tallis the entire day. Every day in Tishrei, before dawn, he would purify his soul with very difficult ablutions, such as rolling in the snow or immersing in the icy waters of the nearby river.

Despite his adherence to all of these practices, he was still very careful not to waste a moment of his Torah study time, and, while purging himself, would review his studies by heart.

After a number of years, his father-in-law died, and R' Sholom Mordechai returned to his hometown of Zlotchov. He earned his livelihood from a store which was managed mainly by his wife. For only a very few hours during the day, R' Sholom was forced to sit in his store. But even then, he would spend his time reviewing his gemora. Later on, he told his son, R' Tzvi Hacohen that during the three years in which he spent a few brief hours in the store, he had managed to complete all four parts of the Shulchan Oruch, as well the Tur and Beis Yosef and their commentaries, four times.

R' Sholom Mordechai was very beloved by the geonim of his time, especially R' Yosef Shaul Natanson, author of Shoel uMeishiv, and R' Shlomo Kluger, who greatly esteemed him. When R' Sholom was still young, these geonim sent him their chiddushim, for his opinion.

When R' Sholom was forced to travel to Levov for medical advice regarding his wife's health, he stayed at the home of the Shoel uMeishiv. R' Yosef Shaul always asked R' Sholom Mordechai's wife to make a special effort not to charge her brilliant husband, who was destined for greatness, with the burden of earning a livelihood. He even said: "R' Sholom Mordechai is the only one who can fill my shoes after I die."

R' Shlomo Kluger, who never gave anyone semichoh, behaved out of character regarding R' Sholom Mordechai, and wrote him: "For reasons known only to me, I don't give anyone semichoh. But rom ma'alaso doesn't need my semichoh, and can issue halachic rulings like any of the famous gedolim."

Entering the Rabbonus

R' Sholom Mordechai fled all rabbinic positions. Many Polish and Galician towns asked him to preside as their rav and av beis din. But he refused their offers, and continued to earn his livelihood from the fruit of his hands.

However, in the wake of the Austro-German war in the years 5626-7 (1866-7), he lost all of his money and reached a state of abject poverty. Having no choice, he was forced to accept the offer of the heads of Patick, a city near Botchasch, to serve as their rav and av beis din.

R' Shlomo presided over all the affairs of the city with a firm hand, and all obeyed all of his rulings and decisions. He was praised and respected by all. Even the gentiles in the region respected the rav and judge of the area, and would ask him to solve all of their complicated cases.

His Reputation Spreads

In time, his great spiritual stature and kedushoh became well known. During that period, the right to export meat was acquired from the regional governor. The Jews, who wanted to control the kashrus of the shechitoh, always took care to secure this right, even at great cost. This right also brought in notable profits for the community and served as the main source of the Rov's salary. The gentiles also had to pay significant amounts so that the Jews could export only slaughtered meat.

One day, the gentiles of the area joined forces and bought the right to slaughter. The Jews didn't want to pay a fee to the gentiles and decided not to shecht at all in that region, but to import slaughtered meat from nearby Jewish towns. The regional shochet would go to the nearby towns every day in order to supervise the kashrus of the shechitoh. He was sent by the rov of the community, R' Sholom Mordechai. When the gentiles realized what the Jews were doing, they became enraged, and decided to kill the shochet and his assistants.

And so, one morning at dawn, the non-Jews converged on the Jewish quarter. The Jews of the city were seized with terror, and they locked themselves in their homes, while gentiles ransacked the area and destroyed whatever they saw. When R' Shlomo Mordechai learned that the gentiles had broken into the home of the shochet, and that he was inches away from death, he put on his coat and hat and set out to try to save him. He ignored the pleas of his wife who feared for his life, and headed for the nearby home of the shochet.

The moment the marauders saw the saintly figure of the Maharsham, they stood still. The head of the band rushed over to him, and fell at the Maharsham's feet, pleading for his life and the lives of his henchmen, who had fled. Indeed, the verse, "And all of the nations of the earth saw that G-d's Name is called upon you and they will fear you," was fulfilled through him.

Why Did He Go to the Admor of Chortkov?

In his capacity as rov of the city of Patick, R' Sholom felt obligated to visit the Admor of Chortkov, to whom the city actually belonged, he having inherited it from his father R' Yisroel of Ruzhin.

R' Yisroel was forced to buy the title to this region when he fled to Austria from his prison in Czarist Russia. The Russian Czar demanded that R' Yisroel be turned over to him. However, when they found out that, according to Austrian law, one who owns any region of the Austrian kingdom cannot be extradited to another land, R' Yisroel's chassidim and admirers collected the necessary funds and bought him the region of the Galician city of Patick, which was part of the Austro-Hungarian kingdom.

The Admor of Chortkov, who recognized the greatness of the Maharsham, determined that he would be the only posek of his chassidim, which was one of the largest groups in Galicia.

For five years R' Sholom Mordechai presided as the rov of Patick. Afterwards, he yielded to the request of leaders of Ziolitz that he officiate in their city. For seven years, R' Sholom Mordechai presided as rov of Ziolitz, and in that capacity he also revealed his greatness in Torah.

One erev Shavuos, R' Sholom Mordechai asked the commander of a troop of soldiers in the area to release the Jewish soldiers under his command to spend the holiday with the Jewish community. The commander sternly refused, claiming that on Shavuos an important operation was supposed to take place in which all of the soldiers had to participate. The Maharsham pleaded with the troop's commander to postpone the operation until after the holiday. However the commander staunchly refused. The operation had to take place on time! When the Maharsham saw that the commander was stubborn, he told him that he would one day see that there is a G-d in the world.

This entire event took place at the beginning of the summer, and there seemed no reason to assume that the mild weather would change. Preparations for the important operation were at their height. All of the top brass in the army came to observe it firsthand. Early on Shavuos, before morning, all of the soldiers assembled in order to set out on the operation. But before they had even begun to march, a raging storm broke out and heavy rain began to pour.

The commander stubbornly insisted on going to the site of the operation nonetheless. However, the wind grew so strong that a number of soldiers actually flew in the air. Having no choice, he cancelled the operation. The commander, who understood that Hashem had caused all this, told his men that the storm was the result of his refusal of the request of the saintly Jew. Immediately, all of the Jewish soldiers were released, and the top officers of the Polish army came to see the pious Jew, and to apologize to him for what had occurred.

The Rov of Barzhen

The Maharsham served for thirty years as the rav of Barzhen. The gaon R' Yitzchok Shmelkish, author of Beis Yitzchok, who preceded him, instructed his constituents to appoint the Maharsham as his successor. The Maharsham taught many students in the yeshiva which he established in Barzhen. However, even though he taught Torah with much mesirus nefesh and was totally devoted to his students, this didn't distract him from administering the city with a firm hand, as he strengthened every aspect of Torah observance.

He made many efforts to inspect the various shochtim in the city, and by various strategies always succeeded in disclosing any shochet or butcher who made light of kashrus.

His public service was outstanding and he gave strict orders to his family to inform him whenever someone came to ask him a question, and even if he was sleeping they were to awaken him immediately.

The source for this behavior is in Semochos Chapter Eight, which records a conversation between two of the Ten Holy Martyrs, Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel and Rabbi Yishmoel. "I weep that we are killed just like murderers and Shabbos desecraters," said Rabban Shimon Ben Gamliel. R' Yishmoel replied: "Perhaps you once fell asleep during a meal, and a woman came to ask a question about her taharoh and an aide said that you were asleep. Of this the Torah says, `When you are asked a question, answer [it not,] I shall kill you with the sword.' "

He was once asked a very serious question on the Seder night, and he stopped the Seder in order to study the question. After examining it for a long time, he still wasn't satisfied with his findings, and called in another dayan. Both of them sat and discussed the question until they deduced the halacha. Only then did he return to conduct the Seder.

The Source of His Greatness

The brilliance of the Maharsham stemmed not from his natural talents — which were considerable — but primarily from his devotion to Torah whose depth cannot be fathomed. His toil and endless hasmodoh raised him to the level on which he and the Torah were one. His opinion was daas Torah, and when he spoke it was as if the Torah itself were speaking.

The Maharsham derived everything from the Torah. Every problem found its solution in explicit sources. Whenever people asked him for advice, even in mundane matters which had no halachic aspects, R' Sholom Mordechai would open the Tanach which was always by his side and find the correct solution. He once said that this power did not stem from the goral, but from a special power given him from Above.

His Torah was engraved on his heart. Every secret in the never-ending sea of Torah was known to him. "People think," he would say with a smile, "that I eat balsam [a type of food which, according to the gemora helps one acquire a phenomenal memory]. However, the truth is that I fulfilled the words of our sages: `Review your gemora, and don't rely on balsam.' "

Many examples demonstrate that his remarkable mastery of the entire Torah was the result of his constant review of his studies.

Once a poritz asked one of the Jews in his region to loan him a large sum of money. The Jew, who feared that the poritz would not return the money and did not want to become involved in lawsuits with the poritz, asked another Jew to loan the poritz the money. However the other Jew felt the same way, and didn't want to loan the money either. In his attempts to persuade him, the first Jew promised the second one that he would be a guarantor for the loan, and as a result the second Jew agreed.

The poritz, of course, didn't return the loan. When the lender saw this, he sued the guarantor. But the guarantor said that he hadn't agreed to be an operative guarantor (oreiv kablan) to whom the lender could come for first recourse, but merely a passive one and that the lender should first sue the poritz. Only if the poritz refused to pay could the lender turn to the guarantor.

The lender, on the other hand, claimed that he had agreed to loan the money to the poritz only on the condition that his friend would pay the money in the event that the poritz didn't return it.

The hearing focused on the question of whether the first Jew was still an active guarantor even though he had not specified this beforehand. The Maharsham quickly came up with the following response: The gemora Pesochim 118 brings an argument which took place between the sea's ministering angel and Hashem. At the time when the waters of the Red Sea engulfed the Egyptians, the Children of Israel said, "Just as we are rising from one side, the Egyptians are rising from the other side." Hashem wanted the angel of sea to give up the dead Egyptians but he was unwilling to give up this fish food. HaKodosh Boruch Hu said that he would pay him back later and, "Kishon River will be My guarantor." Immediately the sea discharged the Egyptians to the shore, and Israel came and saw them, as it is written: "And Israel saw Egypt dead on the seashore."

The Maharsha asks: What did the ministering angel of the sea gain by the guarantee of the Kishon River? Is there such a thing as a slave who sues his master, as the gemora itself notes? He then answers: Because it is known that there is no such thing as a slave who sues his master, the passive guarantor becomes an active one."

The Maharsham continued: "The lender agreed to the terms only because the guarantor had promised to keep his pledge, and it is known that is impossible to sue the poritz in court. Therefore, even if he didn't explicitly state that he is an active guarantor, he become one."

When the Ridbaz heard the Maharsham's psak, he said: "We also know gemora and poskim, but only the Maharsham, who is unique in his time, could find this source for such a chiddush."

Another episode illustrates the brilliance of the Maharsham's rulings. A wealthy Jew who had hired a group of agricultural workers once came to the field to see their work firsthand. He arrived when the workers had just gotten up, and found them brushing their teeth with toothbrushes and toothpaste, a privilege only the very rich enjoyed during those times.

On the spot, the rich man fired his workers, saying that an academic career and not agricultural work suited them. But the workers did not go quietly, and claimed that it was forbidden to fire them before he had proven that their work was worse than that of the other farm laborers in the region. The rich man insisted that such pampered men weren't suited for agricultural work, and that the entire contract was in error.

The workers called the employer to a din Torah, which shuttled from beis din to beis din with no solution in sight. In the end, it was decided to call a massive meeting of rabbonim, where the matter would be discussed. The Maharsham was asked to head the meeting.

After all of the sides had presented their claims, the Maharsham said that he was surprised that none of the dayonim had yet found a solution to the problem — since a solution appears explicitly in the gemora. The brows of the other rabbonim at the meeting furrowed, and they strained their minds to find the gemora to which the Maharsham was referring. After a while, one of the dayonim rose and began to recite all of the sugyos in Shas which might pertain to this problem. When he finished, he unequivocally concluded that there is no such gemora.

The Maharsham though, insisted that a gemora was found in maseches Shabbos. When the other sages couldn't find any such text, the Maharsham told them that it was located in the chapter of Bameh beheimoh. But even this hint did not help. The Maharsham told them: "The gemora in Shabbos 54 says: `What is the "land of Cabul" referred to in Melochim I 9?' Rav Huna said: `It contained inhabitants who were tied up (mechubolim) with silver and gold.' Rava said to him: `If so, why it is written, "and they pleased him not" (posuk 13)? Because they were tied up with silver and gold, they pleased him not?' [That is, what is wrong if they are wealthy?] He replied, `Being wealthy and used to easy living, they could do no work.' And so, because the brushing of teeth is a sign that the workers are pampered, the owner of the field is correct."

When the Maharam of Lublin would charge his students to reach a high level of perfection in Torah knowledge, he would cite an amazing example of the Maharsham's behavior, noting that the Maharsham's phenomenal memory stemmed from his hasmodoh and his chazoroh. [The Maharam knew the Maharsham very well in Barzhen, and the Maharsham's second wife was the Maharam's grandmother.]

He relates: Toward the end of the Maharsham's life, while he was on his sickbed and in a very weak state, a number of prominent rabbonim came to visit him.

As they were waiting to enter, a question arose regarding the priestly gifts. In Yoreh Deah, siman 31, it says that it is customary to give them only in Eretz Yisroel. It was asked if it is considered pretentious (mechzei keyuharo) to give such gifts outside of Eretz Yisroel. They discussed all sides of the matter and, in their fervor, raised their voices.

The Maharsham, who heard the voices, asked the Maharam what the guests were discussing. When the Maharam told him what the debate was about, the Maharsham immediately replied that the Darkei Moshe, in the section on hilchos mezuzoh (286) explicitly wrote that there is no yuharo in this case.

The Maharam was amazed by the swiftness of the reply, and especially by the fact that the location of the Darkei Moshe was in hilchos mezuza where one would not expect a relevant passage. He feared that, due to his weakness, the Maharsham had made a mistake.

The Maharsham sensed this and asked the Maharam to bring him the Tur. He opened it to the abovementioned place, and showed him the explicit reply in Darkei Moshe, in the name of the Divrei Mordechai in the name of Maharam. The Maharam of Lublin was astounded by the Maharsham's memory.

At that point, the Maharsham told him: "Why are you so amazed by the siyata deShmaya that I have in recalling things? Look at the end of the volume. When the Maharam looked at the end of the volume, he saw this inscription in the Maharsham's handwriting: "Be'ezras Hashem on [such and such a day], I completed Tur and Shulchan Oruch, one hundred and one times."


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