Anyone who studies Gemara (Talmud) has studied the commentary of Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer HaLevi Edeles – the MaHaRSHA (Moreynu HaRav Shmuel Edeles – Our Teacher, Rabbi Samuel Edeles).
Born in Posen in the mid-sixteenth century, the MaHaRSHA’s father was a direct descendant of Rabbi Yehuda HaChasid, who authored “Sefer Chassidim” and was among the greatest sages of Kabbalah. The MaHaRSHA’s mother was a first cousin of the Maharal of Prague.
By the age of 20 Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer was heading the great Yeshiva in Posen. In his mid-forties the first part of his monumental commentary on the Talmud was published anonymously because its author shunned prestige.
In his works the MaHaRSHA particularly opposes the treatment of Aggadah as mere “legends” or parables. He insists that these narratives should be regarded as true on every level, “for their [the Talmudic sages’] knowledge was greater and deeper than ours.”
The holy Baal Shem Tov said that all writings that were written up until (and including) the writings of the MaHaRSHA were written with Ruach HaKodesh (Divine Inspiration).
Not only was the MaHaRSHA revered for his brilliance in Torah study, his humility and kind ways endeared him to the community. He was a friend to any Jew in need, and inscribed at the entrance to his home was a verse from Iyov (Job): “No stranger will lodge outside; my door opens for every guest.”
Eventually appointed as Rabbi of Ostroh, the MaHaRSHA passed away there on the 5th of Kislev 5392 (1631).
Although it was once a thriving Jewish community, only about fifty Jews are living in the Ukrainian town of Ostroh today. One of them, Mr. Gregorey Arshinov, is a city councilman who helped in the current international effort to protect the town’s large Jewish cemetery containing 14,000-16,000 graves.
To preserve the integrity of Jewish history and presence in Ostroh, desecrated gravestones were repaired and an ohel (shelter) over the approximate location of the kever (gravesite) of the Maharsha was built.
The ruins of the shul of Ostroh, slated by the Ukrainian government for demolition, was saved in this effort as well. Miraculously, on the first day of its renovation, the key to the shul was found in the rubble being cleared from the site!
– Ashira Morgenstern
5 Kislev 5777