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Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Edels (MaHarSha)

(1555 - 1631)

Rabbi Shmuel Eliezer Edels wrote one of the most incisive and keenly analytical commentaries on the Talmud, Rashi and Tosofot. A model of logic and terseness it was quickly accepted and was printed in almost all editions of the Talmud. If one grasps the MaHarSha he has understood the Tosofot. R. Shmuel also wrote an extensive commentary on the aggadot of the Talmud which reflects his wide knowledge of philosophy and Kabbalah.

From the 16th to the 18th century, Jewish autonomy reached its zenith in the Council of the Four Lands, through which the Jewish provinces were administered. The Council met twice a year at the Lublin and Yaroslav fairs. One of the greatest authorities of his day, the MaHarSha was an outstanding figure at the meetings of the Council. While away at the fairs he was absent from the Yeshiva when certain pages of the Talmud were studied. Because he could not benefit from the usual give and take when those pages were being studied, he refrained from printing his commentary on those pages. (See his remark at the end of the Seventh chapter of Shabbos and the Sixth chapter of Sanhedrin.)

For twenty years, MaHarSha directed the Yeshiva in Posen. During this time all the expenses of the Yeshiva were assumed by his mother-in-law, Edel. In appreciation of her support he adopted her name. After her death he served as rabbi in the following prominent communities: Chelm, Lublin and Ostrog. His commentary on Aggada contains numerous references to the conditions and problems of his time. It also includes his sharp critique of contemporary failings such as wealth being a prerequisite to attaining positions in the community.

In his will, R. Yonah Landsofer admonishes his sons to be sure to carefully study Tosofot with the MaHarSha, as his commentary is true and profound and “the spirit of G-d spoke through him for without the holy spirit it would have been impossible to compose such a work”.

The Hazon Ish had this to say about study of the MaHarSha: “I cannot refrain from pointing out that our generation has not done well in forsaking study of the MaHarSha which is a wonderful gift granted to train them in laboring in Torah...which converts matter to spirit and body to soul... This holy book is full of profound ideas and trains a person in correct analysis. The Goan R. Akiva Eger did not neglect any part of this work. From the day that this book was neglected the understanding of Pshat was lost and students became accustomed to facile analysis....”

On the door post of R. Shmuel’s house were inscribed the words, “No sojourner spent the night outside, my door was always open to the guest”. (Job 31:32)

Sources: Orthodox Union