Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

7 Shevat 5761 - January 31, 2001 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Morenu HaRav R' Sholom Mordechai Hacohen Schwadron

In honor of his yahrtzeit 17th Shevat

R' Sholom Mordechai Hacohen was born on 27th Nisan. His father, R' Moshe zt'l made a good income from his winery but as his son testified, even while he was dealing with customers and wine dealers, he constantly learnt Torah by heart until he had finished Shas six times and had mastered all chapters of the Rambam and Tur, Shulchan Oruch and the Zohar Hakodosh.

The Maharsham's exceptional talents and incredible memory became famous when he was still very young and the Maskilim envisioned this precious soul as one of theirs. They gave him one of their grammar books on the pretense of requiring his help, hoping to ensnare him in their net. Just around that time, his father travelled with the young genius to Premishlan to the holy R' Meir'l zy"a. The latter turned to the innocent boy quoting: "Beni al teilech bederech itom, mena raglecho minesivosom -- do not read a single book before your father has censored it and given you permission to do so." In this way he was saved from the clutches of the Maskilim.

At 17 he married and spent many years with his father-in- law, R' Avrohom Yakir z"l. With the latter's passing, the years of his financial support ended and he returned to his hometown Zlotchov. Since he refused to take on rabbonus, he worked as a timber-dealer until he was thirty-two years old. His grandchild later said he had heard from his grandfather that in those two years as a worker he reviewed all the Shulchan Oruch many times over.

In 5627, during the war between Austria and Germany, he lost all he had and accepted a position as rov in Potok, near Sadigura. He later became rov in Yoslovitch, Butchotch, and then in Berzhan. Over the years he became the posek, answering over three thousand eight hundred teshuvos in halocho, which are printed in the nine volumes of Sheilos Uteshuvos Maharsham. Almost all of the seforim printed in his time bear his approbation. He was niftar on Tuesday Parshas Yisro, the 16th of Shevat


"I have reviewed the sefer haTur one hundred and one times." These words were uttered by the Maharsham himself. The fact was not known to many and would probably have remained a secret were it not for the incident that occurred during his illness.

Lying weak on his sickbed, the Maharsham caught wind of an argument in learning taking place between the two talmidim who had come to visit him. Speaking in whispers so as not to disturb the rov, the two began to argue whether nowadays one should give matnos kehuno or if it would be considered an act driven by pride (mechezi keyoharo).

From his bed the Maharsham murmured to himself that the answer can be found in Darchei Moshe, Hilchos Mezuzoh, whereupon the startled talmidim became worried that he was delirious and talking out of context, for what did their point have to do with hilchos mezuzoh?

Their discussion continued and again the Maharsham asked them if they had looked up the sefer he had told them. Attempting to explain the issue brought the same reply from the rov until one of the talmidim agreed. To their immense surprise they found a clear explanation exactly where they had been told to look. Astounded by his thorough knowledge and clarity of mind despite his weakened body, those who were present asked him, "Rabbeinu, how is it possible to remember all the tiny writing of the commentaries of the Tur?"

"Have a look at what I have written in the back cover of my own Tur," replied the rov. Opening the sefer they found inscribed in the Maharsham's handwriting, "Today I managed be'ezras Hashem to finish the Tur one hundred and one times." The above story is told by his talmid R' Meir Shapira, rov of Lublin and rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Chachmei Lublin.

Naturally his time was fully devoted to Torah learning, but his kind heart compelled him to steal just a bit of his time to go out into his yard every morning to throw seeds and crumbs to the waiting birds and fowl.

He also invested much effort on behalf of his brethren in the Austrian army, trying to acquire a few days off for the yomim tovim. Much of his precious time was sacrificed for this task, usually resulting in success.

On one occasion the Maharsham went as usual to a certain officer who this time refused to accede to his request. The Maharsham continued to plead and cajole, describing what a Jewish home would look like on Yom Tov without the head of the household -- who would make kiddush and say hamotzi, who would recount the history of the festival, who would teach the children, answer their questions and test their knowledge etc.

His entreaties fell on deaf ears; the officer obstinately refused to give in. Seeing he was getting nowhere, the Maharsham looked the officer in the eye, warning him, "In the end you will regret your wickedness," and left.

A few days later, the aforementioned sergeant was seriously injured in an accident. He immediately understood that the Maharsham's curse was the cause and sought the latter out, begging forgiveness and that he be healed. "Am I a G-d?" admonished the rov, "I want you to know you are the harbinger of your own fate. If you promise me that you'll always release the Jewish soldiers in your units for the duration of our festivals I'll forgive you and you'll recover."

The commandant humbly apologized, promised to do as he was bidden and indeed, he subsequently recovered.

For a long time, the Maharsham was confused with a problem that bothered him considerably. Being a Cohen, one of his mitzvos was bircas cohanim which automatically touches on another commandment: "Levoreich es amo Yisroel be'ahavo." He wondered how it is possible to love every Yid, for even Dovid Hamelech says that evildoers are his enemies. Yet the Zohar Hakodosh expressly points out that one who does not love all Yisroel should refrain from saying bircas cohanim!?

The words of R' Schmelke of Nikolsburg that he came across one day, put him at ease. The Rebbe writes that since we are commanded to love every Jew, at least the few good deeds and worthy character traits of a rosho can be loved, for surely even a rosho has something good about him. The idea pleased him and from then onwards he went up to bircas cohanim with a pacified conscience and heart full of love for every Yid.

When the Maharsham was very close to death, the doctor suggested that he be given strong wine to intoxicate him slightly, alleviating his pain. The Maharsham refused to drink, explaining, "A person who has drunk wine is forbidden to pasken halochos for his thinking may not be totally clear; since I am reaching the end of my days I am preparing my drosho to present before the heavenly court--how can I drink now, confusing my train of thought? I prefer to suffer physical pain and have a lucid mind to prepare a fitting drosho."

And so, still steeped in Torah learning as he had been all his life, he passed away.


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