Rav Shalom Mordechai Hacohen Schwadron was born in 1835 (5595) and passed away in Berzhan in 1911 (5671). He was among the greatest and most renowned figures of his era. He was known in all the Jewish communities of the world by his numerous works: Da’at HaTorah on the Shulchan Aruch sections of Orah Haim and Yoreh Deah, nine volumes of responsum, Mishpat Shalom on the laws of neighboring, Gilui Da’at on the laws of Shechita and unclean animals, and Techelet Mordechai on the Torah.
The Maharsham was the Rav of the towns of Potok, Jolti, Yoslovitch, and Butchotch, but his renown came primarily from his activities in his last position, in Berzhan, where he stayed for more than 30 years as Rav and director of two flourishing yeshivas that he had established there, Da’at Torah and Tushiah.
The Maharsham was among the greatest authorities of his generation. In the nine volumes of his responsum, one finds more than 3,700 entries, notable for their judicious insight, their impeccable order, the clarity of their exposition, the precision of each detail, and above all by an extraordinary encyclopedic scope.
In his Halachic responses, he also brings precise proofs taken from Biblical passages, Midrashim, and other sources. In one question on the laws of Shechita, he brings an argument from an explanation of Rashi on, of all places, the Book of Job!
This phenomenal scholarship aroused utter astonishment from all the greats of the world. The Ridbaz (the Rav of Slotsk) perfectly expressed this admiration in saying, “We also know how to respond when asked a question, but to find in every question the essential issue and the analogous example that brilliantly clarifies the point in question, the Rav of Berzhan does so to perfection and with great originality, and in this he is unique.”
His extraordinary greatness in Torah is well illustrated by the following example. Rabbi Meir of Lublin recounted that in the Maharsham’s old age, when he was already sick and no longer left his home, several of the town’s important Talmidei Chachamim assembled by the door of his house. There, they began a discussion of Halachah among themselves. The noise of their conversation reached all the way to the Maharsham’s room, and so he called Rabbi Meir, who was a member of his family, and asked him what Halachah they were speaking about outside. Rabbi Meir responded, “A Halachah on the parts reserved for the Kohanim.” The Maharsham straight away replied, “This is specifically dealt with in Darchei Moshe, on the Halachot for a Mezuzah, chapter [such and such], paragraph [such and such].” He asked that the Tur be brought to him, and he immediately pointed out the place where the subject was found.
To Rabbi Meir’s astonishment, the Maharsham showed him what he himself had written in the margin of the Tur: “Today, on [such and such a date], I have completed the Tur for the hundredth and first time.” The Maharsham added, “The person who studies one hundred and one times, it is not surprising that he remembers a particular section of Darchei Moshe.”
The greatness and holiness of the Maharsham were also demonstrated during his final hours, at a time when one of the members of his household spoke to him, offering a bit of wine to strengthen him. The Maharsham replied, “It is an explicit Halachah that a man who had drunk wine cannot teach, and I am now preparing the first discourse that I shall have to give before the Heavenly Court.”