Ever wanted to learn about the life of a Gadol HaDor in full detail? Well, now you can with the amazing new collection of articles titled “Delving Deeper”!
Standing in a dusty, cramped shop in Krakow, Poland every weekday throughout his life was Rabbi Yisrael Lazars; a Rabbi descended from King David whose position as one of five Parnes (Community Leaders) in Krakow ensured that his business of selling fabric flourished. One Friday morning in 1529, a courier hurriedly entered the house of the esteemed Rabbi Lazars. “My Lord, Master Martin Krautsfleicsh (a wealthy Austrian trader of the era) is riding towards your shop. He would take pleasure in doing business with you” said the courier. Seconds after the courier finished speaking, Master Martin Krautsfleisch arrived at the shop and promptly began negotiating a business deal involving tens of thousands of zlotys (The Polish currency) with Rabbi Lazars. Their conversation probably went somewhat like this one:
Master Martin Krautsfleisch (MMK): I would like to order fifty bolts (a bolt is a measurement that typically measures either forty or one-hundred yards long) of linen, 100 bolts of cotton, 150 bolts of silk, 200 bolts of canvas, etc.
Rabbi Yisrael Lazars (RYL): The cost of your order is 100,000 zlotys or 40,000 United States Dollars (based on the present-day exchange rate of zlotys and market cost of linen). Are you sure you would still like to purchase your order?
MMK: Of course! Only the finest, dare I say, royal suits and dresses befit my family.
RYL: Luckily, I have your entire order in stock right now. When should it be delivered to your home?
MMK: I need you to deliver the fabric today. I have a hectic schedule, you know.
RYL: I am sorry, but I cannot deliver the fabric until Sunday. Today is Erev Shabbos Kodesh, and I have the custom to cease all my work at noon. It is impossible to ride to your home and back carrying bolts of fabric by noon.
MMK: Then the deal is off! I’m sorry I ever came here! (Exits)
Rabbi Lazars was willing to obtain a significant financial loss for fear of perhaps desecrating Shabbos Kodesh. Such was the Gadlus of Rabbi Lazars, the illustrious father of the Rema, Rabbi Moshe Isserles. The holy Rema was born exactly one year after the above took place. He was most probably born in the merit of the above incident.
The Rema showed signs of ingenuity early on, even earning Semicha from Rabbi Shalom Shachna when he turned Bar Mitzvah in 1543. Rabbi Shachna had previously commented about the Rema “He is a gem that I will sharpen.” His dream had come true.
In late 1543, the Rema attended a fair with fellow Yeshiva students where many religious merchants were arguing over Halacha with their customers. The Tur had become available 300 years before, and the Rema saw the need for a new Code of Law. However, Rabbi Yosef Karo of Tzefas, Israel also saw this need and had begun compiling a Code of Law called Shulchan Aruch, the Set Table. Upon its publication in 1565, the Rema revised his work and called it HaMapah, the Tablecloth, an Ashkenazic commentary to the Shulchan Aruch. In doing so, he united both Ashkenazic and Sephardic Jewry under one Code of Law for centuries to come.
The Rema married his mentor, Rabbi Shachna’s, daughter Golda in 1549. One year later, in 1550, the Rema was appointed Chief Rabbi of Krakow, Poland. The following two stories demonstrate the immeasurable greatness of the Rema:
Approximately a week after the twenty-year-old Rema was named Chief Rabbi the bishop of the city challenged him to a debate saying “The Jews have chosen a young leader to mock me, now my priests and I will mock them.” The discussion included a conversation of philosophy. Here, the bishop thought, he would score a telling point (i.e., win the debate) over the Rema. However, the Rema matched every question asked by the bishop with a definite answer. Finally, the bishop was forced to end the debate and accepted the Rema as his equal. From then on, the two maintained a friendly relationship.
One of Poland’s King Sigismund II’s tax collectors in the times of the Rema was a non-religious Jew who had changed his name to Stefan. Stefan, a Cohen, wanted to marry a divorcee. Following Halacha, the Rema forbade the marriage and refused to marry off the couple. When the matter was brought before King Sigismund II, he commanded the Rema to marry the couple. The wedding was to take place in the marketplace. Just as the Rema was about to begin officiating the cursed wedding, the ground opened up and swallowed the couple whole. Such was the Gadlus of the Rema, he (with Hashem’s help) in the 1500’s performed a miracle that happened in Midbar Sinai in 1313 BCE or 2448 when Korach sinned. The story continues - when the bishop who persuaded King Sigismund II to listen to Stefan and not the Rema heard the news he went crazy and had to be contained in a room so he wouldn’t hurt anyone.
The Rema continued writing Sefarim and passed away on Lag BaOmer (the eighteenth of the Hebrew month Iyar) 1572. His four children and his tens of Sefarim survived him.