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Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi - A Wandering Giant Among Giants

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Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi - A Wandering Giant Among Giants
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"When I was a child I heard from our elders, who would effusively praise and speak about the great qualities and exemplary character of (Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi). He was a K'Mat a Yochid B'Doro and all the great Gaonim of his generation would send halachic shailos to him." So said the Pnei Yehoshua about Rav Eliezer Ashkenazi. To put things in perspective, the great gaonim of his generation included Rav Yosef Karo, the Rema, the Maharshal, with all of whom he had halachic correspondence, as well as the Radvaz and the Shita Mikubetzes.

He was born in 1513 although it is not clear where. Some say Turkey while others say he was born in Italy. He was a grandson from his mother's side, of the great Italian Posek the Maharik. He studied under Rav Yosef Taitatzak a refugee from the Spanish inquisition, who headed a legendary Yeshiva in Salonica, which produced some of the generation's leading Poskim.

Rav Eliezer was known to learn 18 hours straight giving little time to tend to his physical needs. Rav Eliyahu DiVidash the author of the Reishis Chochma and Talmid of Rav Moshe Kordevero at that time, testified that Rav Eliezer did not sleep in a bed during the week, for forty years. His talmidim included the Maharshdam, the Alshich HaKadosh, Rav Shlomo Alkabetz (author of Licha Dodi and brother in law of Rav Moshe Kordevero), and Rav Yitzchok Adribi.

Through Galus after Galus, Rav Eliezer's life led him to all parts of Europe. After learning in Salonica, he became Rov in Mitzrayim and held that position with great honor accorded to him by the king, for 23 years from 1523-1561. He was forced to flee after he was slandered to the king by a jealous minister. The Chasam Sofer retold the details of this story and the Shiniveh Rebbe told a fantastic tale of his escape from Mitzrayim during Leil HaSeder.

He took a position as Rov in Cyprus after arriving in total poverty. When war broke out between the Ottoman and the Venitian Empires over Cyprus, he fled to Venice where his daughter was then living. His life their continued its upheaval as he was forced to leave after a Machlokes with Rav Shmuel Yehuda Katzenelbogen over a Get. He then moved to another city in Italy. Finally in 1578 he headed towards Poland. He spent a number of years in Prague, where left a major impact before becoming Rov of Pozen in Poland, which was then a great metropolis of Torah. After Pozen he became Rov in Cracow for the last two years of his life.

His sefer Maasei Hashem, is one of the classic peirushim on Chumash. He focuses on the explaining the historical stories that occur in the Torah. He brings the great Rishonim including the Ramban and often argues with them. He completed this sefer in Pozen after his years of turbulence and upheaval.

He was niftar on 22 Kislev 5346/1585. Yehi Zichro Boruch!

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