Chof Vov Adar, 5777
She Surpassed Them All
Rabbi Yehuda Lowe of Prague, known as the Maharal, was born in 1512 and was the descendant of famous scholars. He could trace his lineage back to King David. Recognized as a genius from early childhood, he was engaged at the age of 10 to an equally remarkable woman named Pearl. A scholar in her own right, she was a loyal partner of her husband and epitomized the Jewish ideal of a "woman of valor."
It was customary in those times for matches to be arranged while the couple was still very young, the marriage itself taking place sometimes only years later.
And so, the Maharal, at the age of ten, was engaged to Pearl, the daughter of the wealthy and influential Shmuel Reich. She was only six at the time. According to the marriage agreement, the Maharal continued his studies, illuminating one of the outstanding yeshivot of his day. After the agreed upon years of study expired, he requested permission to continue, since his fiancee was still only fourteen.
Pearl was a girl of exceptional intellectual capacity. At the age of six she was sufficiently mature enough to appreciate the great genius of the Maharal, and she, desirous of being a worthy partner, embarked on an intensive program of study. She learned secretly all the years of their engagement, until, when he returned, the Maharal was delighted and amazed to discover the extent of her accomplishment. He returned with her permission, to his yeshiva studies, but before leaving, he prepared a syllabus for her to follow in his absence.
During the period of the Maharal's absence, financial disaster struck Shmuel Reich, leaving him impoverished. The Maharal received a letter from his future father-in-law explaining the situation and releasing him from his promise to marry Pearl. In his immediate reply, the Maharal, while expressing his sympathy, reiterated his intention to marry Pearl regardless of financial considerations, unless, she was unwilling to wait for him.
More time passed, until the year 1543 arrived, bringing with it a war in Bohemia. The Maharal returned home to his fiancee who was now supporting herself and her parents by running a food store. Pearl, who had been studying Torah during the twenty-two years of their separation, had become an extraordinarily accomplished scholar. She was now twenty-eight years old, and the Maharal thirty-two. Finally, they began their married life. To enable her husband to pursue his studies, Pearl continued to work in her store, learning Torah after her work was done.
The Bohemian war continued unabated until it reached Prague. One day, an armed soldier entered Pearl's store and demanded that she furnish him with a large amount of food which he loaded into his carriage. However, when she asked for payment, he refused, saying he had no money.
Pearl, whose very livelihood was at stake, explained to him that this store was the only source of support for her family, and he was moved by her words.
He gave her a beautiful embroidered garment as a pledge, promising to return in a few days to redeem it. If unable to come, he said, the garment would be hers to keep.