Maharsha, real name Shmuel Eidels, was a well-known Talmudist from Poland in the 16th/17th centuries. While a later commentator than Rabbeinu Chananel and Meir Abulafia, he contributed much to the discussion on the major texts of Gemara dedicated to the Lamed Vavnickim.


Our texts seem to agree that there are 36 individuals who experience the full radiance of God and potentially more righteous people in the world although to a lesser degree than the 36. Maharsha adds that only one person was able to fully see the radiance of the Schechinah and that was Moses. Of course, Maharsha was not the first to suggest that their might have been a higher level than then a Lamed Vavnick. Meir Abulafia believed that the prophets were greater as well. But Maharsha proposes in his commentary on the Talmud in Chullin 92a, that he believed there to be forty-five, rather than thirty-six righteous for whom the world is sustained. The Gemara reads:

Said R. Johanan in the name of R. Simeon b. Jehozadak: The word ‘Kirah’ must mean ‘buying’, for so it is written: In my grave which I bought [karithi] for me. ‘For fifteen’: that is the fifteenth day of Nisan when Israel was redeemed out of Egypt. ‘Pieces of silver’: these are the righteous, for so it is written: He has taken the bag of silver with him. ‘And a homer of barley and a half-homer of barley:’ these are the forty-five righteous men on account of whom the world continues to exist. But I know not whether thirty of them are here [in Babylon] and fifteen in the land of Israel, or thirty in the land of Israel and fifteen here [in Babylon]; but when the verse says. And I took the thirty pieces of silver and cast them into the treasury, in the house of the Lord, I know that thirty [righteous men] are in the land of Israel and fifteen here. Said Abaye: Most of them are to be found in the synagogue under the side chamber.
This text seems to imply that there could be more than our initial 36, although it later in the same piece of Gemara it states “Said Rav Judah: These are the thirty righteous men among the nations of the world by whose virtue the nations of the world continue to exist.” The Soncino Press commentary states that the Gemara is implying that there no less that fifteen of the righteous living in Palestine at the time. The numbers 45 and 30, easily divisible by 15, our round numbers for some commentators to work with knowing that the 36 lived in two distinct places.

Earlier in Chullin 92a we learned:

And in the vine were three branches. R. Hiyya b. Abba said in the name of Rav: These are the three men of excellence that come forth in Israel in every generation; sometimes two are here [in Babylon] and one is in the land of Israel, and sometimes two are in the land of Israel and one is here. And the Rabbis set their eyes upon Rabbana Ukba and Rabbana Nehemiah, the sons of Rav’s daughter. Raba said: These are the three princes of the nations who plead in Israel’s favor in every generation.
This passage paired with the earlier one seems to confirm that there two places that the righteous live; Israel and everywhere else. The numbers used in a variety of places is ensure that the readers know that there had to be a critical mass of Lamed Vavnickim in Israel, most likely 15 (minimum) of the 36 in Israel.
The final text informs us of more known Lamed Vavnickim, Rabbana Ukba and Rabbana Nehemiah, and presumably Rav, were a part of righteous and known to at least the rabbis. Until now we had only learned of R’ Simeon bar Yochai and Elazar ben Simeon as known Lamed Vavnickim, now we have added anywhere from 2-4 new Lamed Vavnickim noted in the Talmud.