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One often encounters statements quoted from Rabbinical personalities or written in Seforim that they should have no apparent way of knowing. Thousands of examples could likely be given if one were to compile such a list, but one that I remember clearly having caused me to ask this question was hearing in the name of Rabbi Meir of Rottenberg that one who dies to sanctify Hashem's Name doesn't feel pain. Who told him so, and why he, not anyone else? We don't have prophets, and when looking at some of these statements, they are far more than inspired guidance or the like - they are concise detailed knowledge about things that humans generally have no knowledge aside from through direct prophecy. The only conceivable answer I can think of is that it comes via tradition (i.e., it was passed down from teacher to student until reaching that particular Rabbi who made a it more public).

Does anyone have a better explanation for this phenomenon?

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The Rebbe Reshab writes in the name of the Alter Rebbe that all authors until the T"Z and Shach (them included) wrote their works with Ruach Hakodesh (holy spirit).*

As I have quoted (see there for more details about רוח הקודש and a different גירסא of the statement) all Rishonim have Ruach Hakodesh, including Rabbi Meir of Rottenberg; therefore, they know things that are hidden to most people.

I recommend reading ספורי צדיקים in order to see and feel the idea of Ruach Hakodesh more clearly.

See מסכת ברכות דף ה ע"א and תלמוד ירושלמי מסכת פאה פרק ב:ד ועוד מקומות which show that the words of the Rishonim are תורה that was said to Moshe on Sinai. Also, see Shab. 112b "If the rishonim were as angels, we are as men, and if the rishonim were as men, we are as donkeys." (rishonim as in earlier generations not Rishonim with a capital "R')

*[It is understood that even people after their time could have ruach hakodesh, but it is not a must.]

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