Another Purim ?

It was during the time when Alphonso V of Aragon ruled that there were in the city of Saragossa twelve handsome synagogues supported by the prosperous Jewish community, who were so well treated by the king that, whenever he visited the city of Saragossa, all the rabbis went out to honour him, each carrying, in its case, the Torah belonging to his synagogue. Several wealthy merchants objected that it was dishonour for the Torah to be carried out to flatter the vanity of a non-Jewish king, and since no reading of the Torah was involved, they pressured the rabbis to leave the Torahs in the holy arks of the synagogues on such occasions, and going out with the empty cases.

Purim-of-Siracusa1

King Alphonso V ruled over several cities where many Jewish people lived happily under his fair reign. In Saragossa, the capital city, the large Jewish com­munity took every opportunity of showing the king their loyalty and appreciation. So, whenever the king cele­brated special occasions he would parade through the Jewish quarter, the leaders of the Jewish community would go out to meet him, carrying the beautiful Sefer-Torah cases with their silver ornaments, as a special gesture in honour of the king.

All this show of honour pleased the king greatly, and all would have been well had there not been a man in the king’s court who hated the Jewish people and resented the king’s friendly feelings towards them. This man’s name was Marcus of Damascus, and he hoped to anger the king against his Jewish subjects while at the same time, gaining favor for himself.

Sephardi Torah

When by chance Marcus learned that the Jewish leaders went to meet the king carrying empty cases, he felt he had found the opportunity he was looking for, and told the king that the Jewish community disrespected him. The king was easily con­vinced by the report of Marcus that his Jewish subjects meant to mock him by carrying empty cases when they went out to greet him at his parades. When Marcus saw how angry he had made the king against the Jewish community, he quickly suggested that the king give an order to have all the Jewish people be driven out of Aragon.

Even though the king was very angry, he had not intended doing anything so drastic to the Jewish community, and he asked:

“I understand they have, a powerful G-d. Would He not punish me for hurting His people?”

“The Jewish people cannot expect mercy or consideration from their G-d. Since they live very comfortably under your reign, they have drifted away from their beliefs and practices and do not obey His commandments,” said Marcus with conviction.

“But if I banish the Jewish people from my kingdom, won’t the country suffer? After all they pay taxes and are valuable citizens.”

“The Jewish people are so scattered that you wouldn’t even notice their absence,” urged Marcus.

“But is it fair to punish all the Jewish people? What about those who are innocent of any wrongdoing?” offered the king.

“Your Majesty should know that they are all the same. They all stick together in all they do, and so they are all equally to blame for the disre­spect they have shown you. Besides, it is the heads of the community who come out to greet you in the procession, so surely there is no excuse for them,” finished Marcus, barely hiding a smile on his face, feeling sure he had won the argument.

“Look here Marcus, I am indeed very angry with the Jewish people and agree that they must be severely punished, if what you say is true. But I want to be fair to them, for they have so far always shown themselves to be loyal subjects. I’ll make a deal with you. At the next parade, when the Jewish community comes out to meet me, I’ll have you riding by my side. I give you the authority to open their holy cases and, if they are found to be empty, you may carry out your plan against them. On the other hand, if what you say is untrue, then the punishment will be turned against yourself. Are you prepared to take that chance? I do not intend to be made a fool of by anyone.

Marcus, who was quite sure that he had the right information, readily agreed. He was already picturing himself riding beside the king, sitting beside the king, and being second to the king in everything. But how true it is that “pride comes before a fall.”

The night before the royal parade, the shamash (beadle) of the main Jewish synagogue in Saragossa could not fall asleep. He was thinking about the king’s visit to the Jewish quarter, and he was worried. He tossed and turned and was weighed down by a dreadful feeling that something terrible was threatening the Jewish community. He felt an urge to run out and warn the heads of the kehilla (community), but thought that they would laugh at him, for everything was so nice and peaceful for them. Finally he fell into an uneasy sleep. He dreamt that an old, grey-bearded, stately man appeared before him, saying: “Arise! Waste no time. Danger threatens all the Jewish people in Saragossa. Hurry to the synagogue and quickly put the Torah-Scrolls inside their cases. But say not a word to anyone!”

Before the shamash had a chance to say any-thing, the vision disappeared. He quickly awoke, shivering with fright. He pulled on some clothes and ran all the way to the synagogue, stumbling in the dark. He realized that the man in his dream must be none other than Elijah the Prophet, and that his dream was no nightmare, but a serious warning which he must see to without delay.

What the shamash did not know was that he was not the only one to whom Elijah had appeared in the night. The prophet had in fact passed on the same warning to the other beadles in the city of Saragossa. They had likewise hurried to their synagogues and secretly put the Torahs inside their cases, anxiously awaiting develop

The following morning, when the sound of the trumpets was heard in the city, heralding the begin­ning of the royal parade, the heads of the Jewish community, as always, went out to greet the king. As the royal carriage stopped receive the greetings of the heads of the Jewish community, Marcus, who was sitting by the side of the king said:

“Your Majesty surely wishes to see what is inside these things that the Jewish leaders are carrying.” “As the king’s minister I order you to open the cases.”

The Jewish people were horrified at the unexpected request, for they knew that it was usual for them to bring only the empty cases, and leave the Torahs in the synagogues. What would the king say, or do? They had no choice but to obey, so with sinking hearts they opened up the cases and, to their won­derment and relief beheld the Sifrei-Torah inside, for all to see!

The king seemed quite surprised, and as for that villain Marcus, the look of expectancy and triumph disappeared from his face, which had now turned pale with fright. He tried to speak, but no words came. Instead, the king burst upon him in rage. “Traitor! Deceiver! This time you have out-smarted yourself and you shall suffer the penalty of your own vicious scheme! Have him hanged im­mediately!” the king ordered, and the scheming Marcus received the end he so richly deserved.

As for the Jewish communities of Aragon the king declared publicly that he had every confidence in their loyalty. And, as a sign of his good will towards them, he ordered that they be freed from paying taxes for the next three years.

When the Jewish leaders learned the full story of their narrow escape, their relief and joy can better be imagined than described. They all humbly thanked G-d for His benevolence towards them. They realized their dependence upon Him and resolved to serve Him with greater devotion in the future. They further decided to keep the 17th and 18th days of Sh’vat—the anniversary of their miraculous deliverance (in the year 1420)—as days of prayer and joyous thanks to Hashem, so that their children and future generations would remember the story of how they had been miraculously saved from destruction at the hands of a cruel enemy.

This, then, is the story of The “Purim” of Saragossa.

May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)

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Tell it to your children, and let your children tell it to their children, and their children to the next generation. (Joel 1:3) Please share this story with your friends, family and others and leave us a comment or two.

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