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The Emissary: Chapter 1

“He has forgotten the most enjoyable pastime of his predecessors – tormenting the Jews”



he city of Prague was in an uproar. Rumors about evil decrees that the king was planning for the Jewish community spread like wildfire through the streets. The news quickly reached the ears of the rav of Prague at that time, Rabbi Avigdor Kara. Rabbi Avigdor was a very wise and talented rav, well versed in Kabbalah, a composer of piyutim who possessed great musical talent.

Rabbi Avigdor was surprised to learn of the decrees.

“The king is a drunkard,” Rabbi Avigdor said to the messenger who had brought the news. “Ever since he ascended the throne, how has he spent his time?”

“Well, from what we’ve heard, drinking, eating and, uh, sleeping. And then repeating those actions.”

“Right. Day in, and day out. And Baruch Hashem, it’s worked for the Jewish community perfectly. While the kings of old always reserved space in their evil minds to concoct plans against the Jewish people, this king has no room in is heart for anything other than worldly pleasures. He’s so preoccupied with enjoying himself, that’s he has forgotten the most enjoyable pastime of his predecessors — tormenting the Jews.”

“Nonetheless, something has changed, Rabbi Avigdor. The rumors we thought were unsubstantiated have now been authenticated. The mad king has finally lifted his eyes from his wine goblet to rest his evil gaze on our people.”

A knock at the door made both men jump.

“Who’s there?”

“Open up, in the name of the king!”

The messenger looked at Rabbi Avigdor, who nodded slowly.

The messenger walked cautiously to the door and opened it.

Three soldiers stepped into the house, their eyes darting around as their hands rested on the hilts of their swords.

“Rabbi Avidgor Kara?”

“Yes, that is I.”

“Why have you kept the king waiting?”

“What do you mean?”

“A short while ago, a letter was delivered to your home. In the letter, the king clearly stated that your community must contribute a massive sum of money to the royal treasury in return for protection from the king. The streets of Prague are not safe for any Jew without the king’s guarantee of peace, upheld by his patrols. You were supposed to acknowledge that you received the letter. Why didn’t you?”

“Well, I suppose I thought it must be a forged letter. Besides for the fact that the king has never yet oppressed my people, I could not imagine that such a lack of respect for religious leaders of Prague would be carried out.”

“Ha! Who do you think you are, Rabbi?”

“You surely know that King Václav IV himself consulted with me regarding certain matters. I though the king would have more respect for me than to drop a letter containing such outrageous demands without any prior notice!”

“The truth is…” The soldier lowered his voice. “You’re right. The king does respect you, and he has little interest in pestering your people, or anyone else for that matter. He sits in the castle and literally drinks himself into a stupor every day, leaving the affairs of the government to the whims of his advisers. But a few months ago, everything changed…”

“I can already predict what you will say next. I know some of his advisers are rabid anti-Semites and loathe the fact that the king has the ‘audacity’ to treat the Jews the same as every other citizen in the city of Prague. Because the king has been leaving important decisions to be made by his advisers, they are exerting their newfound power to influence the king to strike out against the Jewish nation.”

“I cannot lie. You are correct.”

“Then go back to the king and relay this message: The Jewish community has no money. We cannot — and he and his advisers know this well — afford to collect the outrageous, unfair and unprecedented amount of money that he is demanding from us. It is literally impossible. We could not collect that amount of money if we tried collecting from every Jew in Prague for the next several years!”

“Rabbi, there’s no arguing with the king. If you don’t pay the money, the streets will run with the blood of your people. The wild vagrants who roam the streets, only restrained by the stern glance from a passing soldier, will no longer be held back. Pay in money, Rabbi, or pay in lives.”

Rabbi Avidgor stood up to his full height, his eyes flashing.

“Our people do not have the ability to collect such a sum!”

“So be it.”

The soldier shrugged, nodded at his two comrades, and they turned and left the room.

The sound of the soldiers galloping away was heard shortly after. Rabbi Avigdor pulled the messenger close.

“Begin warning the community now. We cannot waste even one moment! Every person is obligated to give. This is extremely serious.”

The gabbaim of Prague were dispersed that week to collect daily, even going to the same homes multiple times to exhort people to give everything — absolutely everything they could. But it became clear that it was simply an impossible task. The king’s advisers knew exactly what they were doing. They had demanded a sum they knew was never going to be forthcoming. And in two days, when the deadline to pay passed, the enemies of the Jewish community, of which there were many, would surely attack.

Rabbi Avidgor ordered an immediate fast day and summoned everyone to the shul for a day of tefillah. The community was in a truly perilous situation.

As the Jews marched en masse to the shul, some of the gentile neighbors were waiting for them in the streets. Stones flew, clubs landed on backs and screams were heard throughout the neighborhoods.

It seemed that the enemies of the Jews were getting started early.

to be continued…


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 926)

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