“Tell us what you are thinking, R’ Shmuel,” said R’ Avigdor. “I see that something is going through your mind right now”
omehow, everyone made it into the shul without getting seriously injured. Stones rained against the windows, sending shattered glass flying onto the masses huddled together in fear. Shouts from outside the shul rose ever higher.
“Bar the doors!” someone screamed.
Heavy wooden beams swung down, thudding across the large doors.
Davening began in earnest, the sound of people weeping, and some thuds as a few people fainted in fright, filled the air. When davening ended, the Jews rushed home, pushing past the gentiles still gathered outside to jeer at them.
R’ Avigdor sat inside his home, his cheeks still wet from the tears he cried during the day’s tefillos. He opened a sefer Tehillim. There was a sudden knock on the door, and then it swung open.
The gabbaim of the shul came in, their faces drawn.
“It’s time that we send someone to speak to the king.”
“I agree.” R’ Avigdor nodded.
“Someone has to appeal to his senses, to awaken any token amount of compassion still left in that blackened, empty heart. See how the gentiles are already gearing up for a wild massacre? It won’t be long now before they are unleashed completely, free to pour out their hatred on every man, woman and child in their path…”
“Chas v’shalom,” R’ Avigdor murmured.
“So, who shall go?”
“What is the question?” R’ Avigdor raised his eyes, his piercing gaze as sharp as ever. “I will go. I have already visited the court of the king many times. He knows me personally, and we have had some interesting conversations in the past. Perhaps he will hear me out.”
“Actually, we have already discussed this among ourselves before we got here. A soldier from the castle gave us some inside information, in return for some money. He shared that in his mind, it would be suicide for anyone from the Jewish community to approach the king at this time. He said the king in his moment of madness is like a wild lion that tears its prey apart without mercy or second-guessing. We are afraid the rav would likely not return if he went to the king. Someone else must go instead.”
“So, someone else should be killed? What benefit is it, then, to send anyone, if the king will surely kill them without question?”
“That’s why we’ve come here tonight. We’re at a loss for what to do.”
Everyone fell silent, the candle by R’ Avigdor’s side flickering and hissing as the darkness beyond the windows thickened and crickets began to chirp.
“Nu, R’ Shmuel?” R’ Avigdor nodded to the quietest man of them all, who stood in the back of the room, looking deep in thought. R’ Shmuel had a long white beard, and his face had a special glow, just like R’ Avigdor. He was a major benefactor in the community, someone who always gave to the poor and needy and who spent every waking hour in the service of his community, looking to better the lives of his Jewish brothers and sisters.
“Tell us what you are thinking, R’ Shmuel,” said R’ Avigdor. “I see that something is going through your mind right now.”
“I’m not sure I’m the one who should speak up in front of such a prestigious group. Perhaps—”
“R’ Shmuel, your insight is always appreciated. Please, share what is on your mind.”
“Well, there is something about me and my family that no one knows. I have never shared this before, with any person… I never sought to publicize what I am about to relate, but I think that perhaps the moment to reveal my secret has come. I can no longer remain quiet, when the plight of my people reaches such a dreadful state.”
Everyone in the room was now turned to face R’ Shmuel, and they held their breaths. This was going to be a good story. The silence was thick.
“I come from a family linked directly to the house of Dovid Hamelech. Our family roots trace back to the period of the Geonim, to the family of Rav Bostanai, in Persia. The king of Persia at the time was a wicked, cruel man who was even more unpredictable and treacherous than our current ruler.
“The king was in the midst of a very tumultuous period, busy conquering foreign lands and expanding his empire, fighting incessantly to keep the enemies of the Persian empire at bay and subdue all who challenged his power. His massive armies plowed through lands, smashing apart empires and crushing the opposition beneath its heels.
“And then he decided that he needed a bit more help in his ongoing military campaigns. The soldiers were tired from fighting for so many years, and they needed more soldiers to bolster the kings’ forces and keep their war machine powerful and running as efficiently as it always had.
“Who could the king force easily to join the armed forces and march away from home, far from safety, into enemy lands, perhaps never to return? Well, he tried to choose the Jewish community, of course. He reached out to them to join his army, but not without an enticing offer. He knew there was a major incentive that would change the entire picture, and he knew the Jews would not be able to say no to his offer.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 927)
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