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The Emissary: Chapter 3

“Rabi Shimon replied with these brave words: ‘My G-d’s decree is more powerful than the decree of your Caesar!’


Rabbi Shmuel continued his story, and as he spoke, everyone felt as though they were being transported back through the years, to another time and place.

The king’s soldiers galloped through the streets until they had reached the homes of the city’s elders. They delivered their message hastily, summoning the elders to the king for an emergency appointment.

“The elders were stunned. To be summoned to the king without any warning was not common. And what good could possibly come from this?  There were talks about who would represent the Jewish people at the mysterious meeting. Who could be the best emissary?

“The Jews remembered times in the past when Hashem had guided the rabbanim through terrifying meetings with gentile leaders who sought to harm them. Even in the harshest of moments, when all hope seems lost, Hashem guides those who fear Him.

“The story of an emissary for the Jewish nation that occurred many years before served as a guide for them. Chazal tell us that when Rabi Shimon ben Gamliel (the second) was summoned to the Roman governor, people thought the governor planned to destroy the great tzaddik.

“The Roman governor had R’ Shimon brought before him. The governor said, ‘How dare you defy our explicit decree, set forth by our mighty Caesar, which forbids any Jew from circumcising his son? It has been brought to my attention that after the birth of your child, you broke this important law. Are you a madman? The penalty for the actions you took are punishable by death, and nothing less. Due to my respect for you, I had you brought before me to at least give you a chance to speak up for yourself. What do you have to say?’

“Rabi Shimon replied with these brave words: ‘My G-d’s decree is more powerful than the decree of your Caesar!’

“Can you imagine the impact those words must have had on the governor and the other Romans in the room? Rabi Shimon not only admitted to his actions but was not even afraid in the slightest of the Romans, nor their ruthless Caesar.

“The governor stared at Rabi Shimon in shock, but then quickly regained his ability to talk. ‘I should have you killed right here, right now, but I am stunned, and yes, awed, by your strength and belief in your G-d. I won’t slay you where you stand, nor will my soldiers. However, you must do the following. Send your wife and baby on a journey to Rome. There, they will personally present themselves before the Caesar himself. Let the Caesar decide what shall be done to your family. I am sure you are aware, however, that he is almost certain to execute the baby immediately… ’

“There was no other option. Rabi Shimon prepared his wife for the journey into the unknown, a perilous travel that would lead her and their baby into the heart of the dark and evil Roman empire. She took their son, who would one day be the great Rabi Yehuda Hanasi, and set off under the close guard of the governor’s soldiers.

“Along the way, they stopped off at the tavern of a very wealthy and powerful Roman nobleman. Rabi Shimon’s wife noticed that the Roman noblewoman was also holding a small baby. They began to talk, and the Roman woman soon learned about the reason behind the journey her guest was taking to Rome.

“The Roman lady pulled Rabi Shimon’s wife into a private room, away from the watchful eyes of the Roman soldiers. She looked down at the tiny baby in her own arms, and then glanced over at the Jewish baby in the other woman’s arms. Then she said softly, ‘Listen… I cannot sit idly by while you travel with this baby to Rome. I know that without a doubt the Caesar will kill the baby immediately after they verify that he is circumcised. You are going to your doom, and the certain death of your newborn child. I am willing to switch babies with you… You will take my uncircumcised baby with you to the Caesar, and I will watch over your baby. When the Caesar sees that the baby is indeed uncircumcised, the governor who sent you will be chastised, and you will be set free.’

“Rabi Shimon’s wife gratefully took up the lady’s noble offer and carefully placed her holy baby in the arms of the Roman lady. The Roman lady placed her child into the arms of Rabi Shimon’s wife. The Roman baby’s name was Antoninus.

“R’ Shimon’s wife soon found herself standing before the Caesar, his expression wrathful and his eyes blazing as he sat haughtily on his throne surrounded by menacing soldiers.

“The baby was inspected, and to the Caesar’s shock, it seemed that the accusations against Rabi Shimon and his wife were unfounded! The Caesar shouted, ‘I can’t believe my governor would waste my time like this! Send this lady home!’

“Rabi Shimon’s wife fled the Caesar’s palace, later meeting up with the Roman noblewoman, who gave her back her child. The Roman lady was overjoyed that her plan had worked. She made a special and unique request of Rabi Shimon’s wife. She asked that since her son had brought about the survival of the Jewish baby, let the two children grow up to be close friends. And that is exactly what happened, with incredible and positive consequences that are discussed in many places in Chazal.

“But the Caesar had yet another surprise. His advisors told him that there was no chance the governor had made such an obvious error. Indeed, they informed the emperor, Rabi Shimon and his wife had almost certainly circumcised their son and disobeyed the Caesar’s orders. However, the advisors dutifully admitted, the G-d of the Jews is always performing the most incredible miracles for His people, and that is why the baby presented before them appeared to be somehow uncircumcised.

“The Caesar was so shaken up by this, that he decided to annul his evil decrees against bris milah completely!”

Rabbi Shimon took a deep breath before continuing. It was clear that the next part of his story contained some tragic elements.

“Bolstered by the faith of the righteous Jews of previous generations, and the miracles they merited being performed for them by Hashem, the elders of Bavel traveled with anticipation to the king…”

to be continued… 


(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 928)

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