“’If you agree to join my men in battle and fight side by side with us, I will allow you to return to the land of your people and rebuild your Temple'
“The elders of the Jewish community stood before the king. He was a savage-looking man, with eyes as black as the night. He peered down at them from his throne, his face flushed with haughtiness and scorn. When he spoke, it was clear that he was trying to speak nicely, but also obvious from the gleam in his eyes that his message did not match the softer tone of his voice.
“’Dear Jews — brothers! Indeed, you are truly a great part of what makes my empire so unique, so powerful, and so beautiful. How many years have you been allowed to flourish in our land? Who bothers you here? You build more and more houses of prayer, academies for studying your holy books, and we allow it all… for the most part. But even the most privileged citizens must ask themselves, when their country is in dire need of help, how they can contribute toward keeping the peace of their empire. And you Jews should be asking that same question.
“’I am gracious toward your community and do not bother you. And what do I ask in return? Only for your loyalty. Do I have it?'
“And the Jews of course replied that the king did indeed have their undivided loyalty. Whatever he wanted to hear, they made sure to say. They knew they were dealing with a wild beast, a man who could turn from civility to brutality in the blink of an eye.
“’If I truly do have your loyalty, then you should know I require your assistance at this time. My armies are busy fighting other neighboring empires, and we are overwhelmed. Our bravery and skill are unmatched, but the number of dead and wounded soldiers rises every day as we stretch our military to its limits. We need men capable of donning armor, holding a sword in hand, and venturing into the thick of battle with us. Can we count on you? Can you be there for us, just as I have ensured your peace until now?’
“What were the Jews to answer, after all? Could they say no? Who knew what the mad king would do? So they began to hem and haw, giving this excuse and another as to why their men were not fit for battle and so on. But the king was ready for their excuses. He was a crazy man, but not dimwitted.
“’I know, I know… I am asking for something very great. You are scholars, not warriors, after all. Though I know the Jewish people can be the most courageous soldiers of all, if they are motivated to be. The world has witnessed your heroism throughout history, whenever you deemed it fit to take weapon in hand and go out against your enemies. No matter how powerful the foe, the Jewish fighter will slay him, if he so feels it is the right thing to do. Your religious zeal is unmatched, and on the battlefield the enemy that takes up a sword against you is to be pitied, indeed… So, how about we make a special deal, eh?’
“The king paused, the gleam in his black eyes shining brighter than ever.
“’If you agree to join my men in battle and fight side by side with us, I will allow you to return to the land of your people and rebuild your temple.’
“The elders gasped. They could not help it. Here was a king who could back up the wild, but incredible, offer he was making. They knew that it was theoretically possible. If the king actually focused his military might squarely on helping the Jews retake Eretz Yisrael, they could actually return to the holiest place on earth and leave the accursed exile.
“‘I see that my offer has you thinking seriously about joining me. Do not be mistaken; I am making a completely sincere offer. If you accept, and actually help me conquer and subdue my enemies, I will absolutely keep my side of the agreement and allow you to return to the land of your dreams. Think about it. Clearly your G-d is presenting you with the opportunity of your dreams, the chance to fulfill the greatest aspiration of every Jew. You must answer me now, however. Will you join me? Or will you turn down my generous offer and scorn a golden opportunity in your people’s history? What say you?’
“The elders agreed.
“It did not take long for the Jews to assemble every man capable of fighting throughout the land. They marched together, weapons and armor in hand, to present themselves before the king. It was a sight to behold. Families tearfully bid their brave men farewell, unsure if they would ever see them again. But they knew their husbands and sons were not fighting for personal honor, fame or glory. They were certainly not fighting to help the king fulfill his wish of conquering his enemies. What they were fighting for was the chance to help their nation leave the long and bitter exile and return at last to Eretz Yisrael.
“The Jewish fighting force was introduced into the army and they soon were marching into the thick of fierce battles, the Shema on their lips and their hearts and minds focused on the One Above who could protect them and grant them success.
“And success did indeed come swiftly. The king was delighted to discover that his Jewish fighters were fierce and brave, and fighting with more valor than his own soldiers. With the help of the Jewish battalion, the king’s enemies began to fall before him. It was the greatest decision of his rule… but would he fulfill his side of the bargain?
“As the fighting began to wind down, and the king’s military conquests came to an end, the Jews waited anxiously to see what would happen next.”
to be continued…
(Originally featured in Mishpacha Jr., Issue 929)
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