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7 The Sanctification of God’s Name T O L D B Y J U D A H E L A Z A R T O A B R A H A M B E N - YA A K O V Rabbi Raphael Asher Covo, author of the book Sha‘ar Asher, was one of the leading rabbis of Salonika and renowned for his erudition, acute powers of analysis, and expertise in the rabbinic literature. He was the first rabbi to officially hold the title of hakham bashi.* His tenure in this post was officially confirmed by Sultan Abd el-Majid when he visited Salonika in 1858. Rabbi Covo served in this position for twenty-seven years without a break, until his death on the Nineteenth of Tevet 5635 (December 27, 1874). He was responsible for an event that sanctified the name of Israel for all to see. This is how it came about: A certain Christian merchant from Bulgaria came to Salonika on business and lodged in one of the caravansaries** in the city. He brought with him a hundred Turkish dinars tied up in a special pouch made of small beads. He kept his gold wedding ring, with his name engraved on it, in the same pouch. Because he was staying at an inn among strangers, the merchant was afraid someone might steal his money. He looked for a safe place to store it but could not find one. In the end, he took the pouch and gave it in trust, for a few days, to the Christian patriarch of Salonika, thinking that that was the safest place in the city. A few days later, after the merchant had wound up his business dealings, he returned to the patriarch and asked for the money he had entrusted to him for safekeeping. But the patriarch denied having ever received the money: “I don’t know what you’re talking about!” he said. The merchant slapped himself on his head, wept, and begged the cleric to return his money, on which his life depended. But all his pleas were to no avail. The merchant consulted with lawyers and influential people. They all told him that since he had no documents or witnesses that he had handed over his money there was nothing they could do to help him. Then 45 * Chief rabbi. ** Inns. the merchant appealed to the Muslim kadi.* But he, too, replied that there was nothing he could do in this strange affair. Several weeks later, the merchant was walking in the Jewish quarter and bumped into one of his acquaintances, who saw that his face had lost its former cheer. He asked why he was so downcast. The merchant told him his troubles and wept softly. The friend suggested that he go tell his story to the Jews’ hakham bashi, who was very clever and would find a remedy for his affliction. He did so. That was when Rabbi Raphael Asher Covo was chief rabbi of Salonika. The Christian merchant went and told him the whole story. The rabbi questioned the merchant and decided he was telling the truth. “Come back in two weeks,” he told him. “With God’s help, I will try to recover your money.” The Christian thanked the rabbi and left. A few days later Rabbi Covo visited the Christian patriarch in his home and discussed various matters with him. In the course of the conversation , the rabbi told the patriarch, “A few days ago some common man came to see me, claiming he had left money with you for safekeeping and you were refusing to return it. I threw him out of my house, since he is certainly not telling the truth. He must have left it with someone else and thought he left it with you. How great is forgetfulness, which makes a man lose his wits.” When the patriarch heard this and saw that the rabbi was on his side he was delighted. He began to bad mouth the merchant. A few days later, the patriarch paid a return visit to Rabbi Covo. The rabbi greeted him cordially and ordered that a table of sweetmeats be set before him. In those days, the respectable citizens of Salonika used to carry a string of worry beads in their hands and play with them when they were sitting at home or walking in the streets. The patriarch owned a particularly expensive string of such beads and was fingering them there in Rabbi...


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