50. The Miracle of Tu b’Shevat (IFA 10103)
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50 The Miracle of Tu b’Shevat R E C A L L E D B Y M O S H E AT T I A S One evening, as was his custom, the king disguised himself and took a walk through the streets of the town, accompanied by his vizier. As they passed through one alley, he overheard chanting from inside one of the houses. Going closer to the building, he discovered that it was the Jews’ heder,* where the little children learned by recitation, with their teacher watching over them. The king lingered and listened to their chant, first in some foreign tongue and then translated into the vernacular. One verse in particular caught his ears: “How could one have routed a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight?”** The king was astounded by this verse and longed to know what it meant. He and the vizier entered the heder, went up to the teacher, and asked him to go over the last verse again with his pupils. The teacher complied with the stranger’s request, because his face and dress bespoke his high rank. The king discovered that his ears had heard truly. He turned to the teacher and asked: “How can one man rout a thousand? Who is the man with such strength?” The stranger’s question confused the teacher. Trying to evade an answer he replied: “Sir, you must ask that question of the chief rabbi, who will be so kind as to answer you.” The king left the heder and returned to the palace. The next day, as soon as it was light, he ordered one of his ministers to summon the chief rabbi. The chief rabbi hastened to the audience. “Honored rabbi,” began the king. “Yesterday evening I passed by your heder. The children were reciting, and I overheard them chanting the verse, ‘How could one have routed a thousand, or two put ten thousand to flight?’ Now I want to know what this means. How can one man rout a * School where children study Torah and Talmud. ** Deuteronomy 32:30. 446 thousand? Who is the man with such strength? If such a man exists, I want to meet him.” “Your Majesty,” answered the rabbi, “our holy Torah is true and everything written in it is truth. There truly are men such that one can rout a thousand and two put ten thousand to flight. They are called the B’nai Moshe;* they are all very tall, courageous, and dauntless and live in a distant land.” “If your words are true,” said the king, “let one of these men come to me. I very much want to see him. But if you fail to fulfill my request, I will have all the Jews of my kingdom put to the sword.” The rabbi seemed to sink into a trance for a moment. Then he asked the king to set a deadline for complying with his command. The king agreed: thirty-one days. The rabbi left the palace, bitter of soul and brokenhearted. When the news spread in the city, the Jews were terrified. They donned sackcloth and put ashes on their heads [and] decreed a fast for three days and three nights. They gathered in their synagogues and poured out their supplications to the Almighty, begging Him to come to their assistance and nullify the evil decree. After three days, the Jews broke their fast. Criers gave notice in all the synagogues, in the name of the chief rabbi, that any man who was willing to volunteer to journey on behalf of the community to the land of the B’nai Moshe should come and inform him. Among the worshipers was one scholar who was touched to the quick by the distress of his people. He stood up and said, “I will go.” The next day, very early in the morning, the Jew went to the chief rabbi’s house to ask for his blessing. The rabbi gave him instructions for his journey to the country of the B’nai Moshe and handed him a letter for their rabbi, in which he wrote about the evil decree and asked him to send swift relief to his flock in their great distress. Then he blessed the Jew and sent him on his way. The man left the rabbi, placed the letter inside his clothes, took provisions for the trip, mounted his donkey, and set out. Each day he rode and rode; at night, he...