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This week, on Tuesday, February 23rd we celebrate the Smaller Purim (being this year is a leap year). So here are a few Purim Stories..... but first an introduction.

Purim as we all know, is the joyous festival celebrated each year on the 14th of Adar, commemorating the miraculous salvation of the Jewish people from Haman's plot to massacre all the Jews in a single day more than 2,300 years ago. But the Jewish calendar contains other "Purims" as well—days of celebration so called because, like the original Purim, they commemorate the salvation of Jews from their enemies. Many a Jewish community boasted such a "Purim" on its communal calendar; there were also "Purims" that were traditional within a particular family, commemorating the miraculous salvation of an ancestor. Here we bring you the story of some of these Purims, which were celebrated by their respective communities for many generations. Some of them are celebrated to this very day.

Purim Of The Curtains

You probably think I am joking, and the relationship between Purim and curtains goes no further than a Purim joke. Well, you are wrong. There was really a Purim of the Curtains, originally called “Purim Vorhang,” and like the first Purim of Shushan and the other local Purims celebrated in different countries, it commemorates the miraculous salvation of a Jewish community from the hands of their enemies.

Purim of the Curtains used to be celebrated in the middle of the winter, on the twenty-second of Tevet, two months before our regular Purim. Its story happened more than 300 years ago in the once famous large Jewish Ghetto of Prague, in Bohemia (now in the Czech Republic). As far as we know this is how it originated:

Rudolph of Wenceslav, the governor of Bohemia, was one of those who resented the rise of Jewish fortunes during the reign of Ferdinand II. He considered it a personal affront when a man like the wealthy Jacob Schmieles of the Prague Ghetto was knighted and bore the noble title of Bassevi of Truenberg. But there was little he could do to the Jews of Prague, which in those days counted more than 1,000 people, many of them rich and influential merchants and bankers. For the memory and influence of Chief Rabbi Judah Loew, famous as the “Maharal,” was still felt among Jews and non-Jews. Thus, despite all efforts, the governor was not able to provoke any riots or pogroms of major proportion. But one day in the winter of 5383 (1623) Providence really seemed to play into his hands.

Among the treasure of his palace were heavy gold brocade curtains, artfully woven by a famous medieval master weaver from Brussels. They were considered invaluable, and the governor was responsible for them to the crown. All through the spring, summer and fall, till the middle of winter, they were stored away so that the sun and dust would not harm their precious texture. December came and Chamberlain Hradek, next to Rudolph of Wenceslav the mightiest man in all of Bohemia, gave orders to have all the velvet and brocade curtains and the Persian carpet taken out of storage to prepare the palace for the festival season. Everything proceeded in proper order, for each piece of the precious ornaments and furnishings had been carefully recorded and systematically stored away. At the bottom of the list were the famous gold brocade curtains of the stateroom. As usual they had been placed in the huge iron chest in the cellar that held the most valuable articles of the palace.

The important day came when Hradek himself went down into the cellar to make sure that the servants treated the precious materials carefully. The heavy iron lid of the chest was opened and the yellow glow of the candles showed-could it be possible? -nothing but the bare brown wood of the cedar-lined iron chest. Everyone present gasped, and a cry of horror passed from the cellar through the hundreds of halls and rooms of the palace, up to the battlements of the watchtower. Soon the governor himself heard the shocking news of the missing gold curtains. He ordered an immediate investigation. No one was permitted to leave or to enter the palace. Raging like a furious lion, Rudolph of Wenceslav questioned every one of the employees, from the chamberlain down to the lowest cleaning woman-but to no avail. They all staunchly denied any knowledge of, or connection with, the theft of the precious curtains.

“If they are not back here by tonight,” roared the governor at the frightened servants who were gathered in his office, “I’ll have all of you thrown into prison.” There was no doubt in any one’s mind that he really meant it.

After a few minutes of heavy silence-interrupted only by the furious pacing of the governor from one corner of the huge office to the other, and the violent rapping of his riding-crop against his boots-the chamberlain suggested that the governor order all of the city’s pawnshops and warehouses searched by his soldiers. “If your honor permits, I’d suggest keeping a special eye on the stores and shops of the Jewish dealers. They have a liking for stolen merchandise,” Hradek added maliciously.

Rudolph of Wenceslav was highly pleased with the advice of his chamberlain, and shortly afterwards, troops of his soldiers combed every store and shop of Prague that might possibly hide the golden curtains. They sealed off the Ghetto, and without telling anyone of the object of their search they turned every house inside out, in futile search and vengeful destruction.

One troop of soldiers came also to the large house and store of Enoch Altschul, who was one of the patrician leaders of the Prague Ghetto and a scholar as well as a wealthy merchant. Without care or consideration the rough soldiers searched every closet, chest and drawer, and threw their contents all over the floor in wild disorder. Unable to find what they were looking for, they put a pistol to the breast of Enoch Altschul and threatened to shoot him if he did not reveal where he had hidden his most precious merchandise. Rather than risk his life, Enoch Altschul opened the secret vault in the back of his store. Among other precious goods stored in the plain wooden closet behind the wall covering, soldiers came upon a pile of heavy, glittering materials. With a hoarse cry of fury and satisfaction, the soldiers pounced upon the old merchant, beat him and shackled him with heavy iron chains. The story of the theft and of the search spread like wildfire and brought out every citizen into the streets of Prague. At the point of their sabers they led Enoch Altschul through the silent and shocked crowds of the ghetto, and then through the wildly shouting crowds outside the ghetto. One glance at the open chest with the brocade curtains told the story; and before his guilt had been proven Enoch Altschul was given the vilest treatment ever accorded any common thief or criminal in public. As the procession left the ghetto, the guards immediately closed the chest, for there was no telling what the wild mob would do.

Governor Rudolph of Wenceslav was still furiously pacing the floor of his office when the soldiers brought in Enoch Altschul. The sight of the recovered curtains soothed his anger, yet he was even more pleased by the sight of the patriarchal Jew led before him in heavy chains. At once he realized that here was the opportunity for which he had been waiting ever since he had been appointed to the governorship, to humiliate the Jewish merchants and courtiers, and to do some looting among the treasure of the ghetto for his own and his people’s pockets. Outwardly, Rudolph of Wenceslav kept up his rage as he shouted all kinds of vile insults at Enoch Altschul.

The old Jew faced him quietly. His inner dignity only served to increase the governor’s rage. But neither by insults nor by vicious slaps with the riding-crop was Rudolph of Wenceslav able to make the old Jew betray how he had come into possession of the precious golden curtains from the governor’s palace.

“I gave my word of honor to a most noble member of your court. Unless he himself grants me permission, I am not able to explain the presence of these curtains in my house,” Enoch replied firmly.

“You thief! You have no honor, nor does your word hold any value. You are only trying to save your hide. But never mind! We shall see whether the whip can’t make you talk.”

Torture and flogging were not able to break the will of Enoch Altschul. Towards evening he was again brought, lying on a stretcher, before the governor. “Are you now ready to tell me who gave you the curtains?” the governor shouted at the limp figure. Too weak to answer, the old merchant merely shook his head feebly.

“You have time till tomorrow morning. If you don’t talk by nine o’clock, not only will you and your family hang from the highest tree that can be found in all of Prague but my people will be given permission to storm the ghetto.”

For the first time since being seized, Enoch Altschul lost his calm. No longer was he staking only his own life on his word of honor. The horrible meaning of the governor’s threat was obvious, and it shook his determination.

All through the night he tossed back and forth on his hard bed in the dark cell of the palace dungeon, his tortured body racked by pain. His was a terrible responsibility. Desperately, Enoch Altschul implored G‑d for help and guidance. Was it more important to keep his oath to the man who had brought him the ill-fated curtains, despite the fact that he had now pretended not to notice him when he saw him carried before the governor? Or was the fate of the community too vital to be risked by his, Enoch’s, code of personal honor? Towards morning he fell into a restless sleep. Suddenly, the cell seemed illuminated. The image of his beloved teacher and friend, the sainted Rabbi Judah Loew, appeared before him and assured him that everything would turn out well in the end. Although he awoke immediately afterwards, Enoch Altschul felt deeply strengthened and encouraged by this dream. All the time until the guards came to take him before the governor, he kept on praying to G‑d for His help. As he soon was to find out, though, he had not been the only one who had been unable to sleep that night, and to whom his master had also appeared in a dream.

Rudolph of Wenceslav was impatiently rapping his riding-crop on the top of his desk when Enoch was carried into the stateroom before the fully assembled court. Despite the tortures of the previous day, the old Jew looked calm and collected. Without a word the governor signaled to have Enoch carried to the large plaza crowded with hundreds of heavily armed soldiers. About them milled a large crowd of wildly shouting people, all seemingly waiting for something to happen.

“At a signal from this window they will break into every house of the ghetto,” Rudolph of Wenceslav. Yet before Enoch had a chance to speak, Hradek, the haughty chamberlain, threw himself between the governor and the Jewish merchant. His face as white as snow, he called excitedly to the astonished Rudolph:

“Mercy, your honor, mercy, I am the guilty one! Punish me, not this noble old man who thinks he is protecting your own personal honor!”

The governor and the entire court were shocked by the confession of the chamberlain. Incredulously they listened to his tale:

“Several months ago I was in urgent need of twenty five thousand ducats which I had lost in a night of heavy gambling. I could not think of any other way to pay this debt than by taking the precious gold brocade curtains from the palace chest and pawning them to the venerable Enoch Altschul, who has helped me in many a tight spot. In order to protect myself, I wrote a note in your name, signed and sealed with your seal. In it, I had you ask for the money, and promised kind treatment for the Jews of Prague if no one found out about this transaction. At the same time, the note threatened that if Enoch betrayed the secret to any person in the world, the entire ghetto would be severely punished. Not satisfied with the note, I had Enoch swear personally by his G‑d and his honor to guard the secret as his life, for the sake of your reputation and political career.”

“When you questioned us, I advised you to have all Jewish stores and homes searched, because I knew your soldiers would recover the brocade curtains. I knew that you would not play long with the Jewish merchant in whose possession they were found, and that I could count on Enoch not to break his word of honor under any circumstances. Thus, both you and I would be helped. I almost succeeded. But during this past night I had a terrifying vision. After hours of trying vainly to quiet my guilty conscience, I fell asleep. In my dream the famous leader of the ghetto whom they called the Chief Rabbi Loew, who died several years ago, appeared to me. He was accompanied by that terrifying monster of clay, the Golem, feared by all the citizens of Prague. No one who dared to accuse an innocent Jew of a crime ever lived to escape the Golem’s crushing fingers. The voice of the old rabbi said quietly: “You had better tell the truth tomorrow!”

“Shaken by fever and fear I could hardly wait for the dawn of the morning, and for the hour when you had the Jew brought before you, to confess my guilt in public.”

As he spoke, the chamberlain’s hands were constantly fumbling with the collar of his coat at his throat, as if to free himself from someone’s clutches. After he had finished the tale of his shameful deceit, he fainted and slid to the ground before the governor and the members of the gathered court, terror written all over his lifeless face and figure.

Enoch Altschul was at once freed from his chains and the soldiers dispersed the waiting mob instead of leading it to attack the ghetto, as had been their original purpose.

In commemoration of this miraculous turn of events, Enoch Altschul asked his people to celebrate “Purim of the Curtains” every twenty-second day of Tevet, the date when this incident took place. For more than one hundred years the Altschul family, and with them the entire Jewish community of Prague, observed this celebration faithfully, and commemorated their salvation from the accusation of stealing the famous gold brocade curtains from the palace of the governor of Bohemia.

 A Purim Secret

 

 

Nissan was a wealthy man who lived in Yargin, a small town near Pressburg, the capital city of Czechoslovakia. When younger, he had been a student at the famous Pressburg Yeshiva. He and his wife were already married for many years, but still had not been blessed with children. When, finally, a son was born to him in 5583 (1823), it was no surprise, that he honored his former teacher, the world-renowned scholar known as the "Chatam Sofer" to perform the circumcision. Unfortunately, the brit had to be postponed because of the weak health of the baby. It wasn't till several weeks later that it was announced that it would take place on...Purim!

At the brit, the Chatam Sofer was glowing with "light, happiness, joy and honor." Whether it was the joy of Purim Day, happiness for his student or a combination of both, nobody knew. After completing the circumcision, when he dipped his finger in the wine to place a drop in the babys mouth (following custom), he raised his voice and called out very loudly the Talmudic expression, Nichnas yayin yatza sod--"When wine goes in, secrets come out."

The baby was given an appropriate name for a Purim brit: Baruch Mordechai, which means "blessed be Mordechai," from the paragraph recited after the Megillah readings.

The child grew. At an early age he was already outstanding in character and religious observance. However, much to the distress of his parents, his ability to understand Torah was not at a par. As a boy, he didn't seem any different than his age-mates, but after his bar-mitzvah, when he entered the famous Pressburg Yeshiva, it was noticeable that he was having major difficulties in his studies.

In truth, he was very diligent. He would sit absorbed in the holy books from morning to evening. But whenever he was asked to repeat or explain anything he was unable to respond, and could only sit silently.

His less sensitive classmates liked to make fun of him because of this. Once, when he left his place for a few minutes, they switched his volume of Talmud for one of another subject entirely, leaving it open to the same number page he had been on. When he resumed his seat, he didn't seem to notice the difference at all.

When he turned eighteen, The "Ktav Sofer" (who had replaced his recently departed father as the head of the yeshiva) advised his parents to send him to the Land of Israel. Perhaps there, where "the air of the Holy Land makes wise," his studies would prosper.

His parents decided to do it. They hoped it would also enable him to make a good match.

Baruch Mordechai arrived in Jerusalem with a letter of recommendation from Rabbi Shraga Feldheim, mashgiach (study-supervisor) at Pressburg, which said that he "is truly pious, prays with great devotion, and that his desire to learn Torah is sincere and enormous."

One of the scholarly leaders of the Jerusalem community then, Rabbi Yeshaya Bardaki, "adopted" Baruch Mordechai, concerning himself for all of his needs. He was impressed with the young mans sterling character and piousness, but he could not fathom how someone who had done nothing but study Torah diligently all his life could have retained so little.

When Baruch Mordechai reached age twenty, Rabbi Bardaki found a bride for him: a simple girl from a good family in Jerusalem who wouldn't mind that her husband was an ignoramus.

Several years after the wedding, Baruch Mordechai began to work as a water carrier. He was honest to an extreme, and as a result quickly became very popular. Every Rosh Chodesh (1st of the month), he would deliver water to his regular customers for free; he worried that over the course of the previous month water may have spilled, whereas he had charged for full buckets.

For more than forty years Baruch Mordechai toiled at his chosen profession, the whole time in joyous spirit and with gratitude to G‑d for his lot. He took special satisfaction from servicing the many Torah scholars within the walls of Jerusalem; he considered this a great merit and refused to accept payment from them. It anguished him that the great scholar, Rabbi Yehuda Leib Diskin, refused to take water from him. "I cannot allow myself to be served by the likes of Reb Baruch Mordechai," he would say—but refused to explain his words.

On Purim Day 5653 (1893), at the time of the festive meal, most of the chassidim and notables of Old City Jerusalem crowded, as every year, into the home of Rabbi Schneur Zalman Fradkin of Lublin, the celebrated author of the scholarly book, Torat Chesed. The atmosphere was exceptionally joyous, even for a Purim celebration. Everyone was constantly erupting into lively song and dance, and there was a complimentary flow of wine and wise words.

All of a sudden, Baruch Mordechai called out to the host in a loud voice from the midst of the swaying Chassidim, "Rebbe! Today is seventy years exactly since my brit."

Everyone smiled tolerantly, figuring such an outburst from the simple water carrier could only be a result of all the Purim wine he had imbibed.

"If so," responded Rabbi Shneur Zalman, "you deserve an extra-large measure of lchaim."

Immediately a large tumbler of a special strong wine was poured and passed to Baruch Mordechai, who speedily dispatched it as commanded.

It had an immediate effect. The elderly water-carrier began to sing and dance energetically.

The sage's reaction was surprising. He looked up at Baruch Mordechai and shouted over the crowd: "It would be nice if you would stop fooling around already and honor the holy assemblage with some strong words of halachah and agaddah (Torah law and lore)."

Suddenly there was silence. Everyone's gaze shifted in amused anticipation to the tipsy Baruch Mordechai as he climbed up to stand on the table and began to speak.

But then, all the grins slowly gave way to wide-eyed stares of astonishment as it penetrated their ears that the water-carrier was discoursing enthusiastically on scholarly Purim topics and peppering his words with learned citations from the Talmudic tractate Megillah and a variety of Midrashim and works of Jewish Law. And he waxed on and on! Indeed, if the strong wine hadn't finally taken its toll, it seemed that he could have continued indefinitely.

Even before the holiday was over, the news of the extraordinary scholarship of the unassuming water-carrier had spread throughout Jerusalem. The community was in an uproar. How had they allowed such an accomplished scholar to be disdained in their midst, and to labor as a mere water-carrier for so many years. And how had his erudition remained hidden for so long?

A few of the elders of the community recalled hearing of the mysterious words of the Chatam Sofar seventy years before. Now, some clever minds were saying they could finally be understood.

Nichnas yayin yatza sod--"Wine enters, secrets emerge." Yayin (wine), spelled yud-yud-nun, has a numerical value of seventy, and so does samech-vov-dalet, the word for secret!

 

Rebbe.jpgA Purim Message from The Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem M. Schneerson,
of righteous memory

Dear Friend,

On the festival of Purim, when we all listen carefully to the reading of the Megillah and ponder upon the story it tells us, let us all remember a few important details and facts about what took place in those days, at this time:

There arose then a Haman, who issued a decree to murder and destroy all Jews at a fixed date.

Queen Esther then calls upon Mordechai to gather all the Jews and fast, after which she will go and plead with the King to rescind the terrible decree.

Mordechai thereupon goes and gathers tens of thousands of Jewish children and teaches them the Torah; he teaches them the procedure of offering the Omer when the Bet Hamikdash would be rebuilt.

All the children are so enchanted by the new spirit that Mordechai has inculcated into them, that even facing the danger of death, they exclaim: We stick with Mordechai and the Torah for life or death!

In that very same day the decree becomes null and void. Haman's downfall is already assured and the Jews are saved, even though they learn of it only after a number of months.

The experience of our fathers is a lesson to us all.

Let us remember that one of the chief means of frustrating the Hamans of our time, bring about their downfall, and bring light and joy to our people is:

TO GATHER JEWISH CHILDREN AND TEACH THEM TORAH AND YIDDISHKEIT!

To tell them that the true and complete redemption really ties in our own hands, for as soon as we Jews return to G‑d in complete repentance we are redeemed immediately, by our Righteous Mashiach.

To tell them further, that our Holy Bet Hamikdash will be rebuilt soon, and we must all be worthy and prepared to serve our G‑d in the Holy Sanctuary.

On the day when the Jewish children are imbued with this spirit, and are ready to exclaim - "We remain with you, our Torah, for life or death" - on that very day our Torah assures us, all the Hamans will be defeated, and all Jews will have "light, gladness, joy, and respect," speedily in our time.

Wishing you a Happy Purim,

RABBI MENACHEM M. SCHNEERSON