In the Ghetto of Worms
It was the "night of watching".. the first Passover night in the year 1513. Silently the moon floated throughout the clear heavens, the little stars were smiling and with their soft rays greeted the old city of Worms that lay stretched out at their feet. It was a beautiful night, and peace reigned supreme.
Every Jew was seated at the Seder-table, covered with its white cloth and set with matzos, the bitter herbs, the red wine and the glowing candles. Each one was reading with touching sincerity and deep devotion the Haggadah, the history of the exodus from Egypt.
Especially beautiful were the Seder festivities in the house of Rabbi Bezalel, descendant of Rabbi Hai Gaon, scion of the house of David in the male line, and the highly revered, divinely gifted Rabbi of the community. True to the words of the Haggadah, "He who is hungry come and eat!" many poor homeless people had been invited to his table and added to the joyful spirit of the celebration.
With enthusiasm, psalms and sacred songs which have been purposefully collected for the evening were chanted. And just as the melodious litany, "And it came to pass at midnight," was intoned, groans and moans of pain were audible. The good pious wife of Rabbi Bezalel, who was about to be confined, was overtaken by birth pangs. Several persons ran quickly into the street in order to call a midwife.
At the same moment there was approaching the house of Rabbi Bezalel a man, completely wrapped in shawl, and carrying a bundle on his shoulders. Despite the nocturnal darkness of the narrow street, he strode forward with the firm step of one who was sure of his way.
Captures the Conspirators
When, however, he caught sight of the people coming out of the house of Rabbi Bezalel, he slunk quickly into a side street and took to his heels.
The night-patrol who saw the man with the bundle and those who were running from the house of Rabbi Bezalel, guessed that it was a case of a runaway thief, captured the man and brought him to the city magistrate.
There it was established that the man had the corpse of a child concealed in the bundle. He was thoroughly frightened. In order to divert the suspicion of murder from himself, he made no secret of the fact that he had been hired by several Christian citizens, whom he named, to smuggle the corpse of a Christian boy, who had died on the preceding day, into the cellar of Rabbi Bezalel. Thereupon, all the conspirators were thrown into jail. During the same night a boy was born to Rabbi Bezalel.
During the morning service on the first day of Passover, prayers of thanks were recited. Rabbi Bezalel delivered a sermon that was introduced by the words of the Haggadah:
"And it is the same promise which hath been the support of our ancestors and of us as well: for not one only hath risen up against us to annihilate us, but in every generation bath an adversary risen against us to destroy us, but the Holy One, blessed be He, delivered us out of their hands."
At the feast of the circumcision, Rabbi Bezalel said: "The child is our people's comforter. He has come into the world in order to free us from the terrible blood-lie, the most ignominious calumny which we suffer."
He was named Judah Loew and came to be known in later life as the holy Rabbi Loew, the Maharal of Prague.
(From The Golem, by Chaim Bloch)
Maharal Of Prague Prevents A Blood Libel
Only two people in the city of Prague hated the holy Rabbi Loew, the Archbishop of the city and the local priest, a meshumid, a former Jew who had converted. The priest in particular hated the Maharal, who always put him to shame for changing his religion. He swore to take revenge upon the rabbi when the opportune moment presented itself. And this moment was not long in coming.
It was the first Seder night of Passover. In the Maharal's home the table was bedecked with all the fineries of Yom Tov. The house was ablaze with candles amid the festive atmosphere of the enjoyable holiday. Seated around the table were the many children and grandchildren of the Rabbi as well as many invited guests. The Maharal sat in a snowy-white Kittel, resembling an angel.
They began the Seder. The youngest grandchild asked the four Kashes and the Haggadah was expounded and the many stories told were enjoyed by all present. Then followed a delectable meal. After the meal came the time to open the door to admit Elijah, the prophet.
Suddenly the Maharal heard a terrible cry from the doorway. No one else in the room seemed to hear it, only he. When the cry, a long piercing wailing sound, coming from the door which was opened to admit the spirit of Elijah, ended, the Maharal was startled to hear a soft voice whisper in his ear: "Arise, true shepherd of Israel, rescue your sheep who are in terrible danger. Go to your synagogue and pray for your flock!"
The Maharal was dumbfounded. It appeared as if Elijah, the prophet was trying to warn him of an impending disaster. Jumping out of his chair, the Maharal rushed out of the house to go to the synagogue. In his haste he forgot to remove the Kittel that he was wearing.
Entering the synagogue he noticed the Holy Ark slightly ajar. Approaching the ark he looked into it and saw the bottle of wine near the Sefrei Torah. The Shammas of the synagogue would usually keep the wine bottle in the ark. It was used to make Kiddush and Havdalah. Opening the bottle he saw that it contained blood in place of wine.
A Blood Libel
"A blood libel," said the Maharal to himself as his heart began to beat with fright. This wasn't the first time that the enemies of the Jews used the excuse of blood to start a massacre of all the local Jews. They would usually claim that the Jews used the blood of a Christian for their matzoh and Passover services. Finding it here in this Holy Ark would serve as evidence of the truth of their claims.
Hastily spilling out the blood he washed the bottle and refilled it with wine. Returning back to the Seder table he calmed his house-people by telling them that G-d had now set everything aright.
The following morning, the first day of Passover, all the Jews gathered in the synagogue. The prayers began as usual, the holy Rabbi Loew seated in his corner near the east wall and the cantor chanting the blessing of the holiday.
Suddenly a commotion was heard in the rear. A battalion of soldiers had encircled the synagogue and the captain of the militia, accompanied by the Archbishop and the priest, had now entered the auditorium. A deathly stillness descended upon the congregation as they watched the band of soldiers and priests walk down the aisle to approach the Maharal.
"You murderer!" shouted the Bishop. "You pray to your G-d with your lips while your hands are bloody from the murder of Christian children which you use for your services. This time we have caught you and it will be the last time that you can murder our children!"
Rabbi Loew stood calmly and in a quiet tone said: "How could you, O Bishop, prove that we use blood, when we are prohibited by our Torah from even using the blood of an animal?"
Instead of answering, the anti-Semitic priest rushed over to the Holy Ark and drew out the bottle which he triumphantly turned over to the Bishop.
"Now what do you say to this, you old murderer?" asked the Bishop, holding the bottle aloft. "This bottle contains the blood of our children."
"Why don't you taste it and see for yourself," replied the Maharal.
The Bishop handed the bottle to a soldier who tasted it and cried: "It is wine!"
If a hole could have been dug in the floor the Bishop and the priest would have crawled into it. Amidst the jeers and hoots of the congregation they left the synagogue.
The Jews of Prague, that year celebrated Passover with greater happiness than ever before, thanking G-d for rescuing them from a terrible tragedy. That year they all understood the meaning of the words - "In every generation they have attempted to destroy us but G-d, blessed be He, has always rescued us from their hands…"
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