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The Miracle of Prague

The great Rabbi Yechezkel Landau, author of Nodah B'Yehudah, left the famous beis midrash of the city of Brodi and moved on to become the rabbi of the great city of Prague. There he became famous as one of the greatest scholars of his time, to whom rabbis and laymen from all over Europe turned in times of need to find solutions to their problems.

Blessed with a keen mind and an encyclopedic knowledge of Torah, Rabbi Yechezkel was able to provide answers to all who needed them. In addition to his scholarship, however, he also possessed a heart of gold and a compassionate soul ready to aid any and all who were in need. In fact, it was this trait of his that brought about the redemption of the Jews of Prague from a terrible danger that might otherwise have wiped them all out.

Here is the story of the miracle of Prague.

The Poor Boy

One night, Rabbi Yechezkel was returning home from the synagogue following the evening prayers when he saw a young non-Jewish boy, dressed in ragged clothing with tears streaming down his face, wandering about the streets. On his shoulders he carried empty baskets and was the picture of misery and despair. Rabbi Yechezkel's heart went out to the boy and he went over to him.

"Tell me, little boy, what are you doing walking about the streets of the Jewish quarter and why are you crying?"

The boy looked at the rabbi and he burst into a torrent of tears. Finally, he explained, "My mother died last year and my father, who is a baker, has remarried. My stepmother is a cruel and heartless woman who makes me get up every morning at dawn, loads me down with baskets of bread and commands me to sell every single one.

"Woe is to me if I should fail to sell every one. She beats and whips me and makes me go to bed without food. Now I am afraid to go home."

Rabbi Yechezkel Is Moved

Rabbi Yechezkel looked at the poor boy and asked, "Why? What happened today? You appear to have sold all your bread. Why should you be afraid to go home?"

"Today, something terrible happened to me," the boy answered. "It is true that I was able to sell all my bread, but as the sun set and I started to go home I reached into my pocket and saw that the money was gone. There were 30 gold coins and I either lost them or they were stolen from me. If I should go home with neither the bread nor the money, my stepmother will beat me within an inch of my life! All evening I have wandered about frantically and I am hunerv and cold and afraid."

And with this, the tears once again began to flow from the little boy's eyes. Rabbi Yechezkel was deeply moved and said, "Do not worry. First come to my house and have something to eat and then we will figure out some solution."

The rabbi and the little gentile boy went home and there Rabbi Yechezkel ordered that supper be given the starving waif. The boy ate and drank, and life returned to his shivering little body. Then Rabbi Yechezkel took out 30 gold coins from his pocket and gave them to the lad.

"Here are 30 gold coins. Take them home to your stepmother and do not worry. Now she will not hit you."

The boy's face lit up with a smile of joy and thanking the rabbi he ran home as quickly as his little feet would take him.

Passover Night

The years passed, and Rabbi Yechezkel all but forgot the incident. He grew older and the problems of the Jewish community of Prague, which he led, weighted heavily on his frail shoulders. One Passover, on the eve of the seventh day, the rest of the household was asleep but Rabbi Yechezkel sat in his study learning Torah.

The night was quiet and peaceful when Rabbi Yechezkel heard footsteps coming down the street. They stopped in front of his house and then there was a soft knock on the door.

"Come in," the rabbi called out.

The door slowly opened and there stood a young gentile. Rabbi Yechezkel looked at him, wondering what he was doing here at that hour of the night.

"Good evening, rabbi," the young man said. "I am sure that you do not remember me for it has been many years since I was last here."

Rabbi Yechezkel looked at him, trying to remember where he had seen him.

"I am the little boy you once helped when I had lost 30 gold coins and was hungry and frightened. I never forgot the kindness you did to a strange boy and I resolved to pay you back if I could. That time has come.

"Listen, rabbi, the Jews of Prague are in great danger, and I will try to help you."

The rabbi trembled when he heard these words. "What do you mean?" he asked.

The Danger

"Listen carefully," said the young man. "Last night the bakers of the Prague guild gathered in my father's home and, at the instigation of my wicked stepmother, they made plans to kill the Jews of Prague.

"They know that on the night when Passover ends the Jews all buy leavened bread from non-Jewish bakers since all Jewish bakeries are still closed. The have decided to put poison into the bread that the Jews will buy and in this way kill all the Jews in one night.

"I have told you this to repay you for the kindness you showed to me. You must think up some way to save your people, but I beg of you to let no one know that it was I who told you."

A terrible chill penetrated the gaon and he thanked the young man from the bottom of his heart. After he left, Rabbi Yechezkel sat deep in thought, trying to find a plan that would both save the Jews and bring the culprits to justice. The great trouble was that there was so little time!

Rabbi Yechezkel sat and thought and suddenly a plan formed in his mind.

On the eighth and last day of Passover an order was given to close all the synagogues in Prague and it was announced that Rabbi Yechezkel, the chief rabbi, would speak in the main synagogue right after the morning service, concerning a very important topic. All the Jews gathered at the synagogue to hear the important speech.

Rabbi Yechezkel then rose and said, "My friends, unfortunately, as the generations pass, the Torah becomes more and more forgotten. The rabbis and leaders become less and less worthy and learned and mistakes are more frequent. I must confess to you that the beis din of Prague has made an error in the reckoning of this year's calendar and we have almost brought the congregation to the sin of eating chometz (leavened bread) on Passover.

"Through an error we proclaimed Passover one day earlier. Today is not the eighth day, but the seventh day. It is, therefore, absolutely forbidden to eat chometz tomorrow night"

The people were astounded at this bombshell, but no one dreamed of arguing with the rabbi. All the Jews of Prague went home and that year observed the Passover, unwittingly, for nine days!

The morning of the ninth day police surrounded the homes of the bakers and discovered the poisoned bread. All were taken away to stand trial for their conspiracy. Then the Jews of Prague realized the wisdom of their chief rabbi and what he had done. A great joy spread throughout the city, and parties and celebrations were held.

Only one thing puzzled the Jews. How did Rabbi Yechezkel find out about the plot? The gaon told no one, however, as he had promised the young man.

He kept the secret his whole life and only before his death did he tell it to his son, Rabbi Shmuel Landau (author of Shivas Tzion). When he finished telling him, he said, "I want you to know that it was not through my wisdom that I was able to save the Jews, but because of a kindness that I once did for a little gentile child."

This was Rabbi Yechezkel Landau. He was a genius and scholar, but above all a man of pity and kindness. He was a product of the beis midrash in Brodi from whence came forth many other great and noble scholars.

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