The Family Satan
For hundreds of years in Jewish history, a noted and wealthy family was known by the name of Satan. The origin of the name goes back nearly 600 years to a man called Shmuel, whose heroic deeds saved the Jewish population of Prague.
In the year 1391, King Wenzel IX ruled over Bohemia and Eastern Europe. He was a cruel king, wasting his life in gambling and wine. When his treasury ran low, he imposed a tax upon the Jewish population.
That year, the king declared a moratorium on all debts owed to Jews. As many Jews were in the banking business and lent money to noblemen, who were always in debt, this edict caused much suffering in the Jewish community.
The King Demands A Ransom
The king's treasury was empty and officials were having a hard time filling it. Out of ideas, they turned to the one community that was easy to tax. They sum-moned Reb Shmuel, the leader of the Jewish community and gave him an ultimatum: “Within eight days time, the Jewish community of Prague will have to turn over to the king 20,000 silver pieces. Otherwise, he will cease to protect the lives of the Jews in his kingdom.”
When the word reached the Jewish community they began to tremble. They knew only too well the meaning of the king's threat. The chief rabbi of the city, the Gaon, Rabbi Abigdor Kara, called together the heads of all the Jewish families and they made a tally. Even if they were to sell all of their possessions they would still be able to raise only one-fourth of the necessary sum. They soon realized the futility of trying to raise such an enormous sum. Turning to his fellow Jews Reb Shmuel said, "My friends, I will go to the king to intercede for the Jews of this city. I am a direct descendant of the Gaon Bustenai who is from the seed of King David. He was known to be a fighter and his merit will protect me as our Sages tell us (Pirkei Avot 2:2): 'He who works for the community, works for G-d, for the merit of their ancestors will protect them.' I believe that the spirit of Bustenai will protect me."
"What are your plans to influence the king?" asked the Gaon Rabbi Abigdor.
"G-d will show me the way," he answered. "All I request is that the entire congregation gather in the synagogue tomorrow, and pray on my behalf. If I do not return alive then I ask that all of you support and sustain my wife and children."
The rabbis agreed, blessed him and prayed that G-d should watch over and protect him.
His Daughter To Accompany Him
That night Reb Shmuel told his wife about his plans. "But how will you enter the courtyard when there is a rule that no Jew may even step into the king's palace, let alone see the king personally and talk to him?"
"I have a plan," he answered. "I will take our 15-year-old daughter Rachel, who will prepare the way for me to see the king."
"Are you mad," she cried, "not only do you endanger your own life but you also want to involve our daughter!"
"Listen, my dear wife," he replied. "If I don t go and the ransom is not paid, who knows if we won't all be dead by this time next year. This way, at least we have a chance.”
Over the cries of his wife, Reb Shmuel and his daughter started out for the king. Rachel was one of the most beautiful and intelligent girls in all of Prague.
Early in the morning, while the entire Jewish congregation attended the synagogue services to pray for the success of Reb Shmuel's mission, Reb Shmuel made a detour on the road and stopped at the castle of one of the king's nobles.
A number of years previously, while this noble was on a hunting trip he lost an important dispatch case that was supposed to be delivered to the king. The case contained a note for 10,000 gold pieces. When he returned home and discovered it missing, he became sick with worry. For three days he hid in his home praying and worrying over what to do.
On the fourth day, his servant announced that Reb Shmuel was waiting outside to see him on a matter of importance. When he entered the noble was shocked to see that he was carrying the dispatch case.
Returns The Lost Case
"My honorable noble," said Reb Shmuel. "Yesterday while traveling through the forest I came across this case and noticed your name on it. I hastened to return it to you, for our Torah commands us to return a lost item."
The noble jumped at Reb Shmuel, snatched the case from his hands and shouted: "Jew, do you Know what is in this case!
"My lord, as you can see, the case is still sealed. However, even if it were open I would not be permitted to examine its contents."
The noble took his key, opened the case, looked through its contents and saw that nothing was missing.
He offered Reb Shmuel a reward, however he refused to accept one saying, "I have fulfilled a commandment of our Torah which requires us to return a lost item. We are not permitted to accept a reward for doing a mitzvah."
The noble was very impressed. "I will never forget this action of yours and never hesitate to call upon me if you need help."
Now it seems that the time for help had come. Reb Shmuel entered the castle of the noble and explained to him the purpose of his mission. He requested that the noble gain an audience with the king for him.
The noble's face clouded. "Are you crazy?" he asked. "Aren't you aware of the king's strict policy to never see a Jew unless he personally calls for him?"
"I realize that," answered Reb Shmuel, "therefore, I brought along my daughter. I am sure he will not be opposed to seeing a beautiful young child:"
It may work," answered the noble, "our king is always infatuated with beautiful women, regardless of their age. May the G-d of the Jews help her!"
The noble summoned his carriage and they all rode to the king's palace where they were ushered into the king's chamber.
The king was sitting on his throne and in front of him was a statue of the crucifixion. The noble bowed low before the king and said, "As a Christian soldier I could not refuse the request of this young Jewish girl who was desirous of seeing your honor.”
Four Words Only
When they entered the king said, "Remember Jew, you are only permitted to say four words, no more. If you came here to make sport of me, I warn you, you will be killed."
Reb Shmuel knew very well that the king was not jesting. He had heard many tales of how the king executed people on mere pretense. Looking the king straight in the face, he exclaimed in a loud voice, "G-d said to Satan!"
The king was perplexed. He looked at Reb Shmuel askance waiting for him to explain, but Reb Shmuel only pointed to his mouth that he couldn't talk.
The king took another sip of wine and then shouted, "Talk Jew, I command you to talk!"
"Very well," replied Reb Shmuel, "I talk only under orders of the king. These words were taken from the Scriptures, from Job (1:7), when the Almighty G-d, on High, the Creator of the world, the King of all kings, condescended to lower himself to talk to Satan, the lowliest of all Celestial angels, then assuredly Your Royal Highness, my king, will condescend to talk to the lowliest of all the creatures in his kingdom, me, a Jew. This is the meaning of these four words."
The king was flattered. It was, indeed, a novel approach. "Very well, Jew, as long as you compare me to your G-d, I will also listen to a lowly creature."
Reb Shmuel then fell on his knees and began to plead to the king. He reminded him how they fought for him and how they even laid down their lives on his behalf. They never hesitated when it came to normal taxes and they always paid more than their share. But this time the burden was way too much for them. They had no way of paying this exorbitant demand.
The king was very impressed with his sincerity and he commanded him to rise. "Go and tell your people that I will forgive them this time. They need not pay me."
Reb Shmuel fell to his knees in gratitude. "And now, what do you wish personally?" asked the king. "For I know that every messenger in my court always seeks a personal reward for doing a good deed."
"I seek nothing for myself," answered Reb Shmuel. "I am overjoyed that I was instrumental in saving my people."
"Let it not be said that King Wenzel does not reward a good deed," said the king. "Therefore, I do hereby give you special permission to enter my palace at your will and my door will always be open to you. You will be the official envoy of your people.
"By the way," continued the king, "what is your name?"
"My name is simply Shmuel," he answered.
"Shmuel is only the first name," replied the king, "but inasmuch as you compared me to your G-d then I will compare you to one of his angels. You will hereafter be called, Shmuel Satan. Under my royal edict, you and your family will henceforth be known only by that name!"
From that day on Shmuel's last name was known as Satan. No man in the city dared to disobey the royal command. Although his name may bear a resemblance to evil, Shmuel was honored and blessed by every Jew in Prague. His future descendants were able to point with pride to this holy tzaddik, who risked his life to save his fellow Jews. Even to this day if you see a person Nmed Satan, you will know he comes from a noble heritage.
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Page last updated - 06/19/2009