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How Reb Avraham Saved His Fellow Jews

On the outskirts of the city of Cracow is a little cemetery. Before the Nazi hordes uprooted all the tombstones, there stood a centuries old stone with just a one line inscription: "Here lies Reb Avraham, the Pious."

Therein lies a legend, for the Jews of that generation would have built him the largest tombstone in the world, and they would have engraved it with the greatest of epitaphs. But Reb Avraham was humble and modest, and he specifically requested only these short words.

Reb Avraham was a great sage, well versed in Torah and in the sciences as well as in many languages. But no one knew; he was so humble and modest that people thought him to be just a simple man.

In his time there lived a king and queen who were very friendly to the Jews. In fact some people even said that the queen was of Jewish descent. But one day the queen became gravely ill and died.

Jews and Gentiles joined the king in mourning for the kind queen. A few months later, the king's officers persuaded him to wed the princess of the neighboring kingdom. Their marriage would cement the relations of both governments.

An Enemy of The Jews

The king visited the princess and fell in love with her, for she was very beautiful. But the princess was a bitter enemy of the Jews. When the king proposed marriage to her, she replied, "My dear king, I am ready and willing to become your queen, on condition that you banish the Jews from your kingdom. For I have always looked upon them as the enemies of my faith and I detest them."

The king was shocked by her request for he had always considered the Jews as his loyal subjects. But upon the urging of his minister he acceded to her request. A year before the wedding, against his better judgment, the king issued a decree, that at the end of that year all the Jews must leave his kingdom. As the news of the decree spread from city to city and from town to town, the Jews went into mourning, and every Jewish community declared public fasts. Delegations of Jews attempted to see the king but the queen made sure that they could gain no audience with him. The year seemed to pass all too swiftly, and the poor Jews could not even sell their belongings, because people reasoned why pay money now when they soon would be able to secure it without charge when the Jews were forced to leave.

A month before the verdict was to go into effect, Reb Avraham visited the chief rabbi of Cracow and requested that he call a general assembly of the Jews in Cracow for he had a message and a plan for them. The chief rabbi looked upon Reb Avraham as a fool and refused to listen to his request.

The Rabbi Has A Dream

That night, the chief rabbi had a terrible dream. In his dream he saw thousands of Jews, wandering from city to city, carrying packages on their backs and all pointing an accusing finger at him. "You are responsible!" they shouted. "Why am I responsible?" he asked in a shocked tone. They then pointed towards and old man and said, "He could have helped us but you stopped him!" And to and behold the old man was Reb Avraham.

The chief rabbi awoke with a start and he immediately sent for Reb Avraham and agreed to assemble all the Jews of Cracow. When they were all gathered, Reb Avraham ascended the pulpit and began to explain that he had a plan to save them. However, he required 1,000 gold coins. He then exhorted them to place their faith in G-d, who would not forsake them. He spoke so eloquently that in no time at all the money was raised and given to Reb Avraham.

Dresses Like A Priest

With the money, Reb Avraham purchased a coach and horses and engaged a coachman. He also purchased the clothes of a priest and dressing himself in these clothes, set out for the bishop who was supposed to perform the wedding of the king and the princess. Entering the bishop's home he announced that he had received a heavenly message telling him to attend the king's wedding and bless him. The bishop began talking to the 'priest' and discovered that he was a very intelligent and educated person. He treated him with great honor and provided him with lodging in his home.

"Only one request I have of you," said the 'priest. "Please do not reveal that I am in town to anyone. Only at the wedding, when all the guests are seated around the table will you call me in to say a few words and to utter my benediction." The bishop agreed. The evening of the wedding Reb Avraham entered his room and locked the door. He put on his Tallis and Tefillin and prayed to G-d, imploring Him to save His children, the Israelites and that his plan should be successful. He then put the empty Tallis bag beneath his clothes.

Moments later the king's emissary arrived to summon him to the banquet. Upon entering he was introduced by the bishop and treated with great respect. He then began to speak in many languages including the language of the queen. The audience was thrilled at his words.

A Gift for the Queen

Turning to the queen he said, "O Queen, I have for you a most wonderful gift, the likes of which you have never seen."

Pulling out the empty Tallis bag he told the queen to place her left hand into the bag and to withdraw what she found in it. The queen obliged but no sooner did she put her hand in the bag than she began to shriek. Withdrawing her hand they all saw that it was entwined with venomous snakes, all poised to strike and cause death instantly. The audience grew still as they stared in fascination at the vicious snakes coiled around her hand. Reb Avraham then announced in a loud voice: "Know you all that I am in reality a Jew and I have been sent by G-d to punish the queen for the evil decree which had been made against the Jews. Unless you immediately withdraw the decree you will die!"

The queen immediately signed the paper placed in front of her, nullifying the decree and agreed not to take any future revenge on the Jews or Reb Avraham. Reb Avraham then told her to put her hand back into the Tallis bag and when she withdrew it, the snakes were gone. The king was jubilant for he had never wanted the evil decree in the first place. The queen was too frightened to say a bad word against Reb Avraham or the Jews. And from that day on the Jews lived in peace in her kingdom.

The Jews throughout the kingdom were jubilant: they danced in the streets and they made parties but when they came to honor Reb Avraham they found him deathly sick.

"It seems that I have fulfilled my mission on this earth and my time has come to return to my maker;" he said. "Please do not write more than five or six words for my epitaph on my tombstone."

And that is how such a small epitaph was used for so great a man.

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