In the era that our story takes place, the Jews were suffering from a double enemy. The Catholics, sworn enemies of the Jewish people, had banded up with the Muslims, also vicious anti-Semites, with the sole agenda to cause the Jews as much anguish as possible.
The joint and powerful influence of the bishops and ayatollahs spread throughout the land. From the hardworking peasants, who were eager for a scapegoat on which to let out their frustrations regarding their difficult lives, to the aristocracy, who didn’t mind having their pockets lined in exchange for their cooperation, the religious leaders succeed in poisoning all minds against the Jews.
With the backing of the entire country, these vicious anti-Semites succeeded in passing law after law, restricting and constricting, and making it extremely difficult for a Jew to live his life. First, they were barred from one profession after the next. Then, they were subjected to terribly burdensome taxes, money that they usually did not have. Pogroms were encouraged, crimes against the Jews were overlooked, and a general sense of lawlessness prevailed when Jews were involved.
With the king solidly behind these measures, there was not much to do, but the askanim knew that it was imperative that they try anyway. If they would succeed in loosening the chokehold on their brethren even a centimeter or two, that in itself would be an enormous measure of success.
But first, before any physical hishtadlus, came prayer. A yom tefillah was arranged. Throughout the country, Jews gathered in shul, fasting and crying and reciting tehillim. While all earthly methods of salvation seemed so remote and beyond their reach, they still had their loving Father pulling the strings from above, and they poured their hearts out to Him.
A few weeks later, word got out that the king was heading out on a month-long traveling expedition. It was a ripe opportunity to reach out to the queen, who would be remaining home. Perhaps they could appeal to her humane side through bribery and dialogue. It was certainly far more likely to win the queen over to their side than her rabidly anti-Semitic husband, and having such a powerful ally would hopefully, with Hashem’s help, ease the Jews’ plight.
The first step of the askanim was to begin an appeal to collect money for an expensive gift for the queen. From all corners of the country, Jews donated as much as they could: a few coins here, perhaps some gold there. Everyone was eager to give whatever they owned toward the effort to save their lives.
Once the money had been raised, the next step was purchasing the gift. Two representatives visited jeweler after jeweler, examining their wares and then discarding them, searching for the perfect piece.
And then, at one expensive jeweler, they found what they were looking for. It was a pair of diamond earrings, intricately designed. The large, expertly-cut stones caught the light from what seemed like hundreds of angles, casting numerous rainbows around the room. Tiny multicolored stones bordered each pair. Cushioned on soft velvet, the earrings seemed to have descended from a different planet. They were dazzling. They were exquisite. They were fit for a queen.
“We’ll take these,” the Jews told the dealer. They spent the next few minutes haggling over the price and then shelled out a fortune to pay for the jewels. With a prayer on their lips, the representatives left the jeweler’s home, beseeching Hashem that the earrings find favor in the eyes of the queen.
It was after the earrings had been purchased that the askanim hit a bump in the road. Travel was very dangerous for Jews, who would be forced to sleep overnight in completely non-Jewish cities, surrounded by hostile gentiles. In addition, it was illegal for a Jew to enter the capital city.
There were people who were ready to risk their lives to save the rest of their brethren, but the stakes were high that they would be putting themselves in the line of fire in vain. It was more likely than not that any Jew attempting to reach the queen would be discovered either at the entrance to the capital city, or on his way to the palace, and if not, at the palace gates. Death was likely to be the fate of the Jewish representative, even before he managed to meet with the queen.
“Perhaps the rov should go?” one of the askanim suggested.
“Absolutely not,” his colleague protested. “The rov would certainly agree to go, but there’s no chance they wouldn’t kill him on the spot. There’s no point.”
“Maybe Feivel the watercarrier would agree to go,” another man offered. “He’s simple and unassuming enough. No one would try to harm him.”
The askan sitting next to him pursed his lips. “I disagree. He’s too simple and unassuming. Even if he makes it in to see the queen, I highly doubt she’ll be impressed.”
The meeting ended in a stalemate, with no solution in sight. For the next few days, the topic was hashed and rehashed by the committee. They went to speak to the rov, but he did not feel he could choose which man should risk his life for the sake of the klal.
Time was running out. The king was scheduled to be back just two weeks later, and haste was of essence. Turning to the community, the askanim opened the floor for a volunteer.
“I’ll go,” a quiet man name Eliezer volunteered.
“You?!” his friends whirled on him in surprise.
“You?!” the askan who had approached the members of Eliezer’s shul after davening echoed skeptically. He studied Elazar, who was dressed very simply. “Are you capable of bypassing the bloodthirsty guards, speaking to the queen, and winning her over to our side?”
“I know I’m just a simple man,” Eliezer admitted humbly, though in truth, unbeknownst to even his closest friends, he was far from simple. In fact, Eliezer was a hidden tzaddik, a man who conveyed an ordinary appearance while hiding his extraordinary greatness from the public. “But I’m willing to go. I’m confident that Hashem will be with me. All I need is the gift for the queen and a sack of cash.”
“Cash? What do you need cash for?” the askan asked.
“To bribe my way into the capital city and into the palace,” Eliezer explained simply.
“Let’s ask the rov what he thinks,” the askan suggested.
The rov, when he heard of Eliezer’s willingness to risk his life for the sake of his people, was very moved. “I will personally raise the money to finance your bribes,” he assured him. “May you go in peace and return in peace, and may Hashem grant you much success.”
Eliezer bowed his head. “Amen.”
The rov wasted no time in gathering the funds that Eliezer had requested. The following morning, the simple-seeming Jew was entrusted with the velvet sachet containing the magnificent earrings purchased for the queen, as well as the wad of cash. He pocketed the valuable items, accepted the well-wishes and fervent brachos from the askanim, and headed back home to get ready for his journey.
In his small, ramshackle hut, Eliezer opened the small pouch and removed one of the earrings. Its unparalleled beauty jumped out at him, contrasting every inch of his decrepit, decaying, leaking abode. Carefully, he wrapped the earring in a piece of faded cloth and tucked it under his homemade straw mattress.
Eliezer glanced out the window. The sun was moving high into the sky. Deftly, he sewed the pouch with the one remaining earring into the pocket of his jacket. Then he divided the cash amongst all the pockets in his pants, shirt, and coat. After packing a small bag, he was on his way.
The journey to the capital city took two days. Dusty and weary, Eliezer rode up to the gates of the capital city, trying to look as unassuming as possible.
“Hey, Jew!” someone called out to him, even before he made it to the sentry at the gate. “Where do you think you’re going, huh? Don’t you know that our beautiful capital isn’t to be destroyed by the presence of someone such as yourself?”
“And a good morning to you, too, sir,” Eliezer said gallantly, keeping his voice calm. He slipped his hand into his pocket and removed a few bills, which he pressed into the gentile’s hand. “Have a great day, sir!”
Waving cheerfully, he continued on toward the city gates, the gentile still smiling gleefully as he counted the bills in his hand.
“What business do you have in the capital city?” the sentry asked in a bored voice, not bothering to peer at Eliezer long enough to realize he was Jewish.
“I have business with the queen,” Eliezer responded in a confident tone.
His response caught the guard’s attention, shaking him out of his lethargy. He peered at Eliezer in suspicion. “Wait a minute. You’re a Jew, aren’t you? What business do you have with the queen? I’m not even supposed to let you into the city. How do you plan on getting into the palace?”
“That’s my concern to worry about,” Eliezer said with a wink, sliding a large bill onto the sentry’s lap. He mounted his horse and rode into the city. The guard observed him silently as his fingers caressed the money, not uttering a word in protest.
The streets around the palace were swarming with soldiers and police, each another threatening obstacle standing between Eliezer and his mission. It took a great deal of charm, persuasion, and of course, cash, to get past them.
Eliezer knew that getting past the guards at the palace gates and securing an audience with the queen would be the most challenging of all his encounters thus far. His lips moved constantly as he prayed silently, concentrating on kabbalistic verses that the non-Jews become subservient to him.
Cautiously, he approached a high-ranking official lingering outside the gates of the tall, imposing palace. “I was wondering if you could do me a favor,” Eliezer began quietly.
The man squinted at him. “A Jew?!” he cried in disbelief. “How did you manage to get this far into the capital?!” His curiosity aroused, he glanced around to make sure no unwanted ears were privy to their conversation and continued. “What is it that you need?”
“In just a few minutes, I will be meeting with the queen,” Eliezer said confidently. “After we meet, she will be giving me not an insignificant amount of jewels and valuables. If you help me, I’ll give you a share of them.”
The man looked at him skeptically. “What do you need me to do?”
Eliezer pulled out a thick wad of bills from his pocket and fanned it out in front of the official. “For starters, this is for you,” he said, shuffling the bills back into a neat pile and handing it over. “All I need is for you to get me an audience with the queen, and then you’ll be getting a lot, lot more.”
“She’ll have me killed!” the official gasped, torn between his desire for money and his fear of the queen.
“Nonsense,” Eliezer said confidently. “She’ll be happy to see me. And, as added protection, I will give you a blessing. I am a holy man. Everything will be fine.”
The man wavered for another long moment, debating whether or not to accept Eliezer’s proposal or run far from the danger. “Alright, I’ll do it,” he said finally. “What did you want from the queen again?”
“Just a few minutes in her presence, that’s all,” Eliezer said, shaking the man’s hand gratefully.
The official disappeared behind the imposing gates and Eliezer waited tensely for him to return. A half-hour passed before the man returned, smiling slightly.
“It’s okay, you can come in now,” he told Eliezer.
“The queen didn’t want to meet you at first, but she finally agreed on condition that a curtain be hung between her and you so that she doesn’t need to glimpse your Jewish face. Follow me.”
Eliezer followed the official through the sumptuous corridors. They paused outside the queen’s anteroom. As he had been warned, a curtain had been stretched across the room blocking his view of the queen on her throne.
“The Jew is here,” the official announced.
The queen groaned, already regretting her previous agreement to let him in.
Eliezer turned to the official and whispered, “I won’t even speak unless she asks me to.”
The man looked at him like he was crazy. “She can’t see you, and you don’t need her to hear you either? How exactly do you plan on getting all those gifts you promised me?”
“Just watch and see,” Eliezer promised mysteriously.
“The Jew has proclaimed that he will not speak unless Your Majesty wills him to,” the official announced.
“Let him enter,” the queen said tiredly. “I don’t believe I shall have any reason to desire him to speak.”
Eliezer was led into the large room. Huge windows overlooking the sea lined one wall, allowing the shining sun to stream inside. The curtain hung down the middle of the room, blocking his view.
Silently, he withdrew an earring from his pocket and held it up toward the sun. A million colors reflected off the gleaming diamonds, casting brilliant rainbows throughout the room. Gently, he waved the earring back and forth as the colors danced on the floors, the walls, the ceilings.
From the other side of the curtain, the queen could not see Eliezer or the earring, but she did see the colors reflecting off every surface of the room. She stared at the beautiful display, mesmerized by its magnificence.
“Alright, remove the curtain,” the queen said.
“Let me see what he’s doing and hear what he wants.”
The curtain was moved aside and the queen saw a simply dressed Jew standing before her, holding some sort of jewelry in his hand. “Speak,” she ordered.
Eliezer held up the earring so that she could see it better. “This is a gift for Her Majesty,” he explained respectfully, presenting it to the queen.
“It is a gift from the Jewish community, who hold Your most gracious Majesty in the highest esteem.”
A servant took the proffered jewelry from Eliezer and handed it to the queen who smiled appreciatively. It was truly a gorgeous piece, the likes of which she had never seen before. “Beautiful,” she said, examining the earring from all angles. “Where is the second earring?”
“Your Majesty, these earrings are not just ordinary earrings,” Eliezer explained. “This magnificent pair was discovered at the gravesite of Mohammed himself, the founder of Islam. As soon as it became known that Mohammed had these one-of-a-kind earrings, the Jews hurried to purchase one for our most esteemed queen. She is the only one fitting enough to wear them. We paid hundreds of thousands of gold coins to purchase this unique piece.”
The queen was impressed. “From Mohammed?” she echoed in wonderment. “Wow! But where is the second one? I need the full pair in order to wear them.”
“Ah, the second earring,” Eliezer said, nodding sagely. “We were only able to purchase one, since Mohammed decided to keep the second to gift to the bishop.”
“The bishop?” the queen was incredulous.
“Why is Her Majesty so surprised?” Eliezer asked. “It’s well-known that the Muslims and the Christians are collaborating with each other. In fact, in this very country, they cooperate together on a constant basis, coming up with plots and ideas against the Jews, for instance.”
“I hear,” the queen said. “So you say that the bishop is in possession of the second half of this most exquisite pair of earrings?”
“No, I don’t believe he has it yet, Your Majesty,” Eliezer corrected. “However, Mohammed refused to sell it to us since he is reserving it for the bishop.”
“And when does he plan on giving it to the bishop?” the queen wanted to know, already picturing herself wearing the beautiful pair of earrings.
“There’s a Christian holiday coming up,” Eliezer reminded the queen. “The bishop always gives a long sermon on the holiday, and afterward, he disappears for a few hours. Not many people are aware of this, but during these hours, the bishop flies over four hundred miles to the grave of Mohammed. They spend some time together and Mohammed reveals the future to the bishop. This year, Mohammed will be giving the bishop the second earring, for free.”
“Wow,” the queen breathed, her eyes wide.
“The Jews spent a lot of money to buy Her Majesty this earring,” Eliezer made sure to reiterate. “And of course, she deserves the full pair, which she can request from the bishop.”
The queen inclined her head. “I thank you and your community for this beautiful gift,” she said. “I can’t believe I was so wrong in my opinions of the Jewish people. You are a generous and kind nation, and I feel honored to have you as my subjects.”
Eliezer bowed. “We are not considered subjects, Your Majesty. My people are oppressed and taxed far beyond any other race. We are treated worse than the animals plowing the fields.”
“That must be corrected,” the queen declared. “When my husband returns, I shall discuss this with him. The decrees against you and your brethren must be repealed at once.”
“Thank you for your kindness, gracious Sire,” Eliezer said, bowing again. “We will pray for your success every day.”
“I would like to send you home with a parting gift,” the queen said suddenly. She ordered a servant to pack up some expensive trinkets from the treasury for Eliezer.
“I hope that Her Majesty enjoys the gift given by the Jews,” Eliezer said in parting. “And of course, once you receive the second half of the pair from the bishop, it will be even more beautiful.”
“I will take care of that at once,” the queen agreed.
Eliezer left the palace weighed down by the gold and silver granted to him by the queen. As promised, he offered a share to the official who had secured him the audience with the queen and returned the rest of the coffers to the Jewish community who had financed his mission.
The Jewish community breathed a sigh of relief, grateful that Eliezer had been graciously received by the queen. The only thing left for them to do was pray that the queen fulfills her promise and repeals the laws constricting them when the king returned.
In the meanwhile, the queen sent for the bishop. Eager to wear her new earrings, she did not want to wait for the bishop to approach her with the gift, and decided to ask for them immediately.
The bishop appeared in the queen’s anteroom and was announced to her. He bowed deeply, feeling smug and important that she needed him.
“Father,” the queen said with a smile, holding up the earring that Eliezer had given her. “Do you see this magnificent piece? It was given to me by the Jews, as a gift. They purchased it for a tremendous amount of money by the grave of Mohammed.
“As you know, next week will be the holiday,” the queen continued. “When you go to Mohammed’s grave after your sermon, you will be given the second earring. I would like you to bring it to me immediately, as I can hardly wait to wear this exquisite pair.”
The bishop felt his face drain of color. What kind of nonsense was the queen speaking of? Mohammed’s grave? An earring?
Seeing the look of confusion on his face, the queen began speaking slowly and clearly, as if expressing herself to a young child. “I know that not many people are aware of the fact that you fly four hundred miles to Mohammed’s grave after your sermon on the holiday,” she said gently. “But I was made aware of this, and I know that he reveals the future to you when you go there. This year, he’ll be giving you the second half of this pair of earrings. In fact, I will be coming to your sermon this year because I would like the earring immediately. That’s how much it means to me.”
The bishop bowed, trying to think of a response. “Certainly, Your Majesty,” he said, trying to keep his voice steady. “I was not aware that Mohammed would be giving me this gift for you, but I will certainly be glad to pass it on if I receive it.”
“The Jew told me,” the queen explained. “The Jew who brought me this half of the pair told me that he purchased it from Mohammed’s grave, but that Mohammed refused to sell him the second earring since he planned on giving it to you. Thank you, Father. We shall meet again at your sermon next week.”
Dismissed, the bishop left the queen’s chambers, fear and fury roiling inside of him like winds and rain in the midst of a tempest. “Find me that Jew who spoke to the queen,” he ordered his personal assistant through clenched teeth. “Find me that Jew and send him straight to me! I’ll make him pay for this!”
His assistant got right to work, interrogating the palace workers and learning Eliezer’s identity. He succeeded in locating his whereabouts and went to report the information to his boss.
“Excellent,” the bishop said. “Now, please send a messenger to his city immediately ordering him to appear before me. I mustn’t be too harsh on him, though there is nothing I desire more than to strangle that trickster with my bare hands! But unfortunately, he has placed me in the position of needing his help…”
A messenger was sent to Eliezer’s home, but the hidden tzaddik ignored the summons. He heard out the message, thanked the messenger, and returned to his seforim. A second messenger was dispatched, and then a third, but Eliezer still did not return with them to the bishop.
Left with no other recourse, the bishop boarded a carriage and made his way to Eliezer’s hometown, all the while fuming at the Jew’s audacity. Eliezer had cornered him, and he knew it.
He found Eliezer’s home to be nothing more than a ramshackle hut at the outskirts of the town. Gingerly, he rapped on the door.
Eliezer himself answered, a question mark on his face. “How can I help you?” he asked politely.
The bishop motioned to his servants to remain in the wagon and followed Eliezer into the privacy of his home. “What did you do to me?” he burst out, the panic evident in his voice. “What kind of nonsense did you tell the queen? That I fly to Mohammed’s grave on the holiday?! You know that a human can’t fly!”
“Of course I know that,” Eliezer agreed.
“What were you thinking?” the bishop fumed, pacing the room. “Now, if I don’t come up with the second earring, the queen will kill me!”
“Yes, she probably will,” Eliezer said in the same agreeable tone. “Why does it bother you if you get killed?”
“What are you talking about?!” the bishop sputtered. “Of course I care if I get killed! And it should bother you too, causing the death of an innocent man just like that!”
“And since when are you so concerned about causing the deaths of innocent people?” Eliezer countered. “As far as I am aware, it doesn’t bother you in the slightest if hundreds of young children starve to death because there is simply no money for bread and milk thanks to your decrees. Last I checked, innocent men were being slaughtered like cattle due to their inability to pay the taxes you demanded or to feed their families without engaging in trade that you prohibited. First show me concern for the deaths of thousands of innocents, and then demand that I care if you are killed without cause!”
The bishop’s face turned white, imagining the noose tightening around his own neck. “I’m finished then,” he said flatly. “Comes the holiday, no earring, and I am a dead man.”
“Aha, so you want me to give you the second earring?” Eliezer questioned softly.
“Yes!” the bishop practically shouted. “You have it? Where is it?!”
Eliezer gave a small smile. “Not so fast,” he cautioned. “I’m not about to give you the earring just like that. I want something in return.”
“What do you want?” the bishop asked, his voice laced with desperation.
“I want you to swear that for as long as you live, you’ll be good to the Jews,” Eliezer said slowly. “I want you to pledge to repeal all the decrees you passed against the Jews. I want it in writing that not only you, but your successors after you as well, will treat the Jews kindly and fairly, and I want that signed with blood.”
The bishop’s eyes widened and he swallowed, hard. The request was harder than anything else the Jew could have asked him for. Then he pictured the queen’s earnest expression as she expressed her desire to receive the second earring and shook his head. He had no choice. “I’ll do it,” he said finally.
“You must change your entire attitude toward the Jews,” Eliezer said firmly.
“I understand, and I agree,” the bishop said hastily. “But how exactly will that work? I’ve been influencing the king to hate the Jews for years now.”
“I’ll tell you how,” Eliezer suggested. “After your big sermon, after you supposedly fly to Mohammed’s grave, you’ll return with the earring and present it to the king and queen. At that time, you’ll tell them that during your discussion with Mohammed, he told you that the direction you had been taking was wrong, and treating the Jews properly was the only correct course going forward.”
“Alright, I’ll do it,” the bishop said reluctantly. He accepted the paper that Eliezer offered and wrote up a document pledging to support the Jewish community. Pricking his thumb, he signed his name in blood and handed the page to Eliezer.
Without a word, Eliezer walked over to the straw mattress and pulled a small cloth pouch out from between the strands of straw. “Here you go,” he said.
The bishop took the cloth from him and peered inside. Indeed, a magnificent earring winked up at him. “Thank you,” he whispered in relief.
“Don’t forget that the Jews have done nothing wrong,” Eliezer said as he walked the bishop to the door. “It’s not as though you are letting violent criminals off the hook to save your own life. These are innocent people, victims of hate, who will finally be free to live their lives in peace thanks to your pledge.”
The idea was a difficult one for the bishop to digest, but simultaneously, he knew Eliezer spoke the truth. He pocketed the cloth patch and hurried to his carriage, feeling calmer than he’d felt in days.
The days past quickly, and soon the holiday set in. A tremendous crowd gathered in the town square in honor of the bishop’s holiday sermon. The king and queen sat up front, the queen squirming in impatient anticipation as she listened to the bishop drone on and on.
When his lecture was over, the bishop hurried off, disappearing into his house as the holiday celebrations continued in full swing in the town square. The queen retreated to her carriage to wait for his return, too excited to partake in the festivities.
An hour past, and the bishop returned to the square, riding a white stallion.
The queen descended from her carriage eagerly, three maids carrying the heavy train of her gown. The bishop dismounted his horse and bowed toward her deeply. “Your Majesty, I have just returned from the grave of Mohammed,” he said, struggling to keep his deep voice even.
“Yes?” the queen asked breathlessly. “And did he give you anything?”
“What did you learn there, Father?” the king asked, coming up to stand beside his wife.
“Well, Your Majesty, we discussed a number of important topics, but mainly about the Jews,” the bishop said. He opened his left hand. A small velvet box sat in the center of his palm. “And this is for Her Majesty, from Mohammed.”
“The earring!” the queen breathed, opening the box. “Finally, the second half of the pair! Thank you, Father.”
“Exquisite,” her husband agreed, impressed by the beauty and workmanship. “You discussed the Jews?”
“It seems that I’ve been mistaken, Your Majesty,” the bishop said apologetically. “Mohammed was upset with the way I’ve been guiding the government in regard to the Jewish affairs. It seems that I was not looking at the entire picture objectively, Your Majesty. Taxing the Jews and restricting them as we have done thus far is not in our best interests, according to Mohammed. If we are to be most successful, we need to take a different approach.”
“I hear,” the king said thoughtfully. “Set up a meeting with my chief of staff for later this week so that we can discuss this more thoroughly.”
The following day, the bishop made the journey back to Eliezer’s hometown to meet with him again. “I see that the One Above is taking care of your people,” he admitted. “No matter how hard we try to destroy you, He will be there to protect you. You are a fortunate nation indeed.”
And so it was that the simple-seeming Eliezer, a man whom most people overlooked but whose hidden greatness surpassed that of most others, saved his generation from danger and difficulty.
Have a Wonderful Shabbos!
This story is taken from tape # A445