A Story to Remember #35
Chof Zayin Tammuz, 5777
During the Middle Ages, there was a thriving Jewish community in the city of Bodenheim, in Alsace. One of the great treasures of this community was a silver pointer in the shape of a hand which was used to point to the correct place being read in the Torah scroll. The pointer was believed to have been fashioned during the time of the Roman Empire, and the Jews of Bodenheim were quite proud of this antique.
It happened that a gentile carpenter's apprentice began spreading a vicious story about the Jews, as was common in those days. He claimed that he overheard two Jewish merchants discussing a meeting of all the Jewish leaders of Alsace that had taken place in Colmar. At this meeting, the Jewish leaders supposedly planned to poison the wells of Bodenheim, Colmar, and the neighboring town of Schlettstadt. The apprentice's story was, unfortunately, readily accepted because there was a strange sickness spreading throughout the region.
The Jewish leaders of Alsace were immediately brought to court and questioned. They admitted to having met in Colmar, but the meeting was strictly for the purpose of strengthening Judaism in the region as they felt that it was beginning to weaken in certain areas of faith. The chief of police refused to accept their explanation, and threatened to torture them unless they confessed. One of the leaders, Rabbi Wolf, declared, "G-d is our witness that no evil has been plotted by us against anyone."
"We'll see about that tomorrow," said the chief of police. "But woe to you and your families if we find any additional evidence or if anyone of you confesses. We will ransack your homes and take away your families and stop at nothing to get a confession from you."
That night, none of the Jewish leaders of Alsace closed his eyes. They were all imploring G-d for help. The next day, Rabbi Wolf asked to meet with the apprentice, in order to uncover what had led the man to jump to such a horrible conclusion .
The apprentice was brought to the leaders, and he explained that he caught a ride on a wagon heading from Bodenheim to Colmar, along with two Jewish merchants. As he was about to doze off, he overheard one of them say, "We must see that this convention does something about the poison that has been spreading throughout our life-giving well in the province of Alsace."
Rabbi Wolf smiled and told the chief of police, "I can explain everything. The purpose of the convention was to strengthen the religious commitment of our youth, and to keep them from abandoning our precious heritage. Our Torah is often referred to as 'a well of living water.' Those who distort Judaism are accused of poisoning it, because the 'water' of Torah must be kept pure in order to sustain us. Those two men weren't talking about, G-d forbid, poisoning the actual water wells of Alsace, but the danger of poisoning the wells of Torah."
The police weren't easily swayed by this explanation, although they were impressed when later the rabbis told them that they could consult their own clergymen as to the validation of their claim. They brought the matter before the town council. One of the council members, a nobleman by the name of Bodo, had a great dislike of the Jews due to the fact the he was indebted to them for a tremendous sum. He proposed that a search be carried out through all the Jewish homes, to uncover proof of the poisoning plot. The council agreed to his plan.
Later that night, Bodo sent a strong fearless servant by the name of Ulrich to plant a bag of poison in the synagogue in Bodenheim. Holding the bag in one hand, he approached the Ark where the Torah scrolls were kept. Upon finding the door of the Ark difficult to open, he placed the bag between his teeth and used both hands to fling open the doors.
Seconds later, an agonizing, animal-like wail pierced the night. The caretaker of the synagogue awoke and jumped out of bed as he realized that the sound was coming from the synagogue. He ran into the synagogue, and found Ulrich writhing in agony and gawking in terror at the shadow of what appeared to be a hand, pointing accusingly at him. The caretaker figured out what Ulrich had been planning to do. It seemed that out of his great surprise at finding a finger pointing at him from within the Ark, he had inadvertently swallowed some of the poison. Of course the caretaker knew that the shadow was caused by the silver pointer used for the Torah reading.
The caretaker immediately called for the chief of police and all of the council members to gather in the synagogue. When Bodo arrived, Ulrich, who was still unable to speak, pointed his finger at him. Bodo knew that he was caught, and he confessed to his evil plot to turn the people of Alsace against the Jews, and eventually destroy them.
The Jews gave thanks to G-d for having saved their leaders and their whole community, and the silver pointer became an even greater treasure in the eyes of the people.
All rights reserved and reprinted from an article in L'chaim #494