In the days of Rav Naftali of Ropshitz, the Jews of Poland and Galicia suffered unbelievable tortures. The feudal system still existed and the individual landowners – the paritzim – did to the Jews, as they desired. All manner of heavy and unequal taxes were imposed and all types of special and obnoxious laws were created just for them.
The noblemen and their lackeys who were appointed to ensure that the Jews fully paid their “pound of flesh” took delight in falsely accusing, arresting and torturing Jews. Pogroms, which were launched by the drop of a whiskey bottle, were a common occurrence, and the millions of Polish and Galician Jews bore their terrible burden with an inhuman patience.
A few younger Jews could not tolerate the persecution however, and sought ways to retaliate against their vicious enemies. Thus, one day, near the city of Liska, where the father of the young Naftali was a rav, two lackeys of the noblemen who had been particularly bitter Jew-haters were found murdered.
Cry For Vengeance
When the populace heard, they immediately accused the Jews and prepared for a violent pogrom. It appeared as if a general massacre of Jews would occur in the region. Fortunately, a sensitive and good priest who knew the suffering of the Jews well interceded with the mob. He and the chief of police of the district went to the Rav of Liska – Naftali’s father – and demanded that he use the power of the cherem to persuade the Jews to turn over the killers to the Polish authorities. While the priest spoke calmly, the chief of police began to rave and rant and threatened all manner of wild pogroms unless the killers were handed over.
The people trembled in fear. But standing at the side during the whole conversation was young Naftali – who understood Polish and overheard everything that had been said.
“Father, may I answer the authorities?” he asked.
Everyone looked at the young boy in amazement. Naftali’s father however, knew him to be a wise boy and had great confidence in him.
“If you have something important to say, you may speak, my son.”
“His reverence will excuse me if I say that if, indeed, the killers of these two men were Jews, then the gentiles are far more guilty than the Jews of murder.”
A shocked murmur went through the crowd and the police chief stared with hatred at the young Naftali. But the Rav’s son, having begun, intended to finish what he had to say.
The Anger Of Jacob
“As a priest you are surely familiar with the Bible and I would like to call your attention to a verse in the Book of Prophet Ovadia (1:10) that says: ‘Because of the corruption of your brother Jacob, shame shall cover you.’
“Though most explain this to mean that Esau shall be ashamed of the evils that he had done to Jacob, I would like to explain it in a little different way.
“All admit,” he continued, “that the sons of Jacob were not murderers. We were the first to accept the great dictum at Mount Sinai: ‘Though shalt not kill.’ We were taught long ago in our Torah that he who spills the blood of man will not be forgiven, and his blood too shall be spilled.
“Esau, on the other hand, knows well what it means to go to war and kill; indeed, it is this proud boast and blessing: ‘By your sword shall you live.’
“Furthermore, we Jews – the sons of Jacob – know well whose way of life he followed. Our brothers are murdered, maimed and robbed by thieves and mobs and the government does nothing but turn its back. There is no people and no group that suffers so much in Poland and Galicia as the Jews. We are ordered – and obey – to give sacrifices out of all proportion to our numbers. Our wealth, talent, resources and youth have gone to the defense and glory of Poland, and what is our reward? Persecution and suffering, while the government to whom we pay allegiance sits back and allows our enemies to persecute us.
“Someday the Heavenly tribunal will repay the government for what it has done. Meanwhile, the great majority of Jews sit and suffer. If, however, some of us lose that unbelievable patience and self-restraint and lash back in desperation – this is a sign that the evils of Esau have gone beyond all rational limits. It is Esau and his children who have to be ashamed that they have driven Jacob – the man of peace – to become a killer, like them.
“And this is the meaning of the verse that I mentioned earlier. If Jacob has indeed become a killer like Esau, then Esau must be ashamed. Because he – Esau – through his cruelty, his false promises of protection, his persecution, forced Jacob to do what he does. Let shame and embarrassment cover him when he attempts now to preach morality to Jacob.”
They Leave Silently
There was not a sound in the room when the young boy finished speaking. His words had made a deep impression on all who heard them. Without another word, the priest and the police officer left in shame and silence.