From the memoirs of the Ari Hakadosh (The Holy Lion — Rabi Yitzchak Luria, 1537-1572) comes the following awe-inspiring tale of the profound power of prayer, which saved a city of Jews from annihilation.
Almost 450 years ago, in the year 1569, a new Sultan came to power in Damascus. Upon assuming his throne, one of his first acts was to order the destruction of all the Jewish synagogues in the city. The Jews had begun to fear for their lives when on the eve of Purim, a miracle occurred. From a vicious Jew-hater, the Sultan became their friend and during his reign the Jews lived in peace.
How did this come about? The Ari Hakadosh narrates the following story:
The newly reigning Sultan had been educated in Egypt where he also learned Jewish history. On the day he became monarch, he called in Jewish leaders and said to them : “Jews of Damascus, you owe me 10,000 silver pounds. I am a descendant of Haman of Amalek, who gave this money to King Ahashveros to drive out the Jews from his kingdom. Through the scheming of Queen Esther and her uncle, Mordechai, the king hung Haman, my ancestor, and confiscated his silver pounds.
“Therefore, do I decree that you must return the equivalent of 10.000 silver pounds or I will fulfill his decree against you”
The Jews were terrified. They were so poor that they barely had enough money for their own meager existence, let alone to raise such a tremendous sum of money. They begged and cried for mercy but the Sultan only said, “I’ll give you until the 13th day of Adar to come up with the ransom.”
Ask For Help
The Jews left the Sultan in bitterness and throughout the city they gathered in groups to fast and pray to G-d for deliverance. They then sent a courier to the holy Saint, the Ari Hakadosh, to pray for them.
Word of their plight had spread far and wide and the Ari Hakadosh had heard about it even before the courier had arrived. He gave the courier the following message for the Jews of the city:
“Take courage, my brethren. It was because of your sins, your selfishness and lack of giving charity that G-d visited this punishment upon you. But fear not. Repent with all your heart and G-d will rescue you from the hands of this new Haman as he did in the time of our fathers.”
The Jews of Damascus were encouraged by this letter. They resolved to repent and do kind deeds for they all believed in the prophetic words of the Ari Hakadosh.
The King Has A Nightmare
A few days later, a terrible storm broke loose in Damascus. There was lightning and thunder and many trees were toppled. That night the Sultan had a dream, a terrible nightmare.
He saw himself standing in the execution yard, in front of eleven people who were hanging from poles. Next to them was an empty noose.
While he was looking at this gruesome scene, he began to wonder who would be the twelfth victim.
Suddenly a powerful hand grasped him and a harsh voice rang out: “You evil man! Don’t you recognize your ancestors, Haman and his ten sons hanging from the poles? Prepare yourself – for the last noose is reserved for you!”
The Sultan began to tremble. He fell on his knees and began to cry, “Have mercy on me.” “You vicious killer,” shouted the hangman. “You have no mercy on the Jewish people in your city whom you are prepared to kill and you expect me to have mercy on you?” The Sultan was terrified. “I’ll do anything, but save my life,” he sobbed.
“Very well,” said the hangman, “I’ll spare you if you sign a receipt that you have received 10,000 silver pounds in full payment in accordance with your demand from the Jews.”
In a trance, the Sultan got off his bed, signed a receipt for 10,000 silver pounds and stamped it with the royal seal. No sooner had he stamped the paper, when a powerful gust of wind blew the paper out of the window into the storm. With a shudder, the Sultan awoke from his nightmare.
Ari Hakadosh Prays
In the city of Tzefas, in the holy land of Israel, the Ari Hakadosh had been praying for two days for the Jews of Damascus. Suddenly, a storm arose and a gust of wind blew in through the window of his room and a large paper fluttered in front of his feet.
Picking it up he saw it was a release for the money from the Sultan. Realizing that a miracle had occurred, the Ari Hakadosh sent a messenger with the King’s release to the Jewish leaders of Damascus.