Bill's Art Box

"The Stork's Nest" - Chapters One to Ten

 

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THE STORK’S NEST

 

 

 

CHAPTER ONE

 

     It was Friday morning on the fourth of April 1589 in Berlichingen. The small village nestled along the fast-running Jagst River. Rabbi Menachem came out of the synagogue after the morning prayer, accompanied by his eldest son Abraham.

     "Look Father," he said pointing to the roof of the synagogue, "the storks have returned."

     "That is a good sign of lasting stability. Those birds have returned here to Germany to their dwelling as long as anyone can remember."

     They stood absorbed in watching the pair of the large birds each standing on one red leg with black tipped white wings and long red beaks. It was an astonishing sight for the two men. The nest was built on an old cartwheel mounted especially for them on the roof.

     "They must be tired after their long journey," said Rabbi Menachem, "you know, Abraham, that they emigrate every fall, when it starts getting cold here. They fly through far away Turkey and Israel to the mighty river Niles in Egypt; and when it starts getting too warm there in spring, they return the same long way to their old habitat here in our village, to raise a new generation of their family. Is this not a marvelous example of how nature is taking care of every being according to its own needs? Those birds can not live in extreme cold or heat; and because of this, they travel twice a year for thousands of miles always on the same route and always return to the same place to their nest on the gable of our synagogue. All this is God's marvelous creation, and we are fortunate to serve Him here in this same house."

     "Father, how wonderfully you explain all this. I want to become a rabbi like you and know how to explain all those miracles in nature."

     "With God's help, you will become a rabbi like me. It is a great and important task to lead a congregation like we have here in this village, and also to represent it to the outside world. Together with the daily study of the Torah and all the other Holy Books, there is nothing more fulfilling than to be a rabbi in our time.

     This reminds me that I have to hurry and visit the Count Hans Pleickhardt in his castle and bring him the books I bought for him in Frankfurt at the book fair."

     Uplifted by their amazing observation of the stork’s nest, father and son entered their nearby house, where mother Leah and the younger sons, Benjamin and Moses, waited for them to have breakfast together.

     The rabbi's house was built simply but with room enough for his family’s needs and the fulfillment of his responsibilities to his congregation, which included the study of the Holy Scriptures for several hours a day. He also had a storeroom for the many books he traded for his family support, because as a rabbi he had no income. All his spiritual work he did voluntarily without any payment. In his storeroom, he kept some supplies for the cultural needs of his fellow Jews, such as prayer books, prayer shawls, skullcaps, and wine goblets for sanctification prayers. There also was a need for the special clothing for Jews, such as the traditional tall triangular hat and long black coats.

     Behind the house in the courtyard stood the barn, and in it the rabbi kept his black mare on which he rode when he went on his numerous trips to the surrounding villages, where many Jews lived. There he took care of their religious needs. He would lead them in their daily common prayers in a synagogue or a prayer hall. He watched over the ritual slaughtering of cattle and poultry. There were also personal needs, such as visits of sick people, and taking care of social needs of the poor through organizing mutual help. If there was a funeral, the rabbi laid his entrusted to rest, and if there was a circumcision of a newborn boy to be performed, or if a young couple wanted to get married, the rabbi was always there. Sometimes quarrels and juristic questions had to be resolved, according to the Jewish law of the Torah and more specified in the Talmud. All this was the age-old tradition Jews carried within themselves wherever they lived. All those traditional laws and customs kept the Jewish people pure through the ages. They were performed in good peaceful times, such as the Jews lived now in the harmonious, green valley of the Jagst and the nearby river Kocher.

     The laws also gave them strength and endurance when hard times fell on the Jewish people, when they were persecuted for their belief, expelled from their homes and made beggars from one day to the other. This had happened not so long ago in the large cities in Württemberg and the surrounding states; but with God's help and some farsighted clever dukes and barons, they were able to settle down in the villages under their jurisdiction.

     In a short period of time, those villages started to flourish because of the lively trade those Jews started in every branch of the prosperous farmland. This brought again considerable income to the ruling aristocrats, who were dwelling in their castles, and collected through their officials more and more taxes from the farmers, craftsmen and the Jewish merchants.

     If people were satisfied with their lives, most were ready to pay. Forgotten was the uprising of the farmers sixty-five years ago in which Hans Pleickhardt's grandfather, the famous Götz von Berlichingen was so much involved. In leading the uprising, he was severely punished after it collapsed against the strong organization of all the aristocrats in Southern Germany. The Götz was put in prison and lost many of his possessions.

     Times were not peaceful everywhere. There was always friction between the old traditional Catholic faith and the new Protestant religion founded by Martin Luther. This new religion spread out very fast, because there was much anger against the corrupt Catholic Church and the enrichments of the mighty Bishops, who ruled over large parts of the land.

     The Barons von Berlichingen were all buried in the nearby Schöntal Monastery as long as anybody could remember. Daily existence was stronger than the old tradition, and the old Götz became a Protestant and fought against the mighty Bishops of Würzburg whenever there was a favorable opportunity.

     Baron Hans Pleickhardt von Berlichingen sat in his beloved library in his castle called Jagsthausen. He was very proud of his collection of five hundred books he had acquired after he had finished his studies of law in the Jena university and in the university in Bourges in France.

     It was one of the first knightly libraries in the whole German Empire. It also was a sign of a new generation of young aristocrats who were interested in having a thorough education. Through this cultural training, he was able to administer his wide possessions in a much better way than his ancestors. They did rule the many villages and towns they owned by sheer force and conquest with armor and weapons. When there was no fighting, their hired soldiers were also their tax and natural products collectors.

     Now a peaceful time had come, and the land Hans Pleickhardt ruled over produced good harvests and much livestock, and his subjects were ready to deliver to the Baron whatever his right was to receive.

     Another sign of his wisdom was his attitude towards the Jews. They had lived in his villages for many generations. They were different from the local Frankish Swabian population. They had their own religion, which they kept very strictly. They kept the holy Shabbat and holidays. They had their own typical Jewish clothing, and because they were never allowed to own land to farm or carry out a handicraft, they were mostly busy in commerce. They traded cattle and horses, but also busied themselves with the grain trade and most everything connected to farming.

     Hans Pleickhardt in his liberality wanted to see the Jews living without restrictions, and he was ready to let them have their stores and also carry out any handicraft necessary for his subjects, so they could acquire locally almost everything they needed for their farms and households. This way, his subjects did not have to travel to distant towns and could give their undivided attention to the work on their farms.

     He grew up with his friend Menachem, and as children they often played together and went to seek adventures when riding through the fields and forests watching the wild game. The forests were fully stocked with deer and stag, falcons and ducks. Neither of them liked hunting, which was generally the habit of most of the aristocracy and the peasants. They were both very peaceful and eager to study animals and plants, the seasons and the weather. These common interests brought them much closer together as one could have imagined, because Christians did not mix socially with Jews in general.

     They were both born in the same year: 1560. Hans Pleickhardt's father, Hans Jackob died when he was seven years old, so he and his three brothers were brought up by his mother, Eva Geyer von Giebelstadt; and when she passed away ten years later, he became the proud heir of four villages. Later on when his brother Hans Gottfried died, he became the owner of two more villages.

     This did not prevent him from going to study law at the university in Jena because he had a very faithful estate manager. This devoted man took care of the administration of his vast estate when his mother was still alive, and later on the same manager stayed in his service, which enabled him to go out and see the world. This enabled him to travel and study also in Bourges in France and see beautiful Italy with the various attractions of ancient art, and where he could study first hand the famous philosophers of ancient Greece and Rome.

      All this made him an educated and intelligent young aristocrat who knew how to speak French and Italian and was able to read and study books in Latin. No wonder the young Hans Pleickhardt started to buy many books. They were quite expensive and hard to find, and his friend the Rabbi Menachem, who started to be a book trader, helped him in his purchases.

     The rabbi was used to travel. He knew all the markets and book fairs in Southern Germany. Everywhere he was welcome by his fellow Jews wherever they lived. Also, Rabbi Menachem knew the roads very well, and often used hidden paths, which were known only by Jews to get around unfriendly castles, and cities, which did not want Jews to travel through their territories, or asked for special custom payments. The rabbi on his black horse rode around all those obstacles, and was always welcome when he reached a Jewish house.

     Just the day before, he had returned from Frankfurt and was now bringing several books to his friend, the Baron.

     "Welcome back, Menachem," said Hans Pleickhardt, "how was your trip? Did you have any obstacles in your way? After all you are an expert in avoiding any difficulties on your route."

     "Yes," said the rabbi, "I know my way around. I also have always exact information from my Jewish friends what is awaiting me on the way, so there are no unpleasant surprises. What is most important, God the Almighty is guiding me by day and by night, whenever and wherever I have to travel."

     "It is marvelous how deep your religious belief is guiding you," answered the Baron. "I can't say that I am as religious as you, even though I have my strong belief in the new Protestant religion, and you know that I have most of the books that our beloved Martin Luther wrote, and all the priests who followed his teaching. You know that only a few have those costly books which are an essential part of my library. Did you bring me some of the books I asked you to purchase for me in Frankfurt?"

     "Yes, my Lord," said Menachem, "I think I found two valuable books for you at the book fair. One is a new edition of the 'Artzney Buch - Medicinal Drugs' by Christopher Wirsing, printed in the year 1582 in Neustadt. I know that you are interested in medicine and in curing with different herbs. This should be the most modern book based on the old tradition of curing with herbs."

     "You have done very well Menachem," answered Hans Pleickhardt, "this will be a valuable addition to my library, and I shall definitely make practical use of it, when curing sick people here in the village and the surroundings. Do you know how many people come to see me to cure them? The book also looks very attractive with its white leather cover binding.

     "What is the second book you have brought with you, Menachem?"

     "This is an important book for both of us," answered the rabbi smiling, "the title is: 'Reissbuch des Heyligen Lands,' a Travel Book of the Holy Land, written by Sigmund Feierabend and printed 1584 in Frankfurt am Main. I know that you are thinking of traveling to Israel, Palestine as it is generally called. I am also interested to read it, when you are through with it. It is true that it is written by a countryman of yours, who is looking at the Holy Land completely different than I, as a Jew; but it will be interesting to know about his perspective, and I can compare it with the famous travel book of Benjamin ben Jonah of Tudela, which I own in Hebrew."

     "Yes," said the baron, "I would like very much to travel to Palestine. Let's make some plan, maybe we could do it together one day. You will see your holy places, and I'll see mine, or what is left from them, after the Arabs captured Palestine from the Crusaders three hundred years ago. A lot has happened there in the meantime, which I would like to find out, because some of my ancestors participated in the different Crusades and actually stayed and lived there till the bitter end."

     "My interest is mainly in the holy city of Zefat in the Galilee," said the rabbi, "where lately many Jews went there to live, and some rabbis have written the famous new book of the Kabbalah, which deals in Jewish mysticism.

     I would like to travel with you, because we know each other so well and have high regard of each other. I will have to look for a rabbi for some temporary replacement. I wouldn't like to leave my flock here unguarded. I hope I can provide for my family enough to leave them for several months."

     "Not so fast, Menachem," said the Hans Pleickhardt smiling graciously, "I also have a lot of affairs and commitments to take care of. Before I founded my family, I left my Baron-ship often to study and travel abroad, but now I have to take care of my wife Eva, my two sons Carol Sigmundt and Conrad, and my two daughters Elisabeth and Susanna. But I definitely will start planning."

     After this long and pleasant dialog, the two friends parted. Each had his own thoughts about this sudden plan of traveling together to the far land, which was dear to both of them, even that it was in completely different directions and interests.

     Satisfied with the interesting and inspiring meeting with the Baron, Rabbi Menachem stepped out of the castle Jagsthausen and exchanged greetings with the sentry guarding the drawbridge at the exit. He mounted his black mare and rode an easy trot on the path along the Jagst river. Berlichingen was only a short distance up the river. Smiling the rabbi caressed his black beard. 'I am blessed to have the Baron Hans Pleickhardt as my friend,' he thought. 'How lucky that he is an educated man with an open mind. I wish more aristocrats were like him. Mostly they are high-headed despots ruling over their subjects with a harsh hand, terrorizing their peasants and town citizens, and they are feared and hated by them.'

     Especially the Jews were suppressed by those barons and counts and pursued with anti-Semitic accusations. Usually the Jews were the scapegoats for every hardship that occurred in the country, may it be the bad weather, the bad economy, or even the little and larger wars between those hardheaded rulers. "You have crucified our Lord Jesus Christ - so we will make you suffer for it!" they cried out, and Jews were prosecuted wherever there was an opportunity.

     It was generally known that Hans Pleickhardt was a wise and generous ruler, and many Jews from the neighboring feudal and Episcopal districts wanted to come and settle down in his domain. But knowing their economic values, those despots did not give the permission for Jews or anybody else to leave their community by free will, and it was usually difficult to obtain a permit to leave their village or town. On one hand, those rulers made life miserable for their subjects, and on the other hand they did not let them go and find new green pastures somewhere else.

     How lucky that we are here under the rule of this enlightened man, and how fortunate was he to be his friend since their childhood.

     Looking around along the riverbed, Menachem saw several storks proudly strolling along the water, picking up worms and insects with their long read beaks. They were not scared by the rider and continued graciously with their food gathering.

     "You wonderful attractive creatures," he thought, "I wish I could fly with you on your long trip to the Holy Land in the coming fall! This would be easy traveling; but maybe, we shall meet on our way, when I go on my trip to Erez Israel?"

     Those pleasant daydreams brought him back to his village, and reaching his house, he dismounted and entered the home, where preparations for the coming Shabbat were in full swing. His wife, Leah, was kneading the dough for the Challah, the traditional Shabbat bread. From the oven came the pleasant smell of the Cholent, a stew made of potatoes, some pieces of beef, beans, barley and potatoes. It was the traditional dish kept warm during the Shabbat with glowing blocks of wood, because lighting up a new fire was not allowed on this holy day.

     The three sons helped their mother to clean, so a settled, holy atmosphere spread through the whole home. Rabbi Menachem called his three sons to his office and inquired about their studies in school. All the Jewish children had to go to their separate school, where a hired teacher taught them the principles of mathematics, and the German and Hebrew language. They were taught Jewish and general history, but mostly their studies were based on the holy Bible, which they all could read and understand in the original Hebrew.

     If any special questions came up, the rabbi supplemented and clarified them, because of his wide knowledge in the holy Jewish literature, such as the Talmud, the Mishnah, and now lately also the Kabbalah, which was newly written and explained by the famous rabbis of Zefat in Israel.

     It was now time for the whole family to cross over the central square for the Friday evening prayer in the synagogue. But before that, mother Leah lighted the Shabbat candles, and quietly said to herself the traditional benedictions and her wishes for the well-being of the family.

     The whole congregation assembled in the small synagogue. All were dressed in their traditional black Shabbat clothes with starched white shirts. All the men wore their small skullcaps and not their usually high triangle hats. The women were separated upstairs in their special part of the synagogue.

     Rabbi Menachem led the prayer with his melodic voice, and the congregation accompanied him where it was required. Those prayers were age old, some of them like the 'Schema Israel - Listen Israel,' were originally from the Bible, written by Moses in the name of God, the Almighty. The traditional song 'Lcha Dodi likrat Kala - Come my beloved to greet the bride, let us welcome the Shabbat' was written by Rabbi Shlomo Alkabets in Zefat not long before.

     It was those prayers and their belief which kept the Jews holding on to their faith through the ages, withstanding all the terrible prosecutions and wars. The deep faith of being Jewish kept them alive when the Babylonians, Greeks and Romans conquered Israel in biblical times, and it brought the Jews through the terrible Crusades, when so many were murdered in the name of Christ, who was himself a Jew. The New Testament, which was added to the Jewish Bible was based on the old scriptures, and could not have been written without their previous existence.

     Instead of being thankful that the Jews provided them the basis of Christianity, they were hated and prosecuted. Only because they held fast to their original faith and did not want to be converted to be Christians - that was all their misdoing. Could humanity sink so deep and prosecute the Jews, who actually gave Christians their religion? Should the Jews not have been held in high esteem, to be the Chosen people by God, like it was written in the Bible, in which they all believed?

 

CHAPTER TWO

     In midsummer during the hot days of August, the Baron Hans Pleickhardt was summoned to the Emperor’s court in Prague in the German province of Bohemia. This came as a great surprise to Hans Pleickhardt. He never thought that the mighty Emperor Rudolf II was even aware of him, a little aristocrat in far away Württemberg. Yes, he had been called several times to the Duke's Frederick court in Ludwigsburg, to whom he sometimes could advise in civil administration, because it was no secret how successful he administered his Baron ship's estates, which he had inherited. In many parts of Württemberg and elsewhere, the peasants were very suppressed and were forced to pay their taxes and hand over large parts of their harvest and livestock by sheer violence and threats. However Hans Pleickhardt had no problem in collecting his dues, and his subjects were satisfied and thankful to him.

     Also, in military warfare and administration Hans Pleickhardt was an expert. He actually never fought on the battlefield in any war, but had studied military history at the university of Jena. In his wide library, he had several books about military strategy, and also had served as a military adviser for the Duke several years earlier.

     So it was no wonder, that the Emperor had heard about the efficient and productive Baron von Berlichingen, who after all was the grandson of the famous Götz von Berlichingen, who had on several occasions fought for the late Emperor Maximilian I. It was through this service that his punitive assaults and conquests as Germany's most famous robber baron were forgiven.

     After giving the necessary instructions to his chief administrator, he said farewell to his lovely wife Eva von Adelsheim, and his two sons, Karl Sigmundt and Conrad, and his two little daughters, Elisabeth and Susanna. He saddled his horse and rode eastwards to serve his emperor in every way requested. On his way, he visited some of his friends who were aristocrats, where he was welcomed and hosted. He kept his mission secret and did not mention the actual cause of his trip. It was an ordinary habit for aristocrats to travel around in the land and abroad, so no questions were asked.

     After one week, when he reached the Royal court, he was immediately welcomed by a high official of the court and given luxurious accommodations. The next morning, the Emperor Rudolf II received him in private audience and came right to the subject of his summon:

     "Dear Baron Hans Pleickhardt, you may know that we Germans are threatened militarily by the Ottoman Empire. Their mighty army is preparing in a short time to attack us in the Balkans, which was not long ago a part of the German Empire. The attack will start from captured Hungary. I know your qualifications as a military expert, and also the efficient administration of your estates due to your high education and intelligence. I don't have to add that this mission is completely secret, and nobody what-so-ever, should know about it. We have to get exact information about the strength of their army, their weapons, their military organization and fortifications, how well they are trained and how strong is their military discipline. You will have no written documents with you, and also will take no notes what-so-ever. As a cover for this mission, I will send you officially through Turkey to the holy land of Palestine, to visit all the Protestant churches and dioceses on the way, and I want you to stay there for some time and return by ship through Italy. I will pay you 10 000 florins for your expenses and services. You will report personally back to me, and under no circumstances to anybody else."

     The Baron was astonished at the blunt way the Emperor talked to him, but Hans Pleickhardt answered him tactfully: "Your Majesty, I am very honored by the high trust with which you hold me in your eyes. It is right that I have knowledge about military matters through studies and experience at the court of the Regent Frederick. I also am an expert in the knowledge of all aspects of the Protestant and Catholic Churches. I think, I will travel in disguise and nobody will recognize my real personality. I also am able to leave my estates for some time, because I have good administrators, and my wife Eva von Adelsheim can take responsibility and can make right decisions when necessary. When do you want me to leave for this important mission, your Highness?"

     "As soon as possible," the Emperor answered, "the military threat is not imminent, but we know that offensive preparations are made by the Turks."

     With this the audience came to an end. The Baron was handed the promised funds by an emissary, and soon was on his way home westward on a different route he had taken before. Before leaving the city of Prague, he visited some renowned book shops. He bought two dictionaries of the Arab and Turkish language and some books about the geography and economy of the Balkans, Turkey and Palestine.

     In another week, he was back home in his castle, where he told his astonished wife that he will soon go on a journey to the Holy Land to visit the churches, monasteries and dioceses on the way. Nobody would know his actual task of the long trip. He also made calculations that he would not need all the money which was given to him, and he kept some of it in the old wooden chest in his library. Only Eva knew about those financial arrangements. The Baron knew to keep his secrets very well.

     He also sent notice to his friend Rabbi Menachem to come and visit him in the Jagsthausen castle. At that time, the rabbi was visiting the city of Künzelsau in the neighboring Kocher valley, a parallel to his native Jagst River. In Künzelsau, the Jews were in deep trouble: The city board, who was administered in common by the Bistum of far away Würzburg and the Duke of Hohenlohe von Waldenburg, had decided for no special reason, to evict all the Jews who were living in the city. Rabbi Menachem, thanks to his high standing, popularity and prestige was called to interfere at the joint municipality to prevent this disaster. He met with the administrators together with the heads of the Jewish congregation. They all were listening to him how he described the good life of his congregation in Berlichingen and the surrounding villages where Jews were living in peace and prosperity, with all their neighbors under the efficient administration of the Baron Hans Pleickhardt, and how all the Jews brought useful advantage to everyone.

     The answer was unanimous, that if your Baron is so satisfied with the Jews, he can have all of them from our city. We don't want any strangers here who only take earnings from our citizens, do not pay their full taxes and do not belong to our faith. So it came to Rabbi Menachem to perform the sad task to lead the twenty Jewish families of Künzelsau out of the town they had lived in for two hundred years, and help them to settle down in other congregations. Some of them went to the neighboring village Nagelsberg situated high above the river Kocher, but most of them settled in the friendly Jagst valley in villages as Hohebach, Dörzbach and Berlichingen. Their fellow Jews in those places gave them immediate shelter until they could finally settle down and start their new life again.

     It was the destiny of the 'Wandering Jew' in this part of Germany and all over Europe. One of the most important commandments of the Jewish faith was to help each other as much as possible in need; and this order of charity was carried out in the most wonderful way. The greater the outside pressure, the more it bound the Jews together everywhere in the vast German empire.

     When the rabbi finally reached his house after many exhausting days, his wife Leah gave him the message, that his friend Hans Pleickhardt wanted to see him as soon as possible. Because it was late in the evening, he decided to stay home, have a refreshing bath, say his evening prayers and have a good hot meal with his beloved family. After the benediction at the end of the supper, he leaned back in his chair and told his wife and three sons of all that had happened to the Jews of Künzelsau, how he tried to prevent the disaster and failed. But he also could report to his beloved, how he could help his poor friends to be absorbed by their fellow Jews everywhere there was any possibility to settle them down. A few families came with him to Berlichingen and in no time were given shelter by the local families.

      So after all, he had a deep satisfaction that all of those victims were taken care of, and with the famous Jewish adaptability they all would be able to exist in dignity and contribute their share to the well being of his beloved congregation.

      The next morning he felt relaxed and went on his way to his friend, the Baron. Looking at the roof of the synagogue, he saw three young storks standing in the large nest, their parents flying back and forth to put food in their large open jaws. He thought to himself, how lucky they are, having no other worries except providing frogs and worms to their offsprings as a full time job.

     This morning he was received by the Baron's whole family. They had their early lunch together in the large dining room. Around the oval oaken table sat the baron's wife, Eva von Adelsheim, a beautiful, handsome woman. Looking at her, one would not realize that she had already born the baron four children.

      "Please sit down, Rabbi Menachem," she said, "and have lunch with us." He followed her invitation, but tactfully declined to participate at the meal. As a Jew, he would not eat at any table which could not serve food prepared by all the Jewish rites. It was forbidden to eat milk and meat together, because the Bible said: 'You should not cook the calf in its mother's milk.' Besides this, all meat eaten by Jews had to be slaughtered by strict Jewish rites, in a way that no blood stayed in the meat. Yes, he tasted their dessert which consisted of a tasty fruitcake.

     The Baron brought a bottle of wine from the cellar and said: "This is from our wine grown here in our vineyards, the famous Jagstwine; last year was one of the best years of wine making ever. Prosit to you, my dear friend Menachem, for all the good deeds you are carrying out for your community!"

     It was a clear yellow-golden wine with a wonderful sweet aroma, which only grapes could produce, which grew in the fertile ground in the full sunshine. The rabbi said quietly the benediction: "Bless art Thou, O Lord our God, King of the Universe, who created the fruit of the vine. Amen." After this, he enjoyed his glass full of the excellent juice.

     In answer to the Baron's question, he later explained his activities in the last few days, in connection with the Jews getting evicted from Künzelsau, and how most of them had come to the Baron's villages along the Jagst river to find their new home.

     "We welcome every Jewish refugee here, because we know how useful they are in our communities, and what benefactions we have from their activities. During time, they will be absorbed in every possible trade they wish to carry out, even be farmers on their own land, if they wish to be."

     Rabbi Menachem smiled: "You know, Hans Pleickhardt, my second son Benjamin wants to become a farmer. He is dreaming of once managing a large estate, maybe one of yours. I am convinced that he will be a good farmer eventually."

     Hans Pleickhardt replied: "Menachem, that gives me a wonderful idea: We own a large piece of land called Halsberg, situated on the ridge between the Jagst and the Kocher. It is good land and can be used for cattle and sheep grazing and also growing rye or wheat and other grains in rotation. I always have difficulty to find an able administrator who is also a good farmer for our Halsberg estate."

     "It may be too soon to make plans," said Menachem, "because Benjamin is still very young, and he first has to learn good farming and administration as a trainee. In a few years he surely will be ready to manage this estate in a way that will be productive for all sides. - But you called for me, Hans, surely not to speak about the Halsberg estate. What is the reason?"

      "Let's go to my library. I have a serious matter to speak with you about," said the Baron.

     When they both entered into his beloved library and settled down on easy chairs near the window, from where there was a marvelous view of the green attractive valley, where in the distance the red roofs of the village of Berlichingen could be seen.

     "As you probably know, Menachem, I was called urgently away about two weeks ago," started the Baron, "I was called to the Emperor in Prague, and he asked me to visit the Holy Land, and see and inspect the different Protestant churches there, and on the way those under Turkish rule. Also, he wants me to visit the Catholic churches, but as a Protestant, I don't know if I will be received there. Anyway, our dream we had together some time ago, is coming through. You see, Menachem, if you want to achieve something and put innocently your mind on it - it usually will materialize."

     "That is fantastic, Hans Pleickhardt, you really think that we can travel together? You know, I have my own interests to visit the Holy land of Israel. How can we do this together?" asked the rabbi.

     "There is no question about it that we shall travel together, and on the way each of us will go after his own affairs. I don't see any problem."

     "When do you want to start out, how are we traveling, and how long will we be away?" asked Menachem.

     "In about one month during the month of September, after the harvest is brought in, I will have my affairs so arranged that I can be away during the whole winter, when there is not much to do here anyhow. We shall ride from here to the city of Regensburg on the Danube River, and from there take a ship together with our horses to Constantinople. Then we will go by land, which will be a long, difficult ride to far away Palestine. Once there, probably, our ways will part. I plan to be most of the time in Jerusalem, which is the most important city for Christianity, but will also visit all the holy places in the Galilee. I will also go along the sea coast and visit places like Acco, Mount Carmel, Cesarea and Jaffa."

     "All those places have also interest for me as a Jew. But today Zefat, in the hills of Galilee is the world center of Judaism. There the most famous rabbis study and teach the Kabbalah, the mystic tradition of our holy scriptures.

     Another point is that during the month of September and beginning of October, we have our high holidays like Rosh Hashanah, the New Year, Yom Kippur, the day of Atonement and Succoth, the feast of the Tabernacle, which ends with Simchat Torah, the feast of the Torah, our holy Bible. It will probably not be before the middle of October, till I can get away and pass on my duties to the colleague rabbis of Bad Mergentheim and Braunsbach."

     "So it is settled," said the baron, "we are leaving around the fifteenth of October. Let's have another drink from our excellent wine to the success of our life journey together to the holy land. Prosit, or how you say in Hebrew: 'Lechaim, to life!'"

     "Lechaim welabriuth, to life and health," toasted the rabbi smiling.

 

 

CHAPTER THREE

     So it came to pass that on the fifteenth of October, in the year 1589, the Baron Hans Pleickhardt von Berlichingen and the Rabbi Menachem ben Dov were traveling on a Turkish sailboat on the Danube river. It was a swift journey going down the river towards the Austrian capital Vienna. Actually, the current of the stream was so strong that the captain had to break it with the sails, to avoid the many rapids on the way. Much slower, on the left side, ships were pulled upstream by long ropes, on which about twenty men were tugging their heavy load, all bent forward, all walking in step.

     The two friends were standing on the deck, leaning on the rail, watching the surroundings going by in a constant flow.

      "How peaceful everything looks," said Hans Pleickhardt: "Look at the cows grazing on the meadows and the people walking and riding on the trail along the river. People look so happy and content, like there were never any wars in this picturesque country. Look at the snow covered mountains in the distance. Is it not wonderful?"

     "Yes," said the rabbi. "Never in my life I traveled so far, nor have I ever seen such high mountains like the Alps. It is all God's marvelous creation. We have to be very thankful for this."

     Three days ago the two friends had started out in the early morning, after they had taken leave of their families and friends. Many of Rabbi Menachem's congregation were at his house to see him ride away on his black horse. Everyone gave him the blessing for a safe journey he was now undertaking. They all loved and respected him and would miss his outstanding personality, but he would be missed most by his beloved family.

     The three sons promised to assist their mother to take care of the household and the daily affairs and problems coming up. His two colleagues, the Rabbis of Bad Mergentheim and Braunsbach promised to take turns to visit the congregation and settle all the affairs, and taking upon themselves the many tasks a rabbi has to fulfill. Many members of the congregation brought him supplies for the way: The butcher brought sausages, the baker bread, and many brought apples and pears from their orchards. It was even too much for his horse to carry all this, along with him and the clothes it had to carry.

     The Baron also took leave from his dearly beloved family and his subjects. He was very much admired by them. Now, with all the good wishes, the two friends rode away into the rising morning sun.

     In two days, they reached the city of Regensburg, where they were lucky to find the Turkish freighter just lifting anchor, sailing down the Danube River. They were accommodated in two small cabins, and their horses were lowered down into the ship's hold, where there was a large supply of hay and grains waiting for them.

     "Why cannot all people live together in peace?" the Baron continued their discussion, "Even if they have different religions, they all worship God, the Almighty."

     "Yes," said the rabbi, "we Jews were always the victims, when things go wrong anywhere. Even in the good times, we were persecuted. A hundred years ago Columbus discovered the new continent of America, and in the same year the terrible inquisition started against the Jews in the same Spain, from which Columbus was sent on his way. They had been living there for hundreds of years, and all of a sudden it was decided by the Catholic church that all the Jews have to become Christians, or they had to leave their homes and country, or were just burned alive. All this happened in the name of God, who gave us our religion as his chosen people, gave us the Torah, the five sacred books of the Bible, which later on you have inherited from us. So instead of being thankful to God’s Chosen people, we are now persecuted in the whole of Europe."

     "You are quite right, Menachem," grumbled Hans Pleickhardt, "I am ashamed about this, and I am doing everything in my dominion to correct this crying injustice. Martin Luther, the founder of the reform of our church, was very friendly towards you Jews. He thought through his good will, he can convince you to come to him and become his followers. Later on, he changed his mind, and to my disagreement, has spoken out against the Jews even more venomously than did the old Catholic church. Even though I am a strong believer in his religion, in this point I completely disagree. I have spoken out my opinion many time, but have been shouted down by the ministers of the Protestant church. There are not many like me, only those who have a wider education and are able to look over those narrow boundaries in which they are leading the church.

     But speaking about religion, Menachem, I see great hostilities brewing up between us reformists, and the Catholic church. As you know, Europe is divided between the two camps of religion; and it will not take very long until a full-fledged war will break out, all in the name of God and our holy Christ. At least you Jews are not involved in this quarrel."

     "Allow me to disagree with you, my friend," said Menachem, "we will be in the middle and be persecuted from both sides. This is also one of the reasons I am making this daring journey to Israel, our old promised land. There is a strong belief among us Jews that finally the Messiah will come to earth, and not only will all of us Jews be led back by him to our holy land, but he also will create world peace so that people will live together in harmony. You can not imagine, Hans Pleickhardt, how much I, and every Jew with me are praying that the Messiah will come in our life time." The rabbi sighed deeply and tears were forming in his eyes.

     "I am with you in my prayers," said the Baron. "Tell me, Menachem, you spoke about Zefat in the Galilee where you are going. Why have you chosen to go on this long trip to visit especially this place, which is actually not well known in the wide world?"

     The rabbi said: "After all the persecution in Europe against my people, some famous rabbis have escaped the ghettos of Europe and have assembled in Zefat in recent years. They have opened many schools and businesses there. Everyone is working to make a living, but whenever they have time in the evening, they assemble together and are studying the Kabbalah under the guidance of those famous rabbis. I want to be one of those scholars during the time I'll be there, and reach enlightenment studying the mystic Kabbalah.

     Before you ask me about it, I will explain to you what I know about the Kabbalah, even it is understood by only a few selected educated rabbis, who are the leaders in this holy congregation.

     In general terms, the Kabbalah is the pathway to the understanding of our God. There is a book believed to be written in Granada, in Spain. It is called the Zohar, and consists of the since then unwritten oral tradition of our Torah. In other words, it explains in many ways what actually is written in the Torah, which was dictated by God to Moses on Mount Sinai.

     If one learns and understands the Zohar, it provides him with the possibility to approach God directly. It is my objective to obtain this knowledge and to give it out to my congregation as much as I will be able to. It will guard us in more difficult times, which I see, like you approaching us in the near future."

     Exhausted, but content about their conversation, the two friends sat down on some easy chairs provided to them by the ship's crew.

     The same evening they arrived in Vienna, the capital of Austria, where the ship anchored for one day to load and unload some cargo. It also gave the two travelers the opportunity to replenish their supplies for the continuation of their journey. They took out their horses for a ride through the city and the famous Viennese Woods.

     The next morning the anchor was lifted, and the ship now approached the border of Hungary, which now belonged to the Great Ottoman Empire. The river Danube was now much wider and flew in a tranquil current. There were many more ships on the river than before, many of them were gun boats of the German Navy and supply ships for the army stationed along the border.

     After several hours, when the ship arrived at the actual border with Hungary, they were ordered to stop, and a Turkish officer boarded the ship. All the passengers were asked for their identification. When the officer approached the Rabbi Menachem, he asked him about his destination.

     "I am Rabbi Menachem ben Dov and am traveling to the Holy Land to study our holy scriptures for several months," answered the rabbi.

     "Welcome, Rabbi, in our great Ottoman Empire," said the officer, "we are friendly to all who visit us, and you will soon see that we have here complete freedom of religion, even though we are Moslems. The Jews live here without restriction."

     "Thank you, Sir, I appreciate your welcome," answered the rabbi.

     "And you , Sir, who are you and where are you headed?" the officer asked Hans Pleickhard.

     "I am Baron Hans Pleickhardt von Berlichingen and am on a diplomatic mission to visit the churches in Palestine," answered the Baron.

     "We are very happy to have you as our guest, your Excellency," answered the officer, "I will provide you both with letters of conduct. You may present them wherever they are needed," said the officer and saluted both men after writing the two letters.

     Impressed by the friendly reception, both friends were relieved and continued to enjoy the journey. Hans Pleickhardt had a good look at the many Turkish gunboats accumulated on the river, the fortifications and the many army camps on both shores of the river. They made quite a strong impression on him. He made a mental note about their strengths and readiness for battle. He could see many cannons lined up, and several formations of cavalry and infantry doing battle drill. All this was going on quietly, and there was no gun firing to be heard.

     "How long will it take till this army will continue to try to advance towards the German Empire?" asked the Baron.

     "It looks to me that they are ready for battle," said the rabbi, "even though I am not a military man. The question is, will they do this before the winter starts, or wait till Spring?"

     "You are quite right," answered the Baron, "They look ready, just waiting for orders to advance. The big problem is if they can be halted after they captured the whole of the Balkan lands? The officer said that they give everyone their freedom of religion, but these conquests are all made to spread Islam, their religion."

     "We can't do anything to prevent this situation. So let us continue our journey, enjoy the wonderful landscape and hope for a peaceful and successful trip," said Menachem in ending their discussion. But the baron was deeply worried about this warlike situation.

 

 

CHAPTER FOUR

     After another weeklong journey, their ship reached the Black Sea, and in another long day sailing along the shore, they reached their port of destination Constantinople. Now called Istanbul, it was the Capital of the mighty Ottoman Empire. Their ship anchored on the east side of the Bosporus, the isthmus on both sides of which this large city was situated. They were both exhausted from the long sailing trip, and so were their horses, who had a hard time being under deck for the long three weeks of travel.

     They quickly found a friendly inn for themselves and their horses. To their pleasant surprise it was actually a caravansary. This was also the place from where caravans start out over land to Damascus in Syria on their long way to the Holy Land. Their plan was to join one of those caravans. Riding by themselves was too dangerous, because of the possibility of getting attacked and robbed by Bedouins on their way.

     They were told that the Turkish army provided an armed escort for those caravans, and that there were also many inns on the way where they could stay overnight. They were advised to buy an additional pair of horses for their luggage, in case their horses could not endure the long trip, not being adjusted to the dry and hard climate of the dessert. To their luck, it was late in the season and traveling was more comfortable during the months of late autumn.

     It was just Friday evening, the beginning of the Jewish Shabbat. Rabbi Menachem visited one of the many large and beautiful synagogues of the city, where he was received most warmheartedly by the members of the congregation. He could easily speak with them in Hebrew, their common language, even he had to adjust himself to the Sephardic pronunciation. His Ashkenaz dialect sounded much more monotonous than their much more colorful pronunciation: Sephardic Hebrew used letters which were pronounced “a” instead of “o,” and “o” instead of “au,” and more often it was “t” instead of “s.”

     Very quickly Menachem got adjusted and started to speak the melodious Sephardic pronunciation. It sounded much more free and easy to him. This was also so with the behavior of the local Jews. Many of them were rich merchants, doctors and scholars. He was invited to their homes to celebrate Shabbat and was impressed by their wealth and intellectual and mental freedom.

     They knew about the holy city of Zefat in Israel and assured him that this picturesque town in the Galilean hills was today the center of Judaic wisdom, from where a rich new knowledge was coming out. There was a lively contact between the rabbis of Istanbul and Zefat, and their scholars already studied the new spiritual interpretation of the Torah in the Kabbalah, in their Jewish schools.

     Very inspired from this good news, Menachem returned to the inn, where he met the Baron. Hans Pleickhardt was also in good spirit, having visited the famous old churches of the city, where he also met with the high priests of the church. He could easily speak with them in Latin, in which he was quite fluent. His own Protestant church, to which he actually belonged was also established in Istanbul, but in a modest way. It took him some time to find the new, little church. He was told by everyone that the churches in Palestine were all in good state, although they had not many followers. Most of the priesthood administering them were sent there from Europe. After all, the Ottoman Moslems were the absolute rulers there, after they had finally defeated the European Crusaders three hundred years ago.

     A large caravan had assembled at the caravansary, and early Monday morning, they were on their way on the long journey over land to Damascus, the Syrian Capital. They formed a long line of loaded camels trudging along one after another, with many riders accompanying and guiding them. Hans Pleickhardt and Menachem rode at the end of the long line, with the Turkish army squad. Their Arab horses were much smaller than their German ones, but faster and livelier. Those two new horses they had purchased were those Arab horses, and very quickly they realized that it was much more comfortable to ride them and to use their German horses as carrier of their baggage.

     The weather was quite pleasant, the days fairly cool, but the nights started to be more and more cold. Unable to reach an inn and the comfort of a clean bed it would have provided, they often had to sleep overnight in the open, when they could not reach an inn, which could give them the minimal comfort of a clean bed. At those times they slept near their horses after they had reached some watering place on the way. It was an interesting journey through mostly dry desert country, but they also found picturesque oases with many palms and gardens inhabited by exotic people. Here, they could buy fresh vegetables or fruit which consisted mostly of dried dates. Menachem did not eat any meat offered to them, and his diet consisted mainly of those dates, which had most of the ingredients in them to keep him fit for the long trip.

     The first town the caravan reached after a week of traveling through the dry desert was Esquishir. It was the historical place where, as it was told, Alexander the Great had once cut the Gordion Knot with his sword instead of untying it. This assured him to be the ruler of all Asia, as history confirms.

     After another week of traveling they reached the great lake Gö lü . Here they all rested for a day. Menachem and Hans Pleikhardt took a refreshing swim in the cool water. On the next day they were all again on their way southwards till they reached the town of Adana. This was an important crossroad from where caravans coming from the nearby cost where traveling eastwards to far away Persia and India.

     The caravan Menachem and Hans Pleikhardt traveled with actually went for some days in the same easterly direction until they turned south to reach the city of Aleppo, where Menachem was welcomed by a small but very friendly congregation of Jews.

     After another long journey of nearly two weeks they arrived safely in the city of Damascus. A large congregation of Jews were residing in this exotic large city, and again the rabbi was heartily welcomed by them. Also, the Baron was welcomed in a Christian hospice maintained by the Catholic Church.

     Now, they were near the Holy Land, and eagerly they waited for the opportunity to reach their final destination. To their great delight, they found out that caravans were departing regularly to Zefat directly. This was, they were told an important trade center for all traffic going to Palestine.

     It was a short trip of two days compared with the long tiring journey through the wide desert. Leaving Damascus, the caravan quickly reached the foot of the snow covered Mount Hermon guarding the approach to the holy land. There was also a pleasant climate change. A fresh mountain breeze could be felt immediately which enabled the two travelers to think about the similarity of the mild weather in far away Germany. What a great distance they had covered in the five weeks since they had left home, and now they were near their goal: Israel. They crossed over the small river called Banias, one of the three sources of the holy river Jordan. They stayed over night in a friendly inn where they were served a good hearty meal, with plenty of fresh delicious figs as a dessert. Large evergreen fig trees grew all around the hospitable tavern.

     The next morning they traveled along the slope of the upper Galilee mountain observing Hule Lake down below, which was created by the river Jordan. They saw thousands of little white dots all around the lake. Looking closer they realized that those dots where actually storks resting near the fresh water after their long journey from Europe.

     “I knew that one day we would meet again,” called out Menachem, excited. “So we finally caught up with you, traveling about the same route from our home. What a wonderful auspicious coming together. It is like a dear familiar greeting. Thank you, Creator for all the miracles you have brought to life, connecting the far away parts of your marvelous world together!”

     It seemed like the storks down in the valley had heard Menachem’s excited prayer. All of a sudden, a great part of them rose up into the air and building a formation of a long outstretched V, they approached the caravan and flying low over them. They flapped their long outstretched wings, as though to greet the travelers with a mighty ‘Welcome to the Holy land’. Soon, they disappeared from their view, and the two friends were left with the sweet memory of this amazing promising moment.

 

 

CHAPTER FIVE

     Rabbi Menachem and the Baron Hans Pleikhardt arrived towards evening at the picturesque hill city of Zefat. The sun was just setting between the surrounding hills of the Galilee, and to the East they could see way down the blue shimmer of the Sea of Galilee and to the north, the high snow covered Mount Hermon. It was a beautiful landscape; the two friends had never seen anything like it before.

     “It is the Holy land,” said Menachem, “where my people lived over a thousand years ago. It was promised by God to Israel in the holy Bible. And now, thanks to God and under his guidance, I have returned to this center of Kabbalah study, the marvelous Zefat.”

     “Explain to me about the Kabbalah, you are so excited about,” asked Hans Pleikhardt: “We have traveled together so far to reach this particular place here in the middle of this picturesque Galilee Mountain.”

     “The Kabbalah is the Holy Book of mysticism cognized by the biblical prophets and laying out the deeper meaning of the Bible. There is an enormous wisdom in this book; it is now explained, studied and taught by famous rabbis here in this city, which, today, is the religious center of the Jewish religion.”

     Here they ended their passionate talk. They had arrived at the caravansary together with all the other traveling merchants and their military escort. There was a wide courtyard where their camels and horses could stay, being fed and watered after their long travel from Syria. The two friends entered the inn and sat down for a good nourishing meal. After that they were shown their accommodations, where they soon fell asleep, tired and relieved after their long and tiresome travel.

     The next morning refreshed after a comfortable rest and a good breakfast with fresh baked bread and lots of fresh vegetables and fruit, the two friends took a stroll through the city. They went through the narrow streets glued to the steep hill on which Zefat was built. Sometimes the balconies of the houses on both side of the street were nearly touching each other and gave welcome shade from the strong sun. They saw many new houses built, because the town had grown enormously in the last fifty years, from around one thousand inhabitants to over sixty thousand. Trade was bustling, and they could see in the many shops and bazaars merchandise from all parts of the Mediterranean countries, Europe and the near and far Eastern countries. They saw many new built factories, where carpets and all kind of clothing were woven. It looked like as if everybody was busy with some kind of productive work, and that the city’s economy was prosperous in every aspect.

     But most of all, the two friends admired the many different synagogues, many of which had attached learning institutions. It was here that the famous rabbis taught and explained the Kabbalah. The Zohar, which was a relatively new book, written only two hundred years ago was taught as well.

     Eagerly, Rabbi Menachem said: “Here I will spend the next few months to acquire as much knowledge as I am possibly be able to absorb. Here, I will find deeper understanding and wisdom about Judaism, so when I return to my congregation in Berlichingen, I will be able to define and enrich all aspects of the daily life.”

     “I can understand your excitement and wish you much success in your enterprise,” said the Baron. “I can see what pulled you to come to this marvelous place, where everything seems to be peaceful and harmonious. I definitely want to learn from you of what you will be studying. I will be leaving you here and will be visiting the many holy places of my religion to fulfill the mission I was asked to carry out here in the holy land.”

     “We have to be in contact, so I will know where you are and if all is well with you. After all, this is a foreign land, and to travel may not always be safe everywhere you want to go. So please write to me from time to time, and hopefully your letters will reach me,” answered Menachem.

     The two friends continued their walk to the different places of the town. They visited the large Moslem quarter, where they were received courteously and were offered many exotic goods. They also saw some churches from the various Christian sects.

     “I will visit some of them before I leave, and will acquire information about how I will go along with my traveling,” said the Baron. The next morning Hans Pleickardt, riding on his horse, left Zefat and rode south to visit the city of Nazareth. Then he traveled down to the Sea of Galilee. Those places were holy to the Christian religion, because they were referred to in the New Testament telling the story of Jesus’ life and his revealing of Christianity.

     Rabbi Menachem was now on his own and met with many Jews living in Zefat. He was astonished to find Jews from many different countries from all over Europe, such as Russia, Poland and the Balkan countries. Many were from Spain and Portugal, from where they escaped the Inquisition. There they were forced to become Christians or leave their towns and villages, where they had been living peacefully for hundreds of years. Also, from his own country Germany, he met many Jewish families. Most of them decided to stay in peaceful Zefat where everybody could lead a free and prosperous life.

     He also met many famous rabbis who all had their own synagogues to pray and teach their congregations according to the countries from which they originated. Many Russian and Polish Jews spoke German intermingled with many Hebrew words. They called it Yiddish. At one time they all lived in Germany, and when they were driven out, they took the German language with them and used it as a secret language that only Jews could understand.

     Others spoke a Spanish-like dialect, which they called Ladino. It was their own language which only they could understand and speak, because also this special language was mingled with many Hebrew words. Those were the Sephardic Jews, whereas all the Jews who came from center and east Europe were the Ashkenazi Jews. Ashkenaz means in the Hebrew language, Germany, from where almost all of them originally came.

     Every one could speak proper Hebrew, which was the language used in the daily prayers. It was the language which connected all together in their daily life, even though the pronunciation was slightly different between Sephardic and Ashkenazit. The teaching and interpretation in the many learning chambers were mostly carried out and written down in Hebrew.

 

 

CHAPTER SIX

     Very soon Rabbi Menachem found out that the leading rabbi in Zefat was Rabbi Chaim Vital. He went to his house and introduced himself and told Rabbi Chaim that he came from far away Germany to learn about the Kabbalah. He wanted bring back this most precious knowledge to his congregation and also spread this learned information to all interested in it.

     Rabbi Chaim was very pleased to welcome such an honorable visitor to his house. The moment Menachem saw the famous rabbi, he realized that he was standing in the presence of a holy man. His shining, smiling face radiated a great brightness of coherence and intuition, which affected Menachem strongly. He felt that he had met his master and tutor, that he had reached the unique place from where he will reap the greatest possible benefit for his whole spiritual well-being.

     “Please, Rabbi Menachem, feel at home in my house and with my family. You are my distinguished guest as long as you want to stay here in this holy city of Zefat. I am honored to have you here with me, together with all the other scholars who are studying our holy scriptures every day. I will tell my wife to prepare a room for you, so you can be most comfortable here with us.”

     It was just time for the midday meal, and Rabbi Chaim invited Menachem to sit with them and enjoy the food. Menachem was overwhelmed with this hearty welcome and hospitality and thanked the rabbi warmly for his generous reception.

     In the evening, Rabbi Chaim and Rabbi Menachem met together in the study, and Chaim explained about the studies he was conducting: “All our studies are based on the Torah, the holy book. As you know, God gave the Torah through Moses to the children of Israel on Mount Sinai. Together with the Torah, God laid out to Moses the wider use of the commandments, called the Oral Tradition, which passed from that time on to the priests and the prophets from generation to generation. After the destruction of the second temple in Jerusalem by the Romans, Rabbi Akiba and other rabbis wrote down the Oral Tradition into the Mishnah, the Talmud and the Kabbalah, so nothing would get lost. When the Jewish people were dispersed all over the world, they took those holy books with them. Many more holy books were written through the ages. The most famous one is the Zohar, rewritten about two hundred years ago. Originally, the Zohar was written by the most famous rabbi of all times, Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. He wrote it when hiding in a cave from the Romans, who were searching for him as the leader of the resistance of the Roman rule. This cave is near Meron, a town not far from here. The Zohar was hidden for thousand years until it was found, rewritten, and published by          Rabbi Moshe de Leon.

     We are very fortunate that all those books are now printed in many copies and can be studied much more easily than the few manuscripts that were kept earlier in a few places in many different countries.

     To get deeper in those studies, we have a special technique we are using and that enables us to comprehend much more deeply the true meaning of all our holy scriptures. I will teach you tomorrow what you have to do to reach this full understanding of all we are teaching here.”

     Menachem was listening with keen interest to the words of the great man explaining to him the true meaning of the foundation of what made Zefat so unique of all the places where Judaism was studied.

     Rabbi Chaim continued: “Not long ago we had the great honor to be near the greatest Rabbi in our time, who lived here among us. He was the Ari, as we called him. His real name was Rabbi Isaac Luria. He was born in Jerusalem, but his family came from your country, Germany. The name Ari is the Hebrew abbreviation of Elohi Rabbi Isaac – the Godly Rabbi Isaac. I personally saw him as a most divine being, a human angel. He was without dispute the greatest Kabbalist in our time. I had the privilege to be near him and record all his teachings in twelve volumes, and I can tell you that they are all of the highest spiritual standard. I call them the ‘Gates of Wisdom.’

     The Ari only reached the age of thirty-eight years, but in his short life he was able to create an enormous flow of wisdom. He became the highest authority in everything connected with Jewish law and developed a new way of mysticism. He explained the Zohar in such a clear and convincing way that nobody could come up against him with any reasonable argument. All that happened during his short lifetime. Now that he is not with us any more, we are even more appreciative of his enlightened teaching.”

     Here Rabbi Chaim ended his long presentation. Menachem had been listening with great devotion to every word Chaim told him. He felt, again, how fortunate he was to have reached this holy place and the most benevolent teacher in it.

      “Tomorrow morning I will pray the morning prayer with you, and after that I will teach you the way we reach a state of awareness that will enable you to comprehend the full meaning of the Kabbalah. I wish you a good night, my dear friend, Menachem,” said Chaim smiling.

     “Good night, my dear teacher, and thank you for everything you have bestowed on me.”

     The next morning, they met in the synagogue connected to Chaim Vital’s house. There was also a group of rabbinical students present, and Menachem was introduced to them. They prayed under the leadership of Rabbi Chaim. They all had their traditional prayer shawls called tallit, over the shoulders and their phylacteries called tefillin, on their head and left arm. Those were little black leather cubes containing some specific Biblical verses. In the most important prayer ‘Schmah Israel!’ -- ‘Hear Israel!’ -- all male Jews were commanded to wear those tefillin during morning prayer.

     After the prayer, Chaim took Menachem back to his room. "Leave your tallit and tefillen on. Sit down comfortably on the floor and face the open window, so you can see the sky outside and breathe the rich mountain air."

     He instructed Chaim in the traditional form of religious meditation. Then he said: "Carry on this delightful state as long as you feel comfortable. Then lie down and rest."

     "This is the way all of us here reach a higher state of awareness, in which we feel close to our creator. In this state you will feel the presence of God."

     Rabbi Menachem did everything precisely according to Chaim’s instructions. He felt great relaxation, which he had never before felt in his whole life. He sensed that he was floating in the air, and that the holy spirit of God was near him.

     In the afternoon, Menachem met with the whole group of Rabbi Chaim Vital’s disciples. Chaim spoke about his ‘Book of Reincarnation’, the Chapter of the Guardian Angels:

     “In Psalm 91, verse 11 says: ‘For He will command His angels to guard you in all your ways.’ When your soul is thirsty and prepared to learn, you are ready to communicate with your special Guardian Angel, and he is prepared to communicate with you. You don’t need to make any effort to connect; and it will happen at the correct time. If you have the spiritual level, you are able to communicate easily. As you think about a person you loved who has passed away, think about him or her, talk to him or her, and you will feel this special peaceful, loving, and re-assuring energy.

     Once you have started this divine connection, you will have the correct feeling, which you need to progress along on your spiritual journey. Talk to your Guardian Angel regularly, and express thanks for being looked after in such a heavenly way. Important is honesty and kindness, and also carefulness with your power of speech. Your Guardian Angel will instruct you as you proceed along your spiritual course.

     Do not speak about your personal experiences. Only when you are extremely confident and feel strong that your good energy is not harmed, you may instruct others to proceed on your path. The Ari, my master and teacher tells us, the less one speaks about these spiritual matters to other people the better. You will continue to receive spiritual guidance from your Guardian Angel, and you will improve the people around you, and you will eventually teach them. Your angel will tell you when it is time and with whom it is safe to talk about those spiritual matters.

     The connection with your Guardian Angel must be honest, trustworthy and strong, with the purpose of selfless service to God and the world. Your guardian is always with you and loves you to maximize the spiritual potential in your life. Thank God and your Guardian Angel for the help you receive every moment of every day in your life.”

     Here the Rabbi ended his speech, and there was a short discussion about the deep knowledge and the practical experience about the connection with the Guardian Angel. Menachem did not participate in this. He kept quiet and let these rich, new, mystic facts of life get absorbed in his mind.

     The next day when all met again, Rabbi ChaimVital spoke about the ‘Life of Love’: “When God is giving us life, he gives us the possibility to develop our spiritual strength for unselfish devotion to Him. This will bring about overflowing calmness, friendship and harmony to the world. There will be no poverty and suffering; everybody will have sufficient provision from nature for his daily life. Hate, envy and war will just disappear.

     If we live this fullness of love, we are full of energy and divine strength. We will always be happy, and this will radiate all around us. This love will continuously come back to us, so we will be gaining most of it ourselves. We will be using our power of speech to praise others around us. This strength also has a wonderful healing capacity with great effect for those in need.

     It is essential that we believe in an eternal, divine and spiritual Creator of the universe. This belief in a spiritual world is an inner personal experience, because each individual has his own unique feelings, experiences and beliefs. We can awaken this spirit within us by looking at the stars at night and at the beauty of nature, trees, plants and flowers. This awakens our inner soul.

     Awakening this deep love everyone has hidden inside will open a spring of love and creative passion from the energy deep inside us. It will connect everyone with the creative energy of the world, which is God himself. Where there is love, there is God, and where God is, there is life, vitality, happiness, faith, hope and peace.

     This higher spiritual level is attainable to one who has a higher goal in life, a person who has a higher purpose other than survival or solely gaining financial profit, a person who lives in the service to God and mankind, with the objective of making this world a better place to live.

     We may never know how great a soul there may be in anyone or anything we see around us through our physical eye. Because of this reincarnation, the Ari taught the importance of respecting everything and everyone, even plants, flowers, trees, birds and animals, as there could be a very great soul inside them. Never make the mistake of being arrogant, snubbing lesser people or judging anyone. It is not for us to question why and what, but to accept that everything has a reason, as an overall plan for the whole world as one single unit.

     Psalm 119, verse 18 says: ‘Unveil my eyes that I may see the wonders of the Torah.’ This emphasizes the need to be responsible not just for one self, but for the sake of other people, to realize that there are others depending upon you spiritually.

     With your Guardian Angel working with you to succeed, you are assured that you are never alone. Even if it appears that you are all alone – you are never alone.”

     Rabbi Menachem felt that he had entered into an other world. He was completely absorbed in Rabbi Chaim Vital’s teaching, like he was sitting near a mountain spring of purest water and drinking from it constantly. His daily meditation contributed to this divine awareness he now experienced day by day.

     Rabbi Chaim continued in his daily lectures from all the other books he had written according to the Holy Ari’s superb teachings. In the book, ‘The Tree of Life’, the Ari says that the learning of the Kabbalah assures the coming of the Messiah, for whom we are all waiting. Rabbi Chaim also spoke about the ‘Eight Gates,’ which are a commentary of the Bible, and which explain mainly that those gates are the stages to reach divine inspiration and reincarnation on the pathway to complete enlightenment.

     It became clear to Menachem that the teaching of the Ari, written down and elaborated by Chaim Vital, was actually the essence of the Kabbalah. He learned that the mystic explanation of the creation of the world was a process of Zimzum, of reduction, which means the withdrawal of the Infinite light, to make space for the finite light. This infinite light was so strong that when it was directed to the vessels, the actual universe, it caused their breaking. God’s creation was the repair of those vessels in which the infinite light was shining. It explains the creation of our world in a most mystical form. It explains that we human beings often see the world as broken when natural disasters, such as earthquakes strike. Also wars, bringing massive destruction, death and suffering, can be explained as those broken vessels. The ongoing Inquisition in Spain, Portugal and other European countries is a striking example of a broken vessel; but many Jews miraculously survived this catastrophic act of destruction.

     The Ari saw all this as ‘Tikun Olam’, the repairing of the world. Those broken vessels are being repaired because they have this infinite, eternal light in them. In our prayers, we are helping to repair those broken vessels to create a better world in which the divinity of God, the Almighty, rules. We have to create the divine, conscious spark in ourselves by being strong and purifying our heart; so we are able to bear this infinite light and contribute to a perfect, peaceful, more conscious world, the actual ‘Tikun Olam.’

     With each small act of kindness and helping others who are in need, we are able to clean and improve our own inner life; with each heartfelt prayer, we are opening ourselves to the higher energy and higher will to serve the Almighty to create this new and perfect world.

     In his daily meditation, Menachem was able to integrate those noble, mystic explanations; and it became clear to him that each day he spent with his divine teacher, his life was now more in accord with those highest moral principles. He decided that he would devote himself completely to this supreme knowledge to do the utmost in helping to create an ideal new world.

 

 

CHAPTER SEVEN

     Menachem was now over two months in Zefat when he received a letter by a special messenger from his friend the Baron Hans Pleikhardt. He wrote that he is in Jerusalem in a Christian hospice. He became very ill with Malaria, and he felt so sick and weak that he is afraid that his end is near. He asked Menachem to come as fast as possible to see him, because he has urgent messages to give him to bring back to Germany.

     Menachem had to tell his host and teacher Rabbi Chaim Vital the grave news, and that he had to leave Zefat early the next morning. He took it as a sign from heaven that after he had received so much knowledge and experience from an enlightened life, he was now entering a new period. Now he had to put into practice all this new experience he had received into the most exceptional way. God was putting him to the test to be strong and persistent to overcome all the obstacles in his future life.

     In the early morning hour Menachem was riding on his horse down from the Galilean mountain. It was a cold and clear morning, and he felt uplifted after his long stay in Zefat. There was no doubt that his life had completely changed after studying the Kabbalah in Rabbi Chaim Vital’s house for over two months. He had the secure feeling that he was guarded, that nothing would happen to him on this long ride to Jerusalem, where his friend, the Baron, was lying sick in one of the hospices. Although thinking of his ailing friend, who had urgently called him to come, had put some burden on his uplifted mood. He thought to himself that whatever dilemma is waiting for him, he had to be strong to meet it. He was convinced that nature is supporting him in everything fate had in store for him.

     To get ready for his trip and not to disturb the Vital family in the early hours of the day, he had slept this last night in the caravansary, where his horse was kept during the two months of his stay in Zefat. The horse had grown fat grazing idle on the meadow without any burden of carrying a rider and his baggage. Now, rider and horse were traveling as one unit on the narrow path leading down into the Jezreel valley. Menachem wanted to reach the old biblical fortress city of Megiddo by evening, where he hoped to find an inn for the night.

     During the afternoon hours, he reached the Jezreel plain. It was mostly covered with swamps, but there also were some clear lakes. To his great astonishment, he saw several storks standing near the water. They were spending the warm winter here in Israel, not continuing their long flight to far away Egypt. He greeted them warmly as old friends from his distant home in Germany: “Very soon it will be spring, and you will be heading back. We will meet again in Berlichingen, where you will build your nest again on the roof of our synagogue, and I will be watching you every day when I will be going to pray there,” he was speaking loudly to himself: “It is your connection with this unique place, just as my Jewish belief that connects me to this biblical land.”

     Riding along on his loyal horse, he called to his mind the many battles that were fought in this fruitful plain. It was the important crossroad between the Mediterranean Sea shore and the deep Jordan valley, and also the road leading from northern Syria to far away Egypt and near Samaria and Judea, which was the heartland of the Biblical Jewish state. Many wars had erupted in this strategic plain, such as the one led by the prophetess Deborah and her general Barak, who fought the Canaanite forces under their leader Sisera. This decisive battle was won for the Israelian state. There was also the story of the warrior, Gideon, who with three hundred chosen fighters achieved a victory over the Midianites and the Amalekites. All this Menachem remembered reading in the Bible.

     It was now near nightfall; and after a long tiring ride, he approached the ancient fortress Megiddo, where King Solomon once had stables in his garrison to defend against any invader and to secure the important crossroad. He easily found an inn on the road leading up to the biblical fort. After a tasty meal and prayer, thanking God for leading him peacefully on his long journey, he fell fast asleep, exhausted but pleased.

     The next morning he continued his ride to Jerusalem. On this second day, he now entered Samaria with forested hills and fruitful plains in between. He saw many dark green olive plantations, a sign of prosperous agriculture producing the essential oil used for daily cooking everywhere. Whole families were working in the fields preparing the ground for the spring season. They greeted the lonely rider in Arabic: “Peace be with you!” And he answered them: “Will you live in peace!” Menachem enjoyed the peaceful atmosphere surrounding the farmers plowing their fields with pairs of oxen. It must have been like this in biblical times, seeing the men in their wide flowing cloth walking behind their wooden plows.

     He passed through several villages, built mostly on the slope of the hilly country. It was the biblical land of Menashe, one of the twelve Israelian tribes. They settled the land of Canaan after they captured it, under the leadership of Jehoshua. He was the leader who followed Moses, who was not, himself, granted by God to enter the Holy land.

     In the early afternoon hours, Menachem reached the city of Shechem, situated in a wide fertile plain. He could see Mount Gerizim close by, the holy site of the famous Samaritans. Although he was in a rush to reach his sick friend in Jerusalem, he decided to stay over night in this historical city and find out more about those ancient Samaritans he knew from reading the Bible. Asking his way, he was directed to the Samaritan synagogue in the city center. When he met the high-priest Pinchas, and introduced himself as a German rabbi, the high priest was not very eager to welcome him.

     “We Samaritans are not in good relations with our Jewish brothers,” Pinchas pointed out, “because we have an old bitterness in us, arising from biblical times when we were not allowed by the Israelites to help to rebuild the temple in Jerusalem. We have our own sacred temple here on Mount Gerizim, where we still sacrifice sheep on Passover as commanded in the Torah. We have lived here in Shechem for thousands of years, and in spite of wars and persecution by many occupying armies, we never left this holy city of our ancient religion.”

     “I am excited to learn all this from you, High Priest Pinchas,” responded Menachem, “and I am looking forward to the time that we Jews and you Samaritans can live here in peace together. After all, we pray from the same Torah, which God has given to both of us.”

     Pinchas liked what Menachem said, and he invited him to enter the synagogue and see the holy Samaritan Torah scrolls, which as Pinchas pointed out, were as ancient as anyone can remember. Menachem looked at the Hebrew script and read several sentences from the holy text. He was animated from this surprising discovery, and said to Pinchas: “We are close brothers, and I am full of praise of your holy tradition, which you have kept pure during the duration of time.”

     The High Priest also showed Menachem his satisfaction and said: “I want to show you the two biblical holy places here in the city. One is Jacob’s well, which he built here to water his thirsty flocks when he dwelt here. The second is Jacob’s son Joseph’s tomb. He was buried here when his body was brought back here by his brothers, after he died in Egypt.”

     Menachem viewed the two holy places with great awe. After the two friends prayed together at the holy tomb, Pinchas invited Menachem to his house, where they had a traditional Samaritan supper with his large family. With many heartily good wishes, Menachem left the friendly house. He went to the nearby inn, where he had left his horse to get fed and rest. He himself went to sleep quite satisfied after a long day of exciting events.

     After a long-day ride Menachem finally reached the holy city of Jerusalem on the third day of his journey. In his daily prayers, he had mentioned Jerusalem so often, that he felt that he had been there many times before, at least in his thoughts and dreams. At the end of the festive Passover meal he had prayed like every Jew in the whole world: “The next year in Jerusalem!” And now finally this lifelong yearning had come through. Exhilarated he rode through the large commanding Shechem gate, admiring the high city wall, which surrounded this mighty city. The guards at the gate were some Turkish soldiers. Menachem greeted them and asked the way to the Hospice of the Knights of St. John. They directed him to the Christian Quarter situated to the right after entering the city.

     First of all, he wanted to meet his sick friend, the Baron Hans Pleickhardt. Reaching the hospice, he was astonished to meet German speaking nurses and physicians. When he was brought to the bed of his friend, he was bewildered to find him exhausted, pale with his great eyes wide open. He said softly, very difficult to hear: “I was waiting for you, Menachem. I don’t have long to live, and I have much to tell you. Please come tomorrow morning, I am too weak to talk to you now.” He closed his eyes and fell asleep immediately.

     Menachem asked the physician about his friend’s illness. He was told that he was infected with malaria, a tropical disease, and common in this land. There was no effective treatment available, because it affects the spleen, which normally cleanses the bloodstream in the body. The patient suffering from malaria has a high temperature and is not able to take any food into his body. The only possible treatment being done is to give him tea and some opium to relieve his pains. “He was waiting for you desperately, and he probably does not have many days to live,” concluded the doctor.

     Very sad from the encounter with his friend, Menachem left the hospice and went to the Jewish quarter in the southern part of the city. He found an inn where he would remain during his stay in the holy city. He was in a mixed state of mind: Now he finally had reached Jerusalem, every Jew dreamed all his life to come through, to pray, and even to die and be buried near the remnants of the holy temple. He should have been exhilarated for this achievement; but finding his good friend mortally ill far away from his home and family weighed heavily on him. At the end, he decided to put his friend’s fate in the hand of the Almighty, and after praying and meditating, he finally fell asleep.

     The next morning Menachem found his sick friend in a slightly better state than on the day before. He spoke to him more clearly: “Menachem, when you return to Germany, go first to Berlichingen and tell my wife Eva and my four children that I love them very much; and I want my wife, with the help of my chief administrator, to continue to take care of all the affairs of the Baronship until my eldest son Carol Sigmundt is able to take over all the responsibilities as my legal heir, when he will be eighteen years old.

     Tell my family that I went on this journey as a duty to the Emperor and Germany. From Berlichingen, go as soon as possible to the Emperor’s court in Prague in the province of Bohemia. Tell the Royal court that you are coming in my name and that you have to speak personally with the Emperor Rudolf II. They will grant you this audience immediately, because I was here on a secret mission. Nobody should hear what you will tell the Emperor and nobody has to know what I am going to tell you now:

     When we two were sailing down the river Danube and crossed through the lines of the Ottoman army, I had to take careful observation of their readiness for a new offensive against the German Empire. I saw about twenty warships on the river and a large, strong army, well trained and ready for battle at any moment. The only obstacle was the coming winter, which made it clear to me that in early spring there will be a new offensive directed straight on the Austrian capital, Vienna. I could see many infantry, cavalry and artillery formations ready for immediate action on both banks of the river. This report you have to give personally to the Emperor, and you will be awarded for this in my name.”

     Exhausted, the Baron finished his long talk. He said with a last effort: “Please come back later. I have to tell you more.” He closed his eyes and fell asleep immediately. When Menachem returned in the afternoon, his friend was fast asleep. He sat beside his bed watching this dear friend withering away at the height of his life. He asked God, how could this happen, but did not receive any answer.

     After some time, Hans Pleickhardt opened his eyes and said: “Menachem tell the Emperor that inside the vast Ottoman Empire everything is secure, under control and flourishing. There is complete freedom for all religions, Jews and Christians alike. This includes all Christian sects, Catholics and Protestants as you can see yourself here in Jerusalem and other places we have traveled together. The walls of Jerusalem have been rebuilt with impressive gates and all ruins of past wars have been cleared, as you will observe by yourself. I am sure that the Ottoman Empire could be a strong ally for peace, if a diplomatic settlement could be reached on all outstanding problems between the German and the Ottoman Empires.” Again the Baron exhausted fell asleep immediately, after he conveyed the information he had gathered in his important mission. Menachem could realize some relief in his friend’s pale face. He thought to himself that it would be best to let him rest after the big effort.

     Menachem did not realize that it was the last time his friend would speak to him, because when he returned the next morning, he was informed that his friend, the Baron, had passed away during the night without waking up again.

 

 

CHAPTER EIGHT

     Leaving the hospice, Menachem went straight to the Western Wall, the holiest place of Judaism. It was also called the Wailing Wall, because it was the only remnants of the outer wall of the Biblical Temple after its destruction by the Romans. It was a high wall, built from enormous exact cut stones. Here, Jews came to mourn the loss of the sacred shrine and also put small written notes between the seams of the stones with wishes and prayers to God for fulfillment.

     Here, Menachem spent several hours praying and meditating. He thanked the Almighty for enabling him to reach this sacred site and asked for support to bring this most important journey to a successful end. Relieved, he left this awesome place and climbed up the stairs to the actual Temple Mount where the Holy Temple once stood. Again he prayed for the speedy reconstruction of the holy shrine. But he only saw two great Moslem Mosques standing on this exact place where once the Temple stood. He thought to himself that whatever the Almighty will decide would happen here. Jews were patiently waiting for the Messiah to arrive now for fifteen hundred years, and he concluded that all Jews everywhere would have to wait for the appropriate moment for the fulfillment of their intimate, most important wish.

     The next day, he walked through the Jewish Quarter. He entered the great ancient Ramban Synagogue which was built over three hundred years earlier and had somehow survived the wars and destruction of this period. He prayed and met many Jewish worshippers. Some were even from Germany, having escaped persecution. He also met several rabbis teaching Kabbalah to many students. He listened to them and also participated in the discussion. He mentioned that he had spent some time in Rabbi Chaim Vital’s house in Zefat. Hearing him mentioning Chaim Vital’s name, they listened to him attentively. He was told that Chaim Vital was the most prominent authority of the Kabbalah today, after the death of the godly Ari. The Ari himself was born and had lived here in Jerusalem for many years before he went to Zefat, where he brought out most of his teachings. It gave the Kabbalah a new important meaning of repairing the world to an ideal new peaceful world. All agreed that today Zefat was today the most important center of the Kabbalah, and also many more Jews were living today in Zefat than in Jerusalem.

     Menachem felt that his visit to the holy land was coming to an end. He was aware of the great responsibility he had taken when he promised his dying friend, Hans Pleikhardt, to carry out his secret mission. Time was very limited to complete this task. Actually, he had wanted to visit the graves of the Biblical forefathers Abraham, Isaac and Jacob in Hebron, but he decided to shorten his stay in Jerusalem. He inquired at the inn with several people about how to reach Jaffa, the port city on the Mediterranean coast, and how to reach Italy by ship.

     He paid a short return visit to the Western Wall, where he asked God to continue guarding him on his return journey to Germany. He was aware of the many dangers of crossing the wide and stormy Mediterranean Sea, but he knew that he was in the hand of the Almighty. He had unlimited trust in the highest supervision, and he left the Wailing Wall with renewed inner strength and satisfaction.

     On his loyal horse, he left the holy city through the Western Jaffa Gate, and he was now on his long, long way back. He knew that he was awaited by his community flock, but foremost of all by his dear wife and children. He rode down from the Judean hills, and towards noon he reached the rich coastal plain. He saw many farmers working in green fields of grains, many vegetable fields and fruit orchards. He met several camel caravans carrying goods up to Jerusalem. When he passed through the large city of Ramle, he stopped for a while to eat a frugal meal and have a welcome short rest for himself and his horse. Then he continued on his way, and towards evening, just when the sun was setting down in the vast Mediterranean Sea, he reached the port city of Jaffa. Excited he stopped his horse to watch this special sight, which he had never before seen in his life. Before nightfall, he still could admire the picturesque city situated on a wide spread hill overlooking the sea. He also was aware of several ships anchored in the spacious port. “One of them will carry me over the great sea,” he said to himself.

     After a long day of traveling, he found a friendly inn, and after a good tasty meal, he went to sleep. The next morning he found out that a large Venetian ship would leave the port on the same day. When he boarded the ship, he was told that he could not bring his horse on board, so he had to get off the ship again to sell his faithful horse at the market place inside the city. Now, he was ready for the long journey over the Mediterranean Sea, which would take at least two weeks if the winds continued blowing in the desired direction.

     Towards evening the ship lifted its anchor and the three master sails filled up with the strong, warm eastern wind blowing out of the dessert. After Menachem had unpacked his belongings in his small but spotlessly clean cabin, he climbed up some stairs and stood on the deck of the sailing ship. It was a relaxed atmosphere, and he now had time on his hands to recollect the events of this long fateful journey which had changed his life completely. He felt that he had grown in awareness and his view on life in general was now much wider than before. He had met many different people on his way of different faiths; but all had prayed to the same God in their own special way. He had met with the wisest men of Judaism in his time and had the opportunity to learn about the deepest mysticism of his religion studying the Kabbalah in Zefat. He had the rare privilege to live near the great Rabbi Chaim Vital and absorb the splendid knowledge of the godly Ari, the most famous Kabbalist of all times.

     The ship was sailing for four days without seeing any land, and on the evening they reached the large island of Crete. It turned out that this island was actually a Venetian colony with large fortifications at the entrance of the port of Iraklion. The ship anchored for several hours because some cargo and passengers were unloaded and also some new ones were taken on board. Menachem had time to visit the famous island and see some ruins and parts of statues from its Greek cultural remains. He had a meal in a tavern, but he had some difficulty making himself understood in native Greek and Italian. This was a sharp contrast to his experience on board the ship, where he could communicate because many people spoke German or Arabic which he had picked up on his trip.

     After he returned to the ship, it lifted anchor before nightfall. The sea became rougher when they now turned more in northerly direction, and sailed along the Greek coastline. They passed by several islands for another four days when they finally entered the Adriatic Sea. Soon the ship crossed over to the nearby Italian mainland and landed at the port of Brindisi. Again some cargo and passenger were unloaded and others came on board.

     Menachem had a whole day to visit the large town and soon found out that a small Jewish community lived here. He visited the synagogue and participated in the afternoon prayer. The Jews told him that they were living peacefully in this town, but were anxious that the local aristocrats and the Catholic priesthood were planning to harm them, like as it had happened in other Italian cities. They inquired about the situation in Israel, so he told them that he just was coming from there. He told them how peaceful it was and that there was nothing to worry about, and that the Ottoman Moslem rulers made no distinction between Jews, Christians and their own religion, and that they all lived together peacefully. He also told them about Zefat and the blossoming of the Kabbalah there. He gave them hope, and he had the feeling that many wanted to emigrate to the Holy land.

     Because the ship was leaving soon before nightfall, he had to hurry back to his ship and so he had to say a quick good-bye to those worried people. It was now a long journey up the Italian coast with another stopover in Ancona. Finally, after nearly a whole week the ship reached its mother port city of Venice.

     Menachem was amazed at this unique city built all on water. The ship sailed right into the main central canal and anchored on one of the docks in the center of the beautiful city. A wide square was ready to receive all passengers and cargo from the ship. Everything went with the highest efficiency. Friendly officials gave advice to everybody. Menachem asked where the Jewish part of the city was situated.

     “You mean the Jewish Ghetto?” the official said.

     “Yes, that is the place I want to go,” said Menachem. The official called one of the gondolas, which anchored nearby. “He will take you to the Ghetto,” said the friendly official. Menachem realized that he actually spoke German to him.

     The gondolier took Menachem and his luggage in a very short time to the Jewish quarter, where he was received by some Jews now speaking Hebrew to him. He said that he was a German Rabbi returning from the holy land. He was invited right away in one of the noble wealthy houses to be their welcome guest. Menachem was overwhelmed by the hospitality of those Italian Jews. It was also just Friday evening and time to receive the Shabbat with the traditional prayer in the nearby synagogue, built all of marble and beautifully designed with high and spacious interiors.

     Menachem gave thanks to the Almighty, who had guided him on this most important journey. He asked for continuing heavenly support until he safely reach his still-far-away home. He had a very pleasant stay in this friendly house. He also gave his hosts a long report of his traveling, especially about the land of Israel under Ottoman rule. The Ottomans were actually the archrivals of the Venetians, and they had many battles with them. But now under the rule of the current ruler it was a peaceful period in the whole Mediterranean area.

     Menachem inquired about the route of the next stage of his trip, and he was advised of the exact route, which he should take through the Alps to reach Austria and Southern Germany. He also decided to buy a strong horse, which he would ride till he would reach his far-away home in Berlichingen.

     After the restful Shabbat and with the help of some friendly Jews, he was able to buy the horse Saturday evening. He left Sunday morning going westward on the road to Vicenza. It was a pleasant ride, the road leading through a wide-open plain. Also, the next day continued straight on flat land until he reached the large fortified city of Verona, which guarded the entrance to the Alp Mountains he had to cross over to reach Austria.

     He enjoyed a night in the Jewish Ghetto, where he was received again by friendly hosts. Now he had to turn north to reach the city of Trento. He admired the mild climate of the wide valley leading into the mountains. He saw orange and lemon trees full of ripe fruits; whereas on both sides, the mountains grew higher and higher covered with wide blankets of snow. Also, the next day, when the valley became much narrower, still the mild, pleasant weather continued. He was in an agreeable mood, making good headway into the higher and higher altitude. There also was much traffic of many heavy loaded mule trains on this main road leading through the famous Brenner Pass, the most used road into Austria and in the opposite direction into Italy. He prayed that the weather would continue to be nice on this most interesting part of his long journey. He admired again and again the tall mountain peaks all around, but the road followed the narrow riverbed with white creamy fresh snow water streaming down from the Alps. Still there was room for some green meadows with lots of brown shining cows grazing on them. Each cow had a large bell tied to a wide halter around its fat neck. The bells created a symphony of many different melodies, which spread a very harmonious atmosphere all around.

     He had to stay overnight in a small inn on the way to get some rest for himself and his strong horse. He had become very familiar with his new companion. He remembered the Arab horse he was riding in Israel, which would probably not have had the endurance and the strength for this very steep route.

     Reaching the highest point of the pass, the road now led downwards into Austria. Still, the mood on the way was similar to that on the day before climbing up. He now had to be careful his horse would not stumble on the road down. Slowly, the way became less steep and the valley widened, as he approached the large Austrian city of Innsbruck.

     Menachem admired the picturesque landscape as he entered the large city, the capital of Tyrol, the most Western province of Austria. He stayed overnight in a comfortable inn. He was told that only very few Jews were living in the town, after all of them had been driven out by the local church administration several years ago. Only a few had returned. Yes, he was back in the German-speaking environment with all the problems and obstacles connected to his religion and belief. This made him now firm to reach his home as fast as possible and finally meet his family and congregation again.

     The next morning he started early on his way. To get into Bavaria, the first German province bordering with Austria, he had to climb over another pass. He managed to ascend this hurdle in three hours and reach the first German town of Mittenwald. From there, the road was now wide open with several large lakes he passed on his way north towards Augsburg. He could not quite reach this large city till evening and had to stay overnight in a small inn on the way.

     Again he made good headway the next day reaching the town of Aalen in the Kocher valley. He followed the river, staying overnight in a Jewish home in Schwäbish Hall. These were his old friends, because he was now very near to his home. He rode through Künzelsau, the last city before finally reaching Berlichingen. He just had to cross over to the near Jagst valley.

     Tired, but full of excitement, he rode into his town of Berlichingen, The first thing he realized was that on the roof of the synagogue the storks were back and nesting. “You must have overtaken me on your way back from Israel,” he greeted them: “Welcome home, you faithful creatures. You were in my subconscious all of the way. Luckily, I met you in the holy land, because you are the symbolic connection to my ancient homeland; and now you are here with me in my existing home. God has made you the guardians of his holy house here during the summer months, and in the winter you find protection on the sacred soil of Israel. What a fantastic union between old and new. Welcome, welcome dear friends!”

     When he approached his house, his wife and two sons came out and embraced him heartily. “It is so good to be home, my beloved. I was longing for you all the time on my long journey.”

     “And we have missed you enormously,” his wife, Leah said: “Our sons were very helpful in my every need, and they made the time we missed you easier to bear. Be thankful to them.”

     “I am proud of you two sons, and believe me, I love you all three more than anything in the world.”

In the mean time, the news had spread through the whole little town and in no time everybody it seemed, came now to greet their beloved Rabbi Menachem.

     “I will give you a full report about my long trip, and especially about the precious knowledge I received having been in Zefat, in Israel. The Kabbalah has made me a new man and has widened my spiritual horizon enormously. You all will benefit from my valuable experience. - Now, please let me be with my family and enjoy my house again, because I am hungry and tired from the long trip.”

     All the men and women now happily said good-bye to Menachem. All had the good feeling that now their Rabbi is back, no harm can happen to them, because he was God’s man guarding them from all evil.

     The two sons took care of the tired horse, watered and fed it in the stable. Menachem was now back in his home, sitting at the family table and thanking the Almighty for the support he had continuously received. He enjoyed a good home-cooked meal and finally fell on his bed for a well deserved night’s sleep.

 

 

CHAPTER NINE

     It was Friday morning when Rabbi Menachem woke up in his own bed after having been away from home for nearly six months. In his mind, he recalled all that had happened with those most outstanding events he went through during this past period. He felt contented to have accomplished such a huge undertaking with great success. He firmly believed that he had been guarded by a divine shield overseeing his every step.

     He also knew that his mission had not ended by returning home to his warm environment, where he could spread and share the achievements and knowledge he had experienced on his important trip. Now, first of all he had to cross over the river and visit the castle Jagsthausen and to convey his condolences to his dear friend’s wife and children. Then, he had to fulfill the promise he gave the Baron on his deathbed to report to the Emperor about the secret mission his friend had carried out. He knew that he had to travel again to unfamiliar places and meet with the highest authority of the German state.

     There was an old saying: “Don’t go to the duke if you are not called!” But here he had a calling and a promise he had to fulfill. There was no way out: he just had to go as soon as possible, because there was an urgent time limit on the Baron’s secret mission.

     First, he saddled his black horse and rode over the river Jagst to Jagsthausen, the famous castle of the Barons of Berlichingen. The guard at the drawbridge controlling the entrance to the castle recognized Rabbi Menachem as the old friend of the Baron. He saluted him and led him into the castle’s court. Menachem asked to see the Baroness Eva von Adelsheim and was led to her chamber. She greeted him heartily with a warm handshake and said: “Dear Rabbi Menachem, welcome home. I got word from Jerusalem that you were one of the last persons who saw my dear husband Hans Pleikhardt before he died.”

     “I am very sorry for your loss dear Baroness,” said Menachem, “I knew how much he loved you and his four children. He said to me on the last evening when I was at his sickbed to convey his deepest sympathy, devotion and love to you. He also said that he had to go on this important mission as a service to his fatherland and the King. He asked me to go as soon as possible to the Emperor and report everything he had observed. I will be leaving for Prague, the seat of the King, the day after Shabbat, the day after tomorrow.”

     The Baroness replied: “You were my husband’s best friend. Please come and see us as often as you can, especially after you return from your important mission. At the present time, I am carrying on the rule and the administration of the Baronship, until my eldest son will be able to take over and become the next Baron von Berlichingen.”

     Menachem was astonished how strong this lady was, at least so it seemed from the outside, he thought to himself. What an enormous task was laying on this woman’s shoulders. But it was her aristocratic upbringing to show no outwards emotion whatsoever, even though her heart was sad and suffering from the loss of her beloved husband.

     He took leave from the brave lady and returned home to his family, who were all busy in preparation for the approaching Shabbat. There was a lot of cooking going on in the kitchen by his wife, and the two sons were cleaning the floors of all the rooms in the house.

     The next morning the whole Jewish congregation of Berlichingen filled the synagogue for the Shabbat service and to welcome back their beloved Rabbi Menachem. He led the service with his youthful voice, which included the weekly reading from the Torah.

     It was the part of ‘Bamidbar’, which means ‘In the desert’. It describes that which happened after the Children of Israel left Egypt, when God had created the miracle of dividing the Red Sea. Now that they were in the desert and the food they had brought with them was all eaten, they complained and wanted to return to the rich land of Egypt. Moses asked God to provide, and God sent down Manna from heaven. It was called ‘the Bread of the Angels’, which had a marvelous flavor. It rained down in daily renewed rations, and on Friday they received a double portion for the Shabbat. God provided the Manna for forty years, as long the Children of Israel were wandering in the Sinai desert.

     Here, Rabbi Menachem explained that God not only provided his chosen people their daily ration of food, but also gave them the Torah, the holy book for their spiritual support. If one believes in God, he provides you with all your needs.

     “I had this personal experience in my long travel to and from the land of Israel, when he provided me with his celestial guidance, in particular when I could study the Kabbalah in Zefat with the most famous Rabbi in our time, Rabbi Chaim Vital. He opened my eyes to realize that there is no place on earth where God is absent. God is omnipresent everywhere and in everyone. Nothing happens in this world, good or evil, except by his will.

     The prophet Jeremiah said : “I will put my law within them, and I will write it upon their hearts, and I will be their God, and they shall be my people.”

     Here, Menachem ended his sermon, and he could feel how relieved all his congregation was now that he had finally returned home to them. How well and comfortable he felt among his kinsmen, and how much love and admiration flowed back and forth among them. He knew that whatever would be happening to him on his next important mission, here was the place to dwell and unfold his future life. Here, he would grow and put deep roots in his own natural surroundings.

     But now his destiny was again to travel. He left his beloved home early the next morning riding in an easterly direction towards the royal city of Prague. It took him six long days to reach his destination. On his way he found in every city friendly Jewish families who took him in overnight, providing him and his horse with shelter and food. He told his hosts about the trip to the holy land and his experiences, but of course kept secret about his mission. He found out that there was a peaceful period under the present Emperor, who he was told, was friendly towards the Jews and that he tried to unify the different streams in the Christian religion. Still, there were local rulers on the way who were not friendly towards Jews, and Menachem was warned not to cross through their territories. He got advice to use some back roads, called Jewish roads in the native language, to avoid any unpleasant hold ups on his way.

     When he finally reached the royal city of Prague, he was amazed at the beauty and richness of the widespread town with many impressive buildings, churches and palaces. He found a large Jewish congregation under the leadership of some famous Rabbis. The most famous of them was the chief Rabbi of Prague, the famous Judah Loew ben Bezalel, also called the Maharal of Prague. This was an abbreviation of the Hebrew words meaning: ‘Our Teacher the Rabbi Loew’. Because it was just Friday and close to the oncoming Shabbat, he was welcomed in the rabbi’s house. Menachem knew that he was one of the leading experts on Kabbalah, the Talmud and the Mishna. He had also a good relationship with the Emperor, who was himself interested in Jewish mysticism.

     Menachem told the old rabbi that he had visited Zefat and had lived in the house of Rabbi Chaim Vital for several months. He could tell Judah Loew about the teaching of the Ari, and how popular and widespread the study of the Kabbalah was in Zefat. Menachem explained to the Rabbi what the Ari had said about the Klippoth, which are the hard shells of ignorance that block the possibility of reaching full enlightenment of knowing the Kabbalah. Only when one can split those hard shells, which are lack of true knowledge, is he able to penetrate to the kernel of the fruit, to the sweet and full awareness of our holy scriptures. You, dear Rabbi, the most famous Talmudic scholar and mystic of our time will probably fully agree with me.

     Here the old rabbi objected to the wide-open publicity of the Holy Scriptures and said: “We Jews have given the Christian religion its foundation with our holy Bible and look how widespread the hatred of our religion is. We have to keep the valuable cognition of our religion between ourselves and only well-educated Jews should have access to our holy scriptures.”

     “Honorable Rabbi,” answered Menachem, “after the invention of the printing press, it is impossible to keep our religion a secret. Today, every one can enter a bookshop and buy any book he wants to read. I think it is the right attitude that people who are interested should know all about Judaism. You are right that the Christian Church is spreading wrong information about us, but we have to do the utmost to explain the rightness of the deep significance of our religion. It is our sacred teaching that kept us alive for one thousand five hundred years while living in exile till the coming of the Messiah. When the Messiah will finally arrive, he will bring us all back to our land and rebuild our holy temple in Jerusalem.”

     Both the rabbis continued their discourse during the Shabbat. Menachem was impressed by the deep knowledge and personality of his distinguished host. He also mentioned to the rabbi that the reason for his trip was to meet the Emperor on a secret mission he could not speak about before he saw the Emperor in person.

     The next morning Rabbi Menachem went to the Emperor’s palace called the Hradshin. He was astonished to see many magnificent pictures on the walls of the vast palace. He could admire them while waiting to be granted an audience with the King. He thought that this man must be quite generous and open minded to surround himself with so many pieces of fine art. When he finally got to see the Emperor, he was kindly received by him.

     Menachem introduced himself and said that he came in the name of his late friend the Baron Hans Pleikhardt von Berlichingen.

“We traveled together down the river Danube through Turkey to Israel,” Menachem told the King: “When we reached Israel, we parted. I went to the town of Zefat to study the Kabbalah, and he went to see the churches and other holy Christian places to fulfill the mission he had been instructed to fulfill. After several months studying in Zefat, I received a letter to come urgently to Jerusalem to see my friend, because he was fatally ill of malaria. When I arrived to find him on his deathbed, he told me about the secret mission he had to carry out and to report to your Majesty immediately when I returned to Germany.”

     “I am very impressed with your report,” said the Emperor, “please continue.”

     “The Baron told me to report to your Highness that when we were sailing down the Danube and crossing through the lines of the Ottoman army, he had made careful observation about the readiness for a new offensive against the German Empire. He saw about twenty warships on the river and a large, strong army, well trained and ready for battle. The only obstacle he could realize was the coming winter, which made it clear to him, that in early spring they will be starting a new offensive directed straight to the Austrian capital Vienna. He could see many infantry, cavalry and artillery formations ready for immediate battle on both banks of the river Danube. Hans Pleickhardt repeated the request to give this report personally to your Majesty.

     Later in the evening, he told me to report to your highness, that inside the vast Ottoman Empire all is secure, under control and flourishing. There is complete freedom for all religions, Moslems, Jews and Christians alike. The walls of the holy city of Jerusalem have been rebuilt and all ruins of past wars had been cleared. He said, that the Ottoman Empire could be a strong ally for peace, if a diplomatic solution would be found to all the outstanding problems between the two Empires, the German and the Ottoman. This is Baron Pleickhardt’s report and also the last time I saw him alive, because when I returned the next morning to the hospice, I was told that the Baron had passed away shortly after I left.

     If I may, I would like to add my personal view to the second, non-military part of this report. The Baron’s observation was correct also in my eyes, and as far as I could see, the Ottomans were propagating personal freedom of all its inhabitants. One example was the flourishing of the teaching of the Kabbalah in Zefat. Not only did Jews study the Kabbalah, but also many Moslems and Christians were there to study this Jewish wisdom. ”

     “Thank you, dear Rabbi for that valuable information,” said the King, “you shall be rewarded fully for this report. You should know that I am personally interested in the Kabbalah and Jewish mysticism. Now, I have to consult with my ministers. We shall accommodate you here in the palace and come back tomorrow to see me again. I may have some important assignment for you to fulfill. See this meeting as completely confidential and do not speak with anybody about it. In the meantime, you will be shown around our vast collection of paintings I have collected here in the palace.”

     Menachem took leave of the gracious King and was shown to one of the guestrooms in the palace. He was relieved to have delivered his important mission and was curious what assignment the Emperor had in store for him. He did not feel very comfortable being shown around the vast palace with the masterpieces of all the famous painters. He admired the perfection of those most valuable and rare paintings, but according to the Jewish tradition it was actually not common to paint the human face and body. The Bible said, God had created man in his own image and God’s image should not be drawn in any form. He was glad to settle down finally in his spacious guest room. He prayed and meditated, contemplating what new mission God had in store for him in the coming days.

     The next morning he was called back to the Emperor, who said to him: “Dear Rabbi Menachem, I have talked to my advisors and came to several decisions concerning the service you have fulfilled so devotionally for us. First, you will receive one of the highest awards we are issuing for such a distinguished service to our country, the Medal of Freedom, which comes together with a considerable amount of money.”

     Surprised by the generosity of the King, Menachem said: “I am deeply moved by this honor you are bestowing on me, which I had not expected to receive. I did all this first of all to honor my friendship to the late Baron von Berlichingen, and also in respect and duty to you, the Emperor of the German state in which I and my Jewish brothers and sisters have lived for many generations.”

     The King replied: “Dear Rabbi Menachem, I would like to point out to you that the report of the readiness of the Ottoman army for the approaching assault on Vienna confirmed the opinion of my military advisors. We have not been passive about this imminent danger. We actually have concentrated a large army around Vienna in which all the German Princes have taken part, independent of their religious belief, Catholics and Reformists. We are all united against the infidels, the Moslem Turks, who do not believe in our God and Creator.”

     “Your Majesty,” said Menachem, “let me lay out again what I reported to you yesterday about the state of affairs inside the Ottoman Empire. There is a peaceful atmosphere everywhere my friend, the Baron and I went. Also, when we passed through the Turkish lines on the ship on the river Danube, we were received in a friendly manner and were treated with the utmost respect. I am convinced that after all the conquests and the battles they have fought in the last period of years, they are tired of wars and would like to come to peaceful terms with you, your Majesty. About their religious belief, which I had the privilege to study, their holy book, the Koran is based also on our Jewish Bible, just as is the Christian religion. The God in their prayers is the same as ours, even though they call him by the name of Allah.”

     “We were speaking about this yesterday after your report, dear Rabbi,” said the Emperor, “and your distinguished words are not new to me. We, therefore, want to give it a try, and want at this crucial moment to reach out to our enemy, and offer a peaceful solution to our national, historical and geographical differences. We have decided that you, dear Rabbi, are the most eligible person to fulfill this mission, to go over to the other side and speak in our name to the Sultan, who is commanding his army standing opposite Vienna. If he is ready, I would like to meet with him and discuss a peace treaty. It can be in Vienna or even on a place between the lines. We guarantee him safe conduct and will receive him with the highest honor and respect due to a foreign ruler.

     I would like you, dear Rabbi Menachem, to leave for the front line as soon as tomorrow. You will be traveling with royal escort in our equipage. This is my request and decree.”

     On this Rabbi Menachem was so surprised that he remained speechless for several minutes. When he could collect his thoughts, he bent his head towards the King and said: “I am overwhelmed of this great task and honor you are bestowing on me. I am not the right person for such an enormous important task. But if this is your Royal command, who am I to resist? I give myself in God’s hand and will try to fulfill this crucial task you have laid on my weak shoulders in the best way possible.”

     “Believe me, my dear Rabbi,” answered the King, “I see in you the most suitable person I could have chosen for this decisive assignment. I am sure that you have the full ability to carry it out successfully. I will give advice that you will receive the utmost assistance you will need for this accomplishment. One of my aristocratic advisors will accompany you. Also I will have a personal letter to the Sultan written out with my signature and the Royal seal, which will be handed to you before you leave. I wish you good luck and complete success! ”

     With those words, Menachem was relieved from the Royal audience and was escorted back to his lavish guest room.

 

 

CHAPTER TEN

     The next morning Rabbi Menachem found himself sitting in the comfortable carriage, which had the Royal coat of arms on its doors. Four beautiful white horses were taking him speedily towards the Austrian capital, Vienna. Every three to four hours the horses were changed, so that in two days he reached Vienna. He was accompanied by the Baron von Hohenberg, a close friend and military advisor to the King.

     Reaching Vienna in the early morning hours, Menachem and his escort continued straight to the near front line. A white flag was put on top of the carriage to show the opposing Turkish side that the carriage was on a peaceful mission. When Menachem arrived at the Turkish front line, an officer of the Ottoman army approached the carriage.

     “We are coming to you in the name of the German Emperor with an offer of peace and would like to meet the Sultan in person immediately,” said Rabbi Menachem. The Turkish officer saluted and sped away on his horse. After a short time of tense waiting a group of soldiers approached the carriage and the officer in charge said: “Please follow us.”

     Surrounded by the Turkish soldiers they were led straight to the imperial tent of the Sultan. Rabbi Menachem and the escorting Baron got out of the carriage and entered the wide lavish tent where the Sultan waited for them. He was sitting on a comfortable chair dressed in a military uniform with a large white turban on his head. He received the two emissaries with a kind gesture of his hand and offered them a seat near him.

     “What is the aim of this delegation?” he asked the Rabbi straightforward.

     “Your Highness, may I explain the reason for this peaceful mission to you,” answered Menachem. He was astonished that the Sultan spoke in fluent German to him. “I am Rabbi Menachem and have been visiting your wide empire, honorable Sultan. Several weeks ago I was in Israel and saw how peaceful and orderly your vast empire is administered. Also, complete religious freedom was practiced everywhere I visited. I was in Zefat, where the Kabbalah is studied and in Jerusalem, the capital of Israel, and saw with my own eyes how you have cleaned and rebuilt the city. When I returned and had the opportunity to report to the German Emperor what I have observed in your vast Empire, I suggested to the king to try to come to peaceful terms with you and end this long war between the two empires. The emperor, who is himself a peaceful man, was ready to attempt a mission and commissioned me to come to you, your Highness. He sent you this Royal letter I brought with me, and offers you to meet with him on neutral ground and try to find a way out of this conflict, which has been going now on for so many years.”

     “I am impressed by this offer, dear Rabbi,” said the Sultan, “but explain to me, how you as a Rabbi came to see the Ottoman Empire and report to your Emperor, and then get appointed to fulfill such a crucial mission to meet with me with this offer all of a sudden? It does not make sense to me.”

     “Your Highness,” answered Menachem, astonished at the Sultan’s highly intelligent sharp mind: “When I went on my trip to Israel, I was accompanied by my friend the late Baron Hans Eckhardt von Berlichingen, who was my friend since we grew up together in the town of Berlichingen, which is a part of his domain. Last year the Baron was sent by the Emperor on a mission to inspect the churches in Israel of both Christian sects, Protestant and Catholic. When the Baron was staying in Jerusalem, he got infected with malaria. In a short time he passed away there, and before his death he asked me to report to the Emperor in his name. That is how I, a rabbi of a small German congregation came to see the mighty German Emperor. I must have made a positive impression on him to send me on this mission. Your Highness, I am a religious man and trust only in God, the Almighty, who I truly believe, was the one who actually sent me on this important mission.”

     “I believe your unusual story, Rabbi Menachem,” replied the Sultan: “I have to consult with my high command and political advisors. We are all in the hand of Allah, and there is no other God than Him. It may well be that it is the will of Allah to have peace in our world now and end this war, which is based solely on religious differences. Return to the German lines and come back tomorrow, and I will give you a reply message for the Emperor.”

     Menachem realized that the audience with the mighty Sultan had ended. He left the Imperial tent together with his escort and returned to the German lines and nearby Vienna. It was arranged that he would stay overnight in the Imperial palace. Exhausted from this historic audience with the mighty Sultan, he rested and prayed for the success of this crucial mission. How comfortable he felt to meditate in this lavish place due to the wisdom of the Kabbalah he had acquired in Chaim Vital’s house in Zefat. He was grateful to God, the Almighty, who had sent him on this historic mission.

     The next morning he returned in the Imperial carriage to the front line and, like the day before, crossed over to the Turkish side. He was again received by the Sultan, who said: “Dear Rabbi Menachem, we have consulted with my staff officers and ministers, who are here with me, and we came to the conclusion that we would like to meet with the German Emperor to see if we can come to an agreement to finish this war and sign a peace treaty with him. I have here a written message for the Emperor. I am ready to arrange this meeting between the two battle lines on neutral ground in exactly one week from today. I will have a large tent put up where we shall have our primary peace conference. Please convey this message to the Emperor.”

     Rabbi Menachem replied full of hope: “Thank you, your Highness. I will fulfill all you have requested. I am thankful to God, the Creator of all mankind, that this mission will be successful.”

     The Sultan added: “I would like you, Rabbi Menachem to be present in this next week meeting. Now go, and I greet you with ‘SALEM ALEICUM – PEACE SHALL BE UPON YOU!’”

     Menachem sent the Baron von Hohenberg back to Prague with the Sultan’s message. He now waited in the palace for the arrival of the King. He did not want to meet anybody and stayed in near complete silence for the whole week. He took little walks in the wide Imperial Park around the palace, but most of the time he spent praying and meditating in his room. He was taken care of like a king himself by the palace’s servants, who offered him lavish food, he could not digest. He asked them to serve him simple meals without any meat, so he would not violate any Jewish law.

     When the Emperor arrived after one week of waiting, Menachem accompanied the King to the peace tent between the two battle lines, which had been erected by the Turkish army. When the small German delegation entered the tent, they were greeted by the Sultan and his attendants. They were seated around a round table and were offered some sweet pastries and Turkish coffee in small cups.

     Menachem was astonished how inviting and relaxed the atmosphere in this large tent was, when the two mightiest rulers were meeting together in this historic moment. They behaved like two old friends meeting after a long period, even though they had never seen each other before. He could see with his own eyes how all men were equal before their Creator, the most simple and the ones who ruled over vast empires.

     The Sultan opened the meeting, saying: “I greet you heartily, your Majesty, the German Emperor. Your delegate, Rabbi Menachem, has brought before me the proposal to make peace between our two empires. I looked into this suggestion, and I think with good will on both sides, we could come to an agreement.”

     The Emperor replied: “Thank you, your Highness, the Turkish Sultan, for accepting this proposal to meet and to work out the plan to live side by side in peace and in friendly relationships between the Ottoman and the German Empires. I feel personally, that wars on religious grounds are actually not in accord of our two religions, even if they may seem very different to their believers. I don’t think it is justified that people make war and kill each other in the name of God. We all believe in God, the Almighty, and I also believe that He brought us together today through our mediator, the honorable Rabbi Menachem.”

     “Your Majesties, thank you for the honor you bestowed on me, the Rabbi of a small congregation,” Rabbi Menachem said: “Many Jews are living in your two Empires, and usually if there is fighting between two sides, we, the Jews are always in the middle and get persecuted by both sides. In the name of the Jewish people who live exiled from their own homeland, I am very interested in this peace agreement, which hopefully will come to a final conclusion in this conference.”

     The Sultan continued: “If we can agree on the status quo, which means on the battle lines as they are today, I don’t see any reason why we shall not have an agreement. It is mainly about the Hungarian State we have added to our Empire. I suggest that we, the Ottoman Empire will nominate a ruler from the local aristocracy, who is peaceful with both sides and will rule justly in his country. There has to be complete freedom of religions, and everyone can pray to his God in his own way, because it is the same God we all pray to and believe in. Until all this is worked out, our army will stay in Hungary. The borders will be open for everyone to come and go, and commerce can flourish between all the countries involved.”

     The German Emperor knew that this was the bitter pill he had to swallow, because Hungary actually had belonged to his Empire and was lost to the invading Turkish army. He knew that he could not change this, because it was an accomplished fact. After some time of hesitation and some quiet consultation with his accompanying delegation, he came to the conclusion that the Sultan’s proposal was the only way out of the crisis, because there was the possibility that he might lose the Austrian State if they go to war. At the end, the Emperor even seemed somehow relieved by this proposal and said: “I agree to your proposal in principle, your Highness. I have one condition: The Hungarian ruler you want to appoint should also have our approval. Also, we should talk about for how long your Ottoman army will stay in Hungary. At the end Hungary should be a free and independent state with good relations with the two empires, the German and yours the Ottoman. Also, it should be mentioned that our two empires want to live peacefully side by side, and differences in the future should be solved diplomatically between the two empires. For this reason we should have ambassadors appointed to our courts. If you, honorable Sultan agree to those conditions, we can formulate this agreement in principle and sign a peace treaty by the two sides and have our mediator, the Honorable Rabbi Menachem’s signature also on it. Later on our military commanders can work out the exact details of this treaty.”

     There was a short discussion the Sultan had with his advisors. He saw that actually the Emperor agreed with his proposal, and the conditions he had brought up were not in objection to the Sultan’s original proposals. He realized that the Emperor had to save some face, but finally had to acknowledge the actual situation on the field.

     “I see no objections to the conditions you have mentioned, your Highness, the Emperor,” said the Sultan.

     In a very short time a formal document was produced and signed by the two parties, and Rabbi Menachem signed it in his traditional Hebrew writing. Every one of the sides, including Menachem received a signed copy of this historical treaty. The two Emperors took leave of each other with the words: “Let’s have permanent peace between upon us, the two mighty empires of Germany and Turkey!”

     When the German King returned to Vienna, he said: “Dear Rabbi Menachem, I am very grateful for your most important service to our empire. I want to invite you to join me in my palace in Prague and be my chief political consultant and minister of my court. Because I am also very much interested in all sciences and mystics, we shall have a lot to discuss with each other about your Jewish holy scriptures.”

     “Your Majesty, I am very thankful for your gracious offer and will be at your service and disposal as often you will call me. Please let me now return to my home and congregation, because I know that the Almighty, who guided me in this historical moment in the history of mankind, wants me return to my town and teach the Torah, and all our holy books and especially the Kabbalah to my congregation and spread a peaceful message to everyone interested.”

     “Fare well, dear Rabbi Menachem and be blessed in all you are undertaking. As I said, I will call you to my court if there will be need of you. You will also receive a considerable amount of money shortly, which will enable you to devote yourself fully to your noble objectives.”

    When Menachem left the King, he felt that he had won a true friend. This was the most important achievement from this crucial mission. In a short time, he was on his way back home, riding on a fine horse he had received from the King.

     Riding along the river Danube, he remembered sailing down this river together with friend Hans Eckhardt on the beginning of their trip. Who could have imagined how this long journey would have come to such a magnificent evolution? Thankful, he rode on his long way, contemplating that without the divine guidance on every step of this vital mission, nothing could have been accomplished.

     When he finally reached Berlichingen, his first sight was of the storks’ nest on the roof of the synagogue. The two parent storks, standing each on one foot were looking at him, clattering with their large beaks so as to welcome him back. Between their long legs two little chicks showed their yellow velvet heads.

     “Here is the future, here is my home, here is peace,” said the Rabbi smiling to himself.

 

 

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