Once upon a time there lived two kings who had a long-standing dispute over a border territory. Each claimed that the disputed territory belonged to him. Finally, after many battles which resulted in much human loss and drained their royal treasuries, they decided to end their fighting and make a thorough investigation to find out who had the right to the land in dispute.
In the course of the investigation, one of the kings discovered that he was a descendant of Haman, the son of Hamdatha the chief minister of King Ahasuerus in Shushan, the capital of ancient Persia and Medea.
The discovery made the king very happy. "Now I will capture two birds in one net," he said to himself. "First of all, I will take revenge for my ancestor Haman, whom Mordecai and Esther sent to the gallows, together with his ten sons. Secondly, I would force the Jews of my land to pay me a large sum of money each year by way of compensation. That should certainly turn their happy festival of Purim from gladness to sadness."
The king immediately issued a decree that the Jews in his land must pay ten thousand silver kikar (talent) to the royal treasury on the day of Purim. At the same time, the Jews had to deliver to the King a Jew named Mordecai to be hanged on that day.
On hearing the cruel decree, the Jews cried out in horror and despair. They knew that three things help to annul a cruel decree: Repentance, Prayer and Charity. So they began an intensive move to improve their ways, to pray with greater devotion and give more charity than they had done before.
They also sent messengers to the great Rabbis in other lands begging them to pray in their behalf for a miraculous delivery from their distress.
Two of these messengers came to the famous Gaon Rabbi Moshe Isserlis (ReMO) in Cracow (Poland). They told the famous Rabbi their sad story. In reply, the ReMO told them that he could not help them. But he advised them to go to see a poor tailor who could help them. The ReMO told them where the tailor lived, and added: "If the tailor will not immediately agree to help you, tell him that I sent you to him."
When the two messengers reached the tailor's poor, tumble-down shack, the tailor received them rather coldly, saying, "I see that your clothes are in no need of mending, so why have you come to me. It is a pity for both you and me to waste our time. You see I am busy."
The messengers tearfully related their sad story of the terrible decree, threatening the Jewish community in their country, adding emphatically: "The saintly ReMO sent us to you."
Hearing the name of the ReMO, the tailor stood up and his whole bearing changed.
"Go home in peace," he said in a friendly tone. "The Almighty has already accepted your prayers, and everything will be alright."
The day of Purim was fast approaching, and the Jews' fear grew from day to day. If they did not deliver the fine, together with a fellow Jew named Mordecai to be publicly hanged, the cruel king had vowed to drive them all out from his kingdom without mercy, and to take over their possessions.
The Jews gathered in the synagogues, and prayed to HaShem as never before; while the cruel king was looking forward with glee to the public ceremony he had prepared for the hanging of a Jew Mordecai.
That night the king could not fall asleep. When he finally did so, he awoke almost immediately and was terrified to see a saintly-looking old, strange Jew standing near his bed, with a mysterious smile on his face.
Baffled and terrified, the king threw a quick glance at the clock, wondering whether it was day or night. Then he quickly jumped out of bed and grabbed a sword which was hanging on the wall. He ran to the door intending to attack the bodyguards for allowing the Jew to enter the king's bed-chamber. But the minute he opened the door, a strong whirlwind lifted him up in the air and carried him aloft.
In deadly fright, the king passed out. When he regained consciousness, he found himself in an abandoned ancient cemetery, which was surrounded by high stone walls. This threw him into an even greater terror, and he began to shout: "Help! Help!" But no one answered.
For many hours he felt very confused and full of despair. He was also tortured by hunger and thirst. His clothes were torn and ragged as he tried unsuccessfully to climb the high walls.
Again he began to call out: "Help! Save me!" But all that came back was a deadly silence.
Suddenly he saw that strange old Jew he had seen in his royal bedroom. The stranger was carrying a basket of bread in one hand and a jug of water in the other. This time, the king was happy to see him, and he begged him to save him from his desperate situation.
The Jew paid the king no attention. He just left the bread and water and disappeared.
The following morning, after a most dreadful night, the old Jew again came, bringing bread and water. Again, without speaking a word, he disappeared. The same thing was repeated again on the third day. This time, the old man asked the king: "Do you wish to say anything?"
The king went to pieces, fell to the feet of the
old Jew and begged him for mercy.
"I have sinned terribly against the innocent Jews in my country," the king said. "But I swear that I will nullify the decree against them and will treat them with justice and kindness in the future. Please, Please, free me from this hell. I cannot bear it any longer."
"If you will give me this assurance in writing, with your signature, I will free you and you will again be king in your country," the Jew replied.
"This I shall most gladly do," the king answered. He immediately wrote out a new decree, canceling the previous decree against the Jews, and promising never again to issue any harsh decree against them. After signing the document, the King handed it to the Jew.
No sooner had the king done this than he felt a strong wind lifting him up and carrying him away. He became terrified and fell into a faint. When he recovered, he found himself in bed in his royal palace. Near his bed stood the same mysterious Jew who had entered without permission the night that the king had first been carried off by a whirlwind to the distant, awful cemetery. In his hand, the Jew held the document that the king had given him.
The king turned to the old Jew reproachfully: "Why did you have to torture me for such a long time?"
With a mysterious smile on his lips, the Jew raised his hand in which he held the document and, pointing to the clock showed him that the hands on the clock's face stood at the same position as they were the instant when the king was carried away from his palace. Full of astonishment, the king realized that the entire terrible experience had lasted just one instant!