The story so far: There was a flourishing Jewish community in Valencia, Spain, about 500 years ago. Leaders of the community were Rabbi Abraham Nachmeini and his brother Solomon. Rabbi Abraham was a man of great learning and piety. Solomon was a great financier and a man of wealth.

The brothers Nachmeini and their fellow Jews in Valencia lived happily until the dreaded Inquisition began its work. The Jews began to suffer terrible persecutions and mob attacks. In this way the leaders of the Inquisition in Valencia, with Archbishop Gasperi at their head, hoped to force the Jews to give up their faith and turn to the Church for protection.

Very few of the wealthier Jews of Valencia were frightened into accepting Christianity. They did it in appearance only, and were called "Marranos."

Among them was also Solomon Nachmeini, but the news was kept from his brother. Rabbi Abraham, together with most of the Jews of Valencia were locked up in a "ghetto" (Jewish quarters). Only for one hour each day were the Jews permitted to leave the ghetto to stand in the Beggars' Row to beg for alms.

Solomon, now called Severus, continued to send funds to his brother. Rabbi Abraham was thus able to support the needy and kept up their courage.

Gasperi learned of this help and ordered Solomon to stop it. Solomon decided to visit his brother and have a heart-to-heart talk with him. Going through the narrow streets of the ghetto, Solomon noticed everybody turning away from him. He realized that his brethren no longer regarded him as one of theirs, but as a coward and a traitor. When Rabbi Abraham finally learned of what his brother had done, he tore his clothes and sat down in mourning as though Solomon had died.

Deeply hurt and crushed with humiliation Solomon turned to the door.

Now read on.

Solomon stopped at the door, hesitated, and turned back. He wanted to try to vindicate himself in the eyes of his brother. “Abraham, listen to me," he pleaded.

You believe even for one minute that I would so lightly forsake the faith our fathers? You do not really think that I have changed at heart in the least? That ceremony was nothing but a little showing! As soon as the storm blows over, I shall be able to transfer a large part of my possessions to a country beyond the reach of the Inquisition. There I shall openly give up the religion which was forced upon me. In the meantime, I hoped I might be of some help to you. Trust me, Abraham, this is the whole truth."

Abraham shook his head sadly. "It is easy to find excuses and to believe in them. But the real reason was simply cowardice and weakness, at a time when only courage, and strength, and real self-sacrifice can preserve our people. As to your offer to help us, we do not want your money, because it has been purchased at too high a price."

"You are refusing the only help you can ever hope to get, Abraham, and you will be sorry. Gasperi is determined to break you. Look out," Solomon warned, as he prepared to leave.

"G‑d who has preserved our people throughout the centuries of exile, will not abandon us. We are not afraid," Abraham answered.

The door opened and shut, and Abraham remained sitting on his low stool, in the manner of the mourners.

The next day Rabbi Abraham Nachmeini took his place in the Beggars' Row. At first, the Jews of the ghetto were shocked. Their beloved and esteemed Rabbi, who had been their support in these crucial days, himself was now reduced to the same plight as the rest of the Jewish community. Who would protect them from Gasperi's evil plans now? There was nothing for them to do but to pray harder and harder to G‑d to save them. But soon, the sight of their beloved Rabbi among them instilled new courage into them. Their Rabbi shared their humiliation and suffering, and they shared his faith and determination.

Once again Archbishop Gasperi was getting impatient. His hopes to crush the Jews of Valencia were not being fulfilled. His spies reported to him that Rabbi Nachmeini's presence in the Beggars' Row, far from impressing upon the Jews their hopeless position, had the opposite effect. He decided to put into effect a new cruel plan to get rid of Rabbi Nachmeini.

The following day, as Rabbi Nachmeini was sitting in the Beggars' Row, together with his brethren of the ghetto a rider passed by on horseback. He stopped his horse near the venerable man and threw him a coin. Then he turned his horse around. He dug his sharp spurs into the horse and drew in the reins. The horse stood up wildly on his rear legs, and in doing so kicked the old Rabbi in his face. The next moment Rabbi Nachmeini was lying unconscious seriously injured, in a pool of blood.

It all seemed an accident, but there was no mistake about the cruelty of the scheme.

For weeks Rabbi Nachmeini lay in his bed in the throes of death. He had lost his eyesight and most of his teeth, and his head and face were badly bruised. Finally he recovered, but not his eyesight. No longer could his people look into his deep, wise eyes and draw courage and solace from them. They were closed forever.

It was a terrible calamity. But Rabbi Nachmeini's spirit was not broken. He remembered a great deal of the Talmud he had studied so much in his lifetime, together with its commentaries. He could continue to teach his disciples from memory. He could still do a great deal of other useful work. He knew his brethren needed him more than ever before.

And so, as soon as he regained his power of speech and a little strength, he became as active as before. The sight of the old, blind Rabbi, with deep scars on his face, was awe-inspiring indeed! His courage was marvelous, for he had suffered more than the rest of his brethren, and yet never lost faith.

Soon Rabbi Abraham Nachmeini took his place again in the Beggars' Row. His friends and disciples did not want to let him go there, but he insisted, and his disciples arranged to take turns at being his "eyes." Every day one of his younger students called for him and led him to his place in the Beggars' Row, and after the hour was over, took him back home.

Rabbi Nachmeini began to notice that his daily collection was getting to be quite a sizable sum. The sight of a blind man always brings forth pity, especially a man with a noble face like Rabbi Abraham's. No passer-by ever passed him without dropping a coin in his lap. Still, the collection surprised Rabbi Abraham, and he began to suspect that his brother had a hand in it somehow, though he could not be sure.

Rabbi Abraham's needs were small, and he always had some money to spare for those who were in greater need than he, especially the sick and the old who could not collect alms themselves.

One afternoon an elegant coach passed the beggars' lane. It stopped near the place where Rabbi Abraham was sitting. The nobleman who was riding in the coach had caught sight of the blind, old beggar with the majestic face, and had ordered the coachman to stop. The nobleman alighted, and went up to Rabbi Nachmeini. He placed a golden coin in his hand, and pressed it lightly with feeling and warmth.

Rabbi Abraham raised his face and said to the stranger:

"My eyes are dark and cannot see you. But my heart tells me you are a man with a fine soul. It is not advisable for your honor to be seen talking to a poor Jew of the ghetto like me. Go your way, friend, and G‑d bless you.”

"You speak like a man of noble blood and there is a G‑dly majesty in your face. I want to make your acquaintance. As for me, do not worry venerable sir. I am a free French nobleman, and I can do as I please. No one can prevent me from talking to anyone I choose. However, if you do not think me worthy of your acquaintance, pray, forgive me for disturbing your peace."

"Do not bring pain with such words, to a heart already painful," Rabbi Abraham replied. "It is but of your welfare that I am thinking."

"I assure you, your anxiety is quite out of place. Please, do me the honor to join me for a short ride in my coach. I do so want to talk to you."

Although Rabbi Abraham protested, the nobleman motioned to his coachman, and both of them helped Rabbi Abraham to rise, and half carried him into the coach.

Many anxious eyes accompanied the coach as it disappeared in a cloud of dust.

Gasperi suspected a plot and forced Solomon to act as a spy to find out what was afoot. Being bitter at the attitude of his brother and the Jewish community towards him, Solomon accepted the hateful task.

One dark night Solomon sneaked into the ghetto in the disguise of a pauper and made his way to his brother's house. On approaching the house, he noticed a stranger stealthily entering it. Solomon hid behind the door and listened.

Solomon heard a lively conversation. He easily recognized one voice as that of his brother. The other voice was in a strong French accent. He heard his brother address the visitor as "Marquis Duval." Solomon had met the Marquis several times, and he knew that he was no friend of Gasperi. But it was certainly a great surprise to him to learn of the friendship between his brother and the Marquis.

His surprise was greater still when he heard of the whole daring plot to save the Jewish community of Valencia which the two men were planning. What wouldn't Gasperi give to know of this plot? Severus saw himself rising very high in the honors of the church. He wanted to see his brother's face on learning that he, Severus, had him at his mercy.

Waiting a few minutes after the Marquis left, Severus entered his brother's house. The sightless eyes of the aged Rabbi turned to the door. "Who is it?" he asked.

Severus had not seen his brother after the "accident." He was very shocked to see the tortured face of his brother and his sightless eyes. He had heard of the "accident," of course. But now he once again realized the inhuman cruelty of Gasperi, and he hated him more than ever.

"Who is there?" repeated the aged Rabbi.

"Forgive me for intruding upon you at such a late hour..." Solomon began.

"You? I have asked you never to see me. There is nothing that we have in common now. Please go away." There was a note of anxiety in Rabbi Abraham's voice, for he realized that Solomon might have overheard his conversation with Duval.

Severus turned and left without a word. His first impulse was to go at once to Gasperi and report the plot to him. But the sight of his brother haunted him all the way. It was, very late anyway, and Gasperi could wait until the morning.

Solomon went home and straight to bed. But he could not sleep...He was full of conflicting emotions: pity for his brother, a desire to avenge himself, hatred of Gasperi, and the danger threatening his own person and his family. Solomon tossed about on his bed in great mental anguish. When he dozed off, he saw the face of his father; that venerable face, those wise eyes, the friendly smile. He rushed to him: "Father, father, forgive me..." His father just turned his face away. It was full of pain.

Solomon awoke with a start and found his eyes moist with tears. He broke down completely and his tears flowed freely. Then he felt better. He had made up his mind.

On the following morning Solomon had many things to see to. He helped his wife pack a few valuables and told her to prepare for a long journey. He told her that when she would drive out with the children on their daily outing, they would not return home, but would drive on as fast as they could to the French border. Across the border they would make their way to a relative, and be quite safe. As for him, Solomon said he trusted in G‑d to save him, and enable him to rejoin his family there, somehow.

After a sad and anxious parting with his wife, taking care not to arouse the suspicion of the servants, Solomon slowly made his way to Archbishop Gasperi.

Gasperi was in a good mood. He greeted his visitor with exaggerated friendliness: "I am surely glad to see you. I hope you have brought me good news. You shall have lunch with me today. I shall send word to your Senora not to expect you. There is time for business after lunch. How about a game of chess, Severus?"

"Very gladly, your Grace," Solomon replied, afraid he might betray his eagerness. Every minute won meant further distance from danger for his wife and children.

They began their game, but Solomon could hardly concentrate on it. He was trying hard to appear calm and collected.

"You're not playing too well, today, Severus. Are you alright?" Gasperi remarked.

"Yes, your Grace, I am alright. If I lose, it will be due to your superior play. But the game is not over yet."

Lunch time came, and the game had to be adjourned, with Gasperi definitely in the lead. He sent one of his servants to deliver the message to Solomon's wife. "Be sure to deliver it to the Senora personally, and come right back."

A shiver ran through Solomon's back. The crisis was rapidly approaching.

After lunch they were about to resume the game, when the servant returned. "The Senora and the children have not returned from the morning's ride, and there is anxiety in the household," the servant reported.

Solomon jumped up from his place with worry written all over his face. "Something must have happened to them... some accident... Permit me, your Grace, to go and see what has happened."

Gasperi thought for a moment. He was too shrewd to fall for any such scheme. It might merely be suspicion, but he would take no chances.

 

"No, Severus, you stay here. I will send out a search party. If there was an accident, we will soon know..."

The game of chess was now forgotten, and Gasperi demanded to know what Severus had found out on his spying mission in the ghetto. It did not take Gasperi very long to conclude that Severus was not telling him the truth. He questioned him at great length. Solomon became quite confused, and Gasperi became convinced that Solomon was not on his side. In the meantime the riders which Gasperi dispatched to investigate, returned with a report that there was no sign of an accident on the road, and that arrivals into the city reported a coach heading north at full speed.

At a sign from Gasperi, the dreaded hooded-servants of the Inquisition entered. They seized Solomon and dragged him to the torture chambers, where the agents of the Inquisition got to work to pry the secret out of the sealed lips of Solomon.

In the meantime Duval had learned from his own men in the service of Gasperi what had happened. He could not know whether or not Solomon would reveal the secret of the planned escape either willingly or under torture. The plan had therefore to be carried out that very night. And so it was. Everything went off without a hitch. The Jews of the ghetto safely made their way to the coast, where barges awaited them.

Just as the last barge was about to sail, a few of Duval's men came, carrying a very sick person on a stretcher. It was, as you have guessed, Solomon Nachmeini. When all were aboard, the last of the barges sailed into the greying night. When dawn broke, they were all on the high seas.

In the late afternoon the barges reached the shore of an island, where a French flag fluttered in the wind from the top of a castle. They were safe at last.

The meeting between the two brothers was a very moving one. When Rabbi Abraham learned how his brother had suffered the terrible tortures of the Inquisition, yet did not give away their plan of escape, he was moved to tears. Solomon would have surely been tortured to death or burnt at the stake, had not Duval's men in the service of Gasperi spirited him away during that fateful night.

Although both brothers were now crippled for life, they were never happier. They were now truly united, in spirit as well as in body. Eventually, Solomon rejoined his family in Holland, where many "Marranos" who escaped from the Inquisition found a haven of refuge, and could return to the faith of their fathers, to live as free men and faithful Jews.