With heavy hearts, the small group of Jews watched the ship slip out of sight. On board, a carefully chosen emissary carried the hopes of their entire community. If successful, he would save his brothers and sisters from certain ruin. If unsuccessful, they shuddered to imagine...

Nearly 500 years ago, the Turkish Empire stretched throughout the Levant and beyond, including the Land of Israel. Suleiman the Magnificent held the throne, and his kingdom functioned with the help of numerous local governors he appointed. Some were benevolent, others tyrants.

Unfortunately, the city of Safed, whose residents awoke one morning to news of a paralyzing new tax imposed upon them, fell under the jurisdiction of one such tyrant. Refusal or failure to comply, he warned, would result in the end of the entire Jewish community.

The elders of the community stumbled out of his palace, wondering where to find the money. Raising the entire sum would prove impossible. After some deliberation, they agreed to send representatives to Turkey to plead their case before the sultan, hoping he would take pity on them. Among those chosen was Rabbi Eliezer Azikri, who was one of the foremost kabbalists, a student of Rabbi Moshe Cordovero, and a poet. Modest and unassuming, few were aware of his virtues. He was widely known simply as the shamash, the synagogue caretaker.

The delegates set out for the port, but before they boarded the ship to Turkey, Rabbi Eliezer stopped and requested that they allow him to go alone.

“Pray for me,” said Rabbi Eliezer, “and G‑d will help.”

He bade them farewell and turned to board the waiting ship. The moment he cleared the gangplank and stepped foot onto the deck, sudden winds descended upon the port, wildly churning the seas and rocking every vessel in sight. Sailors quickly unfurled the sails, and, as though helped by an invisible hand, the ship scuttled out of the harbor with ease. Rabbi Eliezer watched Israel’s coast shrink until it was just a fine jagged line, and before long, that too disappeared from view.

Up above, the clouds, which had turned into dark turbulent swirls, unleashed a frightening storm. Winds tossed the ship in towering waves as sailors scurried across the deck attempting to bring it under control.

“Pray for mercy,” bellowed the captain to anyone within earshot. Through the lashing rain, he noticed Rabbi Eliezer wrapped in his tallit and tefillin. “Rabbi, do something!”

Rabbi Eliezer answered by holding out a folded note and instructing the captain to place it on the bow of the ship, warning that he should return it once the city of Constantinople became visible. The effect was instantaneous—the storm immediately subsided, and the sea returned to its prior calm.

As the marvel of the miracle performed by the Jewish sage circulated among the passengers, the parted clouds revealed yet another wonder: They were already, impossibly, approaching the coast of Constantinople.

Once disembarked, Rabbi Eliezer found a local shamash and asked whether he could stay with him. Since his home was small, the shamash could only offer the attic, but Rabbi Eliezer didn’t mind. Tucking some books under his arm, he ascended to the dusty niche, where he lit a candle and learned till midnight, when he stopped to recite Tikkun Chatzot, as was his custom.

Shortly before Rabbi Eliezer’s arrival in Constantinople, the sultan’s daughter had fallen ill. Her condition worsened with each passing day, leading the doctors to believe she would not recover. Dread accompanied the sultan wherever he went, robbing him of any sleep, leaving him pacing his balcony every night.

During one of his sleepless episodes, the sultan noticed an orange glow in the distance. Tall flames shot into the night, unnoticed by anyone but him. Heart beating frantically, the sultan ordered the palace staff to locate the blaze and extinguish it before half the city was burned.

When the men returned, they reported no fire, just a lone man reading by candlelight in an attic. When the sultan looked again and observed the flames raging unabated as before, he demanded the man be brought in.

Led by the guards, Rabbi Eliezer soon stood before the sultan.

“Who are you, and what are you doing here?”

Rabbi Eliezer told the sultan of his departure from Israel and speedy arrival in Constantinople only hours ago. To corroborate the man’s tale, the sultan found the captain, who heartily swore to the veracity of the fantastical journey. Satisfied, the sultan requested the sage follow him to the throne room.

“Are you able to heal my daughter?” urged the sultan sadly. “I’m willing to give whatever you wish in return.”

Rabbi Eliezer agreed and asked for a quiet corner in which to pray. He faced the wall, unmoving, deep in prayer, and the sultan’s daughter slowly opened her eyes. Feebly, for the first time since her illness, she whispered for something to eat. Rabbi Eliezer asked for permission to move closer. For the rest of the day, he stood by the girl’s bed and prayed for her health. By the time he put his prayerbook down, the sultan’s daughter had completely recovered, strong enough even to stand unsupported. The royal household celebrated.

The sultan turned to Rabbi Eliezer, eager to fulfill his promise. “Anything you want,” he reminded.

Rabbi Eliezer described the unfair decree looming over the Jewish population of Safed. The sultan immediately called for a quill and a scroll and wrote an order calling for the governor’s prompt removal from office. The sultan even offered the position to Rabbi Eliezer, but he declined. Nevertheless, in the last lines of his letter the sultan noted that any official appointed in Safed would be required to heed Rabbi Eliezer’s wishes.

Laden with gifts from the sultan, and the all-important letter, Rabbi Eliezer boarded a ship back to Israel. To prevent the delay of good news, he once again placed a note on the bow and accelerated his journey.

When he reappeared in Safed, the pervading miserable sentiment turned into jubilation. The elders decided to wait until the deadline before presenting the sultan’s letter. When the day arrived and the governor summoned them, the elders appeared before him. They pointed to Rabbi Eliezer as though he had the money. Quizzically, the governor turned to him.

“What is that in your hand?”

Rabbi Eliezer removed the sultan’s scroll, unrolled it, and read in a loud, clear voice.

A new governor was soon instated, and the Jews of Safed continued living in peace.

Adapted from Sichat Hashavua #1045