The queen had fallen ill, and her condition deteriorated quite rapidly until she was eventually hovering between life and death. Her doctors fussed over her incessantly, but it was useless, as no known cure existed for her strange illness. Meanwhile, plunged into hysteria, the entire country—Jews especially—took to their places of worship, praying for the queen’s recovery. She was equitable and kind, guiding the king to reign over his country as befitted a true noble, sparing its citizens of any persecution. But, alas, the queen finally succumbed, leaving behind a backwash of misery and uncertainty, as well as far-reaching consequences.

Once the king had finished his mourning period, he requested his advisors to begin searching for a new queen; only royal, young women were to be considered. As news of the king’s search spread to the surrounding countries, suggestions began to pour in. One young princess caught the king’s fancy, and after much deliberation, he decided she would be the next queen. She, however, had one condition before continuing with the marriage.

Despite my initial delight at conversing with you,” she wrote during their correspondence, “I’m bothered by the overwhelming population of Jews in your kingdom, something which sickens me beyond belief. They cannot be there while I'm queen. If you agree to expel them all from your borders, consider this match settled.

The princess’s letter caused the king to squirm uncomfortably on his throne. He loved his Jews, and he couldn't imagine his country functioning without them. As many of them were merchants and brokers, they had maintained a remarkable economy that boomed for as long as he could remember. Torn between this and his ache for the perfect queen, the king turned to his advisors for guidance. “You must choose one,” they said unhelpfully.

And so with a heavy heart, the king announced: “All Jews hereby have one year to collect their possessions and leave the kingdom.”

As waves of panic began to spread across the country, the Jewish towns and villages located along the main highway were handed a different ultimatum: three months was all they were given to uproot their lives forever. If at least the roadsides were cleared of Jews, the king hoped he could convince the princess that her vile wish had been carried out. He sent a letter informing her that their wedding could be held in three months’ time.

Elated by the news, the princess agreed to come. The wedding, now official, spurred the entire kingdom into excited preparations. A morose cloud of helplessness now shadowed the lives of the Jewish citizens, who turned to bitter prayer once more, this time to plead for their own fates.

Our story begins here.

Living in Krakow, Reb Avraham generally kept to himself. He was righteous, fluent in the entire Torah, and a hidden tzaddik. No one knew this, nor did he want anyone knowing. When he heard the grim news of the impending expulsion of his fellow Jews, Reb Avraham prayed for hours on end and fasted. As the royal wedding day loomed closer and closer, Reb Avraham felt something should be done, and so he went to meet with Krakow’s rabbi.

“I believe we should pool some donations,” said Reb Avraham, ignoring the rabbi’s doubtful gaze. “We can present a gift and a wish for the king. I’m certain this will save the Jews.”

Understandably, the rabbi told Reb Avraham in polite terms exactly what he thought about this preposterous idea and asked him to forget about it. Reb Avraham, however, was not put off. He continued to show up every day to convince the rabbi, who finally rallied the town’s generous magnates.

But, incredibly, Reb Avraham’s suggestion had the magnates nodding their heads, reaching into their pouches, and advising the rabbi that he should give Reb Avraham whatever was required.

A gracefully ornate coach pulled by four enormous horses, their reins held in the hands of a smartly-dressed driver, soon glided out of Krakow. Sitting inside the upholstered coach, wearing fancy gold robes, Reb Avraham settled himself in for the long journey, silently mulling over his plan. All this ostentation was necessary—Reb Avraham didn’t want any questions interfering with his quest, and he thought looking like an archbishop was a good deterrent. Especially when the cathedral in the kingdom’s capital was his destination.

The coach’s spoked wheels rolled to a stop. Someone rushed over to open the door, and Reb Avraham stepped out, his robes rippling in the breeze as he swept the cathedral courtyard with an intense gaze.

“I’d like to speak with the archbishop, please,” he told one of the bystanders. No one dared to question the distinguished-looking guest.

Soon, Reb Avraham was seated in an impressive office, smiling serenely at the archbishop. Reb Avraham introduced himself as a member of a distinguished family from abroad, which caused the archbishop to lean in closer. For hours, the two conversed about a myriad of topics, and the more they spoke, the more the archbishop found himself leaning forward. His strange guest was unusually bright, perhaps the most brilliant individual he had ever spoken to.

“My friend,” said Reb Avraham. “As you can see, I’m quite gifted with words. I would wish nothing more than to speak publicly at the king’s wedding today and wish him a hearty congratulations. Do you think you can arrange something for me, maybe as a favor?”

The archbishop gave a tight-lipped smile and wagged a finger. “Well, well, it might not be so easy, see. But I will mention your name before the royal court. Excuse me, I have to go now; I’m expected to officiate the wedding soon.”

As though old friends, the two parted with a warm goodbye. Once back inside his coach, Reb Avraham proceeded to don his tallit and tefillin before turning to the curtained window, his face buried in a prayer book. Sobs racked his body as Reb Avraham pleaded to G‑d to guide his hand. Reb Avraham finished, put his tallit and tefillin in his bag, and hid it under his splendid robe. Reb Avraham then sat down, hands in his lap, and began to patiently wait for the invitation.

The wedding ceremony was followed by a grandiose feast, the likes of which the kingdom hadn't seen in a long time. Not far from the head table, the archbishop was in the middle of entertaining his fellow clergymen when the memory of his strange guest popped into his head. He approached the new royal couple and offered to invite a most interesting personality, someone who undoubtedly would captivate the entire hall. To the archbishop’s delight, not only did the king seem excited, but he also offered to send along a carriage to pick him up. Reb Avraham, however, refused to be taken in the king’s carriage, stating he preferred using his own. His arrival to the wedding celebrations was met with curious glances; with his gold robes and regal stature, Reb Avraham seemed almost royal himself.

A fragile silence fell over the crowd as the king beckoned for Reb Avraham to begin. Standing where almost everyone could see him, Reb Avraham addressed the crowd. He spoke eloquently, mesmerizing the crowd as he did the archbishop a few hours prior, and when Reb Avraham finished, the thunderous applause continued long after he had returned to his seat. The queen, curious what the praise was all about, asked to hear the speech in her native tongue. Without the slightest hesitation, Reb Avraham repeated what he had said.

The king raised a glass in Reb Avraham’s direction. “A toast to you! You have brought us much joy today.”

Reb Avraham gave an apologetic smile. “I will abstain from food for now, Your Majesty, as I have not finished speaking my mind. In addition, I also brought a gift for the queen. I can say with confidence that her eyes have never graced something quite like it.”

“Show us the gift!” clamored the guests, as the royal couple nodded along.

Closely followed by every pair of eyes in the room, Reb Avraham removed the tallit bag from under his robes and placed it on the table. The royal couple rummaged through it, but couldn’t find a thing. The noise in the room began to die down, replaced by a strained silence. There was a slight falter in the king’s smile as he turned to Reb Avraham.

“What is this? This bag is empty.”

“Are you sure?”


“Have the queen insert her hand inside then,” suggested Reb Avraham.

The queen slid her hand into the bag once more. Her piercing screams suddenly rent the air as a swarm of scorpions and snakes emerged from the folds, scuttling and slithering up her frilly sleeve, until the queen was covered in a writhing mass that continued to spill onto the floor.

“They will not hurt you,” said Reb Avraham calmly over the queen’s shrieks. Out of the corner of his eye, he could see the king swelling with fury. “Not unless I tell them to. And now,” Reb Avraham continued, facing the king, “allow me to reveal myself as a Jew. Your decree from three months ago expelling all the Jews from this kingdom has left me troubled. Grant us an annulment now, and I'll spare you and your guests the agonizing death of a viper’s bite. Do consider your response quickly.”

The king’s heart gave a small leap of joy: he had never wished to harm his Jewish subjects, and here was an opportunity to correct the wrong. The queen, however, regarded Reb Avraham with a seething look of contempt before waving over the royal scribe. Once the annulment had been written and signed, Reb Avraham once again addressed the queen.

“As I promised, you can now put your hand back inside.”

The queen gingerly slipped her hand between the bag’s folds, and the swarm of scorpions and snakes gradually disappeared inside until none were left. She pulled out her hand, and the room gave an audible gasp: a magnificent crystal scepter was clenched in her fist, the depiction of many creatures masterfully etched upon it. The queen’s look of hatred was gone. She examined the scepter from every angle, apparently delighted by such unusual craftsmanship. When it was obvious the queen had forgotten her rage in light of this present, the mood in the room brightened—no harm would befall Reb Avraham.

Impatient to share the news with his community, Reb Avraham left for Krakow, the key to the Jewish denizens’ future securely stowed inside his bag.