The  Earthquake


Had the matter been in the king's hands, he would never have allowed his favorite minister to be sentenced to death. But since it was the church that accused him of practicing Judaism in secret, the Spanish king had no jurisdiction over the matter. He was able, however, to postpone the minister's death for another year to allow the accused to conclude all the transactions and responsibilities that had been under his care. The king knew he could not hope for another year's extension so when it was over he asked for another month. The king could hope for nothing more short of a miracle from heaven.


The day of the auto-da-fe dawned. A huge square in the center of the city had been chosen as the site for the long awaited event. Hundreds of people crowded to witness the spectacle that was considered high entertainment by the common masses and nobility alike. When all was ready, the minister was led forward to the stake. But just as he was being tied to the funeral pyre, an earthquake threw everyone into a panicked helter skelter for refuge. In the grand melee, the minister managed to escape, aided by the quick action of the king, who had his servants transport him across the border.


A philosopher by inclination, the minister was intrigued by the phenomenon that had saved his life. Had it been a coincidence or could one claim it as a miracle? Did this earthquake fit into the natural scheme of events or had it come unexpectedly at the precise moment of execution, rendering it an act of God? While exploring the various theological possibilities, he came to the decision that if it was pure coincidence, he would continue to practice Judaism in secret, but if it came to light that the earthquake had no natural explanation, he publicly announce his conversion to Judaism.


His theological explorations led him to correspond with many Jewish scholars living throughout Germany, to none of which did he reveal, however, that he was the beneficiary of the miracle. None of the answers he received supplied the clear-cut answer he was seeking. When this minister learned of a saintly scholar known as the Baal Shem Tov, he hoped to get a satisfactory decision from him.


The minister himself went to present his question to the Baal Shem Tov. When he reached the rebbe's court, he asked the first Jew he met, where the Ball Shem Tov's study was. The chassid Rabbi Ze'ev Kitzis, pointed out the way and the minister continued in that direction.


"Welcome to you, most honored minister from Spain," the Baal Shem Tov greeted the stranger as soon as he appeared in the doorway. The man stepped back in surprise and fear. No one knew, as yet, that he was the escaped victim of the Church's clutches.


"As for your question," the Baal Shem Tov continued before the man got his breath back, "go and ask that man in the courtyard. He will answer it for you." The minister turned back in the direction he had come, meeting Rabbi Zev Kitzis near the gate. He outlined his problem to the disciple.


"Even if that particular earthquake had been ordained from the first day of Creation for a specific time and place, the very fact of your execution taking place then and there would signify an open miracle."


This was the answer the minister was seeking. He took this as a sign to convert publicly and forever after maintained a strong tie with the Baal Shem Tov.

(Shmuot Vesipurim)

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