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King For Three Days

from Jewish Fairy Tales And Legends





Godfrey de Bouillon was a famous warrior, a daring general and bold
leader of men, who gained victories in several countries. And so, in
the year 1095, when the first Crusade came to be arranged, he was
entrusted with the command of one of the armies and led it across
Europe in the historic march to the Holy Land.

Like many a great soldier of his period, Godfrey was a cruel man, and,
above all, he hated the Jews.

"In this, our Holy War," he said to his men, "we shall slay all the
children of Israel wherever we shall fall in with them. I shall not
rest content until I have exterminated the Jews."

True to his inhuman oath, Godfrey and his soldiers massacred large
numbers of Jews. They did this without pity or mercy, saying: "We are
performing a sacred duty, for we have the blessings of the priests on
our enterprise."

Godfrey felt sure he would be victorious, but he also wanted to
obtain the blessing of a rabbi. It was a curious desire, but in those
days such things were not considered at all strange, and so Godfrey de
Bouillon sent for the learned Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, better known by
his world-famed name of Rashi.

Rashi, one of the wisest sages of the Jews, came to Godfrey, and the
two men stood facing each other.

"Thou hast heard of my undertaking to capture Jerusalem," said
Godfrey, haughtily. "I demand thy blessing on my venture."

"Blessings are not in the gift of man; they are bestowed by Heaven--on
worthy objects," answered Rashi.

"Trifle not with words," retorted the warrior, "or they may cost thee
dear. A holy man can invoke a blessing."

But Rashi was not afraid. He was becoming an old man then, but he was
as brave as the swaggering soldier, and he faced Godfrey
unflinchingly.

"I can make no claim on the God of Israel on behalf of one who has
sworn to destroy all the descendants of His chosen people," he said.

"So, ho!" exclaimed Godfrey, "you defy me."

But he stopped his angry words abruptly. He had no wish to quarrel
with any holy man, for that might make him nervous. And nervousness,
then, was misunderstood as superstition. Besides, the rabbi might
curse him.

"If you will not bless," he said, "perhaps you will deign to raise the
veil of the future for me. You wise men of the Jews are seers and can
foretell events--so they say. A hundred thousand chariots filled with
soldiers brave, determined and strong, are at my command. Tell me,
shall I succeed, or fail?"

"Thou wilt do both." Rashi replied.

"What mean you?" demanded Godfrey, angrily.

"This. Jerusalem will fall to thee. So it is ordained, and thou wilt
become its king."

"Ha, ha! So you deem it wisest to pronounce a blessing after all,"
interrupted Godfrey. "I am content."

"I have not spoken all," said the rabbi, gravely. "Three days wilt
thou rule and no more."

Godfrey turned pale.

"Shall I return?" he asked, slowly.

"Not with thy multitude of chariots. Thy vast army will have dwindled
to three horses and three men when thou reachest this city."

"Enough," cried Godfrey. "If you think to affright me with these
ominous words, you fail in your intent. And hearken, Rabbi of the
Jews, your words shall be remembered. Should they prove incorrect in
the minutest detail--if I am King of Jerusalem for four days, or
return with four horsemen--you shall pay the penalty of a false
prophet and shall be consigned to the flames. Do you understand? You
shall be put to death."

"I understand well," returned Rashi, quite unmoved, "it is a sentence
which you and your kind love to pronounce with or without the sanction
of those whom you call your holy men. It is not I who fear, Godfrey de
Bouillon. I seek not to peer into the future to assure my own safety."

With these words they parted, the rabbi returning to his prayers and
to his studies which have enriched the learning of the Jews, while
Godfrey proceeded to lay a trail of innocent Jewish blood along the
banks of the Rhine in his march to Palestine.

History has set on record the events of the Crusade. Godfrey, after
many battles, laid siege to the Holy City, captured it, and drove the
Jews into one of the synagogues and burned them alive. Eight days
afterward, his soldiers raised him on their shields and proclaimed him
king.

Godfrey was delighted, but two days later he thought the matter over
carefully and decided that he could not live in Jerusalem always. So
next day he called together his captains and said:

"You have done me great honor. But I must return to Europe, and it
would be more befitting that I should be styled Duke of Jerusalem and
Guardian of the Holy City than its sovereign."

That night, however, he suddenly remembered the prediction of Rashi.

"For three days I have been King of Jerusalem," he muttered. "The
rabbi of the Jews spoke truth."

He could not help wondering whether the rest of the prophecy would be
fulfilled, and he became moody. He was joyful when he gained a
victory, but there came also disasters, and he was plunged into
despondency. The reverses affected the buoyancy of his troops, disease
decimated their ranks, and desertions further depleted their numbers.
Slowly but surely his mighty army dwindled away to a mere handful of
dissatisfied men and decrepit horses.

It was a ragged and wretched procession that he led back across
Europe, and daily his retinue grew smaller. Men and horses dropped
from sheer fatigue helpless by the wayside, and were left there to
die, with the hungry vultures perched on trees, patiently waiting for
the last flicker of life to depart before they set to work to pick the
bones of all flesh.

Godfrey de Bouillon had gained his victory, but at what cost?
Thousands of men, women and children had been murdered, thousands of
his soldiers had fallen in battle, and now hundreds of others had
dropped out of the ranks to end their last hours on the ghastly road
that led from Jerusalem back to western Europe. Do you wonder that
Godfrey was unhappy, and that he thought every moment of the words of
Rashi?

At length he reached the city of Worms where Rashi dwelt. With him
were four men, mounted on horses.

"It is well," he said, with as much cheerfulness as he could muster,
as he surveyed the remnants of his once proud army. "The rabbi has
failed."

Godfrey bade his men fall into line behind him and he proudly rode
through the gate of the city. As he did so, he heard a cry of alarm.
He turned hastily and saw a huge stone falling from the city's gate.
It dropped on the soldier riding just behind him, killing both man and
horse.

"You have spoken truth; would that I had taken heed of your words," he
said to the rabbi. "I am a broken man. You will assuredly achieve
great fame in Israel."

And so it has come to pass. Should you, by chance, ever visit the city
of Brussels, the capital of Belgium, fail not to look upon the statue
of Godfrey de Bouillon, with his sword proudly raised. It stands in
the Place Royale but a few minutes' walk from the synagogue. Should
you ever be in the ancient city of Worms that stands on the Rhine, do
as other visitors, Jews and Gentiles--enter the synagogue that was
built many centuries ago, and you will see the room where Rashi
studied and the stone seat on which he sat. And not far from the
synagogue you will see the ancient gate of the city, named in honor of
Rabbi Solomon ben Isaac, the Rashi Gate. Perhaps it is the very one
under which Godfrey de Bouillon passed into the city with his three
mounted companions, as the legend tells.





Next: The Palace In The Clouds

Previous: The Magic Palace



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