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Heir to the Throne
Heir to the Throne is a translation of a
Yiddish-language book published in Poland
in the early part of the century. It is based on
an historical event mentioned in sefarim,
around which the author has constructed a
dramatized account to bring the story to life.
In a secluded part of western Hungary, amid luscious
vineland, lies the city of Tirnau, or Nagy-szomboth,
as it is known in Hungarian. The scenery is enchanting.
As far as the eye can see there are rolling vineyards and vine-covered
hills. The succulent red grapes that grow in the region are consid-
ered among the finest in the world. A walk through the fields leaves
one feeling lightheaded, warmed by the sun and exhilarated by the
Years ago, during the time of our story, Tirnau was a rich metrop-
olis. It was the residence of the royal family and the entourage of
ministers, warriors and nobles who served the king and enforced his
authority over the entire kingdom. In those days, the Jewish com-
munity of Tirnau was highly distinguished. Although the Jews were
confined to a ghetto, they were considered fortunate at the time.
While the typical ghetto was walled in on four sides, imprisoning its
inhabitants, the Tirnau ghetto was walled in on only three sides. The
fourth side was completely open, leading to magnificent vineyards.
The combination of sunlight with the pleasant aroma of wine made
ghetto life bearable. Consequently, Jews from all over were
attracted to Tirnau and the quality of life Jews enjoyed there.
Quite often, tragedy would strike the defenseless Tirnau Jews.
Intoxicated by wine and leisure, encouraged by Jesuit monks and
attracted by the gold and gems in which Tirnau's Jews traded, the
gentiles would tear down the ghetto gates or enter through the
fields and go on a rampage, maniacally massacring hundreds of
people and destroying their property. As the narrow alleys streamed
with a mixture of blood and wine, the victims' cries would pierce
the air. As Jewish homes went up in flames, the rabble would
plunder Jewish property and attack the defenseless Jewish people.
Nevertheless, the Jewish citizens of Tirnau did not indulge in
self-pity. As soon as the savages wore themselves out and the air
cleared, the blood was washed away and bodies interred in their
forefathers' graves. The ruins were quickly rebuilt, business was
resumed, and once more masses of Jews streamed from all corners
of Europe to the vineyards of western Hungary, where it was possi-
ble to live honestly as a Jew, sustained by faith in Hashem. The
Tirnau community welcomed her homeless brethren with generos-
ity and hospitality, helping them settle in the ghetto and even
exempting them from paying taxes for a few years. Thus, at the
beginning of our story, we find Tirnau a distinguished Jewish com-
munity, headed by famous Rabbanim, with a first-rate yesbivab for
Torah study. It is a story that happened hundreds of years ago and
has since become an old and inspiring legend.
Immediately after Sukkos of 1470, there was an
important meeting for the parnassim (lay leaders) of
the community. In the Jewish council on that day, it
was unanimously decided to send two messengers out into the
world to find a Rav and Rosh Yesbivah, who could bring spiritual
greatness to the community.
Accompanied by hearty blessings and letters of recommendation
to the great Rabbanim of the time, the messengers of Tirnau set out
on their way. Their destination was Spain, which was at that time the
foremost center of Torah learning in all of Europe and Asia. They
constantly prayed to Hashem to help them find a gaon who would
be suitable for their community. They were also worried that should
they find such a person it might be exceedingly difficult to convince
him to leave his country. Spanish Jews were very loyal to Spain, and
they did not like to move away. The Tirnau community had on
previous occasions sent messengers to various Jewish centers, but
they had never managed to persuade a Rav to return with them.
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