"IN THE name of the Lord of Hosts,--I come, I come in the name of the Lord of Hosts!"
This was the cry of Pablo Christiani as he went through Spain, from city to city. Pablo was a Jew who had become a Christian. And now he wanted all the Jews to do the same. But try as he would, he could not succeed.
One day Pablo thought of a new scheme. He requested the king to have one of the most famous rabbis in Spain debate with him. That is, Pablo wanted to argue with the rabbi as to which was the better religion, Judaism or Christianity. The king was glad to grant Pablo's wish for he too wanted to see the Jews turn Christian.
Pablo thought: "It will be very easy for me to show that Christianity is the better religion. The rabbi will be afraid to argue honestly before the king. He will
have to agree to whatever I say. Then, once I shall have shown the people that even their own great rabbi agrees that Christianity is the better religion, my work will be done; the Jews will all consent to become Christians."
Now the greatest rabbi in Spain at that time was Moses ben Nachman or Nachmanides, as he was called. When the king asked him to appear in Barcelona for the debate, Nachmanides was worried. Just what was he to do? Just what ought he to say?
"Anyway," Nachmanides thought to himself, "no matter what I do and no matter what I say, the Jews will suffer. It's best that I speak the truth--nothing but the truth."
So with great fear and yet also with great hope, Nachmanides arrived in Barcelona. When he came into the palace he found it crowded with many Jews and Christians who had gathered to hear the great debate. The Jews of Spain, however, were not the only ones interested in this debate. The Jews all over the world were worried. What would happen to them now, they wondered. Wasn't this another trick of the king's? Would this not give him another excuse to be cruel to the Jews? Still they put great trust in Nachmanides, their rabbi.
When all were seated and waiting impatiently,
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[paragraph continues] Nachmanides arose, and addressed the people as follows:
"Before beginning the debate, I ask for one thing." Everybody craned his neck. Everybody strained his ears to hear what Nachmanides was asking for.
"All I ask is that I be allowed to speak the truth, the truth as I see it," Nachmanides begged.
"Of course, of course. That is what we expect of both you and Pablo," the king answered in his courtly manner.
For three days the debate went on. Nachmanides spoke without fear. "It surely cannot be that the Messiah has come. Was it not said that when the Messiah came all wars would end, and there would be peace, only peace on this earth? But look, look about you! What do you see--nothing but war and bloodshed. Surely Jesus was not the Messiah."
"That's so! That's really true!" Many who were listening to Nachmanides thought to themselves. But they dared not applaud such ideas.
"What? Jesus not a Messiah! The Messiah had not yet come! That rabbi had better stop debating before he is killed."
The Jews and even some of the Christians begged Nachmanides not to continue the debate. But Nachmanides
paid no attention to their requests. He went right on arguing bravely.
At last the debate was over. Pablo had not been able, as he expected, to show everybody that Christianity was a better religion than Judaism. Nachmanides had not been afraid to speak the truth, as Pablo had hoped. There was no doubt that the great rabbi had won the debate.
Nachmanides wrote down the whole story of the debate. He sent it all over the country, so the Jews and the Christians could read all that had been said.
Now when Pablo and the priests saw the report, they selected certain sentences and sent them to the king. Why do you suppose they did this? Well, you see they took those sentences which belittled the Christian religion. For example, one sentence read, "There have been more wars since Jesus was born, than there had ever been before." Another read, "Jesus is not the Messiah" and other sentences like these.
These wicked men came before the king and said:
"Words like these are an insult to our Christian religion. The man who wrote them surely ought not to go unpunished."
Again Nachmanides was summoned to Barcelona. Greatly alarmed, he obeyed the king's order.
"Nachmanides," said the king, "it gives me much
pain to inform you that you have been charged with insulting the Christian religion. Pablo showed me the report you made of the meeting in Barcelona."
"What? What was that?" asked Nachmanides, who was now seventy years old. Maybe he hadn't heard the king correctly.
"Yes, yes," the king continued, "and for that sin you must leave the country for two years."
Nachmanides turned very pale. He sank into a chair exhausted.
"But how did this happen, Your Majesty?" he asked. "I didn't write anything in that report which I hadn't already spoken before you, O Majesty! You don't really mean to make me leave my home, my wife, my children, and my little grandchildren, whom I love so much," Nachmanides pleaded in a voice choked with tears.
The cruel king sat by unmoved. "Yes, Nachmanides, that shall have to be," he replied sternly. "The pope has spoken! For two years you shall stay away from this country."
"Two years," cried the clergy. "That is not enough punishment for a crime like that. For the rest of his life, let him be a wanderer on the earth!"
A great sob arose from some of the women present. A grey old man of seventy to be forced to leave
his home, his son and daughter, and his little grandchildren. That was unheard of.
So Nachmanides began his wanderings through Europe. After three years of weary travels, he came to Palestine where at last he found peace. From there he wrote to one of his friends:
"I am removed from my friends and my family, from the little children whom I brought up on my knee, but I feel repaid when I can walk on the stones of Jerusalem and weep at Jerusalem's fallen Temple."
Although at first Nachmanides was disappointed when he saw the ruins of the once beautiful city, he didn't sit and mourn over those ruins. Instead Nachmanides, brave man that he was, gathered about him a small group of friends. He encouraged them to build up a real community. Many came to hear his lectures and sermons. And so Nachmanides was able to give the Jews of the Holy Land all the fine culture of Spain. Nachmanides lived in Palestine only three years. But he did more in those three years than others do in a whole lifetime.