A Jewish Family Named Satan
For hundreds of years in Jewish history, a noted and wealthy family was known by the name of Satan. For generations people wondered why they called themselves by this name, the name of the Angel of Evil and Badness. The origin of the name goes back nearly 600 years to a man called Shmuel, whose heroic deeds saved the Jewish population of Prague.
It was in the year 1391, during the reign of King Wenzel IX. The king ruled over all Bohemia and Eastern Europe. He was a cruel king wasting his life in gambling and drinking wine. When his treasuries would run low he would impose a tax upon the Jewish population in his kingdom and thus he would replenish it.
That year, the king declared a moratorium on all debts he owed to Jews. As many Jews were in the banking business loaning money to the dukes and barons of the kingdom, who were always in debt, this edict caused much suffering in the Jewish community.
The King Demands A Ransom
Although the king had declared a moratorium, the money was very slow in coming in and the king’s treasury was empty. He forthwith summoned the leader of the Jewish community, Reb Shmuel, and gave him an ultimatum: “Within eight days time, the Jewish community of Prague will have to turn over to the king 20,000 silver pieces. If this will not be forthcoming, then he will cease to protect the lives of the Jews in his kingdom.
When the word reached the Jewish community they began to tremble. They all knew only too well the meaning of the king’s threat. Not long ago, a great many Jews of the city were killed in a massacre and it was only through the last minute intervention of the king that the entire Jewish community was not wiped out.
The chief rabbi of the city, the gaon, Rabbi Abigdor Kara, called together all the heads of the Jewish families and they made a tally. Even if they were to sell all of their possessions they would still be able to raise only one-fourth of the necessary sum. While they were discussing the matter and realizing the futility of trying to raise such an enormous sum, one of the leaders of the community, Reb Shmuel, arose and said, “My friends, I will go to the king to intercede for the Jewish of this city. I am a direct descendant of the Gaon Bustani who is from the seed of Kind David. He was known to be a fighter and his merit will protect me as our Sages tell us (Pirkei Avot 2:2): ‘He who works for the community, works for G-d, for the merit of their ancestors will protect them.’ I believe that the spirit of Bustani will protect me.
“What are your plans to influence the king?” asked the Gaon Rabbi Abigdor.
“G-d will show me the way,” he answered. “All that I request is that the entire congregation gather here, in the synagogue, tomorrow, and pray in my behalf. If I do not return alive then you support and sustain my wife and children.”
The rabbis agreed and he blessed him and prayed that G-d should watch over him and protect him.
His Daughter To Accompany Him
That night Reb Shmuel told his wife about his plans to see the king.
“But how will you even enter the courtyard when there is a rule that no Jew may even step into the king’s palace, let alone see the king personally and talk to him?”
“I have a plan,” he answered. “I will take our 15-year-old daughter Rachel, who will prepare the way for me to see the king.”
“Are you mad,” she cried, “not only do you endanger your own life but you also want to involve our daughter!”
“Listen, my dear wife,” he replied. “If I don’t go and the ransom is not paid, who knows if we won’t all be dead by this time next year. This way, at least we have a chance.”
Over the cries of his wife, Reb Shmuel and his daughter started out for the king. Rachel was one of the most beautiful and intelligent girls in all of Prague.
Early in the morning while the entire Jewish congregation awoke to attend the synagogue services to pray for the success of Reb Shmuel’s mission, Reb Shmuel made a detour on the road and stopped at the castle of one of the king’s nobles.
A number of years previously, while this noble was on a hunting trip he lost an important dispatch case which was supposed to be delivered to the king. The case only contained a note for 10,000 gold pieces which was supposed to be turned over to the king. When he returned home and discovered it missing, he became sick with worry. For three days he hid in his home praying and worrying what to do.
On the fourth day, his servant announced that the leader of the Jews, Reb Shmuel, was waiting outside to see him on a matter of importance. When he entered the noble was shocked to see that he was carrying the dispatch case.
Returns The Lost Case
“My honorable noble,” said Reb Shmuel. “Yesterday while traveling through the forest I came across this dispatch case and noticing this name on it I hastened to return it to you, realizing it must be important. For our Torah commands us to return a lost item.”
The noble jumped at Reb Shmuel, snatched the from his hands and shouted: “Jew, do you know what is in this case?”
“My lord,” answered Reb Shmuel, “the case was sealed as you can still see it is. However, even if it were open I would not be permitted to examine its contents.”
The noble took his key, opened the case and looked through its contents and saw that it was all in order and nothing was missing.
“You put me to shame,” answered Reb Shmuel. “I have fulfilled a commandment of our Torah which bades us to return a lost item. We are not permitted to accept a reward for doing a mitzva.”
“But I have been told by my priest,” said the noble, “that your Talmud states that you are not required to return a lost item if it belongs to a Gentile.”
The Deed Of Returning A Lost Item
“What you say is true,” answered Reb Shmuel, “but this is the way our Chief Rabbi Abigdor explained this to one of your priests. This refers to the times when the heathens were enemies of the Jews. Even when they did return it to them they were accused of stealing part of its contents and many of them were hung for trying to do a good deed. Therefore, one of our Sages (Baba Kama 113b) made that statement that we should not return a heathen’s lost item. But all our Sages opposed this view as witness the actions of Shimeon ben Shetach who, when his disciples bought him a mule found on it a diamond, and he told them to return it to its previous owner, an Arab.
“Also the story of Rabbi Shmuel bar Sustri, who, when he visited Rome, found the queen’s neck-lace, which had been lost. The queen had posted no-tices offering a reward if it was returned within 30 days, otherwise, after 30 days, the finder would be executed. Rabbi Shmuel waited until after the 30 days expired and he then returned the necklace.
“Perhaps you did not see the proclamation nor hear about it?” she again asked him.
“I had seen it,” he replied.
“Then why didn’t you return it within the 30 days?” she demanded.
“I waited until the time limit expired so that it will not be said that I returned it because of the fear of you. I returned it only because of the commandment of my G-d who requires me to return it.”
“Blessed is the G-d of the Jews,” she replied.
The noble was very impressed with this story and he said, “I too will say, ‘Blessed is the G-d of the Jews. I will never forget this action of yours and never hesitate to call upon me if you need help.”
Now it seems that the time for help had come. Reb Shmuel entered the castle of the noble and he explained to him the purpose of his mission. He requested that the noble gain for him an audience with the king.
The noble’s face clouded. “Are you crazy?” he asked. “Don’t you know the strict policy of the king never to see a Jew unless he personally calls for him?”
“I realize that,” answered Reb Shmuel, “therefore, I brought along my daughter. I am sure he will not be opposed to seeing a beautiful young child.”
“It may work,” answered the noble, “our king is always infatuated with beautiful women, regardless of their age. May the G-d of the Jews help her!”
The noble summoned his carriage and they all rode in the king’s palace and they were ushered into the king’s chamber.
The king was sitting on his throne and in front of him was a statue of the Crucification. The noble bowed low before the king and said, “As a Christian soldier I could not refuse the request of this young Jewish girl who was desirous of seeing your honor.”
Kiss The Groom
The king took a sip of wine and looked her over. Then a wicked smile came upon his face. Pointing to the statue, he said. “You Jewess, I will not listen to you until you first give this groom a kiss.”
The young girl Rachel, did not flinch. She raised her head and with flashing eyes said, “Your Honor! That is not the proper etiquette practiced by the ladies of your court. The bride never goes to the groom but the groom comes to the bride to kiss her. Therefore, let him come to me.”
The king clapped his hands and burst out laughing.
“Wonderful! Wonderful! He said. “This young Jewess is not an ordinary girl. You have my permission to talk. Proceed with your request.”
All I ask, O master, my King, is that you permit my father, the leader of the Jews, to come in and just say four words to you, no more,” she said.
The king began to laugh and he waved to his soldiers to bring in her father.
Four Words Only
When he entered the king said, “remember Jew, you are only permitted to say four words, no more. If you come here to make a sport of me, I warn you, you will be killed.”
Reb Shmuel knew very well that the king was not jesting. He had heard many tales of how the king executed people on mere pretense. Looking the king straight in the face, he exclaimed in a loud voice, “G-d said to Satan!”
The king was perplexed. He looked at Reb Shmuel askance waiting for him to explain, but Reb Shmuel only pointed to his mouth that he couldn’t talk.
The king took another sip of win and then shouted, “Talk Jew, I command you to talk!”
“Very well, replied Reb Shmuel, “I talk only under orders of the king. These words were taken from the Scriptures, from Job (1:7), when the Almighty G-d, on high, the Creator of the world, the King of all kings, condescended to lower himself to talk to Satan, the lowliest of all Celestial angels, then assuredly your royal highness, my king, will condescend to talk to the lowliest of all the creatures in his kingdom, me, a Jew. This is the meaning of these four words.”
The king was flattered. It was, indeed, a novel approach. “Very well, Jew, as long as you compare me to your G-d, I will also listen to a lowly creature.”
Reb Shmuel then fell on his knees and began to plead to the king. He reminded him how they fought for him and how they even laid down their lives on his behalf. They never hesitated when it came to normal taxes and they always paid more than their share. But this time the burden was way too much for them. They had no way of paying this exorbitant demand.
The king was very impressed with his sincerity and he bade him to rise. “Go and tell your people that I will forgive them this time. They need not pay me.”
Reb Shmuel fell to his knees in gratitude. “And now, what do you wish personally?” asked the king. “For I know that every messenger in my court always seeks a personal reward for doing a good deed.”
“I seek nothing for myself,” answered Reb Shmuel. “I am overjoyed that I was instrumental in saving my people.”
“Let it not be said that King Wenzel does not reward a good deed,” said the king.
“Therefore, I do hereby give you special permission to enter my palace at your will and my door will always be open to you. You will be the official envoy of your people.
“By the way,” continued the king, “what is your name?”
“My name is simply Shmuel,” he answered.
“Shmuel is only the first name,” replied the king, “but inasmuch as you compared me to your G-d then I will compare you to one of his angels. You will hereafter be called, Shmuel Satan. Under my royal edict, you and your family will henceforth be known only by that name!”
From that day on Shmuel’s last name was known as Satan. No man in the city dared to disobey the royal command. Although his name may bear a resemblance to evil, Shmuel was honored and blessed by every Jew in Prague. His future descendants were able to point with pride to this holy saint who risked his life to save his fellow Jews. Even to this day if you see a person named Satan, you will know he comes from a noble heritage.
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Page last updated - 06/30/2006