A Lesson For the Children – Summary of part 1 and part 2: After his wife passed away, the Shach was forced by the Cossacks to flee into the forest. When it seemed to him that his daughter had died too, he left her behind in the forest. Esther was taken in by the King of Poland, whose physicians managed to save her life. She was raised as a daughter of the king and as a companion for Princess Maria. In spite of great pressure, Esther insisted on maintaining her Jewish faith and on eating only kosher food. One day, when she was playing with Maria, Esther suddenly jumped on Maria with a scream and dragged her off the bench where she sat.
On hearing the sound of the scream of fright, a maid who was nearby came running. She managed to see a snake that had been about to strike at the Princess, and that Esther had managed to save Maria from the snake. The maid killed it with a stone. The terrified Princess fell on Esther and hugged her with all her might. She said, “I swear to you, Esther, that I will never forget you. I will always remember that you rescued me from a horrible death.”
The King and Queen, who heard the story of the snake later, could not find words to express their thanks to Esther. The Queen wept and hugged Esther to her bosom. The King also had tears of joy in his eyes, and he kissed Esther on her forehead. From that day on, all the people in the King’s court liked Esther very much, and they all treated her with honor and respect.
The years went by, and bit by bit Esther forgot the childhood memories in her father’s house. The elderly widow who brought Esther her kosher meals knew very little about Judaism, and so Esther learned almost nothing about her religion. She also completely forgot Hebrew, which became a foreign language to her. Meanwhile, both girls reached the age of twelve. As long as Esther was small, she still remembered her parents and the fact that she was Jewish, but now that she had grown and was given respect by all the people in the King’s court, she forgot her past completely and it seemed to her nothing more than a dream.
One day Maria came to Esther. She hugged her and kissed her, and she said, “My dearest beloved Esther, for how long must there be a division between us? Become my sister in everything. Join me in my faith…”
When Esther heard this, she released herself from Maria’s hug and ran away. She turned one way and another until she found a hidden corner in the garden, where she hid her face in her hands and began to think. In her memory, she could see her early days in her father’s house. She saw the image of her mother, lying sick in her bed, and she could see her father sitting and studying a book of the Talmud. She suddenly cried out, weeping: “Should I give up these memories? Should I forget you, my dear parents?” Her heavy flow of tears helped to lessen the sadness in her heart. And then she felt a touch on her shoulder. Maria had come, and she hugged her again. After a moment of silence, Maria said softly: “Did I make you unhappy, my love? You are and will always remain my sister, even if you remain a Jew, but it will be worth your while to think about this. Remember! If you agree to accept my faith, the King will adopt you as a daughter, and you will remain here forever. You will marry a rich prince and live a life of luxury and glory. But what will happen to you if you return to live as a simple and poor Jew?” Esther did not reply, but she understood that she would not be able to resist the pressure for very long, and she did not know what to do.
During all this time, the priest had been trying to teach Esther about Christianity and to convince her to convert, but he did not succeed. The King also tried with love to entice her to convert. One time he called her and promised to give her a huge sum of money and to choose a wealthy husband for her, but only on condition that she would not be stubborn and that she would convert. Esther did not reply, but she bent her head down. Tears dropped from her eyes and fell on the King’s hand. He kissed her on her forehead, as a father kissing his daughter, thinking that she was ready to accept his offer.
Source: “A Treasury of Stories”; to be continued. Reprinted with permission from Zomet Institute (www.zomet.org.il).
The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.
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