The Fight for the Noose

It was during the time of the Polish “Povstanie” (Uprising) against the Russians. A band of some three thousand Polish patriots gathered in the woods near Kamen, and captured the town from the Russians. The Poles began to terrorize the Jewish inhabitants. To teach the Jews “a lesson,” they decided to hang the most prominent Jew in town. That Jew was Shimshon. They accused him of being a “spy” for the Russians, and erected gallows in the market place to hang him in public. Jews, as well as non-Jews tried their best to save him, but the Poles would not listen. Drunk with victory, and hateful of the Jews, they wanted to have their fun. While the Poles made preparations for the public execution, the distressed Jews gathered in the synagogue to pray to G-d for a miracle.

Suddenly Nachum the Melamed burst into the synagogue with tears in his eyes. “Brothers!” he cried, “they want to hang Shimshon! Do you hear? They want to hang Shimshon! If they would hang me instead, well, there are many Nachums like me, so there would be one less. But Shimshon! There is only one Shimshon. Our town cannot let him die! We must try to save him!”

Frantic with grief, Nachum the Melamed ran around the synagogue among the grief-stricken Jews, who knew that nothing but a miracle could save Shimshon. They prayed hard and shed bitter tears, but that was all they could do. Nachum ran out into the market place. They were just putting the noose around Shimshon’s neck.

“Wait!” Nachum cried. “You’ve got the wrong man! It’s me you want to hang. He is innocent!”

The executioners looked at the crazy man, and laughed at him. “Go away! We’re busy!”

But Nachum would not go away. He ran up the scaffold, grabbed the rope from Shimshon’s neck and put it around his own neck, crying all the time, “It’s me you want to hang! I’m the spy!”

The two executioners grappled with Nachum, removed the rope from his neck and placed it around Shimshon’s neck again, pushing Nachum down. But Nachum was made of sterner stuff. He got onto his feet again, and began to wrestle with the executioners. In desperation, Nachum showed unexpected strength. The two executioners had their hands full with this nuisance, while the other Poles looked on with merriment. And so the struggle went on for quite a while.

Suddenly someone shouted: “The Cossacks are coming!”

The Polish band quickly took to their heels, for they were no match for the Cossack cavalry. They left the two Jews, Shimshon and Nachum, pale and shaken, and fled for their lives. For a moment the two Jews looked at each other in dazed amazement, then they fell upon each other’s necks and wept with joy.

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