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Story: The Shofar of King Juan Carlos of Spain!

Published on Tuesday January 14th, 2020

In 2004, previous King Juan Carlos of Spain invited the then Chief Rabbi of Israel, Rav Yonah Metzger, to attend the commemoration of the 800th anniversary of the death of Maimonides, the famous Rabbi Moses Ben Maimon, known by the name of Maimonides or the acronym "Rambam".He was a doctor, philosopher, Talmudist and above all, an outstanding decision-maker. He was born in Cordoba, Spain.

During the ceremony, Rav Metzger offered the king a magnificent shofar. It was very long and curved; and it had been set with silver, and the royal crown was engraved on the silver trim.

King Juan Carlos examined it at length and asked about its origin.

(Rav Metzger spoke in Hebrew while the Israeli ambassador to Spain, Mr. Victor Harel, provided the Spanish translation).

''Does this object come from Africa?'' asked the king.

''No, your majesty. It comes from the land of Israel''.

Getting more perplexed, the king asked if this object was to be used for bullfighting but Rav Metzger politely explained that Judaism forbade causing animals unnecessary suffering.

''So, what is the use of this animal horn?'' continued the king.

Rav Metzger took advantage of this conversation to remind the king of a painful chapter in the history of the Jews of Spain. The king listened attentively.

"Your Majesty! This unique gift allows us to definitively close a chapter in history. More than five hundred years ago, the golden age of Spanish Judaism ended abruptly when your ancestor, King Ferdinand and his wife Isabella, expelled my ancestors, provoked by Inquisitor Torquemada. The Jews who had contributed so much to the development of their countries had to flee, abandoning all their property and settling in more hospitable countries. But some Jews preferred to stay in Spain, and they thus converted while secretly keeping the Jewish laws and customs. They behaved like Catholic devotees, but they respected the Torah laws clandestinely, lighting their Shabbat candles in cupboards, for example, so that no one would notice them.

On festivals, these Marranos secretly gathered in cellars to pray.

Moreover, our prayer called Kol Nidrei, at the beginning of the Yom Kippur service, is attributed to these Marranos who thus annulled their declarations of belonging to Catholicism. They prayed with rare fervor, but in a very low voice so as not to be discovered by the Inquisition who knew how to publicly torture and finally burn "heretics" on pyres.

On Rosh Hashanah, they were faced with a dilemma. They could whisper their prayers without attracting the attention of neighbors. But how could they blow the shofar?

An orchestra conductor of Jewish origins, found an original solution. He proposed to the king to organize a free concert to present various wind instruments, from all over the world. The king, who adored, music was delighted. The conductor proposed a certain date, which, in fact, turned out to be Rosh Hashanah.

The king, the queen, the ministers, and the courtiers sat down in the first row; the rest of the listeners took their places at the back. Among them were many Marranos.

The musicians presented various instruments, from the shepherd's flute to the soldier's trumpet, but at one point the conductor himself proposed to sound a ram's horn, which he presented as the oldest known wind instrument. The king and queen took an interest in this instrument. The conductor carried it to his mouth, while at the back of the hall the Marranos pronounced in a low voice the two blessings which we are obliged to recite prior to sounding the Shofar: "Blessed are You eternal, our G-d, King of the Universe, who sanctified us by His Commandments and commanded us to listen to the sound of the Shofar" as well as "Blessed are You Eternal, our G-d, King of the Universe, Who made us live, kept us alive, and who made us arrive at this point".

The conductor blew the Shofar, as required by Halacha, and all the spectators were silent. At the end of the performance, everyone applauded...

"Today, Your Majesty," continued the Metzger Rav, "we meet five hundred years later, in much more friendly circumstances. As the Chief Rabbi of Israel, I am happy to return to Spain. I thank you on behalf of our people, because now the Jews can live freely in your country, they enjoy total freedom of worship and on Rosh Hashanah, they can sound the Shofar in the synagogues. Today I can, thank G-d, publicly offer you this Shofar, without hiding it, because you are a sovereign concerned with democracy. Now in Spain, everyone can pray as they please, without fear!" As he accepted the Shofar, the king declared: "Chief Rabbi! I have received many gifts and trophies from many heads of state from around the globe. But this gift carries a historical significance and I am extremely grateful for this Shofar and for this story!" Rav Metzger then told the king that he wished to bless him, as recommended by the Sages. Both stood up. Rav Metzger closed his eyes, raised his hands to the king's head, and blessed him with great fervour. When he finished, Rav Metzger opened his eyes: and he noticed that the king, seized with emotion, was crying without shame...

The Torah-Box Team - © Torah-Box

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