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VCU Menorah Review Summer/Fall 2015
Number 83
For the Enrichment of Jewish Thought

Zachor:

Samuel Usque, Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel

Part three of Samuel Usque’s Consolation for the Tribulations of Israel (Ferrara 1553), is a lengthy account of the many sufferings of the Jewish people in the diaspora. Beginning with the forced conversion of the Jews of Spain in 617, the author lists 37 separate instances of Jewish suffering down to a massive fire in Salonika in 1545, an outbreak of the plague in Ferrara in 1551 that led to the expulsion of the Jews, and the vandalizing of the synagogue in Pesaro two years later.

After bewailing the unending and undeserved sorrow afflicting the Jews, Usque ends with hopes for the future. He reminds the Jews that their sufferings are a just punishment for their sins as well as God’s way of purifying them so as to make them worthy of an ultimate — and greater — happiness that will be theirs in the world to come. Finally, Usque lists eight patterns or factors that explain why Jews have not been totally destroyed by their suffering and turn his tale of woe into a message of consolation.

First, He meted out your punishment gradually, so that your full punishment might not consume you and destroy you… Secondly, He punished you immediately after each sin, so that your unrequited iniquities should not accumulate, and so that you should take measures to remedy your works after every lash…

Thirdly, by scattering you among all peoples, He made it impossible for the world to destroy you, for if one kingdom rises against you in Europe to inflict death upon you, another in Asia allows you to live. And if the Spaniards burn you in Spain and banish you, the Lord wills for you to find someone in Italy who welcomes you and lets you live in freedom. And if the Lord had not dispersed you but instead, as your iniquities merit, had isolated you in one corner of the earth, like your brethren, the Ten Tribes, your life would be in jeopardy and the die for your destruction cast. You would long ago have perished from the wrath of only one of the peoples who had subjected you…

The fourth way for you to receive consolation also derives from this mercy. The Lord not only prepared these grades for the great mountain of punishment which you were required to climb, but in order for you to scale it with less hardship. He from time to time consoles you by redemptive acts and taking vengeance on your oppressors for the malice with which they have inflicted the penalty for your iniquities. Jeremiah’s words testify to this: “I will visit upon you nations the wickedness of your thoughts.” (Jer. 23.2). You have already witnessed this in the fates of the early nations — the Egyptians, Babylonians, Assyrians, Greeks and Romans, and in the more modern nations of whom you recently complain…

So as not to weary you with more such details, let me tell you generally that among all your abusers, though they were brethren of one and the same religion and faith, such an accursed strife has arisen and continued to this day that great torrents of Latin blood have run throughout their lands and abroad. We can thus say of Spain that Italy is its grave; of France, that Spain is the means of its consumption; of Germany, that all of its neighbors, including the Turks, are its executioners, who make it the wall where their artillery strikes; and of England, that continual pestilence and hostile Scotland are its scourge…

Thus, Jeremiah’s words have been fulfilled: “They that eat you shall be devoured, and they that carry you off shall be carried off and they that spoil you shall I make a spoil.” (Jer. 30.16). Therefore, unburden yourself, and lighten your load of your suffering. Your hungry spirit will rest as soon as it imagines its vengeance.

The fifth road to consolation is the great benefit which has come of your misfortunes in Spain and Portugal, of which you so bitterly complain; for when a person’s limbs are being devoured by herpes, it is best to cut them off with the knife or the fire, so as to prevent the spread of the disease and save the rest of the body. At such a time the cruel surgeon is the instrument of recovery. Therefore, since you had forgotten your ancient Law, and feigned Christianity with all your might solely to save your life and property, without realizing that you were jeopardizing your soul, it was proper that in such a perilous and mortal illness the Lord should not be apprehensive about applying the cautery to cure you. Truly, if you consider matters carefully, His mercy was great in being cruel to you, for the noxious wound penetrated your body so rapidly that in a few years it would have killed the memory of Judaism in your children… Let the great benefit you are receiving soften the unyielding pain of your rigorous cure. And throw these waters of consolation upon the flames of the Inquisition, that the heat you suffer may be lessened.

The sixth way to consolation is the help you received in the hardships which you say you had to suffer in order to save your life after leaving Portugal:

Has God’s mercy ever appeared to anyone in human garb? It has appeared to you, to help you with your troubles. Has anyone ever seen a woman risk her life to save her brethren … or govern her peole… or aid the persecuted… or free the besieged from anguish…? The Lord has sent you such a woman in our own days from the supreme choir of His hosts. He has treasured all these virtues in a single soul. To you happy fortune, He chose to infuse them in the delicate and chaste person of the blessed Jewess [Gracia] Nasi.

Her inspiration greatly encouraged your needy children in Portugal, who were too poor and weak to leave the fire, and to undertake a lengthy journey. She generously provided money and other needs and comforts to the refugees who arrived destitute, sea-sick, and stuporous in Flanders and elsewhere. She helped them overcome the rigors of the craggy Alps in Germany and other lands, and she hastened to alleviate the miseries caused by the hardships and hazards of their long journey. She offered you her compassion and divine largesse in the sudden dire distresses you faced when you were exiled from Ferrara… To more aptly describe the great blessing she represents, she has always been a beautiful summer, a refuge during all the misfortunes of our Portuguese people, and a pillar of strength on which its affluent could depend to preserve them and their fortunes. A large number of your children, who have fled from the brutality of the Portuguese, have reached safety on this eagle’s outstretched wings…

The seventh road which leads you to great consolation is the safe and placid port which God’s boundless mercy has prepared for you, so that your wearied limbs, your exiled children, might find shelter from the storms of sea and land. It lies in the blessed spirit of a noble prince of Italian blood, sublime and generous, whose abode is nestled on the beautiful river Po… Indeed in no other human being has heaven infused a more blessed spirit or a nobler soul than in this prince, who is not human, but divine. To this day he has stood with his wings outstretched, waiting to gather you lovingly beneath them… Therefore, if you suffered such bitter tribulations up until this time, the remedies now beginning are so sweet that they should arouse your expectation for greater blessings yet to come…

The eighth and most signal way by which you will rise to a higher degree of consolation is in the great nation of Turkey. This country is like a broad and expansive sea which our Lord has opened with the rod of His mercy, as Moses did for you in the Exodus from Egypt, so that the swells of your present misfortunes, which relentlessly pursue you in all kingdoms of Europe like the infinite multitude of Egyptians, might cease and be consumed by it. Here the gates of liberty are always wide open for you that you may fully practice your Judaism; they are never closed. Here you may restore your true character, transform your nature, change your ways, and banish false and erring opinions. Here you have begun to embrace your true ancient faith and to abandon the practices opposed to God’s will, which you have adopted under the pressures of the nations in which you have wandered.

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