R' Eliezer Yeruchom's wife stood in her little kitchen
preparing breakfast. While her hands were busy slicing the
bread, she was wondering what her little son, Yaakov Shaul
Elyashar, really preferred to eat. The meager choice
consisted of vegetable salad, or bread dipped in spiced olive
oil. She stood still, undecided, knife in hand, ready to
continue slicing the loaf of bread, but something disturbed
her. She looked up suddenly and saw the image of her deceased
husband standing by the entrance.
She began screaming hysterically, bringing neighbors rushing
from all sides. They shouted verses of Tehillim in an attempt
to chase the demon away, but he would not go away. He was
desperately trying to tell them something . . .
"Why do you chase me away?" he cried. "This is my home!"
It was then that they realized that the apparition was truly
alive; it was R' Eliezer in the flesh, and he was alive and
well. They turned to the woman, who was on the verge of
fainting, and attempted to convince her that it was, indeed,
her husband, returned home safe and sound.
It took a while for the information to register through the
cloud of fright and confusion that gripped her but she
finally smiled weakly. She looked up at her husband and
murmured, "We were told that you had been murdered . . . "
Eliezer Yeruchom Elyashar ended his prayers before the
omud and was about to doff his tefillin when
armed soldiers burst into the synagogue and dragged him off
to the waiting wagon. He screamed for help but the bystanders
were helpless to defy the soldiers. He was unceremoniously
flung in and the wagon began moving. His parting cry was,
"Tell my wife about my arrest."
The wagon drove in the direction of the Safed mountains in
the west. R' Eliezer scanned the road ahead, and then looked
behind. Was he imagining things? Was there another wagon
following in the distance? He prayed and hoped that the
person in that other wagon could somehow come to his aid, but
the wagon maintained a steady distance, not approaching any
It was a hot day and he suddenly felt thirsty and faint. He
begged his captors for some water. "Where you're going, you
won't need any water . . . " he was told curtly.
The wagon reached Acco by afternoon and stopped in front of
Pasha Abdalla's palace. R' Eliezer Yeruchom was shoved into
the presence of the cruel Pasha, who immediately began
screaming at him, "Where is the money?"
"What money?" he asked faintly.
"The money which the rich Chaim Farchi entrusted in your
hands!" he ranted, his eyes blazing at the very mention of
the Jewish minister he had murdered. R' Eliezer's knees began
buckling under him. Was this the fate that awaited him as
"I don't have his money," he said helplessly.
"Kill him! He's lying! I know better than to believe him!"
The Pasha's eyes glinted with hatred; he unsheated his sword
and flourished it in the air but the soldiers knew that if he
hadn't beheaded him right then and there, he did not mean to
kill him — yet. They pushed him out of the room and led
him to the dungeon.
The second wagon, whose driver had followed behind them along
the way, arrived just in time to hear the Pasha scream, "Kill
him!" He rushed back to Safed and spread the sad news about
R' Eliezer's murder. The news was broken to his `widow,' who
resolved to dedicate her life to raising her son, Yaakov
Shaul, to be a credit to his saintly father.
The Pasha had taken back his words because he wanted the
money badly and felt that R' Eliezer was his last chance to
lay his hands on the fortune. He hoped that the harsh
conditions of the dungeon might make him talk.
Time passed very slowly. The rabbi was sustained by meager
portions of dry bread and very little water. He made friends
with some of the other prisoners and befriended an Arab who
had some money he was willing to lend him. R' Eliezer was
able to bribe the guards to provide him with some more food
R' Eliezer took stock of his situation and tried to learn as
much information as he could about his surroundings. He
noticed that the prison was built on an embankment
overlooking the Mediterranean Sea. The steady washing of the
waves had a soothing effect on him. Unable to learn or do
anything else productive, he studied the motion of the waves
and realized that when the tide came in at the beginning of
the night, the waves were very high. How could he put this
information to good use?
A little more money was able to provide him with some tools
to dig a hole under his bed wide enough for him to squeeze
through, since the entire castle was built on a flying
buttress high above the water. R' Eliezer looked down and was
afraid to jump from such a height, but before he could pull
himself back, he felt someone pushing his body out . . .
"Shema Yisroel!" he prayed, suspended between heaven
and earth, rather, water.
He landed in the water with a plop and was surprised to see
that it reached only up to his throat. He moved slowly and
carefully along the embankment wall of the prison until he
reached the beach. Exhausted, he lay there to rest, but was
soon shaken awake by a soldier, one arm grasping him tightly
and the other, thrusting a sword tip at his middle.
R' Eliezer was led to an officer's tent where he was accused
of spying. The governor of Acco, who had revolted against the
sultan, was under siege. The Turkish army had surrounded the
city and anyone seen in the vicinity of the army camp was
naturally accused of spying.
Not knowing about the revolt, R' Eliezer feared he was in the
hands of the pasha's soldiers and kept silent, waiting for
the inevitable verdict. The officer looked intently at the
wet man and suddenly realized he was wearing prisoners' garb.
He began questioning him and learned about the circumstances
of his imprisonment and escape. When it dawned upon R'
Eliezer that he was not in the hands of the pasha's men, he
gained confidence and told the officer all the strategic
information he knew and had gleaned while in prison. He
offered to help the army conquer the city of Acco.
His scrutiny of the rhythm of the tides had taught R' Eliezer
that the walls surrounding the prison, as well as the city of
Acco, were frail, weakened by the constant battering of the
sea. He told the officer about the low tide after midnight
and suggested digging a tunnel under the walls to get into
R' Eliezer's simple plan helped the army and Acco was
conquered. As a reward, he was given a cart and horse and a
safe escort to his home town. And this is where he appeared
before his "bereft" wife . . .
The joy of reunion was great and the sorrow all but
Unfortunately, the pasha made peace with the conquering army
and he again sought to capture the runaway prisoner. R'
Eliezer was warned in time and fled to Jerusalem, which was
then under the rule of a different pasha. His wife and son
sooned joined him and eventually, little Yaakov Shaul
Elyashar became the chief rabbi of the Sefardic community of
Indeed, the Givat Shaul neighborhood in Jerusalem is named
after the esteemed rabbi, Yaakov Shaul Elyashar.