The Golem and Passover
By Nissim Katz
Most people have heard about the famous golem that was created by Rabbi Yehudah Leib Loewe, known by the acrostic of his name, the MaHaral of Prague who lived almost three hundred years ago. What most people do not know is the connection of the famed Golem with Passover.
The MaHaral himself is connected to Passover, since he was born on the first Seder night. But the connection of the Maharal and the Golem has more to do with the terrible blood libels that abounded in those days of intellectual darkness and superstition. Passover usually comes close to the Christian holiday of Easter. At this period of the year, the Christian priests and monks would fan their hatred of the Jews to a high pitch by inciting the ignorant masses hatred of the Jews into high gear. Through out the Middle-Ages and even into the modern times, Jews were accused of the ridiculous charge of using the blood of a Christian child to bake matzos even though the consumption of human and animal blood is forbidden by the Torah. Still, when hatred comes in, reason goes out. It was rare that a Passover should pass without an attack or the danger of an attack by crazed mobs who were filled with ignorant hatred of defenseless and innocent Jews.
It is related that the birth of the Maharal also had elements of the Passover blood libel attached to it. The Maharal's father, Rabbi Betzalel, was the head of the Jewish community of Worms. He was conducting the Seder in his home together with his family and many guests. They were about to conclude the Seder and had reached the point in the Seder when they opened the door for the prophet Elijah when his wife suddenly began to feel great childbirth pains. At this point several of the guests ran out of the house to fetch a midwife for her.
At this very moment a man was sneaking up to Rabbi Betzalel's house in the darkness with a large bag that contained a dead Christian child. He intended to place the dead child in the cellar of Rabbi Betzalel's house. In this way, the head of the Jewish community would be accused of the 'ritual murder' in order to prove the slanderous accusation that Jews used the blood of a Christian child for their matzahs. However as he was approaching the house, the door flew open and people began running out to find a midwife. This villain became frightened and also began running while carrying his bag. His strange action aroused the suspicion of a city watchman. He was apprehended and questioned. Frightened, the man admitted that he was hired by others who wanted to implicate the city's Rabbi in a blood libel. Thus even before the Maharal was born, he was connected with the infamous Passover blood libel.
Later in life, the Maharal became the Chief Rabbi of Prague. It was a time of trouble for the Jews for there lived an evil monk by the name of Tadeush who would try to incite the Christian population against the Jews. At this time the Maharal was very concerned about the safety of the Jews in the Prague area. He is said to have prayed to G-d for direction and he was given instructions in a dream.
The next morning he called his son-in-law and his closest disciple and told them of the secret that was revealed to him from heaven. They were to constitute a Beit Din of three (a Jewish court of law consisting of three judges). He announced that they were going to create a golem, a man made from clay, who would defend the Jews from their enemies.
The three men went to the mikvah (ritual bath) and purified themselves for three days, fasting and praying with great concentration and intent. On the third day they brought old clothing and went to a place outside of the town near the banks of the river. Here they formed a man out of clay.
First the Maharal's son-in-law, who was a Cohen, circled the clay man seven times as he concentrated on certain holy names and letters. Then the Maharal's student, who was a Levite, circled the lifeless clay figure and he also concentrated on certain divine names and letters. Finally the Maharal himself did the same. Then he placed a parchment upon which was written G-d's Holy Name on the golem's lips. They then recited seven times the verse from Genesis, "And He breathed into his nostrils the breath of life and man became a living soul." Upon the conclusion of this, the golem opened his eyes and the Maharal commanded him to rise and put on the clothing which they had brought.
The Maharal called the golem by the name of Joseph. He instructed the golem that he had been created for a divine mission to protect Jews from their enemies. The Golem looked like a clumsy person; he was dumb since the Maharal did not give him the power of speech or intellect. All day long he would sit in the room of the Jewish court with a blank look on his face. He never answered anyone nor spoke; only when the Maharal spoke to him did he listen and act.
The Maharal would send the golem out in the middle of the night to patrol the Jewish ghetto and guard it from suspicious characters. The time between Purim and Passover was the most dangerous time of all. The golem had a particular sense with which he could detect an evil doer. He was powerful and even though he looked clumsy, he could run fast. When he discovered someone plotting against the Jews he would thrash him and dump him on the steps of the city hall. The Christian population was in fear of this creature and many were the times that he saved the Jews from this wicked Tadeush who tried his luck at black magic, but to no avail.
Another story concerning the famed golem and Passover was when the wife of the Maharal was busy preparing for the Passover meal. The preparations were many and the Maharal's wife was very tired so she beseeched her husband to allow the golem to help her. The Maharal instructed the golem to do what his wife asked of him. She asked him to fetch water from the well and fill up the barrel that stood in the kitchen. Back and forth the golem walked filling up the bucket and emptying it into the barrel. However instead of asking him just to fill up the barrel, she told him to pour the water from the bucket into the barrel. The wife began a short rest while the golem continued his filling job. Soon the barrel was overflowing into the kitchen of the house. Unable to stop him, she ran to the Maharal who came quickly and retired the golem to the study hall.
When the situation of the Jews improved, the Maharal ordered the golem to the attic of the Prague synagogue. There his instructed him to lie down and open his mouth. The Maharal withdrew the parchment that had the Divine name written on it and said to the golem, "from dust you came and to dust you shall return." At once the golem became a pile of clay and dust never to rise again.
from the April 2008 Passover Edition of the Jewish Magazine