Posted on May 21st, 2012 by Rabbi
When the Second Temple still rose high, Rabbi Eleazar ben Shammua was once walking along the seashore when he saw a ship afar. It was sinking; and indeed everybody on board was drowned except for one man who was clinging to a plank. The billows flung him from wave to wave until finally they flung him ashore, naked and bare. When he reached the shore, he hid himself in the sand because he felt ashamed to be bare and naked.
Just then a caravan of Jewish travelers passed who were making the pilgrimage to the holy city of Jerusalem. The man approached and said to them: “Have pity on me, good friends, for surely we are brothers, the offspring of Esau son of Isaac, who was the father of your father Jacob. Take pity and have mercy on me and give me something to cover my nakedness from the loins to the knees, for it shames me to be naked like this after all my garments have sunk in the sea.” Then the Jewish travelers answered him: “May all your people and kindred be like you!” And they went their way and had no pity on him. And indeed not only did they have no pity on him, but they even cursed him and all his nation.
When the man raised his eyes and saw Rabbi Eleazar ben Shammua walking along the seashore, he approached him and said: “I see that you are a respected elder among your people, and you know the respect in which all men should be held. I entreat you please to give me some garment in order to cover my flesh and conceal my embarrassment, for I am ashamed to remain naked as when I came forth from my mother’s womb; for all my clothes were lost at sea.”
Rabbi Eleazar at once took off one of his own garments and clad the man in it. He took him and led him to his home where he gave him food and drink; and he also gave him two hundred pieces of silver money. He also showed him great honor, accompanying him fourteen leagues until he brought him to his own place.
Sometime later the ruler of this city died, and the man who had been saved from the sea was appointed ruler in his place. He immediately decreed that all the Jewish people who lived there should be slain, because of the answer the Jewish travelers had given him when he asked for something to cover his nakedness, saying: “May all your people be naked like you!”
The Jewish people from that city went to Rabbi Eleazar at once and said to him: “Our lord! you must go to the new ruler and plead with him on our behalf. Maybe your words will serve to deliver us from his evil intention.” “Do you not know,” said Rabbi Eleazar, “that these rulers pay no attention to words but only to good red gold? You must give me some gift in ready money of which one may be proud in order to take it to him. Then I can speak to him, and maybe my words will be listened to and I can atone for your transgression.” So they gave Rabbi Eleazar four thousand gold pieces to take with him as a gift for the governor of the city.
So Rabbi Eleazar went to the ruler. He stood at the entrance to his palace and told the guard at the gate to inform the governor that a certain Jewish rabbi wished to speak to him. The guard went and told the ruler who instructed that he should be admitted. As soon as Rabbi Eleazar entered and the ruler saw him, he rose to his feet and received him with much honor, and he asked: “What distresses you that you should have taken the trouble to come here?” To which Rabbi Eleazar replied: “My lord! I have come to beg you to have mercy on the Jewish people of this city and annul the decree you have proclaimed against them.”
“Can any falsehood be written in your Torah?” asked the ruler. “Heaven forbid,” answered Rabbi Eleazar. “Our Torah is the truth.” “And yet,” said the ruler, “your Torah states in Deuteronomy (23:4-5,7): ‘An Ammonite and a Moabite shall not enter the congregation of the Lord; … because they did not welcome you with bread and water,’ while the next verse goes on: ‘You shall not abominate an Edomite, for he is your brother.’ Now in that case why did they not take pity on me when they saw that I was bare and naked and had nothing? Am I not your brother from the sons of Esau? That is why they are worthy of death, because they transgressed the commandments of the Torah.”
At this, Rabbi Eleazar answered: “Even if they did do something that was not proper and not in accordance with their law, you treat them with kindness as is fitting to a great man like you, and have mercy on them.” “Do you not know,” said the ruler, “that the authorities never do any kindness except for a good high price?” And then Rabbi Eleazar told him: “See, I have four thousand gold pieces with me. I give them to you, and you will know how to act wisely with the authorities and have pity on them.”
“The four thousand gold pieces,” replied the ruler, “are yours as a gift from me in return for the two hundred silver coins which you gave me. As for the Jewish people of this city, I forgive them their transgression and annul my decree for your sake, because you took me to your home and gave me food and drink. And in return for the garment you gave me to cover my flesh when I was naked, go to my treasury and take seventy of the finest robes which suit you. And go in peace to your people, for I have already pardoned them for your sake.”
Koheles Rabbah 11:2
The blessings of peace should be shared by all the people we come in contact with. Let us all work to live what we believe and improve this world we all live in
May all your tales end with Shalom (peace)
Listen to more stories told by the Master Storyteller, Rachmiel Tobesman – The Treasures of the King, the Princess and the Peat Digger, Seven Jewish stories, on Amazon or Coins, Candles and Faith, eight stories of faith on Amazon