The very Humble Man
One day Rabbi Akiva went out to a city market to sell a precious pearl that he had acquired. In that city there lived a very rich person who always went about dressed like a poor man. He acted very humble and studied in the beis hamidrash seated among the poor people.
That day, while passing through the market, the rich man couldn't help but notice the beautiful pearl Rabbi Akiva possessed. Desiring to have it, he approached Rabbi Akiva and said, "Please, come with me to my house and there I will pay you for this beautiful pearl, whatever the cost maybe."
Rabbi Akiva thought that the man was joking, but nevertheless, not wanting to offend him, went along with the man to his house.
Lo and behold, imagine Rabbi Akiva's surprise when, as they neared the man’s house, servants came running out to escort him into the dwelling. Rabbi Akiva was even more surprised when upon entering the home he saw the servants seat the man on a beautiful golden chair. They then brought water and washed his feet. The man then told his servants to pay Rabbi Akiva for the precious pearl. He also ordered them to take the pearl and crush it along with six others, placing the crushed particles into a medicine capsule.
Rabbi Akiva, seeing this, wondered, "How is it possible that such a man dresses like a beggar, and spends a lot of money on precious pearls that he orders crushed and placed in a medicine capsule?"
The man called to his servants and commanded them to set the table for his guests. Rabbi Akiva and his students, who had accompanied him, then sat down and dined with the man.
When they finished eating, Rabbi Akiva said to the man, "I see that the Almighty has blessed you with great riches. However, I wonder how you can be so humble. It is also odd that a man of your wealth should wear such ragged clothes and sit among the poor people in the beis hamedrash."
"My master!" the man answered, "a person's life is like a passing wind, and money does not remain long in his possession. Therefore, it pleases me to sit among the poor people so that I should not feel big and important because of my riches. If, perhaps, someday I should become poor, I will feel at home with the poor people. I also believe that all people are created equal, both poor and rich. We all have the same Father in heaven."
"For He shall deliver the needy when he crieth; the poor also and him that hath no helper. He shall spare the poor and the needy" (Psalms 72:12,13).
Our rabbis taught us that a person should never despair. In your darkest hours you should turn and pray to G-d. If you are worthy, He will send help. The Midrash narrates the following story.
There was once a very poor man who had a pious wife and five children. They were so poor that one day the wife said to her husband, "Go out into the market place and see if you can secure some money to buy food. Otherwise we'll die from hunger."
"Where can I go?" wailed the husband. "I know no one and I have no relatives or friends. What can I do?"
"You have no choice," answered the wife. "You must find something, otherwise we'll starve."
"How can I go out when I haven't even decent clothes to wear?" he replied.
His wife gathered together a few worn and seedy looking clothes and gave it to her husband. The man walked to the center of town, stopped at one corner and began to cry. "Father in heaven," he wailed, "You know how hungry my children are. If I return home empty handed they will die from lack of food. I have no one to turn to but You. Please help me!"
His simple prayer pierced the heavens and reached the very throne of G-d.
Meets Eliyahu Hanavi
Looking up, the poor man suddenly saw Eliyahu the Prophet standing in front of him.
"Why are you crying?" he asked.
The poor man then poured out all of his troubles to Eliyahu.
"Come with me and do as I tell you," said Eliyahu. "We will go to the slave market and there you will sell me for a slave. With this money you can then live in contentment."
"But how can I sell you, when people know I am very poor and could not afford a servant. Also, they may mistake me for the slave," the poor man said.
"Fear not," replied Eliyahu. "Do my bidding when you sell me, give me one zuz."
When they reached the auction place, all the people mistakenly thought that Elijah was the owner and the poor man was the slave. For Eliyahu appeared as a tall and handsome giant. When the auction began, Eliyahu was introduced as the slave and the crowd immediately began to bid for such a prize. The king's emissary was in the audience and he bid up to 80 gold dinarim for such a distinguished person to serve the king.
"Accent this bid," Eliyahu said to the poor man.
"Bring the money home and may it be the will of the Almighty that you will never again know of hunger."
Eliyahu As A Slave
The king's officer took possession of Eliyahu and the poor man returned home happy and elated. He told his wife all that occurred to him and he showed her the gold he was paid. They purchased food and clothing and cattle and were blessed with riches. They never again knew the meaning of the word "want."
Meanwhile, Eliyahu was taken to the king who admired his well-built physique. "Tell me, slave," he asked, "what is your occupation?"
"I am a master builder who specializes in beautiful mansions," he replied.
The king was elated. He had planned to build a gigantic palace, had prepared the necessary supplies and purchased many slaves. But he still lacked an expert and skilled overseer to build this palace.
Said the king, "If you will complete this palace to my satisfaction within six months time, I will set you free and reward you handsomely."
Builds A Palace
Eliyahu agreed to the terms. That night Elijah prayed to G-d for permission to complete the palace immediately, in accordance with the king's wishes. Permission was granted and the palace was built in a few moments. Eliyahu then departed.
That morning, when the king awoke, he was amazed to see such a beautiful edifice built in one day. Never in the history of the country had such a palace been constructed. They sought the master builder but they couldn't t find him. They then realized that it was not a mere mortal who built this palace.
Meets Eliyahu Again
The following day, Eliyahu met the erstwhile poor man who greeted him profusely. "How did the king like your services?" he asked Eliyahu.
"I fulfilled my contract with him in accordance with his wishes," Eliyahu answered. "I built him a palace that would have cost him 1,000 times more to construct if he had hired human beings. Therefore, he received his money's worth and you will now prosper."
The man thanked him for saving his life. Eliyahu then gave him this advice before he departed, "Always praise G-d, and if you believe in Him you will never despair."
In commemoration of this marvelous event, our sages created a song which is sung every Saturday night when the Shabbos queen departs. It begins with the words “Ish chasid hayah, bli mazon umichya, etc.”
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Page last updated - 12/26/2008