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The Piety of a Sage - Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach

In the days when Israel flourished as a kingdom and the capital of the land was Jerusalem, there lived a great sage and a pious man, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach. Day and night he studied the Torah and many students flocked to him from all over the land. He lived a simple life, supporting himself and his family by making ink out of nuts.

When one day he purchased a mule from a gentile to help him carry his merchandise, his disciples discovered a precious diamond hanging from the neck of the animal.

Excitedly, they rushed into the rabbis home and notified him of his good luck, "Oh, master," they shouted, "you shall no longer know of poverty and want. You can sell this precious stone and you will be wealthy!"

"G-d forbid that I derive any benefit from this diamond," replied Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach. "I have bought a mule from the gentile and not a diamond. Return the stone to him immediately."

When the gentile saw the stone returned to him he was amazed and exclaimed, "Praise be the G-d of Simeon ben Shetach!"

Invited By The King

This pious act of Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach became known throughout the land and it soon came to the ears of the King of Judea, Alexander Jannai, who requested that the sage visit him in his palace. The king had long conversations with the sage and he was very much impressed with the wisdom and honesty of Simeon ben Shetach.

"Blessed art thou that you have glorified the name of the G-d of Israel," said the king. "Your Torah is more dear to me than all the gold and silver that my subjects give me. I want you to be my chief advisor and you can teach me Torah."

The king appointed Simeon as his chief advisor and to show his appreciation of the greatness of the sage, he took the rabbi's sister, Salome, as his wife and she became known as Queen Alexandra.

The king and all Israel followed in the ways of the Torah and G-d rewarded them by giving them prosperity. The rain fell on Wednesdays and Friday nights to as not to inconvenience the people. For these were the two nights on which the people usually stayed at home. The crop grew in such abundance and in such large sizes that the people knew that G-d was being good to them.

The King Captures Many Cities

When King Jannai saw how G-d was good to to the Jews, he gathered a huge army to invade an adjoining country that was always warring with Israel.

"G-d is shining His kind countenance upon us, said the king. "He will surely make me succeed in m venture. For this is an opportune moment, while G-d is good to us."

The king's prophecy came true. He captured 60. large cities and he returned home to Jerusalem with much booty and wealth. To celebrate his triumph he. made a grand feast and he invited all the sages of Israel to attend. Seated next to him was Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach.

At the height of the festivities, the king arose and said, "Let us celebrate our good fortune. When our forefathers returned from the Babylon exile to rebuild the Holy Temple they were very poor and all they had to eat was salted herring. Now, thanks to the G-d of Israel we are wealthy and powerful. But let us not forget the lean years. Tonight, therefore, we will eat salted herring and thus we will remember our past and bless G-d for his kindness and graciousness to us."

The sages were very pleased with the king's words. "We hope that all Israel will take your words to their hearts," they said, "and by remembering their poverty-stricken days they will be humble and not forget their poor brethren."

The Jealous Minister

The king ordered salted herring to be brought forth and they were placed on golden tables. After this course, a delicious meal was served and all the people ate and blessed G-d for their good fortune.

Not all the people present were happy. One of the ministers, Elazar ben Poira, was envious of the distinction shown by the king to Simeon ben Shetach and the wise sages of Judea.

Turning to the king, he said, "Do you really believe that these men are sincere in their honor and respect shown you? While they utter praises of your greatness with their lips, in their hearts they hate and despise you."

The king was shocked at his words and he said, "How can you prove that you speak the truth?

"Simple," said the cunning Elazar. "Proclaim yourself the high priest of Judea and they will rise against you to a man and disclose their hatred of you."

Wears The High Priest's Golden Plate

During the feast, the king placed on his forehead the golden plate that was to be worn by the high priest and he proclaimed himself to be the high priest of Judea. One of the sages, Judah ben G'dida, arose and said, "O sire, let the crown suffice you, why do you also take the high priesthood?"

"Am I not a descendant of the high priest Matisyahu, son of Yochanan the high priest?" asked the king. "Why then am I not entitled to the high priesthood?"

"Before your birth, your mother was a captive among the heathens," fearlessly answered Judah, "therefore the children born by her thereafter are ineligible to the priesthood."

"I shall make an investigation," said the insulted king, "and if your statement is true, I will renounce the priesthood."

An investigation was made by the king and the allegation made by Judah ben G'dida could not be verified. The sly Elazar then said to the king, "This proves my statement that these men hate you and detest you, O sire."

"What do you suggest I do?" asked the enraged king.

"Kill all the sages of Judea," advised Elazar.

"If I do that who will teach us the Torah?" asked the king.

"The Torah will not run away. It is here - whoever wants to study it will be permitted to do so. Let every man be his own teacher."

The enraged king thereupon issued an order that all sages of Israel be killed. It was a terrible period in the history of Israel. Many fled from the Holy Land and many were slain by the sword. To be known as, a scholar was to court death. The leader of the sages, Rabbi Simeon ben Shetach, was saved by his sister, Queen Alexandra, who found shelter for him in a secret hiding place.


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