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Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon

Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon

The donkeys in the attic

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Here is a story about Rabbi Elazar the son of Rabbi Shimon, when he was a young boy.

A number of merchants came one day to Sidon, where Rabbi Shimon dwelt. They came to buy grain, and brought with them their donkeys, and of course a sizable amount of money.

The merchants were afraid to go to an inn, lest they be robbed of their money. So, knowing that Rabbi Shimon’s house was always open to wayfarers, they came to his house, leaving their donkeys outside.

Rabbi Shimon was not home, but the merchants were made welcome by the young Elazar. They sat down to rest, and watched the young Elazar sitting by the oven, where fresh bread was baking. Presently Elazar’s mother began to take the loaves out of the oven. The merchants watched with amazement how the young Elazar was helping himself to the fresh loaves. No sooner was a loaf taken out from the oven than he ate it up. His mother kept on giving him the fresh loaves, and Elazar kept on eating them with an amazing appetite. Out of the oven and into his mouth!

“Poor boy!” the merchants remarked to one another. “He must have a snake in his stomach, eating so much. Thank G‑d there are not many like him, or there would be a terrible famine in the world!”

Elazar pretended that he did not understand their tongue, and showed no offense. The merchants went to the market to look around what there was for them to buy, and left their donkeys tied to the fence outside Rabbi Shimon’s house. When they were gone, Elazar went outside, untied each donkey in turn, and swinging it over his shoulders as though it were a little lamb, he took the donkeys up, one by one, to the attic of the house.

When the merchants returned and found that their donkeys were gone, they became quite alarmed. But then they noticed the young boy all smiles, and they understood that he was up to some mischief. The next moment they heard their donkeys braying, and the sound was coming from the attic! They climbed up the ladder, and there indeed were their donkeys.

They wondered how on earth the donkeys got up there. They could hardly believe that the young boy could have hauled them all up to the attic! But what they were chiefly concerned with for the moment was how to get them down again. One had to have the strength of a giant to carry a donkey down the ladder, and they did not know what to do.

So the merchants went to the Beth Hamidrash, where Rabbi Shimon was teaching, and told him their problem.

“Did you perhaps offend my son?” Rabbi Shimon asked them.

“Worshipful Master,” the merchants answered, “it was never our intention to offend your son. Besides, we did not know that he understood our language. But when we saw his amazing appetite, we could not help remarking to each other about it . . .”

“I see now. You did offend him. For after all, what business was it of yours to criticize him? He was not eating anything that belonged to you, nor do you have to support him. But G‑d, who gives life, provides each one according to his needs. Now I suggest that you go back to my son and apologize to him. Tell him that I asked him to forgive you.”

“But our donkeys . . .”

“Don’t worry. Leave it to my boy,” Rabbi Shimon said, and dismissed the merchants.

The merchants went back to Elazar and apologized to him. They gave him his father’s message. Elazar readily forgave them. Then he went up to the attic and brought the donkeys down two at a time!

Never had the merchants seen such a feat of strength in their lives, and giving the boy a look full of awe, they made their hasty departure.

Some time after this, Rabbi Shimon had to flee for his life and hide in a cave, The Romans sought to put him to death, as they had done to his master Rabbi Akiva. Elazar gladly gave up all the comforts of his home in order to be with his father in that difficult time. So father and son hid together in a cave.

G‑d made a carob tree grow near the entrance of the cave, and a spring of fresh water appeared nearby. Rabbi Shimon and his son Elazar spent thirteen years in the cave. They studied together, and the strange boy grew up to be a saintly man, learned and pious like his father. He was no longer as strong as he used to be. On a hot day, even his tallit seemed to weigh heavily on him. Yet, Rabbi Elazar became another kind of a giant—a giant of the spirit.

Sefira Ross is a freelance designer and illustrator whose original creations grace many Chabad.org pages. Residing in Seattle, Washington, her days are spent between multitasking illustrations and being a mom.
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Maria New York, NY March 14, 2016

How beautiful! Reply

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