A great scholar lived in Jerusalem many years ago. His name was Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach. He was a G-d fearing man and spent all his time in the study of the Torah. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach had many disciples and students, but he never accepted any fees from them. He earned his meager livelihood by making ink. Early in the morning Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach would go to the woods and gather a sack-full of chestnuts and carry it home on his shoulders. Out of these nuts he would make ink and sell it.
Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach was very poor, but he had no regrets except one - that too much time was wasted on carrying the loads of nuts on his bare shoulders. How he wished he could spend this time in the company of his students and teach them more and more of the Divine wisdom of the Torah. Finally, he decided to buy a mule. He sold the chattels of his home and bought a mule.
When he brought the mule from the market, his students went out to see it. They stroked it and petted it and admired it, and then they suddenly discovered a precious stone hanging down from its neck, hidden in a little bag. The students rushed into the house. "G-d's name be praised!", they exclaimed. "G-d has rewarded your piety. You are a wealthy man now! Our dear master shall know no more want!"
They showed him the precious diamond which they had discovered on the mule. But Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach did not share their excitement.
"G-d forbid, that I take this diamond," he said. "I only bought a mule from that Ishmaelite, and this diamond does not belong to me."
Whereupon Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach ran to the market in search of the man who had sold him the mule. He found the Ishmaelite and returned to him the precious stone. The Ishmaelite was amazed at such unheard of honesty.
"Blessed be the G-d of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach!", he exclaimed, and never became tired of repeating it over and over again.
The great wisdom and piety of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach reached the ears of Janai, king of the Jews, a descendant of the pious and brave Hasmonians. The king wished to have this great scholar as one of his closest friends and advisers, so he married Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach's sister Shelomith and made her queen. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach advised the king to rule with wisdom and justice, and there was prosperity and happiness in the land. Being the wisest and most learned man in the whole land of Israel, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach was elected Chief of the Sanhedrin (the highest court).
One day a man brought a complaint against the king, saying that the king had unjustly appropriated his estate. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach requested all his colleagues, the justices, to assemble and then sent a messenger to summon the king to appear before the Court. The king appeared in all his majesty and the justices felt themselves ill at ease. They offered the king a seat near Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach and generally tried to please him. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach was greatly angered by this uncomely behaviour of his colleagues. He turned to the king and said in a firm voice: "Let the defendant rise on his feet and hear the evidence of this court."
"Will you judge your king like any commoner?" king Janai challenged him. "Let the majority of your justices request me to stand up, and I will do so!"
Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach looked around, but all the judges lowered their faces, being afraid to displease the king. Seeing their cowardice, Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach became very angry. "He who knows all thoughts shall pass judgment upon you!" he exclaimed. As he uttered these words the Court was suddenly lit up by a blinding light, and the next moment all the judges fell dead.
King Janai became very frightened and begged Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach to appoint new judges and pray for G-d's mercy. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach appointed new judges from among his best disciples whom he knew to be honest, upright and fearless. Then he sent for the king again. "Stand up upon your feet and be ready to accept the judgment of this Court, for not before me are you standing now, but before the King of Kings, the Creator and Supreme Judge of the Universe!"
Hastily the king stood up until the court declared its verdict: The king was to restore the estate to its rightful owner.
This fearless sense of duty of Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach was to serve as an inspiring example to all the courts in the land, that all were equal before the law and there was no room for favoritism at the courts of justice, as it is commanded in the holy Torah. Rabbi Shimon ben Shetach became even more dearly loved and honored than before.