Once Rabbi Elazar son of R. Shimon was coming from Migdal Gedor, from the house of his teacher. He rode along the riverside on his donkey, and was feeling happy and elated because he had studied much Torah.
There chanced to meet him an exceedingly ugly man, who greeted him, "Peace be upon you, my master!" R. Elazar did not return his salutation but instead said to him, "How ugly this person is! Are all the people of your city as ugly as you?"
"I do not know," said the man. "But go to the craftsman who made me, and say to him: How ugly is the vessel which you have made!"
Realizing that he had done wrong, R. Elazar dismounted from his donkey, prostrated himself before the man, and said to him, "You are right. Forgive me!" But the man replied, "I will not forgive you until you go to the craftsman who made me and say to him, 'How ugly is the vessel which you have made.'"
R. Elazar kept on walking after him until he reached his city. The residents of the city came out to greet him, saying, "Peace be upon you, O Teacher! O Master!" Said the man to them, "Whom are you calling 'Master'?" Said they, "The person walking behind you."
Said he to them: "If this is a 'Master,' may there not be any more like him in Israel."
"Why?" asked the people.
Said the man: Such-and-such he has done to me.
"Nevertheless, forgive him," said they, "for he is a man greatly learned in the Torah."
"For your sakes I will forgive him," said the man, "but only if he does not act this way anymore."
Soon after this R. Elazar entered the study hall and taught: "A person should always be pliant as the reed, and let him never be hard as the cedar. And for this reason the reed merited that of it should be made a pen for the writing of the Torah, tefillin and mezuzot."