Said Rabbi Ami: How great are loyal people!
From where do we know this?
From the weasel and the well.1

What was this story?

A young woman from a wealthy home was on her way to her parents’ house. She was extraordinarily beautiful and adorned with dazzling gold and silver jewelry.

She lost her way and soon found herself wandering in an uninhabited place. The day became extremely hot and she was desperate for water.

In the distance she spotted a well, which turned out to be very deep. Delirious from thirst, she grabbed the rope to which the bucket was attached and lowered herself into the pit, so that she could quench her thirst and cool down.

Refreshed and rested, she realized she was in a serious predicament. It was one thing to lower herself down into the well, but getting out was another matter altogether.

As much as she tried, she could not scale the rope. She started to cry but realized that tears would not rescue her. So she called for help at the top of her lungs.

Hearing her cries, a man approached the well and peered down into it, but he could see nothing.

“Tell me,” he called into the abyss. “Are you a person or a ghost?”

She responded: “I am a human.”

“What if you are really a ghost and you are trying to lure me?”

He insisted that she swear that she was, in fact, a human.

Only after she shared her entire story, including her personal details, did he finally believe her.

“If I save you from the well, will you marry me?” asked the man, who was excited by her rich and illustrious family.

She agreed, and the man, who was strong and agile, quickly rescued her from the well.

To his delight, he now saw that she was as pretty as she was rich, and his mind started racing. When he intimated that he wished to sin with her, she wisely replied: “From what nation are you?”

Hearing him reply that he was Jewish, and a member of the priestly clan, she asked, “As a member of such a holy people chosen by the Holy One Blessed is He, and as a priest who was sanctified from among Israel, you wish to act like an animal by consummating our relationship without a proper marriage?!”

She invited the man to make his way to her home, where she would introduce him to her parents and formally become betrothed. He agreed, and they made a covenant that they would stay loyal to each other.

The man asked: “Who shall bear witness to our covenant?”

Just then a weasel scurried by.

She said: “I swear that this weasel and that well will be our witnesses that we shall always be true to each other.”

The pair each went on their way, planning to meet up in the woman’s hometown.

But the man never showed up.

The young woman stayed true to her promise and refused to entertain any marriage suggestions. As a beautiful daughter of a wealthy family, matrimonial offers were in great supply, but she would hear none.

Her exasperated family lost patience and pressured her to meet various suitors. To deter them, she began acting erratically, pretending to be crippled, tearing her clothes and clawing at anyone who dared come close to her.

Eventually the suggestions—and the pressure—stopped.

In the meantime, the man all but forgot about her, got married and had a son.

Tragedy struck. When the boy was three months old, he was attacked by a weasel.

A second son was born. But he too died a horrific death, having fallen into a well.

After this second tragedy, his wife said to him: “If our children died in a regular manner, I would accept my fate as the will of G‑d, but now that they met such strange deaths there has to be something behind this.”

When the man told her the story of his encounter with the young woman years earlier, his wife asked for a divorce and urged him to reunite with his true intended.

He traveled to the city where the young woman lived and inquired about her. He heard that she was not at all suitable for marriage, but he knew better.

He insisted that her father bring him to her, and that he would accept her unconditionally. The daughter was brought in, accompanied by two caretakers. True to form, she began acting out as she had done in the past.

The man then whispered in her ear: “Remember the weasel and the well!”

The young woman exclaimed in delight, “I stayed true to my promise,” and reverted to her true, normal self.

The couple married and prospered. Together, they raised a family.2

Nearly 400 years ago, in 1636, there was an earthquake in Worms, Germany. As a result, a highly contagious plague broke out. There were so many dead and dying that there was no one to look after the sick.

The daughter of the wealthiest Jew in the city also fell ill. The father could not find anyone to tend to her. A tall and handsome young man, a butcher’s assistant, offered to nurse her to health on the condition that if they both survived they would marry. The father agreed and shook hands on it (perhaps not such a good idea during a pandemic).

The young man asked the daughter if she also agreed to the deal, and she did. With great dedication, the young man cared for her and nursed her back to full health, and they developed warm feelings toward each other.

The young man caught the disease from her and became sick. Now, it was her turn to look after him.

Finally, they were both well, and the young man approached the wealthy father to arrange the marriage.

The father refused, saying that it was unbecoming of a member of his family to marry someone of low stature. As for his promise? He had only agreed because of the desperate situation he was in.

The daughter announced to her father that she was committed to the relationship and would go ahead with marriage with or without his permission. The father angrily declared that he would not pay for the wedding.

Some years later, Rabbi Yair Chaim Bachrach, a leading 17th century halachic authority, was asked for his ruling on this matter. He declared that the father had no right to withdraw from the agreement, and anyway he had no authority over who his daughter married.

As for whether the father was obligated to pay for the wedding, he said that if he insisted in court that when he made his promise he did not intend to cover the costs of the wedding, there was nothing the courts could do to force him to pay. However, wrote Rabbi Bachrach, if the man was lying (and the rabbi believed he was) then he should remember the story of the weasel and the well.

If one is not loyal in love, the rabbi implied, things won’t end well.3

We are in a loving relationship with G‑d. We often say to G‑d in our prayers “you love us” or “you love us with a great, eternal love.” We also declare our love for Him.

The rabbis compare our relationship with G‑d to that of a bride and groom.

G‑d declared that he would never abandon or forsake us, and we too should never turn our backs on him.

Says the Talmud: If you want inspiration on what it means to be loyal in love to your Creator, remember the story of the weasel and the well.