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Tuesday
Jul292014

WHO STOLE THE WATER?

“Ochron, see, there’s nobody around. The heat of Tammuz, on top of the starvation and thirst, keeps everyone indoors. We can speak freely and nobody will know of our plan,” whispered Naval.

“You’re right,” said Ochron, after glancing around. “Go ahead, speak.”

“The situation is bad, as everyone knows. There’s no need to elaborate. Ever since the Romans laid siege to Yerushalayim, the starvation and thirst keep increasing.

“At first, we managed. But the cruel Romans blocked the springs from flowing to Yerushalayim and all that remains is one small well. The limited amount of water won’t last for long,” Ochron concluded.

“Listen to my idea. Tonight at midnight, let us steal the remaining water supply. We’ll keep it in my cellar and at least we will be saved.”

The two of them thought nobody overheard them, but they were wrong.

Binyamin, a young, clever boy had decided, for some reason, to take a walk despite the drought. He was the oldest of eight children and was usually a troublemaker who liked playing tricks on his friends. Now that the Romans had laid siege to Yerushalayim, he had become thin and the mischievous spark was gone from his eyes. Still, he had some strength remaining to leave the house and take a walk.

Binyamin stopped near a thick shrub in order to rest in its shade. As he did so, he heard voices.

He bent over and very quietly hid behind the bushes as he listened to every word. His heart pounded as he heard the terrible plan. If they succeeded in carrying out their plot, the people would not last even one day. As it was, they were having a hard time subsisting. They divided the well water every day in limited amounts to each family according to the number of people. The amount of water barely sufficed to slake their thirst in these hot days; without it, they would no longer be able to exist!

He was furious at these ruffians who dared to come up with a plan like this. “No!” he immediately resolved. “I won’t let them succeed. I will wreck their plan!”

At first he thought of informing on them immediately. But on second thought, he figured, “They all know me as a mischief maker. They will think it’s another prank of mine. Who will believe that Ochron and Naval, who are known as upright people, are thieves? So I must do something to prove to all that they are behind this insidious plan.” Binyamin went home and came up with a plan.

That night, while the city was asleep, two dim figures in the gloom could be seen approaching the well. They did not dream that anyone had preceded them.

The two men wore cloth shoes so their footsteps would not be heard. They took a pail, lowered it into the well, and filled it with water. The poured the water into a large barrel. They quickly filled it with more and more pails of water and then dragged the barrel to the cellar of Naval’s house.

After carrying out their deed, a triumphant smile could be seen on their faces. “We did it! We’re saved! Nobody will suspect that we stole the water,” they exulted. They shook hands and promised one another that they would not reveal their secret to anyone.

In the morning, the sound of desperate voices could be heard screaming, “The water is finished! There isn’t even one drop! Someone stole the water last night. How will we survive?”

A large crowd gathered at the shul around Rabbi Eliezer and listened to him. Rabbi Eliezer told them how he had walked to the well that morning, put in the bucket but to his dismay, no water entered the bucket.

At first he thought that perhaps he hadn’t lowered the bucket sufficiently. He tried again and again with the same results. There was no water in the well! All the water that had remained and sustained the people had disappeared overnight.

People looked at one another, trying to figure out who the culprits were, but they had no information. Wailing could be heard as they all despaired. 

“What shall we do, rebbi?” the crowd looked at him beseechingly. 

The two thieves were also there, amongst the crowd. They made believe they were as upset as everyone else and they also wailed.

“Listen!” announced the rav, and they all quieted down. The two thieves looked at the rav, eager to hear what he would have to say.

The rav said, “Calm down everyone. Let us not panic. The thieves no doubt have the water in a hiding place. What we need to do is discover who they are and find where they hid the water.”

“But how will we find them?” they asked. The rav nodded, as though he had been expecting this question. Instead of answering, he told everyone not to leave. “Whoever leaves will be suspected that they are the thieves. Now, everyone stick out your hands and show them to me.”

The people wondered at this strange request as they stretched out their hands. The rav went from one to the next and said, “Not guilty, not guilty …” until he reached the thieves. Their hands were dirty, stained by black paint.

“You are the guilty ones!” announced the rav, glaring at them.

The two men were shocked and tried to deny the charges. “Why does the rav say that? Everyone knows we are upright people …”

The rav did not hesitate for a moment. He said, “It was not ruach ha’kodesh. See, my hands and clothing are also stained with black paint. The well was painted with fresh black paint and whoever touched it, had to get the paint on their hands.”

To the astonishment of the crowd, the rav told about Binyamin’s cleverness, his idea to paint the well so they could apprehend the criminals.

The thieves’ faces turned red and white. They could not bear the angry stares. And yet, in their chutzpa they spitefully said, “We cannot deny it, but we will not return the water. You will never find it.”

The rav smiled and said, “Binyamin will show us.” Binyamin had heard their plan and knew exactly where they hid the water.

The water was located and the people sighed with relief. 

Ten days passed and the city was conquered. Many Jews were taken into captivity. Binyamin was also taken prisoner but he managed to flee and returned to Yavne in Eretz Yisroel. There he became the student of Rabban Yochanan ben Zakai.

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