Once three merchants
went on a journey. As the sun began to set on Friday evening, they decided
to bury their money in a safe place, since it is forbidden to carry money
on the Sabbath. But when they went to retrieve the money at the conclusion
of the Sabbath, it was gone! Each accused the two others of having stolen
it, but no one confessed to the theft.
So they presented
their case to King Solomon.
I decide the case," said Solomon, "let me ask your help on another
matter. I know you are all wise men who have traveled the world and seen
many things. I would like to ask your advice on a problem presented to
me by the King of Rome. Perhaps you can help me solve it."
The three men were,
of course, flattered to be consulted by the wise Solomon. "Tell us
the problem," they said, "and we will try to help you."
Then the king told
them this tale: "Once a girl and a boy became betrothed to each other
when they were very young. They made a promise at that time that they
would not marry anyone else without the other's permission. Soon after,
the boy moved to a different city. When they grew up, the girl became
engaged to another man but refused to marry him until she obtained the
consent of her childhood friend. So the girl and her fiancé filled
several sacks with gold and silver and traveled to the city where the
friend of her youth now lived.
"When the girl
told her friend that she wished to marry a different man, he gladly gave
his blessing to the couple, refuse to accept any money to release the
girl from her childhood oath.
"Then the happy
couple began their journey home, but were surprised along the way by an
old thief who wished to steal both the girl and the money.
"'You are welcome
to the money,' the girl said to the thief, 'but please spare me.' The
she told him about the mission they had just completed and added, 'If
a young man like my friend can control his passion, how much easier it
should be for an old man like you! Shouldn't you be filled with the fear
of God at your age?'
the old thief took her words to heart and stole neither the girl nor the
money, but let her and her fiancé go in peace.
said Solomon to his three listeners, "I have been asked to decide
which of these three acted the most nobly: the maid, the youth or the
The first merchant
said, "The maid, for she kept her oath."
The second merchant
said, "The youth, for he controlled his passion and did not stand
in the way of his friend's happiness."
The third merchant
said, "The thief, of course! He could have kept the money and still
let the girl go!"
Then Solomon pointed
at the third merchant and declared, "There is your culprit! By his
admiration of the thief, he has displayed his own greed and given himself
The man confessed
his crime and showed the others where he had hidden the money.
Frankel, Ellen, The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore.
Copyright © 1989, 1993 by the author. (Northvale, New Jersey:
Jason Aronson) pp. 220-221