Rav Saadia Gaon

Rav Saadia Gaon was the Rosh Yeshiva of Sura in Babylon. He was very wealthy, but also merited teaching Torah to numerous disciples.

The story that we shall recount occurred in the month of Nissan. There was much work to be done in the home of the Rav. As part of his duties, one of the Jewish servants journeyed to the river located at the other end of the city. He went there to immerse some cutlery in order to make them usable for Passover. In arriving by the river, he set down some precious crystalware, but before having time to immerse them, he saw a large wave arise from the river and carry them off into the depths. The servant looked on stunned as he saw them disappear, his heart filled with grief. However he quickly reassured himself by thinking, “Certainly no one will notice the loss of a few plates at my master’s home. He has a great deal of cutlery, and who will think to look for these exact ones? Besides, even if someone notices that they’re lost, why would anyone suspect me? It’s better if I keep all this to myself and that I relate it to no one.” He continued to immerse the rest of the cutlery, and when he was finished he went back to the Rav’s. Several days passed, and no one figured out the servant’s secret. He himself almost forgot the incident.

When the holiday of Passover returned the next year, he was again sent to immerse the cutlery in the river. Immediately, the incident of the previous year came to mind, and he was seized with freight that this should happen to him again. When he went down to the river, what should he see in the current but some crystal cutlery floating and making its way the shore, finally being tossed up onto land! The servant approached, and he saw that it was the same actual cutlery that had sunk into the depths the year before. What’s more, not one of them was missing!

His joy was immense, but his surprise was greater still. He decided to recount everything when he went back to his master’s. When he arrived at the house, he went to find Rav Saadia Gaon and admitted everything to him. At the end he added, “Apparently, success smiles upon the Rav. He has merited having everything of his recovered.” Now instead of the joy that the servant expected, a large sigh escaped the Rav’s lips, and his servant remained mute with astonishment.

Not long afterwards, Rav Saadia Gaon began to become poor, to the point that he no longer had anything to eat and had to resort to charity. When his house was seized, his servants found themselves dispersed, and the servant mentioned above went down to Egypt, where he settled and established a flourishing business. One day, during the course of his travels, Rav Saadia Gaon arrived at the home of his servant in Egypt, who, appalled at seeing him in poverty, invited the Rav to stay there with him. The invitation came from the heart, and the Rav accepted. The servant gave him a special room and provided him with everything he needed, yet tranquility did not last. As soon as the next day, the Rav became sick with a grave disease, one that brought him to the threshold of death. The host cared to the utmost for the needs of his guest and called in the best doctors, but without success. One day, the doctors ordered that he should drink a very concentrated broth in which several fattened chickens were repeatedly cooked, concentrated to the point that it was boiled down to a single spoonful. Without discussing these instructions any further, the concentrate was prepared and brought to nourish the patient, his heart filled with hope. Yet at the exact moment that the spoon was brought to his mouth, a cobweb fell into it from the ceiling, and the solution that had been so carefully prepared was lost.

The residents of the house began to lament over having done all this work for nothing. The servant looked upon Rav Saadia with disappointment, yet there he was with a smile on his lips! At that moment, the servant recalled the previous incident – the Rav’s sigh when he told him the story of the cutlery that had washed ashore. He could not contain his curiosity, and so he asked, “May the Rav explain two astonishing things to me: The first, why he sighed at that moment; and the second, why he is smiling now, when the precious solution has been lost.”

The Rav answered, “I know that in the same way that riches are not forever, neither is poverty. When you told me the story of the crystal cutlery that the river had returned, I understood that this was a supernatural occurrence, and I feared that I had arrived at a summit of wealth and had benefited of too many good things. I realized that the wheel risked turning at any moment, and that is why I sighed.

“Now, however,” continued the patient, “when the medicine was ruined after all the trouble we had gone to, I suspected that I had arrived at the height of my suffering and henceforth salvation would arrive. That is why I smiled.”

This is effectively what happened, as the Rav was healed a few days later. He immediately got up and left for Sura, his city, and at the end of a short time he regained his exalted position, that of Gaon of Israel, of whom he was the glory.




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