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Our Sages Showed the Way vol. 2


by Yocheved Segal




A Roman woman's


Rabbi Akiva had many pupils. He was
always concerned about their well-
being, and he loved them as a father
loves his own children. Some of his
students were so poor that they did not have
enough food to eat, nor clothes to keep them warm
in the winter.

"How can they study," worried Akiva, "when
they and their families are hungry and shivering in
the cold?" But there were always kind people who
observed the mitzvah of charity. They gave Rabbi
Akiva money for his penniless students so they
could continue the study of Torah.

Once, however, it happened that the money did
not reach Rabbi Akiva at a time when it was
especially needed. What was he to do? Rabbi
Akiva discovered that not far from his city, near
the seacoast, there lived a Roman lady of consid-
erable wealth. She was a kindhearted woman and
had great respect for people of learning.

"Perhaps this kind lady will help us in our
distress by lending us the money we need," he
thought. "As soon as we collect other funds, we
will repay her loan."

Rabbi Akiva went to the home of the lady and
was received with courtesy and respect. She
listened to his request and said, "I am ready to
lend you the money you need, even though it is a
large sum. But who will guarantee that you will
return the money at the designated time?"

"Anyone you wish," replied Rabbi Akiva with
confidence. The woman pondered for a moment. "I
want both your God and the vast ocean to be
responsible for your debt," she said. Rabbi Akiva
replied, ''As you wish, madam, so shall it be." So
Rabbi Akiva received the loan and gratefully went
on his way.

Time passed and the day approached for the
payment of the debt. But on the very day he was
preparing to take the money to the Roman lady,
Rabbi Akiva fell ill. He was so sick that he couldn't
even tell someone else to go in his place.

Meanwhile, the Roman lady was waiting for
him. She waited all day long, but Rabbi Akiva did
not come. In her disappointment she went to the
seashore and raised her voice in prayer.

"Master of the Universe!" she said, "Only You
know the reason why Rabbi Akiva did not come
today to repay his debt as he promised. Surely he
must be ill, but I need the money by tonight. Akiva
told me that You, God, and the ocean would be his
guarantors, and that You would return my money
at the agreed time if he could not pay the loan
himself. I believed him. Now I beg You, fulfill the
promise of Rabbi Akiva and repay what is due

God heard her prayer. On the shores of Rome,
far away across the sea, a Roman princess was
taking a walk. At the very moment that the
Roman lady in Eretz Yisrael finished her prayer, a
strange idea entered the mind of the princess.
She hurried to her father's palace, took out a box
full of gold and precious stones and cast it into
the sea!

The ocean did God's bidding. The waters lifted
the treasure and the high waves kept the heavy
box from sinking. It was hurled from crest to crest
until finally it was washed ashore in the land of
Israel. The Roman lady was standing on the shore
waiting for God to answer her prayer. Suddenly, a
heavy object was dropped at her feet. When she
saw the strange box, she realized that the ocean
had brought it to her. She picked it up, took it
home, opened it, and behold! There was a treasure
worth much more than the sum Rabbi Akiva owed

A while later, Rabbi Akiva recovered. As soon
as he was able to travel, he went to the Roman
lady's home to repay his debt. "Please excuse my
delay in returning the money," he said. "I was sick
and I could not come. Here is all your money, and I
thank you."

The Roman lady took out the treasure box she
had found on the shore and showed it to Rabbi
Akiva. "Look, Rabbi!" she said. "When you failed
to come, I asked God to pay your debt, and He sent
me the entire sum — plus much more! Please take
the extra money and distribute it among your poor

Source: Commentary of Rashi and Rabbeinu Nisim
on Nedarim 50a


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