Rav Nechuniah was a modest and exceedingly honest person who did good deeds and kind acts at every opportunity, without seeking rewards and honor.
Being a very poor man he was unable to give charity, and this distressed him greatly. He wondered what he might be able to do to help the needy without money.
“I know,” he said. “The travelers who make the long journey from their cities to Yerushalayim are often thirsty and suffer greatly because there are no water holes along the way.
“I shall dig wells and water holes in order that they might travel in comfort.”
And so he did. Every night he would go out in the darkness and dig for hours until the waters began to rise, and watering places for the weary and thirsty came into being. He would purposely do this at night so that people would not know who their benefactor was.
When the people saw the wells, they were overjoyed and began to make the long pilgrimages to the Beis HaMikdash on the chagim.
“Who is the man who has done these great deeds?” they all asked. “May the Almighty bless him for his kindness and his thoughtfulness. He has aided the regular pilgrims and caused others to start fulfilling this mitzvah.”
Naturally, the people were very curious to find out who their benefactor was, but Rav Nechuniah had taken great care not to be discovered.
Rav Nechuniah had a daughter who was as beautiful as she was good. One night she left the house in search of her father to tell him something important. As she walked along the road in the darkness, she suddenly fell into a very steep pit she had not noticed.
“Help,” she cried, as she regained consciousness. She kept calling as she realized it would be impossible for her to climb out alone.
As dawn came, her cries were heard by a passing traveler.
“Who is that?” he asked in alarm as he bent over the side of the pit and peered below.
“Help me,” cried the girl as she saw the face of the traveler high above her.
“It is a girl!” the traveler exclaimed in horror. “Who are you? How did you fall in?”
“I am the daughter of Rav Nechuniah, the one who has dug all the wells and water holes for the people, and I fell into this pit last night. Please help me get out, for I cannot do so alone.”
The traveler ran to Rav Nechuniah, and soon word of his actions and the fate of his daughter spread through the area.
“What shall we do?” the people asked the saintly man. “The pit is very deep and the sides very steep. No man can climb down safely to rescue your daughter. Tell us what to do for her.”
Rav Nechuniah listened to the people’s words and said:
“I shall pray to the Almighty for her and she will be rescued.”
Rav Nechuniah went into his room and begged G-d to save his daughter.
As time passed and the girl remained in the pit, the people returned and implored Rav Nechuniah:
“Your daughter is still in the pit and we fear that she is growing weaker.”
“Do not fear,” said Rav Nechuniah, “for the girl will come to no harm.”
After more time passed and the girl still remained seemingly helpless, the people grew concerned.
“Rav,” they cried, “we fear that, G-d forbid, your daughter may die unless we find some way to get her out soon.”
“I love my daughter very much,” he said, “and I tell you that no harm will befall her.”
When the people returned an hour later with a report of no progress still, Rav Nechuniah said to them:
“Go to your homes, for the girl shall have been rescued by now.”
The people looked at each other in astonishment. What did he mean? How could the girl have gotten out of the pit and how could the rav be so sure she was rescued?
As they stood there they suddenly heard great shouts of joy and a group of people rushed into the house.
“She is rescued! She is out of the pit! It is a miracle!”
Everyone burst into tears of happiness, and in a few moments the young girl herself was brought into the home, shaken but none the worse for her experience.
After she was seated and fed, her father asked her, “My daughter, how did you get out of the pit?”
“It was a strange thing, Father. An old man whose appearance was that of an angel of G-d suddenly appeared leading a ram. He looked down into the pit with infinite pity in his eyes and suddenly he stretched his hand out to me all the way into the pit and pulled me out.
“It was a true miracle that I am safe.”
The people gasped in amazement as they heard the strange tale.
“It is a miracle, it is a miracle.”
They then turned with awe to Rav Nechuniah and said:
“Indeed, you are a navi Hashem and we never knew that until this moment.”
Not A Prophet
“No,” said Rav Nechuniah. “I am neither a navi nor the son of neviim.”
“But how else could you have known that your daughter would be rescued?”
“Know you,” replied Rav Nechuniah, “that the mitzvah in which a man delves will never be used as an obstacle for him and his seed. If I did mitzvot through digging pits, the Almighty would not punish my daughter by means of a pit.”