“If that is a Sage,” exclaimed the man, “may there not be many more like him in Israel!”
The people were shocked and angry.
“What do you mean? Why do you say such a terrible thing about a great sage in Israel?”
The man, thereupon, told them the whole story about how he had greeted Rabi Elazar and how the sage had shamed him.
“This is why I said what I did.”
The people, however, said to him:
“We understand why you said what you did but despite that, forgive him for he is a great man of Torah.”
The man thought for a while and finally relented.
“Very well. For your sakes I relent and will forgive him. But I insist on one condition that he never accustom himself to do such a thing again.”
Rabi Elazar immediately entered the Beis Midrash and spoke these words:
“At all times shall a man be as soft as a reed and let him not be as hard as a cedar.”