While Shimon ben Shetach was head of the Sanhedrin a great sage passed away. He came to a disciple in a dream and told him of the great punishments awaiting Rabi Shimon ben Shetach because he permitted 80 witches to continue living in Ashkelon. As these witches were casing the people to sin, he would be punished for allowing them to live.
The next morning the disciple visited Rabi Shimon ben Shetach and related to him every detail of the dream. “And here is the sign that my teacher and master showed me, so you will know that I am telling the truth,” began the disciple.
“G-d forbid that you need to show me signs,” replied Rabi Shimon, “I know that you are speaking the truth. No living being knew of my vow to do away with these witches, but myself. Since you know about the vow, I am convinced that it was revealed to you by Heaven. Now I will not rest until l remove these sinful witches from the face of the earth.”
Rabi Shimon waited for a rainy day and then he gathered together 80 of his strongest disciples. He provided them with new robes and had them place them in jugs so they would stay dry.
He outlined his plan: “I know that all the witches are now gathered in a cave, practicing their sorcery. Place these pitchers on your heads and follow me to the cave. When you hear me whistle one time, take the dry robes out of the jugs and put them on. Then left up a witch on your shoulder and follow me out.”
“But we fear that they may do us harm,” the young men argued.
“That is why you will left them on your shoulders,” replied Rabi Shimon. “The main power of witchcraft is derived from the earth. Therefore, no harm can come to you if their feet do not rest on the ground.”
Followed by the 80 young men, Rabi Shimon ben Shetach reached the cave where the witches were gathered. Changing into dry clothes, he knocked at the door and said, “Open up the door, for I am one of you and I have come to participate in your rituals.”
Seeing how dry he was, they asked, “How are you able to come on a day like this without getting soaked?”
“It was simple for a great magician like me to do,” replied Rabi Shimon. “I reduced myself to a very small thing and walked between the drops.”
“Why do you come here?” they asked.
“I have come to learn from you and to teach you as well. Let me come in.”
The curious witches opened the door and permitted Rabi Shimon to enter and began to demonstrate their magic. One witch whispered and the ceiling of the cave opened and a table covered with various dishes came down and rested in the middle of the cave. Another witch whispered and bottles of wine came down and stood in the center of the table. Two others whispered and bowls ﬁlled with all kinds of food descended.
Rabbi Shimon’s Tricks
“Now show us what you can do,” the witches said to Rabi Shimon.
”Very well,” he replied. ”You see how hard it is raining, but when I will whistle two times and then 80 young men will appear, all dressed in dry clothes.”
“If you are able to do that,” they replied, ”then we will admit that you are the mightiest of all the magicians.”
Rabi Shimon whistled once and all the young men waiting outside removed the jugs from their heads, took out the dry cloaks and donned them. Rabi Shimon whistled a second time and his disciples entered the cave and each man grabbed a witch and placed her on his shoulder. They were then carried to gallows that were prepared for them, and hanged.
All Israel Thankful
When the people of Israel heard how Rabi Shimon had rid them of these evil people, they blessed him, saying, “Blessed is Rabi Shimon hen Shetach unto G-d, who has this day rid us of this terrible evil. For as long as they were present, idolatry could not be stamped out.”