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January 29, 2015 / 9 Shevat, 5775
 
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Rabi Eliezer Ben Hurkones

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Eliezer was twenty-two years old and had learned a bit of Torah in his life. His father was one of the wealthiest men in Israel and possessed many fields. One day he accompanied his brothers to the field. He was given a stony part to plow and his brothers were given smooth furrows of land to till.

Eliezer began to cry. His father noticed and asked, “Why do you cry Eliezer? Is it because you have harder work on the stony ground? I will change you to softer furrows of land.”

But still Eliezer cried. His father was perplexed. “I’ve given you softer work and still you cry,” he said.

“It isn’t the work,” said Eliezer. “I want to learn our holy Torah.”

“How could you?” answered his father. “You are a man, twenty-two years old. Why don’t you marry? Then you can accompany your children to the yeshiva instead.”

But Eliezer wasn’t happy and began looking for a way to leave.

One day his father told him, “Don’t come home to eat unless you complete plowing the entire field.”

Eliezer began plowing. Towards the end his ox fell into a groove and broke its foot. Fearing the wrath of his father, Eliezer ran off to Jerusalem to join the school of Rabi Yochanan ben Zakai and asked to be taught the Torah.

“Have you been taught anything to date?” Rabi Yochanan asked.

“No,” he replied. “But I swore I would learn the Torah.”

Seeing his great sincerity, the sage began to teach him. Eliezer absorbed Torah as a thirsty man would drink water.

Meanwhile, a full week had gone by and Eliezer had not had any food to eat. Soon a horrible odor came from his mouth. Rabi Yochanan noticed it and questioned him. “Have you eaten today?” he asked. But Eliezer remained silent.

“Then you must eat with me hereafter,” he said. But Eliezer refused, saying that he had already eaten at the place where he was staying. Rabi Yochanan sent some of his disciples to investigate if this was true.

They searched for hours until they came to an elderly woman who ran a boarding house.

“Yes,” she said. “Eliezer boards here and he says that he has a large bag of grapes and other food from which he eats his daily meals.” Entering his room the students found the bag and, opening it, saw that it contained earth. Realizing the truth, they immediately returned to Rabi Yochanan and explained it all to him.

“Eliezer,” said Rabi Yochanan. “Hereafter you will dine with me and I promise you just as your mouth gave forth a bad odor so it will, some day, give forth the sweet odor of Torah.”

Eliezer studied in the yeshiva for three years.

Meanwhile, Eliezer’s brothers complained to their father. “Look what your lazy son, Eliezer, has done to you. He had no pity for you in your old age and instead ran off somewhere, leaving you to fend for yourself. Why don’t you disinherit him? That should teach him a lesson.”

Eliezer’s father thought it was a good idea and the following day he traveled to Jerusalem to meet with beis din.

It so happened that the day he arrived was the birthday of Rabi Yochanan ben Zakai and a great feast was held in his honor. All the people of Israel were present including Ben Tzizis Hakeses, Nikadimon ben Gurion and Ben Calbah Savuah. When Rabi Yochanan heard that Hurkones was in town, he asked that he join them.

Rabi Yochanan asked Eliezer to give a drasha. A hush fell over the crowd as Eliezer began to expound on a point in Torah. His face shone as bright as the sun and the assemblage was entranced with his speech.

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“I would appreciate if you could give me some pointers on how to improve my wine,” said the wine merchant eagerly.

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