When Alexander Yannai, king of Judea, appointed Rabi Shimon ben Shetach as president of the Sanhedrin, peace and tranquility reigned in the land. Prosperity came to the people as they followed in the ways of the Torah.
At that time there lived a tax collector by the name of Baya, who was despised by everyone. This was because he never helped anyone and was generally a wicked person. It so happened that Baya passed away on the same day as one of the sages of the Sanhedrin, a man respected and honored. Both funerals were held at the same time. Baya was accompanied simply by his family, while the sage was followed by a great multitude of men, who mourned and wept over his passing.
As the two processions made their way to the Beis Hakvaros, a group of bandits attacked. People panicked and fled to safety, leaving behind the wagons carrying Baya and the sage.
As it happened, when the panic subsided and the people returned to care for their dead, the great multitude, by mistake, took Baya’s wagon thinking that it was that of the sage and carried it to the cemetery with great honor.
Student Points Out Mistake
One of the students of the sage, who had not left his teacher’s coffin, attempted to point out to the crowd that they had made a mistake.
“Stop!” he shouted. “You are all gravely mistaken. You are taking the coffin of Baya, the tax collector. During the commotion I did not move from this spot and I am certain that the wicked is being given great honors while the righteous is being buried with contempt and disgrace.”
But the multitude ignored the young scholar and carried Baya the tax collector to the burial ground. The sage, accompanied by the family of Baya, was buried unnoticed and with great disrespect.
The Dream Of The Student
The young disciple was sorely vexed and grieved at this insult to his beloved teacher. He wept, prayed and fasted that day and at night fell into a deep exhausted sleep. That night, the sage appeared to him in a dream and said, “My faithful disciple, do not be grieved over the insult that I received at the hands of the people. I deserved this punishment for I had committed a grave sin.”
“Is it possible that you could have sinned, Rebbe?” asked the young disciple. ”I have known you to do charity and kindness and you possessed great piety.”
”One time,” said the sage, “I heard evil people insulting a tzaddik and I neglected to interfere and speak up on his behalf. Heaven decreed that I be buried in disgrace as a punishment.”
“But why did the hated Baya deserve to be buried with such honors?” asked the distraught disciple.
The sage replied, “One day this man, Baya, made a great banquet and invited all the officials and honorable men of the city to be his guests, but they were ashamed to be seen in his company, so they did not come. Baya then distributed the food among the poor of the city. For this reason he deserved an honorable burial.”
The Dream Of The Hereafter
A few nights later, the disciple had another dream. He saw his teacher walking in a most beautiful garden surrounded by sparkling brooks of water. Baya, the tax collector, was also there. Baya became very thirsty and kneeled down to drink, but the water recoiled from him. Again he reached for the water, but once more the water recoiled. He tried again and again to quench his terrible thirst but could not.
“Why is he being punished?” asked the disciple of the sage.
“Because he would not give water to the thirsty nor bread to the hungry,” replied his teacher.
The Punishment Of The Young Woman
The disciple then saw a pitiful sight. A young woman, Miriam, the daughter of Bilga, the Kohen, was lying on the ground and the pin upon which the gates of Gihenom rest revolved in her ear.
“Why is this woman being punished so frightfully?” asked the disciple.
“Because she had an opportunity to hear and learn good things in her father’s house, but instead she listened only to the evil,” replied the sage. “This horrible punishment will continue until the death of Rabi Shimon ben Shetach, who will take her place.”