Once while Rabi Shimon ben Shetach was studying the Torah, a man entered his beis midrash and said, “I have something very important to discuss with you and I would like no one to be present.”
Rabi Shimon ordered everyone out and when the last person left, the man fell at Rabi Shimon’s feet, “Rebbe, Rebbe, please help me! I am in terrible trouble.”
“Stand up and tell me your story,” said Rabi Shimon ben Shetach. “Only then can I help you.”
The man began his tale, “My parents were rich and respectable people. They taught me to walk in the way of G-d, but I disobeyed them and I committed many wrongs and terrible sins. When I refused to listen to the advice of my parents I was finally ordered to leave their home. I joined a band of robbers and because I excelled them all in cruelty and cunning, I was chosen to be their chief.”
The Words Of A Child
“One night we planned a robbery in one of the finest mansions in a distant village. We broke a window and entered the house. The people therein were sound asleep and we bound them all with ropes so that no one might escape to tell the tale.
“When I neared the bed of one of the children I heard him mutter in his sleep, ‘The anger of G-d is against those who do evil. He will cut off the remembrance of them from the earth.’
“I became frightened at these words, the first time I ever knew any fear. I quietly awoke the child from his sleep and in a calm and soothing voice asked him, ‘My dear child, who said these words that you have now uttered?’
“The frightened child answered in a quivering tone. ‘Those are the words of David HaMelech, which I learned in school today.’
“Then I asked him, ‘And what else have your learned in school?’
“The child replied, ‘I have also learned the sentence, They cry and the L-rd hearkens.’
“I became very frightened and in a feverish haste I ordered my comrades to loosen the bonds of the people in the house and to make a hasty retreat. We left the village and returned to our secret hiding place, in a cave, deep in the thick of the forest.
“I looked around me and there I saw all the stolen silver and gold that we were hoarding and I began to fear the L-rd. The child’s words made an impact upon me and I began to feel a keen remorse in my heart. Then and there I decided to abandon my comrades and to try to make an honest living by the sweat of my brow and the toil of my hands.”
Leaves His Comrades
“The following morning I left my comrades in crime and went to the city. I soon found a job and began to work for a living. A few weeks passed and I began to get the urge to steal. I decided to rejoin my comrades. On my way back to the forest, I chanced to pass your school and I heard one of your disciples utter the verse, ‘Evil shall slay the wicked.’ I began to tremble at these words and I resolved to enter your house, O Rebbe, and to confess to you my sins and beg of you to advise me how to overcome my evil inclination.”
Rabi Shimon ben Shetach listened to this tale and replied, “Strengthen your will and G-d will be with you. If you really desire to repent I will give you a simple piece of advice that will help you overcome all of your evil habits.”
“I will do whatever you will tell me,” the man eagerly replied.
Rabi Shimon said, “This small bit of advice is, ‘Beware of telling a falsehood.’”
The bandit was very disappointed and said, “Rebbe, I thought you would pray to G-d in my behalf and advise me to fast and pray so that I might be forgiven. But instead you tell me to beware of telling lies. How can that cure me of all my sins?”
“Trust in me,” replied Rabi Shimon, “and G-d will help you. Now swear before me that you will never again tell a lie.” The man swore and then Rabi Shimon asked him, “Will you ever return to your comrades in the forest to resume your evil deeds?”
“No, I will not,” replied the young man with determination and took his leave of Rabi Shimon and departed for his home. When he reached his home, he was met by one of his comrades who happily greeted him and said, “Chief, we were looking for you all over. We need you to lead us again in attacking a royal caravan that is due to pass through the forest tonight. We have been informed that it is richly laden with silver and gold, enough to make us rich for life.”