In the days of Shmuel Hakatan a terrible drought held the land in its deadly grip. The wheat withered in the field and the grass dried and died. Day after day, the skies remained leaden and no clouds appeared to bring rain and salvation to the parched land.
The people knew that Shmuel Hakatan was a saintly and righteous man and they hoped that in his merit the Almighty might bring rain to them.
So they came to him and said, “The people of Israel are in great distress. Pray to the Almighty that He send us rain. Perhaps He will hearken to your prayers.”
The Rains Come
Shmuel Hakatan answered, “Proclaim a fast for the morrow and call unto G-d with all your might and He will have mercy upon you.”
The leaders of the community immediately issued a call throughout the area for a fast and prayers to begin the next day. No sooner had the sun risen, then a great shower of rain began to fall on the land, soaking all the fields and filling all the wells with precious water.
The people were overjoyed and they called out in great happiness: “Today we have seen that we are good in the eyes of the Almighty for He answered us rapidly, even before we called out to him.”
But Shmuel Hakatan shook his head and said: “No, what happened here today is a sign not of great love. On the contrary, it is a bad omen.”
The people looked at the great sage in puzzlement.
“Why do you say that? G-d sent us rain before our prayers were even uttered. Is this not a good sign?”
“No. It is similar to the case of a servant who seeks a favor from the king. The king knows of this and quickly tells his other servants: ‘Hurry and give him what he wants, for I do not wish to be bothered with him.’”
Some time later, still another drought struck the land. Once again the fields dried up and the people were in great distress. Shmuel Hakatan called for yet another fast and more prayers.
This time, the people continued fasting and praying the entire day.
“Please G-d, Have mercy upon us! Do not turn us away empty-handed.”
All day they prayed; all day they fasted. It was to no avail. The skies remained as before, the rain locked in and the land still thirsty. The people returned to their homes that night, sad and forlorn. Only then did the skies open up and the rains came down on the earth bringing life and hope.
“This, too, is not a good omen,” said Shmuel Hakatan. “To what may this situation be compared? To a king, whose servant requests a favor and the monarch tells his advisors: ‘wait until he suffers a little more before giving it to him.’”
The people then asked Shmuel Hakatan: “If this is so, how can we know when the people are acceptable in the eyes of the Almighty?”
And Shmuel Hakatan answered: “This is how you shall know. When the people are in need of rain and they come to the synagogues and say, ‘Who makes the wind to blow and the rain to come down,’ if then, the Almighty grants them what they ask, this is the sign that they have found favor in His eyes and at that time you may rejoice.”
In The Days To Come
And the spirit of G-d rested on the great Shmuel Hakatan and he was permitted to see the events that would occur in the future for Israel. He saw the terrible tragedies and terror that would befall his people and his heart grew heavy within him. He would not eat or sleep and he walked about the entire day as a mourner, with his head bowed and bent. He grew ill and was forced to lie in bed but his situation grew worse and he lay at death’s door!
The sages, hearing the sad news, hurried over to see how he was. They found him only a shell of the man that he had been, pale and emaciated, unable to speak above a whisper.
When he saw that they had come he began to move his lips feebly. The rabbis hurried over to make out what he was saying.
“Woe unto us,” he whispered with a terrible sigh. “The great Rabi Shimon and Yishmael will be killed by the sword, their fellow sages will be led forth to slaughter, the people will be plundered by the enemy and terrible evils and events are preparing to come to the land.”
The sages heard these terrible words and they fell back in fear. At that moment the soul of Shmuel Hakatan, the giant of Torah and the humble, modest sage, returned to its Maker.
And Rabban Gamliel commanded that Shmuel Hakatan’s notebook and his key be placed in his coffin, and the sages mourned him saying:
“If a king shall die, his son shall inherit his crown. If a wealthy man shall pass on, his sons will take over his wealth. But with Shmuel Hakatan dying childless, wisdom has died with him.”