"ROCKS, rocks, and again rocks," said Eliezer ben Hyrcanus to himself. "It certainly is very hard to plow here. Besides, I don't like to plow; I don't want to plow. I don't want to plow here or anywhere else, even if the ground were smooth and level. Oh, I do wish father would let me go away to study!" Eliezer put his plow aside, sat down on one of the rocks and began to cry. just then his father, who had been observing him, came over to him.
"What!" he called, "You, a man of twenty-two crying. What's the matter? Is anything wrong with you? Oh, maybe you are tired of plowing among the rocks. Well, there are enough fields. You can change off with your brothers who are plowing in the smooth, level fields."
But Eliezer didn't seem to hear his father at all. He sat and cried just as before.
"Why don't you answer me?" demanded his father sternly.
"Oh, I don't want to plow all my life; I want to go to school and study all about my people. Why haven't you ever sent me to school?"
"What!--You, a man of twenty-two, wish to begin to go to school? Ha, ha, ha I You make me laugh. You ought to be married and taking your children to school."
"Well, I wanted to tell you for some time, father," Eliezer said. "I've made up my mind; I'm going to study."
"You won't do anything of the kind," answered Hyrcanus. "You won't get anything to eat until this whole field is plowed."
So Eliezer got up very, very early and plowed the whole field. As he was finishing his plowing, he fell and broke his leg.
Through all his pain, Eliezer thought, "At any rate, this will give me a good excuse for going away to study until my leg gets well." And so it turned out. Eliezer went to Javneh to the school which Johanan ben Zakkai had built.
Eliezer supported by a crutch, hopped along very slowly from six o'clock one day, until six o'clock the next day.
At last, hungry and tired, he came to Johanan. Approaching Johanan he said:
"I am twenty-two years old, but I have never gone to school. Please teach me the blessings, and some Hebrew. Maybe later on I shall be able to study Torah." So Johanan began to teach Eliezer.
All this time Eliezer had scarcely anything to eat. He began to look very pale. He could hardly speak. In fact, he could hardly stand. Rabbi Johanan noticed this. One morning he asked Eliezer kindly:
"Have you had your breakfast yet, my son?" Eliezer did not reply.
Rabbi Johanan repeated, "Eliezer, have you had your breakfast yet?"
"Oh!" answered Eliezer, as if he had not heard the Rabbi before, "I have eaten at the house where I stay."
Rabbi Johanan knew that Eliezer was not telling the truth. And so he sent a number of his pupils to Eliezer's lodging place to find out what they could about Eliezer's meals. There the housekeeper told them that Eliezer had never eaten at her house. "But," she said, "he has a sack, and often I see him put his head into it and suck something. It looks as if he were sucking from a bottle." Having heard her story, they went up to his room and found the sack. When they
opened it, they found it full of earth. The pupils returned to the Rabbi and told him the story. Rabbi Johanan then invited Eliezer to eat with him.
For three years he lived and studied with Rabbi Johanan. But all these years Eliezer did not write any letters to his father, because there was no way of getting them delivered. And Eliezer was too weak to walk such a great distance.
At last Eliezer's brothers said:
"How long will you wait for Eliezer to return? He does not care for you. He is waiting until you die. Then he will come and claim his share of your riches. Go up to Jerusalem and make a will saying that Eliezer shall not receive any of your land or money."
Hyrcanus thought a while. Then he said:
"I guess you are right. He is no son of mine. He never told me why or where he was going. He does not care whether I live or die. So--why should I care about him? Tomorrow I shall leave for Javneh."
When Hyrcanus came to Javneh, Rabbi Johanan was holding a feast. The rich and learned men of the city had been invited. Johanan, hearing that Hyrcanus was in town, invited him, too. Everything was ready. All sat down to the feast.
Then Rabbi Johanan called on Eliezer to explain certain parts of the Torah.
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Eliezer blushed. He felt nervous to think that he, Eliezer, should explain things before all these learned men!
"No, Rabbi, please. I can't-not before all these men."
"Don't be foolish, Eliezer," said Rabbi Johanan. "You can do it as well as anybody else."
Eliezer's face lit up. His eyes began to sparkle. The room seemed lit up as if by sun rays. In a clear, loud voice he began to recite the Torah. When he finished, Rabbi Johanan arose and kissed him. "Blessed are Abraham, Isaac and Jacob that you are a great, great grandson of theirs."
When Hyrcanus heard this, he could no longer keep quiet.
"No, no," he called, "blessed am I, who have such a learned son. My son, Eliezer--a rabbi in Israel." Then Hyrcanus mounted the platform. "Listen, O men of Jamnia," said Hyrcanus through his tears. "I came to Jerusalem to tell the people that Eliezer would no longer be a son of mine. His brothers told me not to give him his share of my riches. And I was about to do as they had suggested. But instead he shall be my only heir. To Eliezer, to him who starved himself to become a learned man--to him I will give all my fortune."
Thus, though Eliezer had been very poor as a student, he became a very rich and famous rabbi--Rabbi Eliezer ben Hyrcanus.
But as you may have expected, Eliezer did not keep the whole fortune for himself. Even though his brothers had been so unjust to him, he divided his fortune with them.