Once, 400 barrels of Rav Huna’s wine turned sour into vinegar. Rav Yehudah, the brother of Rav Salla Chasida, (and some say it was Rav Adda bar Ahavah) as well as other Sages went to visit him.

They said to him: “Let master [Rav Huna] examine his affairs to determine the cause of this loss1”. Rav Huna replied: “Am I suspect in your eyes?” They responded: “Is God suspect of punishing without justice?” Rav Huna said: “If there is anyone who heard something about me that I must rectify, let him speak!” So they told him: “This is what we heard about you. Master (owed and) did not give vine branches to his sharecropper2.” Rav Huna said: “Did he leave me any of them? He stole all of them from me!3” They said to him: “This is an example of the popular adage: ‘Steal from a thief and feel the taste of stealing!’” Rav Huna said: “I accept upon myself to give him what I owe.” Some say that an open miracle occurred and the vinegar turned back into wine; others say that a hidden miracle occurred and the price of vinegar rose, and his vinegar sold at the price of wine! (Gemara Berachot 5b) Rav Huna was known to be righteous so it is surprising that his colleagues suggested that his financial loss was due to his own conduct. Rather, they could have assumed the loss to have been an ‘affliction of love’. Rashi elucidates4 that God afflicts those whom He loves – even if they had not committed any sin – in order to give them an even greater reward in the World to Come than they would otherwise have merited5. Tosfot explains that in this case, however, the Rabbis knew that Rav Huna owed his sharecropper and they wanted to hint to him to stop this behaviour. Rav Huna’s temporary punishment matched his crime, midah kenegged midah (measure for measure): since he had wrongfully withheld vine branches, he too was deprived of a product of the vine. Rav Huna examined his deeds in light of the midah kenegged midah principle, repented and so merited a miracle. Interestingly, Rav Chaim of Volozhin teaches6 that repentance and good deeds only act as a shield against punishment if they fall in the same category as the sin for which the principle of midah kenegged midah justified penalisation. Hence, if Rav Huna had directed his repentance towards other categories of sin, such as guarding his tongue from evil talk, it would not have protected him from incurring this financial loss.

1 Gemara Berachot 5a teaches that if a person sees afflictions befalling him, he should examine his deeds as it is stated “Let us search and examine our ways, and return to God” (Eichah 3:40). Incidentally, only he should examine his deeds; others should certainly not judge him. (Rabbi Alan Kimche)

2 A sharecropper works the field of another and receives a percentage of the yield.

3 i.e. he took more than his rightful share.

4 on Gemara Berachot

5a 5 For a deeper understanding, see Maharal, Netivot Olam, Netiv HaYissurin, chapter 1.

6 Ruach Chaim 4:14

 

 

 

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