The Weasel and the Well

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The following story is discussed in the Gemorra, Taanit page 8a:

A girl once wandered a long distance from her father’s house. Having lost her way, she suddenly found herself in a desert. She walked for a long time and found herself to be very thirsty. To her relief, she discovered a well in the distance. She ran towards this well and found a rope inside. “Let me descend to draw some water,” she thought. She descended and drank from the water, but when she wanted to climb up, she found herself unable to do so. She cried bitterly and called out for help. But who would hear her in so deserted a place? Just then, a boy was passing by and in the distance heard a voice crying out from the depths of the well.

Amazed, he called out, “Who is down there? Are you a demon or a human being?” The girl called up from the well, relating to him what had happened to her. She began to lament her fate in the well and begged him to pull her out.

“I will help you,” he said, “on one condition. Agree to marry me!”

The girl agreed, and he pulled her out of the well. They spoke to each other and each agreed to get married. The boy promised that he would come to her parents as soon as possible and officially betrothe her.

“Who are our witnesses that we are betrothed?” asked the girl. Just then a weasel passed by, so the lad said, “Let the weasel and the well be our witnesses that we will be faithful to each other.”

They parted, the boy to his house and the girl to her father’s house. She stayed at home and waited for her fiancé to come and fulfil his promise, but time passed and he never appeared. Her parents suggested other matches for her, but she refused, saying that she could not marry anyone else. No matter which match was proposed to her, she was adamant in her refusal. Eventually people began to consider her to be strange and gave up the idea that she might ever marry.

And what happened to the boy?

After he returned home, he was very busy and forgot about that episode in the desert. He married a girl from his hometown. His wife bore him a son, but when the baby was three months old, a tragedy happened. The child was bitten by a weasel and died. Another little boy was born to them, but one day, when he was playing by the well, he fell into it and died. Grief-stricken, the wife said to her husband, “Had our children died a normal death, I would accept the Heavenly decree without questioning. But since the events were so extraordinary, we must seek the reason for this strange punishment and search ourselves for some previous guilt.”

Now the long-forgotten scene in the desert came back to the husband’s mind. “Could it be that I am being punished for not keeping my word?” he thought. He told his wife what had taken place at the well. “It is your duty to find out what happened to that girl,” his wife reprimanded him. “It was your obligation to be faithful to her!”

The man travelled to the girl’s village and inquired if there was someone by that name and whether or not she was married.

“There is an old maid by the name you mentioned,” was the reply. “But she is not in her right mind. There is no use talking to her about getting married. If a suitor comes to her, she begins to act in a strange manner. She spits in his face and tears his clothes!”

The man immediately went to the girl’s house and explained to the father the story that had transpired long ago, blaming himself for the daughter’s misfortune. “I have freed myself from my wife to be true to my word,” he explained to the father, “and I shall marry your daughter.” The father brought him to the girl, but when he attempted to speak to her, she began to scream and act strangely as she did whenever a match was proposed to her. He said only two words, “the weasel and the well.” The girl fainted, and when she recovered, she had re-gained her former composure. They were married and lived a blessed life, having children and living to see their children’s children.

The story above reminds me of a story I was told not too long ago. The story was of a woman, Yeudit*. Yehudit had been engaged to marry someone and close to the date of the Chuppah, (wedding canopy) he let her down. Yehudit was left heartbroken. Although she tried shidduchim, and pursued other options, she had difficulty committing to anything and was not meeting the right person.

After a period of concentrated tefillos (prayers) to help with shidduchim, (matchmaking) Yehudit found an answer that helped her to become more open to the right person. The man who had broken off their engagement called her after many years of no contact. It turned out that some time after the break up, he was diagnosed with a debilitating illness. There were other factors involved too. From the discussion, Yehudit discovered that the break up prior to marriage had been for the best as she realised she did not have the kind of strength and character to take care of a disabled husband.

Both of these stories highlight an important message. Many times, when there appears to be a block to someone getting married, it is necessary to look back at our lives and search for whether sometime in the past, even in childhood, a promise, commitment or some kind of attachment was made to another that had a connotation of marriage. Even if it was said in jest, the other might have taken it seriously. If this is the case, it might be necessary to either ask forgiveness or to seek rabbinical assistance from a recognised Orthodox rabbi to know how to resolve the situation.

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