Three angry men presented themselves in King Solomon’s court.
“Your Majesty,” said the first, “the three of us are business partners. We went together on a business trip with a large sum of money.”
The second picked up the story. “Shortly before the Sabbath, we hid the money in a pit we’d dug, planning to dig it up right after the Sabbath.”
King Solomon listened attentively.
“But when we went for it, it was gone!” said the third. “No one knew about it but us. One of us is a thief! My lord, I’d like for you to have each of us swear that he didn’t steal the money. That way we’ll find out which of us is the thief!”
But King Solomon was in no hurry to do that. He knew that the man who stole the money would also lie and swear falsely. How could he find out which of them was guilty?
“Return to me tomorrow,” he told the three.
When the partners presented themselves the next day, King Solomon said, “I can see that you three are wise men. Before we discuss your case, I would like your opinion about a different matter.”
King Solomon’s flattery worked like magic, and they waited eagerly to hear his problem.
“A boy and a girl grew up together, and swore to each other that when they were old enough, they would become husband and wife. At very least, they decided, they’d ask the other’s permission before marrying anyone else.
“Years passed. The girl, forgetting her oath, married someone else. Immediately after the wedding, she remembered her earlier commitment and told her husband about it. He said, ‘We can’t live as husband and wife until we find that boy and ask him to annul the oath that you swore to each other!’
“They took a large sum of money and set out to find her childhood friend. They found him and offered to pay him to annul the oath, but he was a good man, so he wished them congratulations and refused the money.
“On their way home, the happy new couple was robbed. ‘Please give us back the money,’ the woman pleaded. She told the robber about how good her husband was, being so patient as to let her take care of her oath before they moved in together, and how good the boy she’d grown up with was for refusing to take the money. The robber was touched, and returned the purse.”
King Solomon looked at the three men, who couldn’t understand where all this was leading.
“My question is, which of the people in this story was the most praiseworthy?” asked the king.
One of the partners said, “The wife is the most admirable. She kept an oath she made when she was just a girl!”
The second partner said, “Her husband is the most praiseworthy. Although he loved his wife, he left home right after his wedding to find that boy, and allowed himself to act as a husband to her only after she was released from her oath.”
The last partner said, “It’s true, both of them behaved in an exemplary fashion. But the boy was a fool! Why didn’t he take the money when they offered it to him?”
“You are the thief!” King Solomon bellowed, pointing to the last partner. “When you talk that way about the boy, you show that you have an appetite for money even if you have no right to it. I’m convinced that you stole the money from your partners.”
The last partner admitted his guilt, and the other two went home satisfied and impressed by the wisdom of King Solomon.