There was once a poor man in Bavel who had a claim against one of the rich members of the community. He claimed that the rich man had done him an injustice. As was his perfect right, the poor man went to the rabbinical court of Rav and stated his plea.

Rav did not hesitate; he immediately sent a messenger to summon the wealthy man.

The messenger delivered his message. The man read the summons, laughed derisively and said, “What?! Does Rav really expect me to appear in court against that beggar, that nobody? I, who am one of the wealthiest, most esteemed members of this community?! It is out of the question. It is far below my dignity. I absolutely refuse to go.“

The messenger returned to Rav and reported the rich man‘s refusal. Rav showed his surprise by saying, “How can that man boast of something which is not even his? If Heaven willed it, he could become a pauper in an instant!“

As soon as the words left Rav‘s mouth, a terrible thing occurred. At that very moment, the rich man had been seething angrily at the summons. Now, a second messenger arrived, sent by the king. He read his message aloud, “His Royal Majesty has decreed that all of your property is to be confiscated for the royal treasury and that you are to become a slave for the rest of your days.“

The man turned white. His knees buckled under him. He realized that he was being punished for having defied Rav, for having refused to come to court and for having belittled a man who had a claim against him. But, what a sudden punishment!

He ran to Rav and threw himself down before that great man and pleaded for mercy. “You must forgive me for what I just said! I sinned through my pride. I was blinded by it. And now I don‘t have anything left to my name, not even my liberty. I will be a slave for the rest of my life. Compared to the poor man who summoned me to court, I am a nothing and he—he is like a king! How lowly I have fallen; all because of my foolish pride! If only he would agree to come…“

Rav listened to the man‘s brokenhearted words and saw that he was sincere in his regret. He had truly repented. And so, when the man still at his feet and begged that Rav pray for him, he agreed to do so. The man returned home to await his terrible fate. When he arrived, he found the king‘s messenger awaiting him. He unfurled a scroll bearing the royal decree and read aloud, “The King, in his great mercy, has recalled his edict. He, hereby, frees you from slavery and grants you all of your property as a gift.

In one short hour the rich man had been plunged from great heights to the lowest of depths, from wealth to slavery. He had learned that nothing had any permanent value, for one‘s gold and silver could disappear in a flash, if Hashem so willed it!

(Yerushalmi, Nedarim, Perek 9, Halachah 4)