Rabbi Elazar ben Rabbi Shimon, found a certain Roman officer whose responsibility was to arrest thieves. He said to him: How are you able to arrest them? Since the wicked are so devious, perhaps you apprehend the righteous and leave the wicked alone? The officer said to him: But what should I do? It is the king’s edict that I must arrest thieves, and I am performing my job to the best of my ability. Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, said to him: Come and I will instruct you how you should do it. At the fourth hour of the day enter the tavern. When you see someone drinking wine, holding his cup in his hand, and dozing, inquire about his background. If he is a Torah scholar and is dozing, assume that he rose early in the morning for his studies. If he is a daytime laborer, assume that he rose early and performed his work. And if his work is at night and no one heard him working, it is possible that this is because he draws copper wires, which is a form of labor that does not produce noise. And if he is none of these, he is a thief, and you should arrest him, as it can be assumed that he was awake the previous night because he was stealing, and that is why he is now dozing off.
This matter of the advice of Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, was heard in the king’s palace. The king’s ministers said: Let the reader of the letter be its messenger. They brought word of this to Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, and he proceeded to arrest thieves. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa sent him the following message: You are vinegar, son of wine, i.e., you are wicked in comparison to your father, the righteous Rabbi Shimon, just as vinegar is spoiled wine. Until when will you inform on the nation of our God to be sentenced to execution by a gentile king’s court? Rabbi Elazar sent a message back to him: I am merely eradicating thorns from the vineyard. Rabbi Yehoshua ben Korḥa sent back to him: Let the Owner of the vineyard come and eradicate His own thorns.
One day, a certain laundryman met Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, and called him vinegar, son of wine. Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, said: From the fact that this man acted so insolently by vilifying a Torah scholar, one can conclude that he is a wicked person. He told the authorities: Arrest that man. They arrested him and condemned him to death. After his mind settled, i.e., when his anger abated, he regretted his hasty decision. He went after the laundryman in order to ransom him and save him from execution, but he was unable to do so. He read the verse about him: “Whoever keeps his mouth and his tongue, keeps his soul from troubles” (Proverbs 21:23), i.e., had the laundryman not issued his derogatory comment he would have been spared this fate. Ultimately, they hanged the laundryman. Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, stood beneath the gallows and wept. Those who were present said to him: Our teacher, let it not be bad in your eyes that you caused his death, as he and his son both engaged in intercourse with a betrothed young woman on Yom Kippur.