The Queen's Ransom

A short story based on Bava Batra 8a (source text below).
Queen Ifra Hormizd, the mother of King Shapur the Great of the Sassanian Empire, was a compassionate woman who cared for the plight of her people. Although she was not Jewish, she deeply respected her Jewish subjects and often invited the community elders to her court where they discussed matters of faith. During the Sassanian Empire's war with the Roman Empire, many Jews in the far western provinces were taken captive by the Romans. Queen Ifra soon received reports of their plight and knew she would have to lend a hand. One late afternoon, she arranged for a chest full of gold coins to be sent to Rabbi Yosef, one of the community elders, under the pretext that the queen simply wished to transfer this chest to donate for a great mitzvah, some wonderfully noble cause. Upon receipt of the chest, Rabbi Yosef realized that the gift was intended for the Jewish community in Babylon to use for an exceptional cause, but was one which the queen was not in the position to publicly declare her support. He sensed that the queen must have been concerned that this open and direct support for the Jewish community could be seen as controversial in the royal court. However, he also knew that the queen was a kind and generous woman who cared deeply for her people. He decided to consult with the other community leaders to determine how to best use the queen's gift. The leaders of the community were overjoyed by the queen's gift. They debated among themselves which cause the money should be used for. Some argued that it should be used to build new synagogues in communities devastated by the war, while others suggested that it be used to support the poor, sick, and needy. Still others thought that it should be used to educate the children of the community. The debate raged on for several days, until finally the sage Abaye declared that the great mitzvah must refer to the redeeming of hostages. He explained his reasoning as follows: "My teacher, Rabbi Shmuel bar Yehuda, once taught that one may not compel orphans to contribute to communal charity causes, even for the sake of redeeming hostages. From that teaching, I deduce that redeeming hostages must be among the greatest of the mitzvot." The other leaders of the community were convinced by Abaye's reasoning and agreed to use the gifted funds to redeem hostages taken by the Roman Army. They worked with the community representatives from the Land of Israel to negotiate the release of the hostages. And after a long and difficult process they eventually were successful. Hundreds of Jewish hostages were released from Roman captivity and returned to their homes and families. Back in her palace, Queen Ifra was overjoyed to learn the news and invited the community elders to her court to mark the special occasion. Much to queen's delight, one of the elders took the opportunity to entertain their host by juggling eight glasses of wine without spilling a single drop.*
* See Sukkah 53a.

The Queen's Ransom (Source Text)

אִיפְרָא הוֹרְמִיז, אִימֵּיהּ דְּשַׁבּוּר מַלְכָּא, שַׁדַּרָה אַרְנְקָא דְּדִינָרֵי לְקַמֵּיהּ דְּרַב יוֹסֵף, אֲמַרָה: לֶיהֱוֵי לְמִצְוָה רַבָּה. יָתֵיב רַב יוֹסֵף וְקָא מְעַיֵּין בַּהּ, מַאי ״מִצְוָה רַבָּה״? אֲמַר לֵיהּ אַבָּיֵי: מִדְּתָנֵי רַב שְׁמוּאֵל בַּר יְהוּדָה: אֵין פּוֹסְקִין צְדָקָה עַל הַיְּתוֹמִים אֲפִילּוּ לְפִדְיוֹן שְׁבוּיִם, שְׁמַע מִינַּהּ פִּדְיוֹן שְׁבוּיִם מִצְוָה רַבָּה הִיא.
Incidental to this story, the Gemara relates that Ifera Hurmiz, the mother of King Shapur, king of Persia, sent a purse [arneka] full of dinars to Rav Yosef. She said to him: Let the money be used for a great mitzva. Rav Yosef sat and considered the question: What did Ifera Hurmiz mean when she attached a condition to the gift, saying that it should be used for a great mitzva? Abaye said to him: From what Rav Shmuel bar Yehuda taught, that one does not impose a charity obligation on orphans even for the sake of redeeming captives, learn from this that redeeming captives is a great mitzva.