The prophet Ahijah the Shilonite cursed Israel in the following terms: “For the Lord will smite Israel as a reed is shaken in the water” (I Kings 14:15). Rav Yehuda said that Rav said: This too is for a blessing, as Rabbi Shmuel bar Naḥmani said that Rabbi Yoḥanan said: What is the meaning of that which is written: “Faithful are the wounds of a friend, but the kisses of an enemy are deceitful” (Proverbs 27:6)? The curse with which Ahijah the Shilonite cursed the Jewish people is more effective than the blessing with which Balaam the wicked blessed them. Rabbi Yoḥanan elaborates: Ahijah the Shilonite cursed the Jewish people by comparing them to a reed: “For the Lord will smite Israel as a reed is shaken in the water.” Although it seems to be a curse, this verse is actually a blessing. Just as this reed stands in a place of water, and its shoots replenish themselves when cut, and its roots are numerous for a plant of its size, and even if all the winds in the world come and blow against it, they cannot move it from its place, rather, it sways with them until the winds subside, and the reed still stands in its place, the same applies to the Jewish people. After all the difficulties that they endure, they will ultimately survive and return home. However, Balaam the wicked blessed the Jews by comparing them to a cedar, as it is stated: “As cedars beside the waters” (Numbers 24:6). Just as this cedar does not stand in a place of water, and its shoots do not replenish themselves, and its roots are not numerous, Balaam wished that the same should apply to the Jewish people. Furthermore, while it is true that even if all the winds in the world blow against it they will not move it from its place, once the southern wind blows against it, it uproots the cedar and turns it on its face. And not only that, but the reed merited that a quill [kulmos] is taken from it to write with it a Torah scroll, the Prophets, and the Writings. Evidently, the curse comparing Israel to a reed is better than the blessing likening them to a cedar.
The Sages further taught in praise of the reed: A person should always be soft like a reed, and he should not be stiff like a cedar. An incident occurred in which Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, came from Migdal Gedor, from his rabbi’s house, and he was riding on a donkey and strolling on the bank of the river. And he was very happy, and his head was swollen with pride because he had studied much Torah. He happened upon an exceedingly ugly person, who said to him: Greetings to you, my rabbi, but Rabbi Elazar did not return his greeting. Instead, Rabbi Elazar said to him: Worthless [reika] person, how ugly is that man. Are all the people of your city as ugly as you? The man said to him: I do not know, but you should go and say to the Craftsman Who made me: How ugly is the vessel you made. When Rabbi Elazar realized that he had sinned and insulted this man merely on account of his appearance, he descended from his donkey and prostrated himself before him, and he said to the man: I have sinned against you; forgive me. The man said to him: I will not forgive you go until you go to the Craftsman Who made me and say: How ugly is the vessel you made. He walked behind the man, trying to appease him, until they reached Rabbi Elazar’s city. The people of his city came out to greet him, saying to him: Greetings to you, my rabbi, my rabbi, my master, my master. The man said to them: Who are you calling my rabbi, my rabbi? They said to him: To this man, who is walking behind you. He said to them: If this man is a rabbi, may there not be many like him among the Jewish people. They asked him: For what reason do you say this? He said to them: He did such and such to me. They said to him: Even so, forgive him, as he is a great Torah scholar. He said to them: For your sakes I forgive him, provided that he accepts upon himself not to become accustomed to behave like this. Immediately, Rabbi Elazar, son of Rabbi Shimon, entered the study hall and taught: A person should always be soft like a reed and he should not be stiff like a cedar, as one who is proud like a cedar is likely to sin. And therefore, due to its gentle qualities, the reed merited that a quill is taken from it to write with it a Torah scroll, phylacteries, and mezuzot.