(a) RASHI explains that the three parables involve a fox who tricked a wolf.
The fox told the wolf to enter the courtyard of a Jewish home and help the
Jews prepare for Shabbos, and in return they would let him join them for the
Shabbos meals. The wolf was persuaded and he entered the courtyard to help
the Jews prepare for Shabbos. However, upon seeing the wolf, the Jews
immediately beat him and chased him away with sticks. The wold wanted to
kill the fox, but the fox told the wolf, "They have nothing against you.
Rather, they hit you because of what your father did. He once helped the
Jews prepare a meal, but he ate all of the fine meat himself." When the wolf
commented how it was unfair that he should be punished for the deeds of his
father, the fox quoted the verse, "Fathers will eat unripe grapes and the
teeth of the sons will be blunted," explaining that sons must suffer for the
sins of their fathers.
The fox then advised the wolf to come with him to a place that has lots of
food to eat. The fox took him to a well. Extended across the top of the well
was a wooden rod with two buckets attached to opposite ends of a rope that
was wrapped around the wood. The fox jumped into one of the buckets and
descended down into the well, as the other bucket rose to the top. The wolf
asked the fox, "Why did you go into the well?"
The fox replied, "There is fine and cheese to eat," and he showed him in the
water the reflection of the moon, telling him that it was actually a piece
of cheese. "How can I come down?" asked the wolf. The fox told him to jump
into the other bucket. The wolf followed the advice of the fox, and his
heavy weight caused him to descend into the well while it lifted up the
counter bucket in which the fox was sitting. At the top of the well, the fox
jumped out of the bucket. "How can I get back up?" asked the wolf. The fox
replied with the verse in Mishlei, "The righteous one is removed from
trouble, and the wicked one comes in his place!" The fox added, "Does it not
say, 'Just balances, just weights?'"
The MAHARSHA asks that according to Rashi, there are actually only two
parables, and not three. Furthermore, what is the point of the verse about
The Maharsha says that he heard an explanation that says that there was more
to the story.
How could the fox risk his life and jump into the well with no way of
getting other, other than by relying on the wolf's foolishness to get
himself out of the well? What would the fox have done had the wolf not
followed him into the well by jumping into the second bucket? Furthermore,
when the fox showed the "cheese" in the well to the wolf, what would the fox
have done had the wolf asked to see the meat as well?
The answer is that the fox had already taken care of all of these problems.
The fox had placed a stone weighing more than himself in the other bucket.
In order to counter the weight of that stone and descend into the well, the
fox took another stone with him in his bucket. The weight of that stone
combined with his own weight enabled him to descend into the well. At the
bottom of the well, he pretended that he had a piece of meat in his hand
(which was really the stone that he took with him). If the wolf would not
believe him that there was food at the bottom of the well, then he simply
would have thrown his stone away, causing himself to be lifted back up to
the top of the well by the weight of the stone in the other bucket.
What is the moral of these parables? The Maharsha explains that a wolf who
just wants to fulfill his desires is compared to a Rasha, while the smart
fox is compared to a Tzadik. When the wolf went to help the Jews prepare for
Shabbos, he did so only for his own pleasure (to be able to share the
meals). This alludes to a Rasha who pretends that he wants to do a Mitzvah
and prepare for Olam ha'Ba, when in reality he just wants to fulfill his
desires, as his Rasha father had done (like the wolf's father). The Jews
chased away this idea with force, showing that this is not a proper
After having done the good deeds and received reward in this world for them,
the Rasha then seeks to kill the righteous, as the wolf wanted to kill the
fox. The Tzadik placates him by explaining that, indeed, the pleasures of
this world are for him just as they were for his father. This is symbolized
by the unripe grapes eaten by his father, indicating the incomplete pleasure
of this world. This is further symbolized by the cheese which was actually
the moon. The moon, which is visible only during the dark of night,
symbolizes the dark and fleeting pleasures of this world. The Tzadik
temporarily ventures into this world with a stone, which symbolizes the
Yetzer ha'Ra, only to eventually discard it and ride to Olam ha'Ba on his
merits for overcoming the temptation for worldly pleasures. The other bucket
contains the wolf, the Rasha, and the stone, the Yetzer ha'Ra, which helps
The BEN YEHOYADA explains the first parable in a different light. He says
that if Adam ha'Rishon would have eaten from the Tree of Knowledge *after*
Shabbos started and with the right intentions, he would have done a
tremendous deed. By eating before the fruit was "ripe" and ready to eat, he
brought upon himself and his descendants the curse of difficulty in
obtaining food. The wolf was trying to get his food easily before Shabbos,
which is compared to this world. He was driven away as his father was,
alluding to Adam ha'Rishon who ate ate the unripe fruit causing his
descendants to have to endure great difficulty (symbolized by being chased
with sticks) in obtaining their food.
(b) A different parable is cited in various Teshuvos of the GE'ONIM. After
being attacked by a lion, the fox exclaimed that he could show the lion a
large human to eat in his stead. The fox lead him to a man who was in the
middle of his prayers. Immediately in front of the man was a pit that was
covered over and not visible. The lion said to the fox, "I am afraid of his
prayers!" The fox persuaded the lion that the man's prayers would not harm
him nor his son, but they would affect only the lion's grandson many years
Persuaded by the fox and by his hunger, the lion leaped towards the man and
fell right into the pit. The fox looked down at the lion. The lion said,
"You told me that only my grandson would get in trouble for my deed!"
The fox replied, "But your grandfather also sinned."
At that point the lion declared, "Fathers will eat unripe grapes and the
teeth of the sons will be blunted" (implying that it is unfair that the sons
should suffer the consequences of the fathers' actions)."
The fox said back to the lion, "Why did you not think of that logic before
you sinned?" (Y. Montrose)