One day two holy men came to visit Rabi’a, hoping to get something to eat; they were sure that whatever food she gave them would be ritually pure since it was “obtained in a lawful manner.”
After they had seated themselves, a cloth containing tow loaves of bread was laid before them. Eagerly they reached for the food.
But before they could get it to their mouths, a hungry beggar appeared at the door. Rabi’a immediately gave him both loaves of bread.
This really bothered the two holy men, but they kept it to themselves.
Pretty soon a slave girl arrived, carrying a load of freshly baked bread. “My mistress sent this.:
Rabi’a counted the loaves. “I don’t think so,” she said. “There are only eighteen here.” Protets, denials, whatever the girl said, Rabi’a would not believe her.
(What’d happened was that the slave girl had taken two loaves for herself.)
So she went away and came back with the full twenty loaves. Rabi’a counted them again: “That’s more like it.”
So Rabi’a served the hungry holy men with twenty loaves instead of two. They were really baffled. “Two loaves, no loaves, twenty loaves, what does it all mean?” they asked.
“As soon as I saw you,” said Rabi’a, “I could tell you were hungry. Two little loaves of bread, how could that be enough for two holy men? Then I remembered the Promise: ‘You give one; I give ten.’ So I gave two to the beggar.
“But when only eighteen came back, I knew that there was either something wrong with my prayer, or that somebody had sticky fingers.”