Thursday, 9 July 2009

Learning from Hillel the Sage

It is human nature to judge the value of a person by his bank account. Did you know that the great Hillel, one of our Sages who was also the leader of his generation, the Nasi, was once very poor? We are taught that he used to divide everything he earned into two parts. One part he used to buy bread for his wife and children and the other part he used to pay the watchmen of the Beis Midrash to allow him to enter and study Torah from the great teachers Shemaya and Avtalyon.

Once Hillel was unable to find any work and did not earn enough money. It was Friday, Erev Shabbos. Hillel was unable to buy candles, wine and flour for challos in honour of Shabbos. Greater than his distress at not having these necessities for Shabbos, was his inability to pay the watchmen of the Beis Midrash so as to learn Torah from the great teachers.

Hillel passed by the Beis Midrash and yearned to be inside learning. As he thought of how he longed to be inside learning, Hillel had an idea. He climbed up to the roof and lay down on the skylight. From here he was able to hear the sweet sound of the Torah learning from the mouths of Shemaya and Avtalyon. In addition he was able to see their faces as they were sitting in the room, next to the stove.

He lay in this way, all day, listening intently. This incident took place during the month of Teves which falls in the middle of winter. Hillel was so engrossed in listening to the Torah learning that he did not notice the cold or that night had begun. Hillel lost consciousness due to the cold. Snow began to fall and gradually covered Hillel.

In the meantime, inside the Beis Midrash, the rabbis ushered in Shabbos with joy. They made kiddush, ate their meal and continued with their Torah learning until morning. As the day began, it became clear that inside was dark, something was obscuring the light from coming through the skylight. They looked up and saw a face staring down at them from the skylight.

The talmidim rushed up to the roof. They removed the snow until they found the man who had been lying across the skylight. They looked at his face and recognized their friend Hillel.

Speedily they took Hillel down from the roof and brought him into the Beis Midrash. Despite being Shabbos, they did what was necessary to revive Hillel and placed him next to the warm fire. Shemaya and Avtalyon stated that it is permissible to desecrate Shabbos to save a human life and even more so for Hillel who had been dangerously sick from exposure to the cold and snow.

From this time on, Hillel studied together with these great sages until he too became one of our leaders. (Talmud, tractate Yoma 35b)

While it is true that money should not be an obstacle to studying Torah and Hillel clearly demonstrated. Nevertheless it is rare to find someone of the stature of Hillel in today's generation - a weakened generation. This story about Hillel shows us the potential that someone can have if given the right opportunity. There are many Jews who find themselves wanting to learn but are unable to dedicate the time to learning as they are caught up in financial matters. In addition, those who could benefit from their learning and teaching, miss out as the person is unable to pursue his true path.

Become a financial partner with our Yeshiva and assist in enabling Torah scholars to realize their potential. For more information either visit our website or be in touch with Rabbi Eliyahu Shear directly.

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