In the chronicles of Jewish history, few men have shown as magnificent a soul as the great Hillel. In order for a leader to qualify for greatness, he must be more than merely a great scholar, although that is, of course, the most necessary attribute. He must also possess depth of character and the sweetness and gentleness of soul that will enable him to understand the needs and sufferings of his people. Without this sensitivity, he can never truly be a great leader.
Hillel had all of these attributes. His kindness and compassion, his modesty and humble ness, marked him as a giant – even in a generation of other giants.
One day, Hillel came home and rushed into the kitchen, where his wife was busily preparing the evening meal.
“I am bringing over a very important and prominent person for dinner this evening,” he said, “and I would appreciate it if you could prepare an especially tasty meal in his honor.”
His wife diligently prepared a truly delicious meal, fit for the finest table.
Meanwhile, Hillel and his distinguished guest arrived at the house and sat down to eat.
Just as Hillel’s wife prepared to bring in the food, a knock was heard at the door.
“Who is there,” she asked.
“I am a poor man seeking some food. I am to be married later in the day and there is nothing to eat in my house. Perhaps you can spare a piece of bread so that my wedding day, at least, can have some joy in it.”
When Hillel’s wife heard these words, her heart grew heavy at the thought of the young couple’s suffering.
Without a word, she went over to the stove and took the magnificent delicacies that had been prepared for their honored guest and gave it to the young chosson. She then began to prepare a new meal for her husband and guest.
Why The Delay?
Meanwhile, in the dining room, Hillel sat with the guest in growing embarrassment and wonder as to the cause of the delay.
Finally, his wife came in with the dinner that she had hurriedly prepared and which was not comparable to the wonderful repast she had given away. After dinner, when the guest had gone, Hillel turned to his wife and asked: “I was wondering the entire evening what happened that delayed the meal?” His wife told him the entire story. When Hillel heard this, his face lit up and he said: “I never for a moment suspected that the delay was caused by any reason of laziness. I know that all your deeds are done for the sake of heaven, and this one was the most praise worthy yet.”
Hillel Goes Home Early
One day, as Hillel HaZakein’s talmidim were preparing to leave the beis medrash, they were surprised to see that their teacher was leaving as well. Since he usually stayed later than them to continue his study, they asked him: “Rebbe, why are you leaving so early today? Is there, chas v’shalom, any thing wrong at home?”
“No, there is nothing wrong, Baruch Hashem. I am merely going home in order to fulfill one of the great mitzvos that the Almighty had given us,” replied Hillel.
“Tell us, please, what this great mitzvah is so that we, too, might partake of it.”
“I am going,” replied Hillel, “to fulfill the great mitzvah of washing my body.”
The talmidim were amazed. “This is the great mitzvah that our Rebbe goes to do? We understand that it is proper to wash ourselves, but why do you call it a great mitzvah? Wherein lies its great importance?” Hillel HaZakein replied: “My children, you surely know that in the stadiums and circuses there are many statues of the Caesars.