Eager as a Frozen Pharisee

6 10 2010

How highly do you prize learning? In particular, how much do you hunger after the word of God?

The Psalmist writes: ‘In the way of your testimonies I delight as much as in all riches… If your law had not been my delight, I would have perished in my affliction.’ (Psalm 119:14, 92)

Can you echo his words with the same degree of urgency? I know in all honesty that I can’t, though I strive to.

The Poor Gnome - Miss Kitty

Take a leaf out of Hillel’s parchment.

The Rabbis tell a story about Hillel the Elder (Yoma 35b), who went on to be one of Judaism’s most significant teachers. They report that every day he worked hard at manual labour, but earned only one tropaik, a miniscule amount. Half of his earnings he used to support his family, whilst the other half he spent on attending the House of Learning to hear from Shemayah and Avtalyon, two prominent Jewish teachers.

One day, Hillel had been unable to earn anything, and was turned away by the porter at the House of Learning. So eager was he to hear the teaching, that he climbed onto the roof, in the hope that he could hear the lesson through a window. It was the height of winter, and a Sabbath, and as Hillel listened, the snow covered him, nearly freezing him to death.

When the dawn rose, the teachers looked up, puzzled by the lack of light shining through the window. As they looked, they saw the figure of a man, covered by three cubits of snow: about 1.3 metres. They dug him out, lit a fire, bathed him and looked after him, declaring “surely this man deserves that the Sabbath be profaned on his behalf.”

That’s eagerness to learn the word of God. Today, take inspiration from the frozen Pharisee.




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