Hillel: Foundations of Rabbinic Culture


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  1. Hillel’s famous for saying in Perkei Avos, “if I am not for myself, who will be for me? If I am only for myself, what am I?” Of course, the first question seems selfish by focusing only on one’s self, but the second question seems too selfish focusing only on others. Hillel stresses that these two questions need to balance out correctly Furthermore, he says, “If not now, when?” to encourage us to answer these question NOW because of there importance.

  2. After listening to this insightful lecture on Hillel’s life and influence on klal yisroel, I have learned many things about the Jewish nation’s experience in galus. Hillel lived at the very beginning of the diaspora and so, I find it interesting that he was able to understand the idea of galus and exile in a deep way, with a sort of hindsight that, in natural ways, he should have not had access to. His response to the floating skull in the water resonated with me because the idea of ‘what goes around comes around’ is in essence, the rule of thumb when it comes to Jews in the Diaspora. He understood that idea and internalized it to send a message to klal yisroel so that they can have the knowledge and wisdom to carry them through the many years of exile ahead. I also feel that Hillel, as a leader of our nation, situated at the doorway to exile, realized the enormous influence and impression that he can have on a nation destined to wander in exile. He understood the importance and magnitude of ahavas yisroel and decided to send a lasting message to the nation. He is famously known for being grouped with his ‘opponent’ Shamai. We heard in the lecture that at a certain point they were so different that there was a Beis Hillel, a house of Hillel, and a Beis Shamai, a house for Shamai. Two completely opposing entities. Yet, we know that Hillel and Shamai had impeccable respect and love for each other. We learn that they had great shaves yisroel and even their offspring were joined in marriage. This is a great lesson for a nation: As you down the road of exile, no matter how different your brother may be, no matter hoe wrong he is and how right you are, love him as if he were you.

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