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On One Foot

On One Foot


The great Talmudic sage Hillel was born in Babylonia in the first century BCE. As young man he came to the Holy Land to study Torah at the feet of the sages of Jerusalem. He was initially a very poor, but brilliant student, and became a famous Torah scholar and eventually the Nasi (president) of the Sanhedrin. He is often mentioned together with his colleague, Shammai, with who he often disagreed on the interpretations of Torah law: Shammai often follows the stricter interpretation, whereas Hillel tended toward a more lenient understanding of the law. In the great majority of cases, his opinion prevailed. Hillel encouraged his disciple follow the example of Aaron the High Priest to "love peace and pursue peace, love all G‑d's creations and bring them close to the Torah." Hillel was a very humble and patient man, and there are many stories that illustrate this.

One of famous account in the Talmud (Shabbat 31a) tells about a gentile who wanted to convert to Judaism. This happened not infrequently, and this individual stated that he would accept Judaism only if a rabbi would teach him the entire Torah while he, the prospective convert, stood on one foot. First he went to Shammai, who, insulted by this ridiculous request, threw him out of the house. The man did not give up and went to Hillel. This gentle sage accepted the challenge, and said:

"What is hateful to you, do not do to your neighbor. That is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation of this--go and study it!"

Text and image by chassidic artist Shoshannah Brombacher. To view or purchase Ms. Brombacher's art, click here.
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Discussion (6)
October 16, 2014
It ain't With Who It's with Whom
Patrick Rooney
Phoenix Az Usa
July 12, 2011
Ra and Osiris
This is why, I suppose, the principle corruption of humanity is the worship of idols.

The idols confound rather than clarify.

And they can lead us into grave errors.
Peter Spiro
Stevenson, WA
July 12, 2011
Well, of course Pharaoh didn't study it -- he was a different religion, Ra, Osiris, etc. ;)
San Bernardino, CA/USA
July 11, 2011
Go and study it
And if the man did as Hillel recommended, he would come to this:

"And Pharaoh said, Who is the LORD, that I should obey his voice to let Israel go? I know not the LORD, neither will I let Israel go." Ex 5:2

Pharaoh did not study his Torah.
Peter Spiro
Stevenson, WA
January 6, 2010
the askers was to stand on one foot?
Why would a rabbi be upset if the asker wanted to spend months, years, standing on one foot? I always heard this as the guy wanted the rabbi to stand on one foot while teaching the Torah.
San Bernardino, CA/USA
June 22, 2008
the Talmud records three arguements btw hillel and shammai. the rest were btw their acadamies... G-d Bless. Nice painting.