An Orthodox Jewish man covered with snow walks in Jerusalem / Getty Images
New York’s got nothing on ancient Jerusalem, and Governor Andrew Cuomo’s got nothing on Rabbi Hillel the Elder.
While we were all rushing home to take shelter from the impending Blizzard Juno, with its promised “historic” downfall of 30 inches of snow, and while our fearless leader Cuomo was busy shutting down the entire New York City subway system, an unprecedented reaction that many believed was just for show, I couldn’t help thinking of one of my favorite Talmud stories.
This story proves that the ancient rabbis were totally badass when it came to coping with snow. At least, Hillel the Elder was. A promised 30 inches? That’s nothing! Hillel willingly stayed out in 54 inches of snow! His motivation? Well, see for yourself:
They said about Hillel the Elder that every day he would work and earn a half-dinar, half of which he would pay to the guard of the study hall and half of which he spent on his and his family’s sustenance. One time he did not find employment to earn a wage and the guard of the study hall did not allow him to enter. He ascended to the roof, suspended himself, and sat at the edge of the skylight in order to hear the words of Torah from the mouths of Shemaya and Avtalyon, the spiritual leaders of that generation.That day was Shabbat eve and it was the winter season of Tevet, and snow fell upon him from the sky. When it was dawn, Shemaya said to Avtalyon: Avtalyon, my brother, every day at this hour the study hall is already bright from the sunlight streaming through the skylight, and today it is dark; is it perhaps a cloudy day?They focused their eyes and saw the image of a man in the skylight. They ascended and found him covered with snow three cubits (=54 inches) high. They extricated him from the snow, and they washed him and smeared oil on him, and they sat him opposite the bonfire to warm him. They said: It is worth desecrating Shabbat for such a man.
So basically, Hillel was so desperate to learn Torah that he wasn’t about to let anything get in his way: not the fact that he didn’t have money to pay the yeshiva’s entrance fee (yes, they charged a fee in those days), and certainly not a little bit (or a hell of a lot, as the case may be) of snow. He treated a blizzard like it ain’t no thing.
Kind of makes us New Yorkers look like sissies, doesn’t it?
Sigal Samuel is the Opinion Editor at the Forward. When she’s not tackling race or identity politics, she’s hunting down her Indian Jewish family’s Kabbalistic secret society. Her novel THE MYSTICS OF MILE END tells the story of a dysfunctional family with a dangerous mystical obsession. Her writing has also appeared in The Daily Beast, The Rumpus, and BuzzFeed. Contact Sigal at firstname.lastname@example.org, check out her author website, like her page on Facebook, or follow her on Twitter.