Before even opening the first page, the reader is struck by the beauty of this book, in particular its fabulous colors. The delightful story accompanying the spectacular art focuses on the teachings of Hillel — a first century Jewish sage, whose lessons still inspire and instruct us in our daily lives. His moral code is well known and is still an important part of Jewish education systems worldwide. Many of his teachings are clear and simple, and so easily absorbed by young children.
This story focuses on one of his many lessons: the principle of preserving cleanliness in order to stay healthy. Cleanliness and health are basic parts of Jewishness, as the human body is holy and a vehicle for all the mitzvot people can do.
In this tale, Hillel takes a large linen cloth which he “snaps in the air” in front of his students. He encourages them all to guess how the cloth is going to be used. They wonder whether it will be used as a blanket. No, keeping others warm and comfortable is important, but this is not what Hillel has in mind. Will it be used as a tablecloth for Shabbat? No, says Hillel, that’s not it either. Shabbat is a very important mitzvah to observe but a tablecloth is not what Hillel has in mind for this piece of fabric. How about using it as a tent to honor one’s parents by keeping them shaded from the hot sun? No, explains Hillel, respect and honor for parents is fundamental but he has something different in mind.
Finally, Hillel explains to his students that the cloth will be used as a towel when he takes a bath. Cleanliness, he reminds them, is a mitzvah which they must never forget, as the human body is made in the image of God and it is important to treat it with great respect, such as remembering to keep oneself clean.
This lovely, magnificently illustrated book keeps to the spirit of Hillel’s teaching by taking a higher concept and simplifying it so it can be easily understood. However, the clue to the mystery is right in the book’s title. If children are alert enough to notice that, they will have the answer to their questions immediately.