Hil­lel Takes a Bath

Vic­ki L. Weber, John Joven (illus.) 

  • Review
By – August 5, 2019

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.

Marge Kaplan is a retired Eng­lish as a Sec­ond Lan­guage teacher. She is a con­sul­tant for the children’s lit­er­a­ture group for the Roseville, MN school sys­tem and is a sto­ry­teller of Jew­ish tales.

Discussion Questions