A Jewish sage confounds his students with his surprising teaching methods in this story based on a midrash.
Brandishing a “large linen cloth,” Hillel announces he will show how “to do a mitzvah.” His students know some of the 613 mitzvot, Torah commandments that teach people how to act. They remember how Hillel ingeniously taught the Torah to a man who wanted to learn the whole thing while standing on one foot: “Do unto others as you would have others do unto you.…That is the whole Torah. Now go and study.” Guessing at the rabbi’s intentions, the students suggest possible mitzvot: giving the cloth as tzedakah (charity), using it as a Sabbath tablecloth, or shading his parents with it. To demonstrate his lesson, Hillel shows them workers cleaning the king’s statue. The king’s image should be respected, but his students must understand something more important: that they “are made in God’s image.” He says: “When we keep ourselves clean, we honor God. And that is why taking a bath is an important mitzvah.” The digital illustrations have an animation aesthetic, and the people represented have diverse skin colorings and dark hair, realistic for the ancient Middle Eastern setting. The active-learning approach will engage young readers at home or in religious classes.
An appealing and effective age-appropriate introduction to some of Hillel’s teachings. (author’s note) (Picture book. 4-7)