Since the previous post described Hillel’s happy marriage, I thought it would be interesting to give some information about betrothal, the marriage contract, and the ceremonies involved. By the time of Hillel, the ancient idea of selling a bride to her husband as the accepted betrothal have changed into a symbolic act of transferring a tiny sum of money from the hand of the bridegroom to the hand of the bride’s father. “Market value” had nothing to do with it, particularly since the level of class consciousness changed dramatically. The higher classes in antiquity were the priestly families and the very wealthy, often both. During Hillel’s time, it already started the shift, which would last two thousand years. The new status was based on spiritual wealth and Torah scholarship. Even the name of the betrothal changed – it was no longer “Acquisition of the Bride” (Kinian in Hebrew), but “Consecration of the Bride” (Kiddushisn in Hebrew and Aramaic. The word lasted to this day and is still in use. This ceremonial agreement led to the next, involving the Marriage Contract. It may have been done on the same day, or on a separate date.
I saw this picture on Facebook, placed there by my friend Wendy M. Reis. “There should be no yelling in the home unless there is a fire,” said by David O. McKay. Somehow, it brought to my mind a wonderful story about Hillel the Elder, which seems to have more than one interpretation, as is usually the case with any story about this interesting and unusual man.
“Our Rabbis taught: It once happened with Hillel the elder that he was coming from a journey, and he heard a great cry in the city, and he said: I am confident that this does not come from my house.”
Why did Hillel show no anxiety? Surely, at the turbulent, violent time he lived in, anything could have happened. His house may have been on fire, or Roman soldiers might have been breaking in, or Herod’s emissaries could have been trying to cause damage – among many other options. And yet, Hillel remained calm.
Naturally, the Talmud and several scholars say that it was because Hillel was a deeply religious man, and trusted God under any circumstances. Here is the Talmud’s quotation: “Of him Scripture says: He shall not be afraid of evil tidings; his heart is steadfast, trusting in the Lord.”
But trusting God does not mean that an intelligent man would not acknowledge the many disasters, personal or national, that God allows very often. Did he not care? Was Hillel indifferent to the fate of his family? Of course that was not the case, as Hillel is known for his great love for his family. Therefore, the interpretation I agree with is that Hillel trusted his wife implicitly. When everything was in order, she would never raise her voice, create disorder and trouble, or get excited over trivial occurrences. But even if calamity threatened, such as fire, she would cope with it in as practical and sane fashion as she coped with everything else. Therefore, while he could not know if all went well in his house, he could be certain that everything would be done calmly and intelligently, and under his wife’s wise conduct, no one in his house would sink into disorderly behavior.
What do you do when your entire world collapses around you? Since this happens to many of us, it is always interesting to study the way people try to recover – if they do. Herod, young as he was, had a large number of people depending on him when it happened, and his reactions were well documented by Josephus; they showed him as he was, but also gave a hint of the future.
Phasael, the brother he loved and relied on, had killed himself, as mentioned in the previous segment. Herod did not know it, but he was certain that death would come to Phasael sooner or later, and there was probably no way he could save him. Hyrcanus was also in the hands of the enemy, and the Parthians were debating whether to attack Herod immediately, or postpone the attack to the next day. The situation was desperate. His future mother-in-law, Alexandra (daughter of Hyrcanus and mother of Herod’s fiancé, Mariamne) was an intelligent woman, to whose advice Herod often listened, and she suggested immediate escape; she knew Herod could not defeat the Parthians, and he agreed.
As mentioned in the last segment, Herod and Phasael were made tetrarchs by Antony. By now, it should have been clear to any thinking person that any attempt of revolt against them would be futile. But the faction that hated Herod must have lost the power of reasoning, because they continued to fight against his rapid rise to power. The fact that he intervened and saved fifteen of the rebels from certain death in the hands of Antony did not make a difference, their hatred of Herod was too strong.
As Antony, Herod, Phasael and Hyrcanus were going to Tyre, the rebels incited the population and about a thousand men waited for them on the beach, ready for a fight. A thousand men against the trained Roman army who had an inexhaustible supply of weapons as well as manpower… it is impossible to understand these acts of desperation. Herod and Hyrcanus, hearing about it, went to the beach and begged the men to return home. Herod emphasized that great harm would come upon them if they insisted on fighting, that Antony would not put up with it, and that they were condemning not only themselves but countless others in Judea. The speech made no difference whatsoever, and the rebels refused to disperse.
At this time, Josephus claims, Antony had already met Cleopatra, and was so smitten with her that other matters became less important. Certainly he was not in the mood to listen to internal squabbling among the citizens of Judea. Unfortunately, the Jews felt that the fate of a country was more pressing than an illicit, scandalous romance between the respectably married Roman nobleman and the queen they rather feared and disliked. Possibly they would be less susceptible to the mental image that must have haunted Antony. Who can blame him? He expected her to come and defend herself in an official and unpleasant matter of treason they needed to clear up. Instead, he met a femme fatal. Josephus has little to say about her at this stage, but what Plutarch says about Cleopatra is extremely interesting. Apparently, she was no great beauty – which the coins with her image prove – but nevertheless, she was irresistible because of the power of her charm, personality, and intellect. Here is a quotation from Plutarch’s Life of Antony.
“For Caesar and Pompey had known her when she was still a girl and inexperienced in affairs, but she was going to visit Antony at the very time when women have the most brilliant beauty and are at the acme of intellectual power. Therefore she provided herself with many gifts, much money, and such ornaments as high position and prosperous kingdom made it natural for her to take; but she went putting her greatest confidence in herself, and in the charms and sorceries of
her own person.