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.