On his way to the Academy in the early hours of the morning, Hillel noticed that the light has changed. The weather was still hot, but there was no doubt that autumn was on its way and the angle of the sun was clearly lower. Normally he would be interested in weather patterns, would speculate on the possibility of the first rain, the Yoré, and would look forward with anticipation to botanical discoveries which had interested him since childhood. But for days, all he could think about was the imminent arrival of his family. The only time he was free of thoughts about them was during study at the Academy, when his attention was so focused he felt relief from the tension and worry about their safety on the road. He knew that he really did not have to worry about a highway robbery, the way it happened to him, because Shebna would never take any chances. He would arrange for the family to join a caravan that attached itself to a group of Roman soldiers on their way to Judea – and no robber in his right mind would attack the Romans. In addition, Shebna, Penina, and Simeon were, to the best of his knowledge, in excellent health. And yet he could not stop worrying, a mental state he had never experienced before.
Hillel smiled ruefully. What was the point of believing that God would provide, God would protect, and so on, which he professed to always do, if when the situation presented difficulties, he would not put his trust in Him? Was he, after all, a hypocrite who pretended to have the type of faith admired by others, but never felt it? How humiliating that would be. No, he decided after some consideration. His faith was not in question; he simply did not think that the love of an insignificant man for his family was important to God, who had greater matters to attend to. But it was wrong nonetheless. Hillel shrugged, admitting to himself that he was human and mortal and could not always be perfect.
Hillel put the payment into the giant guard’s hand and nodded to him in greeting. The giant nodded back, as always not looking directly at Hillel, and let him enter. Only a few students had arrived, and they were huddled in a corner, discussing some study point. In the middle of the room Hillel saw Shemaya talking to a tall, heavy-set man who was holding the hand of a little boy. Hillel began walking toward the other students, not wishing to interfere with Shemaya’s business, when the world suddenly swayed and swirled in dark waves. Hillel’s knees gave way as he stumbled and almost fell, and then held on to the wall and leaned on it. The slight noise he made attracted the child’s attention and he turned, and seeing Hillel he pulled his little hand away from the man’s hand and ran straight into Hillel’s arms. Pickign him up, Hillel stood silently, holding the child tightly and leaning his head on the soft dark curls. The boy was crying with joy as he threw his little arms around his father’s neck. After a moment Hillel raised his head to look at Shebna’s smiling face, and still holding Simeon with one arm, hugged his brother with his other. Suddenly he looked up in terror. “Where is Penina?” he whispered. “What happened to Penina?”
“Penina is fine,” said Shebna. “Naturally she did not want to greet you in public. She is home.”
“Whatever do you mean, home?” said Hillel.
“The house in Jerusalem which I bought through my contacts as soon as you let us know you have arrived in Judea,” said Shebna.
“You bought a house?” said Hillel, bewildered.
“Naturally I had to buy a house, Hillel,” said Shebna, smiling indulgently at his confused brother. “I don’t know where you live, exactly, but I assumed it was not the proper place for Penina and Simeon or even for me when I come to Jerusalem, for that matter.”
Hillel said nothing. He did not want his brother to support him, but indeed, could he take Penina to the filthy place he stayed at since he came to Jerusalem? No, he could not do so. Still… he was going to say something, to argue, when Shemaya intervened.
“Don’t argue with your brother, Hillel,” said Shemaya. “He is right.”
“He had always been obstinate, Master,” said Shebna.
“I believe you, Shebna ben Gamaliel,” said Shemaya, smiling. “I think I have noticed it. Go home with your brother, Hillel. I will tell the guard to return your money.”
Hillel settled Simeon on his shoulders, in the comfortable way they used to do at home. The child held on to his head as always, as if no time had passed since they last said their goodbyes. “Where is the house?” Hillel asked his brother.
“Just a few minutes from here,” said Shebna.
“Shebna, how wonderful it is to see you,” said Hillel as they started walking. “I have missed all of you so much. And I worried so about the journey.”
“Nothing to worry about when you travel with Roman soldiers,” said Shebna.
“I knew you would do that, no matter what the cost,” said Hillel gratefully.
“I am not one to take chances, as you know, and anyway, would Miriam let me travel in any other way? Oh, yes, Miriam and our children send their love. So does our sister Leah and her husband and children. They were heartbroken to lose Penina and Simeon.”
“But you told them it’s only for a limited time, didn’t you?” said Hillel anxiously. “We’ll be home in a few years.”
“Will you?” said Shebna sadly. “Do you really believe it?”
“Oh, yes,”said Hillel, surprised. “Why shouldn’t I be back after studying here for a while? I’ll be able to continue on my own after a few years with Shemaya and Avtalion. Of course I want to return home.”
“Shemaya does not think so,” said Shebna. “He thinks your destiny is in Judea.”
“Shebna, be reasonable. What destiny? I am just an ordinary student. Hopefully one day I will be able to call myself a scholar, but what of it? There are so many scholars!”
Shebna looked sorrowfully at his younger brother, with great love in his eyes. “He thinks you are destined for a leadership position, that you have something in you that will call you for service. He has an idea that God has a plan for you, Hillel.”
“God has a plan for everyone,” said Hillel. “But I can’t imagine He cares whether I live in Judea, Babylon, or the Land of Kush. You know, Shebna, the older you get the more you look like our father.”
“And you, on the other hand, look like what our mother would have looked like had she been a man. Fortunately, Leah also looks like Mother. I would not want Leah to look like me.”
Hillel laughed. “Looks are not important,” he said. "Leah would be the best sister in the world even if she looked like a camel."
“I think Leah disagrees with you, and probably blesses the fact that the two of you inherited Mother’s beautiful red hair and blue eyes. It’s strange, though. I turned out dark, tall and heavy, just like father, while you two are not very tall and are fair and slim, like Mother. You are tanned, usually, but that is because you stay in the sun. Leah, as you know, has a very fair skin.”
“We inherited this coloration from the Moabite side, I imagine,” said Hillel, “probably from great-great-something-grandma Ruth.”
“Mother always said you look very much like her ancestor, King David, Ruth’s descendant. The family knows what David looked like – of middle height, strongly built, red-haired and blue-eyed. Just like you. She was so proud of her heritage. So was father, he never stopped reminding us that David was an ancestor.”
Hillel laughed. “So don’t forget how handsome and charming he was, according to the ancient songs.”
“You are not so bad yourself, little brother, while I am becoming a middle-aged man with a paunch.”
“It suits you. It makes you look trustworthy and reliable,” said Hillel, smiling affectionately at his brother. “If you wanted to slim down, you would have come with me to the gymnasium I loved so much, but you knew you had to look like a good business man. Here in Judea I am still in shape since I chop wood for a living; it’s hard physical work.”
“Yes, Shemaya told me,” said Shebna. “I was not all that pleased.”
“Don’t look so glum, Shebna. I rather enjoy it, since it is mindless and I can think about my studies as I chop.”
“We’ll see…”said Shebna. “Anyway, we are almost home.”
Reaching a neat little house surrounded by a small garden, the door opened suddenly and Penina’s slim figure appeared in the entrance. Hillel rushed toward her, with Simeon laughing and holding tightly to his hair, and took her in his arms. Instantly, the world became a perfectly good and proper place. Penina’s dear body was pressed against his own, her precious face was next to his, and her scent, like clean and soft orange blossoms, enveloped him. Kissing his beloved wife, his heart full of thankfulness and joy, Hillel felt complete again.