The following is a fictional interview between the author and Rabbi Hillel inspired by A Course in Miracles, and is intended for informational or communicative purposes only. All references to Rabbi Hillel, other than direct quotations, are purely fictional and the creation of the author.
Rabbi Hillel (110 BCE-10CE) was a famous Jewish religious leader, one of the most important figures in Jewish history, and was the founder of the Hillel school. Modern-day rabbinic tradition descends from the law that Hillel recorded. His teachings are the greatest hope for peace in the world in the 21st century.
Q: Is there anything you would like to say to the world?
A: Don’t be ridiculous—I’m just kidding with you! Of course I do. I’m thrilled to see many of my teachings and those of my school still being studied today. As long as there is a physical world there will always be a need for the study of the Torah. People need a reprieve from the pain of living in the world because, left unchecked, it leads to the ultimate destruction of the body. Meanwhile the spirit remains untouched, which is a pity because the world offers ample opportunity for the realization of spiritual expansion; and spiritual development lasts for eternity.
Q: How do you explain the distinction between the spirit and the body, and how does this affect our lives on earth?
A: God is spirit, and so are you and so am I. This has absolutely nothing to do with the body and the physical world. When we read that man was created in the image of God this means that man as a spiritual being was create in God’s image as a spiritual being. The Torah is a book of spiritual truth. Most spiritual principles cannot be applied to the physical body except, of course, for the concept of equality. The most important application of the spiritual understanding of equality in God is the concept of love and peace. Both arise from the realization of our equality in spirit being united with our creator. We must take this spiritual realization of equality and apply it to the physical world; love and peace are the worldly correlatives of spiritual unity. With love and peace as the motivators, the only guidance you need in the world is the “Golden rule” because this insures the application of the rule of equality.
Q: You are said to have created the “Golden Rule,” but I thought that might have been a myth. How did you create this rule?
A: I didn’t really create the rule itself because it is an idea that has been around since the beginning of time. People understand the Golden Rule as children—it’s an innate concept—and you really don’t need to be taught the rule. However, people just as easily forget it and need a reminder from time-to-time, and this is why it became central to my teaching.
Q: Is it true that you once stated the rule while standing on one foot?
A: Actually, this is true. I was teaching at my school in Jerusalem and a young Greek man came to me with a group of his friends and asked me to explain the Torah while standing on one foot. I said, “sure.” So, while standing on my right foot I said, “what is hateful to you, do not do to your fellow; this is the whole Torah; the rest is the explanation why; go and learn.” He laughed and walked away with his friends. But my students didn’t laugh and, in fact, they took this statement to heart. It’s amazing how you can gain clarity of thought while standing on one foot! Besides, I wasn’t about to stand on one foot for very long, especially since I was 83 years old at the time. As I said, I didn’t create the rule and I learned it as a boy in Babylon. I, myself, would forget it from time-to-time and I always appreciated a reminder.
Q: You spoke before about the separation of spirit and body, but your teachings seem to recognize the importance of the body. According to the Midrash Leviticus rabbah, you once said, “as in a theater and circus the statues of the King must be kept clean by him to whom they have been entrusted, so bathing of the body is a duty of man, who was created in the image of the almighty King of the world.” This seems to imply that the body is created in God’s image.
A: The body is an image but it is neither created by God nor is it an image of God. I understand that Michelangelo did some beautiful paintings in the 16th century, but he and his contemporaries did nothing to advance spiritual growth—in fact, they did just the opposite. Once you start quantifying God in a physical form then you cannot distinguish God from Santa Claus or the Easter Bunny. God becomes a mythical person who gives you things if you have been good. There is no spiritual component to this view, and, as I said before, the Torah is a book of spiritual reality. Don’t mix the two because they are difficult to reconcile. The love of mankind is the only realization of God we can get in the physical world. If you are serious about finding heaven, then you need to take everyone else with you. Not in bodies, but in spirit. Why? Because this is what God requires—this is what equality requires. You cannot do this when you are afraid, but we’re all afraid, so what do we do? All you have to do is realize that the problem is the fear in your own mind and not what you see in another person. It’s alright to be afraid. You can’t expect to have only pure thoughts, it’s not possible. However, your mind does not have to keep these fearful thoughts. It’s your choice. You can let these thoughts go and choose another way of looking at you fellows. This is how you reach heaven.
Q: Then how do we deal with acts of evil or cruelty in the world? How can we love mankind when we see injustices in the world?
A: I lived under Roman rule in Jerusalem which was a real test of this principle. But the Torah always has answers to all the important and difficult questions in life. You can be confident of this fact. Forgiveness is the only answer to the evil in the world. As I said earlier, God did not create the physical world. The physical world is the creation, or perhaps the mis-creation, of the mind of mankind. The only thing that keeps the world going is man’s belief in it- otherwise, it has no power. Reality can only be found in spirit, in God. In essence, the world is a defense against the truth of God. It is only a place in the mind of mankind that seeks refuge from God and truth. In your time you call this part of the mind “the ego.” In my day it was called the “animal” part of the brain. In Babylon, where I was born and lived until age 40, there was the symbol of the half-lion, half-man creature. It symbolized the duality of the human mind. The lion represented the animal or lower part of the mind and the man represented the spiritual or higher part of the mind. This motif can be found all over the ancient world. In Egypt it was the sphinx. It represents the two sides of human nature in the physical world. But, remember, the lion can never survive the physical world. So, the purpose of life is to tame the lion or, in other words, to give up your belief in the limitations of physical existence. The only way to do this is through spiritual exercise. I would always tell my students “trust not yourself until the day of your death,” because you can never completely overcome the animal part of the mind. Actually, it can be done, but it’s very difficult. For most people it is a matter of living and dealing with these thoughts. You have to be vigilant against your ego but never fight with it. You can’t fight the lion because you will be afraid of its big teeth and claws. Make the lion subservient to the spirit and to God, and you will never have to worry about the beast. Do this by being humble and offering peace and love to mankind. And, above all, offer forgiveness to those who are misguided. The lion, or as you would say the ego, is guided by fear and ultimately by the fear of death. Everyone who ever walked the earth from the beginning of time suffered or suffers from this same complex—it’s the human condition. This is why forgiveness must be applied universally, otherwise it has no meaning. It’s easy to forgive people you love or people you need. It’s much more difficult to forgive your enemies or people who you believe are meaningless to your life. If you believe that the physical world is reality then you are bound to fear death because this is all you know. You must overcome your belief in the world. This is the resurrection of the spirit and the triumph over fear and death.
Q: That almost sounds Christian. Did you know Jesus of Nazareth?
A: Know him? Ha! Now you’re becoming funny! He was one of my students.
Q: Are you serious that Jesus was one of your students?
A: Of course. I’ll tell you when I’m kidding you. The teachings of Jesus, properly understood, are only good Judaism. Let me tell you a story, because I’m starting to like you. I came to Jerusalem from Babylon in order to study the Torah when I was 40 years old in the year 70 BCE. You have to remember that this was the high-point of the Hasmonean dynasty and it was only six years before the Romans marched into town. In Babylon we were a family of woodcutters, so when I came to Jerusalem I became a woodcutter myself. At first it was slow, I didn’t know many people, and I didn’t have any money. But after the Romans came things started to change, mainly for two reasons: first, the Romans liked to destroy things—they could be brutal. Second, the Romans liked to build big projects, so there were good opportunities for the building trades. My business really started to take off around 55 BCE. I would go out into the countryside and select the best trees to be cut down. I stripped off the bark and sold it to dye-makers who extracted its pigments for clothes dies and paints. I would then cart the logs into the city where I sold them to carpenters. Twelve years after the Romans came to town I was the biggest wood supplier in Jerusalem and I had over 100 people working for me. I also traded for exotic woods from Babylon and all around the Middle East. I made a lot of money at it. We had beautiful olive wood, carob, shittah and cedar, and I even traded for teak and rosewood from Asia. Anyway, I like to talk about my business but let’s get back to the story. Now, I happened to be related to Jesus in maternal lineage, as his mother was also from the house of David. His mother, Mary, and my mother shared a common maternal grandparent about seven generations back on my side and nine on hers. But that’s not how I knew the family; I also had ties to his father’s family—not blood, but just as important. Jesus’s grandfather, Gabriel was a good friend of mine. Ah, that Gabby was a jewel of a man! I loved him like a brother. He was a carpenter in Nazareth, but he did plenty of work in Jerusalem and he bought wood from me. He was a master door maker, and he made and installed many of the doors in the Temple in Jerusalem. Later, his son Joseph became a carpenter and he became my customer as well. So, I met Jesus when he was just a boy. He was a good boy—very smart like his father and grandfather, but he was far more serious. This came from his mother. During Passover, Joseph and Mary would bring Jesus to Jerusalem and he would attend my school. One time, shortly before my death, Jesus taught at my synagogue in Jerusalem when he was a young man, probably about 11 years old, and my students were amazed by his knowledge of the Torah. Also, I had students who travelled outside of Jerusalem and one of them set up a school in Nazareth. I visited there several times and I taught there myself. My school in Nazareth was run by a man named Amos. Later, a few years after my death, the school was run by his son, John. John preached my teachings of love and peace for mankind, but later on had taken on a very serious and apocalyptic tone. You know him as John the Baptist. John baptized Jesus when the latter was 26 years old. Jesus then became a rabbi in his own right and started his own school. And you know the rest of the story. But, when Jesus was quoted as saying that his students needed to surpass the Pharisees and the teachers of the law, he was referring to me and my school. It was a sign of respect and admiration for me and my followers. He was a smart guy.
Q: That’s amazing. Why, then, is there no mention of you in the Gospels or the early Christian letters?
A: Do you know of a guy named Beethoven and his symphonies?
Q: Yes, of course.
A: Do you know the name of his childhood piano teacher?
Q: No—you’ve got me there.
A: I know. I wasn’t born yesterday.
Q: OK, then…what do you think about the growth of Christianity?
A: I think the Christian message is beautiful, but it is, essentially, a Jewish message. I don’t think it is necessary to focus on the man-made establishments of religion and how they have developed since my time. In reality, there is only one message: God is. All else is a derivative of this concept.
Q: Then what do you think about the treatment of Jesus as the Messiah?
A: That is a very good question. You are starting to surprise me now. I’m kidding again…but I must repeat that this is a good and important question. The issue of the coming of the Messiah was a hot topic in all of Judea during the Roman occupation, so I tried not to say much about it at the time. If fact, I said nothing about it. This was a fearful time in Jewish history and many people were looking for a way out. I can tell you now that I believe in the concept of the Messiah, but the Messiah is not a person. I’ll say it again—not a person. The Messiah is the collective consciousness of those who wish to return to God in spirit. The return of the Messiah is the end of the world because the world has no more purpose when the children of God return to the Father. In my lifetime I created the story of the prodigal son which Jesus made famous in his teachings. This is the true understanding of the Messiah. The Christians expanded the concept and tried to support their ideas with references in the Torah, but it’s confusing. The concept of the Messiah as a redeemer has little support in the Torah. This is the truth. The Messiah comes, in other words when the Son returns to the Father, when all of us in spirit decide to return to God who is spirit, and the last and only judgment will be the righteousness of the union of Father and Son. Only then will God judge his son perfect. This is the true meaning of the Last Judgment.
Q: And do you think that Christians and Jews should reconcile doctrinal disputes?
A: I’m not sure this is necessary. In the end, there is no problem with there being more than one way to reach God. Any path that leads somebody to understand the peace and love of God is fine by me. After the Temple was destroyed there were many factions in Judaism; the zealots, the apocolypts, the messiants, and my followers. My views prevailed in Rabbinic Judaism, but the fact that the messiants went on to create Christianity is fine. The Christian message at its core is a beautiful message and differs very little in substance from modern Judaism. However, if we want to advance in the realization of spirit in the world, then we need to find a more common understanding of spiritual practice. This will require better understanding between the world’s religions.
Q: Are you surprised that Judaism is the basis of all the predominant faiths in the Western world?
A: No, because that was our intention.
Q: Pardon me for saying so, but that’s a pretty grand statement. How could you have been so sure it would happen?
A: I don’t have to beg your pardon because your question assumes much more than you realize. I want to tell you something that very few people in your time are brave enough to admit, even though it’s so perfectly obvious. Spiritual teachings are brought into the physical world by spiritual people with intention. It’s not a coincidence. Remember, the Jewish people lived in many of the “great” civilizations of the world, so we were very aware of their spiritual teachings and the origins of those teachings. In your time people are very confident about their knowledge of history and of the world. You have access to a great deal of information about the history of ancient civilizations, but that doesn’t mean your interpretations are any better than ours were. Take Greece for example. The Greeks had great spiritual teachers who actually created Western thought and civilization. People like Empedocles and Parmenides were the great spiritual creators of Western civilization. They brought divine teachings from the spiritual world and transplanted them into the physical world. Western civilization, just like Eastern civilization, was not created by happenstance or a process of gradual discovery. All civilizations are bought into being consciously by great spiritual teachers. In the Greek case, these spiritual teachings were stripped away very quickly by rationalistic and materialistic philosophers. We Jews were keenly aware of the origins of Greek thought because we lived under Greek rule for hundreds of years. We understood the sacred purposes of Greek civilization and we saw how they were so easily destroyed. Earlier, we watched the same thing happen in Egypt. When the Romans came to Judea we were resistant to their gods because we knew that there was no salvation in their religion. We were convinced that the Romans would go the same way as the Greeks, and they did. How many people today worship the Egyptian or the Greek or the Roman gods? Exactly right. That is how Judaism and Christianity became the sacred traditions of the Western world. It’s not a mystery if you look at it closely. There was a sense of spiritual oneness, or unity with God, at the basis of Greek thinking. Parmenides bought the laws of logic into existence by taking them from the spiritual world into the physical world. He used logic to prove the unity of the spiritual and physical worlds, but all of that was abandoned. Jews have never let go of their understanding of the spiritual purpose of the world, and that’s why God is still worshiped. It’s not a mystery. Think about it.
Q: I will and thanks. I know it’s been 2000 years since your death, but when exactly were you born?
A: In your calendar, I was born on December 25, 70 BCE.
Q: You’re kidding again, aren’t you?
A: No, I told you that I will tell you when I am kidding. Merry Christmas!