Hillel, On the Wisdom of Prayer

agony-in-garden-gauguinThe wise Hillel had a pupil named Maimon,

Hillel was greatly pleased with his talents and his good understanding. But he soon discovered that Maimon was trusting too much to his own wisdom, and had entirely given up prayer. For the young man said in his heart, “What is the use of prayer? Does the Omniscient God need our words before He helps us? He would then be like a man. Can a man’s prayers and sighs alter His plans? Will not the gracious God give us of Himself whatever is good and useful?” These were the thoughts of the youth.

But Hillel was troubled in his heart that Maimon should think himself wiser than the Word of God, and he determined to teach him better. When Maimon went to him one day Hillel was sitting in his garden, under the shade of a palm-tree, meditating, with his head resting on his hand. And Maimon said to him, “Master, about what are you meditating?”

Then Hillel lifted up his head and said, “I have a friend, who lives upon the produce of his estate. Till now he has carefully cultivated it, and it has well repaid his toil. But now he has thrown away the plough and hoe, and is determined to leave the field to itself, so that he is sure to come to want and misery.”

”Has he gone mad?” asked the young man, “or fallen into despondency?” “Neither,” said Hillel. “He is of a pious disposition, and well grounded in learning, both human and Divine. But he says “the Lord is Omnipotent, and can easily give us nourishment without our bending our head to the ground; and as He is gracious, He will bless my table and open His hand.

And who can contradict Him?”

“Why,” said the young man, “is not that tempting God? Have not you told him so?” Then Hillel smiled and said, “I will tell him so. You, dear Maimon, are the friend I am speaking of.”