LITTLE by little the Jews began to build schools. These schools were not only for little children, but for big men, with children of their own. I see one of these men, Hillel, at work now.
Whack! Whack! Whack! goes his ax on the wood.
"Hard work, this chopping," says Hillel as he puts down the ax and wipes his face with his handkerchief. "But I have a family to take care of, and I must pay for my schooling, too."
Hillel is grown up but he still keeps on studying. And he works hard to be able to go to school. One-half of what he earns he gives to his family, and the other half he pays the doorkeeper for admission to the school.
Wheez-wheez-z-z, goes the saw on the wood. Hillel begins to saw the wood instead of chopping it. He thinks it might be a little easier.
A few more whacks with the ax and a few more cuts with the saw, and the day is over.
Evening comes and, happily, Hillel goes to the school of Shemayah and Abtalyon. He forgets all about his hard day's work. He forgets all about his family. He forgets that he will have to look for a new job the next day. The whole of Hillel,--his heart and his mind and his body, is listening to the words of the teacher.
But even good things have an end, so school, too, is soon over.
The next morning, Hillel starts out to look for another job. He goes from house to house, but everyone has already prepared enough wood for winter. Hillel is hungry and cold and worried. Where will he get the money to pay the doorkeeper at the school? And what will his family do?
At last the sun is beginning to set. Hillel goes home and eats what little food he can find. Then, as is his habit, he goes to school.
When he comes to the door, the doorkeeper asks him as always, "Where is your dinar?"
"I could not get any work today," mumbles Hillel. "I'll pay you tomorrow."
"Have you a prutah at least?" asks the doorkeeper.
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"No. Not even a prutah." Hillel hangs his head. "Then you can't come in today," says the doorkeeper sternly.
Hillel looks about him. He will find a way. And he does find a way. He will not miss school even for one evening.
Hillel notices that on the, top of the roof there is a skylight, and in the skylight a little hole. Quietly Hillel climbs up to the roof and lies down across the skylight, putting his ear to the little hole. From this position he listens to the teachings of the rabbis.
Meanwhile the snow begins to fall. Thicker and still thicker it falls. But Hillel doesn't even notice it. He is too busy listening to the rabbis. And so one of his feet becomes frozen and then the other, and then one arm and then the other arm, until Hillel becomes very weak and faints away.
The next morning when Shemayah and Abtalyon come into the school room, Shemayah says, "Isn't it dark here? And the sun is shining so brightly outside!"
"Yes," answers Abtalyon, "I have been wondering about it." At this moment, they both raise their eyes up to the skylight.
"Why, it looks as if someone is lying up there! Is that possible? It can't be!"
They hurry up to the roof and there, buried deep in the snow, lies Hillel, all numb.
They take him down and rub him with hot oil until he wakes up. Then Hillel tells them the whole story of how and why he came to the roof. From that day Hillel was admitted without charge to the school.
Some years later Hillel became the head of this very school.