Midot Hayom: Day 45: Tiferet in Malchut
Once, a non-Jew passed behind a Beit Midrash, and overheard a child reciting the verse, “These are the garments that they shall make: a breastplate and an ephod.” (Exodus 28:4) He asked Shammai, “For whom are all these glorious garments?” “For the Cohen Gadol who conduct the service at the alter.” Shammai replied. Said the non-Jew, “Convert me on condition that you appoint me Cohen Gadol.” “Do the Jewish people lack their own Cohanim?” burst out Shammai. “Don’t we have our own Cohen Gadol to perform the service? Do we need a common convert who comes with no more than his staff and bag to officiate as Cohen Gadol?” Shammai scolded him, angrily sending him away. The non-Jew went to Hillel with the same request. “Sit down, “ Hillel said graciously, “and let me tell you something . If one wants an audience with a king of flesh and blood, shouldn’t he know the proper etiquette of entering and leaving the palace?” “Yes.” “So too, if you want an audience with the King of kings, the Holy One, Blessed is He, surely you must know how to enter the Holy of Holies, how to prepare the lights of the Menorah, how to offer the sacrifices on the Altar, how to arrange the Table of Showbreads, and how to lay out the piles of wood on the Altar.” “Do what you think is right,” the man replied humbly. Hillel began teaching him the Aleph-Bet. Then he taught him the book of Vayikra. The man continued learning until he came to the verse, “Any stranger that comes close shall die.” (Bamidbar 1:51) He drew a logical conclusion: If the Torah says about the people of Israel – who are called children of the Almighty – and a “Kingdom of priests and a holy nation to Me” (Exodus 19:6) – still “a stranger who comes close shall die,” surely this applies to a common convert who comes with his staff and his bag. This thought immediately gave him peace of mind. He said to Hillel, “May all the blessing of the Torah be on your head. Had you been like Shammai I would not have entered the community of Israel. The quick temper of Shammai almost caused me to perish from this world and from the World to Come. Your patience brought me to life in the World to Come. Avot of Rabbi Nathan 15:3
The non-Jew wanted Malchut – Greatness. Although his motivations may seem absurd, Hillel sensed the beauty of this man, that he was searching for more, and Hillel was right.