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Hillel and Maimon: or Prayer

The wise Hillel had a pupil named Maimon, and 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 what is good and useful?" These were the thoughts of the youth.

But Hillel was troubled in his heart that he 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 upon 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 on 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 plow and hoe, and is determined to leave the field to want and misery."

"Has he gone mad?" said 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 you not told him so?"

Then Hillel smiled, and said, "I will tell him so. You, dear Maimon, are the friend I am speaking of."

"I?" said Maimon, and started back.

But the old man replied, "Are you not tempting the Lord? Is prayer less than work; and are spiritual blessings inferior to the fruit of the field? And He who tells you to stoop your head to the earth, for the sake of earthly fruit, is he not the same as he who tells you to lift your head toward heaven, to receive his heavenly blessing?"

Thus spake Hillel, and looked up to heaven; and Maimon went away and prayed, and his life was a godly one.

The Youth's Instructor 1 May 1854.