"What made Hillel special? What won him the reverence and devotion not only of his own generation but of Jewish generations through the ages? It goes without saying that he was an exceptional sage, scholar, and saint; he knew the Torah fully and lived it fully. He was also an inspiring, dedicated, and effective leader who had the courage to act decisively for his people's welfare and trained others to carry his religious message.

"What was that message? One of Hillel's main personal characteristics, which makes him stand out as a religious figure, is that his love for people equaled his love for God — and that was the basis for his teaching. Hillel answered the gentile standing on one foot that the Golden Rule, love of one's neighbor, is the 'whole Torah.' We are so used to hearing this that we can fail to realize its significance and how radical it is in focusing on man. Too often intense religiosity goes astray by overly concentrating on ritual worship, and Hillel believed, and acted on his belief, that love of God must be expressed primarily through love of fellowmen. Moreover, he was not satisfied merely with teaching or with social action to alleviate the suffering of the masses; he was attentive to the requirements of each particular individual, helping him 'in that which he needs.'

"A truly great man is always curiously unique and ordinary at once. A heroic religious figure is one of a kind, yet intensely typical and accessible in a way that enables him to be a model for masses of diverse people. How can certain leaders attract and appeal to so many different kinds of people? One mystical Jewish view says that they have 'collective souls' that include within them the souls of all those who are drawn to them and whom they lead. The greater the leader, the more souls he contains within him, the more individuals for whom he is the spiritual root. Therefore, while a great leader is unusual and unique — for those capable of inspired leadership are few — at the same time he must have much in common with many people and many different kinds of people. How is that possible? Perhaps it is precisely his unique ability to blend seemingly contradictory religious values and attitudes that gives him his broad-based appeal."