This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for her neshama.
Then, too, he [Hillel] once saw a skull floating on the water's surface. He said to it, "Because you drowned others you were drowned; ultimately, those who drowned you shall eventually be drowned."
The above phrase lends credence to one of Judaism's underlying principles: G-d holds people responsible for their actions. Regarding the above phrase, poetic justice is the order of the day; Hashem [G-d] pays each person back according to his modus operandi etc. "Because you drowned others you were drowned; ultimately, those who drowned you shall eventually be drowned."
For those who need a disclaimer in large print, one can see from the last section of Hillel's axiom, "ultimately, those who drowned you shall eventually be drowned," that although G-d may have plans for such and such a person to be murdered, it doesn't actually allow hitmen free reign to play G-d. If it was decreed in heaven that John Doe should die or get hurt etc., we must be clear that, first off, everything is decreed in heaven. However, for the human who steps in with his personal motives, which also happen to be fulfilling G-d's word, there is still divine retribution (if an earthly one is unavailable). Ted Bundy broke the law. No one asked him to become a serial killer. Sure, in the big scheme of life, he had a part to play. He didn't act for the sake of Heaven, that much is clear. His personal motives led him; he committed crimes that were not befitting a human being. Therefore, G-d gave him his just desserts, as those who follow in his law-breaking footsteps will learn, either through an unaware agent of G-d or via nature. Mark my words, Hillel was saying, Hashem will finish you off.
For one who might take the above phrase at face value, one must ask why Hillel's first reaction was philosophical. Had I been in Hillel's shoes, I would've made a beeline for the forensics hotline, or I might've started throwing up. Then again, during Roman rule, perhaps spotting pieces of bone floating in the river was a normal everyday thing. We're talking Jewish sensitivity, though! At the very least, have an emotional reaction Hillel. This slight digression in the mind of a literalist needs clarifying. There is room for the pirkei avot to be interpreted metaphorically. During his lifetime, the Romans ruled Israel with an iron fist; for fear of punishment, Hillel needed to clothe his statement in symbols. He was saying, "Yes, we are being punished for our transgressions. However, G-d did not personally invite Rome to persecute us. G-d will mete out punishment to them as well."
What goes around comes around.