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Choni The Circle Maker Print E-mail

storiesThe 3rd of Iyar is the Yahrtzeit of Choni Hama'agal (see Menachot 94b, Rashi). IT HAPPENED THAT THE PEOPLE SAID TO HONI, THE CIRCLE DRAWER etc. Once it happened that the greater part

of the month of Adar had gone and yet no rain had fallen. The people sent a message to Honi the Circle Drawer, Pray that rain may fall. He prayed and no rain fell. He thereupon drew a circle and stood within it in the same way as the prophet Habakuk had done, as it is said, I will stand upon my watch, and set me upon the tower etc.3 He exclaimed [before God], Master of the Universe, Thy children have turned to me because [they believe] me to be a member of Thy house. I swear by Thy great name that I will not move from here until Thou hast mercy Upon Thy children! Rain began to drip and his disciples said to him, We look to you to save us from death;4 we believe that this rain came down merely to release you from your oath. Thereupon he exclaimed: It is not for this that I have prayed, but for rain [to fill] cisterns, ditches and caves. The rain then began to come down with great force, every drop being as big as the opening of a barrel and the Sages estimated that no one drop was less than a log. His disciples then said to him: Master, we look to you to save us from death; we believe that the rain came down to destroy the world. Thereupon he exclaimed before [God], It is not for this that l have prayed, but for rain of benevolence, blessing and bounty. Then rain fell normally until the Israelites [in Jerusalem] were compelled to go up [for shelter] to the Temple Mount because of the rain. [His disciples] then said to him, Master, in the same way as you have prayed for the rain to fall pray for the rain to cease. He replied: I have it as a tradition that we may not pray on account of an excess of good. Despite this bring unto me a bullock for a thanks-giving-offering.] They brought unto him a bullock for a thanks-giving-offering and he laid his two hands upon it and said, Master of the Universe, Thy people Israel whom Thou hast brought out from Egypt cannot endure an excess of good nor an excess of punishment; when Thou wast angry with them, they could not endure it; when Thou didst shower upon them an excess of good they could not endure it; may it be Thy will that the rain may cease and that there be relief for the world. Immediately the wind began to blow and the clouds were dispersed and the sun shone and the people went out into the fields and gathered for themselves mushrooms and truffles. Thereupon Simeon b. Shetah sent this message to him, Were it not that you are Honi I would have placed you under the ban; for were the years like the years [of famine in the time] of Elijah5 (in whose hands were the keys of Rain) would not the name of Heaven be profaned through you?6 But what shall I do unto you who actest petulantly before the Omnipresent and He grants your desire, as a son who acts petulantly before his father and he grants his desires; thus he says to him, Father, take me to bathe in warm water, wash me in cold water, give me nuts, almonds, peaches, and pomegranates and he gives them unto him. Of you Scripture says, Let thy father and thy mother be glad, and let her that bore thee rejoice.7

Our Rabbis have taught: What was the message that the Sanhedrin8 sent to Honi the

Circle-Drawer? [It was an interpretation of the verse], Thou, shalt also decree a thing, and it shall be established unto thee, and light shall shine upon thy ways etc.9 ‘Thou shalt also decree a thing:’ You have decreed [on earth] below and the Holy One, Blessed be He, fulfills your word [in heaven] above. ‘And light shall shine upon thy ways:’ You have illumined with your prayer a generation in darkness. ‘When they cast thee down, thou shalt say: There is lifting up:’ You have raised with your prayer a generation that has sunk low. ‘For the humble person He saveth:’ You have saved by your prayer a generation that is humiliated with sin. ‘He delivereth him that is not innocent:’ You have delivered by your prayer a generation that is not innocent. ‘Yea, He shall be delivered through the cleanliness of thy hands:’ You have delivered it10 through the work of your clean hands.

R. Johanan said: This righteous man [Honi] was throughout the whole of his life troubled about the meaning of the verse, A Song of Ascents, When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like unto them that dream.11 Is it possible for a man to dream continuously for seventy years?12 One day he was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree; he asked him, How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit? The man replied: Seventy years. He then further asked him: Are you certain that you will live another seventy years? The man replied: I found [ready grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted these for me so I too plant these for my children.

Honi sat down to have a meal and sleep overcame him. As he slept a rocky formation enclosed upon him which hid him from sight and he continued to sleep for seventy years. When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and he asked him, Are you the man who planted the tree? The man replied: I am his grandson. Thereupon he exclaimed: It is clear that I slept for seventy

years. He then caught sight of his ass who had given birth to several generations of mules;13 and he returned home. He there enquired, Is the son of Honi the Circle-Drawer still alive? The people answered him, His son is no more, but his grandson is still living. Thereupon he said to them: I am Honi the Circle-Drawer, but no one would believe him. He then repaired to the Beth Hamidrash and there he overheard the scholars say, The law is as clear to us as in the days of Honi the Circle-Drawer, for whenever he came to the Beth Hamidrash he would settle for the scholars any

difficulty that they had. Whereupon he called out, I am he; but the scholars would not believe him nor did they give him the honour due to him. This hurt him greatly and he prayed [for death] and he died. Raba said: Hence the saying, Either companionship or death.

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