Honi (or Choni) ha-Ma’agel (the Circle Maker) was a second century tzadik (righteous person) who was kind of a cross between Johnny Appleseed (or Carob-Seed) and Rip Van Winkle. Honi was known for his ability to pray successfully for rain in times of drought, while standing in the middle of a circle he had drawn on the ground. One of the most famous stories about Honi is found in the Bablyonian Talmud:
Rabbi Johanan said, “This righteous man (Honi) was always bothered by the meaning of the verse, ‘A Song of Ascents, When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like dreamers.’ (Psalm 126:1). Is it possible for a person to dream continuously for seventy years?” he wondered.
One day Honi 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.” Honi then asked, “Are you certain that you will live another seventy years?” The man replied, “I found carob trees in the world; as my fathers 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.” Then Honi exclaimed, “It is clear that I slept for seventy years!” He then caught sight of his donkey who had given birth to several generations of mules; and he returned home. There he inquired, “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.” He said to them, “I am Honi the Circle-Maker!” but no one would believe him.
He then went to the House of Study where he overheard the scholars saying, “The law is as clear to us as in the days of Honi the Circle-Maker, for whenever he came to the Bet Hamidrash (House of Study) he would settle for the scholars any difficulty that they had.” Then he called out, “I am he!” But the scholars would not believe him nor did they give him the honor due to him. This hurt him so greatly that he prayed and he died.
The Sage Raba said: “Hence the saying: Either companionship or death.” (oh chevruta oh mituta–או חברותא או מיתותא)
–Bavli Ta’anit 23a (in Aramaic here)
My Talmud teacher Rabbi Judith Abrams, of blessed memory, noted that the word chevruta חברותא (companionship, friendship, collegiality) has the same root letters as the Hebrew word for Carob tree (charuv חרוב), and this was used for effect in Rabbinic legends.
How do we remain part of our own generation while looking ahead, particularly in connection to our environment? Please share your thoughts in the comments section below.
Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakkai taught: “If you have a sapling in your hand and someone tells you the Messiah has arrived, first plant the sapling and then go out to welcome the Messiah.”
–Avot de-Rabi Natan 31b