The Story of the Talmud Sage, Choni HaMagel

    December 2010           
Search the Jewish Magazine Site: Google

The Hills of the Gallil


Search our Archives:

Opinion & Society


Lessons from Choni HaMa'agel

By Vardah Littmann

High in the Gallilian hilltops, where the breeze sings through the tall grass and sways the trees, there is found the grave-site of the famed sage from the Talmud, Choni HaMa'agel, located above the village of Hatzor HaGlilit.

The Talmud speaks about Choni HaMa'agel who was the most pious person of his generation. But how do we know if a person is really pious? The Talmud gives the criterion that allows others to tell if the person is really a pious person This condition is, the ability to influence the bringing down of rain. The key of rainfall is in the Hand of G-d . It order for one's prayer for rain to be effective one must find favor in the eyes of G-d by making his 'will' the 'Will of G-d , so that G-d will make His 'Will' the 'will' of the one praying and answer his prayer for rain. The rabbis of the generation knew that Choni was always able to cause the rain to fall with his supplications. During a year of drought they sent him a message to request rain. Choni took his staff and drew a circle around himself, in the sand. He then swore hat he would not leave the circle until rain fell. (The sages say he is called HaMa'agel because he drew this circle - ha-magel means the circle maker). In heaven there was a hash decree of drought against the Jewish nation and G-d did not want to give them rain. Yet, because of the honor of the pious one, so that Chonie should not be bound by his oath and should be able leave the circle, G-d made a few tiny drops fall. Choni said "I did not ask for such rains."

So G-d decided that He would exchange the decree of drought to one of a flood. A flood can cause great devastation. In those times the houses were not well built and a too heavy rainfall could cause them to cave in and collapse. On the Day of Atonement, the High Priest would request that the rains should not be not be too heavy in the coming year and thereby cause the houses of the people to be their graves.

As Choni finished speaking, great big heavy drops started falling, Choni then said "I did not ask for this type of rain, Your people, Israel, cannot deal with bad decrees and they cannot deal with too much good. We need rain in the correct measure." G-d accorded and gentle beneficial rain began descending- rain of blessing and all the empty wells filled up and the soil was saturated.

The Talmud says that the sages censured Choni. Rav Gamliel sent him a message. "If you were not Choni, I would put you into excommunication, but what can I do if you act before G-d as a son before a father."

We see from the above story that Choni was the pious one of the generation. He was also one of the greatest torah scholars of his generation but he had difficulty with one verse. The first verse in of Psalm 126 states -"A song of ascents, when the captivity of Zion returns we will be like dreamers".

The meaning of this is that at the time of the return to Zion, it will seem the exile was a long dream. The Babylonian exile lasted seventy years. Choni felt it was farfetched to be able sleep for so long.

Choni knew that an allegory was intended as the verse says "like dreamers". But Choni also knew the premises that when an allegory is given, the simple meaning of the allegory must also be applicable. If a man cannot in actually sleep seventy years, then the verse would not use this allegory saying 'as if we dreamt seventy years'. Thus Choni had difficult with the plain understanding of the verse. It was therefor decided in Heaven to show him that such a phenomena is indeed possible.

The Talmud continues the narrative. One day Choni was riding along on his donkey. A great exhaustion overtook him. He got off his donkey to rest. In the nearby field he saw an old man planting a carob tree. Choni asked the man when this newly planted tree would bear fruit. He was told that this type of carob bears fruit only seventy year after it is first planted. Choni wondered "Do you intend to eat from this tree?”

"Just as my ancestors saw to it that when I came into the world I found fruit trees that I could eat from, so to I am making sure my descendents will have fruit trees available when they come into the world." Answered the old man. Each generation makes sure the following generations' needs are met.

Fatigue overwhelmed Choni and he lay down next to the sapling and fell into a deep sleep. From heaven it was made sure no one would notice him. No one would disturb him. Seventy years later he woke up. How did Choni know seventy years had passed? He saw that the tree that had been planted on the day he fell asleep, was now bearing fruit. He understood that Heaven was showing him that it is possible to sleep for seventy years.

Choni then came into to the House of Learning but he did not recognize anyone there. He inquired about Choni's sons, his own sons. He was told they had passed away. Who was around? Gandsons? Great grandsons?

People were learning Torah and Choni joined in. His explained the chapter being learned and enlightened their minds. He put down the correct premisses. He easily paved a way though the most difficult passages. The learners said to each other, "Such explanations only Choni used to give"

“Yes, it's me- Choni."

They ridiculed him.

Chonie went outside and pleaded, "Either friendship or death." In essence he was saying "If I am not appreciated for who I am, I rather die." G-d took his soul.

This is an awesome lesson.

Choni certainly knew the teaching;”One hour of repentance and good deeds in this world is worth the entire next world". So why should it bother him he is being mocked. He should learn. For each hour he will acquire more of the next world. He can learn and pray. He can teach Torah to others. All agree his comprehension of Torah is very profound. He can keep the Shabbat. Why should he care if others are belittling him?

We see from here that even for the greatest most pious person in the entire Jewish nation, it is worth while to give up on one's next world, so that people should not laugh at him.

So let's conclude from here how careful we should be with the way we treat others. To try be extra careful with their honor and esteem. We should be careful with what we say to others, and how we phrase, what we say it to them. We should treat everyone, both adults and children, with the maximum of deference and respect.

Based on a lecture by Rabbi Sholom Meir HaCohen Wallach

Photos by Rimonah Traub


from the December 2010 Edition of the Jewish Magazine

Please let us know if you see something unsavory on the Google Ads and we will have them removed. Email us with the offensive URL (