Tzadikim

Choni HaMe'agel

A sage from the Second Temple period.

Born: Eretz Yisrael, 200-50 b.c.e
Died: Eretz Yisrael, (200-50 BCE)
 

Choni HaMe'agel lived during the Second Temple period. 

Once the people turned to Choni HaMe'agel and asked him to pray for rain. He prayed, but no rain fell. What did he do? He drew a circle and stood within it and called out, "Master of the Universe, Your children have turned to me because I am like a member of your household. I swear by Your great name that I will not move from here until You have mercy upon Your children."

A light rain began to fall. He said, "It is not for this that I have asked, but for rain to fill cisterns, ditches, and pools." The rain began to come down forcefully. He said, "It is not for this that I have asked, but for rain of favor, blessing, and bounty."  The rain then fell in the normal way.

It rained so much that everybody in Yerushalayim went to the Temple Mount to escape the flooding. They told Choni HaMe'agel, "Just as you prayed for the rain to fall, pray for the rain to leave." The Nassi, Shimon ben Shetach, sent a message to Choni, saying, "Were it not that you are Choni I would have decreed upon you nidui [a ban; excommunication; because he troubled the All-Present about the rain so many times (see Rashi on Berachot. 19a)]. But shall I do to you? You importune God and He accedes to your request like a son who importune his father and he accedes to his request..." The rain fell on the 20th of Adar after 3 years of drought and famine, and it became a day of rejoicing (Mishnah Taanit 2:10-12, 66d).

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His name, HaMe'agel, the "circle maker," is usually connected with the above incident (see Menachot 94b, Rashi). Rabbi Tzemach Gaon, quoted in the Sefer HaYuchesin HaShalem (p.63) regarded it as the name of a place.

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Josephus (Ant. 14:22) refers to him as a saint and a miracle worker, and he describes Choni Ha-Me'agel's death during the period of fratricidal warfare between the Chashmonai brothers Aristobulus II and Horkenus II. When Aristobulus was besieged in Yerushalayim by the armies of Horkenus, the latter's men seized Choni and asked him to curse Aristobulus and his army. Choni refused to comply, and he prayed, "Master of the Universe, these men are your people, and those who are beseiged are Your kohanim; I beg You not to do what they ask." They fell upon him and stoned him to death.

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The Aggadah in Babylonian Talmud gives a different account of Choni Ha-Me'agel's death. Throughout his life he was troubled about the meaning of the verse "A Song of Ascents, When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like them that dream" (Psalms 126:1). He wondered how it was possible for a man to dream continuously for 70 years. He once saw a man planting a carob tree and asked him how long it took for the tree to bear fruit. When Choni heard that it would take 70 years, he asked the man the man, "Are you certain that you will live another 70 years?" The man replied, "Just as my forefathers planted for me, I plant for my children."   Choni sat down to eat, and sleep took over overcame him. Hidden from sight by the rocky terrain, he slept for 70 years. When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree, and asked him whether he was the one who planted the tree. When the man replied, "I am his grandson," Choni realized that he slept for 70 years. 

Choni returned to his own house and asked, "Is Choni HaMe'agel's son alive?" He was told that his son had already died, but his grandson was still alive. When Choni told them, "I am Choni HaMe'agel," they did not believe him. He went to the beit midrash, where he heard the Torah scholars saying, "The halachot are as clear to us as they were in the days of Choni Ha-Meagel. Whenever he entered the beit midrash he would resolve any difficulties the scholars had." When Choni called out, "I am he," they did not believe him and they did not give him the honor due to him. He was greatly grieved and he prayed for death and died (Taanit 23a).  The Jerusalem Talmud (Taanit 3:10, 66d) relates a similar story about an ancestor of Choni by the same name who lived shortly before the destruction of the First Temple.

Two of his grandchildren were also known as miracle workers whose prayers for rain were answered: Abba Chilkiah, his son's son, and Chanan HaNechbah, his daughter's son (Taanit 23a-b).   

May the merit of the tzaddik Choni Hame'agel  protect us all, Amen.

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