Wednesday, January 31, 2007

Daf Yomi - Taanis 23 - Highlights

The Gemora cites a braisa which expounds on a verse in Vayikra (26:4) which states “I will give your rains in their time.” The blessing described here is that the earth will not be drunk (overly drenched) with rain, nor will it be thirsty; rather it will be reasonably wet. Excessive rain makes the earth muddy and it will not be able to produce fruit.
An alternative explanation is that the “proper time” is referring to Tuesday and Friday nights. Generally, people are not outside on these nights and therefore the rains will not be a nuisance to them.
In the days of Shimon ben Shetach, the rains would fall on Tuesday and Friday nights, when people are at home. The blessing was so great that wheat grains were the size of kidneys -- barley, the size of olives -- lentils, the size of golden dinarim.
Similarly, in the days of Hordos, when the people engaged in renovating the Beis Hamikdosh, the rains fell only at night. The next morning, the wind scattered the clouds, the sun shone, and the people came to their work. They knew that their work was for the sake of heaven, and that the heavens had approved their efforts. (22b – 23a)
Most of the month of Adar had gone by and the rains had yet fallen. The people called to Choni HaMaagal (the circle-maker) to pray for them. He prayed but still no rain fell. He then drew a circle on the ground and stood in it.
"Lord of the universe," he cried out, "your children look to me that I'm like a member of your household, to help them. I swear by Your great name, that I will not move from this circle until You have mercy on Your children."
A small drizzle of rain began to fall.
"Rebbi," his students it to him, "it looks like we are all going to die. Such a rain cannot save us. The heavens are only sending it to release you from your oath.
"This is not the rain I asked for," Choni then prayed, "rather a rain that will fill wells, ditches and reservoirs." The rains then began to fall heavily, each drop like a barrel-full. The rabbis measured them, and found not one of them less than a log.
"Rebbi," his students cried to him, "help us that we don't die. Such a rain will destroy the world.
"Not for such a rain did I ask," he then prayed, "rather a rain of good will, of blessing and peace." The rain then began to fall in the normal way. Soon, however, so much of it had fallen that the people needed to climb up the Temple Mount to escape the flooding.
"Rebbi," they said to him, "just as you prayed that they should come down, pray now please that they should stop."
"I have a tradition," he answered them, "that one doesn't pray to stop an abundance of goodness. Even so, bring a Thanksgiving offering that we may thank Hashem for His kindness."
He rested his two hands on the animal they brought, and prayed, "Lord of the universe, Your people Yisrael who You brought out of Egypt cannot survive with an abundance of goodness, or an abundance of punishment. You were angry with us, but we could not live up to Your expectations. You sent Your blessing, and again we couldn't live up to it. May it be Your will that these rains should stop and the world should again breathe easily."
Immediately the wind blew, scattering the clouds, and the sun shone. The people went out to the fields and brought home giant mushrooms that had sprung up from this rain and all knew that they had merited Heaven's blessings.
The story concludes with the words of Shimon ben Shetach who said that Choni's words to Hashem were so presumptuous that he deserved to be excommunicated. But he cannot be punished since he has such a close, personal relationship with Hashem, that He fulfills your requests like a father to a son even after the son sins towards the father. (23a)

All his life, Choni HaMaagal was bothered by this verse, "Shir haMa'alos, when Hashem returns us to Tzion, we will have been as dreamers," (the Babylonian exile of 70 years, will all be like one long sleep). "Could it be," he asked, "that a person can sleep continuously for 70 years?"
One day, as he was walking, he saw a man planting a carob tree.
"How long will it be," he asked the man, "before this tree produces fruits?"
"Seventy years," the man answered.
"And are you certain you will still be alive then?" Choni HaMaagal asked.
"I was born into a world with carob trees," the man answered. "Just as my fathers planted trees for me to enjoy, so I plant trees for my children."
Choni HaMaagal then sat down a little distance away, to a meal. He ate and dozed off. A wall of rock sprung up around him, and hid him from view. No one could find him, and so he slept for 70 years.
When he awoke from his sleep, he saw the same man picking carobs from the tree he had planted.
"Are you the man that planted this tree?" he asked him.
"No," answered the man, "I am his grandson."
"I see," said Choni HaMaagal, "that I must have slept for 70 years." He then noticed that his donkey had been given birth to donkeys, which in turn, gave birth to still other donkeys. He went to his home.
"Is the son of Choni HaMaagal still alive?" he asked.
"No," they answered, "but his grandson is alive."
"I am Choni HaMaagal," he told them, but they would not believe him.
He went to the Beis Medrash. There he overheard the rabbis saying that this teaching shines as brightly as in the days of Choni HaMaagal. For when Choni HaMaagal would come to the Beis Medrash, he would resolve for them in an excellent way, any difficulties they had.
"I am Choni HaMaagal," he told them, but they would not believe him -- and did not honor him as a scholar of his stature needs to be honored. This hurt him deeply. He prayed to Hashem, and he died.
"This reflects what people say," said Rava, "if a person does not receive respect as he is accustomed to receiving, he is better off dead. (23a)
 Abba Chilkiya was a grandson of Choni HaMaagal. When there was a need for rain, the rabbis would send to him to pray for rain. On one such occasion, they sent two Torah scholars to him. They came to his house, but did not find him at home. They went out to the fields and found him working there. They greeted him, but he did not return the greeting. They stood respectfully at a distance waiting for him to finish. Towards evening, he started towards his home, picking up pieces of wood along the way. The wood and his hoe he carried on his one shoulder, his cloak on the other shoulder. All the way, he wore shoes but when he needed to cross through a stream of water, he removed them. When he walked in a place where there were thorns, he raised his tunic that the thorns might not tear it. As he reached home, his wife came out to greet him wearing pretty ornaments. As they entered the house, his wife walked in first, then Abba Chilkiya and finally the rabbis. Abba Chilkiya sat down to eat with his family, but did not ask his guests to join them. When dealing out bread to his children, he gave the elder one loaf and the younger two.
Afterwards he said to his wife in a low voice: "I know that these rabbis came on account of rain. Come, let us go up into the attic and pray for rain, and should the Lord have mercy on His children and cause it to rain, it will not appear as if it came about through us." They went up into the attic, and he stood in one corner, while she stood in another. The rain-cloud appeared in the direction where the wife was standing.
When he went down again, he said to the rabbis: "What has brought the rabbis here?" And they replied: "The rabbis have sent us to master that he may pray for rain." And he answered: "Blessed be the Lord, that we no longer need Abba Chilkiya 's favor." They said to him: "We well know that this rain has come only on account of the master, still we should like to know the reason for several actions on his part which appear to us surprising. Why, when we greeted the master, did he not turn his face towards us?" He replied: "I hired myself out for the day and my time was not my own, hence I did not wish to waste any." "Why did the master carry the wood on one shoulder and the garment on the other?" He said to them, "Because the garment was borrowed by me to wear, but not to use as a pad for wood." "Why did the master go barefooted all the way, and put on his shoes when coming to water?" "Because the entire way I could see what I was stepping on, but in water I could not." "Why did the master raise his dress when walking in a thorny path?" "Because if my flesh should receive a scratch, it will heal; but if the garment should become torn it cannot be mended." "Why, when the master came to the city, did his wife come forth to meet him, dressed in her best apparel?" He answered them, "In order that I may not look at any other woman." "Why did she enter first, then the master, and then we?" He replied, "Because I know nothing about you." "Why, when the master sat down to eat, did he not invite us to partake also?" "Because there was not sufficient bread for all, and I did not wish to invite you merely to receive your thanks in vain." "Why did the master give the elder child one loaf and the younger two?" "Because the elder was at home all day and probably helped himself previously, but the younger was studying Torah all day and more hungry." Why did the rain-cloud appear first in the master’s wife's corner?" "Because my wife is always at home, and when a poor man begs for a meal she always gives it to him readily, while I can but give him a zuz and he must first go and purchase food for it. Thus her charity is more effective than mine." Alternatively, her prayer was answered first because there were local bandits in our neighborhood that I prayed should die but she prayed that they should repent, which they did. (23a – 23b)
 Chanan, the hidden one, was a grandson of Choni HaMaagal. When the community needed rain the rabbis would send schoolchildren to him, to soften his heart that his prayers might pour out for them.
The children would tug at his coat, begging, "Father, father, give us rain."
"Ribono shel Olam," he would then pray, "do it for the sake of these little ones who cannot discern between a father who gives them rain and a father that doesn't give them rain."
And why did they call him Chanan, the hidden one? For when he would pray for rains, in his humility, he would hide himself from public view. (23b)
 Rabbi Zreika said to Rav Safra; come and see the difference between the strong ones of Eretz Yisroel and the pious people in Bavel. Rav Huna and Rav Chisda were the pious ones in Bavel. When there was a need for rain, they said, “Let us gather publicly and ask for compassion from Hashem. Perhaps He will accept our prayers and the rain will come down.”
Rabbi Yonah, the father of Rabbi Mani was from the strong ones in Eretz Yisroel. When the community needed rain, would ask his family to give him a sack that he might buy grain for the house. Then when he was a distance away from the house he would lower himself into a ditch, cover his head with the sack, and pray until rain began to fall. Once the rain was falling, he would go home.
"Did you buy grain," his family would ask him.
"No," he answered, "when I saw the rain falling, I thought to myself this will bring in new crops -- so why should I buy now when the prices are high?" (23b)
 The governor's household would look for ways to trouble and hurt R' Mani, son of R' Yona (mentioned in the story above). He went and prostrated himself at his father's grave.
"Father," he cried, "these people are afflicting me."
One day these same people passed by the cave where R' Yona was buried. The feet of their horses stuck to the ground there and they were unable to move at all. The riders, realizing the reason for this phenomenon, accepted on themselves never to hurt with R' Mani again, and the ground released them. (23b)
 R' Mani was a student of R' Yitzchak ben Eliyashiv. Once, he came crying to his rebbi.
"The rich members of my father-in-laws house," he complained, "trouble and afflict me."
"May they become poor," R' Yitzchak told him. Some time later, he again came to complain before R' Yitzchak.
"Now, there are pressuring me to support them," he cried, "They tell me they have nothing to eat."
"May they become rich," R' Yitzchak prayed, and so it was. (23b)
 At another time R' Mani came before R' Yitzchak. "My wife is unattractive," he complained, "and I find it difficult to look at her."
"What is her name?" R' Yitzchak asked.
"May Chana become beautiful," R' Yitzchak prayed, and so it was.
A short while later, R' Mani again came with the complaint.
"She is beautiful now," he cried, "and treats me in an arrogant and offhand way."
"If so," R' Yitzchak said, "May she again be plain." And so it was. (23b)
 Two students of R' Yitzchak ben Eliyashiv once asked him, "Rebbi, pray for us that we should be wise."
"Once, I could do this," he answered them, "whatever I would pray for, the heavens would grant me. Now, I have returned this power to the heavens, and my prayers are not accepted so easily." However, he told them this so as not to trouble the heavens too greatly. (23b)
 R' Yosi bar Avin was a student in the house of R' Yossi of Yokeres. After awhile he left him, and came to learn from Rav Ashi.
"What made you leave R' Yosi for me?" Rav Ashi asked him.
"He has no compassion for his son or daughter," R' Yossi answered, "How then can I expect him to treat me?" (23b – 24a)