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The True Impact of What We Do

12/31/2013 10:51:10 AM


Here is a story from the Talmud, which relates to life and to Tu B'shvat. 

In the Talmud, Taanit 23 a-b, we find the following: 

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.  He exclaimed [before G-d], Master of the Universe, Your children have turned to me because [they believe] me to be a member of Your house. I swear by Your great name that I will not move from here until You have mercy upon Your children!

Rain began to drip and his disciples said to him, We look to you to save us from death; 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. 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 [G-d], It is not for this that I 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. 

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. (Psalm 126:1)  Is it possible for a man to dream continuously for seventy years? [ Honi reasoned that the Psalmist was referring to the Babylonian Exile, which lasted for 70 years.]

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.

[Now, did you know that we have a Jewish Rip Van Winkle? Learn what happens next!]

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; and he returned home. He there 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. Thereupon he said to them: I am

Honi the Circle-Drawer, but no one would believe him. He then repaired to the Beit 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 Beit 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 honor due to him. This hurt him greatly and he prayed [for death] and he died. Raba said: Hence the saying, Either companionship or death.

There are many lessons from the Talmudic story, including how important friendship is. I want to reinforce that the Talmud is teaching a great lesson, related to Tu B'shvat, and another that transcends any holiday.

Regarding Tu B'shvat, we clearly learn the positive consequences that there are, when one generation plants the seeds and saplings to nourish the next. Indeed our support of our ecosystem, or our actions that help destroy it, have repercussions for our children and grandchildren. This can also be true of our example and our deeds. 

Beyond this, we never may know in our lifetime the impact we have on another. Reflecting on this thought, we should truly strive to live in such a way that, when we are remembered, our family and friends can recall how we by speech and deed were the best examples of what it means to be a Jew and a mensch!

Looking forward to celebrating Tu B'shvat with you.

Fri, December 3 2021 29 Kislev 5782