THOUGHTS ON THE DAILY DAF
brought to you by Kollel Iyun Hadaf of Har Nof
Rosh Kollel: Rav Mordecai Kornfeld
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1) AGADAH: CHONI HA'ME'AGEL'S 70 YEAR SLUMBER
AGADAH: The Gemara relates how throughout his life, Choni ha'Me'agel was
bothered by the verse, "... when Hashem returned the captives of Zion, we
were like dreamers" (Tehilim 126:1) -- when Hashem returned the Jews from the
Galus in Bavel which lasted for seventy years, it was like awakening from a
slumber of seventy years. How could a person sleep for seventy years, Choni
He met a man planting a carob tree, and he asked him why he was planting a
tree which would only bear fruit after seventy years. The man told him that
just as his father had planted a carob tree for him, he, too, was planting a
carob tree for his children. Afterwards, Choni sat down to eat his bread, and
he was overcome with sleep. He became hidden behind a rock formation, and he
slept for seventy years. When he woke up, he saw the grandson of the person
who planted the carob tree picking carobs from the tree. He also saw that his
donkey had given birth to herds of donkeys.
When he discussed subjects with the Chachamim in the Beis Midrash, they
commented that his answers made the subjects "as clear as in the days of
Choni ha'Me'agel." The Gemara says that nevertheless, they did not believe
him when he said that he was Choni, and they did not give him proper respect.
He Davened to Hashem to spare him the frustration, and he was taken from the
Choni's "lifelong question" seems almost ridiculous. The verse says only that
"we were *like* dreamers (k'Cholmim)." It is clearly a metaphor, saying that
life in the Babylonian exile passed like a dream. It does not say that they
slept literally for seventy years. Why, then, was he bothered how a person
could sleep for seventy years?
(a) The CHIDUSHEI HA'GE'ONIM in the Ein Yakov and the VILNA GA'ON (as
recorded by his son in Sa'aras Eliyahu p. 12) explain that the seventy years
that Choni wondered about represents the average lifespan of a person. Choni
saw that the people in his generation were not concentrating on Torah, but
they were wasting time on other pursuits. He wondered how could a person
possibly spend his time in this world (seventy years) focused on transient,
meaningless pursuits ("sleeping") without concentrating on one's true
He wanted to find out what causes people to waste their time in this world,
spending their entire seventy-year lifespan doing nothing more than sleeping,
with their eyes closed to the true purpose of life. Hashem revealed to him
part of the answer. Hashem showed him a person planting a carob tree. He
asked the person why he was planting a carob tree if he will not be around to
enjoy its fruits, since it bears fruit only after seventy years. Choni
recognized that most people waste their time pursuing meaningless pleasures
in this world, because the pleasure of Olam ha'Ba is not immediate, while the
pleasure of Olam ha'Zeh is immediate. People prefer to work towards immediate
gratification, rather than to invest their energy in obtaining pleasure that
will come only after many years.
Accordingly, in his conversation with the person planting the carob tree,
Choni answers his own question why people waste their lives pursuing
meaningless pleasures. He sees the person planting a carob tree, which is so
incongruous to the way all other people act, and he realizes that most people
are not interested in working for something which will give them benefits
only after seventy years -- they are not interested in learning Torah and
doing Mitzvos, the benefits of which a person does not reap until Olam ha'Ba.
When the Gemara says that he sat down to eat, it means that he realized that
it was the desires of this world (represented by eating) which close a
person's mind and causes him to be involved in meaningless pursuits. It was
that involvement in the pleasures of this world which caused him to "be
concealed by a rock" ("Yechezkel called the Yetzer ha'Ra, 'rock' " -- Sukah
52a), and to "fall asleep" from pursuing a meaningful life for seventy years.
When he awoke, he saw that his donkey ("Chamor") had given birth to many
herds. Through man's immersing himself into the material pursuits of this
world, man becomes irreversibly entrenched and cannot extract himself from
the drive for worldly pleasure, represented by donkeys ("Chamor" =
"Chumriyus" -- "a donkey is cold even in the hottest time of the year,"
2) AGADAH: RAIN AND REPENTANCE
QUESTION: When Aba Chilkiyah (the grandson of Choni ha'Me'agel) and his wife
prayed for rain, his wife's prayers were answered first. The first reason
that the Gemara gives why she was answered first is that the Tzedakah that
she gave to poor people was more meaningful, since she gave food while her
husband only gave money to the poor, and she was available in the home all
the time, and whenever a poor person would come she would give him something.
In return to her superior acts of Tzedakah, her prayers for rain were
The second reason that the Gemara gives is that she used to pray that the
sinners in her neighborhood repent in Teshuvah, while her husband used to
pray that they die. In return, she was rewarded that her prayers for rain
were answered first.
According to the first reason -- that her acts of Tzedakah were superior --
we can understand why her prayers for rain were answered first. Since she
provided sustenance to the poor, she merited that Hashem provided sustenance
to the people through her prayers by sending rain.
What is the connection between praying that the sinner repent and having her
prayers for rain answered first? What is the "measure for measure" reward?
Why should rain come as a result of her praying that the sinners do Teshuvah?
(YEFEH EINAYIM, cited in BEN YEHOYADA)
(a) When sinners repent, it is a form of rejuvenation. It is as if they are
coming back to life. Similarly, the coming of the rains is a form of new life
coming to the world. (This is close to the Ben Yehoyada's approach.)
(b) The Gemara (25B) tells us that Rebbi Eliezer and Rebbi Akiva both prayed
for rain, but Rebbi Akiva's prayers were answered and Rebbi Eliezer's prayers
were not answered. A Bas Kol issued forth and declared that the reason Rebbi
Akiva's prayers were answered is not because he is greater than Rebbi
Eliezer, but because he is "Ma'avir Al Midosav" -- he is forgiving of insult.
What does the Gemara mean that Rebbi Akiva was not greater than Rebbi
Eliezer? If he was "Ma'avir Al Midosav" while Rebbi Eliezer was not, that
should make him greater!
The answer, explains HAGAON RAV YISRAEL SALANTER (Or Yisrael #28), is that
there are two different approaches to the service of Hashem. The attribute of
Rebbi Eliezer was to be strict to uphold and protect the honor of Torah. This
was like the attribute of Shamai (his mentor, Tosfos Shabbos 130b), who was
known to be strict in that sense (Shabbos 31a). Rebbi Akiva, a student of the
house of Hillel, mastered a different attribute -- that of humility and
forgiving insult, the attribute of Hillel (ibid.). Both are equally valid
approaches in serving Hashem, and therefore one cannot be called "greater"
than the other. Their difference in approach was a Halachic argument like any
other. Although in this case the Halachah was decided in favor of Hillel
(Shabbos 30b), it in no way belittles the Avodas Hashem of Shamai and his
followers, to whom the ruling did not yet apply.
If both approaches are equally important, then why was Rebbi Akiva answered
and not Rebbi Eliezer? The answer is that when Davening for Rachamim (to have
the rains fall), the person whose attribute is that of Rachamim will be
answered, measure for measure, because it is Rachamim which is needed at such
Rav Yisrael Salanter's approach may be used to explain our Gemara as well.
Aba Chilkiyah's wife was answered first because her attribute was that of
Rachamim, as was demonstrated by her prayers that the sinners not die, but
that they do Teshuvah. In response to her prayer, Hashem had Rachamim on the
people and sent rain. (M. Kornfeld)