Carob tree
Carob treeKeren Kayemet Leyisrael

Many of us are familiar with the famous story of Choni Hameagel and the carob tree (Mesechet Taanit 23:1), which was recently taught in the Daf Yomi. I would like to suggest an interesting insight to this story, walking the reader step by step through it. This can help reveal lessons to contemporary times and how to relate redemption (geulah) to the State of Israel.

Rabbi Yohanan said: "This righteous man [Choni] was troubled throughout the whole of his life concerning the meaning of the verse, 'A Song of Ascents: When the Lord brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like dreamers' (Psalms 126:1).

Choni had difficulty throughout his life in understanding the meaning of exile and redemption. This pasuk from Tehillim refers to the Jews in the Babylonian exile, dreaming of returning to Zion.

[Choni asked] Is it possible for seventy years to be like a dream? How could anyone sleep for seventy years?" In the story, Choni fell asleep for seventy years and woke up with surprise and disappointment. Why does the nation need to "go to sleep" in exile? How does the dream relate to our reality of today?

One day Choni was journeying on the road and he saw a man planting a carob tree. He asked, "How long does it take [for this tree] to bear fruit?" The man replied: "Seventy years." Choni then further asked him: "Are you certain that you will be alive in another seventy years?" The man replied: "I found [already grown] carob trees in the world; as my forefathers planted those for me, so I too plant these for my children."

This man explained the secret of existence. There is a cycle to life. The previous generation lay the base for the future generations. They were dreaming about our success. They also found this world filled with carob trees, fruit and full of meaning and destination. This is the paradigm of the world.

Seventy years is not just a random number. The Exile to Babylonia, which was between the two Holy Temples, was seventy years total. This is also described as a man's years living: "The days of our years because of them are seventy years ) Psalm 90:10). The Maharsha (Taanit 23) explains that Choni also wanted to understand why we do things in this world only to see it's fruits in Olam Haba- the world to come.

How symbolic is it that the state of Israel exists also for seventy plus years? Perhaps we also have some lessons to learn from this story as our forefather's dream is our reality.

Choni 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 slept for seventy years.

Choni goes to sleep. Sleeping is a type of death. He goes through a personal "coma". He is covered by a stone - in other words he is buried. He is hidden from the eye of people. The Nation of Israel was also hidden for two thousand years of exile, trying to protect ourselves. Buried and not revealing our light. This story, described in the Talmud Yerushalmi, notes that these seventy year represented the seventy years of the Babylonian exile. Accordingly, Choni literally saw the first Temple and woke up in time to see the second. This story is the basis of every step of Geula (redemption) to the next.

When he awoke he saw a man gathering the fruit of the carob tree and Choni asked him, "Are you the man who planted the tree?" The man replied: "I am his grandson." Thereupon Choni exclaimed: "It is clear that I have slept for seventy years."

He amazingly witnessed the fruits of the dreams of the founders generation.

He then caught sight of his donkey which had given birth to several generations of mules.

Everything today is extraordinarily developed. The declaration of independence of the State. The economy is world class and the population has grown at the strongest rate in the world. We are a leading military power. Unbelievable! Seventy seven years ago we stood at Auschwitz and Birkenau and now we are with a strong and royal physical base. A nation woke from its sleep.

He returned home. There he inquired, "Is the son of Choni 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 Choni the Circle-Drawer," but no one would believe him.

He then repaired to the beit hamidrash [study hall] and there he overheard the scholars say, "The law is as clear to us as in the days of Choni 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.

If any of our grandparents from the previous generation would visit ours, would they be pleased with what they see? Choni is observing to what extent founders and the current generation can relate to one another. To what expanse do we see ourselves as a continuation of what the founders dreamed about and planted. The members of the previous generation rub their eyes and can barely believe what they see. So much has occurred, so much has changed

While sitting in the Beit Hamidrash they nostalgically recall how great and clear the Torah was in the times of Choni. Just like us today remember how simple things used to be. How certain things that were once so obvious and agreed on, today became so complex and complicated. No matter what the differences may be, the Torah is the same Torah. If his grandchild is alive that means that Choni is still alive! But there is an important condition: The young generation must respect the ideas and heritage of the previous generations. We must give gratitude and show respect and loyalty to the building blocks they put in place.

In an interesting way, the Yerushalmi version of this story tells that Choni actually helped them in answering questions they accumulated in learning Torah. He eventually proved to them that he is really Choni by learned Torah and eventually proved to them that he is really Choni by lightning up and brightening the Beit Hamikdash. This is stunning! Our heritage is capable of resolving the present challenges and bringing the light to the future Temple.

This hurt him greatly (that no one would believe who he was) and he prayed for mercy, and he died. Raba said: "Hence the saying, 'Either companionship or death.

For eternal meaning to our lives we need a strong connection between founders Belief and dreams to the younger one. They planted it for us, we were lucky enough to enjoy the fruit from it. Now it is our turn to continue them. It is our mission to bring them back to life by recognizing them, respecting them, and continuing their dreams into our reality.

Rabbi Yonatan Kirsch was born in NJ but grew up in Ginot Shomron after his parents moved to Israel. He teaches at the Hesder Yeshiva in Sderot, where he lives with his wife and family, after receiving his semicha from the Chief Rabbinate of Israel. He is author of the book "Ma'alot Hamikve", published by Dabri Shir, and served as a combat soldier, is a certified tour guide.