Most of the people already know the story of the famous Choni HaMe’agel (circle-maker). Choni was a sage from the Tannaitic era of the Talmud who was known for his miraculous powers and incredible prayers. He’s known by a famous incident in which there was a drought and the sages asked Choni to pray for rain. After drawing a circle on the ground, he prayed 3 times he’d not be leaving the circle until rain came as he desired.
However, in a more enigmatic story, Choni once saw an old man planting a carob tree. He asked the old man “how long will it take for this tree to give fruits?”, to which the reply was “70 years”. Choni then questioned “can it be that someone your age will live to see its fruits?”, to which the reply was “I came into a world filled with carob trees planted by my father and grandfather, and so I am planting them for my grandchildren”. It happened when Choni was tired, and slept on the road that Hashem made a miracle and a rock formation covered him for 70 years. The world had completely changed.
We know there are very deep concepts hidden here, so what can this story teach us?
The 70 faces of Torah
Perhaps one of the most fascinating insights offered to Choni’s story is that of Rebbe Nachman of Breslov. In Likkutey Moharan 1:60, he explains that, sometimes a person falls into slumber in his divine service. The heaviness of life can cause him to either feel lethargic, despondent or simply feel uninterested. This, by the way, can happen to everyone, even great Tzadikim to a certain extent.
We know from Kabbalah that when two concepts allude to the same number or two words have the same Gematria, then they are interrelated. Rebbe Nachman explains that a person is constantly illuminated by one or more of the so-called “70 faces of the Torah”. This is what gives each one of us his wisdom, vitality and strength. While we each have more affinity with one or more of these faces, we can sometimes lose them.However, few people unfortunately end up losing contact with all the 70 faces of Torah! When this happens, a person enters a spiritual slumber. Choni was troubled by the fact that the old man said someone could lose the 70 faces of Torah (alluded by in the 70 years of the carob tree), and Hashem made he, himself fall into such a slumber!
Stories as a remedy for slumber
Rebbe Nachman famously declared “most stories make people sleep, mine make people awaken!”. Indeed, Hashem’s intention was in showing Choni the way to help our friends in need of spiritual encouragement.
Interestingly enough, the word Gevurah(“Strength”) in Hebrew, has the same Gematria as Carob (חרוב), the same tree that the old man was planting. This is also the same value of the word “And he woke up” (וייקצ) which is used in the Torah when Yaakov Avinu awakes from sleeping on the Temple Mount. Now, whenever we find the term “old man” in the Talmud or Scripture, this is Kabbalistically known to be related to the Sephira of Keter, the highest emanation of Hashem, which is also called by the term “Atik” (Ancient) or “Atik Yomin” (Ancient of Days).
Keter, as we know, is an all-encompassing incredibly powerful and unifying light of compassion, which transcends even the light of Chokhmah(Wisdom). This light, Rebbe Nachaman teaches, can awaken people who have fallen into slumber, even if they lost contact with the 70 faces of Torah!
And what is most incredible is that, he explains, a person who sometimes enters this slumber cannot receive the light of Torah in the usual way. The way to reach out to him/her is through the ancient stories that shine in his soul. It’s precisely because this light is so concealed and disguised as stories that it can penetrate a person’s heart and arouse him to be connected to Hashem again.
This is what happened to Choni when he was put to sleep and lost contact with the world. He asked the old man “and do you think you can use your ancient stories to awaken people from their slumber?”. To thischallenge, Hashem sent a most categorical answer and a teaching for life. For this very purpose, RebbeNachman wrote his 13 ancient stories, which might seem childish at first, but conceal within them the greatest Kabbalistic secrets, capable of keeping people awake in life.
We don’t know the power of stories, but they can be the seeds that we can use to plant the Emunah, vitality and strength in the hearts of those that have fallen asleep in life. And, as we know, in helping others, we help ourselves in the process.
May we derive inspiration from Choni HaMe’ageland Hashem should protect us and our loved ones never to fall asleep (at least spiritually)!
This article was written and published in the zechut of all Emuna Builder Partners. May they have complete emuna and continue spreading emuna!