ו׳ בתמוז ה׳תשע״ד (July 4, 2014)

Ta’anit 23a-b: Praying for Rain–Modestly

The Mishna (19a) related the story of Honi HaMe’aggel and the close relationship that he had with God that allowed him to plead before Him on behalf of the Jewish people. Our daf relates that his descendants shared some of his abilities and tells stories about their intervention on behalf of am yisra’el (the people of Israel), even as they tried to avoid receiving credit for their success.

One example is the story of Abba Hilkiyya, who was Honi HaMe’aggel’s grandson. He was working in the fields when he saw the delegation of rabbis coming to ask him to intercede on their behalf and pray for rain. The Gemara relates that he refused to return their greeting and performed a series of strange activities while he walked home, culminating in his entering his home with his wife, feeding his children and encouraging his wife to join him in prayer on the roof. Only when the clouds had already gathered and the rain began did he turn to the delegation and ask what they wanted. When they responded that they were sent to ask him to pray, he told them that they did not need his prayers, as it had already begun to rain. When asked, he explained his odd behaviors – all of which related to his sensitivity to the needs of others (e.g. he could not respond to their original greeting because he was paid by the hour and speaking to them would have been stealing from his employer). He also explained that his wife’s prayers were answered before his own because her place in the house allowed her to be more directly involved in responding to the needs of the poor. As Rashi explains, this was true because she was more readily available and because her charity responded to an immediate need (i.e. she fed them, rather than giving them money).

Another one of Honi HaMe’aggel’s grandchildren was Hanan HaNehba (i.e. “the one who hides”) who, according to the Gemara, received that nickname because he hid himself to avoid receiving honor for his actions. According to some manuscripts of the Gemara, he would hide himself in the lavatory – which may refer to his modesty, that even in the bathroom he was careful to remain clothed, or, according to a tradition of the Ge’onim, when people came looking for him to pray for rain, he hid himself in the bathroom so that he would not be found.

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