Sunday, December 30, 2012

A Tall Tree Tale for Tu B'Shvat from Choni Hama’agel

Is there a Jewish equivalent to Rip Van Winkle? Yes and his name is Choni Hama'agal. A wise man who lived in the 1st Century BCE, Choni was famous for drawing a circle -- ma'agal --  in the ground during a terrible drought and vowing that he wouldn't step out of it until God answered his prayer for rain -- which is how Choni acquired his sur-nickname.

How does Choni parallel Rip? I certainly don't want to rain on his parade but another Choni legend, which some would dub a sleeper, puts the snooze into Choni. Actually it's a tall tree tale that is used as an explanation of why we eat carob on Tu B'Shvat.

In this fable Choni travels on a road when suddenly he sees a man planting a carob tree."How long will it take this tree to bear fruit?" he asks. "Seventy years," answers the man. Taken aback, Choni asks: "do you expect to live that long?" The man smiles. "Of course not. I'm planting this tree for my children and children's children, the same way my ancestors planted a carob tree for me."

Satisfied with the answer and hungry, Choni sits down right then and there to eat. Satiated from the food, he gets drowsy and -- you guessed it, he goes to sleep for 70 years. No one notices his state of slumber because a rock formation grows around him, hiding him from view. Sure enough when he wakes up he sees a familiar looking man picking carobs off the tree. "You mean you managed to live long enough to pick the fruit?" asks Choni. The man laughs, answering "I am the grandson of the person who planted this tree."

What's the Tu B'Shvat connection? Fruit-bearing trees are a sign of continuity. The New Year of Trees, Tu B'Shvat, celebrates our continual attachment to the land. That's wisdom worth handing down to your next generation(s).

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