Thursday, November 22, 2018

The Story of Honi and the Carob Tree

Here's me telling the story of Honi and the Carob Tree at Temple Emanu-El last Friday night... a classic tale of miracles, transgenerational ethics, and chocolate substitutes. Enjoy! 

(Full Transcript after the jump)
n.b. Unfortunate drumming noise was apparently caused by a steam pipe; while it was broadcast loudly on the livestream we couldn't hear it during the service itself.

(based on a midrash in the Babylonian Talmud, Tractate Ta’anit 23a)

A long, long time ago
back in the days of the Maccabees
There lived in the land of Israel
A very wise man named Honi the Circle Maker

Honi was famous in those days
Because Honi knew special prayers
that no one else knew
But…despite being so wise
Honi was also extraordinarily impatient
and surprisingly selfish

One time,
when it was the time of the rainy season
No rain fell.
The ground was too hard for planting
The crops began to dry out
All of the people began to worry

So they went to Honi the Circle Maker
and said,
Please, Mr. Circle-Maker,
Talk to God,
Ask God to make it rain

Why? Said Honi the Circle Maker
The people answered
If there is no rain, how will we grow our food?
Ach, Said Honi
I have plenty of food in my cabinet
HONI! They said
For once think about someone else!
FINE! Said Honi

So Honi the circle maker
drew a big circle on the ground
with a piece of chalk
And Honi stood in the middle of the circle
And Honi shouted
I will not move from this circle
until you make it rain

And nothing happened

So Honi Said
Maybe you didn’t hear me
It is me
Honi the Circle Maker
These people need rain
a rain of blessing
to soften the earth
and bring food to the hungry
I know you are just and compassionate
And I’m not moving from this circle
until you make it rain

And then there was thunder and lightning
And rain fell from the skies
in a tremendous downpour
And all the people cheered
“Hurray for Honi the circle maker”
And they all ran off to tend to their crops
and to plant their vegetables
And Honi said, Ach
I’m soaking wet
And a big prayer like that
really makes me hungry
And he set off down the road
looking for something to eat

And Honi came upon an elderly woman
who was planting a tree

Excuse me
He said
What kind of tree are you planting?
It is a carob tree, she said

Do you know what carob is?
It is supposed to taste like chocolate
But it doesn’t
If you’re staying for the family dinner tonight,
you can try some
And you’ll see for yourself

But, they didn’t have any chocolate
in ancient Israel
If this were an ancient Aztec or Mayan story, maybe there would be chocolate in it
But it’s a Jewish story,
so you get carob

Anyway, Honi said to the gardener
Carob huh
How long will it take the tree to bear fruit?
Well, she said,
It will take 70 years

70 YEARS! Cried Honi
I mean, not to be rude or anything,
But you’re not exactly a youngster
Are you certain you will live
another seventy years
to eat the fruit of this tree?

Perhaps not.
Said the woman.
However, when I was born into this world,
I found many beautiful carob trees
planted by those who came before me.
Just as my ancestors planted trees for me,
I am planting trees
for my children and grandchildren
so they will have carob to eat.

Seventy years, Honi thought
Just the thought of it makes me sleepy
And Honi lay down on the ground
next to the carob tree
And Honi fell fast asleep
Into a deep deep sleep
In fact, Honi fell asleep for so long
Honi slept for 70 years

And when Honi awoke
He had grown a big long beard
And Honi looked up
and saw an elderly woman
gathering the fruit from the carob tree

Honi asked her
Are you the same woman
who planted this tree?

No, she replied, that was my grandmother.
And Honi said, wow,
I must have been asleep for 70 years
That is some shluff
Here, said the woman
Have some carob.

And for the rest of his days
Honi the Circle Maker
Helped to plant carob trees
So all the children and grandchildren
would have plenty to eat

And if you go to the north of Israel
You can still those carob trees today

And parents and grandparents told this story
to their children and grandchildren
And now I’m telling this story to you

So you can tell this story
to your children and to your grandchildren
And remind them of what Honi learned
That the way we show we are thankful
to those who came before us
Is to make things better
for those who will come after us

And there’s a bunch of people here tonight
who know exactly what I’m talking about
And I want to invite those people
onto the bimah for a blessing
So all of you here tonight who grew up
here at Temple Emanu-El
and attended religious school or nursery school
And now have children or grandchildren
in the religious school or nursery school

Come on up here
And inspire us all with your example

Shabbat Shalom

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