Inspiration from the desert: Then and now



January 25, 2016

Hillel’s Ezra Fellows are on retreat in Sedona, Arizona this week. Each day, the Fellows are writing divrei torah based on a given text, inspired by the desert.

Talmud Bavli – Ta’anith 23a

Our text tells a story of a man named Honi HaMa’agel. One day, wondering over a verse from the psalms, he falls asleep for seventy years. When he wakes, he finds the world inhabited by his grandson’s generation: even his son is no longer alive.

Honi finds his house and his grandson and introduces himself, but no one believes that it is truly him. He goes to the house of study where the Rabbis talk about him as a great sage. Again he introduces himself, and again no one believes him. Because no one knows who Honi is, no one gives him the respect he deserves, so Honi becomes depressed, prays, and dies.

What we discussed were the implications of this story then and now. We debated the moral we wanted to share with all of you. How does recognition work in our lives? In our students’ lives?

Jeff and I realized how important it is to always show respect and recognition to everyone we meet and interact with because you and I might not know what we observe with one interaction. It could be the case that we are talking to Honi HaMa’agel, or a great sage, or the messiah, and not know it.

Had the Rabbis given Honi the respect he deserved, he would have found friends and partners for discussion – chevruta. Instead, he became depressed and died. This is why Rava says in the text that the moral of the story is: “either partnership (chevruta) or death.”

Sasha Joseph is the engagement associate at San Francisco Hillel. Jeff Schwartz is the Reform engagement associate at Cornell Hillel.