Honi Ha-me'aggel (the Circle-Maker) was a renowned pietist in the period of the Second Temple (first century BCE) who was said to have performed good deeds by using extraordinary powers of prayer or by performing miracles. According to popular legend, Honi slept for seventy years and on awakening prayed for death rather than living in a strange world.

The following story, which tells of his power to bring rain in times of drought, is recorded in many sources. His name, ha-Me'aggel ("one who draws circles") is usually taken to be connected with this incident[1]. Some scholars claim he was named Honi Ha-me'aggel after the place from which he came, [2] while others suggest he was so called as he was often called to repair roofs or ovens, with a ma'gillah ("roller").[3]

Once there was a terrible drought in the land of Israel. It was already the month of Adar, which usually marks the end of the rainy season and the beginning of spring, but no rains had fallen all winter long.

So the people sent for Honi the Circle-Maker. He prayed, but still no rains came. Then he drew a circle in the dust and stood in the middle of it. Raising his hands to heaven, he vowed, "God, I will not move from this circle until You send rain!"

Immediately a few drops fell, hissing as they struck the hot white stones. But the people complained to Honi, "This is but a poor excuse for rain, only enough to release you from your vow.

So Honi turned back to heaven and cried, "Not for this trifling drizzle did I ask, but for enough rain to fill wells, cisterns, and ditches!

Then the heavens opened up and poured down rain in buckets, each drop big enough to fill a soup ladle. The wells and the cisterns overflowed, and the wadis flooded the desert. The people of Jerusalem ran for safety to the Temple Mount

"Honi!" they cried. "Save us! Or we will all be destroyed like the generation of the Flood! Stop the rains!"

Honi said to them, "I was glad to ask God to end your misery, but how can I ask for an end to your blessing?"

The people pleaded with him, and he finally agreed to pray for the rain to stop. "Bring me an offering of thanksgiving," he told them, and they did.

Then Honi said to God, "This people that You brought out of Egypt can take neither too much evil nor too much good. Please give them what they ask so that they may be happy."

So God sent a strong wind that blew away the fierce rains, and the people gathered mushrooms and truffles on the Temple Mount.

Then Shimon ben Shetakh, head of the Sanhedrin in Jerusalem, said to Honi, "I should excommunicate you for your audacity,[4] but how can I, since you're Honi! God coddles you as a father does his young child. The child says: 'Hold me, Daddy, and bathe me, and give me poppyseeds and peaches and pomegranates,' and his father gives him whatever he wants."

So it was with Honi the Circle-Maker.

[1] Rashi on Berakhot 19a [back]
[2] Zemah Ga'on in Sefer ha-Yuhasin ha-Shalem [back]
[3] S. Klein & S.H. Kook in Zion 1 (1929/30) [back]
[4] for troubling the All-Mighty so many times about the rain 0[back]

As retold in The Classic Tales: 4,000 Years of Jewish Lore, Ed. Ellen Frankel, NJ: Jason Aronson Inc., 1989. Sefer Ha-Doro he-Hadash, publ. E.I. Stand, 1865;

English language sources: Martin Buber, Tales of the Hasidim, Early Masters, Schocken, 1947; Louis Newman, Hasidic Anthology, Jason Aronson, 1987

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