The Talmudic fable of Honi the Circle-Maker isn’t the only lesson on environmentalism from traditional Jewish sources, but it’s an especially fascinating–and especially strange–story.
Honi, a first-century miracle-worker, had a foolproof way for making rain: He’d draw a circle around himself, pray, and the rain would come (Babylonian Talmud, Ta’anit 23a). One day, he comes across a man who’s planting a tree. Honi asks the man incredulously: “Why would you plant a tree? You’ll never see its fruit.” Then Honi proceeds to wander further, and falls asleep for 70 years.
When Honi wakes, he again passes the seedling, which is now a full-sized fruit tree, and people are eating its fruit. “Are you the one who planted that tree?” Honi asks the nearest person. “No,” that person replies, “I’m his grandson.” In its own way, the story of Honi really does come full circle.
Honi’s story continues to inspire, and in recent years, has been adapted in various ways. The band Stereo Sinai and the blog Midrash Manicures have teamed up to tell the story in different forms, in both a song and a series of paintings on fingernails. And the animators at BimBam have adapted the Honi story into a cartoon: