The Gemara relates another story about Ḥoni HaMe’aggel. Rabbi Yoḥanan said: All the days of the life of that righteous man, Ḥoni, he was distressed over the meaning of this verse: “A song of Ascents: When the Lord brought back those who returned to Zion, we were like those who dream” (Psalms 126:1). He said to himself: Is there really a person who can sleep and dream for seventy years? How is it possible to compare the seventy-year exile in Babylonia to a dream? One day, he was walking along the road when he saw a certain man planting a carob tree. Ḥoni said to him: This tree, after how many years will it bear fruit? The man said to him: It will not produce fruit until seventy years have passed. Ḥoni said to him: Is it obvious to you that you will live seventy years, that you expect to benefit from this tree? He said to him: That man himself found a world full of carob trees. Just as my ancestors planted for me, I too am planting for my descendants. Ḥoni sat and ate bread. Sleep overcame him and he slept. A cliff formed around him, and he disappeared from sight and slept for seventy years. When he awoke, he saw a certain man gathering carobs from that tree. Ḥoni said to him: Are you the one who planted this tree? The man said to him: I am his son’s son. Ḥoni said to him: I can learn from this that I have slept for seventy years, and indeed he saw that his donkey had sired several herds during those many years. Ḥoni went home and said to the members of the household: Is the son of Ḥoni HaMe’aggel alive? They said to him: His son is no longer with us, but his son’s son is alive. He said to them: I am Ḥoni HaMe’aggel. They did not believe him. He went to the study hall, where he heard the Sages say about one scholar: His halakhot are as enlightening and as clear as in the years of Ḥoni HaMe’aggel, for when Ḥoni HaMe’aggel would enter the study hall he would resolve for the Sages any difficulty they had. Ḥoni said to them: I am he, but they did not believe him and did not pay him proper respect. Ḥoni became very upset, prayed for mercy, and died. Rava said: This explains the folk saying that people say: Either friendship or death, as one who has no friends is better off dead. §
R. Yehuda, Ben geirim, said: This Choni Ha-Ma’agel was the grandson of that Choni Ha-Ma’agel.
One day around the time of the Destruction of the Temple, he went out to the hillside to his workers. While he was there, it began to rain, so he ducked into a cave, where he sat and became drowsy. He sank so deeply into sleep that seventy years passed, during which the Temple was destroyed and then rebuilt. Once seventy years had passed, he awoke and left the cave, discovering a changed world: the vineyards had become olive groves and the olive groves had become fields of grain.
He asked the locals: “What news is there in the world?”
They replied: “Don’t you know what news there is?”
He responded: “No.”
“Then who are you?” they asked.
“Choni Ha-Ma’agel,” he replied.
They said to him: “We have heard that when you entered the Temple Court, it would be filled with light!”
He went to the Court, and it was filled with light. He applied this verse to himself: “When God brought back those that returned to Zion, we were like dreamers.”
Josephus (Ant. 14:22) refers to him as a saint and a miracle worker, and he describes Choni Ha-Me'agel's death during the period of fratricidal warfare between the Chashmonai brothers Aristobulus II and Horkenus II.
When Aristobulus was besieged in Yerushalayim by the armies of Horkenus, the latter's men seized Choni and asked him to curse Aristobulus and his army. Choni refused to comply, and he prayed, "Master of the Universe, these men are your people, and those who are beseiged are Your kohanim; I beg You not to do what they ask." They fell upon him and stoned him to death.
Chaninah Ben Dosa