On yesterday’s daf (=page) we learned of Rabbi Hiyya and his sons in whose merit “there ceased to be shooting stars, earthquakes, storms and thunders in Israel, the people’s wines never turned sour and their flax was never blighted” once they moved from Babylonia to the Land of Israel, even though they, themselves, did not personally benefit from their piety. The Gemara on today’s daf compares this to a similar situation –
Even as Rav Yehudah said in the name of Rav: Every day a Heavenly Voice goes forth and proclaims, ‘The whole world is provided with food only on account of my son Hanina, while my son Hanina is satisfied with one kav of carob fruit from one Sabbath eve to the other.’
The reference in this story is to Rabbi Hanina ben Dosa, a student of Rabban Yohanan ben Zakkai, who was well known for his piety and his miraculous deeds. Few of his teachings have been preserved – and those that have are mainlyaggadic traditions. He is known mainly for the many stories of his religious devotion. Throughout the Gemara he is presented as the archetype of someone who is righteous in all his ways (see, for example, Ta’anit 24b-25a).
The Hatam Sofer interprets the fact that Rabbi Hanina was “satisfied with one kav of carob fruit from one Sabbath eve to the other” as indicative of his patience and acceptance of his lot in life. In his Torah Hayyim, Rabbi Avraham Hayyim Shor takes a different approach to this story. Opening with the obvious question – why should Rabbi Hanina not have benefited from his own merit, just as others did? – he explains that the world is judged both on a level of middat ha-din – the attribute of law – and middat ha-rahamim – the attribute of mercy. When Rabbi Hanina, who, due to his piety and righteousness is equated with the entire world, receives the strict judgment of middat ha-din, it allows the rest of the world to receive the more lenient judgment of middat ha-rahamim.