Rav Huna belonged to the second generation of Amoraim in Babylon. He was a disciple and follower of Rav. He was only thirty years old when Rav died, but in spite of this he would have become Rav's successor immediately if not for the fact that Shmuel, who was considered the greatest Torah authority in Babylon, was living and leading the great Yeshivah in Nehardea. Out of respect for Shmuel, the Sages did not appoint a successor to Rav in Sura.
Seven years later Shmuel died, and the Sages debated for three years to decide on the future leadership. There were three main candidates: Rav Huna, who was thirty-seven years old and a member of the family of the "Leader of the Exile"; Rav Jeremiah bar Abbah who was also one of Rav's most prominent disciples; and Rav Yehudah, who was older than Rav Huna. The question was not only whom to appoint as Dean of the yeshivah, but also where to locate the yeshivah in Sura, where Rav had been; or in Nehardea, where Shmuel had taught.
Rav Huna was finally chosen as Dean and greatest Torah authority, and Sura was decided on to be the location of the greatest Yeshivah. At the same time, Rav Jeremiah bar Abbah was elected to the position of Dean of a yeshivah in a town nearby, Sunitia; and Rav Yehudah established a large yeshivah in Pumpeditha, which soon became famous.
In spite of Rav Huna's greatness, nothing is mentioned in the Talmud about his parents. It is only mentioned that he was a descendant of the family of the "Leader of the Exile.
Apart from his wisdom, Rav Huna was renowned for his fine qualities and righteousness. He was also a very rich man. Here was a case of great Torah scholarship and great riches combined, and Rav Huna possessed all the necessary qualities of a "Leader in Israel."
It is interesting to note that, while Rav Huna was a pupil of Rav's, he was very poor. He occupied himself with land-work; he used to dig the earth himself, water his field and feed his cattle. Naturally, he was not ashamed of this work, and he would permit no one to do it for him. The Talmud relates that he was once walking in the street with a hoe on his shoulders, as any plain land-worker. A scholar, Chonoh bar Chanilai, met him and offered to carry his hoe for him. Rav Huna said to him: "If you generally carry such a tool in your own town, you may carry it here also, if you wish; if, on the other hand, you are not accustomed to carrying such a tool, do you think that I would allow you to honor me, thereby shaming yourself?"
Rav Huna was so poor at that time that, once, he did not even have any wine for Kiddush, so he pawned his belt and bought wine for Kiddush. Instead of girding himself with his belt for Prayer, he used an ordinary piece of string. When Rav noticed this, he asked him: "What is the meaning of this?" Rav Huna told him that he had pawned his belt. Rav blessed him that the Almighty should grant him riches, that he should be able to wear silk clothes!
From then on, Rav Huna enjoyed more and more success until he became very rich. It once happened that four hundred barrels of wine belonging to Rav Huna became sour, which meant a great loss for him. His colleagues advised him to examine his personal conduct to try and understand why the Almighty had punished him. "Do you suspect me of some misdeed?" he asked in astonishment. "Do you suspect the Almighty of punishing you unjustly?" they replied.
"In that case, tell me if you, have heard anything about me, that is not in accord with the Torah, and I will try to rectify it," Rav Huna said earnestly.
"We heard that you do not give your land-worker a part of the branches of the vines that are cut. He is supposed to receive a part of the branches and sticks, as well as of the fruit."
"My worker takes all the branches and leaves nothing for me" Rav Huna replied in amazement. "But from now on, I will give him his portion, so that he will not have to steal" Rav Huna decided. Success smiled upon him once more. The price of sour wine soared to such a height that he suffered no loss from his wine becoming vinegar!
Rav Huna's exceptional success became so famous that people said that whoever saw Rav Huna in a dream would experience a miracle.
A fire once broke out in Rav Huna's town, but did not touch the section where Rav Huna lived. The people thought that surely Rav Huna must be responsible for saving the houses. They were told in a dream, however, that Rav Huna's great merit was not needed for such a thing; the section was saved by merit of a lady who used to heat her oven throughout the week and allow her neighbors to use it. Thus we see the greatness of charity.
When Rav Huna became Dean of the Yeshivah, he was acclaimed by all the scholars as supreme Torah authority. Even his older colleagues, such as Rav Jeremiah bar Abbah, Rav Yehudah, and Rav Nachman, who were themselves great scholars and leaders of yeshivoth, used to come to him or send him their questions. Another of his pupil-colleagues was Rav Chisda. Rav Huna had a very high opinion of him because of his piety and acute mind. Rav Huna used to send his own son Rabbah to Rav Chisda to discuss matters of learning with him.
Even Rabbi Eliezer, who was recognized as the greatest Torah authority in Eretz Yisroel, agreed that Rav Huna was greater than he.
Rav Huna's Yeshivah in Sura reached a very high standard. Throughout the year, eight hundred pupils studied there, all of them supported by Rav Huna himself. There were also thousands of students who used to study by themselves throughout the year, except for two months when they used to come to the Yeshivah, where they were examined in their studies, and heard lectures from the Dean and his assistants, after which they returned to their daily schedule. Rav Huna had thirteen assistants!
Rav Huna was renowned for his great piety and ethics. He did not feel haughty on account of his tremendous knowledge nor on account of his great wealth. He always took an interest in the welfare of the poor and saw to it that they should not go hungry. When he used to go to the Beth-Din (Court), he used to take with him ten scholars from Rav's school, so as to share in the responsibilities of the cases that were presented.
Rav Huna used to say that whoever is a G-d-fearing man can influence others.
The great Amora, Rovoh, who was Rav Nachman's worthiest disciple in the Yeshivah of Nehardea, once asked Rafram bar Popoh: "Tell me something about Rav Huna's deeds." Rafram answered: "I do not remember his youth, but in his old age he used to ride in a golden carriage on a windy day, and ride through the town; wherever he noticed a broken wall that seemed likely to fall in because of the wind, he ordered it to be thrown down so as not to harm anyone; if the owner did not have the means to build a new wall, Rav Huna himself had the wall built at his expense.
On Friday afternoon he used to send a servant to the market to buy all the remaining vegetables so that the farmers and gardeners should not suffer a loss, nor cease to bring vegetables in the future, for Shabbos. When he was ready to eat, he used to open all his doors and say that whoever wanted to eat could join him!"
Rav Huna died at a ripe old age. He was over eighty years old. In accordance with his last wishes, his coffin was taken to Eretz Yisroel, because he had expressed the desire to be buried next to Rabbi Chiyyah. The greatest scholars of Eretz Yisroel, Rav Ami and Rav Asi, came to meet the coffin. When his coffin was laid at the side of Rabbi Chiyya and his sons, a pillar of fire appeared, and the sages left the cave.
Rav Huna's position was occupied by Rav Chisda, his greatest disciple, but only after two years, when Rav Yehudah died.