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Bialik, Haim Nahman (1873-1934) Yeshivah of Volozhin most well known student.

The greatest Hebrew poet of modern times, was also an essayist, storywriter,

translator and editor who exercised a profound influence on modern Jewish

culture. Bialik was born in the village of , near Zhitomir (Volhynia). His

father, who came of scholarly stock, had come down in life through his

impracticality in his business affairs. For his father as well as his mother,

this was a second marriage, both having been widowed previously. Despite his

family's dire economic circumstances, some of Bialik's best poems recall and

idealize the enchanted hours which he spent as a child romping in the secret

shade of the forest. Other poems recall loneliness and parental neglect. When

Bialik was six, his parents moved to Zhitomir in search of a livelihood and

his father was reduced to keeping a saloon on the outskirts of town. Shortly

thereafter, in 1880, his father died and the destitute widow entrusted her

son to the care of his well-to-do paternal grandfather. For ten years the

gifted, mischievous Hayyim Nahman was raised by this stern, pious old man. At

first he was instructed by teachers in the traditional heder, but later, from

the age of 13, he pursued his studies alone. Convinced by a journalistic

report that the yeshivah of Volozhin in Lithuania would offer him an

introduction to the humanities as well as a continuation of his talmudic

studies, Bialik persuaded his grandfather to permit him to study there. In

fact, however, the curriculum of the yeshivah enabled him to immerse himself

only in the scholarly virtues of talmudic studies. But in the end modernist

doubts triumphed over traditionalist certainties. Bialik began to withdraw

from the life of the school and lived in the world of poetry, reading Russian

verse and European literature. While still in the yeshivah Bialik joined a

secret Orthodox Zionist student society, Nezah Israel, which attempted to

blend Jewish nationalism and enlightenment with a firm adherence to

tradition. In this period Bialik was influenced by the teachings of Ahad

Ha-Am's spiritual Zionism. In the summer of 1891 Bialik left the yeshivah for

Odessa, the center of modern Jewish culture, in southern Russia. He was

attracted by the literary circle that formed around Ahad Ha-Am, and harbored

the dream that in Odessa he would be able to prepare himself for entry to the

modern Orthodox rabbinical seminary in Berlin. Penniless and alone, he earned

a livelihood for a while by giving Hebrew lessons, while continuing to study

Russian literature and German grammar. At first the shy youth did not become

involved in the literary life of the city but his first poem, a song longing

for Zion, was favorably received by the critics. When Bialik learned, early

in 1892, that the yeshivah of Volozhin had been closed, he cut short his stay

in the company of the writers of Odessa, and hurried home in order to spare

his dying grandfather the knowledge that he had forsaken his religious

studies. On returning home he found that his older brother too was dying. The

atmosphere at home embodied for him the despair and squalor of Jewish life in

the Diaspora. In 1893, after the death of his brother and grandfather, Bialik

married Manya Averbuch, and for the next three years joined her father in the

timber trade in Korostyshev, near Kiev. During the long and lonely stretches

in the forest, he read very widely. In business, however, he failed, and in

1897 Bialik found a position as a teacher in Sosnowiec, near the Prussian

border. But the pettiness of provincial life depressed him, and in 1900

Bialik finally succeeded in finding a teaching position in Odessa, where he

lived until 1921, except for a year's stay in Warsaw (1904), where he served

as literary editor of a Hebrew journal. Together with three other writers he

founded the Moriah Publishing House which produced textbooks for the modern

Jewish school. Throughout these years Bialik's reputation grew, and when his

first volume of poems appeared in 1901, he was hailed as "the poet of the

national renaissance." Soon after, in 1903, the Kishinev pogroms deeply

shocked the whole civilized world. After interviewing survivors of the

atrocity, Bialik wrote "Al ha- Shehitah" ("On the Slaughter," 1903) in which

he calls on heaven either to exercise immediate justice and, if not, to

destroy the world, spurning mere vengeance with the famous lines:


Cursed is he who says 'Revenge!'

Vengeance for the blood of a small child

Satan has not yet created.


Later he wrote "Be-Ir ha-Haregah" ("In the City of Slaughter," 1904), a

searing denunciation of the people's meek submission to the massacre, in

which he is bitter at the absence of justice, and struck by the indifference

of nature:


"The sun shone, the acacia blossomed, and the slaughterer slaughtered."


After three years in Berlin, Bialik settled in Tel Aviv in 1924 where he

spent the rest of his life. He died in Vienna where he had gone for medical

treatment. Bialik was a very learned man in Jewish subjects and, together

with Yehoshua Hana Rawnitzki, he compiled an anthology of the aggadah (Sefer

ha- Aggadah, 1908--11) which is still a standard text in Israel's schools. He

was very active in public affairs had traveled all over the world in the

cause of Zionism and the Hebrew language. In his later years he took an

increasingly positive attitude towards Judaism and initiated the popular Oneg

Shabbat, a Sabbath study project. Bialik's literary career was a turning

point in modern Hebrew literature. He had a thorough command of Hebrew and

the ability to fully utilize the resources of the language. To a large degree

he anticipated the Hebrew spoken in modern Israel and influenced it a great

deal. Very many of his poems have been set to music and are still very

popular, particularly the poems he wrote for children. In Israel, he is

considered to be the national poet and his position is much the same as that

of Shakespeare in English-speaking countries.



Upon the Slaughter



Heavenly spheres, beg mercy for me! If truly Gd dwells in your orbit and

round, And in your space is His pathway that I have not found,-- Then you

pray for me! For my own heart is dead; no prayer on my tongue; And

strength has failed, and hope has passed: O until when? For how much more?

How long? Ho, headsman, bare the neck--come, cleave it through! Nape me

this cur's nape! Yours is the axe unbaffled! The whole wide world-my

scaffold! And rest you easy: we are weak and few. My blood is outlaw.  

Strike, then; the skull dissever! Let blood of babe and graybeard stain

your garb-- Stain to endure forever! If Right there be,--why, let it shine

forth now! For if when I have perished from the earth The Right shine

forth, Then let its Throne be shattered, and laid low! Then let the heavens,

wrong-racked, be no more!  While you, O murderers, on you murder thrive,

Live on your blood, regurgitate this gore! Who cries Revenge! Revenge!  

--accursed be he! Fit vengeance for the spilt blood of a child The devil

has not yet compiled... No, let that blood pierce world's profundity,

Through the great deep pursue its mordications, There east its way in

darkness, there undo, Undo the rotted earth's foundations!

--Haim Nahman Bialik     

A Twig A lighted A twig alighted on a fence and dozed; So do I sleep. The

fruit fell and what have I to do with my trunk, What with my branch? The

fruit fell, the flower is already forgotten, The leaves survive. One day the

storm will rage, they will  drop to the ground, dead. Afterwards, the nights

of dread go on, No rest or sleep for me, Alone I thrash about in the dark,

smashing My head against my wall. And again spring blossoms, And alone I hang

from my trunk A bare shoot, without bud or flower, Without fruit or leaf.

Haim Nahman Bialik Translation: T. Carmi

              Aharei Moti/ After my Death


            After my death say this eulogy for me: There was a man who died

before his time, leaving his poetry, the song of his life, unfinished.  And

what a shame!  He had another song to sing, and now it's gone, gone forever!

And what a great shame!  He had a harp -a soul expressive and alive - and the

poet used all its strings to tell his private thoughts.  But he kept one

secret hidden. Round and round his fingers played, but one string was mute to

the end, silent to the very end. And what a very great shame!  All her

days the string quivered and strained for her song, her redeemer.  Thirsting,

suffering, longing as the heart longs for something made for it. And though

he was late in coming, she waited, groaning in pain for him, but he never

came, he never came! And the pain is so very very great! There was a man who

died before his time, leaving his song unfinished.  He had another song to

sing, and now it's gone, gone forever!