Hayim Nahman Bialik
The JNF and the Festival of the Maccabees
Writtent for the jubilee meeting of the Jewish National Fund in Jerusalem, commemorating 25 years since its foundation, Chanukah 5687
Although I am participating in this celebration not as a member of the Society of Authors but rather just as an invitee, nevertheless as one who belongs to the writing public I would like to recall and emphasize at this point the value of the Hebrew book and Hebrew literature and its part in our modest victory in redemption of the land.
The Hebrew legend expressed this value of the book in a brief and beautiful depiction.
When Jacob our father dreamed of the future for his sons, in Beit-El. G-d promised him “that the land that you are laying upon I shall give to your seed”. And the legend says of this: “It teaches that the blessed one be He folded all of the land of Israel as a book under his head”, and if He promised him the land upon which he was laying, then in any event He promised him the whole of the land of Israel.
You know about the dream that he dreamt: about four angels, on his four exiled communities, and when he slept and his heart was awake – “I am sleeping in exile and my heart is awake for redemption” – then the land was all folded under his head as a book. And if we safeguarded our love for two thousand years for our country and we have reached the time to sit here as a small melting pot: we – who are not even a tenth of the tithes, not even a contribution of all the Hebrew people, but a small handful of people sitting here, in the country of our fathers, and on land that has been somewhat redeemed, land that is our property, the property of the entire nation – we must be thankful for this in a not insignificant measure to that same book, that all the country was folded into it and when it was folded up and placed under our heads when we were nomads within four kingdoms, we are sleeping in the Diaspora and our hearts are awake in the redemption. Thanks to that book we cannot clarify the hidden and wonderful reason, why the bible is missing one very dear and wonderful book.
Why was the story sentenced, the one in which it is told of the history of the greatest victory, the victory of the spirit and the victory of the force of the people of Israel – the Book of the Hasmoneans? Why has it been archived in our Hebrew language and we have been left with a template in one of the languages of the four kingdoms, in which we resided, the Greek language?
It is difficult to clarify this reason. Perhaps it is an accidental tragedy. Perhaps there is an accounting here, many assumptions are made that there were political tendencies here. It is difficult to clarify this. However both in commemoration of the Hasmoneans, and this festival, the Hebrew people safeguarded it excellently, because each festival has a special characteristic, the festivals lift us above the plain of weekdays, alike mountains rising above the earth, and every high mountain, and every one that is higher than its neighbour testifies to changes and shocks that took place under this mountain during several ancient eras and accumulated one after the other. And since then they raised an area known as the plain and they raised it upwards. And thus too every festival testifies to deep turmoil. Sometimes volcanic, which took place under the ground of the nation, and not just the once, but rather many times, one after the other. And indeed, when we come to dig and search under the national festival, we find underneath a layer under a layer and a stratum under a stratum and there is not one reason for the festival but rather many reasons.
There is a special tendency in history to gather and collate the large events and concentrate them on certain points of time, one group with another. And each event that has some type of connection to a certain festival and this continues like iron to a magnet, to adhere to this festival. And you can find in our legends and our poetry that they like to note and mark all the events that are connected with a certain festival. You can find pursuant to the legend an entire list of events that have been attached to the Passover festival as well as to all the other festivals.
There is no doubt that this festival of Chanukah too, has been blurred in our history by the loss of the original book. The time has also come to attach to it huge and shocking events that took place with our people. And we must thank the arrangers of this ball that they determined this festival to commemorate the most eternal enterprise in our history, because the festival of the redemption of the exodus from Egypt the strength of which was already weakened in the times of the prophets: “And the Lord shall no longer say live who raised the children of Israel from the land of Egypt”.
All the events relating to redemption shall be connected in this national festival, and due to this national festival redemption shall come in several historical moments that were due to be entirely or partially archived, with the revival of this festival, so too shall our hope for redemption arise. Not only in memory of the Hasmoneans but also in memory of the landowning fanatics whose name has already been obliterated from our history, and they will be resurrected together with the festival of resurrection, the new festival of Chaunkah, shall live when there is no longer exile.
Together with the memory of the landowners redemption shall come to all those who folded the book under their heads, while they were dreaming while enslaving unhealthy dreams of redemption, longing for the resurrection and for the motherland. The redemption shall come for all of these and all the false prophets shall return to be genuine prophets by the fact that in our work we will validate their sacred falsehoods and by our work and by our battles and by our truth we will validate all those that the previous history sentenced to be archived. We shall live their memory on the first night of Chanukah together with the memory of our redemption by this resurrection and by this renewal there shall also be a new reference to all those in the historical points of time that remained in the dark and which sometimes we have considered to be a sign of weakness.
We shall redeem with our final redemption all the efforts and all the attempts, whether they succeeded or not, we shall resurrect them all and put them in their correct place and they shall fill new content for the festival of Chanukah, and together with the festival of Chanukah we shall return to us the archived book and increase the strength of that same book, which was folded under our heads all the days of our wandering. Also the old Yishuv, the people of distribution and all those same Jews who took small sacks of dirt with them in order to place in their graves a small spoonful of the earth of Israel – those too shall be filled with great content, tragic and wonderful. And we shall understand the value of these small things, which have bound us and sustained the aroma of the land and the feeling of the homeland in our souls, and they have instigated us and caused us to start the redemption in Israel, and even those authors, the authors of education, who did not intend to return us to the land of our fathers and did not speak in the name of the land of our fathers but rather in the name of just land, because they desired to return us to the embrace of the land – they too will be remembered on this blessed night because if we do not dry inside us our national instincts, thirsty for the land, we should thank for this in a great measure also that generation of authors, the authors of education, that they advocated all the days of their lives toward a life of work, a life of creation, a life of the earth.
And on this night we should remember and recall our distant and close brothers who are also now, alike the elderly fanatics and the Hasmoneans in days of yore, sitting pure amongst the tainted, fighting from afar for their land and their homeland and for the right to live and work for the land of Israel.
I am talking about our brothers the pioneers who are sitting in Russia. At this moment we will send them a heartfelt blessing and call out to them: “Be strong and become stronger for your people and your land!” and they will know, as they divert a fear and are happy in our happiness, yes those too divert a fear from here to all that is occurring within them and we join them in their sorrow and suffer with them in their suffering.
And finally, I want to say something that I once heard in a lesson by a professor who discussed the issue of distance from the land. He talked about the issue of psychology and physiology, and asked the listeners: how much land does a man need for him to feel that his land is steadfast and strengthened? To which the listeners answered: it is sufficient that he has a plot of land to put his feet upon, because a man only stands on that same land that his feet are standing upon and he will immediately feel that he is standing strong and steadfast. The professor said to them: Indeed, it is true when a man feels the land around him, but if they elevate the man to a high place, to a place around which there is no large area – how much land does the man need not to feel fear in his legs and in his knees, fearing to fall? He asked and he answered: land to cover his entire height, so that if he fails and falls he will be certain that he will fall on the land and the edge of his body shall not hang in the air. I am looking at the numbers that the JNF is proud of, and I ask ourselves: is the redeemed land the full height of the people of Israel and is it sufficient already to be sure to take away from us the fear of falling. To this it should be answered: no, with sixteen million global people standing tall over 4000 years. For this nation, this small area of land is not enough even to place on it one foot, and I bless in particular the head of the JNF, who has found the courage in his soul for tens of years to capture toe after toe of the land.
This small one I bless that he will arrive and he and us with him to that same day that the land will redeem all the heights of the land of Israel.