12. אל [EL] – TO THE BIRD

We’ve come to the word אל [EL]. It means ‘to’. It can be conjugated in various forms: אלי  [El-ee] means ‘to me’ ;אליך  [Ai-le-cha] means ‘to you’ etc. When EL comes before a noun, it is usually shortened to the one-letter prefix ל. I have mentioned this word in my post on the word SHEL.

I will use this post to say a few words about a poem that starts with the word אל, and about its author. The poem אל הציפור [To the bird] was the first poem published by Haim Nachman Bialik, who was later to become Israel’s national poet.

Bialik was born in 1873 near Zhitomir in what was then Russia, today Ukraine. His father died when he was only 7 and he was brought up by his grandfather. When he was 15 he convinced his grandfather to send him to the famous Volozhin Yeshiva where he spent 1.5 years. While at Yeshiva, he joined a group of students who were attracted by the Haskala – the enlightenment movement.

El HaTzippor - First Stanza

El HaTzippor – First Stanza


Bialik wrote אל הציפור  while at the Yeshiva. It speaks of the atmosphere of oppression in Russia and of his yearning for the Land of Israel, a Land of light and freedom. He eventually left the Yeshiva and went to live in Odessa, a city known as a magnet for young revolutionaries and rebels.

In Odessa Bialik came in contact with some of the best known Hebrew writers of the time, such as  Ahad Ha’am and Mendele Mocher Seforim. Ehad Ha’am introduced him to Y. Ravnitzki who was the editor of the Hebrew language periodical ‘Pardes’. Bialik approached Ravnitzki with a sample of his work. According to legend Ravnitzki was not particularly impressed with Bialik’s poetry. He published אל הציפור mainly because it fit in a blank space he had to fill on one of the pages of his publication! In 1882 the Tzar closed the Volozhin Yeshiva – and Bialik rushed back home to Zhitomir so that his grandfather would find out that he had abandoned his religious studies!


Bialik and Ravnitzki

Bialik and Ravnitzki

Once published, Bialik’s poetry was well received. He went on to publish many of his poems on the pages of Pardes. His poetry addressed the major issues that motivated Jews at the time: the despair and loss of hope for Jews in Russia, the pogroms, the Enlightenment, the breakdown of traditional society, revolutionary ideas of a new and better society the yearning for the Land of Israel.

Bialik joined the Jewish literary circle in Odessa. He also joined the new founded Hoveve Zion group – a forerunner of the Zionist Movement. Bialik had an important influence on the development of Hebrew literature. While in Odessa he founded the Moriah publishing House which specialised in Hebrew school text books, and Dvir , a major publisher that still exists in Israel today. He was the editor of HaShiloach, a weekly magazine that promoted the revival of the Hebrew language. He founded, together with others, a periodical named Reshumot, which aimed to document Jewish life and folklore from around the world. It I still used as a major source of information about Jewish life before the Second World War.

Part of the Original manuscript of El HaTzippor

Part of the Original manuscript of El HaTzippor

El Hatzippor is not considered to be the best of Bialik’s poetry. But it won him his fame and heralded a new chapter in the revival of the Hebrew language.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s