January 26, 2018, United Airlines, Houston, Texas, USA
The poet Chaim Nachman Bialik, honored on the 10 Lira note, 1968
I have a memory, as a young child in Israel. We had a class trip and as always parents were asked to volunteer to accompany the group. On this trip my mother came along. I can still remember many details of the places we visited. In particular I remember the home of of the national poet Chaim Nachman Bialik. One of his relatives is currently a famous American TV star.
Chaim Nachman Bialik was a great Hebrew poet, born in Zhitomer, Russian Republic (now Ukraine), in 1873 and died in Vienna, Austria in 1934. In 1924 Bialik moved to Israel where he lived for the rest of his life. He died in Vienna after a failed operation.
The fact that young school children were taken to the home of a deceased poet says a great deal about Israeli education at that time. A Hebrew poet was nothing less than a national treasure and a super star. This had an impact on me.
Words I learned at that time still reverberate in my mind and shape my style of speech. One of Bialik's most powerful poems was "HaMatmid" which translates loosely as "The Diligent One", or "The Consistent One ". Written in 1898 the poem describes the powerful life and experience of the Talmud student, the young rabbinical/yeshiva student, devoted body and soul to the study of the Talmud. The Matmid is the only who is most consistent, most devoted. He he is the first to rise and the last to sleep. His every moment is devoted to his study.
The greatness of the Matmid is not measured in his academic accomplishments or success and here is the point, the message that I wish to share. The term Matmid, or Masmid in Yiddish, is the greatest title a student can acquire. It is not a measure of his grades on an exam, it is not a measure of this intellect or mental prowess, it is a measure of his devotion to his holy studies.
עוֹד יֵשׁ עָרִים נִכְחָדוֹת בִּתְפוּצוֹת הַגּוֹלָה
בָּהֶן יֶעְשַׁן בַּמִּסְתָּר נֵרֵנוּ הַיָּשָׁן;
There are still some remaining towns in our lands of exile where smolders on concealed, our ancient candle.
חֲבֵרָיו שֶׁרֵעוּ לוֹ יוֹם בֹּאוֹ הֵנָּה –
נֵר דֹּלֵק, עַמּוּדוֹ וְסֵפֶר תַּלמוּדוֹ;
...The burning light, the desk, his Talmud text.
He hastes to join them, like one who hoards the nimble seconds and begins to study.
The Talmud student does not study for a specific "goal". It it not goal oriented it is process oriented. Every second is vital and important. Every moment of study is significant in and of itself. The process is what matters. The Talmud student does not seek honor, but honor shall come.
הֲטֶרֶם הוּא יֵדַע כִּי סוֹף כְּבוֹדוֹ לָבֹא?
Does he know that his honor is yet to come?
וּבְטֶרֶם מְקַדְּמֵי אַשְׁמוּרוֹת יָקוּמוּ
הִתְגַּבֵּר כַּאֲרִי לַעֲבוֹדַת הַבּוֹרֵא;
עֵת כָּל-הַיְקוּם יַחֲרִישׁ דּוּמָם וְיָחִיל
עַד-יָקוּם יִנָּעֵר לְחַיִּים חֲדָשִׁים,
And before the early ones arrive, he has risen like a lion from his sleep to serve his creator, while all of creation is still silent and awaits, until it shall rise to new life...
נֵר דֹּלֵק, עַמּוּדוֹ וְסֵפֶר תַּלמוּדוֹ
A candle burns and his Talmud is with him
רַק מִי אֲשֶׁר-עָבַר עַל בֵּית הַיְשִׁיבָה
בִּדְמִי חֲצוֹת הַלַּיִל אוֹ בְדִמְמַת הַשַּׁחַר,
וּבְעַד חַלּוֹן מֵאִיר אָזְנוֹ הִקְשִׁיבָה
קוֹל בּוֹדֵד יְשׁוֹרֵר, זָמִיר מַתְמִיד מְאַחֵר,
הַשֹּׁפֵךְ בַּלָּאט עַל-הָרוּחַ הַלֹּאֵט
מְרִירוּתוֹ הַמְּתוּקָה, מְתִיקוּתוֹ הַמָּרָה –
רַק הוּא הָבִין יוּכַל מַה-דֹּקֵר, מַה-לֹּהֵט,
מַה-מַּכְאִיב, מַה-נּוּגֶה זֶה נִגּוּן הַגְּמָרָא!
Only he who has passed by the House of the Yeshiva, the house of study, at midnight or at the break of dawn, and his ears listened by the windows, a single voice, like a song bird, the Matmid, that pours out the hidden spirit, its sweet bitterness, its bitter sweetness, only he shall understand what stabs, what burns, what hurts, how beautiful and luminous is this tune of the study of the Talmud.
The glory of the Matmid, the fact that he is celebrated in poetry is that the true power comes from consistence, from diligence. As Rabbi Akiva noted; if the water running over the stone, eventually shapes the stone, than surely the wisdom of the Torah can penetrate my mind, despite my age and lack of prior experience.
While we tend to chase tangible goals, goals that are measured in numbers, awards, titles, the Matmid teaches us that nothing trumps diligence and consistency. The true hero is the Matmid, the one who arrives first, leaves last, is studying while others are still sleeping in their beds.
The Matmid teaches us not to be fooled by grades; a grade is a mere indication of what you accomplished in the past, of knowledge that you had but may or may not still posses today. That knowledge acquired is indeed important and should be recognized. In fact we are commanded to honor those who were once great scholars but have become senile or suffer from dementia. They are held in their original esteem.
The Matmid teaches us that nothing beats diligence and consistency. One may be quit while another is a slower learned. One may earn a high score on an exam now while another does not do well with the stress of exams. However as Bialik the poet points out, his honor will yet come. He who is diligent and consistent will see his day of honor, though he does not seek it. He will become the scholar, the champion, because he has not sought those goals. He is focused on the process, and his Talmud is always in his hand.
My grandfather, from his earliest years in the small village of Polanka, (then Hungary now Ukraine), was a Matmid. When he spoke of Torah and Talmud his eyes lit up, with a little twinkle of delight. The words of the Talmud were his joy. He sought no honor but his books are studied to his very day.
Nothing beats the Matmid. Nothing.
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