Of the making of beginner’s textbooks of ancient Hebrew there is no end, yet I am unsatisfied with all of them. None of them is oral enough in emphasis, except for that of Randall Buth (first lesson here); none of them takes full advantage of the ability of music to aid in the process of learning; only a couple, that of Randall Buth and that of John Cook and Rob Holmstedt, make use of visual learning.
Poetry and music are gateways into the heart and soul of a language. In this post I introduce a poem by Rachel Bluwstein Sela, known to most as Rachel, and a song by Achinoam_Nini, known to most as Noa. The lyrics of the song are based on the poem.
The poem is entitled עֲקָרָה. The poem is a window into the author’s heart and a gateway into the biblical personae she adopts, that of Rachel and Hannah. Rachel the poet was childless herself. In fact, her life was cut short by poverty and tuberculosis at age 40. Nonetheless, the children who have adopted her as their mother are many.
Thanks to the fact that the poem is a component of the mandatory curriculum in Israel; thanks to Noa’s song which incorporates Rachel’s poem, Rachel’s voice lives on.
When I recite this poem, I think of the young couples I have accompanied in the adoption of a child. I think of a young woman a magnificent couple adopted as a child; now she, an adult, with great passion and the support of her husband, has adopted three children in turn, children that no one else, literally, is willing to take.
Almost every word of the poem is found in the Bible. A short list of passages the poem calls to mind: Jer 31:15-26; Hos 11:3-11; Isa 8:6-7; Gen 3:8; Song 1:5-6; 1 Sam 1:1-28; 1 Sam 2:1-10. If you spend time with this poem and move back and forth from it to the passages listed, your Hebrew will improve. If you give it enough time, the poem and the passages it calls to mind will become a part of you. I offer the Hebrew below, to be read without vowels as one listens to the soundtrack of the song. The soundtrack is here; take care to lip sync with Noa. If it helps you to see the pronunciation of the Hebrew spelled out in English, try this soundtrack.
בן לו היה לי
שחור תלתלים ונבון
לאחוז בידו ולפסוע לאט
אורי אקרא לו
רך וצלול הוא השם הקצר
אורי אקרא לו
עוד אתמרמר כרחל
עוד אתפלל כחנה בשילה
If you are unfamiliar with the meaning of a word, plug it in to milon morfix. The tool also provides vocalization. As an aside, I note Noa’s striking pronunciation on two occasions of a final resh as if it were a soft gimel.
Here is a translation of Noa’s song:
If only I had a son,
a little boy,
with dark curly hair, and bright,
that I might hold his hand
and stroll gently
on the paths of the garden,
a little boy.
Uri I’d call him,
soft and clear the short name,
a shard of brightness;
my dark and handsome boy;
Uri I'd call him,
“My light” I’d call him.
I still wax bitter, like Rachel,
I still pray, like Hannah at Shiloh,
I wait for him,
yes I wait for him;
I wait for him.
Noa’s song is not an exact rendition of Rachel’s original poem. Here and there it modifies its diction and syntax. Here is the original poem, in pointed Hebrew, as found here.
בֵּן לוּ הָיָה לִי יֶלֶד קָטָן
שְׁחֹר תַּלְתַּלִים וְנָבוֹן
לֶאֱחֹז בְּיָדוֹ וְלִפְסֹעַ לְאַט
אוּרִי אֶקְרָא לוֹ, אוּרִי שֶׁלִּי!
רַךְ וְצָלוּל הוּא הַשֵּׁם הַקָּצָר
עוֹד אֶתְמַרְמֵר כְּרָחֵל הָאֵם
עוֹד אֶתְפַּלֵּל כְּחַנָּה בְּשִׁילֹה