On the eve of Shevuous, I induced my motherpeace be unto
her!to let me go off outside the town, by myself, to gather greens
for the Festival.
And my mother let me go off alone to gather the greens for the
Festival. May she have a bright Paradise for that!
A real pleasure is a pleasure that one enjoys by one's self, without
a companion, and without a single argument. I was alone, free as a
bird, in the big cultivated field. Above me was the whole of the blue
cap called the sky. For me alone shone the beautiful queen of the
day, the sun. For my sake there came together, here in the big field,
all the singers and warblers and dancers. For my sake there was spread
before me the row of tall sunflowers, and the delicate growths were
scattered all over the field by a benevolent nature. No one bothered
me. No one prevented me from doing what I liked. No one saw me but God.
And I could do what I liked. If I liked I might sing. If I liked I
might shout and scream at the top of my voice. If I liked I might make
a horn with my hands, and blow out a melody. If I liked I might roll on
the green grass just as I was, curling myself up like a hedgehog. Who
was there to give me orders? And whom would I pay heed to? I was
freeI was free.
The day was so warm, the sun so beautiful, the sky so clear, the
field so green, the grass so fresh, my heart so gay, and my soul so
joyful that I forgot completely I was a stranger in the field and had
merely come out to cut green boughs for Shevuous. I imagined I
was a prince, and the whole field that my eyes rested on, and
everything in the field, and even the blue sky above itall were mine.
I owned everything, and could do what I liked with itI, and no one
else. And like an overlord who had complete control of everything, I
longed to show my power, my strength, my authorityall that I could
and would do.
* * *
First of all I was displeased with the tall giants with the yellow
hatsthe sunflowers. Suddenly they appeared to me as my enemies. And
all the other plants with and without stalks, the beans and beanstalks,
were enemies too. They were the Philistines that had settled on my
ground. Who had sent for them? And those thick green plants lying on
the ground, with huge green headsthe cabbages, what are they doing
here? They will only get drunk and bring a misfortune upon me. Let them
go into the earth. I do not want them. Angry thoughts and fierce
instincts awoke within me. A curious feeling of vengefulness took
possession of me. I began to avenge myself of my enemies. And what a
vengeance it was!
I had with me all the tools I would need for cutting the green
boughs for the Festivalpocket-knife with two blades, and a sworda
wooden sword, but a sharp one.
This sword had remained with me after L'ag Beomer. And
although I had carried it with me when I had gone with my comrades to
do battle outside the town, yet I could swear to you, though you may
believe me without an oath, that the sword had not spilled one drop of
blood. It was one of those weapons that are carried about in times of
peace. There was not a sign of war. It was quiet and peaceful around
and about. I carried the sword because I wanted to. For the sake of
peace, one must have in readiness swords and guns and rifles and
cannon, horses and soldiers. May they never be needed for ill, as my
mother used to say when she was making preserves.
* * *
It is the same all the world over. In a war, one aims first at the
leaders, the officers. It is better still if one can hit the general.
After that the soldiers fall like chaff, in any event. Therefore you
will not be surprised to hear that, first of all, I fell upon Goliath
the Philistine. I gave him a good blow on the head with my sword, and a
few good blows from the back. And the wicked one was stretched at my
feet, full length. After that I knocked over a good many more wicked
ones. I pulled the stalks out of the ground, and threw them to the
devil. The short, fat green enemies I attacked in a different manner.
Wherever I could, I took the green heads off. The others I trampled
down with my feet. I made a heap of ashes of them.
During a battle, when the blood is hot, and one is carried away by
excitement, one cuts down everything that is at hand, right and left.
When one is spilling blood, one loses one's self, one does not know
where one is in the world. At such a time, one does not honour old age.
One does not care about weak women. One has no pity for little
children. Blood is simply poured out like water.... When I was cutting
down the enemy, I felt a hatred and a malice I had never experienced
before, immediately after I had delivered the first blow. The more I
killed the more excited I became. I urged myself to go on. I was so
beside myself, so enflamed, so ecstatic that I smashed up, and
destroyed everything before me. I cut about me on all sides. Most of
all the little ones suffered at my handsthe young peas in the fat
little pods, the tiny cucumbers that were just showing above ground.
These excited me by their silence and their coldness. And I gave them
such a share that they would never forget me. I knocked off heads, tore
open bellies, shattered to atoms, beat, murdered, killed. May I know of
evil as little as I know how I came to be so wicked. Innocent potatoes,
poor things, that lay deep in the earth, I dug out, just to show them
that there was no hiding from me. Little onions and green garlic I tore
up by the roots. Radishes flew about me like hail. And may the Lord
punish me if I even tasted a single bite of anything. I remembered the
law in the Bible forbidding it. And Jews do not plunder. Every minute,
when an evil spirit came and tempted me to taste a little onion or a
young garlic, the words of the Bible came into my mind.... But I did
not cease from beating, breaking, wounding, and killing and cutting to
pieces, old and young, poor and rich, big and little, without the least
On the contrary, I imagined I heard their wails and groans and cries
for mercy, and I was not moved. It was remarkable that I who could not
bear to see a fowl slaughtered, or a cat beaten, or a dog insulted, or
a horse whippedI should be such a tyrant, such a murderer....
Vengeance, I shouted without ceasing, vengeance. I will have my
revenge of you for all the Jewish blood that was spilled. I will repay
you for Jerusalem, for the Jews of Spain and Portugal, and for the Jews
of Morocco. Also for the Jews who fell in the past, and those who are
falling today. And for the Scrolls of the Law that were torn, and for
the ... Oh! oh! oh! Help! Help! Who has me by the ear?
Two good thumps and two good smacks in the face at the one time
sobered me on the instant. I saw before me a man who, I could have
sworn, was Okhrim, the gardener.
* * *
Okhrim the gardener had for years cultivated fields outside the
town. He rented a piece of ground, made a garden of it, and planted in
it melons and pumpkins, and onions and garlic and radishes and other
vegetables. He made a good living in this way. How did I know Okhrim?
He used to deal with us. That is to say, he used to borrow money off my
mother every Passover eve, and about Succoth time, he used to
begin to pay it back by degrees. These payments used to be entered on
the inside cover of my mother's prayer-book. There was a separate page
for Okhrim, and a separate account. It was headed in big writing,
Okhrim's account. Under these words came the entries: A 'rouble
' from Okhrim. Another 'rouble' from Okhrim. Two 'roubles' from Okhrim.
Half a 'rouble' from Okhrim. A sack of potatoes from Okhrim,
and so on.... And though my mother was not richa widow with children,
who lived by money-lendingshe took no interest from Okhrim. He used
to repay us in garden-produce, sometimes more, sometimes less. We never
quarrelled with him.
If the harvest was good, he filled our cellar with potatoes and
cucumbers to last us all the winter. And if the harvest was bad, he
used to come and plead with my mother:
Do not be offended, Mrs. Abraham, the harvest is bad.
My mother forgave him, and told him not to be greedy next year.
You may trust me, Mrs. Abraham, you may trust me, Okhrim replied.
And he kept his word. He brought us the first pickings of onions and
garlic. We had new potatoes and green cucumbers before the rich folks.
I heard our neighbours say, more than once, that the widow was not so
badly off as she said. See, they bring her the best of everything. Of
course, I at once told my mother what I had heard, and she poured out a
few curses on our neighbours.
Salt in their eyes, and stones in their hearts! Whoever begrudges
me what I have, let him have nothing. I wish them to be in my position
Naturally, I at once told my neighbours what my mother had wished
them; and, of course, for these words they were enraged against her.
They called her by a name I was ashamed to hear.... Naturally I was
angry, and at once told my mother of it. My mother gave me two smacks
and told me to give up carrying 'Purim' presents from one to
the other. The smacks pained, and the words 'Purim' presents
gnawed at my brain. I could not understand why she said 'Purim'
I used to rejoice when I saw Okhrim from the distance, in his high
boots and his thick, white, warm, woollen pellisse which he wore winter
and summer. When I saw him, I knew he was bringing us a sackful of
garden produce. And I flew into the kitchen to tell my mother the news
that Okhrim was coming.
* * *
I must confess that there was a sort of secret love between Okhrim
and myselfa sort of sympathy that could not be expressed in words. We
rarely spoke to one another. Firstly, because I did not understand his
language, that is to say, I understood his but he did not understand
mine. Secondly, I was shy. How could I talk to such a big Okhrim? I had
to ask my mother to be our interpreter.
Mother, ask him why he does not bring me some grapes.
Where is he going to get them? There are no grapes growing in a
Why are there no grapes in a vegetable garden?
Because vine trees do not grow with vegetables.
Why do vine trees not grow with vegetables?
Whywhywhy? You are a fool, cried my mother, and gave me a
smack in the face.
Mrs. Abraham, do not beat the child, said Okhrim, defending me.
That is the sort of Gentile Okhrim was. And it was in his hands I
found myself that day when I waged war against the vegetables.
This is what I believe took place: When Okhrim came up and saw his
garden in ruins, he could not at once understand what had happened.
When he saw me swinging my sword about me on all sides, he ought to
have realized I was a terrible being, an evil spirit, a demon, and
crossed himself several times. But when he saw that it was a Jewish boy
who was fighting so vigorously, and with a wooden sword, he took hold
of me by the ear with so much force that I collapsed, fell to the
ground, and screamed in a voice unlike my own:
Oh! Oh! Oh! Who is pulling me by the ear?
It was only after Okhrim had given me a few good thumps and several
resounding smacks that we encountered each other's eyes and recognized
one another. We were both so astonished that we were speechless.
Mrs. Abraham's boy! cried Okhrim, and he crossed himself. He began
to realize the ruin I had brought on his garden. He scrutinized each
bed and examined each little stick. He was so overcome that the tears
filled his eyes. He stood facing me, his hands folded, and he asked me
only one solitary question:
Why have you done this to me?
It was only then that I realized the mischief I had done, and whom I
had done it to. I was so amazed at myself that I could only repeat:
Come, said Okhrim, and took me by the hand. I was bowed to the
earth with fear. I imagined he was going to make an end of me. But
Okhrim did not touch me. He only held me so tightly by the hand that my
eyes began to bulge from my head. He brought me home to my mother, told
her everything, and left me entirely in her hands.
* * *
Need I tell you what I got from my mother? Need I describe for you
her anger, and her fright, and how she wrung her hands when Okhrim told
her in detail all that had taken place in his garden, and of all the
damage I had done to his vegetables? Okhrim took his stick and showed
my mother how I had destroyed everything on all sides, how I had
smashed and broken, and trampled down everything with my feet, pulled
the little potatoes out of the ground, and torn the tops off the little
onions and the garlic that were just showing above the earth.
And why? And wherefore? Why, Mrs. Abrahamwhy?
Okhrim could say no more. The sobs stuck in his throat and choked
I must tell you the real truth, children. I would rather Okhrim with
the strong arms had beaten me, than have got what I did from my mother,
before Shevuous, and what the teacher gave me after
Shevuous. ... And the shame of it all. I was reminded of it all the
year round by the boys at Cheder. They gave me a
nicknameThe Gardener. I was Yossel the gardener.
This nickname stuck to me almost until the day I was married.
That is how I went to gather greens for Shevuous.