Avrohom The Orchard-keeper
: HIRSH DAVID NAUMBERG
When he first came to the place, as a boy, and went straight to the
house-of-study, and people, having greeted him, asked "Where do you come
from?" and he answered, not without pride, "From the Government of
Wilna"--from that day until the day he was married, they called him "the
In a few years' time, however, when the house-of-study had married him
to the daughter of the Psalm-reader, a coarse,
ndersized creature, and
when, after six months' "board" with his father-in-law, he became a
teacher, the town altered his name to "the Wilner teacher." Again, a few
years later, when he got a chest affection, and the doctor forbade him
to keep school, and he began to deal in fruit, the town learnt that his
name was Avrohom, to which they added "the orchard-keeper," and his name
is "Avrohom the orchard-keeper" to this day.
Avrohom was quite content with his new calling. He had always wished for
a business in which he need not have to do with a lot of people in whom
he had small confidence, and in whose society he felt ill at ease.
People have a queer way with them, he used to think, they want to be
always talking! They want to tell everything, find out everything,
When he was a student he always chose out a place in a corner somewhere,
where he could see nobody, and nobody could see him; and he used to
murmur the day's task to a low tune, and his murmured repetition made
him think of the ruin in which Rabbi Jose, praying there, heard the
Bas-Kol mourn, cooing like a dove, over the exile of Israel. And then he
longed to float away to that ruin somewhere in the wilderness, and
murmur there like a dove, with no one, no one, to interrupt him, not
even the Bas-Kol. But his vision would be destroyed by some hard
question which a fellow-student would put before him, describing circles
with his thumb and chanting to a shrill Gemoreh-tune.
In the orchard, at the end of the Gass, however, which Avrohom hired of
the Gentiles, he had no need to exchange empty words with anyone.
Avrohom had no large capital, and could not afford to hire an orchard
for more than thirty rubles. The orchard was consequently small, and
only grew about twenty apple-trees, a few pear-trees, and a cherry-tree.
Avrohom used to move to the garden directly after the Feast of Weeks,
although that was still very early, the fruit had not yet set, and there
was nothing to steal.
But Avrohom could not endure sitting at home any longer, where the wife
screamed, the children cried, and there was a continual "fair." What
should he want there? He only wished to be alone with his thoughts and
imaginings, and his quiet "tunes," which were always weaving themselves
inside him, and were nearly stifled.
It is early to go to the orchard directly after the Feast of Weeks, but
Avrohom does not mind, he is drawn back to the trees that can think and
hear so much, and keep so many things to themselves.
And Avrohom betakes himself to the orchard. He carries with him, besides
phylacteries and prayer-scarf, a prayer-book with the Psalms and the
"Stations," two volumes of the Gemoreh which he owns, a few works by the
later scholars, and the Tales of Jerusalem; he takes his wadded winter
garment and a cushion, makes them into a bundle, kisses the Mezuzeh,
mutters farewell, and is off to the orchard.
As he nears the orchard his heart begins to beat loudly for joy, but he
is hindered from going there at once. In the yard through which he must
pass lies a dog. Later on, when Avrohom has got to know the dog, he will
even take him into the orchard, but the first time there is a certain
risk--one has to know a dog, otherwise it barks, and Avrohom dreads a
bark worse than a bite--it goes through one's head! And Avrohom waits
till the owner comes out, and leads him through by the hand.
"Back already?" exclaims the owner, laughing and astonished.
"Why not?" murmurs Avrohom, shamefacedly, and feeling that it is,
"What shall you do?" asks the owner, graver. "There is no hut there at
all--last year's fell to pieces."
"Never mind, never mind," begs Avrohom, "it will be all right."
"Well, if you want to come!" and the owner shrugs his shoulders, and
lets Avrohom into the orchard.
Avrohom immediately lays his bundle on the ground, stretches himself out
full length on the grass, and murmurs, "Good! good!"
At last he is silent, and listens to the quiet rustle of the trees. It
seems to him that the trees also wonder at his coming so soon, and he
looks at them beseechingly, as though he would say:
"Trees--you, too! I couldn't help it ... it drew me...."
And soon he fancies that the trees have understood everything, and
murmur, "Good, good!"
And Avrohom already feels at home in the orchard. He rises from the
ground, and goes to every tree in turn, as though to make its
acquaintance. Then he considers the hut that stands in the middle of the
It has fallen in a little certainly, but Avrohom is all the better
pleased with it. He is not particularly fond of new, strong things, a
building resembling a ruin is somehow much more to his liking. Such a
ruin is inwardly full of secrets, whispers, and melodies. There the
tears fall quietly, while the soul yearns after something that has no
name and no existence in time or space. And Avrohom creeps into the
fallen-in hut, where it is dark and where there are smells of another
world. He draws himself up into a ball, and remains hid from everyone.
* * * * *
But to remain hid from the world is not so easy. At first it can be
managed. So long as the fruit is ripening, he needs no one, and no one
needs him. When one of his children brings him food, he exchanges a few
words with it, asks what is going on at home, and how the mother is, and
he feels he has done his duty, if, when obliged to go home, he spends
there Friday night and Saturday morning. That over, and the hot stew
eaten, he returns to the orchard, lies down under a tree, opens the
Tales of Jerusalem, goes to sleep reading a fantastical legend, dreams
of the Western Wall, Mother Rachel's Grave, the Cave of Machpelah, and
other holy, quiet places--places where the air is full of old stories
such as are given, in such easy Hebrew, in the Tales of Jerusalem.
But when the fruit is ripe, and the trees begin to bend under the burden
of it, Avrohom must perforce leave his peaceful world, and become a
When the first wind begins to blow in the orchard, and covers the ground
thereof with apples and pears, Avrohom collects them, makes them into
heaps, sorts them, and awaits the market-women with their loud tongues,
who destroy all the peace and quiet of his Garden of Eden.
On Sabbath he would like to rest, but of a Sabbath the trade in
apples--on tick of course--is very lively in the orchards. There is a
custom in the town to that effect, and Avrohom cannot do away with it.
Young gentlemen and young ladies come into the orchard, and hold a sort
of revel; they sing and laugh, they walk and they chatter, and Avrohom
must listen to it all, and bear it, and wait for the night, when he can
creep back into his hut, and need look at no one but the trees, and hear
nothing but the wind, and sometimes the rain and the thunder.
But it is worse in the autumn, when the fruit is getting over-ripe, and
he can no longer remain in the orchard. With a bursting heart he bids
farewell to the trees, to the hut in which he has spent so many quiet,
peaceful moments. He conveys the apples to a shed belonging to the farm,
which he has hired, ever since he had the orchard, for ten gulden a
month, and goes back to the Gass.
In the Gass, at that time, there is mud and rain. Town Jews drag
themselves along sick and disheartened. They cough and groan. Avrohom
stares round him, and fails to recognize the world.
"Bad!" he mutters. "Fe!" and he spits. "Where is one to get to?"
And Avrohom recalls the beautiful legends in the Tales of Jerusalem, he
recalls the land of Israel.
There he knows it is always summer, always warm and fine. And every
autumn the vision draws him.
But there is no possibility of his being able to go there--he must sell
the apples which he has brought from the orchard, and feed the wife and
the children he has "outside the land." And all through the autumn and
part of the winter, Avrohom drags himself about with a basket of apples
on his arm and a yearning in his heart. He waits for the dear summer,
when he will be able to go back and hide himself in the orchard, in the
hut, and be alone, where the town mud and the town Jews with dulled
senses shall be out of sight, and the week-day noise, out of hearing.