Great Throughts Treasury

A database of quotes

Samuel ha-Nagid, born Samuel ibn Naghrela or Naghrillah

Spanish Hebrew Poet, Talmudic Scholar, Grammarian, Philologist, Warrior and Statesman

"At times of distress, strengthen your heart, even if you stand at death’s door. The lamp has light before it is extinguished. The wounded lion still knows how to roar."

"War is at first like a young girl with whom every man desires to flirt. And at the last is an old woman. All who meet her feel grieved and hurt."

"I billeted a strong force overnight in a citadel laid waste in former days by other generals. There we slept upon its back and flanks, while under us its landlords slept. And I said to my heart: Where are the many people who once lived here? Where are the builders and vandals, the rulers and paupers, the slaves and masters? Where are the begetters and the bereaved, the fathers and the sons, the mourners and the bridegrooms? And where are the many people born after the others had died, in days gone by, after other days and years? Once they lodged upon the earth; now they are lodged within it. They passed from their palaces to the grave, from pleasant courts to dust."

"A monarch will not favor you unless he hopes to be At ease while you labor and exert yourself in his service. You are caught in his tongs: With one hand he brings you into The flames,—while protecting you from the fire which with both hands he sets against you."

"I crossed through a souk where the butchers hung oxen and sheep at their sides, there were birds and herds of fatlings like squid, their terror loud as blood congealed over blood and slaughterers’ knives opened veins. In booths alongside them the fishmongers, and fish in heaps, and tackle like sand; and beside them the Street of the Bakers —whose ovens are fired through dawn. They bake, they eat, they lead their prey; they split what’s left to bring home. · And my heart understood how they did it and asked: Who are you to survive? What separates you from these beasts, which were born and knew waking and labor and rest? If they hadn’t been given by God for your meals, they’d be free. If He wanted this instant He’d easily put you in their place. They’ve breath, like you, and hearts, which scatter them over the earth; there was never a time when the living didn’t die, nor the young that they bear not give birth. Pay attention to this, you pure ones, and princes so calm in your fame, know if you’d fathom the worlds of the hidden: THIS IS THE LAW OF MAN."

"Do you remember the mountain pass of sand which I crossed alone while fleeing from you and afraid? Even today I am in transit over you,—but behind me are tens of thousands who obey me like their father And wait for my utterances as for the rain and attend to my wisdom as to prophecy. Because of this bless them for me my God,—may they follow after me willingly today."

"Gazing through the night and its stars, or the grass and its bugs, I know in my heart these swarms are the craft of surpassing wisdom. Think: the skies resemble a tent, stretched taut by loops and hooks; and the moon with its stars, a shepherdess, on a meadow grazing her flock; and the crescent hull in the looser clouds looks like a ship being tossed; a whiter cloud, a girl in her garden tending her shrubs; and the dew coming down is her sister shaking water from her hair onto the path; as we settle in our lives, like beasts in their ample stalls— fleeing our terror of death, like a dove its hawk in flight— though we’ll lie in the end like a plate, hammered into dust and shards."

"Is there a sea between me and you, that I should not turn aside to be with you, that I should not run with a troubled heart to sit at your grave-side? Truly, if I did not do so, I would be a traitor to our brotherly love. O my brother, here I am, facing you, sitting by your grave, and the grief in my heart is as great as on the day you died. If I greeted you, I would hear no reply. You do not come out to meet me when I visit your grounds. You will not laugh in my company, nor I in yours. You cannot see my face, nor I yours, for the pit is your home, the grave your dwelling-place! First-born of my father, son of my mother, may you have peace in your final rest, and may the spirit of God rest upon your spirit and your soul! I am returning to my own soil, for you have been locked under the soil. Sometimes I shall sleep, sometimes wake—while you lie in your sleep forever. But until my last day, the fire of your loss will remain in my heart!"

"She said: “Be happy that God has helped you reach The age of fifty in this world,” not knowing That to me there is no difference between my life’s Past and that of Noah about whom I heard. For me there is only the hour in which I am present in this world: It stays for a moment and then like a cloud moves on."

"Behold the cold days have already passed And the season of winter’s rains is buried. The young turtle-doves are seen in our land; They call to one another from the tips of branches. Therefore, my companions, keep the covenant Of friendship make haste and do not defy me. Come to my garden and pluck The roses whose perfume is like pure myrrh. And by the blossoms and gathering of swallows Who sing of the good times, drink ye Wine in measures like the tears I shed over parting With friends and as red as the faces of blushing lovers."

"Lo, I return with my spirit in torment May God have mercy upon you, my brother! A day ago I buried you But even now my complaint is bitter. Greetings I bring you! Do you not hear When I call to you with all my might? Answer me: Do you not recognize The response of my crying lament? Are your bones starting to wither And your teeth loosening in the jaw? Has your moistness fled in the night Even as mine is running in my tears? O first born of my father, I have left you As security in the hand of my Creator Whose assurance I trust That you will go in peace."

"Build me up like a tower on the heights of your sanctuary, And set me like a seal upon your heart. Make me drunk with the blood of the foe on the day of war And satisfy me with his flesh on the night of redemption. Place the cup of salvation upon my right hand That my tongue may give voice in joy to a song of love. For nearly a thousand years I have declared my sorrow With many tears and with fasting,—will You not answer me?"

"Spirit splits in its asking, and soul in its wanting is balked; and the body, fattened, is vital and full— its precious being uneasy . . . But the modest man walks on the earth with his thought drawn toward sky. What good is the pulse of man’s flesh and its favors when the mind is in pain? And the friends who fray me, their fine physiques and slender thinking, thinking it’s ease or gain that drives me, pitching from place to place, my hair wild, my eyes charcoaled with night— and not a one speaks wisely, their souls blunted, or blurred, goat-footed thinkers. Should someone unguilty hold back from longing toward heights like the moon? Should he wait, weaving its light across him like a man stretching taut his tent skin, until he acts and they hear of his action, as he adds and then adds like the sea to his fame? By God and God’s faithful— and I keep my oaths— I’ll climb cliffs and descend to the innermost pit, and sew the edge of desert to desert, and split the sea and every gorge, and sail in mountainous ascent, until the word “forever” makes sense to me, and my enemies fear me, and my friends in that fear find solace; then free men will turn their faces toward mine, as I face theirs, and soul will save us, as it trips our obstructors. The beds of our friendship are rich with it, planted by the river of affection, and fixed like a seal in wax, like graven gold in the windowed dome of the temple. May YAH be with you as you love, and your soul which He loves be delivered, and the God of sentence send aegis, beyond both the sun and the moon."

"Spirit splits in its asking, and soul in its wanted is balked; and the body, fattened, is vital and full— its precious being uneasy . . . But the modest man walks on the earth with his thought drawn toward sky. What good is the pulse of man’s flesh and its favors when the mind is in pain?"

"War begins like a pretty girl with whom every man wants to flirt and ends like an ugly old woman whose visitors suffer and weep."

"I crossed through a souk where the butchers hung oxen and sheep at their sides… as blood congealed over blood and slaughterers’ knives opened veins. Pay attention to this, you pure ones, and princes so calm in your fame, know if you’d fathom the worlds of the hidden: This is the law of man."

"The truth hurts like a thorn at first; but in the end it blossoms like a rose."

"There are three kinds of companions: some are like food, indispensable; some like medicine, good occasionally; and some like poison, unnecessary at any time."

"To boast of the help you gave a brother in need is to cancel the good of your deed."

"Ingratitude to man is ingratitude to God."

"There is no one who never stumbled."

"What is it that troubles you? Death? Who lives forever? Or because your foot has stumbled on the earth? There is no man who has never stumbled."

"Be glad, young man, in your youth, let your heart bring you cheer while you are young. Follow the paths your heart suggest, sights your eyes take in, but know that for all these things, God will bring you to judgment. Remove anger from your heart, shake off sorrow from your flesh, youth and black hair are fleeting."

"Blessed rain? a wisely constructed creation."

"Consider how shameful rejoicing is, since it comes between two bouts of woe. You wept when you came into this world, and another mourns you when you go."

"I stationed a strong force in a citadel which soldiers had destroyed long ago. We slept there, in it, and around it, and its owners slept beneath us, down below. I said to myself: 'Where are the people, those who lived here in years that have gone? Where are the builders and destroyers, the slaves, and their masters, the princes and the woebegone? Where are the parents, the bereaved, the fathers, the sons, the bridegrooms, and the mourners, and the large numbers that were born after these, as the seasons turned through the cycle of the years? They were all neighbors on the face of the earth, and now they lie together in the earth's womb. They moved to the dust from their pleasant courts, and from their palaces towards the tomb. Were they to raise their heads and emerge, they would despoil us, of our lives and possessions. In truth, my soul, in truth, by to-morrow, I shall be like them, and all my companions."

"In times of sorrow, take heart, even though you stand at death?s door: the candle flares up before it dies, and wounded lions roar."

"I look up to the sky and the stars, and down to the earth and the things that creep there. And I consider in my heart how their creation was planned with wisdom in every detail. See the heavens above like a tent, constructed with loops and with hooks, and the moon with its stars, like a shepherdess sending her sheep into the reeds; the moon itself among the clouds, like a ship sailing under its banners; the clouds like a girl in her garden moving, and watering the myrtle-trees; the dew-mist?a woman shaking drops from her hair to the ground. The inhabitants turn, like animals, to rest, (their palaces are their stables); and all fleeing from the fear of death, like a dove pursued by the falcon. And these are compared at the end to a plate which is smashed into innumerable shards."

"Man runs towards the grave, and rivers hasten to the great deep the end of all living is their death, and the palace in time becomes a heap. Nothing is further than the day gone by, and nothing nearer than the day to come, and both are far, far away from the man hidden in the heart of the tomb."

"Man's wisdom is at the tip of his pen, his intelligence is in his writing. His pen can raise a man to the rank that the scepter accords to a king."

"My friend, we pass our lives as if in sleep; our pleasures and our pains are merely dreams. But stop your ears to all such things, and shut your eyes--may Heaven grant you strength!--Don't speculate on hidden things; leave that to God, the Hidden One, whose eye sees all. But send the lass who plays the lute to fill the cup with coral drink, put up in kegs in Adam's time, or else just after Noah's flood, a pungent wine, like frankincense, a glittering wine, like gold and gems, such wine as concubines and queens would bring King David long ago. The day they poured that wine into the drum, King David's singer Jerimoth would strum and sing: "May such a wine as this be kept preserved and stored in sealed-up kegs and saved for all who crave the water of the grape, for every man who holds the cup with skill, who keeps the rule Ecclesiastes gave, revels, and fears the tortures of the grave."

"My friend, tell me, when shall I pour you my wine? The cry of the cock woke me, and sleep has deserted my eyes. Come out and see the morning light like a scarlet thread in the East. Make haste, give me a cup, before the dawn starts to rise, of spiced pomegranate juice from the perfumed hand of a girl, who will sing songs. My soul revives and then dies."

"The earth is a prison to a man all his life. Therefore I say this truth to the fool: though you rush about, the sky surrounds you on all sides. Try to get out, if you can."

"Rejoice, young man, in your youth and let your heart cheer you in the days of your youth, and walk in the ways of your heat and in the sight of your eyes but know that for all these things God will bring you into judgment."

"Occupy yourself diligently with secular books, they will be useful guides in social life."