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Article: A Brand Plucked from the Fire

אוד מוצל מאש

A Brand Plucked from the Fire

Tsila Hayun

Forty-one burnt scraps of paper bear silent testimony to a literary project that never saw the light of day. The Corpus Hasidicum, a comprehensive collection of Hasidic stories, was the brainchild of the young author S. Y. Agnon (1887–1970). Agnon turned to Martin Buber, a well-known philosopher who regarded Agnon as representing the spirit of Eastern European Jewry, and the two then reached out to the poet and publisher Haim Nahman Bialik. Bialik commissioned them to create the anthology.

How much did they achieve? Which stories did they manage to collect? We will never know. A fire broke out in Agnon’s home in Germany and consumed all the contents of the house, including his vast library, the papers in his study, and the manuscript of the first volume of Corpus Hasidicum.

Agnon’s enormous grief and sorrow led him to leave Germany in 1924 and return, once again, to the Land of Israel, this time to build his permanent home. There, in Jerusalem, he would write thousands more pages, including numerous stories interweaving Hasidic tales. His literary enterprise was unparalleled in its originality and influence on Hebrew literature, eventually winning him the Nobel Prize in Literature.

Martin Buber went on to publish Hidden Light, in which he rewrote Hasidic stories with a universalist and existential bent. Agnon’s collection of the Hasidic stories of the Baal Shem Tov was published posthumously. The vestiges of the stories collected by Buber and Agnon may be read in the burnt pages housed in the National Library; however, Agnon never returned to the Corpus Hasidicum project.

Sometimes a file in the library archives is like a branch salvaged from a burning fire. It is a glimmer of writing and thought that never reached its culmination, whose full brilliance cannot be fathomed, though it might have illuminated our world with its radiance.