In the center of a bustling metropolis stood a tall, forbidding gate. Behind the bars, marble pillars lined a brick path leading to the giant metal doors of the palace. People were filled with awe and wonderment when passing the majestic-looking building. They had all heard about the king, but his persona remained a mystery, even to his closest advisors. They saw him only on rare occasion, and when they did, he appeared perfectly dignifiedHis presence was intimidating and his demeanor mysterious and impeccable. His presence was intimidating and his demeanor mysterious. He rarely spoke in front of people, and never betrayed his personal thoughts or emotions. The king was thus larger than life, more than just a human being to his subjects. This aura of mystique was carefully maintained.
The population of the larger cities mostly consisted of the elite members of society. The doctors, lawyers, professors and ministers lived in these cities. The king treated them with honor, and some were even offered positions in the government. However, he was sure to keep a distance from them, always remaining elusive.
In the more rural areas lived the lowest class of society, the peasants, who spent their days working in the fields. These peasants were not just farmers because that was their chosen profession, but because they were simple in character, loyally doing their job with diligence and devotion. Illiterate and unrefined, they were often dismissed by the more elite classes. Yet the king was acutely aware that they were the most valuable contributors. Even the most sophisticated citizen would starve without their produce.
The king looked for a way to ensure that these outliers felt part of the country as a whole, because without them everything would collapse.
King in the Field
The peasants were gathered in the market one day, sharing their crops and catching up on gossip, when they noticed an unfamiliar farmer roaming around. He looked like the rest of them, but his overalls were unusually clean and he carried himself with a distinct dignity. They began to whisper among themselves about the stranger, until one man suggested something wild.
“Y’know, I think that might be the king.”
The group of peasants burst out laughing. “The king? Are you kidding? The king lives far away in a gigantic palace. He probably doesn’t even know we exist!”
“No, I’m telling you, that’s the king. I’ve seen his picture.”
One of the farmers ran home to find a picture. Indeed, this new farmer looked exactly like the king, except that the man in the picture had a penetrating glare and a fierce expression, while this new farmer’s eyes twinkled with a playful charm. One brave peasant ventured over to ask him directly.
“Well, yes, I am the king,” he answered, smiling broadly.
An electric excitement spread instantly through the crowd. The king was wise, intuitive, and surprisingly easy to speak toThe king came to visit them without his entourage, his honor guard or his royal attire! The notion was unfathomable. The king sat down, and they gathered around to schmooze with him. He asked them about their farming and their crops, and soon the scene seemed so casual, so ordinary, that they forgot their initial excitement. Some of the farmers began to wander away, anxious to get back to their work. Some went home and only returned to spend time with the king on the weekends, when they had spare time.
Others were completely enamored by the king, eager to relish every moment in his presence. They threw down their plows and spent their days drinking in his every word. They noticed that the king was wise, intuitive, and surprisingly easy to speak to. He took interest in their personal lives and was understanding of their daily struggles. As the weeks went by, it seemed as though he forgot that he was a king altogether.
A full month passed by before the king’s visit came to an end. The king sadly informed the farmers that it was time for him to return to his palace, but that anyone who wished was welcome to join him. Then the king donned his royal robes, his entourage returned, and a royal procession advanced toward the palace.
The elite ministers excitedly greeted the king at the entrance to the city and escorted him toward the palace, while the farmers followed sheepishly behind. They finally arrived at the formidable gates of the palace, and the king turned to face the crowd: “Everyone stand back. Only these folks may enter my palace.”
Peasants in the Palace
When they first entered the palace, the peasants were bewildered and clumsy. They ran awkwardly through the halls, stumbling over each other. They grabbed food with their hands as soon as it appeared on the table. When they conversed, they used crude language, slurring their words and interrupting each other mid-sentence. They broke objects, and paintings fell off the walls. They slammed doors and often lost their way around.
At the same time, the farmers were stunned by the aura that filled their new surroundings. Something about it commanded a certain reverence. Slowly, the peasants adapted to their new environment, and began to master the palatial etiquette. They began to walk slowly and with dignity. They learned to speak courteously and listen politely to others. They learned to wait patiently for their food to be served, and not to look too excited about it when it arrived. They learned to use forks and knives, and napkins too. They engaged in conversation with the king’s ministers and the royal family. Gradually, their environment transformed them into refined, sophisticated and noble people. They were exhilarated by the experience.
Just when they are getting acclimated, the king called the peasants together for a meeting. He stood before the group of starry-eyed peasants and announced, “Thank you all for joining me in my palace for the last ten days. But you must remember that you all have a job to do. It is time for you to go home and harvest your wheat.”
The peasants looked at each other in shock. The peasants looked at each other in shockThe notion of returning to their ordinary lives on the farm was appalling. Ten days of living in the palace had shifted them into a sublime state of mind. They had been trained to walk, eat and sleep like royalty. It was painful to imagine putting on their stained overalls and picking up their plows again.
The king continued, “You are the most important to me because you feed this entire country. I brought you here to show you how much you matter to me and how much I depend on you. But now it is time for you to go home and do the job that everyone is counting on you for.”
Dancing in the Park
Somewhat reluctantly, the peasants left the palace doors, and as they did, the intensity of ten days exploded like air released from a pressurized canister. The ambiance of the palace had been so thrilling, there had been no space to process their experience. The energy they had compressed inside their hearts as they tried to maintain their hyper-focused behavior now erupted into uncontainable joy. The adrenalin was powerful and their spirits were soaring. Exhilarated, they took off to a nearby park and began to dance. Desperate for a means of expressing their elation, the peasants resorted to what they knew best. Gone were the sophistication, the cultured manners and the rigid performance. They danced, they sang, they drank and they danced some more. They rejoiced in the fact that their existence was noticed, and they celebrated the attention and love they had experienced.
The Turning Point
Seven days of partying left the peasants depleted of wine, food and energy. They lay on the ground, exhausted from the dramatic whirlwind they had been through. They were too tired to celebrate and too tired to move, so they began to think. As they lay on the grass, exhausted and sweaty, a novel idea entered their collective consciousness: The king showed us his immense appreciation of us by engaging with us, visiting us and bringing us into his palace. But there is something even more powerful that the king was trying to convey. The king didn’t go through this ritual just to display his love, but to show us the importance of our responsibility. We don’t farm all year around so the king will give us special treatment. We do it because the king has trusted us with a duty to feed this country. And that is the greatest gift of all.
As this realization sank in, a metamorphosis took place in the people. They shifted from relishing their personal experience to feeling empowered. With renewed enthusiasm they leapt up to dance again. They celebrated once more, but this time they didn’t celebrate the king’s appreciation of them, but their newfound responsibility.
The Journey Home
After one more day of dancing, they finally journeyed back home. They returned to their farms with a renewed sense of duty. It didn’t matter anymore that they were poor and unsophisticated, and that the rest of the country looked down on them. It didn’t even matter that the king himself recognized them. All that mattered now was the service they would provide for their country.
G‑d created many spiritual worlds filled with angels, who have a sophisticated understanding of spirituality. Beneath these spiritual worlds is the physical world, where we human beings exist. We have almost no awareness of G‑dliness at all, but we sustain all of the spiritual worlds with our mitzvahs.
Once a year, during the month of Elul, G‑d makes Himself completely available to us, but in a way that is so subtle, we might miss Him altogether if we don’t make the effort to discover Him.
The High Holidays, on the other hand, evoke a natural Once a year, G‑d makes Himself completely available to usreaction in every Jew, irrespective of his efforts. The aura that surrounds the ten days fromRosh Hashanah to Yom Kippur is so overpowering that Jews automatically react with a sense of awe. Then, after Yom Kippur is over, the intensity wears off and it is as if this otherworldly experience never happened at all. But we don’t stop there.
During the High Holidays, we spent our days fasting and praying, experiencing G‑d’s love on His terms. Four days later, on Sukkot, we eat and rejoice and celebrate G‑d’s love on our terms. After seven days of celebrating, Shemini Atzeret arrives, and we stop to absorb the experiences of the entire month. It is at that point that we realize that our greatest joy is not simply that G‑d loves us, but that He chose us for a mission by giving us the Torah. This realization is followed by Simchat Torah, when we dance for one last day, celebrating the mission G‑d empowered us with by giving us the Torah.
Finally, following Simchat Torah, we take leave of the whirlwind of holidays and return to our ordinary lives, empowered by our newfound purpose.
This story was adapted from a lecture by Rabbi Yossi Paltiel. This story is an embellishment of the analogy given in Likkutei Torah for the month of Elul. Based on various other chassidic discourses, this story has been extended to the holidays that follow in the month of Tishrei.
This article was originally published on chabad.org.