11 Cheshvan 5781 / Thursday, October 29, 2020 | Torah Reading: Lech Lecha
 
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The King and the Woodsman    

The King and the Woodsman



This is Rabbi Lazer's adaptation of an old Chassidic parable that he heard in Yiddish from the Melitzer Rebbe. Hidden within the parable are the secrets of Elul and Rosh Hashana.

 



The King and the Woodsman, Part 1

This is Rabbi Lazer's adaptation of an old Chassidic parable that was first told by Rebbe Levi Yitzchak of Berditchev over two centuries ago and recently retold in Yiddish by the Melitzer Rebbe at a "Shalosh Seudos" tish. Hidden within the parable are the secrets of Elul and Rosh Hashana.

The King longed for a breath of fresh air. Oftentimes, he felt like a bird in a golden cage. The matters of state pressed on his brain, and from morning until night he received a never-ending stream of functionaries - each with his own urgent reason for deserving a royal audience. "Enough," said the King to himself, "I must go for an unescorted excursion along the palatial garden trail. The lake, the flora, and the fauna will surely revive my soul."
 
 
Oftentimes, he felt like a bird in a golden cage…
 
Shedding his crown and his royal robes, the king dressed in a simple equestrian's costume and exited the palace as unobtrusively as possible. The moment his feet left the highly-polished marble walkway and trod on the rich green grass, the King's heart soared. The golden sun of late afternoon shimmered on the lake, while the swans effortlessly glided along the water in the soft, refreshing breeze of the Russian summer's last days. The more the King walked, the more elated he felt. His mind sprouted wings, while his thoughts seemed to cruise alongside the fluffy clouds. Losing all sense of time and direction, the King wandered far beyond the confines of the palace grounds.
 
Before he knew it, the sun made its hasty descent in the western horizon, and a cool evening wind chased away the warm breeze of daytime. The Lake and the lush lawns gave way to thick stands of oak and white poplar. By the time the King reached a clearing, it was nearly dark. He had been walking for nearly four hours; bewildered, he looked from side to side, unable to fathom the way back to the palace.
 
Suddenly, he heard the sound of hooves. A band of ruthless woodsmen entered the clearing. "Please," the King pleaded, as he approached the woodsman on the lead horse, "help me find my way back to the palace. I am the King and you gentlemen shall be well rewarded."
 
"The King!" guffawed the scar-faced leader. "If you're the King, then I must be the Bishop," scoffed the leader, to the delight of his henchmen, while brandishing his sword.
 
The King fled deep into the woods, temporarily safe from the band on horseback. An hour later, he encountered a lone shack deep in the woods; to the King's misfortune, this was none other than the hideout of another gang of thieves. Again, the King begged for assistance. Again, he was insulted, ridiculed, and threatened. Luckily, the thieves were sluggish from their daily excess of vodka, so the King was able to escape from them as well.
 
An owl hooted its haunting chant, and a wolf howled at the moon. The night's temperatures were dropping fast. A growing fear entered the King's heart. If the woodmen bandits wouldn't kill him, then the wild animals and the perils of the forest would. The King had no idea what to do or where to turn. He leaned against a tree, caught his breath, and tried valiantly to prevent despair from subjugating him. "I must maintain my clarity," said the King to himself.
 
A hand come from nowhere and grabbed the King from behind. A massive forearm choked him, while another iron hand twisted his arm, nearly tearing it from its socket. "Vassily, look at this prize," yelled a burly voice in South Russian vernacular, "a regular nobleman; wait 'til you see his black leather boots!"
 
"Ach," moaned the King, his arm wrenching in pain and his chest struggling to inhale. "Please," he gasped, "have pity on me! I-I am King Gustav. I-I've lost my way. I beg of you, shelter me for the night and help me return to the palace and you will be rewarded for life. I have 100 gold rubles with me. I can give you much more..."
 
The burly, bearded sheepskin-clothed leader approached the King, still painfully restrained in the clutches of one of the woodsmen, and produced a menacing hunting knife from its sheath. The sharp cold steel touched the King's neck, sending a shiver of terror up his spine. "Not only will you relinquish the hundred rubles, nobleman, but you shall relinquish your life. No one discovers our hideout and lives to see another sunrise."
 
The King dared not move a muscle. Only the fear of the ominous blade that hovered over his throat outdid the excruciating pain in his shoulder, for the merciless bandit had nearly yanked the King's right arm from its socket. The end seemed imminent.
 
For no apparent reason, Vassily lowered the knife and replaced it in its sheath. "Release the nobleman, Ivan; take the others, and go fetch the horses."
 
"But Vassily..."
 
"Do as I say, you daft ox, or I'll slit your wretched throat," hissed the leader. "I shall dispose of the nobleman personally." Ivan, like a reprimanded puppy with its tail between its legs, took the other bandsmen and disappeared into the woods.
 
Vassily's eyes softened as he focused through the darkness on the King's bewildered countenance. "We have no time, Your Majesty," he whispered; "let us hasten, for shortly, every villain in the forest will be in hot pursuit of us."
 
"What on earth...," gasped the King.
 
"Forgive my disrespect, Your Majesty, but let us belay the needless banter for the time being; we must move swiftly and silently."
 
To be continued.
 
 
 




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