Sunday, March 19, 2006

A View of Simplicity from Rav Nachman of Breslov

It once happened that the king came upon the royal chronicles and discovered that two sons were recorded, one named "clever" and the other named "simple." It was astonishing in his eyes that these two individuals were known as "clever" and "simple," and the king desired to see them.

The King thought to himself, "If I suddenly send for them and ask them to come before me, they will be very afraid. The clever man will not be able to think properly, and the simpleton may lose his mind altogether for fright." So the king decided to send for the clever man by the agency of another clever man, and to send for the simpleton by the agency of another simpleton. But how could he find a simpleton in the royal capital, since the inhabitants of a royal capital are for the most part intelligent? As it so happened, the keeper of the treasury was a simple man. No-one wanted someone too clever to be the keeper of the treasury lest, through his cleverness and intelligence, he spend the kingdom's assets; thus, this simple man had specifically been selected.

The king called for a clever man and for the simple keeper of the treasury, and sent them off to the two sons, respectively, giving each of them a letter of appointment. He also gave them a letter for the governor of the region, explaining that these two sons were under his rulership and asking that the governor send them each a letter in the king's name, so that they would not be frightened. The king asked the governor also to write that this was not an official summons; rather, it was up to them to decide whether or not they wished to come. If they so wished, then they should come, since the king desired to see them.

The two messengers - the clever one and the simple one - set off; they reached the governor and gave him the letter. The governor asked about the two sons, and they told him that the clever one was an exceptionally intelligent and very wealthy man, while the simpleton was extremely simple and owned just one cloak, (as we mentioned). The governor decided that it would certainly not be appropriate for the simpleton to be brought before the king dressed in his shabby cloak, so he had suitable clothes made for him, and he placed them in the simpleton's wagon. Then he gave the letters to messengers, and the messengers traveled and reached their destinations. They handed over their respective letters - the clever messenger to the clever man and the simple messenger to the simpleton. The simpleton, upon receiving his letter, immediately said to the simple messenger who had brought it "I do not know what is written here; please read it for me."

The messenger replied, "I will tell you what the letter is about: the king wants you to come before him."

The simpleton begged, "Please, no foolishness!"

He replied, "This is really the truth, with no foolishness."

The simpleton was filled with joy, and ran to tell his wife.

Wife, the king has sent for me!"

She asked him, "For what reason?"

He had not even the time to answer her; in his great joy he hurried to set off immediately with the messenger. He got into the wagon and sat down, and found the clothes that had been placed there. His joy increased even more.

Meanwhile, rumors were circulating that the governor was corrupt, and the king decided to replace him. The king felt it would be better if the governor was a simple man, since such a person would govern in truth and uprightness, and lack guile and trickery. And so the king commanded that the simpleton for whom he had sent be made the governor, and he sent orders to this effect. The simpleton would travel via the governor's city: the guards would await his arrival and as soon as he reached the city he was to be detained and told that he had been appointed governor. And so it was. They waited at the city gates and as soon as he arrived, they stopped him and told him that he had been appointed governor.

He pleaded, "Please - no foolishness!"

They answered, "Certainly - no foolishness."

And so the simpleton was made governor on the spot, with all the appropriate pomp and circumstance. Now, his luck had begun to increase, and since luck makes one wise, he began gaining some understanding. Nevertheless, he made no use of his cleverness. He simply governed in all his customary innocence and administered the area with wholehearted truth and uprightness; no corruption was found in him. After all, the administration of a county does not require any great intelligence or cleverness; it requires uprightness and wholeheartedness. When two people came before him for judgment, he would say, "You are innocent, and you are guilty," in accordance with his wholeheartedness, with no guile or deceit, and so he conducted everything in truth. And the citizens of the county loved him greatly.

He had advisors who loved him, and it was out of love that one of them counseled him as follows: "It is inevitable that you will be summoned before the king - after all, he has already sent for you once, and in any case it is normal for a governor to come before the king. Therefore, despite the fact that you are entirely proper and there is no corruption whatsoever in your handling of the county, nevertheless, it is the manner of the king that when he speaks, his words are inclined in a certain way: he speaks of all kinds of wisdoms and in other languages. Therefore, it is proper and polite that you be able to answer him. Therefore, allow me to teach you wisdoms and languages."

This advice was acceptable to the simpleton, who replied: "What do I care if I learn wisdoms and languages?!"

Immediately after acquiring such knowledge, it occurred to him that his clever friend had once told him that he would never be able, under any circumstances, to exceed his clever friend's intelligence. Now he had already achieved such cleverness (although, despite the fact that he had learned wisdoms, he made no use of them at all, but rather continued to run everything with his customary innocence.)

Some time later the king sent for the simpleton, now the governor, and he went to him. At first, the king spoke to him about his administration of the county, and the king was very pleased with what he heard, for it was clear that he governed with uprightness and great truth, with no corruption and deceit. Thereafter, the king spoke of wisdoms and in other tongues. The simpleton answered him appropriately, and the king was pleased with this, too, saying: "I see that he is so clever, but nevertheless he governs with such uprightness!" And so the king was exceedingly satisfied, and he appointed the simpleton over all his ministers. He selected a special palace for him, where he would live, and commanded that beautiful and grand walls be built around the palace. The king then gave him his appointment as minister in writing. And so it was: they built him quarters where the king had commanded and he received great honor.

When the clever man received the king's letter, he said to the clever messenger who had delivered it: "Stay over here tonight, and we shall talk and decide." That evening he prepared a great feast for him. During the feast, the clever man thought with great intelligence and philosophy, and said:

What is this, that such a king should send for such a lowly person as myself - who am I, that the king should send for me?! The king has his kingdom and his greatness, while I am a lowly, despised being in comparison with such a great and awesome king - how can it be logical that such a king would send for such a lowly one as me? If he did so because of my wisdom - what am I in relation to the king? Has the king any lack of wise men? And the king himself must also be very clever, so how can it be that he would send for me?

It puzzled him very greatly. And then the clever man said (i.e., the first clever man; the friend of the simpleton, for all of this is what that first clever man, the friend of the simpleton, said). After being greatly puzzled and baffled, he answered his own question, and then said to the clever messenger:

"Listen to what I have to say. I think it is obvious and clear that there is no king at all, and everyone is mistaken in this regard, for believing that there is a king. Look and understand: how can it be that everyone subjects himself and dedicates himself to one person - the king? There is surely no king in the world at all.

The clever messenger replied, "But did I not bring you a letter from the king?"

The first clever man answered him with a question: "Did you personally receive the letter from the hand of the king himself?"

The messenger replied, "No. Another person gave me the letter in the name of the king."

He answered, "So you can see for yourself that what I am saying is true: there is no king."

Then he questioned further: "Tell me - are you not from the capital city? Did you not grow up there? Tell me - have you ever seen the king?"

The messenger answered, "No." (For this was true; not everyone managed to see the king, for the king showed himself in public only on very rare occasions.)

The first clever man said, "Now it is clear that what I say is true, that there is no king - you yourself even admit that you have never seen him."

The messenger asked, "Then who runs the country?"

The clever man answered, "I will tell you. It is good that you have asked me, for I am an expert in this since I have visited many countries. I was once in Italy, and the practice there is to have seventy advisory ministers. They ascend and rule the country for a certain period, and all the citizens of the country have a chance to hold this position, one after the other."

His words began to make an impression on the wise messenger, and eventually they were in complete agreement that there was no king in the world at all.

The clever man spoke once again: "Stay until morning; I will continue to demonstrate proof after proof that there is no king at all."

The clever man arose early in the morning (we refer here to the clever man who was the friend of the simpleton; we always refer to him as the clever man) and woke up his friend, the clever messenger.

He said to him, "Come with me outside; I will demonstrate to you how the whole world is mistaken, and that there is truly no king at all, and everyone is making a big mistake."

They went to the marketplace and saw a soldier. They stopped him and asked, "Whom do you serve?"

He answered, "The king."

"Have you ever seen the king?"


The clever man exclaimed, "See, have you ever heard anything so ridiculous?!"

They went on to another soldier and began talking to him, until eventually they asked, "Whom do you serve?"

"The king."

"Have you ever seen the king?"


The clever man remarked, "See for yourself, it is clear that everyone is mistaken, and there is no king in the world at all."

They all agreed that there was truly no king at all. The clever man spoke again: "Let us go and travel about the world, and I will demonstrate further how the whole world is greatly mistaken."

They traveled around the world, and wherever they went they found everyone mistaken. And this saying, that there was no king, became a parable between them, and wherever they went they mentioned the king as a parable: "Just as it is true that there is a king, so this is true." They traveled on and on until their means ran out, and they began to sell their horses one after the other until they were all sold and they were forced to travel by foot. And still they would study the world and find that everyone was mistaken. They became wandering paupers, and their importance was gone, and they were not held in esteem for no-one paid them any attention, for they were regular paupers....

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