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Thursday
Sep192019

A King Without A Crown

I love reading children’s books. We all, deep down, yearn to be that child again. Reading kids books and watching kids videos is a way to reenter that innocent world. As a kids film producer once put it in an advertisement for a CD: “The kids are just an excuse…”

by Levi Liberow

But an adult reading children’s books, at the end of the day, is an adult. He’s already not so innocent, and he can analyze and critique the book. (It’s a good idea, by the way, to read what your kids read first…)

***

One story our kids are hearing from their teachers and reading in books, in the month of Elul, is “The King is in the field.”

But wait! I recently discovered a mistake in all the child-friendly versions of the story (books, coloring sheets, etc.) — the king is wearing a crown on his head, his royal robes on his body and is holding a royal scepter in hand.

To be honest, the Alter Rebbe who authored this mashal simply said that the king comes to the field. He didn’t say how he was dressed. But how else would the king come? Ask your four-year-old to describe a king…

The Rebbe Melech HaMoshiach, however, proves that the king leaves behind the crown and all:

The mashal, like all meshalim in Chabad Chassidus, was not given for shluchim to have stories to spice up their sermons. It’s here to clarify something.

We have a disturbing question: “How is it that the days of Chodesh Elul, a time of great spiritual significance, are just regular days. No kiddush, no machzor, not even chicken soup and gefilte fish. You can go to work, and besides for LeDovid Hashem Ori and a 30-second shofar blowing, all is the same!”

— “Well,” we’re answered, “it’s about Ani LeDodi, it’s gotta come from you!”

“So what’s the Vedodi Li doing there?”

— “Oh! That’s ‘cause Hashem is helping you. You can’t even count to three on your own, let alone do Teshuva…”

“Where is He? I don’t see him helping me. I’m all alone in my field, and all I could see is a castle at a 30-day distance.”

— “Buddy, you’re not looking for the king. You’re looking for a crown, for a scepter, for fancy purple robes, for awe-inspiring bodyguards and fear-striking soldiers; for a uniformed orchestra and for a regal chariot tied to six white horses — but not for the king!”

“Oh, I get it. It’s not about the whole shebang. That’s just props and sound effects. Even the crown is just a costume.”

— “You’re getting it. Well done!”

“But wait! How can I tell it’s the king without the crown. I’ve never been to the palace to know how he looks… And even if I was, I was blinded/distracted by the royalty and I didn’t record his image in my mind! What should I do?”

— “Listen to this trick. Look for the man with the smile;  look for the person smiling to everyone! He’s the king.”

“Just a smile? Is that it?”

— “It’s the kind of smile that can ‘buy’ the entire world, a smile that makes you feel close and at the same time grinds up your innards and makes you wanna be a new person.”

“Will he accept me? Does he know who I really am?”

— “He certainly does, and that’s why he left the crown behind; it would intimidate you and make you feel it’s impossible to ever get close.”

***

A king without a crown? Really? Go try to tell your four-year-old about that…

But it’s not only your four-year-old who can’t grasp the concept. Halacha too sees great importance to the king wearing his crown and maintaining a royal presentation. The Torah requires us to feel reverence for the king. We mustn’t get too comfortable with him and think that he’s “one of us.”

“Here, read this” your lamdan will tell you in support of your four-year-old: “A king … should dress and adorn himself in attractive and impressive garments, as it says: ‘Your eyes shall behold the king in his beauty.’ He sits on his throne in his palace and has a crown placed on his head” — that comes from Hilchos Melachim of the Rambam 2:5.

And wait until your four-year-old and your lamdan research the term “Kesser HaMelech” in Chassidus. They’ll have beat you hands-down…

“Hey, look at what the Mitteler Rebbe writes: ‘The king’s crown, made of inanimate gemstones, brings him great beauty and honor; this is his main kingship, as a king without a crown is not a king…’

“What can you say to that?”

***

While I’m trying to figure out how to explain a king without a crown to my four-year-old, I began to wonder  if I even have to do it. After all, four-year-olds are not the type to be in such deep trouble that they think the king unapproachable. Do they need “Hamelech Basadeh?” Maybe it’s just for adults?

I decided to check the sichos of the Rebbe to children (those found in The Rebbe Speaks to Children) to see whether the Rebbe ever used the concept when he spoke for them. I found that indeed he did, but with a certain twist:

The “field” doesn’t represent being faraway in sin, and the people in the field are not people who never met the king. Not at all, they are the people closest to the king, they are his soldiers on a mission (or even royal princes) involved in acts such as eating or sleeping. They just need a reminder from “our father, our king and our commander-in-chief” that the field-day is not here to stay, it’s only a preparation for the real thing back in the city.

Maybe the soldiers in the field actually can see the crown… maybe for them, it’s correct after all?

***

While trying to wrap my head around the “king without the crown” issue, an analogy of this phenomenon came to mind, with a very practical lesson.

In the process of Geulah we’re in since 5751, “the year in which the Melech HaMoshiach is revealed in,” the Rebbe made it clear that “all aspects of the Geulah have begun and have been brought into and received by this physical world, the lowest of all possible worlds,” (Parshas Shoftim 5751) and “we need to just open our eyes” (many times winter 5752).

“What Geulah? Where is Moshiach?” we hear the question coming up from within ourselves and from people around us.

Maybe its about time we start looking for the king without the crown, or better yet, do what a good-hearted four-year-old would do if he saw the king without a crown — go make him one out of mitzvos, and acts of goodness and kindness.

***

As I was writing this piece, I decided to “test” it on my four-year-old. At first, he found it hard to believe, then I told him the story of when the czar visited the Alter Rebbe in his jail cell disguised as a plain person. The Alter Rebbe, if you were wondering, saw right through him.

So, my son thought about it for a moment, and then he said, “but not everyone has Ruach Hakodesh…”

Good point. But this Motzei Shabbos when we say in selichos “v’ruach kodshecah al tikach mimenu — Don’t take Your holy spirit away from us,” try to remember this inspiring thought that the famous Chassid Rashbatz, would say:

“Every Jew has Ruach HaKodesh in him, you just must make sure not to waste it…”

In other words: Children! Stop behaving like adults.

The King’s Smile

In the sicha of 20 Kislev 5693 (Likkutei Dibburim, likkut 2 ch. 15), the Frierdiker Rebbe related: “The Maggid gifted the alter Rebbe with a smile. With it, he was able to ‘buy out’ the entire world. However, since the Alter Rebbe’s whole Avoda was to plant into the Chassidim the concept of Avoda P’nimis, he didn’t want to use something related to the ‘Makifim’ of the Neshama.”

The Rebbe, in his hanacha of the Farbrengen, adds the following: “My father [the Rebbe Rashab] asked the Rebbe Maharash if this [the smile] comes by inheritance? He answered him, ‘A Neshama  d’Atzilus, a Neshama Klalis, a Neshama Elyonah, has that smile.’ The Rebbe Rashab concluded, ‘I’ve never met someone who so physically suffered as my father did, but there was always a smile on his face.’”

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