Sunday, June 26, 2011

A Castle of Seven Stories



           About a decade ago, I heard the following parable from a teacher of mine, Rabbi Yosef Yitzchak Jacobson, who quoted it from the holy Baal Shem Tov:

            There was once a King who decided to set a date when all the subjects of His kingdom can meet Him freely, without appointments. He sent heralds around the kingdom announcing the date. The populace was very excited. The people prepared for the day. As the day approach their lists of requests grew longer.

            Finally the long awaited day arrived. They donned their best clothing and before dawn eagerly surrounded the castle. The moment dawn broke, a herald blew a trumpet and the drawbridge started descending. Hearts pumped with excitement. The moment the bridge was down, the crowd poured in.

            The castle had seven floors. The King, wanting to honor his guests, had each floor set up with its own unique entertainment. The first floor was set up as a banquet hall. The King hired the finest chefs in the kingdom to create the most delicious mouth-watering delicacies.  Many of the people never even witnessed such culinary creations in their whole lives. Some were so entranced that they just kept eating without ever realizing that they were full.

            The second floor was set up as a tavern, featuring the finest wines the kingdom had to offer. Many of these wines were brought up from the royal wine cellars. Each wine came with a unique history about its vintage, its age and the barrels it fermented in.  Some of the wines were literally centuries old. If you were into wine this was your spot.   

            The third floor was set up as a concert hall, where the finest musicians of the kingdom gathered to entertain the guests. They spent months rehearsing together just for this momentous occassion. They played in a wide variety of musical styles. Never once that whole day was the same melody played in the exact same way. It was too intriguing to resist.

            The fourth floor was the royal library. Books, manuscripts and scrolls containing all the wisdoms available to the kingdom were set out for display. It was literally an intellectual’s paradise. There were many intellectuals who finally opened books the answered their deepest questions; questions that haunted them for years and years.

            The fifth floor was a royal art museum. All the finest royal artwork was tastefully set up for display. The people were finally able to gasp at real life portraits of the kingdom’s legendary heroes and historical figures. The history of the kingdom was all there in it’s art. Among the paintings were also landscapes of places whose features had changed centuries ago. Here they were remembered in their original state.  Also, there were special exhibits featuring contemporary paintings emphasizing their new styles of creative expression.

            The sixth floor was a display of the royal jewels. The spotlights were aimed just right to make each gem cheerfully gleam and glisten. There were the royal crowns: the coronation crowns, the ceremonial crowns, the crowns worn at balls, the crowns for visiting places of worship, crowns for receiving diplomats, etc.   And of course there was much personal jewelry as well, like royal wedding rings, bracelets, etc.

            On the seventh floor was the throne room. The King sat eagerly awaiting His guests. 

            Twelve hours from opening, when royal heralds made the rounds to all the floors announcing “the castle is closing”, the visitors were shocked. It felt like their day just began and they were being chased out too fast! Except for one person, nobody ever got to see the King. They were all so busy enjoying the royal entertainment that their sense of time had disappeared. 

            Who was this one person who got to see the King? He was an uncultured peasant who was so uncultured that none of the entertainment gripped him. He had no basis for appreciating what he was being exposed to and what the crowd was raving about. When he tasted the food it tasted weird, he was actually happy that his wife packed lunch. He tried out a few wines, each one more or less tasted like the next. He found the fine unique process of creating each wine seemed to him like an impractical waste for something that will end up tasting the same anyway.  He was too tone deaf to appreciate the music. He could not read the books. The art gallery was a pretty view; but to him, it looked to him much like the rest of the artfully decorated castle. In his mind, it blurred with the portraits and other art work throughout the castle. The royal jewels were somebody else’s valuables, not his. So before he knew it he climbed up enough steps and stood right in front of the King. 

            He told the King that he needed a new cow, a new roof, better quality feed for his animals. He also needed the landlord to reduce the rent. He asked for everything that his peasant sensitivities were able to fathom and imagine. The King approved and the peasant left happy.


            The parable describes why a human being on earth can have a special relationship with the Creator that cannot be enjoyed by the inhabitants of the celestial realms.  

            The King in the parable is the Creator. The various floors of the castle are the levels of paradise. All the entertainment on each of these floors represents the Divine pleasures offered in each heavenly realm.  

Even though the pleasures are very spiritual, they're all “about the King”. They're not the King Himself. Paradoxically, only a being too unrefined to appreciate the spiritual music of paradise and be distracted by its allure has the privilege to meet with the King Himself. This “being” is an earthbound human who lives like a "peasant” by inhabiting a realm deprived of spiritual delights. Now you know why we are the lucky ones. 


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