The Story of Our Lives: The Lost Princess: Useful Challenges

By Yaakov Klein 

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In our previous lesson, we learned about the “moon-people”, Jews whose lives are consumed with a search for depth and true serenity and the challenge they face from “sun-people” who can’t understand their existential anxiety and exactly what it is that they are searching for. The viceroy represents the ultimate “moon-person”, on a journey to discover the ever-elusive lost princess of passion and youthful wonder in avodas Hashem. As he searches for her in the deserts of the world, he encounters the ultimate sun-person, in the form of a giant, who tries to convince him that the place he is searching for doesn’t exist and that it is all a waste of time. The viceroy, strengthened by his years of courage in the face of failure, has the holy brazenness necessary to stand his ground and continue to insist that not only is what he searches for real, it is eminently attainable.

He said to him (the giant to the viceroy) “In my opinion, it is folly. But because you are adamant about it – I am appointed over all of the wild animals. I will do you a favor and call these animals, for they run all over the world. Perhaps one of them will know about the mountain and palace of which you speak.  

As we have discussion previously, stubbornness in avodas Hashem, called “azus d’keudsha“, “holy confidence”, is an extremely valuable trait. The viceroy has displayed azus d’kedusha throughout his search for the lost princess, beginning with his walking right past the armed guards at the gate of the beautiful and orderly palace of pure evil. Had the viceroy lacked this imperative trait, his search would have ended there – he would still be sitting outside those gates, all these years later. However, because he understands his holy mission as being of absolute importance, he feels he has nothing to lose. To the viceroy, a life lived in the absence of the lost princess is not very much of a life at all. Therefore, he consistently displays tremendous courage in the face of obstacles and finds the strength to get back up and continue the search no matter how hard he may fall.

This is another example of how this holy stubbornness enables the viceroy to move ever closer to his goal. His refusal to be fazed by the giant’s discouraging skepticism transform this awesome obstacle into a tool that can help him on his mission. The giant now seeks to help the viceroy, not despite, but “because he is so adamant about it”. The deep desperation and yearning which finds expression in a Jew’s refusal to give up on his or her mission impresses even the detracting forces, causing them to come to his aid.

There is another level here as well. Writing about how the giant offers to call the wild animals of the world which are under his care to see if they can glean any information regarding the whereabouts of the golden mountain and the pearl castle, Rebbe Nachman is teaching us an important lesson – oftentimes in life, those things which appear to be the greatest obstacles in fact, on a deeper level, bring us closer to our goal. Based on a Gemara which states that “Ein Hakadosh Baruch Hu ba b’trunia im briyosav – Hashem does not intent to torment His creations” (Avodah Zara 3a), the tzaddikim teach that Hashem gives each person challenges which are precisely commensurate with that person’s ability to deal with them. These challenges are, among others, for the purpose of enabling us to reveal the great personality strengths that remain concealed within the soul. Our tailor-made tests and struggles compel us to go beyond ourselves, to be “ma’avir al middoseinu” and assume the greatest version of ourselves that we can be. Although on an external level, the giant seems like he seeks to prevent the viceroy from continuing his odyssey – challenges look like they intend to break us, on a deeper level, he is there to aid the viceroy (just like the rest of his failures along the way  only served to strengthen his resolve so that he might make it to this stage in the first place)– b’pnimiyus, all challenges are given to us by the Master of the world to compel us to a true relationship with Him and fulfill our potential.

The way the giant attempts to aid the viceroy is by calling all of the wild animals under his care. These wild animals represent negative traits and impure desires which this tzaddik has overcome in a lifetime of absolute commitment to the illuminated ways of the holy Torah. In calling them to assist the viceroy, the giant demonstrates his newfound understanding that even the negative forces of the physical world assist a Jew in his spiritual strivings in compelling him to utilize his inner strength so that he may rule over them.

He called to all of them from the smallest to the biggest, all kinds of wild animals, and he asked them. All of them answered that they hadn’t seen such a place. “You see?” said the giant, “you have been told foolishness. If you will listen to me, turn back! For you will certainly not find it, for it is certainly not in the world. “

The most difficult challenges are those that seem to lift you up, but then return to slam you to the ground once more. After the viceroy’s hopes have been raised by the giant’s kindgesture, the result of his holy obstinance, the disappointment is all the greater when the giant uses the animals’ report to buttress his discouragement. But although the struggle is great and the forces of doubt seem just about ready to storm the fortress of his certainty, the viceroy refuses to bend.

The viceroy adamantly insisted, saying that is must certainly exist.

Strengthened by each new act of courageous faith in the face of adversity, the viceroy continues to stand his ground, even when challenged with what appears to be clear proof that the mountain of gold and the palace of pearls does not exist. This time, his azus d’kedushah pays off.

He said to him (the giant to the viceroy), “Further in the desert you will find my brother. He is in charge of all the birds. Perhaps they will know something, since they fly up high in the air, maybe they saw the mountain of gold and the palace of pearls. Go to him,  and tell him that I sent you.”

Here, the giant leads the viceroy one step closer to his goal by referring him to his brother who is in charge of all the birds of the world. This brother represents an even greater tzaddik, as he has conquered all of the birds; the yetzer hara as he appears to great tzaddikim, in a more pure and gentle form. If the birds, like the wild animals, deny the existence of this golden mountain and pearl palace, it will prove to be a far greater challenge.

The viceroy searched for him for many years, until he again encountered a giant like the previous one. He, too, carried a great tree. The giant asked him all that the first one had. The viceroy told him his whole story and how the giant’s brother had sent him here. This giant began pushing him away as well, telling him that it certainly didn’t exist, but the viceroy remained adamant.

Because the viceroy has already experienced this cycle, it is simpler for him to stand his ground, even though now he is being challenged by an even greater tzaddik. Once his position is fortified to this point, nothing and no one can move him. If there is one thing he has learned throughout this journey it is that remaining firmly committed to his holy mission regardless of obstacle will in the end enable him to proceed. He has already grown accustomed to the strange conditions of this “side path” to G-d. With the lost princess at stake, he is ready to ride out any storm, no matter what it may take.

He said to him (the giant to the viceroy) “I am appointed over all of the birds. I will call them, perhaps they know.” He called all the birds, and asked them all, from the smallest to the biggest. They answered that they did not know of this mountain or palace. “Now you can see for yourself that it doesn’t exist in the world. If you will listen to me, turn around and go back, for it doesn’t exist!” But the viceroy adamantly insisted, saying that it certainly did exist.

As we have written above, even though the challenge was now coming from an even greater tzaddik, bolstered by higher-level spiritual forces, represented by the birds, the viceroy is able to maintain his certainty that, much like contractions during labor, the more painful the challenges to his faith become, the closer he is growing to salvation and breaking out of the intensity of his current constraints to reap the reward of his courage in the great expanses of joyful elevation.

Thanks for reading! See you next time!

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