Translation:Tales of Rabbi Nachman/6
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The Humble King
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A Tale. There was once a king who had a wise man. The king spoke up to the wise man, “Inasmuch as there is a king whose signature declares that he is a great man of might, and a man of truth, and humble (in other words, a truthful person who does not rely on himself [lit. "hold of himself"]): mighty — I know that he is a great man of might, for the sea flows around his country, and on the sea is stationed a navy on warships with cannons and they do not allow anyone to approach, and inwards from the sea there is a great swamp (a place where one drowns) surrounding the country, through which there is only one narrow path wide enough for only one person to pass; there too cannons are positioned, so that if someone comes to attack, the cannons are fired, so it is impossible to set foot there.
“But his signing himself as being a man of truth and humble — this I do not know, and I want you to bring me this king's portrait." For the king had all the portraits of all the kings, but the portrait of that king (who signs himself in such fashion as mentioned) was not found by any king, for he is concealed from people, since he sits under a veil [Yid. forhang, Heb. killah], and he is far from his countrymen.
The wise man went to that country. He came to the realization that he must come to know the essence of the country (in other words, the "thing" of the country; how the country works). And how can he find out the country's essence? — by way of the country's jests [Yid. katoves < Slav. katavasnik prankster < Gr. katavasis descent]. Because when one needs to know [the essence of] something, one must know its jesting. For there are many types of jesting: there is one who really wants to smite the other with his words, and when the other takes notice [lit. "looks around"] he says to him, “I am joshing! (Ich treib katoves, lit. "I drive a jest")” as in the verse, “Like one who wearies himself shooting firebrands... and says, 'Am I not joking?'” [Prov. 26:18-19], and so there is someone who really means a jest but still harms the other with his words. Thus there are several kinds of jesting.
Now, among all the countries, there is a country that includes all countries (that is, the country is the principle and rule for all countries), and in that country there is a city that includes all cities of that whole country that includes all the countries. And in the city is a house that includes all the houses of the entire city that embodies all cities of the country that includes all countries. And there in the house is a person who includes the entire house which includes etc. And there, there is someone who makes all the wisecracks and jesting of the entire country.
So the wise man took a lot of money with him and went there. He saw them making all types of fun and joking. He understood from the jests that the country is full of falsehood through and through. For he saw them making fun of how people are cheated in business, and how he goes to the manistrat (lower court) and there it is utter lies and they take bribery there; and he goes to the sand [higher court, <? Ger. Gesandte, emissary]; and there as well it is utter lies. And they were all making fun and jest, enacting all these things.
The wise man understood from this jesting that the country is full of lies and deceit, lacking any truth in the land whatsoever. So he went and did some commerce in the country and allowed himself to be cheated in the exchange, and went and brought suit before the sands [Yid. sandes, Heb. `arkhaot registrar, archivers' office < Gr. arkhi, arkhion], they being all full of falsehood and bribes. On this day he gave them bribery; the next day they didn't recognize him.
So he went to a higher sand and there too it was full of falsehood. Until he came before the senat (highest court) and there too it is falsehood and bribery throughout. Until he came to the king himself.
When he came to the king he spoke up and said, “Over whom are you king? The entire country is full of falsehood throughout, from beginning to end, and there is no truth here in it whatsoever." And he began to tell over all the falsehood of the country.
When the king heard his words he bent his ear to the veil to listen to hear his words for it was a great wonder to the king that there should exist a man who would know all the falsehood of the country. And the royal ministers who heard the wise man’s words grew very angry at him but he still continues reporting all the falsehood of the country.
The wise man spoke up, “One could say that the king is also like them; that he likes falsehood as the country does. But on the contrary one sees what a man of truth you are, and because of this you keep your distance from them: on account that you cannot bear the falsehood of the country.” And he began to praise the king very very much.
And the king, because he was very humble, and "in the place of his greatness, there is his humility," for that is the way of a humble man, that the more he is praised and extolled, the smaller to himself and the humbler he becomes. So on account of the wise man's great praise and exaltation of the king, the king entered into great humility and extreme tininess, until he became absolutely nothing; and he could no longer withhold himself and threw aside the veil to see the wise man: who is it that knows and understands all this?
The king's face was revealed, and the wise man saw him, depicted his portrait and brought it back to the king.
[Notes Following the Story]
“Darkei Tziyon avelot/The paths of Tziyon are mournful” [Lam. 1:4; since the Temple has been destroyed, one is obligated to remember and mourn it, and unbridled joking and laughter are forbidden; see S"A O"C 560. Also, there are no festivals or times when God can be "seen:" Ex. 23:15 etc.]. Tziyon is the aspect of the tziyunim [markers; placemarks] of all the countries, for they all assemble there, as it is written, “vera'ah `etzem adam uvanah etzlo tziyun/and see the bone of man, then shall he set up a sign by it.” [Eze. 39:15]. This is [the meaning of], “Chazeih Tziyon Qiryat Mo`adeinu/Look upon Tziyon, the city of our assemblies” [Isa. 33:20], the acronym of which is M’TzaCheiQ (jesting), for that is where all the tziyunim [signs] gathered, and whoever needed to know whether to do something or some business transaction would know it there. May it be His will that it be rebuilt speedily in our days, Amen.
Look and discern and gaze, you who peer, how far these matters reach. Fortunate is one who attends and will attain to know and grasp a little of the secrets of these stories, the likes of which have not been heard since ancient times.
And know that all of these verses and allusions that are brought after some of the stories are only hints and a scant disclosure of the subject matter, so that they might know that "ki lo davar reiq hu/it is not a meaningless thing," God forbid. As was heard from his holy mouth, saying that he is revealing a few mere hints from a few verses which hint to the secret of the stories, so as to know that he is not saying, God forbid, prattle. But the essential secret of the stories is distant from our knowing; "`Amoq, `amoq, mi yimtzaenu/Deep, deep; who can find it out?" [Eccl. 7:24]
- The word `etzem was omitted here.