a tale of trust

ONCE THERE WAS A CERTAIN KING who said to himself, “Who could have less worries than I? After all, I have the best of everything and I am a king and ruler.”

He then went to investigate if this was true.

At night, he went around and stood behind houses to overhear what the common people were saying. In this way, he heard everyone’s problems. In one place, he heard someone speaking about business troubles, elsewhere he heard another one discussing a problem that required an audience with the king. And so it went, from one house to the next, as he listened to the worries of each person.

Afterwards, he came to a house so low that it stood beneath the ground. Its windows were literally at ground level; the roof was caved in and broken. The king saw someone sitting and playing the violin so softly that he needed to listen very carefully in order to hear any sound. The fellow was very happy. A pot of food and container of wine were set out before him. He was very happy and filled with joy, without a single worry.

The king entered the house and inquired as to how the man was faring, and the fellow responded. The king saw the drink-filled jug and the various foods, and how the fellow was filled only with joy. He honored the king with a toast, and drank with him. The king also drank out of love. Afterwards the king lay down to sleep, seeing that the fellow was completely happy and worry-free. In the morning, the king arose; the man also got up and accompanied the king. The king asked him, “Where do you get all of this?”

“I can fix anything that is broken,” the man replied. “I am unable to make something from scratch, but I can repair things that are broken. I go out in the morning and fix a few things. After I make five or six gulden, I buy all of this food and drink for myself.”

When the king heard these words, he said to himself, “I will break this for him.”

The king then left and sent out a proclamation that anyone with something to repair should not give it to anyone else to fix. They must repair it themselves or buy a new one.

In the morning, the man went out to see if anything needed repair and was informed that the king had decreed that no one should give anything to someone else to fix. The fellow was displeased, but trusted in God. He continued on and saw a wealthy man cutting wood, and asked him, “Why are you chopping wood? Isn’t it beneath your dignity?”

The wealthy man said to him, “I looked for a woodcutter and couldn’t find one, so I am forced to do it myself.”

The fellow said, “Let me chop the wood for you.” He chopped the wood and the wealthy man gave him one gulden. The fellow saw it was going well for him, so he went out to cut more wood until he earned six gulden. He again bought an entire meal (“and a meal is a meal”) and was happy. The king again went behind the window of the fellow’s house only to see him sitting with food and drink in front of him, and how he was very happy.

The king entered the fellow’s house and saw everything as it had been previously; he also went to lay down just as he had done the first night. In the morning, the man got up to escort the king, who again asked him, “Where did you get the money to buy everything?”

The fellow answered, “Usually, I fix anything that is broken, but the king decreed that no one could give a broken item to another person to fix. So I went out and cut wood until I earned enough money to buy what I needed.”

The king then left the man and decreed that no one should hire someone else to cut wood. Thus, when the man came to inquire about cutting wood, he was told of the king’s decree. He was displeased, since he had no money. But he trusted in God. He went and saw someone cleaning a stable and asked him, “Who are you to be cleaning a stable?” The other answered, “I couldn’t find anyone else to do it, so I am forced to do it myself.”

The man said, “Permit me, and I will clean it for you.” He got up and cleaned it, and was given two gulden. He continued cleaning more stables, until he earned six gulden. He again bought a full meal as before, returned home, and was very happy.

The king came back to check things out and once again saw everything as before. He entered the man’s house and lay down. In the morning, he escorted the king, who again asked how he got the money to buy what he needed. The man told the king everything that had transpired. The king then went and decreed that no one was allowed to hire another person to clean out stables. In the morning, the fellow returned to clean stables and was told that the king put out a decree forbidding this.

So the man went to the royal minister in charge of army recruitment and hired himself out as a soldier. There are regular soldiers and those who are paid as mercenaries. The fellow became a mercenary on the condition that it was only temporary and that he would be paid every morning.

The minister immediately dressed him in uniform, hung a sword at his side and sent him to where he was needed. At night, after the man finished his duties, he removed his uniform and bought himself an entire meal. He returned home (“a meal is a meal”), and was very happy.

The king went again to see what happened and saw everything ready as it was previously. He went inside the fellow’s house, spent the night and questioned him in the morning. As before, he told the king everything that had occurred.

The king called the minister in charge of recruitment and commanded him not to pay anyone that day. In the morning, when the man went to get paid for the day, the minister refused. He asked the minister, “Did I not make a condition with you that you would pay me every day?” The minister answered, “The king decreed not to pay anyone today.” Any amount of arguing from the man did not help. “I will pay you tomorrow for two days,” the minister said, “it is impossible to pay you today.”

What did the fellow do? He went and broke off the blade from his sword and replaced it with wood. No one could tell the difference from looking at it from the outside. He then went and pawned the blade, and bought his entire meal as before (“and a meal is a meal”).

The king again saw that the fellow’s joy was complete as before. He entered the man’s house, lay down for the night, and questioned him again in the morning. The fellow related to him everything that had transpired, how he was forced to break off the sword’s blade from its holder and pawn it to purchase what he needed for his meal. “Afterwards, when I receive my salary for that day,” he told the king, “I’ll redeem the blade and fix the sword. No one will know the difference, since I can repair anything that is broken—and the king will suffer no damage.”

The king went home and called the minister. He commanded the minister as to who was condemned to die. The king then said, “Call the fellow who enlisted as a mercenary. Tell him he must now be a mighty soldier, and command him be the one to execute the condemned man by cutting off his head.”

The minister called the fellow and did as the king commanded. The fellow appeared before the king, who instructed that all the princes should assemble to see this joke, where someone replaced the blade of a sword with a piece of wood. The man fell upon the king’s feet beseeching him, “My master, the king, why did you call me?”

“In order to cut off the head of a condemned man,” the king replied.

The fellow pleaded with the king, “I’ve never killed anyone! Please call someone else to do it!” The king responded that it was precisely he who must now execute him. The man said to the king, “Is there a clear ruling on the case? Perhaps the judgment of death penalty was ambiguous. I have never shed anyone’s blood, all the more so when it is unclear that the person is liable for death.”

The king answered, “Of course the judgment is clear. There is an indisputable ruling that he is liable for death. And now, it is you who must carry out the death sentence on the condemned man.”

When the man saw that it was impossible to influence the king, he turned to God and said, “God! I have never shed someone’s blood in my life! If this man is not liable to be put to death, my blade should turn from metal into wood.” He grabbed the sword, pulling it from its sheath. When everyone saw the wooden blade, there was great laughter. The king saw what a fine fellow he was, and discharged him in peace. ♦

Commentary by

HaRav Elazar Mordechai Kenig, shlita