26 February 2012

An "aliyah-inspired" story

4 Adar 5772

Once there was a king who had three sons whom he loved very much. He lavished gifts upon them and all he asked for in return was their loyalty and obedience to his good laws.

The three sons swore their love and faithfulness to their father, the king, but as they grew older, they began more and more to flaunt the law of the land. They felt that, as sons of the king, they could get way with it and that his great love for them would protect them from any punishment.

The king was well aware of their thoughts and their actions, therefore, despite the heaviness in his heart, he called his sons to appear before him and he pronounced a decree of exile for an unspecified period of time. They would no longer be allowed to live within the kingdom in close proximity to their beloved father, until he would determine that they had learned their lesson – until they would understand the importance of obeying the king. .

The three brothers went away weeping when they realized their error and saw what it had cost them. However, they would not want for anything as the King would see to it that they were supplied with funds to cover every need.

The king could not bear to live in the palace without his beloved sons, so he also went into exile, leaving the palace and the kingdom in the hands of commoners.

Years went by. The three brothers settled down, built homes and families and businesses. It seemed as if they had forgotten their father, but the king never stopped thinking of them, even for a minute. He received regular reports on them from messengers whose sole duty was to keep the king informed on his sons’ situations.

Finally, the king decided that the exile was no longer serving any purpose, and besides he missed his sons. But he needed to test them to know if they had changed during their time away. The king sat down and composed a letter to each of his three sons telling them that their punishment was concluded and that he desired nothing more than to be reunited with them again in the kingdom.

When the brothers received their letters, each of them reacted in a different way.

The eldest was very comfortable with his new life and felt that he lacked nothing in the way of happiness. Forgetting that his father, the king, could supply him as well, or even better, in their true home, he worried that he would get there and have no place to live and no food to eat. And what if they really hated living in a palace? Better to stick with what you know. But despite himself, he felt anguish and not a little guilt over the knowledge that he would be letting his father and brothers down.

The middle son had some of the same concerns as his older brother, but his desire to see the land of his birth and to be reunited with his father outweighed his misgivings. He began to make plans to return.

The youngest son read his letter and let out a loud cry of joy. This is what he had waited and prayed for every day since leaving his father’s presence. He wasted no time packing up whatever belongings he would need and he set off in high spirits.

The middle son and the youngest son met up on the road leading to their kingdom. They were overjoyed to see each other and saddened to know that their older brother was not planning to return with them. They journeyed on together and finally arrived at a hilltop overlooking their father’s palace. The sight that met their eyes was very disheartening.

High weeds and heavy thorn-laden brambles lay between them and the walls that surrounded the palace. The walls themselves had been barricaded by the commoners who took over when their father vacated the palace. They had also built shacks on the palace grounds and cooking fires burned in the wrecked gardens. The palace itself was in ruins.

The brothers’ hearts sank and they felt like sitting and crying. The middle brother said, “I don’t know if I can do this.” The youngest brother said, “We don’t have a choice. We have to do whatever it takes to reclaim our home and to be reunited with our father again. It’s the only reason we have for being.”

Together, they began to make their way through the overgrown fields and fight their way through the thorn-laden brambles until they reached the walls that surrounded the palace. Both brothers were torn and bleeding and breathing hard from their efforts. They made camp for the night and determined to tackle the barricaded walls the next day.

When the sun rose, the youngest brother was determined to break through the barricades, but the middle brother kept looking backward at what he’d left behind instead of looking forward to what stood to be gained and it drained him of all resolve to move forward. He stumbled and fell a few times and finally he admitted to his younger brother that he had no heart to go on.

“It’s too difficult,” he said. “Look, I’m injured. This never happened to me in my home in exile. I love my father and I want to see him more than anything, but the price is too high.”

The youngest brother’s face fell. It was hard for him to imagine going on alone. He watched, heartbroken, as his middle brother walked away from him, headed back into exile again. Purposefully, he turned his face once again to the wall that stood between him and his father’s palace. He hacked and chopped and succeeded in making an opening big enough for him to climb through.

The obstacles were less intimidating inside the walls, but the dangers were greater, because the commoners who lived on the grounds were not ready to give up their claims to the abandoned area.

The youngest son made his way carefully among the squatters’ encampments. Once or twice, he was challenged, but when he identified himself as a son of the king, the resistance faded and he was able to arrive at the palace doors. With a burst of strength he didn’t know he had, the youngest son, threw open the great doors and shouted as loud as he possible could, “FATHER!!! I’M HOME!!!”

Having been informed by his messengers that his sons were en route, the king had begun his journey of return and was just outside the walls when he heard his youngest son’s cries. Immediately, the king ordered his accompanying soldiers to roust the squatters and take up their posts.

He ran up the broad steps, answering his son’s echoing cry, “MY SON!!!” And they fell into each other’s arms, embracing and crying with joy and happiness. Instantly, the weeds and brambles were turned to rolling green meadows and the palace gardens were filled with fruit-bearing trees, with fish ponds and fountains. The palace and its surrounding walls once again appeared as they had in the days when they’d all lived together there - a happy family.

Soon, messengers arrived at the homes of the eldest brother and the middle brother with new letters. This time, it was an official proclamation by the king announcing his return to the palace and ordering his remaining sons to join him there, along with their families and all that they possessed. Servants of the king accompanied them with wagons and carriages. The sons were left no choice in the matter as their belongings were summarily loaded up and the families readied for transport to the kingdom.

It was a wonderful family reunion as all worries about the future and all memories of the past were laid to rest. The brothers were older and wiser and they now understood the importance of following all the king’s laws. They obeyed him out of loyalty and out of love.

However, one thing no one would ever forget was that it was the youngest son who deserved all the credit for their new found happiness. For, had he not persevered in the face of all the obstacles and sacrificed everything to reach home, they would not now be enjoying and reaping the benefits of the restored kingdom.