The Wisdom of Rabbi Nachman
- The Sword of Wood
By Rebbi Nachman of Bratslav
There was once a king who loved nothing better
than to go out alone in the clothes of a commoner.
He wanted to meet the ordinary people of his
kingdom--to learn their way of life, and especially
their way of thinking about the world. One night,
this king found himself walking in the poorest,
narrowest street of the city. This was the street
of the Jews. He heard a song in the distance.
The king thought, "A song sung in this place of
poverty must be a lament!" But as he got closer,
he could hear the true character of the song:
it was a song of pride!
"Bai-yum-dum, bai-yum-bai, yum-bai, bai...."
The king was drawn to the source of the song:
the smallest, humblest shack on that street.
He knocked on the door.
"Is a stranger welcome here?"
The voice from within said,
"A stranger is G-d's gift. Come in!"
In the dim light inside, the king saw a man
sitting on the only piece of furniture, a wooden
box. When the king came in, the man stood up and
sat on the floor, offering the king the crate for a seat.
"Well, my friend," the king asked, "what do you
do to earn a living?"
"Oh, I am a cobbler."
"You have a shop where you make shoes?"
"Oh, no, I could not afford a shop. I take my
box of tools--you are sitting on it--to the side
of the road. There I repair shoes for people as
they need them."
"You cobble shoes by the side of the road? Can you
make enough money that way?"
The cobbler spoke with both humility and pride.
"Every day, I make just enough money to buy food for that day."
"Just enough for one day? Aren't you afraid that
one day you won't make enough, and then you'll go hungry?"
"Blessed be G-d, day by day."
The next day, the king determined to put this
man's philosophy to the test. He issued a proclamation
that anyone wishing to cobble shoes by the side
of the road must purchase a license for fifty pieces of gold.
That night, the king returned to the street of
the Jews. Again he heard a song in the distance,
and thought, "This time, the cobbler will be singing
a different tune." But when the king neared the
house he heard the cobbler sing the same song.
Worse, it was even longer, with a new phrase that soared joyfully: "Ah, ha-ah-ah, ah-hah, ah-hah, ah-yai."
The king knocked on the door. "Oh, my friend, I heard
about that wicked king and his proclamation. I was
so worried about you. Were you able to eat today?"
"Oh, I was angry when I heard I could not make my
living in the way I always have. But I knew: I am
entitled to make a living and I will find a way. As
I stood there saying those very words to myself,
a group of people passed me by. When I asked them
where they were going, they told me: into the forest
to gather fire wood. Every day, they bring back wood
to sell as kindling. When I asked if I could join
them, they said,
'There is a whole forest out there. Come along!'
"And so I gathered fire wood. At the end of the day,
I was able to sell it for just enough money to buy
food for today."
The king sputtered. "Just enough for one day? What a
bout tomorrow? What about next week?"
"Blessed be G-d, day by day."
The next day, the king again returned to his throne,
and issued a new proclamation: anyone caught gathering
firewood in the royal forest would be inducted into
the royal guard. For good measure, he issued another:
no new members of the royal guard would be paid
for forty days.
That night, the king returned to the street of the
Jews. Amazed, he heard the same song! But now, it
had a third part that was militant and determined:
"Dee, dee, dee, dee-dee, dee-dee, dah...."
The king knocked on the door. "Cobbler, what happened
to you today?"
"They made me stand at attention all day in the
royal guard! They issued me a sword and a scabbard.
But then they told me I wouldn't be paid for forty days!"
"Oh, my friend, I bet you wish now that you had saved some money."
"Well, let me tell you what I did. At the end of
the day, I looked at that metal sword blade. I thought
to myself, that must be valuable! So I removed the
blade from the handle, and fashioned another blade
of wood. When the sword is in the scabbard, no one
can tell the difference. I took the metal blade to
a pawnbroker, and I pawned it for just enough money
to buy food for one day."
The king was stunned.
"What if there's a sword inspection tomorrow?"
"Blessed be G-d, day by day."
The next day, the cobbler was pulled out of line
in the king's guard. He was presented with a prisoner in chains.
"Cobbler, this man has committed a horrible crime.
You are to take him to the square. Using your sword,
you are to behead him."
"Behead him? I'm an observant Jew. I couldn't
take another human life."
"If you do not, we'll kill both of you."
The cobbler led this poor, trembling man into
the square, where a crowd had gathered to watch
the execution. The cobbler put the prisoner's head
on the chopping block. He stood tall, his hand on
the handle of his sword. Facing the crowd, he spoke.
"Let G-d be my witness: I am no murderer! If this
man is guilty as charged, let my sword be as always.
But if he is innocent, let my sword turn to wood!"
He pulled his sword. The people gasped when they
saw the wooden blade. They bowed down at the great
miracle that had happened there.
The king, who had been watching all of this, came
over to the cobbler. He took him by both his hands,
and looked him deep in the eyes. "I am the king.
And I am your friend who has visited you these last
nights. I want you to come live with me in the palace
and be my advisor. Please teach me how to live like
that--one day at a time."
Then, in front of everyone, the two of them danced and sang: "Bai-yum-dum, bai-yum-bai, yum-bai, bai...."
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