The request was a very difficult one to make of his beloved son, but the king felt he had no choice. Savages in a remote part of his empire were repeatedly rebelling, and neither his best generals nor the most able of his ministers proved capable of controlling this distant province.
Fearful of the ripple effect this rebellion would have on the rest of his empire, the king reluctantly turned to his son and asked him to undertake this difficult and dangerous mission.
Out of love for his father, the prince agreed — with one stipulation: “At any time I feel that I need you to come personally to my assistance, you will agree to do so.”
The king promised, and the prince set out on his journey.
The task proved to be every bit as challenging as had been expected. It wasn’t only the barbaric nature of the residents that the prince had to contend with. The food and clothing given to the soldiers was a far cry from the delicacies and finery he was accustomed to enjoying in his father’s palace. The refined prince struggled with every morsel of food he swallowed, and the coarse garments cut into his sensitive skin.
Determined to complete his mission, the prince forced himself to get used to the many personal challenges he faced and dedicated himself totally to subjugating the province on behalf of his father.
He frequently sought his father’s advice, and every so often, when his subjects rose up against him in battle, or even when he was simply overcome with longing for his father, he sent him an urgent request to come see him.
Each time the king set out at once and successfully crushed the opposition.
As time passed, the prince became so acclimated to the situation that he began to forget the language of his birth and was forced to write to the king using the local language. His enemies took full advantage of this weakness and began to intercept his letters — erasing, adding and forging them to fit their purposes. More than anything else, they sought to prevent the prince from meeting with his father.
Whenever the prince wrote, asking that his father come to his assistance, his enemies erased those lines. When the king sent a letter notifying his son that he was planning to visit on a certain date, they prevented the prince from finding out and then arranged for uprisings to occur at the opposite end of the province. When the king finally arrived, he discovered that his son was some distance away and returned home without seeing him.
After a lengthy period of time had passed without the prince seeing his beloved father, his yearning overcame him so strongly that he fell into a depression. He stopped eating properly and began to neglect his duties. He had no idea that this was the work of his enemies; all he knew was that, contrary to his promise, his father was no longer responding to his calls. The prince grew so distraught that he became ill.
Then he remembered that when his father had bid him farewell so many years earlier, he had handed him a bell.
“If you find yourself in imminent danger and there is no time to write a letter and send it to me,” the king instructed, “ring this emergency bell and I will rush to see you at once!”
Could I possibly be in greater danger than I am now? the prince thought. I cannot survive any longer without seeing my father!
The prince seized the bell and rang it.
In the royal palace far away, a great noise was heard and a tumult erupted.
The king hastened to set out to the province where his son was, and upon his arrival asked, “What is the danger that made you summon me?”
The prince burst into bitter tears.
“The only reason I came to this primitive land and underwent so much deprivation and torment was because you asked me to come here. All I hoped for was to see you when I was in danger.
“Though my digestive system is battered by the coarse food I eat and my skin bleeds from the clothing I wear, it is not my physical needs that have caused me to fall ill, but the fact that you have distanced yourself from me!”
The king revealed to him that the estrangement was solely the fault of the enemy. Their relationship was fully restored, and they arranged set times for future meetings.
* * *
Each of us is the prince in this parable. The King of kings sent us to this temporal world with a mission — to reveal the Glory of Hashem’s Presence in the world and to subjugate the forces of evil here.
But our enemy, the evil inclination, does all it can to prevent us from drawing close to Hashem. We are constantly distracted during davening with foreign thoughts and pressing materialistic worries.
Even when Hashem comes to us, so to speak, and unique opportunities are created for us to draw close, we are so sidetracked by our day-to-day needs and concerns that we fail to take advantage of them.
But we have an “emergency bell” — the shofar. When we blow the shofar on Rosh Hashanah, we send a powerful distress signal that, along with our tears, tells of our longing for closeness to Hashem.
During these sacred moments of tekias shofar, we communicate to Hashem with thought alone. Not only do we draw close to Hashem at this propitious time, but we also develop a plan for how we will be able to bond with our Creator throughout the year.
Let us take full advantage of it!
Adapted from the sefer Derech Hamelech by the Piaseczna Rebbe, Hy”d