In the times of castles and moats, there lived a princess. An only child, her life was to be one of comfort, lavishness and splendor from the cradle to the grave. She wore only satin and silk. She was served only the finest delicacies. She lived an enchanted existence until her twentieth year.
One day, the princess went for a walk in the woods and lost her way. Wandering for hours on end, she realized that she couldn’t find her way back to the castle. Exhausted, she lay down on the bare ground and fell asleep. She dreamed that she would never make it back home, that she was destined to spend the rest of her life in the woods.
She woke up with a start, looked around, and realized that it wasn’t just a dream; she was still in the forest. In a desperate panic, she ran — bumping, crashing, falling down and getting back up again. Hour after hour, she ran deeper and deeper into the forest . . . and further and further from the castle. Exhausted, she collapsed and again fell into a deep slumber. When she awoke, she realized that if she didn’t eat, she would die. She remembered that some of the berries and roots in the woods were edible, so she scrounged together some sort of nourishment and passed the time. Soon the days turned into weeks, and the weeks turned into months.
She Finds a Shack
After more than a year, her clothes tattered, her hair disheveled, she stumbled onto a clearing in the forest and saw what looked like a shack made of logs. She approached, slowly, cautiously. . . There were no sounds.
Silently, she circled the shack. It was empty. She opened the door, looked in, and saw a well-tended, primitive home with a table, chairs, and a fireplace. It looked like someone had recently been there. In the corner sat a wood-framed bed with straw for the mattress. Exhausted, and not having slept in a bed for over a year, she lay down and immediately fell into a deep slumber.
Many hours later, she awoke with a start, and saw a peasant standing over her. He was large, coarse, and darker than any man she had ever seen. But as shocked as she was to see him, he was equally taken aback by her presence.
A thousand thoughts raced through her mind. “Will he harm me? Who is he? Does he speak my language?” Before she had a chance to utter a word, he brought her a blanket and covered her with it. Out of absolute exhaustion, she fell back asleep.
When she woke up in the morning, she realized that she was alone again. The man was gone. She looked around the shack with its dirt floor, holes in the walls, and simple wood table and chairs. “It has almost a cozy look to it,” she thought to herself. Slowly wiping the sleep from her eyes, she noticed a bowl of warm porridge on the table. Famished, she wolfed it down.
Her eyes filled with tears as she thought back to what were now distant times — to her home, the castle, bedecked with the finest ornaments; to her wardrobe, made of the most delicate fabrics; to her bedding, the smoothest satin and silk. She got up and wandered outside.
The smell of spring was in the air, and freshness seemed to hang in the clearing. She stretched her arms and took in the sweet smells. When she opened her eyes, she realized the peasant was there — standing at a distance, watching her.
He slowly approached.
He opened his mouth to speak. It was her language, but crude and broken. He was a simple man — uneducated and unrefined. He was, however, kind. Every day, she found her food prepared, and every day he returned from the forest bearing gifts — one day flowers, the next day a bowl carved from wood.
Time passes, and she begins to feel almost at home in this hovel. She even feels herself somewhat attracted to this man. She remembers that first night in the woods when she dreamed that her destiny was to spend the rest of her days in the forest. Slowly she makes peace with her fate. Within a short time, they marry.
Her life in the forest is most difficult. She spends her days weaving, sewing, peeling and cooking — everything done by hand. And the winters are so harsh: bitter and unending, month after month of frigid cold, and she must wear the coarsest of garments that scratch her skin, yet barely keep out the cold. The only source of heat in the cottage is the fire that dies down after a few hours. Most nights, she wakes up shivering in the cold, and then her mind turns back to her youth, to the life of splendor and luxuries that she always thought would be her future.
What makes it even harder is that while her husband is good to her, none of the things that he brings her makes her happy — they just don’t mean anything. He carves some beads, puts them on a string, and gives them to her, but her mind travels back to the pearls and diamonds that she wore long ago. He cooks some oats mixed with herbs for her, and she remembers the servants carrying in tray after tray of delicacies. Every gift fills her with melancholy as it pulls her back to an earlier life.
A Parable to Our Lives
The Mesillos Yesharim explains that this is a moshol (parable) to our lives. Part of me is the princess; part of me is the peasant. Each has its needs; each has its purpose. Part of me is a holy spirit that only seeks that which is noble, right and proper. It came from under HASHEM’s throne of glory, where it enjoyed the most sublime existence. Being of pure intelligence, it desires only to be generous and giving. It aspires to greatness. It was put into this world on a mission and it recognizes the importance and significance of life. Everything great in man comes from this part.
But there is the other part of me: the peasant. It too has desires; it too has needs. It is made up of all of the instincts and drives found in the animal kingdom. This part has no wisdom or self-control; it is comprised of hungers and appetites. It was programmed with all that man needs to keep alive and functioning in this world.
The conscious I, the part that thinks and remembers, is made up of both of these parts — the princess and the peasant. The reason that man has such difficulty achieving peace of mind is that both spirits move him in opposite directions — each pulls towards its own nature. The peasant part of man’s soul desires everything that is here and now. It is simple. It can’t see the future. It can only relate to that which is revealed and obvious. Based in the physical world, all that it knows are things of a material nature. Give it a place to sleep and something to eat, and it is happy.
Nothing Satisfies the Princess
The other part of me, the princess, desires so much more. She finds no satisfaction from anything in this world; she views all luxuries and material possessions as cheap tinsel. She finds every pleasure of this world coarse and unattractive. Bring her all the money that money can buy, and still she remains unmoved. It means nothing to her because she comes from a much higher place.
This part, the nishama, also hungers – but not for food and drink; it hungers for meaning and purpose. It wants to grow, to accomplish, to change itself and the world it lives in. More than anything, it craves a relationship with its Creator.
Do you ever wonder why man just can’t seem to find happiness? He runs after things, working so hard to acquire them, but when he finally gets them, they just don’t mean anything to him. Why can’t he just be satisfied with what he has? He sure pursued it hotly. He went after it like it was the answer to all of his problems. Now he has it, and he needs more. Why?
When people don’t understand their basic makeup, they have little chance at achieving inner peace and harmony. They pursue many things thinking, “This is what I have been lacking. This is what I need. Once I get this last final thing, then I will be happy.” But it doesn’t work. It can’t work because it only fills half of them. The other half is left hungrier than before. The peasant doesn’t need much — a table and chairs, a simple shack and some bread, and it is good to go. It is the other part of man’s soul that isn’t satisfied — can’t be satisfied with anything physical.
I Am Both
One of the most elusive thoughts that seems ever to escape us is that I am a combination of these two elements. The conscious I, the part that thinks, feels, and remembers is comprised of both components. I am the princess, and I am the peasant. And because there are two sides to me, I desire very conflicting things. One moment I desire everything good and proper, and the very next moment, my entire focus is on things base and empty.
The strange part of it all is that I am normal. I don’t have multiple personalities. I am a fully functional, sane human being. That, however, is the point. I am a human, and that is the way that HASHEM made us humans.
Until a person comes to grips with these two parts of his personality, he won’t understand what makes him tick, and his own motives and drives will remain a mystery — even to him. Once he focuses on these two parts of “I,” then everything makes sense. The utter contradictions that make up our desires, the conflicting interests and needs that we experience, the competing sides to our nature all come from this duality — the two parts of me.
Just as the peasant cries out for food and drink, the princess cries out for meaning and purpose, and for that reason we have such a difficult time enjoying this world. When a man lives his life in one dimension, filling his belly and then his pocketbook, the princess looks down her nose and says, “This is what I came to this world for? This is what life is all about?” And she lets him know her lack of satisfaction in very clear terms. She gives him no rest.
I Need More
“But what’s wrong? What am I missing? I thought I had it all. I guess I just need more.” Then in a headlong rush to quell that vacant feeling inside, they pursue careers and promotions, honor and prestige, acquisitions and hobbies, distraction after distraction, running, running, running — anything, just to not think about the emptiness inside. From cars to homes, planes to cruises. Buy a boat, then a yacht. Next a Rolex, then a Rembrandt. Luxuries, parties, extravaganzas. . . anything, anything to fill that void inside. But it never works. They wake up in the middle of the night and mouth the words, “There has to be more to life than this.”
There is. There is so much more. But if man doesn’t search for it, he won’t find it. And if he doesn’t find it, he is destined to be miserable. Living as poor as a blind mouse in a food silo, not knowing which door to open to find a treasure of provisions, right there for the taking — if only he would see it.
To achieve happiness and peace of mind, man has to know that he has a soul, and then he has to know what it needs to be satisfied.
Why Can’t Man Be Satisfied?
One of the paradoxes of life is that you can have everything and be poor, or have nothing and be rich. But it isn’t only about attitude. It isn’t simply an issue of appreciating what we have. It goes much deeper than that, cutting into the very fabric of the human personality.
Man has two sides to him. When he meets the needs of both, he achieves a state of balance and harmony. He is at peace with himself. When that comes about, everything is beautiful. The sun is shining, the birds are singing, and everything is wonderful. It may be raining outside, and you can’t pay your mortgage, but it is OK, because things have meaning. You understand life. You understand what you are doing here. And, you experience true joy and fulfillment. You are happy.
The purpose of life isn’t happiness, and the Torah isn’t merely a “self-help happiness guide.” But a direct outcome of leading a Torah lifestyle is that you will be happy. The Torah is the guidebook to living a successful life. It was written by the only One who truly understands man – his Creator. When a person follows its ways, he is at peace with himself. Both the peasant and the princess have their needs met, and the person is in synch with himself.
If a person wants to live a meaningful, satisfying life, he needs to understand himself. He must relate to the needs of his soul. The only way that he can do this is by following the Torah’s path. When he does, he grows, he accomplishes, and he achieves his purpose in Creation – and he is happy. In that state, he can enjoy all of the beauty of this world. It doesn’t distract him; it is a tool that he uses to further serve his Creator and enhance his growth. The challenge of life is not to get lost, not to get so caught up on the here and now that we forget that there is a tomorrow.