Parasha Shemot

To Your Own Self Be TrueThere was once a king who ruled his kingdom with wisdom and compassion. As he approached the end of his days, everyone in the kingdom wondered who would be the next ruler. Would it be one of his children? An adviser? A general? As the king lay on his deathbed, he announced who he had chosen to be the next king.  It was, he announced, the court Jester. The Jester? Everyone in the kingdom thought this must be a joke. The King’s advisors tried to talk him out of it. But the King was firm in his decision. When the King died, the Jester was crowned the new King. No one knew, of course, how this would work out. But over time it turned out to have been a brilliant choice. The jester was every bit as wise, as compassionate, and as insightful as the old king had been. Everyone in the kingdom came to love him. There was a mystery surrounding the new King, however. Every so often he would retreat to a distant room in the palace, a room to which only he had the key. For a few hours he would lock himself in that room. And then he would return to the throne and resume his duties. What was he doing in that room- Praying, meditating, thinking?  No one knew. Once an ambassador came from a far-off land. The ambassador spent many hours with the king. He grew to appreciate the king's wisdom and his kindness. When the ambassador noticed that the king occasionally disappeared into his distant room, he too wondered, "What does the king do in that locked room?” So one day when the king retreated to his room, the ambassador secretly followed behind. When the king closed the door, the ambassador crouched down and peered through the keyhole. There he took in the king's great secret. In the privacy of the room, the king took off his crown and his royal robes and put on the costume of a jester. Around and around the room he danced the jester's dance, making funny faces and singing the silly songs of a jester. Then he stood before a great mirror and recited to himself: "Never forget who you are. You may look and sound and act like the king, but you are only the jester. You are only the jester pretending to be the king. Never forget who you are." Now the ambassador understood it all. He understood the source of the king's deep wisdom, kindness, and humility. He vowed his everlasting loyalty to the king. And he vowed to keep the king's secret. Over the years the king and the ambassador grew close. One day when they were alone, the ambassador confessed what he had done and what he had seen. "I promise you on my life that I will never reveal your secret," he declared. "But there is one thing I have never been able to figure out: Of all the people in the royal court whom the old king could have chosen to succeed him, why did he choose you? Why did he choose the jester?" The king smiled at his friend and replied, "And who do you think he was before he became king?" I first heard that story told by Rabbi Ed Feinstein.[1] I remembered it this week as we begin the Book of Exodus and read about Moses’ birth and upbringing. Like the Jester in the story, Moses never forgot who he was, and where he came from. Moses was the son of a Hebrew man and woman, the Torah tells us, who was raised in the palace of the Pharaoh from infancy as the son of the Pharaoh’s daughter, who drew him out of the waters of the Nile.  How was it possible, growing up in the palace as he did, the grandson of the Pharaoh that he did not identify as an Egyptian?  According to the Torah, his mother, Jocheved, was his nursemaid.  The rabbis speculate that Jocheved must have spent enough time with him in his formative years that she inculcated him with Jewish beliefs and a Jewish identity.  She imbued him with a love and loyalty for his people, so that he never became an Egyptian prince, but remained, at his core, a loyal Jew. Such is the importance of our education of our children.  Our goal in educating our children is to inculcate in them such a firm sense of who they are that no matter what they become when they grow up – a doctor, a lawyer, a writer, a dancer, a teacher, an architect or engineer, a factory worker or a mechanic – they will never forget that they are Jewish. They will be, at their core, Jewish men and women.   Shabbat Shalom  

[1] It is retold in his book Capturing the Moon: Classic and Modern Jewish Tales Behrman House 2009 from which this story, with modification, is taken.