Saturday, January 1, 2011

There was a little village where people were simple, and led difficult lives. In this town, everyone had to struggle to make ends meet; even when they experienced a windfall, the tax collectors would swoop down and snatch away the fruits of their labor before the townspeople could enjoy it. Everyone had struggles - a health issue, a couple not getting along, the list goes on. Day in and day out, these people would slog through their gloomy existence.

One day, they heard that the King was passing through on one of his annual tours of the kingdom, and would be spending a week in their humble village. The King - a wise and benevolent ruler - wished to see how his subjects were faring, to see how they lived. 

Immediately, the village flew into a frenzy, cooking, cleaning, and preparing for the King's imminent arrival. For such an esteemed guest, no effort was spared. Clothes were mended and pressed to formal crispness. The meager china, dented silverware and finest tablecloths were all polished, straightened, and laid out. The women bustled around their kitchens, collaborating, competing, and gossiping with each other over bubbling pots of delicacies while the men worked together to repair the broken fences, patch roofs and fix up the appearance of the town. For once, the townspeople forgot about their sufferings as they anticipated the King's arrival with baited breath.

Finally, that fateful day came!

The King rolled into to town on the most magnificent chariot they had ever seen. The butcher, fishmonger, and tailor - doubling as the welcoming band in their Sabbath finery - struck up the royal anthem as the children ran alongside the King's carriage, singing along. The King was led to the town hall, where a massive banquet had been set - an event to start off a week of festivities.

The villagers threw themselves into their positions as royal hosts with abandon. The King was amazed at their tireless joy in serving him. As he surveyed this little town, he only saw joy and health, contentedness and loyalty. What a wonderful little town! The King's heart welled up with emotion when he considered his fortune, to be blessed with such devoted subjects, who lived life with verve and grace. Both the King and the villagers hoped that the week would never end.

But ends inevitably arrive, and soon enough the week was over. The King was ready to move on. As he began making preparations for his departure, the King began receiving visits from various townsfolk, begging him for his help and consideration.

"Your majesty, I have a daughter of marriageable age, and no money for a dowry..."

"Your highness, my wife...she's so sick..."

"Sire, my children are starving and we had a bad crop last year..."

The King was astounded; as he mounted his chariot the people began to gather around him in a mob, wailing, crying, beseeching him for help with their needs. The King looked out over the crowd with dismay. "I don't understand," he said, " this whole week that I've spent here, this little village seemed like a paradise on Earth! What happened?"

Amongst the sobbing, one man stood up and said: "Your Highness, as long as you were here with us, we couldn't help but forget our sorrows. The honor and pleasure of serving you allowed us that brief respite. But tomorrow - after you have gone back to your palace - we'll go back to our humble difficulties; with you leaving, it's just another reminder of how badly we need your help!"

Reb Elimelech of Lizhensk used this mashal (parable) to illustrate the significance of the melave malka. As Shabbos slowly takes leave until the next week, all of our needs come rushing back to fill the "void" left by the special Divine Presence of Shabbos.

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