The Palace and the Pigeons
I wrote this to a young Jew who told me he was on his way to India:
Once there was a king whose palace had been ransacked by the wild hordes. For the wood and stone of the palace he had no tears, but for the crown jewels, passed down for many generations, for this there was no consolation.
The king gathered his wise men, but none could give counsel. The jewels had been spread by those barbarian hordes throughout the land and throughout many other lands, the most precious of them taken across the seas to the farthest reaches of the globe. But the King had a daughter very dear to him, and in her wisdom she saw what needed to be done.
So the king and his daughter trained many pigeons to return to the palace, to recognize the crown jewels and carry them back on their journey. Each day they would release the pigeons in the pastures about the palace and some would discover the jewels scattered about and return them to their home. And the king was glad and smiled to his daughter.
Then the kings daughter sent them further away, and again they returned, carrying a few more of the jewels her father had lost. As far away as they were sent, they hastily returned.
But the most valuable jewels, those in the most distant lands and most hidden places, those jewels had not yet been recovered. The pigeons did not venture far enough to find them--they were too eager to return home.
The kings daughter knew what must be done, but she could not tell her father, for it was too hard, too dangerous, too awful. But he looked in her eyes and he knew. And so he destroyed his palace once again, razing it to the ground, removing its every trace. When the pigeons attempted to return, they found nothing, no more than an empty pasture with scattered stones and smoldering wood. They were hungry for their food and sick for their home.
Until the most adventurous of the pigeons traveled far abroad and found other palaces, and in those palaces they found hidden the kings most precious jewels, and gathered them and polished them and kept them in their wings. And at night they cried, for they knew this was not their home.
And now has come the time for them to all return.
I can't explain to you everything meant by this story. If I could, what would I need a story for? I would just explain it to you without the story. But I can tell you some of the teachings that form its basis.
For one, you need to know what the great Kabbalist Rabbi Yitzchak Luria, known as Ari Hakadosh ("The Holy Lion"), taught about our world. He taught that there is not a thing in this world that does not contain a holy spark. Even the greatest evil, even the harshest darkness that does everything it can to oppose its Creator and deny any purpose or goodness in the world, even that contains a Divine spark. And it needs that spark, because without it, it would not be able to exist for even a moment. Why then is it evil? Because the spark it contains is so dim, so concealed, its only way of expression is to be the opposite of what it truly is.
So you might think that if that spark is so dim, it couldnt be a very important spark. Maybe G-d could do without it. But the Maggid of Mezritch taught just the opposite, that it is the highest sparks that fall furthest from their source. So in places that are warm and friendly to holiness, there are going to be some warm and friendly sparks. But if you want the most powerful sparks, the sparks that talk about the real essence of G-d, then you need to deal with the places that are furthest from their source.
As long as all these sparks are held hostage in things and places that dont know the real meaning of what they hold inside, the world is not fulfilled. That is how the Ari describes Torah and Jews-- they are the way those sparks become reconnected to their source.
There is one other thing I would like to say about this story-- the rest I will leave to you. In our history, the pattern of destruction and exile has repeated itself many times. We began in exile, in the land of Egypt. Then there was the destruction of the first Holy Temple and exile to Babylonia, and then the second destruction and a very lengthy exile which we still endure. There is no other nation that has been spread so far apart, yet retained identity a single whole, always with hope to return. And all of it was part of His Divine plan, to retrieve all the sparks of holiness. Which is what we did, because wherever we go, we use the materials, the foods, the music, the customs of that place in a Torah way.
But as far as I am concerned, the greatest destruction and the greatest exile began sixty years ago. Because, until then, if a Jewish person was looking for a teacher and a guide to find his or her path to G-d, or just looking for some spirituality in life, there were tzaddikim just around the corner, and everyone knew that was so. But when the communities of Europe were suddenly and brutally destroyed, along with all but a handful of the great tzaddikim, that is when the greatest darkness began. That is when this bizarre detour began, that if a Jewish soul wants to find meaning, she goes to drink from the wells of others. True, she will never be satisfied from those wells, since they are not her own. But a soul that lived for 3,300 years basking in spirituality simply cannot bear the dry, parched land.
And, unfathomable as it may be, that had purpose as well.
But now has come the time for us to all return home.