There’s a story Reb Nachman of Breslov used to tell his Chassidim.
Once upon a time, a prince thought he was a turkey. He took off all his clothing, sat himself down under a table and said, “Gobble, Gobble, Gobble”. The king, horrified by this behavior,called in doctor after doctor, psychiatrist after psychologist. All shook their heads, baffled by the case. Expensive medications, shock treatments, hours of therapy, nothing helped the prince realize he was not a turkey.
One day, a wise old man showed up at the palace with an offer. “Would you like me to cure the prince?”
“Bless you,” replied the king. “Can you really cure him?”
“I think I can. Just let me try.”
No time was wasted on further discussion. The wise old man was brought into the palace dining room where the prince sat making turkey sounds. After watching quietly for a few moments, the old man took off his own clothing. “Gobble, Gobble,” said he, as he crawled under the table to join the disturbed prince.
There was a long silence as the prince looked up in shock. “What do you think you’re doing?” he asked the old man.
“What are you doing?”
“What am I doing? Why, I,” said the prince, “I’m a turkey.”
“Well, then so am I,” replied the wise man.
The prince seemed to accept this new turkey, and the two sat there in pleasant companionship. A few days passed. One day the old man put on a pair of pants. “What are you doing?” protested the prince. “You’re a turkey! Why are you putting on pants?”
“I might be a turkey,” said the man, “but who said turkeys can’t wear pants?”
The prince was soon convinced to put a pair of pants on himself.
A few more days passed. Then the prince noticed his fellow “turkey” putting on a shirt. Once more he protested. “You’re a turkey. You can’t wear a shirt.”
“Who said shirts don’t go on turkeys? I can be a turkey and still wear a shirt,” answered the old man.
“Makes sense,” thought the prince. “Why shouldn’t I be able to wear a shirt and still be a turkey? I’ll just be a dressed up turkey.” So the prince put on a shirt.
The wise old man continued each few days, adding a bit more of human behavior into the life of the prince. Soon he had the prince sitting at a table (“Who said turkeys can’t sit at a table?”) and eating with fork and knife (“Who said turkeys can’t eat politely?”)
The king was overjoyed to see his son “cured” of his turkey sickness. The prince, once again, acted like all other humans in the kingdom. He had been convinced he could be a turkey and still act like a proper mentsch. Sad, he never realized he was a prince. He still considered himself a turkey…just a turkey doing the same motions as a prince.
Once, there was a time when we were proud to live like royalty, with dignity and lives of full meaning. Hoping to change us, other cultures told us to turn away from the focus on G-d and to become “cultured” like them. They promised to respect us and intermingle with us, if only we became like them.
There was a time when our answer to the world around us was a proud no. In Egypt, even in the midst of our slavery, no Jew dressed like an Egyptian, no Jewish fashion imitated the Egyptian one and no Jewish child was given a name that did not have a hint at that child’s soul source. They knew it would be tragic for princes to become turkeys. It is a travesty against the design of the world to decide to live without meaning.
Each holiday in the Jewish calendar has a spiritual force to it, a deeper abstract idea that can be grasped through that moment in time. We are told that beginning Pesach and for a full month thereafter, a person who focuses his concentration well, can grasp the idea of Malchus – G-d’s kingship. A person who then “gets it”, understands that G-d is the Ruler of rulers, the King beyond kings, is then annointed as part of the royal family.
Many of us go through motions in our life. Yes, we’re observant, but do we do it like the prince who went through motions of humans whilst still thinking he was a turkey? Or do we do it with full spiritual awareness that accessing G-d creates a designation of royalty upon man?