The Princess and the Peasant
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.
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
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 passed, and she began to feel almost at home in this hovel. She even
felt herself somewhat attracted to this man. She remembered 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 made peace with her fate. Within a short
time, they married.
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.
The Mesillas Yesharim explains that this is a mashal (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
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 toward 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.
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 nishamah, 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.
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
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.
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 okay, 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 sync with himself.
Hashem Wants Us to Be Happy
Hashem wants us to be happy. Hashem created everything to give of His good
to us. Even though the purpose of life is our station in the World to Come,
Hashem wants us to be happy in this world as well. For that reason, He
created so many amenities strictly for us to enjoy. But to enjoy them, a
person must learn to use this world properly.
When man follows the Torah’s path, 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.
This is an abridged chapter from the new Shmuz on Life book: Stop
Surviving and Start Living, based on the first chapter of Mesillat
Yesharim, Path of the Just. This book as well as The Shmuz on the Parsha
Book can be obtained by contacting 866-613-TORAH or by visiting TheShmuz.com. Please note that the word
“Shmuz” is Yiddish for a mussar discourse. Over 200 shmuzen are available
for free download or by purchasing CDs or MP3 players with these lectures.
Text Copyright © 2000 by Rabbi Ben Tzion Shafier and Torah.org
This is an excerpt from the new Shmuz on Life book: Stop Surviving, Start Living. Available at Judaica stores, Feldheim.com and TheShmuz.com.