Photo Credit:
Photo from the movie, “Stories of Rebbe Nachman,” Yehuda Barkan as the unhappy king

The next story in the film is the wonderful tale of “The Worldly Son and the Simpleton,” as relevant today as when Rebbe Nachman first told it, two hundred years ago. In the story, two childhood friends grow up and choose different paths. The Simpleton is a humble person, happy with his lot. For example, because his faith is so strong, simple bread tastes like delicious meat, and water tastes like fine wine. In contrast, the “Sophisticated” Son sets off from their village to learn about all of the wisdoms and cultures of the world. With his keen intellect, he succeeds in becoming a wise and worldly scholar, but his great achievements in the different disciplines which he masters, bring him to arrogance. The foreign ideologies which he studies bring him to disbelief. In addition, because he is so knowledgeable, he sees the tiniest imperfections in everything he does, and this brings him to depression. In contrast, his old friend, the Simpleton, is always happy, serving G-d with a pure and steadfast faith.

One sleepless night, the king is looking through the registry of his citizens when he comes upon the strange names of the Worldly Son and the Simpleton. When he sends messengers with letters, requesting them to come to the palace, the Simpleton hurries off immediately, but the Worldly Son hesitates with doubt and obsessively analyzes the meaning of the royal summons which he has received. His philosophizing and convoluted logic lead him to the conclusion that there really isn’t a king, and he sets off around the world to prove it. Here, Rebbe Nachman is portraying the plague of heresy which seized the minds of large segments of Jewry in his time, and which continues to entrap many “modern and enlightened” people today. The same theme, albeit in a different style, can be found throughout Rabbi Kook’s treatise, “Orot.” The dangers of false ideologies and beliefs are so great, and their fruits are so poisonous, Rabbi Kook is moved to declare that all of today’s modern, “enlightened” cultures will be destroyed, and a new world foundation will rise up, based on the knowledge of G-d and the truth of Israel (Orot, 2:7). Growing up in America, I followed the path of the Worldly Son until I was trapped in the same swamp of darkness that imprisoned him, and which only the brilliance of G-d’s light can shatter. For the Jewish People, today, in Israel and abroad, the message of Rebbe Nachman’s tale, now in cinematic form, can help bring healing to a Nation which is still ailing from the false cultures and identities it embraced during its long years in exile in foreign lands. Since many of us spend our free hours staring at TV, movie, computer, and I-Phone screens, hopefully the messages in Rebbe Nachman’s stories, visualized on big and little screens in a fun and attractive manner, can rekindle the candle of faith which exists in every Jew.


The last of the movie’s four stories is called “A Matter of Trust.” It’s a popular story with children, but, once again, its message goes deep, and when I first read it in my early days of spiritual searching, the tale of the unhappy king hit a chord within me, resounding through my soul. Often, when I am asked to speak to a group of students, I begin my baal tshuva story by recalling that in Hollywood, I had everything a person could wish for – money, fame, pleasures wherever I turned – but I felt empty inside. “You have everything a person could wish for!” the despondent king tells his turkey-like son in “The Indyk.” “Money, fame, honor!” The Worldly Son has all of these things as well, but they only lead him to depression and doom. So too the king in “A Matter of Trust,” once again played by Yehuda Barkan, in Rebbe Nachman’s tale of the wooden sword. To discover what he is missing, the king leaves his castle disguised as a beggar so no one will recognize him, to wander around in his own galut, searching for redemption. I won’t give away the happy ending, but once again, like in the other stories of the film, it is the Tzaddik, the mentor, the spiritual guide, the “chance” acquaintance, played by my old Hollywood friend, Daniel Dayan, who opens the gates to greater understanding and joy.

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Tzvi Fishman was awarded the Israel Ministry of Education Prize for Creativity and Jewish Culture for his novel "Tevye in the Promised Land." A wide selection of his books are available at Amazon. His recent movie "Stories of Rebbe Nachman" The DVD of the movie is available online.