Translated by Rabbi Avraham Greenbaum
THE EXCHANGED CHILDREN
This is a story about a certain king who had a maid in his palace who attend ed the queen. Obviously a mere cook would not have been allowed in to the king, but this maid was an attendant of low rank. The queen gave birth and this maid also gave birth at the same time. Then the midwife went and switched the babies around - just to see what would happen and how it would turn out. She took the king's son and put him beside the maid, and she placed the maid's son beside the queen.
As time went on these children began to grow. The "king's son" (the one who grew up with the king because they thought he was the king's son) was helped to rise from level to level, becoming ever greater until he was a most important personage. The "maid's son" (who was really the king's son, but he grew up with the maid) was raised in the servant's house.
Nevertheless, the two boys learned together in the same school. The king's true son, who was known as the "maid's son", was naturally drawn to royal behavior even though he grew up in the servant's house. Conversely, the maid's true son, who was called "the king's son", was naturally drawn to a different kind of behavior unlike that of royalty. But having grown up in the king's palace, he was forced to conduct himself royally because that was how he was raised.
Now the midwife - since women can be light-headed - told someone the secret of how she had switched the children. "Every friend has a friend," and the secret passed in the usual way from one person to another until everyone was whispering about how the king's son had been exchanged.
It was impossible for anyone to talk about it openly in case the king found out. It was quite impossible to let the king find out. What would he be able to do? There was no solution. It was impossible to give credence to a mere rumor - it might be false. In any case, how could they switch the two sons back into their proper positions? They therefore could not reveal the matter to the king. Yet people continued talking about it among themselves.
One day somebody revealed the secret to the "king's son" (who was in reality the maid's son), telling him that people were saying he had been exchanged.
"But you cannot investigate this," said the man who told him the secret. "It would be beneath your dignity. You therefore cannot go into the matter at all. I am only telling you this in case there is a conspiracy against you one day that might gain strength because of this rumor. People will say they want to take the king's son as king - the one they say is the king's true son. You will have to think about how to deal with him and see how to remove him."
Wherever this story speaks about the "king's son", it refers to the one who grew up with the king and was called the "king's son" though in fact he was the maid's true son. Conversely, the one that grew up as the "maid's son" was really the king's true son.
The "king's son" began making trouble for the servant who was regarded as the "father" of the other son although in fact he was his own true father. The "king's son" fired every kind of trouble in his direction, one after the other, in order to force him to flee together with his son.
As long as the king was alive, his "son" did not have much power yet was still able to cause him troubles. Eventually the king became old and died, and the "king's son", who was the maid's true son, took over the kingdom. He then caused even more trouble for the servant who was regarded as the "father" of the other son. He sent trouble after trouble - but craftily, so that people would not understand that he was the one causing the trouble, since this would not look good in the eyes of the people. He therefore hid what he was doing but caused him constant troubles.
The servant realized that the king was causing him troubles because of the rumors about the exchange. The servant explained the whole story to his "son" (who was in reality the king's true son) . He told him that he g reatly pitied him.
"However you look at it, if you are my son, I certainly have pity on you. And if you are the king's true son, you deserve even greater pity, because he wants to remove you completely, heaven forbid. For this reason you have no option but to move from here." He felt very bad about this.
However the king was constantly shooting his evil arrows one after the other, and the other son decided to move away. His "father" gave him a sum of money and he left. He felt very bad indeed about having been driven from his own country for nothing.
"Why do I deserve to be banished?" he asked himself. "If I am the king's son I certainly don't deserve it. And even if I am not the king's son, I also don't deserve to have to flee for no reason. What sin did I commit?"
He felt very bad about it. He started drinking and visiting the brothel. He wanted to spend all his days getting drunk and following his heart's desires after having been banished for nothing.
Meanwhile the king took up the reins of power with great force. Whenever he heard that people were whispering and talking about the exchange, he took vengeance and punished them very severely, ruling with power and strength.
One day the king went on a hunting expedition with his ministers. They came to a beautiful place with a flowing river. They stayed there to rest and stroll around. The king lay down to rest, and began thinking about how he had banished the other son for nothing. Whichever way you looked at it, if he was really the king's son, wasn't it enough that he had been exchanged? Why should he be banished too? And if he was not the king's true son, he did not deserve to have been banished - for what had he done wrong?
The king was thinking about this and regretting his sin and the great wrong he had committed. But he had no idea what he could do about it. It was a subject he could not discuss or seek advice about from anyone. He became very worried and anxious and told his ministers to turn back as he had some issues on his mind and saw no purpose in strolling around any more. They went home, and once the king was back in his palace much business awaited him. He became preoccupied with his affairs and forgot about the matter.
Meanwhile the banished son who was the king's true son continued as before and wasted his money. Once he went out alone for a stroll. He lay down to rest and began thinking about what had happened to him.
"What has God done to me?" he wondered. "If I really am the king's son, it is certainly not fair to me. And if I am not the king's son I also don't deserve to be a fugitive and an exile."
Then he thought: "On the other hand, if it is true that God could really do such a thing and exchange the king's son and make him endure all this, is what I have done right? Was it proper for me to have behaved the way I have?"
He began to feel very sorry and regretted the bad things he had done. Afterwards he returned home and went back to his drinking. But having started to feel regret, he was constantly disturbed by thoughts of regret and repentance.
Once he lay down to rest. He dreamed that in a certain place there was to be a fair on a certain date. He was to go there and accept the very first paid work he was offered, even if it was beneath his dignity.
When he woke up, the dream was engraved in his mind. Sometimes dreams pass straight out of the mind, but this dream and its message were strongly fixed in his mind. Even so, it was very hard for him to carry it out, and he turned to drink even more. He had the same dream again several times, and it greatly disturbed him.
Once they were saying to him in the dream: "If you want to have pity on yourself: do it !" and he was forced to fulfill the dream. He went and gave his remaining money to his landlord, leaving his fine clothing behind in his lodgings. All he took for himself was a simple merchant's robe, and he made his way to the place of the fair.
Early next morning he went to the fair, where he met a merchant who said to him, "Do you want a job?"
"Yes," he replied.
"I need someone to drive animals," said the merchant. "Do you want me to hire you ?"
He needed no time to think about it because of the dream. He answered immediately: "Yes."
The merchant hired him at once and immediately started giving him work to do, ordering him about the way a master orders his servants.
He began wondering what he had done. Menial work like this certainly did not befit him. He was a gentle person but now he would have to drive animals and be forced to go on foot side by side with the animals. But it was too late for regrets. The merchant was ordering him about like a master.
"How am I supposed to go on my own with the animals?" he asked the merchant.
"I also have other cattle drivers for my animals," he replied. "Go with them."
The merchant gave him some animals to drive, and he took them outside the city. Gathered there were the other cattle drivers who were going to take the animals, and they went together. He drove his animals while the merchant rode at the side on a horse.
The merchant rode his horse cruelly and showed extra cruelty to him. He was extremely afraid of the merchant, seeing the great cruelty he displayed towards him. He was afraid he would give him one blow with his stick and kill him instantly as he was so gentle and tender. He went along with the animals and the merchant at their side. They came to a certain place and took the sack containing the bread for the drivers. The merchant gave them to eat, and he was also given some of this bread.
Afterwards they passed a very thick forest where the trees were very close together. As they went, two of the animals entrusted to the king's true son, who had become the merchant's driver, strayed. The merchant shouted at him and he chased after them to try to catch them, but they ran away even further and he went chasing after them. The forest was so thick that as soon as he went in he could not see his companions and they could not see him.
He chased after the animals, which ran further away. He chased them until he came into the thick depths of the forest.
"Either way I will die," he thought. "If I go back without the animals I will die at the hands of the merchant." So great was his fear of the merchant that he was convinced he would kill him if he came back without the animals. "But if I stay here, I will also get killed by the wild animals in the forest. Why should I go back to the merchant? How can I go back to him without the animals?" He was very frightened of him.
He carried on chasing the animals, but they kept running further away. In the meantime night fell. Never before had it happened to him that he would have to spend the night alone deep in such a thick forest. He heard the cries and moans of the wild animals. He decided to climb up a tree and spend the night there. All he could hear were the cries and roars of the wild animals.
In the morning he looked down and saw his animals standing nearby. He climbed down from the tree and went to catch them but they ran off. The further he chased them, the further they fled, until they found some grass and stood grazing. He tried to catch them but they fled. Every time he went after them, they ran away until he came into the thickest depths of the forest. Here there were animals that have no fear of men at all, being so remote from human civilization.
Once again night fell. He heard the cries and roars of the animals and became very afraid. He noticed a very great tree standing there, and saw that a man was lying there. He was afraid, but it was some consolation that he had found a man there.
Each asked the other: "Who are you?"
"A man - who are you?"
The man lying by the tree asked him, "How did you come to be here?"
He did not want to tell him what had happened, so he simply said, "Because of the animals. I was driving animals, and two animals strayed in here, and that's why I came here."
He asked the man he found by the tree, "How did you come to be here?"
"I came here because of my horse. I was riding on the horse and I stopped to rest and the horse went off and strayed into the forest. I was chasing after it trying to catch it, and the horse ran further away until I came here."
They decided to join up and keep together, and agreed that even when they returned to civilization they would remain together. They spent the night there and heard the terrible howling, moaning and roaring of the animals.
Towards morning he heard loud laughter ringing through the whole forest. The sound of the laughter was spreading through the entire forest. The laughter was so loud that the tree was shaking and swaying with the sound. He was very shocked and frightened, but the man he had found by the tree said, "This no longer frightens me at all as I've already slept here the last few nights. This laughter is heard every night just before dawn, until all the trees tremble and shake.
Nevertheless, the king's true son was very shaken. He said to his friend: "Evidently this is the place of the demons, because no such laughter is ever heard in settled areas. Who has ever heard the sound of such laughter over the entire area?"
Day broke soon afterwards . They looked down and saw this one's animals and the other one's horse standing there. They climbed down from the tree and started chasing after their respective animals. The cattle ran further and further away, and he chased after them, while the other pursued his horse, which ran away until the two men were far apart and lost their way.
Meanwhile he found a sack of bread. This was priceless there in the wilds. He took the sack on his shoulder and went after his cattle.
Suddenly he encountered a man. At first he was worried, but at least it was some comfort that he had found a man there.
"How did you get here?" asked the man.
"And how did you get here?" he asked.
"Me? My fathers and fathers' fathers grew up here. But what about you ? How did you come to be here? For no human beings from civilized areas ever come here."
He found this answer very disturbing because he understood that this was not a human being at all since he had told him that his fathers' fathers had grown up there and that nobody from inhabited areas ever came there. Nevertheless he did not harm him in any way but treated him in a friendly way.
The man of the forest said to the king's true son, "What are you doing here?"
He replied that he was chasing after the animals.
"Stop chasing after your sins," he said, "These are not animals at all. It is only your sins that are leading you on this way. Enough! You have already had what you deserve - you have already received your punishment. Stop chasing after them. Come with me and you will attain what befits you."
He accompanied him but was afraid to talk to him or ask any questions, because someone like this might open up his mouth and swallow him.
Meanwhile he found his friend who had gone chasing after his horse. The moment he saw him, he made signs as if to say, "Know that this is not a human being at all. Have nothing at all to do with him, because this is not a human being at all!" He then went over and whispered in his ear that this was not a human being.
The man with the horse looked and saw the sack of bread on his shoulder, and he started begging him.
"My brother, I haven't eaten for days - give me bread!"
"Here in the wilderness nothing will help you," replied the king's true son, "My life comes first and I need the bread for myself."
The man with the horse started begging and pleading with him. "I'll give you whatever I have."
But in the wilderness bread is worth more than any gift or bribe.
"What will you give me?" replied the man with the cattle, who was the king's true son. "What can you give me in exchange for bread in the wilderness?"
"I will give you my very self!" said the man with the horse. "I will sell myself to you for bread."
The man with the cattle considered the matter. "To buy a man, it's worth giving him some bread." He bought him as his eternal slave. The man with the horse swore a solemn oath to him that he would be his servant for ever, even when they returned to civilization. In exchange he would give him bread. They would eat from the sack together until the bread was finished.
They went together after the man of the forest. Having been bought as his slave, the man with the horse followed the man with the cattle as they went after the man of the forest. As a result things became a little easier for the king's true son, because if he had to lift anything or needed something done for him he would order his slave to do it.
They went together after the man of the forest until they came to a place full of snakes and scorpions. He was very afraid. Out of fear he asked the man of the forest, "How will we get across here?"
"Do you think that is so hard?" asked the man of the forest. "How are you going to enter my house?"
He showed them his house, which was standing in the air. "How will you get inside my house?"
They went with the man of the forest, who carried them safely across and brought them inside his house. He gave them to eat and drink, and left.
The true son of the king - the one with the cattle - was now making use of his slave for all his needs. The slave was very unhappy over having sold himself as a slave because of the short time he was in need of bread. Now they had food. Because of one brief period , would he have to remain a slave forever?
He sighed and groaned. "How have I come so low as to be a slave?"
The true son of the king, who was now his master, asked him: "What was your earlier greatness that you now sigh over having come to such a level?"
The other man began to tell him that he had been a king, but people spread rumors that he had been exchanged. For this man with the horse was none other than the king of whom we spoke earlier, who was really the son of the maid. He told him how he had banished the other son, but later it entered his mind that he had not done right and he began to regret it. He was constantly beset by regrets over his evil crime against his friend.
Once he dreamed that his remedy would be to throw off the kingship and go wherever his eyes would take him. This was how his sin would be rectified. However he did not want to do such a thing. Yet he was constantly disturbed by these dreams telling him to do it. He threw off the kingship and went away, until eventually he came here. And now he would have to be a slave!"
The king's true son listened to all this in silence. "I'll think it over," he said to himself. "I'll see how to deal with him."
That night the man of the forest came and gave them to eat and drink and they spent the night there. Towards morning they heard the same sound of terribly loud laughter that made all the trees quake and tremble. The slave persuaded his master, the king's true son, to ask the man of the forest what this was.
"What is this sound of great laughter just before morning?"
"This laughter," replied the man of the forest, "is when the day laughs at the night. Because the night asks the day, 'Why do I not have a name when you arrive?' Then the day laughs very loudly , and day breaks - and that is the sound of this laughter."
He found this very amazing - for it really is an amazing idea that the day laughs at the night.
In the morning the man of the forest left again, while they remained there eating and drinking. That night he came back, and they ate and drank and lay down to sleep. During the night they heard the cries of the animals, all roaring and moaning in strange voices. All the animals and birds were crying. The lion roared, the lioness growled in a different voice, the birds chirped and chattered. All of them sang and cried in different voices.
At first the two men were very shaken by all this. They were so afraid that they paid no attention to the actual sounds. Later they listened carefully, and heard that it was a most amazing, awesome song. Hearing this song was the ultimate delight, making all other delights in the world pale into insignificance . They agreed that they should stay here since they would have food and drink and could enjoy this most amazing delight.
The slave persuaded his master, the king's true son, to ask the man of the forest what it was, and he did so.
"This," replied the man of the forest, "is because the sun made a garment for the moon. All the animals of the forest said that the moon greatly benefits them since their main time of dominion is at night. Sometimes they need to enter inhabited areas, but they are unable to do so during the day. Since their main time of dominion is at night, the moon does them a great favor by shining to them. They therefore agreed to create a new melody in honor of the moon, and this is the melody you hear."
Now they listened to the melody even more carefully and they could hear that it was a most wonderful and profoundly pleasing melody.
"Do you consider this to be such a novelty?" asked the man of the forest. "I possess an instrument which I received from my fathers, which they inherited from their fathers' fathers. This instrument is made of special leaves and colors, and as soon as you place it on any animal, beast or bird, it immediately starts to sing this melody."
Afterwards the same laughter rang through the forest, and day broke . The man of the forest left, and the king's true son went in search of this instrument. He searched the whole room but did not find it, and he was afraid to go any further.
The king's true son, the master, and his slave, the maid's true son, were afraid to ask the man of the forest to take them to civilization. But afterwards he told them he would take them back to civilization. He brought them to a human habitation and took the instrument and gave it to the king's true son.
"I am giving you this instrument as a gift," said the man of the forest. "As for this one," he continued, indicating his slave, the maid's true son who had become king because of the exchange: ".as for him, you will know how to deal with him."
"Where should we go?" asked the king's true son.
He told them to look for a country called "The Foolish Country with the Wise King". They asked him in which direction they should go to start asking how to find this country. The man of the forest pointed with his finger and said to the king's true son: "Go to that country. There you will attain your greatness."
They left and went on their way. They had a strong desire to find some animal on which to test the instrument to see if it would make it sing. As yet they had not seen any kind of animal, but later they approached a settlement and found an animal. They placed the instrument on the animal, which began singing the same melody.
They continued their journey until they reached the Foolish Country with the Wise King. The country had a wall around it and the only way to enter was through one gate. They had to go around for many miles before they came to the gate to enter the country.
When they arrived, they were not allowed to enter. The king of the country had died and his son had become king. The old king had left a will saying, "Until now they called this 'The Foolish Country with the Wise King'. But now they should call it the opposite: 'The Wise Land with a Foolish King'. Whoever succeeds in changing the name back to the ' Foolish Land with the Wise King' should be the king."
Only someone who would undertake to achieve this was allowed to enter the country. That was why they did not want to admit him. They said to him, "Are you able to undertake this task and restore the country to its original name?"
It seemed quite impossible for anyone to undertake such a task, and they could not enter. The slave tried to persuade his master to return home, but he was unwilling to go back as the man of the forest had told him he should go to this country and there he would achieve greatness.
In the meantime another man arrived on horseback, but he was refused entry for the same reason. The king's true son noticed the man's horse standing there, and took the instrument and placed it on the horse, which started singing the most amazing melody. The owner of the horse pleaded with him to sell him the instrument, but he was unwilling to do so.
"What could you give me in exchange for such an amazing instrument?" he asked.
"What will you be able to do with this instrument?" asked the owner of the horse. "The most you will be able to do will be to play it in some musical performance and earn a little money. I know something far superior to your instrument: I possess knowledge that I received from my fathers' fathers through which it is possible to understand one thing from another. For example, if someone makes a casual remark, this tradition enables one to deduce something else from his remark. Until now I have never revealed this knowledge to anyone in the world. But if you will give me this instrument, I will teach you this tradition."
The king's true son realized that it would indeed be truly wonderful to be able to understand one thing from another. He gave the instrument to the owner of the horse, who taught him how to understand one thing from another.
Now that the king's true son knew how to understand one thing from another, he went to the gate into the country. He deduced that it must be possible to restore the country to its original name, because he already had the power to understand one thing from another. He understood that it was possible to do it even though he did not yet know how.
He decided to tell them to let him enter and he would undertake the task of restoring the country to its original name. What did he have to lose? He told the men who were barring entry to all except one who would undertake this task that they should let him in.
They admitted him and informed the ministers that there was a man who wanted to undertake to restore the country to its original name. They brought him to the ministers of state, who said:
"You must understand that we too are far from being foolish, heaven forbid. However, the old king was such an outstanding sage that compared to him, we are considered foolish. That is why the country used to be called the Foolish Country with the Wise King. Afterwards the king died and his son became king. He too is wise, but compared to us he is not wise at all. Therefore the country is now called the opposite: 'The Wise Country with the Foolish King'.
"The old king left a will stating that if someone can be found who is so wise that he can restore the kingdom to its original name, he should be made king. The old king instructed his son to give up the kingship in favor of such a man. Whoever is so outstandingly wise that everyone else is foolish compared to him will be the king. For he will be able to restore the kingdom to its original name, 'The Foolish Kingdom with the Wise King,' as they will all be foolish compared to him. You should therefore understand the mission on which you are embarking." The ministers of state told the king's true son all this.
"The test to see if you are sufficiently wise," they continued, "is as follows. The old king left an amazing garden. All kinds of instruments made of different metals grow there. Some are of silver and some of gold. The garden is most awesome and amazing, but it is impossible to enter it. As soon as anyone goes inside, he immediately starts being chased. They chase him and he screams, but he has no idea what is going on and does not see who is chasing him. This way they pursue him until they drive him out of the garden and force him to flee. Let us see if you are sufficiently wise to be able to enter this garden."
"Do they beat the person who enters?" he asked.
"The main thing , " they replied, "is that they chase him. He has no idea at all who or what is chasing him, and he flees in terrible panic." This was what people who had entered the garden had told them.
The king's true son approached the garden and saw that it had a wall around it. However, the gate was open and there were no guards, since obviously such a garden did not need to be guarded. As he looked around he saw a statue of a man standing beside the garden. Above the statue was a tablet stating that this man had been king hundreds of years earlier and that peace had reigned in his time. Prior to this king there had been wars, as there were after him, but in the days of this king there was peace.
He pondered the matter. Having acquired the ability to understand one thing from another, he understood that everything depended on this man. On entering the garden, as soon as one began to be pursued, there was no need to flee at all. One had only to stand by the side of this man to be saved. Moreover, if they were to take this man and stand him inside this garden, everyone would then be able to enter peaceably into the garden. The king's true son could understand all this because of his ability to deduce one thing from another .
He entered the garden, and as soon as they began chasing him, he immediately went to stand by this man who stood outside next to the garden. This way he was able to leave in peace without being harmed at all. Other people who had entered the garden had fled in terrible panic as soon as they were chased. They were hurt and injured because of their very panic. But by going to stand by this man he left in peace and tranquility. The ministers watched, amazed that he had left safely .
The king's true son then gave instructions to take this man and place him inside the garden. They did so, and then all the ministers were able to enter the garden and leave safely without coming to any harm.
"Even so," said the ministers, "despite the fact that we have seen you perform such a feat, it would not be proper to make you king because of only one feat. We will give you one more test.
"There is a throne that came from the old king. The throne is very high. By its side stand all kinds of animals and birds carved out of wood. In front of the throne stands a bed. By the bed stands a table, and on the table stands a lamp. Extending from the throne in all directions are well-trodden, walled pathways. But no-one has the least understanding of the connection between the throne and these pathways.
"After a certain distance along these pathways, by the side of one of them stands a golden lion. If any man approaches that lion, it opens its mouth and devours him. The path then continues beyond where this lion stands. After a certain distance along the second pathway that extends from the throne in a different direction, there stands another kind of beast - a leopard made of a different metal, which it is also impossible to approach. Afterwards the path extends further. The same applies to all the other paths. They spread through the entire country, but nobody understands the purpose of the throne or the objects standing by it or these paths. Your test will be if you can understand the purpose of this throne."
They showed him the throne and he saw that it was very high indeed. He went up to the throne and examined it. He realized that this throne was made of the same wood as the instrument which the man of the forest had given him. He noticed that a certain rose was missing from the top of the throne. If the throne had this rose, it would have the same power as the instrument that had the power to play when placed on any animal, beast or bird.
He carried on looking, and saw that the rose missing from the top of the throne was lying on the ground . It would be necessary to lift it up and place it on top so that the throne would have the power of the instrument. For the previous king had devised everything with the utmost wisdom so that no-one would be able to understand it until the arrival of an outstanding sage who was able to change everything around and realign it properly.
He understood that it would be necessary to move the bed a little from its present position, and so too the table and the lamp. Likewise the birds and animals needed to be moved around. A bird would have to be taken from one place and moved to another, and the same applied to the other birds . For the king had made everything with the utmost wisdom and subtlety so that no-one would understand it, until a sage came who could deduce how to order everything properly. The lion standing by the pathway extending from the throne had to be moved elsewhere, as did all the other animals.
The king's true son gave instructions to arrange everything properly - to take the rose from below and fix it up above, and to arrange everything else in the proper order. Then they all began singing the most amazing song and all the different things performed their proper function.
The king's true son became king. Then he said to the maid's true son: "Now I understand that I am the king's true son and you are the maid's true son."
By Rabbi Avraham Yehoshua Greenbaum
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