..from the tales of Rabbi Nachman of Breslov.
The Bull and the Ram. This story is in many ways a commentary to the second of the Psalms of King David, which begins; “Why do the nations rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?”
There once was a king who decreed religious persecution upon his subjects by means of exile. Anyone wishing to remain in the country would have to give up their religion. Otherwise, they would be forced to leave the land.
Some people gave up their entire property and wealth and departed in poverty so they could remain true to their faith and continue to live as Jews. Others however, were more concerned with their belongings and wealth, and remained; ultimately to convert. They kept their Jewish practices secretly, but publicly they were not able to.
The king soon died, and his son became king. The new king began to rule the kingdom in a very high-handed manner. He conquered many nations and was very cunning as well. He held the royal ministers under such a firm hand though, that they plotted to attack him; and to kill not only he himself, but his children as well.
One of the royal ministers though was really a forced convert. He thought over the situation. “Why did I publicly convert”, he said to himself; “essentially over concern for my wealth and property. If the country will soon be without respected authority however, people will swallow each other alive. It is impossible for a country to be without a king.” He therefore decided to inform on the plotters to the king, and made no mention of it to any of the other ministers.
The king investigated and discovered that the plot was real, and accordingly stationed guards all around. The night the plot was enacted, the assassins were captured, and all were appropriately sentenced.
The king then asked the minister convert: “What possible honor can I grant you on behalf of this; for you certainly saved my very life, as well those of my children? If I decree that you be appointed a royal minister; you are one already? If I give you money; why, you are already quite wealthy? Tell me then; what possible reward it is you desire, and I will surely grant it to you.”
“Will you most certainly grant me whatsoever I request?” the minister convert questioned.
“Most definitely,” the king repeated.
“Swear it to me then by your very crown and kingdom,” replied the minister.
So the king then swore.
“The only reward I desire,” declared the minister convert finally, “is to be able to live publicly as a Jew; to wear again openly, my tallis and tefillin.”
The king became at once livid with angry. Jews were forbidden to live anywhere in his kingdom. He had no choice now in deciding the matter though, because of his oath. The next morning, the once converted minister of state now publicly wore his tallis and tefillin.
This king then died, and the prince became king. He ruled benevolently however, as he realized that it was the cruelty and toughness which incited the ministers-of-state to plot against his father. This king also conquered many lands however, and was extremely cunning.
The new king even had the astrologers summoned in order to advise him what possibly could harm his own children in the future, and he would take steps now to protect them. The astrologers told him that his offspring would never fail, as long as respect was always given to the bull and ram. He had this written in the royal book of chronicles, and also commanded his sons to rule as he did, meaning in a benevolent manner. Then he too died.
His son also became king, but he began to rule with a strong hand, and in a narrow-minded manner as his grandfather before him did; and also conquered many lands. This new king then started to rely solely on his own wisdom, and ordered that no bull or ram be allowed in the kingdom. He did this so that his children would remain safe. Thereafter, he feared nothing.
This king continued to rule as a real autocrat. He became exceedingly clever, and devised a strategy to conquer the entire world without resorting to war.
The earth has seven land masses, and the spiritual universe has seven distinct aspects as well. Likewise, there are seven planets; and each one enlightens a different aspect of the world. There are also seven unique metals; and the seven planets shine upon each of these as well.
The king journeyed about and returned with a plentiful amount of all seven metals. He ordered that the portraits of every king who ruled in the world, which were all created from gold, be brought to him. A portrait had hung in the palace of each and every king. He created with these, the image of a man. The head of this image was of gold; the body of silver, and the various other limbs were made with the other metals. The image was thus composed of all seven types of metals. The king then had the image of the man placed at the top of a high mountain, so that all seven planets would shine upon it.
Whenever a person sought advice or wanted help in deciding the merits of, say, a certain business dealing; he or she would stand in front of the specific limb of the image which was made of the metal corresponding to the part of the world from which the person came. The one seeking advice would then contemplate whether or not to carry out the particular idea. If it was something he really should do, then that part of the statue’s anatomy would somehow seem to glow and shine. If not, the particular limb would remain dark. All this had been created by the king. In this manner, he conquered the entire world, and also amassed great wealth.
The image could only have these powers though, if the king would help to lower the haughty and uplift the lowly. The king eventually issued a decree that all those of rank and who enjoyed special privilege; generals and ministers, all come before him. When they appeared, he humbled them all; taking away all rank and privilege. He did this even to those who had had privileges from the time of his great-great-grandfather. He removed all special accord. In this way, he also haphazardly raised up the lowly, and appointed ministers of state and filled all other important posts only with those who had never before been powerful.
Among those whose privileges had been revoked was the previous minister convert. “What is your rank and what are your privileges?” the king had asked. “My sole privilege,” the minister convert replied, “is that I have the right to live openly as a Jew. This was granted me because of that favor I did on behalf of your grandfather.” The king took away this privilege, and the minister once again had to become a secret Jew.
It occurred once when the king had gone to sleep, that he dreamt the heavens were clear and that he could see all twelve constellations of the zodiac. He noticed in this dream that the bull and the ram, which were among the signs of the zodiac, were both laughing at him. He awoke with extreme anger, and in great fright. He demanded that the royal book of chronicles be brought, and he read there that his children would be destroyed by a bull and a ram.
Now he was utterly terrified. He told the queen, and both she and her children were now also seized with horror. His spirit fell completely. He summoned the dream interpreters, but each one interpreted differently, and none reached his heart. An even worse fear now gripped him.
A wise man soon came to him though, who declared that he had a tradition from his father that the sun travels in three-hundred and sixty-five different paths. He explained further that a certain place existed where all of the sun’s three-hundred and sixty-five paths shine all the time, and that an iron rod grows in this place. If any person, harboring any fear whatsoever would come to this rod, he would certainly be relieved of the fear.
This appeased the king. So he set out immediately for this place, taking along his wife, children, and all his descendents as well as the sage.
Upon the way to this rod however, there stands an angel who oversees anger. When one becomes angry, a destructive angel is created, and this angel is in charge of all destructive forces. One must ask this very angel of the path before them.
Now a straight path exists in front of every person. A way also exists for a person however, which is really only of earth. There is likewise a path composed of open holes and pits. There are other paths also.
Among all the choices of paths before each person, there exists one in which a certain fire burns. The fire is so hot, that if one come within four miles of it, the person is burnt.
When they inquired the way of this angel, he replied that they take this path of fire. This then, is the way they proceeded.
The sage continuously contemplated the way before them, on constant watch for the fire. He had a tradition from his father that such a fire truly did exist. Just then he saw it.
Walking through this fire were kings, as well as Jews wearing tallis and tefillin. The kings were able to walk through the fire because these Jews lived in their lands.
The wise man said to the king, “I have a tradition from my father that if one comes within four miles of this fire, one is consumed. I therefore don’t want to go any further.” The king, however, saw the other kings walking through the fire, and decided he would attempt it as well.
The sage remained steadfast. “I have a tradition from my father, and I don’t wish to go any further. However, if you want to proceed, go ahead.”
The king and his descendents proceeded to the very center of the fire, and it eventually totally consumed them; so that he and his progeny were all burnt to death, and so perished.
When the wise man returned, he related what happened, and the ministers were all shocked. Hadn’t the king guarded himself from the bull and ram? How could it come to be that the king and his children were all destroyed?
The oppressed Jew then spoke up. “They were destroyed because of me. The astrologers saw, but they didn’t really know what they were seeing.
The bull’s hide is used to make tefillin. The ram’s wool is used to spin string for the tzitzis of the tallis. This is how the king and his family perished. The kings who walked through the fire unharmed all have Jews in their lands who wear the tallis and tefillin. This king did not allow the Jews in his land to wear tallis and tefillin though, and therefore was he was consumed by the fire.
This is also why the bull and the ram of the zodiac mocked the king. The astrologers perceived this, but they didn’t really understand what they saw. It was really for this reason that the king and his children exist no more.”
Amain. Oh God. So shall all Your enemies be destroyed.
Rav Nosan interprets Psalm Two:
Verse 1: “Why do the nations rage, and the people imagine a vain thing?” This refers to the unjust persecution in this story.
Verse 3: “Let us break their straps and cast away their cords.” These refer to the straps of the tefillin and the tzitzis-strings of the tallis-shawl worn by Jews as decreed in the Torah of Moses.
Verse 9: “You will break them with an iron rod.” This refers to the iron rod shone upon by the three-hundred sixty-five paths of the sun.
Verse 12: “Lest He be angry, and the way become not known.” This refers to the confusion as to which path be followed in order to reach the iron rod.
Verse 4: “He that sits in the heavens shall laugh.” This refers to the bull and ram of the zodiac which ridiculed the king.
Verse 11: “Serve the Almighty in fear, and rejoice in trembling.” Serving, and in fear, refer respectively to tallis and tefillin also.
This entire story is alluded to by this psalm. (Happy is he who knows even the smallest amount of this story).