What a week! From Senator McConnell's "nuclear option" and the confirmation of Judge Neil Gorsuch to Bannon's banishment from the NSC and the missile attack on Shayrot Air force Base in Syria - not to mention the state visits of Egyptian President Sisi, Jordanian King Abdullah II and Chinese President Xi Jinping - the past 168 hours have been a monumental handful. I for one am exhausted and quite unable to decide what to write about; call it an overabundance of op-ed riches. And so, taking the coward's way out, this week's piece is based on one of the many ancient parables I've translated and reworked. There's a great thing about ancient parables; the lessons they teach never go stale . . . they are ever fresh and prescient; prescriptions from the ancient past still imparting essential wisdom.
This one's entitled King Solomon and the Magic Coin.
Solomon, the wisest of all kings, so we are told, had 700 wives and more than 300 concubines. And yet, he only had 3 children: two daughters and a son. At the time this tale takes place, his son Rechavam, was 14 or 15 years of age. Sadly, so we learn, the boy suffered greatly from what today we moderns would call “depression.” Solomon, his father, recognized the condition and understood its origin: the boy felt that no matter who he was, what he thought or what he might accomplish in life, he could never be anything like his father. And this depressed him.
Considering his son’s predicament, Solomon realized that it would not suffice to merely tell the boy: “look, you don’t have to be as smart, as wise, or as beloved as me. It doesn’t really matter. I will always consider you special no matter what.” This, the king realized, could never act as a tonic for his son’s shattered self-image. What was needed, the king reasoned, was something truly special – something that would permit his son to hold his head up high and feel his uniqueness. Solomon gave the situation many weeks of serious thought, and finally came up with a plan. Once he had decided how the situation with his son should best be handled, he set the royal minter upon the task of coming up with a unique gift – a specially engraved two-sided coin made of sapphire and lapis. When the coin was at last delivered into Solomon’s hand he called for his son.
“My son,” Solomon said to the boy, whose eyes were cast toward the ground, his shoulders bent forward,” I have a gift for you – something that no one will ever possess. It is just for you.”
“Thank you father,” the boy responded without much overt enthusiasm. “What is it?”
“A very special coin that teaches a lesson that no one else in this family truly knows.” And with that he placed the coin in the boy’s left hand. Looking at the coin, the boy managed a wan smile, and looking at his father, he asked: “what is the value of this coin?”
“Its value?” King Solomon said, rising from his throne, “why it is absolutely priceless. Its value, by the way, does not lie in the sapphire and lapis with which the coin is minted, but in the wisdom that is imprinted upon it. It is a coin that will make you wiser than anyone.”
“Wiser than anyone?” the boy asked, his eyes beginning to show signs of life. “What does it teach?”
“Hold the coin in your hand, sapphire-side up, and close your fist,” his father commanded. This the boy did. “Now,” the king gently said, “you know those feelings you get that make you sense that everything is down, every attempt is doomed to failure, the world is a vicious snake pit, and every time you turn toward the right you should have turned toward the left?"
“Without question,” the boy responded with a derisive laugh. “That’s my normal state of mind. What in the world can the coin do to help me?”
“When I tell you, open up your fist and read what is etched upon the coin. It contains a kernel of wisdom that will lift your spirits, straightened your shoulders and give you the ability to deal with the world in a state of joy and gladness.” The boy looked first at his father in disbelief and then at his closed fist.
“Please, open your hand and read aloud this profound truth,” Solomon said.
Slowly opening his fist, the boy looked at the red side of the coin. Casting his eyes upon his message, he read aloud the words גם זה יעבור (gahm ze ya-ah-vor) – “this too shall pass.”
“You see," Solomon said, ”this side of the coin tells you that everyone has times when every white is black, every up is down, and every good is evil. The coin teaches that this condition is only temporary. Do you understand?” he asked
“Yes father, I do,” the boy answered, beginning to stand just a bit straighter. “I never for one moment thought that the way I feel could have any ending except death. Are you sure that this lesson is true?”
“Without question,” his father said. “Now, once you climb out of your despondency, which I know you shall, everything will start going quite well with you. In matter of fact, things will start going so very well, that you will actually begin thinking that your previous condition was all a chimera – a figment of your imagination. You will undoubtedly come to feel that any direction you take will be the proper one, any act you attempt will turn out successfully, and every day will be better than the last. It is at such a time that you should look at the blue side of the coin. Now, turn it over and read its secret wisdom out loud.”
Turning the coin over, the boy looked at what was etched on the lapis-side of the coin. “What does it say?” his father asked.
“Why it says the very same thing גם זה יעבור – (gahm ze ya-ah-vor) -- this too shall pass,” the boy said in astonishment. “But what does it mean?”
“It means,” Solomon gently said, that in order to get through this life, you must understand the lesson of balance. Nothing is forever. No streak of bad luck is infinite. No time of good fortune lasts forever. Balance: that is the key. And believe me, that is a true gem of wisdom that virtually no one else shall ever possess. I command you to keep this coin upon your person from this day forth. And even when you have carefully memorized and taken to heart its words and meaning, you must keep it with you. It shall then serve as a perpetual lesson for you in all times – both the good and the bad. It will, in short, make life far more livable.”
“Thank you so much father,” the boy said, smiling a broad honest smile for the first time in Solomon’s recollection. “I cannot think of a better gift or a better lesson. And now, if you will excuse me, I think I will go out and walk in the sunshine.”
“But it is a cloudy day,” the king said with a trace of humor in his voice.
“Yes, I know,” his son said. “But for me, the clouds have parted and the sun is shining. May I go?”
“Certainly, my son. Enjoy the sunshine.” The son departed.
And from that day forth, his depression, like the clouds in the heavens, began to part, for he had learned the vital lesson of balance: גם זה יעבור gam ze ya-ah-vor – “this too shall pass.”
And so, pay great heed: this is a lesson not just for Rechavam, the son of Solomon, the son of David. It is a lesson for each and every one of us for all time. We may be going through unbelievably difficult times, feeling like Rechavam at his lowest but . . . as the coin teaches, גם זה יעבור gahm ze ya-ah-vor . . . this too shall pass.
78 days down, 1,382 to go . . .
(אגב: לכל הקוראים היהודים שלי, בבקשה לקבל איחולי חג פסח שמח, בריא וכשר)
Copyright© 1999, 2010, 2017 Kurt F. Stone