Updated: Apr 24, 2020
THE LOST PRINCESS
A story by Rabbi Nachman of Breslov
Rabbi Nachman said: I told a story while on a journey, that everyone that heard it had thoughts of repentance, and this is the story. There was once a king that had six sons and one daughter, and the daughter was very dear to him. He adored her very much, and spent a great deal of time with her. One day when they were alone together he became angry with her. Impetuously he called out that, “the Evil One should take her away.” That night, she went to her room, and in the morning she was gone. Her father was heartbroken, and searched for her everywhere. The viceroy saw how sad the king was, and requested a servant and a horse and money for expenses, and he went to look for her. He searched for a long long time until he found her. (Now the story relates how he searched until he found her). He wandered ceaselessly for a long time, through deserts fields and forests, and searched for her for a very long time. While traveling through a desert he spotted a path off to the side, and thought to himself, “Since I have already spent so much time walking in the desert, and not succeeded in finding her, I will take this path, perhaps it will lead to somewhere inhabited,” and he continued walking for a long time. Then he saw a fortress with a number of soldiers standing guard around it. The fortress was very beautiful and well ordered, and surrounded by the soldiers. He was very afraid of the soldiers, in case they wouldn’t let him enter. But then he thought to himself, “I will go ahead and give it a try.” He left the horse behind and walked to the fortress. The soldiers ignored him, and didn’t prevent him from entering. He went from room to room, unhindered. He came to the main room and saw the king sitting there with his crown on. There was a number of soldiers there, and before the king, some musicians with their instruments. It was all very beautiful, and neither the king nor anyone else questioned him. He saw there all kinds of pastries and tasty food, and he went and ate, and then went and lay down in a corner to see what would happen there, and he saw how the king gave an order for the queen to be brought in. They went and brought her, and there was great excitement and happiness there, with music and singing to accompany the arrival of the queen. They brought for her a chair, and sat her next to him (the king), and it was the (lost) princess, and he saw her and recognized her. Upon looking around, she spotted someone lying in the corner and recognized him. She arose from her chair and went over there and touched him and asked, “Do you recognize me?” He answered, “Yes, I recognize you, you are the lost princess.” He asked her, “How did you come to be here?” She answered, “Through my father the king shouting at me that which he shouted. And here, this place is the place of ‘no good.’” He related to her how her father was so upset, and how he had been searching for her all these years. He asked her, “How can I release you?” She told him that it would be impossible to release her other than by choosing a place and remaining there for a whole year, and for that whole year he should yearn to release her. Every single free moment to yearn and to plead and to look forward to releasing me, also to fast. And on the final day of the year you should fast, and not sleep for the whole 24 hours. And he went and did what she had told him to do. At the end of the year, on the final day, he was fasting and going without sleep, and he went to return to the fortress. On the way he saw a tree, with beautiful apples growing from it. The tree was beautiful to behold, and he went and ate from it, and immediately upon eating the apple a deep sleep overcame him, and he slept for a very long time. The servant tried to awaken him, but to no avail. Later, he awoke, and asked the servant, “Where in the world am I?” And he told him what had happened. (I.e. the servant related to the viceroy all that had happened. And told him,) “You have slept for a long time, a few years, and I have been surviving on the fruit.” The viceroy was completely broken hearted. He went there (to the fortress) and found her. She broke down before him, “If you had only come on that day you would have rescued me from here. Because of one day, you failed. Still, to go without eating is indeed extremely difficult, especially on the final day, because then the Evil Inclination is exceptionally powerful.” (Now the princess tells him that the next time he will have an easier task, and he will not be forbidden to eat, because that was just too difficult for him.) “Therefore, go back and choose a place to stay, and stay there also for a year, as before etc. and on the final day you can eat, just make sure not to sleep, and do not drink any wine in order not to fall asleep, because the most important thing is not to fall asleep.” So he went and did all that she had said. On the final day, as he was on his way back, he saw a running stream, colored red that had the smell of wine. He asked the servant, “Do you see that stream, surely it should be water, but it is colored red and has the smell of wine?” So he went and tasted from the stream. Immediately he fell asleep for a number of years. In fact, he slept for seventy years. In the meantime, many soldiers passed by with all their equipment, and everything else soldiers carry with them. The servant hid himself because of the soldiers. Then a carriage passed by and many wagons, carrying the princess. She stopped next to him, got down and went and sat next to him, and recognized him. She tried very hard to wake him up, but he didn’t awaken. She began to complain, such an incredible effort and toil he had expended these many years in order to free her, and on this one day when he could have freed her, he lost everything. She wept very much about this, “That it is just so sad, both for him and also for me, after I have been here such a long time, and I have no way to escape.” She then took the handkerchief that was covering her hair, and wrote upon it with her tears and left it beside him, stood up, sat back in her carriage and traveled on. When he finally awoke, he asked the servant, “Where in the world am I?” The servant related to him all that had happened, how many soldiers had passed by, how she had been in the carriage, etc. That she had wept over him and cried how it was such a great pity both for him and for her, etc. Suddenly he noticed the handkerchief lying next to him. He asked, “Where did this come from?” The servant replied that she had written on it with her tears. He picked it up and held it up to the sun, and saw the letters written on it. He read what was written there, how miserable and broken-hearted she was, and that now, she was no longer to be found at the fortress, but rather he would have to search for a mountain made of gold and a castle made of pearls, there you will find me. So he left the servant behind, and went alone to search for her. He searched for many years, and then thought to himself, well surely a mountain made of gold and a castle made of pearls does not exist anywhere that is inhabited, (for he was very well-versed in geography,) in which case, I will go and search for her somewhere uninhabited. So he went and searched for her for many years, well away from civilization. Then one time, he met a huge man, so large that he could not be considered to be a normal human being at all, he was such an incredible size. The man was carrying a massive tree, a tree so large that one like it had never been seen in any inhabited place. The giant asked him, “Who are you?” He answered, “I am a man.” He said in amazement “Well I have been living in the desert for many years, and I have never seen a man here before!” The viceroy told him the whole story, and how he was now searching for a mountain of gold and a pearl castle. “Such a thing couldn’t possibly exist,” the giant said discouragingly. “You are simply fooling yourself with this absurd quest. There is no such thing.” The viceroy broke down and cried, and said, “I am absolutely certain that it really does exist, somewhere.” The giant discouraged him even more, telling him that people were just telling him foolish tales. The viceroy would not be put off, and said that he was absolutely certain it existed. The giant said, “Well in my opinion, it is all utter stupidity, but since you are so obstinate…I am in charge of all the animals. For you, I will summon them all. They travel all over the world, perhaps one of them will know of such a mountain and castle.” So he called all of the different types of animals to come to him, from the smallest to the largest, and asked them, and they all answered that they had never seen such a thing. “There, you see, people have just been telling you foolish tales! Listen to me, go back to where you came from, you will never find it, because it does not exist in the world.” The viceroy insisted, “It certainly does exist, of that I am certain.” So the giant said, “Well, my brother lives in the desert, and he is in charge of all the birds. Perhaps they would know, seeing that they fly so high in the air, perhaps they would have seen such a mountain and castle. Go to him, and tell him that I sent you.” He searched for him for many years, until he found another huge man, who was also carrying a massive tree, just like the first. He also asked him who he was etc. The viceroy answered by telling him the whole story, and that his brother had sent him to see him. He also tried to discourage him that such a thing doesn’t exist, and the viceroy insisted that it did. So he told him, “Well, I am in charge of all the birds. I will summon them, perhaps they will know.” So he called all the birds to him, and asked them all, from the smallest to the largest, and they all answered that they had no knowledge of such a mountain and castle. “There, you see, there is no such thing in the world. If you listen to me, go back to where you came from, it simply doesn’t exist.” The viceroy insisted that it certainly did exist. The second giant told him, “Further on into the desert, my brother lives, and he is in charge of all the winds, and they blow all over the world. Perhaps they will know. So he searched for him a number of years, until he found another huge man, also carrying a huge tree. He asked the viceroy the same questions as the others, and the viceroy answered as before, telling him the whole story. He also tried to discourage him, but the viceroy insisted, as before. The third giant told the viceroy that he would summon all the winds for him and ask them. He called them, and all the winds came to him. He asked them all, and not a single one of them knew of such a mountain or castle. He told him, “You see, people are just telling you foolish tales.” The viceroy wept bitterly and said, “I am absolutely certain that it exists.” In the meantime, he saw another wind approaching. The giant was very angry with it, “Why did you come late! I decreed that all the winds should come, so why didn’t you come with them?” The wind answered, “I was held up because I had to carry a princess to a mountain of gold and a pearl castle.” The viceroy was overjoyed. The one in charge of the winds asked the wind, “What is valuable there?” (In other words, what things are regarded in that place as precious and important?) The wind answered, “Everything is very valuable there.” The one in charge of the winds said to the viceroy, “Since you have been searching for such a long time for the princess, and put so much effort into the search, it could be that now you would have a further prevention due to a lack of money. Therefore I will give you a purse, that every time that you put your hand into it, you will find there money.” He then ordered the wind to carry the viceroy there. The storm wind came and carried him there, and brought him to the gate. Soldiers were stationed there, and they prevented him from entering the city. So he put his hand into the purse and pulled out some money, bribed them, and was able to enter into the city. It was a very beautiful city. He went to a wealthy person there, and bought himself some food, since it would take some time, and all his wisdom and intelligence to rescue her. And the way in which he rescued her was not related, but eventually he did succeed in rescuing her.