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Rebbe Nachman’s stories can be understood on many levels and in many ways. He said that while many people told stories to children to put them to sleep, he told his stories to wake people up. Even a person who regularly learns Torah and observes all the mitzvot can be considered sleeping if he does so in a mechanical way, lacking joy. Because stories can penetrate the heart and feelings of a person, and not merely his head (like with analytical learning), they have the power to bring a person to new and unexpected insights, often on a deeper level than intellectual endeavor alone.
The following are some general understandings of “The Turkey Prince.”
On a simple level, this story is about children who rebel from the accepted norm, in one fashion or another, and stray from the path which parents and educators expect them to follow. What are parents and teachers to do? To get down on the child? Or to try to get down to his level, to accept the child for who he or she is, to appreciate his or her good points, and patiently build a relationship of love and trust, in order to help the child deal with the powerful emotions and conflicts in his or her life?
On deeper levels, the son of the king, represents Am Yisrael (the Jewish People) in its descent into exile, “under the table,” where it exists more like a turkey, wandering here and there, depending on the crumbs of the gentiles in foreign lands, where, in adapting the ways of the gentiles, we come to resemble them – turkeys instead of sons of the king. How do we get back to being sons of the king – independent Jews in our Land, back at the table of the King? In addition, on a national level, how are we to relate to groups of Jews who are, in one way or another, “under the table,” either in their preferring the Diaspora to life in Israel, or in their straying from Torah, or in their rejection of Medinat Yisrael (the State of Israel)? To we get down on them, and oppose them, or do we get down to their level, understanding where they are holding in their different worldviews, and gradually influence them, with love and patience, to expand their horizons through the example of a more enlightened understanding and behavior?
On a Kaballistic level, the son of the king symbolizes the Shechina’s (the Divine Presence) descent into exile “under the table,” cast out from the palace of the King. And, on a universal level, the son of the king is all of mankind, who with the fall of Adam, was cast away from the Garden of Eden to exile. Who will lead humanity back to the Garden and to world Tikun (rectification)? The nations of the world, represented by the magicians and sages of the king, all try and fail. Only the Jewish Sage succeeds in returning the fallen prince to the table of the king.