On the Melekh HaKadosh and the Little Prince
Summary: The Little Prince is a fable that recounts the journeys of a young boy to various planets and the personalities that he encounters upon them. Its themes include loneliness, friendship, love, and loss.
Upon crashing his plane in the Sahara, a pilot meets a young boy whom he nicknames “the little prince.” Over the course of eight days in the desert, while the pilot attempts to repair his plane, the prince recounts his life story. He describes his tiny home planet, a small asteroid known on earth as B 612. The asteroid’s most prominent features are three minuscule volcanoes and a variety of plants, which the little prince cares for.
The prince loves a vain and silly rose that grows on the asteroid’s surface. To escape the rose’s pretentions and demands, the prince visits six other planets, each inhabited by a single, irrational, narrow-minded adult. Each is meant to critique one element of society. Finally, the prince arrives on earth, where he befriends the pilot.
Why this is The BEST: Antoine de Saint-Exupéry, himself a pioneering aviator, wrote The Little Prince during World War II as a French exile in New York. Like Lewis Carrol and C.S. Lewis, he uses a children’s story to speak to adults about human pretension and the pursuit of life’s ultimate meaning. His work can serve the religious reader well, especially during this High Holiday season.
One valuable insight relates to the importance of ritual in relationships. The little prince meets a friendly desert fox:
The fox gazed at the little prince, for a long time. “Please – tame me!” he said.
“I want to, very much,” the little prince replied. “But I have not much time. I have friends to discover, and a great many things to understand.”
“One only understands the things that one tames,” said the fox. “Men have no more time to understand anything. They buy things all ready made at the shops. But there is no shop anywhere where one can buy friendship, and so men have no friends any more. If you want a friend, tame me…”
We create friendships by taming. What is true for human friendships is also true of a relationship with God. How can such a relationship be formed?
“What must I do, to tame you?” asked the little prince.
“You must be very patient,” replied the fox. “First you will sit down at a little distance from me – like that – in the grass. I shall look at you out of the corner of my eye, and you will say nothing. Words are the source of misunderstandings. But you will sit a little closer to me, every day…”
The work of taming is slow. Relationships require time. Every day, we can move a little closer, but if we move close too quickly, our fox will run away. Taming is getting close. Taming is being a presence in the life of another. We can make God a part of our world; as we make ourselves part of God’s world.
The next day the little prince came back.
“It would have been better to come back at the same hour,” said the fox. “If, for example, you come at four o’clock in the afternoon, then at three o’clock I shall begin to be happy. I shall feel happier and happier as the hour advances. At four o’clock, I shall already be worrying and jumping about. I shall show you how happy I am! But if you come at just any time, I shall never know at what hour my heart is to be ready to greet you… One must observe the proper rites…”
“What is a rite?” asked the little prince.
“Those also are actions too often neglected,” said the fox. “They are what make one day different from other days, one hour from other hours.”
The rites and rituals of the Torah work in a similar way. They are the currency of friendship. When we live a life of mitzvot, we condition our hearts to jump about. We do this for ourselves, and – in some way – for God as well. As we approach this “taming” season, let us seek out a friendship. Let us make use of our rites.
Chaim Strauchler is the Rabbi of Rinat Yisrael in Teaneck and an associate editor of TRADITION. Click here to read about “The BEST” and to see the index of all columns in this series.