The Slave Who Became King

(This story is told by Iraqi Jews)

Once, long ago, in a kingdom far away, there was a most unusual custom. In most kingdoms, when a king dies, his son or daughter succeeds to the throne after him. Not so in this kingdom. When a king died, a special bird, called the "bird of good fortune" was released. This bird flew around and the person upon whose head it finally landed became the next king. A curious custom indeed.

In this same kingdom, there was a slave who lived and worked in the king's palace. This slave was a musician, who entertained the king, his family, and guests by dressing in funny clothing -- including a cap made of chicken feathers and a belt made from the hooves of sheep -- and playing music on a drum.

It came to pass that the king died one day, and the "bird of fortune" was released. It circled in the sky some time, while the people of the kingdom watched in wonderment. Finally, it came to rest on the head of the slave, nesting itself in his hat of chicken feathers. Immediately, and to his surprise and consternation, he was declared king of the entire kingdom, and in an instant, the slave was transformed into a powerful sovereign.

The slave moved into the quarters of the king, donned his royal attired, and sat upon his throne. As his first royal decree, he had a sukkah built next to the palace and there he kept his chicken-feather hat, belt, and drum -- the vestiges of his life as a slave. The only furnishing in the entire shack was a large mirror. Every day, the new king visited the little hut, disappearing behind the door for a short time. Then he would emerge, and lock the door behind him. His ministers and advisors thought this very peculiar behavior, but after all, he was the king now and who would question the king?

As the years went on, the new king passed many laws aimed at reducing slavery and suffering. The changes were made gradually -- so gradually that no one noticed them. The king was known to all for his kindness and compassion, as well as his peculiar habit of visiting the odd little hut once a day.

One day, his closest advisor asked, "Your majesty, what is it that you keep in that hut of yours?"

"My most treasured possessions!" the king replied, and he led the advisor into the hut and showed him the chicken-feather hat, the belt, and the drum.

"But these are things of a slave!" the advisor replied in disgust. "These are not the possessions of a king, Your Majesty!"

"Ah, but they are," replied the king. "You see, once I was a slave and now I am free. When you made me your king, I promised myself and God that I would never forget that I was once a slave lest I grow arrogant and haughty, and treat people as I was once treated. Every morning, I come here and dress as I was once forced to dress as a slave. I stare at myself in the mirror until tears come to my eyes, and only then am I prepared to leave this hut and rule as a good king should. It is this memory which makes me the king that I am. These are the most treasured possessions I have."

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