Among the disciples of Rabbi DovBer of Mezeritch (the second leader of the chassidic movement, d. 1772) were many who argued that the sanctity of the esoteric teachings revealed by their master must be safeguarded and shared only with a select few. Others, chief amongst them Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, were of the opinion that they must be circulated as widely as possible. They transcribed Rabbi DovBer’s teachings, made many copies, and actively distributed them to the wider Jewish community.

One day, one of these transcriptions was discovered languishing in a mound of garbage. The sight of this caused great pain to all of Rabbi DovBer’s disciples, and renewed the critique of those who cheapened their master’s holy words with their indiscriminate distribution. Rabbi Schneur Zalman responded with a parable:

“Once upon a time,” he began his tale, “there was a mighty king who had an only son. Wishing his son to grow in wisdom and might, he sent him off to explore faraway lands and far-flung islands. There the prince was to learn the nature of foreign plants and animals, and brave dangerous terrain to capture exotic beasts and birds.

“One day, the news reached the king that his son, who was then on a faraway island, had fallen gravely ill, and that the doctors were unable to find a cure for his illness. A call was issued throughout the land, offering great reward. But all the great doctors, all the famed scholars, were silenced, for they knew no remedy or cure for the illness of the prince.

“Then there arrived a man who knew of a proven remedy for the illness of the prince. He described a certain precious stone which, if one would grind it to the finest of powders, mix it with a superb wine, and give it to the prince to drink—he would be cured.

“This gem, however, was extremely rare, and could not be obtained anywhere in the kingdom and beyond. The only specimen in existence was the centerpiece of the royal crown of the king. Removing this gem would mean destroying the crown—the king’s most precious possession and the ultimate symbol of his sovereignty.

“At first, the king’s ministers were overjoyed to discover the gem. But as soon as they realized that by removing the stone from the crown—the very one with which their king was crowned—its entire glory would fade, they were extremely distressed. Nonetheless, they were forced to inform the king that the gem had been found.

“The king was overjoyed. He commanded that the gem be extracted and ground to a fine powder, and that the potion for his son be quickly prepared.

“But at that moment, terrible news reached the royal palace: the prince’s condition had so deteriorated that his lips were sealed. So ill was the prince that he could take nothing, not even liquids, into his mouth.  The experts and scholars assembled at the palace were certain that, under the circumstances, the king would surely direct that the stone not be ground, so that the splendor of the royal crown could be preserved.

“How astounded they were to hear the king instructing them to hurry and crush the gem and to prepare the potion as swiftly as possible, and to pour it into the mouth of the prince. ‘Grind, pour, squander the entire gemstone,’ said the king. ‘Who knows? Perhaps a single drop will enter the mouth of my son, and he will be healed!’”