The Jewish Prince

The other night, I went to hear Rabbi Natan Gamzede, the Jewish Prince from Swaziland, speak. For those of you who aren’t familiar with his story, Rabbi Gamzede was born a prince in the African nation of Swaziland where his Grandfather was the King. Rabbi Gamzede eventually converted to Judaism and is now a teacher and lecturer.

Although I had previously met Rabbi Gamzede many years ago in yeshivah and I was fairly familar with his story, I was very inspired by his talk. Perhaps the thing that inspired me most was the level of sacrifice he had undertaken on his journey. Rabbi Gamzede grew up with, quite literally, anything money could buy. In fact, as a child his mother would attempt to shake him from his melancholy state by telling him “why are you so sad? You have everything money can buy!” After his conversion, Rabbi Gamzede’s parents cut off all monetary support and the Prince was now, quite literally, a Pauper. He would take odd jobs shlepping bricks for the building of a new shul just in order to make enough money for bus fare to and from Yerushalayim so that he could date. After marrying, he and his wife relied upon the equivilant of tomche shabbos packages (charitable weekly food donations). Yet, despite this dire level of poverty (not to mention the prejudice they endured) they were happy because they had Hashem and his Torah in their lives. Eizu hu ashir? Hasomeach b’chelko. Who is rich? He who is happy with his portion.

In a way, Rabbi Gamzede’s story reminded me a lot of the life of Ruth, which we will read about on Shavuos. Ruth was a princess who turned her back on all of the material riches and comforts of royalty to come to Hashem and his Torah. She also relied upon charitable food for sustenance, gleaning in the fields with the poor of the nation.

I have to admit that since the blog has started, I often find myself framing things in a baal teshuvah context. Last night, as my wife and I were discussing the lecture, I was thinking about all of the sacrifices that friends of mine had made on their respective paths to teshuvah. Although none of them descended from royalty, many of their personal sacrifices were just as great as those of the “Jewish Prince”.

We often hear the phrase “the past is past” or “don’t look back” when advising someone who is depressed about something they have done. This is good advice. But, it is sometimes just as important to look back on your personal sacrifices and triumphs and realize that you can actually get inspiration from your very own life. After all, each and every one of us are sons and daughters of the King.

6 comments on “The Jewish Prince

  1. Yesterday afternoon, my wife hosted our fifth grade daughter’s class for their weekly Pirkei Avos shiur.

    The goal of the shiur is for the girls to learn some of the perek and have the person leading explain and illuminate selected sections.

    My wife told the girls the story of Rabbi Gamzede. She then went through the perek pointing out some of the parallels found in the sixth chapter of pirkei avos, illustrating that Rabbi Gamzede, by choosing a life of Torah actually eclipsed his prior role of Prince by entering the palace of the King of kings. Among the sections pointed out were:

    Whoever engages in torah study for its own sake merits many things [among them] ~kingship~.

    Do not lust for the table of ~kings~ for your table is greater than theirs.

    Torah is greater than priesthood and ~royalty~.

    [The Torah] will give to your head a tiara of grace, a ~crown~ of glory it will deliver to you.

    She finished with the ninth mishnah of the perek which tells ths story of Rav Yossi ben Kisma:

    One time I was walking along the way and a certain man met me. He greeted me and I returned the greeting. He said to me: ‘Rabbi, where are you from?’ I responded: ‘I am from a large city of scholars and scribes.’ He said to me: ‘Rabbi, would you be willing to dwell among us in our place, and I will give you hundreds of thousands of gold coins, precious stones and pearls?’ I said to him: ‘Even if you would give me all the silver, gold, precious stones, and pearls in the world, I would not dwell anywhere other than a place of Torah.’ So too it was written in the Book of Psalms by David, King of Israel: ‘The Torah of Your mouth is better to me than thousands of gold and silver [coins]’ (119:72).

    It is inspiring to have individuals in our day and age that are walking in the footsteps of our sages.

  2. Just a quick thought, this weeks chapter of Pirkei Avos starts on a fitting note for this post:

    Kal haosek baTorah lishmah , zocheh l’devarim harbeh: … V’nosenes lo malchus — anyone who toils in Torah for its own sake merits many things … and (the Torah) gives him kingship.

  3. A couple of items:

    “the past is past” or “don’t look back” — while this aphorism definitely has its merits there’s also a flip side. Wish I could find the exact primary source but Rav Moshe Feinstein zt’l in a drasha mentioned that “turning a new leaf” is not necessarily the correct procedure for t’shuva. Keeping some of the (regretable) past alive can create energy that when directed constructively fuels the t’shuva process. It shouldn’t therefore be completely buried.

    As it says in the Gemara (Rosh Hashanah) “Z’donos Na’sos Z’chuyos”. Wrongdoings can be converted into merits via t’shuva.

    The other point:
    The Gerei Tzedek who’ve I met (mostly in Yerushalayim) have given me tremendous chizuk, especially during the period when I first started learning Torah.

    Always wanted to find out about the legendary (hopefully true story) Ger Tzedek who was a linguistics professor at Oxford or Cambridge and knew 10 languages inside and out. One day he thought it was time to learn Lashon Kodesh and after a period of study realized that there was no possibility that it was a man-made language and concluded that the Torah wasn’t man-made either and became misgayer.

  4. wow.don’t know why, but i never heard about him. Just read the article (link) about him and i’m really in awe. Thank you for sharing.

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