It was not often that King Michael the Second lost his calm, but today’s news was a distinct exception. It was whispered into the royal ear that one of his closest friends, Lord Pickerly, had committed an act of treason. His majesty’s first reaction was to deny the rumor, but he held his tongue. The charge was far too serious for him to allow his emotions to sway his judgment.
When he weighed the matter in his mind, King Michael could picture how it might have happened. For all his admirable traits, Pickerly did have his weaknesses, as his high highness knew only too well. For one, he had a streak of impetuosity that blurred his judgment if he was not on his guard. Secondly, he was very fond of good, strong wine, despite the effect it had on him. More than once, he had regretted some impulsive act performed under the influence of strong wine. His majesty himself had often chided Pickerly on his weakness, but to no avail. Although he acknowledged the danger involved, Pickerly could not bring himself to turn down a tempting goblet of deep, red wine even to save his skin.
“He must have drunk too much again, and this time, it may cost him his life,” brooded his majesty as he paced the room. “If I intervene in his favor, I will be making a mockery of my throne and the universal justice it should stand for."
He continued to march up and down the long, carpeted corridor, deep in thought. “Perhaps Hedgeware and Falconshire egged him on, once he had drunk too much. They were always jealous of his friendship with me; they would be only too pleased to eliminate him from the scene."
“Even so, I cannot openly show Pickerly any more mercy than I would another subject of the crown. What shall I do to save him?”
Meanwhile, in another section of the royal castle, Pickerly languished in a dank and dreary dungeon. How he regretted his folly, now that it was too late! He suffered all the more because he knew how much the king must also be tormented with him and because of him. Why had he not heeded his warnings which stemmed out of concern for his own good?
Again and again he turned over in his mind the options that would lie open to his majesty. An investigation? Yes, that surely would be made, and he writhed in shame to think of the findings. He knew that he was guilty; there was no point in even thinking of denying it. He knew as well that his majesty would not jeopardize his reputation as a fair and just ruler by showing him any undue leniency. King Michael was too honest and sincere a monarch to show favor to his friends.
Day and night Pickerly berated himself and moaned his fate. Sleep was beyond him, and he barely touched the meager portions of bread and water that the guard pushed through the door. What would happen when he was tried? How could he look his sovereign in the eye and admit that he had betrayed him?
Meanwhile, the king asked for a report on the prisoner. He was pleased to learn that he regretted his rash act and was overcome with remorse. He knew full well that there was no room for leniency within the framework of the law, yet he could not resign himself to seeing Pickerly meet an ignoble death on the gallows.
Pickerly lost all hope. He became a mere shadow of the hale and hearty noble who had enjoyed the king’s friendship in the past.
With time, he became weaker and weaker. One morning, as he lay on the rough board that was now his bed, resigned to his fate, he thought he heard a strange noise. It seemed to come from the walls or under the ground. Glancing around the cell, he found nothing unusual that might be making the undefined sound.
Then the floor seemed to quiver. “Am I loosing my mind?” he thought to himself.
He rose to his feet, and felt the floor shaking. As he watched in disbelief, a stone slab rose from the floor. In the dim light, he saw a figure covered with dirt and mud rising from a hole in the floor!
With a gasp, he fell back onto the bed of planks. “Who are you?” he asked in a rough whisper.
“May Heaven help us!” exclaimed a familiar voice. “Do you not recognize the only friend you still have in this kingdom”?
“His Majesty!” cried Pickerly, falling to his knees, too ashamed to lift his face. “How gravely have I sinned against you! Forgive me!”
"There is no time for confessions!” declared his highness brusquely. “Follow me!"
He climbed back down into the hole under the floor, and turned to help Pickerly follow him. They pulled the stone back into place, and together, started to crawl along the tunnel.
“I have been worrying about you from the moment I first learned of what you did, Pickerly. When I heard that you were filled with remorse, I was determined to come to your rescue, for there is no way I could possibly mitigate your sentence legally. I knew that I would have to find some way to remain invisible to the public.
“I began to close myself into a small room, and forbade anyone to enter without my permission. I chose a room close to this wing, and there I began to dig this tunnel. Every day, I made progress; now you will be free, even though strictly speaking, by the law of the realm, there was no hope for you.”
Thus the magnanimous sovereign found a way to circumvent the dictates of the law and of logic, and to spare the life of his friend.
If we consider our situation before our Creator – according to the strict letter of the law – we are in the same situation as Pickerly. There is no reason that we should be forgiven for rebelling against Him who gave us life itself. Once we sin, there is no logical way to undo the harm.
Nonetheless, G-d gives us the opportunity to repent and to improve our conduct. He is willing to forgive our misdeeds if we sincerely regret them and we are determined not to repeat them.
Although it is against all logic, ultimately, the Creator of the universe is above human logic, and can extend His forgiveness to whomever He sees fit.
King Michael himself dug an escape tunnel, out of his mercy for Pickerly, and personally came to show him the way to freedom. So, too, did G-d create a special "channel" for us to repent and to return to Him. What is more, He personally teaches us how and when to do teshuvah.
To this end, He gives us the special days of Elul, Rosh Hashanah, and Yom Kippur so that we may cleanse ourselves and once more appear before Him with our hearts fully devoted to serving Him, and Him alone. This is a special gift to the children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob, because they drew near to G-d and served Him faithfully, thousands of years ago. To this day, it remains our priceless gift, to be treasured by the Jewish People for all time.