Thursday, September 13, 2012

The Mashiach Hearing

Sen. Shetland: Good morning. Three weeks ago, when the Majority Leader took away Sen. Fontaine’s speaking privileges for shouting “Fire!” in the middle of Sen. Bridgeport’s filibuster, I said a little prayer to myself: “O Lord, take pity on this poor, misguided Congress.”

G-d’s answer to me was “Roy, invite the top religious leaders to testify before your Senate committee on how to get America’s legislators to work together again for the good of the country.”

Our first witness is Rabbi Joseph Blickstein, spiritual leader of Suburban Torah in Meridian, Idaho. Rabbi Blickstein, what’s Judaism’s best weapon to fight the bitter partisanship on Capitol Hill?

Rabbi Blickstein: Mashiach.

Sen. Shetland: Excuse me, Rabbi. You said “mushy” what?

Rabbi Blickstein: I said, “Mashiach.” The Messiah. The person who will perfect the world.

Sen. Shetland: Now there’s an ambitious agenda! Who is this guy? How’s he gonna get elected? Does he have an organization set up yet in Iowa or New Hampshire?

Rabbi Blickstein: Mashiach will be a king. The people will accept him as their leader based on his outstanding character traits and accomplishments.

Sen. Shetland: He’s not going be asked to kiss a baby or make a speech on ethanol?

Rabbi Blickstein: From my understanding, no. Mashiach, according to Maimonides, is a Jewish king who will restore the Davidic Monarchy. He will first compel the Jewish people to observe the Torah and then vanquish Israel’s enemies. Later he will rebuild the Temple in Jerusalem and inspire all Jews to return to the Land of Israel.

Sen. Shetland: If you don’t mind me saying, Rabbi, so far this sounds like a strictly Jewish affair. Didn’t you say Mashiach will perfect the world?

Rabbi Blickstein: Yes, I did. What I just described to you is the first stage of Mashiach’s rule, when it will be established that he is, in fact, the Messiah the world has been waiting for all these years. After his identity is confirmed, Mashiach will then turn his attention to the world-at-large.

Sen. Shetland: So that’s when he’ll get us to work together to balance the budget and create jobs?

Rabbi Blickstein: Senator, when Mashiach comes there will be no more inflation, unemployment or credit crunch. Everyone will be able to obtain the finest luxuries; as a result, famine, war, envy and competition will disappear.

Sen. Shetland: My word, this Mashiach’s going to be better than Greenspan!

Rabbi Blickstein: Since the economy will cease being a concern, Mashiach will be free to truly unite the world, inspiring everyone to serve G-d together.

Sen. Shetland: You got my juices flowing, Rabbi! Please call my office if you have further suggestions along these lines … But now the Chair recognizes the Ranking Minority Member, the Gentle Lady from California, Sen. Ventura.

Sen. Ventura: Thank you, Mr. Chairman. California has long taken pride in being at the forefront of so many major American cultural trends. We invented the hot tub, skateboarding and environmentalism. California was the first state to say, “Have a nice day!” And ours were the first voters to make extensive use of both the popular initiative and the Ouija Board. Rabbi Blickstein, I don’t want my state to be left out of this. What can Californians do to prepare the nation and the world for Mashiach?

Rabbi Blickstein: The Talmud identifies seven commandments that G-d gave the nations of the world. These statutes derive their authority from Mount Sinai where they were transmitted by G-d as part of the Torah. The rabbinical sages have indicated that the nations of the world should learn and observe the Seven Commandments as preparation for the Age of Mashiach.

Sen. Ventura: Could you please tell us what these commandments are, Rabbi? I want to make sure they contain nothing environmentally damaging, discriminatory to minorities or women, or that would in any way undermine the asparagus or windsurfing industries.

Rabbi Blickstein: The Seven Laws are 1) Do not worship false gods; 2) Do not blaspheme G-d; 3) Do not murder; 4) Do not commit acts of sexual immorality; 5) Do not steal; 6) Do not remove a limb from a living animal; 7) Establish courts of justice.

Sen. Ventura: Rabbi Blickstein, is this a religion?

Rabbi Blickstein: The Noahide Laws are not a religion. They form a foundation of universal ethics on which all humanity can stand as one to acknowledge the One G-d, who endows everyone with life.

Sen. Ventura: Thank you very much, Rabbi … Mr. Chairman, I yield the remainder of my time to the Gentleman from Rhode Island, Sen. Broadcloth.

Sen. Broadcloth: One and a half minutes, whoopee! … Rabbi, my question to you is this: What is the End Game? Where is all this Mashiach business taking us? Let me warn you, Rhode Islanders are a proud people. We may live in the smallest state, but we were the first colony to declare independence from Great Britain. We will not allow ourselves to be led around by the nose!

Rabbi Blickstein: The “End Game,” as you say, is that – in the words of the prophet Isaiah – “The world will be filled with the knowledge of G-d as the waters cover the sea.” Humankind will become permeated with awareness of G-d to such an extent that the old world will become “covered” with goodness – unrecognizable in its complete transformation.

Sen. Broadcloth: Thank you, Rabbi. My time is up.

Sen. Shetland: Rabbi Blickstein, I’m sure I speak for the entire Committee when I say that we’ve learned a lot from you today, sir, much for all of us to consider … We will now adjourn for lunch. Our next witness will be Raj Nanda Yogi, who will show us how to balance the budget using meditation and deep breathing techniques. Sen. Ventura, how does 90 minutes sound to you? All right, then, we'll see y’all back here at 1:30 …

Sunday, July 1, 2012

A Conversation with Balaam's Donkey

Leonard: My next guest is currently co-starring in the Broadway musical, “Balaam, (Don’t) Curse the Jews!” I’m very pleased to welcome Balaam’s Donkey to our show. Hello.

Donkey: Hi, Leonard.

Leonard: Congratulations on being chosen to play this part. You’re basically reprising your role as Balaam the soothsayer’s talking donkey in the Biblical story Balak. Is the musical faithful to the original as you experienced it?

Donkey: Well, you know, the parts about me rescuing the children from the burning tower and leading the Israelites into battle with my rousing oratory – for some reason those were left out.

Leonard: Really. I read the Torah portion to prepare for this interview, and I don’t recall anything like that.

Donkey: Oh, yeah? Are you sure? Maybe I’m remembering it differently.

Leonard: Why don’t you give us an overview of the story. That way we can make sure we’re both on the same page.

Donkey: It’s been called “a cautionary tale of one man’s attempt to bend G-d’s will to his own – with a talking donkey.”

Leonard: Who wrote that? One of the ancient Hebrew commentators?

Donkey: No, Ben Brantley of the New York Times. He was reviewing the musical. Let’s see … Balak was the king of Moab, one of the superpowers at the time. He summoned Balaam, a seer with powers of prophecy rivaling those of Moses, to curse the nation of Israel.

Leonard: Why did Balak want to curse the Jews? Did they break his window?

Donkey: No, Israel had just annihilated the two biggest superpowers, and Balak was terrified. He thought cursing the Jews would weaken them, and then he’d be able to defeat them militarily. So he sent his ministers to Balaam to request his cursing services. Balaam told them to wait overnight: he needed to see what G-d had to say about it first.

Leonard: Did they really have overnight delivery then?

Donkey: I’m afraid not, Leonard. G-d appeared to Balaam only at night.

Leonard: And G-d gave the cursing a thumbs up “Like”?

Donkey: Not exactly. He laid down three unambiguous orders: 1) don’t go with the men to Balak’s court; 2) don’t curse the Jews; and 3) don’t bless them, either, because they’re already blessed.

Leonard: So I guess Balaam told the ministers G-d didn't want him to curse Israel.

Donkey: Not exactly. He led the ministers to believe that the reason he couldn’t travel with them was not because G-d wouldn't allow him to curse the Jews but because they, the ministers, weren’t prominent enough.

Leonard: Were these UN officials?

Donkey: They were real ministers. They reported Balaam’s demand, and the king simply sent another delegation of higher rank. Balaam made them wait overnight again, and this time G-d told him: “OK, big shot, go already. But you better not try any cursing.”

Leonard: So now we come to your scene.

Donkey: That’s right. We’re riding down the road on our way to the King and all of a sudden I see an angel standing there with a drawn sword. So I turn off the road into a field. The angel appears twice more, each time blocking my path. Before I’m forced to stop, I unavoidably cause Balaam’s leg to be pressed against a wall.

Leonard: Balaam must not have been too happy about all that.

Donkey: He struck me hard each time I strayed. So I said, "What have I done to you that you strike me these three times?" He answered that I had embarrassed him before the ministers and that if he had had a sword he would have killed me.

Leonard: Really, he threatened to kill you? What was it like working for him?

Donkey: He wasn’t exactly the nicest guy in the world. He’d do things like hide my oat bag.

Leonard: How do you find performing with Balaam all these years later?

Donkey: We have a lot more respect for each other now. To be safe, though, I keep my oat bag in my briefcase.

Leonard: So what happened in the end with Balaam and the Jews?

Donkey: G-d, through the angel, allowed Balaam to travel on to King Balak. Balaam blessed the Jews. And it was quite a blessing. The Mah Tovu prayer that’s said every morning was taken from the blessing. To top it off, he foretold the coming of Mashiach. It’s one of only three places in the Five Books of Moses that alludes to his arrival.

Leonard: Why didn’t the Jews sign him up after that? He sounds like a valuable asset.

Donkey: He really hated the Jews, Leonard. He sought their destruction by other means.

Leonard: So what do we learn from this story?

Donkey: One thing I took away from the experience, Leonard, is a perspective on free will. G-d makes known his will, but he also allows people to choose their own way. G-d made a donkey talk – that’s me – and an angel materialize to persuade Balaam to turn back from his path of defiance. He didn’t want to punish Balaam immediately; he gave him chances.

Leonard: Now you’re telling the story on the Great White Way. Musicals, though, don’t run forever. What would you like to do next?

Donkey: I’d like to try my hand at talk radio. I can see myself doing a morning sports show – call it “Dave and the Donkey.” He’d be the crazy-whacky guy. I’d be the cerebral one with the expert analysis of the Red Zone Defense and the intricate labor negotiations.

Leonard: I think that would suit you real well, Donkey. Thank you for taking the time to talk to us.

Donkey: My pleasure, Leonard.

Leonard: That’s our show for today. Be sure to join me tomorrow when my guests will include a certain talkative snake, who tries to defend himself in a new autobiography …