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Friday, October 29, 2010

The Messiah and the Rabbi

originally posted May 11, 2009

This is a true story.  I want to tell it here because it shows, once again, how people can be knowledgeable and yet be ignorant.  How each and every day can be an adventure.  How I have often stumbled into strange situations, even with the best intentions.  Although my greatest asset has been my faith in God, my best coping mechanism is usually humor.

I was elected President of the Synagogue for the Performing Arts for the 2004 term.  It is not a temple like most you might be familiar with.  We hold services once a month and neither of our Rabbis or our Cantor receive a salary for work done throughout the year.  They only receive a salary for the Sabbath services.  Our temple is not their primary source of income.  One person who runs the temple's office during the week gets a salary; no one else affiliated with the temple receives a dime.

Rabbi David Woznika had been hired by our temple just a few years before my term started.  I had spoken to him about a few things as a congregant and in my capacity as a member of the board of directors.  Before the new year started I wanted to speak with him privately, President to Rabbi.  Often there are people all around him and his time is limited.  I wanted to let him know what my vision for the temple was and build some trust with him.  I thought our temple was impeccable from the ritual standpoint.  Attempting to right our ship financially, because we cannot survive unless we make enough money at what we do, was important and I wanted to discuss some ideas with him.

His office and my apartment were in close proximity to each other.  Meeting for lunch seemed like a good idea.  We decided on Calendar's; and upscale version of your standard Marie Calendar's.  Sometimes people get the false impression that someone knows them well if you have spoken to them a few times.  I knew that if I had at least one good private meeting with the Rabbi it would go a long way toward the two of us getting to know each other better and build some trust before anything might go wrong later on down the road.

We start off with the typical small talk before the food gets served.  When our plates get delivered I sense he is a bit uncertain if I am comfortable with him praying before we eat.  Many people do not pray publicly in this situation.  I can tell he is unsure if I will be offended.  I tell him, "Rabbi, I'll make a deal with you.  You say the B'rucha and I will say "Amen."  I can tell this made him feel really good and we do it just like I proposed.  He can tell I take my faith seriously and I am not just grandstanding.  His comfort level with me has just gotten much higher.

He sticks his fork in his salad, asks me "So why did you get a tattoo?" then puts the forkful of food in his mouth.  He's got me; he's found me out.  At this point I know I cannot be evasive; I do not want to lie to the Rabbi.  But I wait to give him the real answer because I can tell if I do he is probably going to choke on his food.  He nods at me expectantly.  He swallows.  I tell him the truth, "I woke up with it."  He still almost chokes.  He shakes his head and looks at me with new eyes and does not not say a word.  He realizes I am "secretly the Messiah."

I say, "Isn't it ironic?  Last time, Rabbi.  This time, President of the Temple."  He gets a good laugh out of that.  There is a well known Rabbi versus President of the temple joke, if not several.   "So what do you want to know?" I ask him.  He asks me what happened to the evil Benjaminite kings; the passages had been miraculously removed from the Scriptures of our people for some time by then.  I explain it as a clearing of the path for me.  I am from the tribe of Judah, as I was before.  Ignorant people might think I am a Benjaminite because that is my first name and assume bad things about me.  I have heard this prejudice leveled against me from some pretty naive people.  But Benjamin came from my mother's side.  It is not a tribal affiliated name for me.

This was part of God's plan to make it easier for me; even though those evil kings from the tribe of Benjamin existed, eliminating the passages was done for a greater good.  Years from now people will probably not even think about passages that no longer exist in Scripture.  I ask the Rabbi if he has been keeping up with Our Lord's edits in the Book of Daniel, and I can tell I surprised him with that.  I tell him God and I are still working on that part.  He shakes his head in amazement.

I realize we have already gone very far afield of my intention for this lunch.  But I know he wants to know more; he has mentioned things in the past and now is as good a time as any to talk about what he really wants to talk about.  It has to do with how to deal with the loss of children.  It is the most difficult scenario for a Rabbi to deal with, and I know from his spiritual standpoint the biggest issue he has with God.

I will not go into a complete retelling of that part of the conversation, but we speak about that subject at length.  I assure him that things do happen for a reason, even if God is the only one who comprehends it.  I also told him that as Rabbi, not only is it important to know you really need a group effort to help bereaved parents, it really is important to determine and understand all of the possible reasons why the child died that people can understand.  Only then can you counsel families how to move forward.  I tell him what I consider the best way of approaching the situation, but I am mindful each situation is going to be unique.

Eventually we steer the conversation back to what I would like to see us doing at our temple during the coming year.  We go over what he can do to make the services better and that I am available for him for anything he needs.  Before he leaves we give each other a very warm embrace; the lunch turned out well even though we spoke about things neither of us anticipated talking about.

A few months later the Rabbi has a guest speaker and discussion during our Sabbath Service.  He has an Evangelical minister join us for services.  Try to imagine this from my perspective.  As President, I have to be up there on the bimah (stage) with the two of them as they have their discussion but not say anything.  From the Rabbi's point of view, and Judaism's in general, it is "what you do" that determines if you get into Heaven.  The minister's point of view is that if you believe in ME (Jesus) you will get into Heaven.  The minister does not call me Jesus to my face. 

Perhaps being forced to be silent in that situation really was best.  I remember thanking the minister for spending the time with us and engaging in such a thought provoking discussion during my end of the service remarks.  Some days I really do not know what to tell you about that.  However, in all fairness I have recently had a vision where God hands me the keys.  Even though I was raised in the tradition that the Rabbi explained, and I obviously want people to lead virtuous lives, I have been told I really am the gatekeeper to Heaven, now.  When I tell you about my life and the miracles that I have been a part of, you have to believe.  That is, if you really are interested in the everlasting life part.

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