Monday, July 14, 2008

In honor of Binny and Rachel... Parshat Balak פרשת בלק

Of course I would like you to stick around a bit and read this post, but once you are all done, head on over to Jack's for Haveil Havalim #173 and some fine reading material.

And now, something I wrote a while ago. It is rather silly, but I like it.

Nowadays, everyone’s an expert. Prophets do this, this and this. The signs of a prophet are x, y and z. Really, it gets tiring, that pigeonholing. It’s the Americans, mostly. I mean, Jews in general cannot deal with uncertainty well—got to have a ready answer for everything, but European Jews at least can deal a bit more with the unknown. All those haunted castles, I think. It creates a certain mental atmosphere, you know what I’m saying? And the Sephardim and Mizrachim-forget it. As superstitious as they come. That’s from hanging out with the cousins. But Americans are just so narrow about things. They like everything neat and tidy-bagged up and simple. Why, I was saying just the other day to Yashar (Yashar is my donkey, just so you know), “those New York Jews, no more depth than a wadi pool at the end of August….”

What, what? I talk to my donkey? Of course I talk to my donkey. Who else am I going to talk to? I tell you, no one else has got sense. Kids, adults, these days none of them have a lick of sense. But Yashar, now he’s got sense. And we have a lot of history, Yashar and I. Yeah, I threaten him now and again, ‘Yashar! That’s it! I’m selling you to the glue factory’. I yell, really let him have it. Then he gives me the guilt trip, starts sobbing how he has always served me and carried me faithfully and now that he is old and his rheumatism is acting up and with my love of baklava I’m not as light as I used to be, if you understand his meaning, but if that is how he can serve me…by going to the glue factory…”. Really puts on a show, that Yashar, tears, lots of self righteous snorting and the heavy martyred tone. But really, none of it is serious. Just talk, right? Though I hate it when he brings up my weight. Okay, I put on a bit, but not that much. Between you and me—the problem is his joints—they have just gone. He is an old donkey. It happens.

What, you thought the stuff in the Torah was a one-time thing? Oh, that is what I love about you Jews! So literal! Nu, did I seem surprised? Did I say “Holy Idols Batman! My donkey is talking like a human?” So my donkey is talking. So what? Talking he can do. Its shutting up that’s the problem. To tell you the truth, sometimes I think I am going to have to sell him to the glue factory, just to have some quiet around here.So Yashar is a good donkey. Old, but a good conversationalist and enjoys a good Turkish coffee. None of that fancy-shamncy filtered stuff. He tried it once. “Balaam”, he said, “It’s like drinking water. Colored water. I’m gonna have to drink six cups to get my caffeine. I’ll be up and back and forth pisching all night. I won’t sleep a wink. And so expensive, really. You’re meshugana to buy this stuff.” I argued with him—you can’t be such a stick in the mud, gotta be willing to try new things, move with the times. He was right though—it is like water. So we are back to the Turkish.

One thing Yashar does not like is angels. On that, at least, we are in agreement. Yeah, they are pretty and they dress well, but I tell you, if you have to deal with them on a regular basis, like we did back in the day, angels are a pain. Every one’s a wise guy and they are all trying to top the last big trick. Used to be that they were fine with just dressing up as travelers and stopping by for a visit. Do a bit of shazaam a bing a bang at the end, and everyone knows they’re angels. You know, some dignity. And then someone decides that this is not enough and that he is not an angel, a professiona. No, he is an artist! Oy gevalt! Pop out of this bush, Disappear, reappear. Materializing sheep from empty air. Soaring up to the heavens in a blaze of flame. Okay, it’s impressive, I’ll give you, but who has the time? Makes you dizzy, that’s what it does. Why G-d doesn’t keep them in line I do not know. Every so often I ask Him. “Nu, G-d, what is with these angels these days? Artists? I don’t know from art but really, G-d this is killing me. What, you want to give me a heart attack? Because that is what is going to happen. One of your angels will appear before me with a roaring lion and that’s it, that’s the end of your servant Balaam. I am not as young as I used to be”. But He just does the usual, looks wise and thoughtful and nods his head. “Yes, yes, I know, but ever since man got the Torah, well, I had the angels give them something to make them feel special, and to validate them”. Validation shmalidation. Really, sometimes I think God spoils them, but hey, who am I to tell Him? They are his servants. Just don’t let them give me a heart attack.

That angel we met on the way to Balak is a good example. Now I know, you guys think I was off disobeying G-d’s orders, off to curse Israel and so on and so forth. What, G-d didn’t put any brains in your head? Think about it. You think G-d is going to curse on my say so? It does not work that way. I know it, G-d knows it, Yashar knows it. Everyone knows it. G-d does what G-d wants. Those are the rules. Okay, okay, Balak didn’t know it, but that was the whole point of the visit. Between you and me, Balak—decent guy, great fighter, but a bit of a one-track mind. You think you know from slow? I tell you, you know nothing. This guy, he is a brickhead. He’s from my mother’s side, may she be blessed and remembered as a tzadikas, but her family…oy…next to them the people of Chelm were Nobel Prize physicists. Between the whole family, my blessed mother excluded, of course, they don’t have a whole brain to call their own. And this Balak is a true member of the tribe.

So, what was I saying. Oh yeah. So when Einstein here gets it into his head that I can override G-d and sends mission after mission asking me to contribute curses to his fight there is no overcoming that with logic. Not that I don’t try. Read the book, it’s right there. “Forget it, if G-d doesn’t authorize a curse, I can’t curse them. It won’t work” I tell him. “No go. Nada.” But he keeps going on and on and on. Sends this one, that one, then the wise men of Midian. Now that was great. Between you and me, those wise men had just as much trouble with Balak as I did. They knew the rules as well as Yashar and I; they came just to keep him quiet and happy. Balak being a bit short-tempered, you know. Not violent, heaven forbid, but short-tempered. It comes from being a fighter. All that violence is terrible for you. Yashar, he does not even like to watch violent movies. “You saw what happened to Balak? How can you watch that garbage, when you saw what happened to Balak?” he always says. I think he is going a bit overboard, but I am not so fond of the blood either. So we do comedies. Much better for your body too. Less stressful for your organs. At our age, you can’t be too careful. Anyway, the wise men come surrounded by their Moabite ‘honor guard’ and deliver the message. I get rid of the Moabites—tell them that since the Midianites were strangers I would have to provide hospitality, take full responsibility, yada yada yada but since the Moabites were familiar with the area, they should feel free to enjoy the city. Did they enjoy? Did they enjoy! Of course, every one of them claimed that he was off to visit his mother, even the guys whose mothers had died and who had come to me for special blessings in her honor. You know, really, none of these Moabites were all that bright. That’s probably why they died off, come to think off it. What can you say…. Anyway, once the Moabites left, we had a great time, me, Yashar and the wise men. But anyway, nothing is working, nothing is getting through to Balak, and finally I say to Yashar, “I don’t know what to do with this kid. He just is not getting it. A real nudnik this one”. Yashar just snorted. To tell you the truth, he never really warmed to Balak. Ever since Balak called him a dumb ass there was no love lost between them. For all he cared, he was just as happy leaving Balak to have a nervous breakdown.

But where was I…oh, the angel. Balak is family and he is really beside himself over this so I finally decided that if the only way to teach Balak is to show him, then we would go show him. G-d agreed, though he reminds me that I cannot curse Israel, even in show. I admit, privately I did think, it did occur to me that so what, I say a little curse or two, G-d isn’t going to pay any attention, the Israelites will be fine and Balak will calm down and stop sending missions. He’s a nice boy. Stupid, maybe a bit too touchy with the sword, but not a bad kid. Yashar wasn’t buying any of that. “You putz! G-d does not want Balak calm! G-d wants Balak to be out of his mind with fear”. Now like I said, Yashar is not exactly what one would call unbiased. But he was right in this case, and sure enough, G-d decided to send an angel to remind me.

So here we are riding along and all of a sudden Yashar stops short and then starts going willy nilly this way and that. I immediately think he is trying to fake one of his dizzy spells, which is what he always does when he wants to get out of something. “Balaam, I’m really very dizzy. I’m feeling very weak. I cannot see straight”. Then he’ll start acting as though he were really dizzy: staggering, wandering around in circles, bumping into walls and the like. I never buy it. Believe me, I have dragged him to every specialist out there and there is not a thing wrong with him. “You are as healthy as a horse!” I yell at him. “With this mishegas you are wasting my time? You’ll live to be 100. You’ll outlive me. You’ll outlive the doctors. Enough already!” But today, I am really upset because there are other people there. So this time I just pull out my sword and starting yelling at him that I am going to kill him. Back then I used to threaten him with a sword. Now, like I said, it’s glue. Whereupon Yashar immediately goes into his martyr shtick. And in all this, he completely ignores the angel who then decides that he is going to have to materialize if he expects to get any attention.

So now there is this big "poof" and who appears but Malachi, who is one of my least favorite angels. I see that he has gone for drama today: blazing sword, flowing white robes, billowing smoke and lots of background music. Yashar and I immediately stop yelling at each other and I start yelling at Malachi. “What, you want I should have a coronary, right here on the mountain?”
“Better you should have a coronary than you should disregard G-d’s will.”

In addition to thinking he is the next Kurt Russel, Malachi is one of the smarmy, self-righteous types of angels. His type drives me bananas. Not at all like Gabriel. Gabriel is a mensch—talks to you straight. But I got Malachi today…. What can I do? I deny everything. “Heaven forefend! What is this about disregarding G-d’s will?” At which Yashar immediately jumps in. “Didn’t I tell you Balaam? Didn’t I tell you it was a bad idea? ‘I just want to calm him down before he drives us into a nutbin’, you said. ‘Just relax him a bit’ you said. ‘G-d won’t mind. How will that hurt the Children of Israel’ you said. Didn’t I say that was a bad idea? ‘That’s a bad idea, Balaam’. I told you. But did you listen to me? Oh no. ‘Biased’ you said. ‘I am biased’. Now look at us, we have a screwball angel who wants to be the Cheshire Cat on us. I hope you are happy. You are responsible for this Balaam. You have no one to blame but yourself.” Now I start yelling back at Yashar.

Before we can get too into our argument, Malachi cuts in. I don’t think he is accustomed to being so ignored and besides, the Cheshire Cat comment rubbed him the wrong way. “Listen, just stick to the script, okay? Don’t improvise”. This is another thing about Malachi—he loves that actors lingo stuff. Yashar and I agree “Yes, yes, yes” and Malachi poofs himself off, complete with flames, smoke and harp exit music.

So we don’t improvise. We go and do the job. Well, okay, on the way Yashar and I do decide to borrow a bit from Malachi and make the whole thing a bit more dramatic by having Balak build lots of altars, as many times as Balak has us move around, and then each time, give the blessing. It is actually Yashar’s idea. He points out that if we make an event out of each move, Balak will give up sooner. And since he was right about the other thing, I agree to go along with it. And it worked. Three times and we were out of there. Though we had to leave quickly.

Nowadays it is quieter. We are pretty much retired, putz around, lay out at the pool, drink coffee. Here and there I will do some magic tricks, but nothing like I used to, you understand. Baruch Hashem, I don't have to put up with any more angels...


Anonymous said...

Excellent! Very refreshing and well-written!

RivkA with a capital A said...

What does this have to do with Binny and Rachel????

Gila said...

Their parsha is Balak (at least, everyone was talking about it at the Sheva Brachot).

So, yet another dvar torah in their honor...albeit a somewhat twisted one.

Ye'he Sh'mey Raba Mevorach said...

OK - so when do you go on tour with your Torah stand up routine? This is great stuff!

I can be irreverent once in a while. :)

Unknown said...

Great Stuff, Gila !!!

if you like this style of writing,
check out some of what Tzvi Freeman writes:

maybe you can make it a 'regular' item ;-)
(you know, maybe once a week for the Parsha ...)

Unknown said...

Damn your good, I'm linking this to DL ifn you don't mind.

Anonymous said...

"lay out at the pool", a pool?, you do have your own basin with chlorified water?

Anonymous said...

Hey, that's pretty good stuff. This has stage potential, methinks, or at least an unauthorized biography. More colorful than midrash, that's for sure.

katrina said...

Great, Gila! Very funny and creative.

Anonymous said...

Gila, I love it when you talk Torah. I really have to pay attention to see when your imagination takes over!