Monday, July 02, 2007

John Ashcroft: Savior of the Jews

Balak was the King of Moab. Worried that the Israelites were about to overrun his lands, he hired Balaam, a prophet, offering him riches galore to put a curse on them. Balaam warned Balak that, being a prophet, he could not say anything contrary to what God told him to say. After conferring with God, Balak chose not to put a curse on the Israelites and instead blessed them three times.

This was the subject of the Torah portion my second cousin Joshua read this Saturday at his bar-mitzvah, where I had the honor of carrying the Torah as Josh's way of making fun for dropping him on his head when he was six months old. The portion ended with some whoring and impaling, and Balak's worst fears were born out, but we're not going to focus on that right now). Josh gave a thoughtful impressive sermon about listening to your own voice for guidance when faced with tempation.

Enter the rabbi. Perhaps I should say reenter. Earlier in the service he had stopped praying every time somebody walked in late, glaring at them until they sat down and he restarted. (Apparently he's never heard of "Jewish Standard Time.")

Following Josh's lead, the rabbi said prophets are like the people who make Hebrew National hot dogs: they answer to a higher authority. The same thing is true of many professions nowadays, he pointed out. Regardless of what you offer a lawyer, for example, "there are some things you can't hire a lawyer to do." To drive home his point, he told the story of a modern-day Balaam -- the Pentecostal Christian who lost his Senate seat to a dead guy.

Granted, the man did do one decent thing in his life, and the rabbi was just giving him some credit for it. But my family was hearing none of it. Whispers ran through the audience. Josh's grandmother walked out. At the reception/reunion afterward, 'What the hell was that stuff about Ashcroft?' was an even more popular question than 'How old are you now?'

My second cousin-twice-removed said it best when talking to my brother. "I've been to seven bar-mitzvahs. But this one... wow."


Anonymous said...

I'm a little confused about the Ashcroft thing...can you spell out what was said a little more in your blog, and why people walked out?

joc said...


Nemesis of Evil said...

(It seems I need to remind myself of the old cliche that there's no such thing as good writing; only good editing.)

Basically, the rabbi implied the Ashcroft, when he refused to approve the NSA's illegal wiretapping of domestic calls, was listening to the voice of God (as embodied by the lawyer's code of professional responsibility). The obvious problem with this is that Gonzales and Bush probably thought they were listening to the voice of God (as embodied by Dick Cheney) in putting the program together in the first place.

That said, it's possible my great-aunt walked out because she had to go to the bathroom. The timing was awfully suspicious though, leading some of us to wonder if she just couldn't take anymore organized God-business right then. (She idolizes her father, who she claims used to go to Temple every Saturday just to stand with his back to altar in protest).

blokeface said...

What? No comment on the balaam-donkey story? I'm disappointed.