Wednesday, May 18, 2011

The Kabbalist on the Upper West Side

A few nights ago, a Kabbalist from Israel, a great Rabbi with a rep for miracles, praved at an apartment on West End Avenue—receiving hundreds of visitors apparently all in need of blessings.

A donation was expected.

The host, a 30ish sweet ortho, came by to exult after the Great Man left, and he was shaking and holding his little son, his face lit up like Charlton Heston’s after the burning bush when Yvonne De Carlo says “He has seen God.”

Amazing—he was rocking back and forth with the little son—that couple you saw, who couldn’t have a baby—not 20 minutes, not 20 minutes after they got home from his bracha they got a call from the fertility clinic—they’re pregnant!

And a Kollel boy who never worked a day in his life and suddenly his father-in-law dies and the money dries up and he has to get a job to support his family—right then-- he gets a call from a big Yeshiva with an offer!

I could not understand why modern doctors and lawyers and professors and… well that’s pretty much the entire spectrum of frum professionals, would allow themselves to go all hoo-ha about some bearded hypnotist wielding 17th century technology.

Jeremiah was roundly ignored in his own time. And do any of us stop for those The- End-of-Days-is-Next-Week guys in the white vans?

A few months back I was up too late and saw this guy on TV, Murdock. It was unbelievable and it made me freaky sick. I couldn’t stop talking about it, and here I am still talking about it.

This guy was an evangelist shyster of the highest order. Take out your wallets he murmurs to the poor African-American (this was in South Carolina) congregation. DON’T open them. I want to bless them. (I want to bless your wallets?!?)

And right there, on TV, these folks take out their wallets. They don’t open them. Murdock smiles small and spreads his hands. One thousand fold, he says. It will come back to you one thousand fold.

Perhaps you have a bank account that no one knows about, he says, real smooth. Maybe not even your wife. One thousand fold. Maybe you were saving for a new car, or a vacation, or your son’s college education. One thousand fold. What good is that thousand to you—one thousand barely matters these days—but send it to me and it will be repaid one thousand fold. The Lord himself has blessed me and I will bless you. A thousand thousands—now that’s real money.

Google this guy, seriously. Why should I be the only one sick from it?

Anyway, growing up Orthodox in Queens, NY, meant, to me, anyway, that knowledge was respected and Chassidus and Kabballah were not.

My dad had and still has a Gemorah Shiur, and all his fellow college professors who met every week around a table laden with Shabbos delights with the wives standing by to serve the tea, were renaissance men with degrees in sociology and science and mathematics and history. And they could read the Aramaic.

Better not delve into Kabballah until you’re forty, they would wink. Your eyes could fall out.

The synagogues were guitar-less, even the non-ortho ones, and there were no Tot-Shabbats, or synaplexes, or a Rabbi at my shul younger than 60--and I cannot remember one mystically laced sermon in all the years at all the Young Israels or, later, Beth Els or (gevalt!) Emanuels I ever went to.

(Sruli prodded me on this point during a general discussion about religion that we had—it’s his favorite topic bar none, oy--and got me to admit that yes, I did know one or two Queensniks who went to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, got their blessing and their dollar and put it right back in the pushke. But that was pretty much as far as mysticism went to my memory, and anyway, I don’t let Sruli read this blog.)

Things are way less stern now, of course. There was positively a country-club feel at the orthodox shul I belonged to in fancy Scarsdale. I hear to sponsor Kiddish there cost about 15 thousand dollars now. The chulent is really good, though.

And maybe that’s really what it’s all about. Not the chulent, the feeling lucky country-club thing.

It doesn’t explain the Murdock churchgoers—they are just victims of superior salesmanship— and he is an ugly crook who preys on desperation--and while I have experienced Rabbis’ sermons that make you cry in order to shell out more for the Kol Nidre appeal, there are no televangelist machinations in synagogues; Jews wouldn’t stand for it--they are too good a salesman themselves.

No, I think that people who feel lucky actually believe in luck. The God of Luck. And orthodox people with nice homes and fancy jobs and pretty wives and talented kids are the most superstitious of all.

So that sexy wow I don’t understand it, it’s bigger than me, it makes me warm and red all over just thinking about it, hey, it’s possible, maybe those mystics in Meron knew things—they weren’t just smoking hyssop leaves—and it all might be taken away at any minute, so get the blessing, pay off the Mekubal on the Upper West Side, and exult and feel humble in the real touch of ancient Jewry.

You’re gonna put a price on luck?

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