These and Those

Musings from Students of the Pardes Institute of Jewish Studies in Jerusalem

Week 27: Purim

Posted on March 12, 2012 by Derek Kwait

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[Note: By request of the powers that be, all names in this blog post have been changed to protect the innocent.]

It’s never easy to decide what you want to be for Purim. This year especially, limited funds combined with the sense of competition that comes from being surrounded by extremely clever people all day led to my putting maybe too much pressure on myself to come up with something really good, original, and cheap. Then Sunday, a mere four days before Purim, it, like all brilliant ideas, just came to me: I’m in Jerusalem. Why not grow my beard out, wear a white robe, find a stick and a crown, and go as the Messiah?

It wasn’t hard to take a white sheet and make it into a pseudo-toga, and, after less than 5-minutes at Mamilla Mall, I found a deluded Tennessean to steal a staff and crown off of by telling him Jonathan Edwards told me that you need to give this to a real-live kippa-wearing Jerusalem Jew like me. He looked skeptical, but after I told him one sentence in Hebrew, (?מלצר, אפשר לקבל תפריט באנגלית, בבקשה – “Waiter, can I get a menu in English, please?”) he forked them over to me like his very soul depended on it. Sucker. All I was missing was the donkey, but you can’t have everything in life.

I was so proud of my costume that I couldn’t keep it a secret, I just had to show it to some friends. So I rounded up a two of my closest buddies, Mark and Rachel, on Monday, put the costume on, and said some things like, “Follow me, I am your long-awaited redeemer! The appointed time has come!” They went into hysterics, they loved it. When I told them how I got the staff and crown, Mark suggested that, as a prank, I should go down to the Kotel and look for some vulnerable tourists to convert to “Kwaitianity.”

I couldn’t even answer right-away, the suggestion angered me so much—you mean I’ve lived in Jerusalem for six months and never thought to do this until now?!? I could have kicked myself, how could I have wasted so much time? Leaving here for a year without trying to convince people I was the Messiah would be like living in Paris for a year and never eating baguette. Not wanting to miss out on even one more second of fun, the three of us split a taxi to the Kotel and searched for tourists. No sooner was the ancient limestone wall in sight than did I see a Temple group from Georgia wearing fanny packs and matching T-shirts coming up the ramp to exit the Western Wall plaza, barely able to contain their shock and excitement that they were actually in Jerusalem, praying at the Wailing Wall for real taking pictures of Cheredim in their natural habitat. It was like my birthday come early, this was going to be too much fun. After my friends had ducked safely out of the way so their laughter wouldn’t interfere with my routine, I approached them and began.

“Shalom, my brethren, children of Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob. Welcome to the holy city of Jerusalem,” I began.

“Shalom!” they responded.

“I am sure by now, the inherent holiness radiating out of every brick and pebble in this holy city has had a profound effect on you, spiritually, am I right?”

“Oh, yes,” they said. “Your whole country is so beautiful, I can see why you call it the Promised Land,” one of them added.

“Indeed, indeed it is,” I said then turned the woman who spoke alone and noticed her name tag.

“And you, Judy,” I continued, “You went to that Wall, stuck a note in a crack, and prayed for health, happiness, and peace for your family, your community, and the whole world. You barely even mentioned yourself. I want you to know, God appreciates your selflessness and your prayers will come true, and double on your own head.”

The crowd looked impressed, but Bill, a man I assumed was her husband since he was standing right next to her and even kind-of looked like her in the way old married couples do, wasn’t convinced. “And just how can you be so sure about that?” he said, taking a threatening step towards me.

“Bill, you have the right to be concerned,” I told him as I put a hand on his shoulder and looked him in the eye. “I know that times are tough right now and you are worried about your Social-Security and whether your children will ever get out of debt. I’m here to tell you, God hears your worries and your prayers. That’s why He has sent me to you.”

“And who are you?” Mike, the group leader asked.

I turned to him, looked him square in the eye, and said, “I, sir, am the Messiah.”

“Prove it.”

I admit I wasn’t prepared for this. As I looked into his hazel eyes, I couldn’t miss the real sense of desperation, of hopefulness there, as though he really needed me to be the real deal, as though he would give everything he had for redemption to come and pain to stop, not just his pain, but the whole world’s pain. In that moment, I considered stopping, just forgetting my stupid prank, telling everyone I’m really sorry and letting them go on their way rather than causing more hardship in what must already be difficult enough lives. Then I remembered my friends standing there behind me, expecting results. At nearly the precise moment I remembered this, I also remembered that Mark is heavily involved in peace work and speaks some Arabic. That’s when it further became clear to me also just how wrong it would be to let an opportunity like this slip by.

“Hey, Omar, leave that woman alone!” I said as I spun around on my heel and winked at Mark. He immediately picked up on my cue and started yelling at and harassing Rachel. I walked toward him, laid my hand on his head, and immediately he stopped. I said “Know ways of war no more, come with me and do good. Tell these sons of Jacob you are sorry,” I added gesturing to the Temple group. He froze in his tracks, widened his eyes, began speaking in Arabic, so I said, “In a language they will understand, please,” then tapped him on the head, and he said, “Kind Americans, I am sorry I have tried to hurt you. I now see the error of my ways. Long live the Jewish People and God bless America!”

“Now be gone, my son, go back home and spread words of peace to your brothers,” I told him, then turned to Rachel and said, “And you, go with him as a witness to the miracle.” They both went off.

I really didn’t think it would work, then I turned back around to see my Temple group’s faces. They were sold. It almost seemed too easy. I guess there’s just something in the air here.

“You really are special,” Mike said. “What do we do?” Soon the whole group came up to me, wanting to touch me, all asking questions: “What do I do?” “Should I get a divorce?” “Should I quit my job?” “Every day I’m tempted to drink, please help me.”

“What is your name?”

The answer to this question came reflexively, instantly and without thought from somewhere beyond me, as though it had been stored in my subconscious my entire life just waiting for its destined moment to arrive. “I have three names,” I said. “The first is Derekh, meaning ‘way.’ The second is Yehoshua, meaning ‘God is the redeemer.’ The third is Moshe, who gave Israel the Law and lead us from slavery into the Promised Land. Follow in my way and God will redeem us all from the slavery of this world into the Promised Land, under the light of the Prophet of His Law.”

My revelation was met with a stunned silence, like my street after Santonio Holmes made the greatest catch ever to win Super Bowl XLIII.

The silence was broken maybe thirty-seconds later by one word: Messiah. Soon it was on everybody’s lips and grew louder and more fervent by the minute.

I had never been called the Messiah unsarcastically before; it is a very powerful word. And the more I realized how my entire life was designed to lead up to this moment. Everything made sense now: my name, my experience in and wide knowledge of the secular world, my lifetime of affiliations with all sorts of people and all sorts of Jews, my shul miraculously sending me to Jerusalem to study Torah, my blog, my not having money for a Purim costume, even being from Pittsburgh, I now understood was meant to make me aware of the power of adding a seemingly superfluous “H” to the end of your name. It all made sense now. It was all a sign. all of it was part of a Divine Plan to use me as a tool to spread God’s Way (דרך) of Redemption (ישע) to all humanity, like Moshe. I didn’t know where to go from there, but I was 100% sure God would lead me in the proper way. So I just started walking. All along the way, the questions continued, and I now miraculously was able to intuit True answers to all of them them: “Pray,” “Learn Torah,” “Check your mezuzahs,” “Divorce his ass.”

Eventually, we wound up at my apartment, so I gathered them around in my bedroom. A few protested that the Messiah would do laundry once in awhile, but I told them not to question my ways. Who has time for laundry when Redemption is at stake?

The first thing I did was warn them they may need to spend they whole rest of their lives in Jerusalem. I know it will be a huge sacrifice, I told them, but the fate of the world hangs in the balance. It’s a small price to pay. Of course, they instantly agreed. But I still had a problem: since we have been in exile so long already, and since most of these people are at least middle-aged already, there will simply no time to teach them all my ways of Redemption, so they would need a crash course. But how to distill the entire Derekh in such a short amount of time? I realized I would need to start steep, so I had them spend 12 straight hours reading Heschel while listening to Rush’s greatest hits, then spending another 12 hours reading Dave Barry books and Peanuts comic strips while listening to Torah lectures, taking as few bathroom and dark chocolate, noodle kugel, and extra coconuty carrot cake breaks (these are the holy foods you must eat to be on the Derekh) as their constitutions would allow.

I hated to miss a day at Pardes, but this was no time to just sit inside and study Torah all day, redemption was at stake. Apparently Pardes missed me too—after only my second day gone, a friend called to see if I was well. I told him I was fine but the world was sick and we were healing it and I invited him (non-coercively of course) to join us if he felt himself up to it. He said I sounded like I had something called “Jerusalem Syndrome” but I told him it was just a cold and I was not going to let it slow me down when there was such important work to do. In true Pardes spirit, he told me that if this is how I feel I can best connect with my Judaism, it is not his place to interfere. He never bothered me again.

By the third day, it became painfully clear just how much more work I needed to do. Half my minions were in diabetic shock, and the other half seemed about ready to mutany.

“Be bold, my flock,” I encouraged them. “These are what are known as the ‘birthing pangs of the Messiah.’”

“We need a break,” Bill said, his eyes bloodshot and cloudy from lack of sleep. “We can only take so much of Geddy Lee’s voice.”

“Then you’re clearly not yet where you need to be. Rest assured, my son, your efforts are not going unheeded by me or our Father in Heaven.”

Bill turned to his peers, all sitting on the floor, twitching and struggling to stay awake while reading Man’s Quest for God.

“You’re a fraud! I’m calling the authorities. Come on, everyone, let’s get out of this apartment before we waste anymore time.”

I got up to close the door, but he beat me to it and muscled me away. Everyone followed him. Total sheep. I was about to run after them, then I realized that is not the lesson my Father wanted me to glean from this experience. Rather, at that moment I understood that I cannot rely on fickle men, but I must do the job myself. So I put my sandals on, and headed for the Temple Mount.

They were expecting me. No sooner did I get to the metal detector than did they apprehend me. I screamed every curse I could at them, but it was no use. They got me. I am currently in an institution. I’m a little sad about missing Purim, but on the whole it’s been a blessing in disguise since it has also enabled me to find so many new followers of the Derekh to Yehoshua and Moshe and it had given me time to work on my new, improved version of the Torah. That is also why this post is so late, I only get so much computer time each day. Since my time today is almost up, I will close by sharing two very important lessons I have learned since discovering my calling:

  1. It’s not easy being the Messiah.
  2. Life in Jerusalem is much, much different than life in Pittsburgh.

Quote of the Week: “The Derekh of the Messiah is the Derek Messiah. ” -Me

Hebrew Word of the Week: תחפשת (“takhpohset”) – costume