“How long shall I bear with this evil congregation that murmur against me?” (Numbers 14:27)
A learned Rabbi of blessed memory once said: “the whole of the world is contained in every sentence of the Torah”. He obviously never had to give a sermon in Rabbinical college on Genesis 5.22: “And Zillah also bare Tubal-cain, an instructor of every artificer in brass and iron, and the sister of Tubal-cain was Naamah”. Sometimes we have to work to extract the Torah’s riches, but sometimes those riches jump up at us like an Honorary Secretary into whose lap we’ve accidentally spilt a cup of hot soup. (I still maintain it was an accident.)
Just as the L-rd finally despairs of the Children of Israel when they panic on hearing the spies’ report that the Canaanites were terrifying scary giants who would eat them up for breakfast like so many tiny little Jewish Shreddies (I paraphrase), so I have despaired of my own evil congregation.
As Jews in synagogues and shtiblech around the world read this week’s parsha they’re bound to be amazed at the similarities between the spies who, apart from Joshua and Caleb, bore false witness about the Promised Land, and the Honorary officers who bore false witness about me. I didn’t even have a Joshua or a Caleb to stand up for me, although I did have a signed statement from dear old Mrs Zelman saying what a comfort I’ve been throughout her long illness and how I continue to visit her even though she’s now in a coma which means I had to put a pen in her hand and move it for her to get her to sign, which she would have done anyway so there’s nothing wrong with that.
If there’s one thing we learn from this week’s parsha, it’s the importance of bitochen, of faith. The Children of Israel were punished for their lack of bitochen. The L-rd decreed that their carcasses should fall in the wilderness and their children should bear their whoredom and wander in the wilderness for forty years. I’m not saying I’d want the same thing for my congregation. Twenty years would probably be enough, though the carcass-in-the-wilderness thing is non-negotiable. It’s what they deserve, especially the DisHonorary Officers, as I wittily call them.
Where is their bitochen? I preached 512 highly successful sermons fully clothed. I preach one sermon naked – and they sack me! And then there’s all those other so-called “offenses”. Of course, in hindsight, I regret Sidney’s funeral, olevasholem. But again, look at the statistics. I officiate at 164 funerals – no problems at all. I do one funeral when I give the chief mourner a playful nudge with the cast on my broken arm as he’s emptying his shovelful of earth into the grave – just for a LAUGH, to lighten the mood – he slips and falls in and suddenly I’m in dereliction of duty!
And as for staring at the Hon. Treasurer’s wife in an inappropriate manner – I was simply fixated by that birthmark on her face which is in the exact shape of one of those mantelpiece statuettes of a Rabbi holding a Torah scroll, with her right eyebrow as his fur shtraimel. I told them: call her as a witness, we can all have a good look and they’ll see what I mean. She should be on the local news! Never mind the Virgin Mary on a slice of toast, behold Mrs Levenson’s Rabbi-face! Nes godol hoyo shom, a great miracle happened there (on her face).
But, after ten years in office, they dismissed me for 57 counts of gross misconduct, so I resigned. Still, as King Solomon said: “The curse of the L-rd is on the house of the wicked”, or at least on their shed, as two of them have already found out. For their sheds have miraculously been consumed by fire. And as for the eye witness who described seeing “an Orthodox Jewish gentleman with his arm in a sling and a limp” (caused by an unprovoked attack by the Hon Secretary’s Alsatian which is a German dog and therefore highly inappropriate), that description could refer to just about anyone.
This article was first published in The Jewish Chronicle.