An interesting conversation took place been CNN host Piers Morgan and Barbara Walters that caught my attention.Morgan asked Walters an important question. “You have interviewed every president of my lifetime. Why is Obama facing so much opposition now? Why is he struggling so much to really fulfill the great flame of ambition and excitement that he was elected on originally in 2009 [sic, 2008]?”
- BARBARA WALTERS: Well, you’ve touched on it to a degree. He made so many promises. We thought that he was going to be — I shouldn’t say this at Christmastime — but the next messiah. And the whole Obamacare, or whatever you want to call it, theAffordable Health Act [sic. Affordable Care Act], it just hasn’t worked for him. And he’s stumbled around on it, and people feel very disappointed because they expected more.It’s very difficult when the expectations for you are very high. You’re almost better off when they are low and then they rise and rise. His were very high and they’ve dropped. But you know? He still has several years to go. What does he have, three years more, Piers? And, you know, there will be a lot of changes, one thinks in that time.
As you probably know, Barbara Walters is an assimilated Jew who almost never attends a synagogue except when there is a funeral of an important Jewish leader. Still, buried within her psyche is a belief in a personal messiah.
Although Maimonides mentions the belief in a personal messiah in his Thirteen Principles of Faith, he discouraged speculation about the Messiah. For him, the Messiah is not a supernatural figure—his role is political in nature. His job is to serve as a shepherd for Israel and the world; his task is to create a just and peaceful society. Unlike Christianity, Judaism teaches that the Messiah is not an intermediary who is indispensable for the salvation of the individual.
Succinctly put, the Sages offer this piece of practical advice:
- Rabbi Zera said: Three things come when one least expects it: the Messiah, a found article and a scorpion.
- Rabbi Yohanan ben Zakkai taught: If you have a fruit-tree in your hands and someone says to you, “Here is the Messiah.” Go and finish planting your fruit-tree just the same, and afterwards go out and welcome the Messiah.
Why Jews feel ambivalent about a personal Messiah? This is largely because Jewish history is replete with many individuals who claimed to the Messiah but failed to fulfill the Messianic requirements of redeeming Israel and establishing world peace. Indeed, the Torah itself warns, “The secret things belong to the LORD our God, but the revealed things belong to us and to our children forever, to observe all the words of this Torah” (Deut. 29:28).
According to one midrashic text, when R. Akiba beheld Bar Koziba, he exclaimed, “This is the King Messiah!” R. Johanan b. Tortha retorted, “Akiba, grass will grow in your cheeks and he will still not have come!”
Messianic pretenders have caused considerable trouble from the first century to the 20th century. The vast majority of them were charlatans and impostors. Yet, for all the fanfare that has been made about the Messiah, the prophet Isaiah spoke about the gentile king of Persia—Cyrus—who acted as God’s Messiah (Isa. 45:1) who served to lead the Jewish people back to their ancestral homeland.
As you can see, anyone who purports to be the Messiah arouses suspicions for good reason. Granted, President Obama never claimed to be the Messiah, but many of his followers—especially liberal minded Jews like Barbara Walters—had that expectation.
Perhaps many of us did–myself included.
Perhaps Obama’s promise to “change America” had a messianic kind of ring to it; here was a man whose gift for oratory was exceptional. However, in the management of government, it is far better to tackle problems one piece at a time—both thoughtfully and carefully. We hoped he would channel the peaceful spirit of Martin Luther King but not Karl Marx and Vladimir Lenin’s message of class warfare.
Recklessness and a lack of honesty have harmed the President’s credibility and respect.
Recently, a federal judge in Washington ruled on Monday that the bulk collection of Americans’ telephone records by the National Security Agency is likely to violate the US constitution. Suddenly, the whistleblower Edward Snowden is emerging as a modern American Patrick Henry who said, “Give me liberty, or give me death!”
Fortunately, our judicial system is starting to take notice of the Obama Administration’s excesses and misuse of executive power.
Judge Richard Leon declared that the mass collection of metadata probably violates the fourth amendment, which prohibits unreasonable searches and seizures, and was “almost Orwellian” in its scope. In a judgment replete with literary swipes against the NSA, he said James Madison, the architect of the US constitution, would be “aghast” at the scope of the agency’s collection of Americans’ communications data.
Such a man is not a true leader—but a demagogue—and the President does not behave like a secular Messiah.
This is nothing new.
We have known such pretenders—sincere and insincere—in Jewish history. Whenever they appear, these individuals bring great harm and disillusionment to the people. During WWII, the Jews of America put all their faith in another secular Messiah—FDR, who did very little until he was embarrassed by a group of Orthodox rabbis who marched in front of the White House, demanding a meeting with the President. FDR quietly left the White House through the kitchen rather than face thousands of angry rabbis demanding that he do something to save European Jews from the death camps.
If anyone behaved like a modern day Cyrus, it was President Truman. Against the wishes and advice of the State Department, he helped to create the Modern State of Israel—with no personal fanfare whatsoever. He was a man who acted out of principle. President Truman could qualify as an Isaiah-esque type of Messiah.
 BT Sanhedrin 97a.
 Avot d’Rabbi Nathan 31.
 Eichah Rabbah 2:4
Rabbi Samuel is spiritual leader of Temple Beth Shalom in Chula Vista. He may be contacted at email@example.com
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