Short Stories

The Mashiach Card

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R. A. Alpert

Shloimie Gouber’s credit card company was small but growing. Requiring either the signing of a hetter iska, or payment in full every billing cycle, the card would ordinarily have never made it off the ground. This was, however, no ordinary card, and Shloimie was no ordinary banker. He wasn’t a banker at all, in fact, and how Gouber LLC had managed to satisfy all pertinent regulations, requirements, and certifications was somewhat of a mystery, only partially explained by the card’s being underwritten by the First (and only) Bank of Tuvalu, South Pacific.

The Mashiach Card, as Shloimie dubbed it—with its options of gedolim portraits, pictures of mekomot ha-kedoshim, and Judaica objects d’art—catered to a niche market. For every purchase made, customers would receive the underwhelming amount of 0.01% back in the here and now. But, depending on their credit tier,they would receive—fully guaranteed and underwritten—18%, 36%, or 54% back on every single purchase upon the official arrival of Mashiach, or the year 6000 A.M.—whichever came first.

Should they, Shloimie pondered, offer a Rebbetzins’ line for female customers? Seminary graduates were still somewhat of an untapped market. Perhaps something for Jewish foodies? Shloimie studied the steadily climbing line graph of new customers. There was always room for improvement. Initially, it had been rough going, attempting to persuade people to trade in a share of what would have been their cash-back points or airline mileage for something on a more transcendent plane, nor had the haskamot flooded in.

But Shloimie was dogged; success in business came from hard work and setting the right priorities. He soon learned the best sales pitches were delivered immediately after inspirational speeches, reminding everyone of the urgency and immediacy of the Mashiach’s coming. Ads and discounts blared in the days following Tisha Be-Av. The renewed interest in Mashiach’s coming, along with his generous donations to mosdot and tzedakot, gave his card a solid backing in the frum world, and the grudging respect—or toleration—of its leaders. Perhaps this was what the current generation needed, the thinking seemed to go.

Not one to favor one group in Klal Yisroel over another, Shloimie invested in targeted marketing, setting up Twitter, Facebook, WhatsApp, and Instagram accounts hand-tailored to the various interests, religious levels, hashkafic views, and political leanings of every segment of Am Yisrael. Always a proponent of achdut, Shloimie was pleased to see that the most popular card designs were almost equally split among the Rebbe (on an elegant 770 background—Mashiach flag optional at no extra cost), the Ben Ish Chai, the Chafetz Chaim (with a cheery “Money talks—make sure it’s not Lashon Hara!” emblazoned across the top), and the Rav. Basic black—understated yet implying one’s top credit line—rounded out the top five picks.

Admittedly, Shloimie could not originally have been described as the most Mashiach-conscious Jew. Throughout his adult life, he had flitted from one business venture to the next with little time to think beyond the basic needs and luxuries of his family. Mashiach was a go-to way to end off a speech, or a means to comfort those who had suffered a loss. Of course, he believed as fervently in Mashiach’s coming as did anyone else; it was all just a bit vague and far-off—until the day it had hit him as the business opportunity of the century. Sitting through yet another chizuk event that either his wife or his conscience had dragged him to (he could no longer recall whom it was he had to thank), it had occurred to him that he must surely not be alone in mentally reviewing his portfolio and other more temporally pressing concerns while one enthused speaker after the next went on and on about the days to come. When the final speaker had interrupted Shloimie’s mental calculations of airline miles (it had been a long event; Shloimie had run through his entire investment portfolio, 401(K), and crypto holdings) with a truly fervent cry hailing the true wealth that would only be Klal Yisrael’s portion with Mashiach’s miraculous arrival, the idea for The Mashiach Card had popped fully formed into his head, leaving Shloimie (and his somewhat surprised wife) with nothing but praise for the event.

These days, Shloimie found himself thinking of Mashiach rather involuntarily, at least once a day, sometimes once an hour, and the various melodies for the twelfth Ani Ma’amin alternated as the current tune stuck in his head. His own ads did nothing to lessen the nagging thought, as they blared from the pages of every Jewish magazine (“HaYom—Im BeKolo Tishma’u—Put your money where your mouth is, and make an investment you will never regret!!” “Achakeh Lo BeChol Yom SheYavoDo you? Why don’t you have The Mashiach Card in your wallet?”).

Everything had two sides to it, and while The Mashiach Card gained market share by the day, Shloimie’s worries had become chronic, and his anxiety rarely left him. His accountant’s bright financial summaries did nothing to allay his fears; the more success, the more customers they had in the here and now, the more Shloimie was in debt, in the if-and-when—to the sickening tune of hundreds of millions of dollars. Day-to-day, things were great. He had the house, and the dirah in Israel; he had the cars, he had the lifestyle, the vacations, the Guest-of-Honor donor level at the mosdot of his choice, everything that he and his family wanted and deserved. Between marketing meetings and investment strategy planning, he even had time to learn. His rabbi had suggested learning something in Kodshim, seeing as how his entire life seemed centered on the imminent arrival of the Mashiach, but Shloimie felt very firmly that business should be kept entirely out of one’s keviut for learning.

Pushing his anxieties and Mordechai Ben David’s “Ani Ma’amin” away for what seemed like the thousandth time, Shloimie had to admit: Things were working out pretty well. And if all of his clients’ good faith did bring Mashiach the next day? What of it? If his own innate cynicism did not shoo the good man away, what would it then matter anyhow? What would a measly 18% (or even the 54% super-saver max option) mean, when the streets would be paved in carbuncle, the windows wrought of jewels, and Borsalinos, steaks, and matching European Yom Tov outfits for the kids hung on the trees, ripe for the picking? So, he had millions in unrealized debts right now, growing by the day—what was the matter with that? One just had to do one’s part, and HaShem would do the rest—that was what bitachon and hishtadlut were all about, weren’t they?

The day Shloimie signed his fifty-thousandth customer (a Breslover, who surprised the sales team by opting for the Ein Od Milvado design over the Na Na Nachman pictorial), he wrote out a few tzedaka checks, gave his staff a raise, and went home early. He was grateful, but it was all a bit unnerving.

And whenever he got overwhelmed, the Rambam appeared in his head, uninvited—Rambam, who wrote that Mashiach’s arrival would be hailed by no miracles, no golden trees and showers of gems, but regular life, with the exception of the Jewish nation once again enjoying full sovereignty and under the control of no foreign entity. While in the past, Rambam’s more approachable vision might have been the most appealing to a hard-nosed businessman like Shloimie, it held no comfort for him these days. He envied his wife’s apparent full confidence in the more miraculous versions of the future that his kids tended to come home from school with.

Shloimie davened Maariv and drove home. As much as he loved sharing his successes with the family, he was in no mood for a grand celebration just now. To his relief, the kids were either asleep or on their iPads (filtered, of course), and his wife, he recalled, had said something about hosting her Tehillim circle’s wine and sushi night. Or was that the next week? Maybe tonight was the N’shei’s parlor meeting. Carefully skirting the magnificently appointed formal dining room and its female occupants, Shloimie reached the kitchen, grabbed a bite (it was sushi, and good too, whatever the event might be), and sank wearily into bed, the Rambam still his illustrious but unwelcome companion. Shloimie recalled phrases from the Mishneh Torah, describing the return of the beit din—a fully-empowered beit din authorized to punish, freeze assets, seize properties, foreclose, and even administer lashes. Did all of that apply to debtors, even debtors whose intentions were as well meant as his? Who knew, he countered the nagging voice of worry in his head—and really, who could care? Let everyone dig up the Goubers’ driveway for the carbuncle—or had the Medrash said it was diamonds? The Rambam had mercifully drifted away. It was all so far off, some distant, blurry spot in the future, and his eiderdown pillow was so near and so soft.

It seemed to him he had barely shut his eyes when his ears—even in sleep able to differentiate among the various alerts, notices, and ringtones of his devices—made him sit upright. There seemed to be a veritable hail of electronic sound, an unceasing clamor as every app and number he had lit up, beeped, pinged, toned, and notified him.

His wife, whom he was able to perceive over all the noise, must have also been awoken, and she had a call on her phone. She seemed concerned about something; he wouldn’t disturb her. Adding to the din from his night table, his pajama-clad kids had all burst in and seemed to be whooping in jubilation. Had a snow day been declared? He saw neither snow, nor why his screens would be lit up with messages about that from as far away as Melbourne. Still half asleep, he scrolled through his messages: Kollel Kodshim, requesting his attendance as their Guest of Honor at the upcoming dinner. Lots of likes for the pictures of his kids elephant-riding in Thailand (it had been a good mid-winter vacation trip). A message from his office, informing him of several clients maxing out their credit lines in Israel—buying property, it seemed (with one card featuring Rav Yoel, to boot).

He scrolled further, trying to catch up on whatever it was that was breaking news now and causing such a clamor. He clicked on Yeshiva World News’ headlines: “Shofar heard at Kosel Plaza, no one visible—tourists and Neshot HaKotel ruled out.” “Tzadik Nistar appears in Yerushalayim.” “Shofar heard again, louder. IDF: Under investigation.” “Ga’avad extends Divrei Bracha to two unknown Tzadikim.” “Earthquake felt in YerushalayimHar HaZeisim moves, splits.” “Breaking: Instructions and Divrei Chizuk given by Tzadik rumored to be Eliyahu HaNavi. Check back for updates!!” “Bennett co-Prime Minister again—this time with tzadik—likely mekubal.” “Shofar sounds continuously—Mossad investigating.” “Earthquake was 6.13 magnitude—miraculously, no serious damage reported.” “Hayalim ditch weapons, join in massive tefillah rally.” “Red cow spotted in Mea Shearim—brief pandemonium ensues.” “Yeshivat Eliyahu HaNavi begins tackling sefeikot.” “Donate to Kupat Ha’ir!” That was an ad at least. “Rabbis present their evidence on techelet.” “Arabs seen leaving Har Ha-Bayit, burning mosque behind them.” “Yeshivat Eliyahu HaNavi declares: We pasken like Rambam in this unfolding situation.” “Official word from rabbanim: Nothing official yet.”

Shloimie’s fingers shook, and he put the phone down. “Not official yet”—he must do something, and quickly. He could barely hear himself think over his kids’ jubilations, and a pillow thrown in happy abandon nearly knocked his phone from his hands. He didn’t object to his kids’ wholesale invasion of the bedroom every now and then, but a pillow fight was not something he could stomach just now. “Abba, can we go right now? I want to see him,” his eight-year-old begged. Only his oldest, David, whose bar mitzvah they had only just recently celebrated in style at the Kotel (Shloimie shuddered at the outlay now) had a slight shadow of concern on his face, Shloimie noticed—he had always felt like his bekhor had inherited his business acumen. A lot of good that would do now. When would it be “official”? Where was his wife now? He thought he’d detected a look of concern on her face, before she’d exited their bedroom, still yakking on the phone, but did she grasp the import of the situation? The consequences? Some eishet chayil—for all he knew, she was busy rejoicing with her shemirat halashon group of friends. Where was an ezer kenegdo when you needed one? Well, he’d just have to handle the situation by himself.

Should he fly out and assess the situation on the ground? Of what use would that be? Try to liquidate the assets he had? They were nothing, a drop in the bucket, compared to what he would be liable for. There was no way he could ever pay everyone out. How could he stop what appeared to be inexorably occurring before his very eyes? Commit some terrible crime? The guilt of one person would not, surely, change the course of Am Yisrael’s destiny. It would take something massive. His head spun, and his eyes were involuntarily drawn back to the constantly buzzing screen of his overworked phone. Within those 5G networks and Wi-Fi signals lay his only hope.

The event for which people had prayed for millennia was coming—and with it, his worst fears. His various feeds were buzzing even more rapidly, if such a thing were possible: “OMG!!!!” “Is this for real?” “Yechi Adoneinu Melech HaMashiach” “Not him!” “If you see Eliyahu can you please ask him if….” He scrolled on. “I’m rich! #MashiachCard #points! 😉” “Trust me—It’s my wife who’s got to be the richest!” “Lakewood West abdicates in favor of Lakewood East.”

He felt sick, but there was no time to lose. He would tweet his way out of this mess if it killed him. He began cautiously. “Rabbanim say nothing official yet,” he retweeted. @Imacynic quickly liked that. Shloimie switched to one of his targeted marketing accounts. “Any credentials? ID?? Is this just a cover for #judicial reform?” He pivoted to another feed and grimly went on. Would he be called out for his not-too-enthusiastic comments? Would it ruin his business? Ha—Shloimie grimly retorted—his business was about to be ruined in a manner he was sure no one had ever even imagined possible. It was a chance he had to take. There was no time to waste, no time to think. Shloimie’s business instinct kicked in. “No moifsim seen yet.” “Massive voter fraud detected! No one voted for him! #StoptheSteal!!” @Maga’24 re-tweeted that one to his 40,563 followers. “Liberal left-wing media again display their bias against Israel: Zimbabweans can yodel all night and #fakenews says nothing; a guy practices blowing shofar in Tevet and you’d think the world is coming to an end.” Likes popped up on his screen, and his messages were being tweeted and retweeted across borders and denominations of Klal Yisrael.

He was emboldened: “Who is this guy? #Notmymashiach.” If he’d had the luxury to look, Shloimie would have noticed #Notmymashiach was now trending.

He sat back and waited five minutes, which felt like the eternity he was facing. Then, he took a drink, steadied his hand, and refreshed the news feed. “Persistent ‘Shofar’ heard at Kotel was pack of hyenas, Mossad claims.” “Ga’avad: Mi Yodeia?” “Yeshivat Eliyahu HaNavi abruptly closes—Rosh Yeshiva nowhere to be found.” “Arabs blame Jews for arson on Har Ha-Bayit.” “IDF regroups; clarifies tefillah rally was unsanctioned, spontaneous event—will investigate breach of discipline.” “Dangerous mad cow shot in Geula—Temple Institute had hoped was rare red heifer.” “Two tzadikim nowhere to be seen.” “Rabbanim: HaYom—Im Rak BeKolo Tishma’u!”

Shloimie breathed a sigh of relief. Yes, Mashiach would have been nice, and his family would be disappointed—but business was business, after all, and one had to have one’s priorities straight.

A native of Washington Heights, New York, Rochel is a teacher and lecturer. She is currently completing her master’s degree in Jewish History at Touro’s Graduate School of Jewish Studies, where she is focusing on medieval Ashkenazic Jewry.