The Book of Leonard

by Ira Rubin

The other day I read with interest an article in the New York Times about a newly discovered biblical scroll, dubbed by scholars as the Book of Leonard.

The book tells of Leonard, a shepherd overwhelmed by misfortune: his camel was flatulent, his wife wanted to move to Babylon, and he was starting to lose his hair. In despair, he cried out to the Lord, “Most Holy, please come to my aid.” There was a thunderous crack, lightning flashed, and a cone of swirling winds appeared.

Hesitantly, Leonard began to speak, “Lord, the one true God, King of the Universe.”

“Yeah, yeah, I get it,” interrupted a powerful voice from within the whirlwind. “What do you want?”

Leonard sobbed, “Lord, who hath all power, have pity on me.” He followed with his list of problems, adding for good measure his unhappiness about not being selected for the main role in the village’s annual Purim play, and begged the Lord for relief. 

The Lord answered, “What’s in it for me?”

Leonard responded by offering to sacrifice three sheep to the Lord on the following Sabbath. [According to the Times article, some scholars believe Leonard missed a critical opportunity here. In their view, the Lord was not asking for a sacrifice, but for a part in the Purim play. As proof, they note the Lord’s penchant for casting Himself in a starring role in most Biblical stories.]  

“Here’s the thing, Leo,” the Lord replied, “a lot of people have been sacrificing animals to me lately, and I’m starting to get a bit flabby. Instead of slaughtering the few healthy sheep you have left, I’d like you to do something else. All your people talk with a lisp. For example, the word is “has”, not “hath”. I’m embarrassed to tell you this, Len, but some of your neighbors are saying the lisp is a sign you’re the kind of men who like to have sex with other men. Personally, I couldn’t care less, but it makes it harder for Me to get converts, especially when you call yourselves My Chosen People.”

Leonard wasn’t sure how to respond. What’s a lisp, he thought, and why would men want to have sex with other men when there were plenty of sheep around?  Even so, he was desperate and agreed to the terms of the deal.

The same afternoon, Leonard gathered his family together to tell them his plan. He would wander the world in search of someone who knew what a lisp was and how to correct it. The family members listened calmly until told they would have to cancel their annual trip to the bazaar. At that point, they had a gerstenboomer (roughly translated as a hissy fit). His children refused to talk to him and his wife served him only yogurt at meals, which was not only monotonous, but gave him stomach cramps because he was lactose intolerant (or milkshugenah, as it was then called).

Leonard traveled far and wide before he came upon a people in the southern most part of the land whose speech included a sibilant ‘s’. At first, everyone scorned him for his lisp, but he kept up his pursuit until one woman agreed to teach him to speak as her people did in return for an expense-paid vacation at the Desert Sea Spa.

When his instruction was completed, Leonard returned home and called out once again to God in a strong Southern drawl. “Lawd, ah am back and speakin’ fine. Y’all c’mon down and listen to this good old boy’s sweet, sonorous, sibilant sounds.”

As before, thunder roared, lightning struck, and a whirlwind appeared. “Oh, it’s you, Leonard. What do you want?”

“I have fulfilled your request, Your Magnificence. Listen to my speech.  My lisp has disappeared, and I seek my promised reward.”

“I don’t remember, Leo.  Did we have an agreement?”

“Yes, Lord. You agreed to relieve me of some of my burdens if I corrected my lisp and taught my people to do the same.”

“Sorry, Len; I still don’t remember.  Look, I’m a little busy right now. The angels and I are debating the best way to stage the next extinction event.”

“What’s an extinction event, Lord?”

“It’s some type of disaster in which I wipe out most of the life on earth.”

“Why would you do that, Your Beneficence?”

“Same reason as always – boredom.”

“How will you extinguish us, Merciful One?”

“Good question, Lennie. We can’t decide between fire and flood. Any ideas?”

Seeing a chance to win the Lord’s favor, Leonard answered thoughtfully. “Well, fire would be quicker, but it’s harder to control and you still might need a flood to put it out. Worse, hot air rises. That may make heaven almost as hot as hell. All in all, I think a flood is the way to go.”

“Makes sense to me, Leon. Any thought about how to save some animals from drowning, so I don’t have to start all over?”

“Why not get someone to build a large boat to house a male and female of every species like you did with Noah; that worked out well, didn’t it?”

“I’m afraid the Holy Scriptures don’t tell the whole story, Len. I had to edit out some events to improve narrative flow. The carpenters picketed the building site because Noah wasn’t a dues-paying member of their guild, and the sanitary conditions aboard the ark were nauseating.”

Leonard was about to suggest that the next ark include a bunch of litter boxes in odd sizes, but the Lord spoke first. “Uh oh, time to go. I have a meeting with Papyrus Press. They want to publish a follow-up to the Bible in which I answer those people who question my actions. I’m going to call it, Because I Can.”

Leonard waited for the Lord to return, but He never did. Eventually, the forlorn shepherd gave up, went home and opened a shop selling umbrellas and rainwear.

The Times article states that scholars agree that the Book of Leonard is a parable, but are uncertain about its moral. Does the story caution about the ambiguity of God’s will, the foolishness of questioning your fate, or the harmful consequences of poor diction? Personally, I am most persuaded by Rabbi Mordechai Horowitz’s more pragmatic interpretation: “Never do work for someone else without a signed contract.”

Ira Rubin has been a member of LP2 for four years during which time he has greatly enjoyed and benefited from participating in an on-going writing study group.