Wisdom for Life From the Source: Each of Us Has a Choice to Make

May 14, 2017 - 2 Responses

Originally published in “City Beat Magazine”.

By Royi Shaffin

Each of us has a choice to make 

Every hour of every day

Between good and bad

Between right and wrong 

Each of us has a choice to make 

Every minute of every day

In what we do and what we say 

What we give and what we take

Each of us has a choice to make

When we go to sleep and when we wake

To be real or to be fake

To unleash the monster within or our wild animal to break

Each of us has a choice to make

Every second of every day

Over our emotions to reign

Our superiority to feign

Or our rightful place to claim

Each of us has a choice to make

To run away… to return

To feel hunger… to let it burn

To cling to doubt or for faith and hope to yearn

Each of us has a choice to make

Life or death, good or evil

Climb the ladder or stay at level 

Choose life!!! Choose life!!! And you will never…

Each of us has a choice to make

Wisdom for Life from the Source:Teachings that will make you a better person and the world a better place.

May 14, 2017 - Leave a Response

Originally published in “City Beat Magazine”

By Royi Shaffin
1) Whenever you feel like saying something negative, don’t!!!
Stop yourself before it comes out of your mouth. You can do it. Once it is out, it can’t go back in. Once you have blemished someone’s good name, you have damaged their reputation forever. It is like tearing open a feather pillow and letting the feathers out to the wind. If you change your mind, you will never be able to gather all of the feathers.
If you are a person that people listen to, your responsibility is even greater. Don’t use foul language because it pollutes the world and lowers your esteem in people’s eyes. A debate is about ideas. Criticize ideas, not people. Don’t reduce yourself to the level of a school playground. Don’t be a bully. Don’t be a victim either. Seek peace, always.
2) Wear a reminder on your hand, between your eyes, on the corners of your garments, or whatever it takes… to spread only positive energy and to protect you against the negative.  
Place words of goodness and blessing, gratefulness and thankfulness, kindness and mercy upon your body. Wind them around your arm. Place them at the entrance to your home. Speak words of blessing day and night. 
3) Be the source of the positive.
Find teachers and friends. In a world where a role model is hard to find, you be the role model. Create a family. Love someone. Pass your legacy on to children. Have faith in the future.

4) Give people the benefit of the doubt.
We are all human. We all make mistakes. Try to see the good in people. Believe that people have the best of intentions unless conclusively proven otherwise.
5) Be grateful for all that you have.
Pay attention to everything that people do for you and for others. Say daily affirmations for that which is good and right in the world and that for which you are grateful.

Be mindful when you eat and drink and breathe. Be grateful even when you go to the bathroom. These are all gifts. A functioning body, food to eat, clean water to drink, air to breathe, healthy lungs to breathe it with are all gifts. Do not take them for granted. Pay attention to the tastes in your mouth when you eat.

Someone put time and energy and TLC to make sure that your food tastes good.
6) Be in touch with nature.
Go outside. Take off your shoes and run around in the grass. Pay attention to the feeling of grass in between your toes. Watch the sunrise. Watch the sunset. Be grateful for being able to enjoy the beauty of the world.
Cherish animals. Make a new friend who just so happens to be a dog or a cat. Listen to the songs of the birds.
Protect the planet. Recycle. Do not waste. Don’t throw away food.

Travel the planet. Experience different people, different cultures, and different plant and animal life.
7) Be of outstanding character.  
Mean what you say. Say what you mean. Don’t lie. Be a person of truth that people can depend on. Pay workers on time. If you owe money, pay on time. If you owe rent or mortgage, pay on time. If you have credit cards, pay on time. If you owe someone a phone call, call them. If you owe someone an apology, apologize.
8) Be generous with your money, your compliments, your positive facial expressions, your time, your talents, and your good will.  
Visit the sick, the old, the dying, and the bereaved and send positive energy their way. Put your arm around someone who needs a hug.
9) Learn, study, read, teach, play, explore, investigate, think, be open-minded, train your brain, try new things, and try to improve as a human being.  
Make yourself smarter, faster, more knowledgeable, healthier, more active. Become the best you that you can become and then try to become even better than that and while you are doing that, teach others to do the same.
10) Remember that we are all one. The entire universe is One.
The divisions between us are just an illusion. Treat your fellow human being as a brother or sister. We all come from the same place and our destiny is to all return to that place. So be kind, compassionate, loving, caring, and understanding.
May whatever positive energy you send out be returned to you seven fold.

WISDOM FROM THE SOURCE: There Are Angels Among Us     

May 14, 2017 - One Response

By Royi Shaffin

Originally published in “City Beat Magazine”.

There are angels among us

They are inconspicuous 
They do not call attention to themselves 
But they are there nonetheless 
There are angels among us
They help us out when we are carrying huge loads by ourselves
They save us when we are in danger
They show us the way home when we are lost
They speak words of comfort when we are distressed 
There are angels among us
They might not have wings 
At least not that are visible to us
They do not necessarily have halos 
But they walk among us
They bring light where there is darkness
Hope when there is none
Faith to those who find it hard to believe 
There are angels among us
They are black
They are white
They are brown
The next time someone comes out of nowhere to help you
Your prayers are answered through a stranger 
You sit next to someone on the bus who just seems to illuminate the world 
Look closely and remember 
There are angels among us

CUT IN HALF

February 10, 2017 - 2 Responses

A poem for Parashat BeShalach

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin

I am that fish

The fish that was cut in half when the sea parted

You never think about me when you read the story 

But I was cut in half

To this day I swim in the sea

They call me the Moses Fish

Why didn’t God move me away from the edge before the Sea parted?

I don’t know

Why did I have to be cut in half?

I don’t know

Maybe because the entire story is about being cut in half

Moses was cut in half between his Egyptian family and his Hebrew family

The Israelites were cut in half between the comforts of Egypt, even as slaves, and the promise of a better life in the promised land

The people were cut in half between worshipping God and worshipping a golden calf

I am that fish that was cut in half

I was not the first to be cut in half 

Abraham cut his sacrifices in half

Isaac was almost cut in half

Joseph’s coat was cut in half

Samson’s hair was cut in half

Samuel’s coat was cut as the kingdom was taken from Saul

I am that fish that was cut in half

On the eighth day they cut their children 

On the Sabbath they cut their bread

Their meat they cut in their own special way

I am that fish that was cut in half 

I swim through the Sea

And every so often 

People see me and are reminded of that day that cut me in half

When the Sea was cut in half and the Children cut through on dry land 

I am that fish that was cut in half

Yankel the Red Nose Dreidel (sung to the tune of Rudolph)

December 15, 2016 - One Response

Original Chanukah carol by Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Yankel the red nose dreidel

Had a very shiny nose

And if you ever saw it

You would even say it glowed 

All of the other dreidels

Used to laugh and call him names

They never let poor Yankel

Join in any dreidel games 

Then one foggy Chanukah eve

Kids sat down to play

Yankel with your nose so bright

Won’t you lead our games tonight

Then how the dreidels loved him

And they shouted out with glee

Yankel the red nose dreidel

You’ll go down in history

The Cave

November 29, 2016 - Leave a Response

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Dr. Barnaki gasped for breath. He could not believe he was actually entering the forbidden cave. Fear gripped his heart as he remembered all of the myths and stories that he had heard as a child. Like archaeologists before him who had entered the tomb of Tutankhamen, the great Pharaoh of Egypt, he now was entering the cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, the cave of the royalty of Israel …  and of Islam.  

A professor of archaeology at the Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Barnaki understood the full significance of his expedition into this underground dwelling. Above the cave, the area was divided into two prayer spaces, a synagogue and a mosque. Holiness radiated from this place on Earth. Whether one was a believer or secular, the intensity of the energy was palpable.

His expedition was illegal and done under the cover of night through an unknown entry-way. After capturing the city of Hebron and its religious and archaeological treasures during the 1967 Six Day War, including the Cave of the Patriarchs and Matriarchs, also called Machpelah, Israel’s Defense Minister, Moshe Dayan, gave the keys to the holy center to the Muslim Waqf, which held that non-Muslims were forbidden to enter.

This was a contentious place indeed, disputed territory claimed both by Israel and by the Palestinian Arabs. This site in the middle of Hebron, also called Kiriat Arba, was in the heartland of biblical Israel. It was also a place where the Arabs are a majority of the population.  Nevertheless, a small group of religious Zionists had founded a settlement in this area to claim a Jewish stake in this land. Heavily guarded and constantly fearful of terrorist attacks from the surrounding Palestinian Arab areas, this was a gated community in the most extreme sense of the term.

This was also the place of the most infamous violence between Jews and Arabs. “Pogrom” is a term usually reserved for anti-Jewish violent riots in Eastern Europe. Hebron was an exception for there had been a violent pogrom in Hebron in which many Jews were mercilessly murdered by marauding Arabs. It was also the place where a Jewish doctor, who had immigrated to Israel from the United States, decided to take matters into his own hands and spray bullets at Muslims praying in the mosque above the cave. Much blood had been spilled above this cave over the question of its ownership and, indeed, ownership of the entire land. Beneath the mosque and the synagogue was Machpelah, where Isaac, the father of the Jews and Ishmael, the father of the Arabs had buried their father Abraham together as bothers. Barnaki could almost sense Abraham’s heartache that his children were killing each other. Also buried in this cave were Sarah, Isaac, Rebecca, and Leah. Rachel died while on the road and was buried on the way to Bethlehem where Jewish tradition teaches that she cries on behalf of her exiled and suffering children and pleads with God on their behalf.

This cave existed and was a burial place before Abraham bought it from Efron the Hittite for 400 shekels of silver, an exorbitant sum for those days, in order to bury his wife Sarah and to establish this cave as an ancestral plot. One wonders who was buried in this cave before Sarah. One wonders why Abraham paid so much money for this cave and plot of land. Abraham was a businessman and a military general, after all. One finds it hard to believe that he would be so easily swindled.

What unknown qualities did this cave hold? Legend holds that there is magic to this cave, perhaps even a doorway from this world into Eden. Some believe that this is a place where one could come into contact and speak not only with those buried in the cave but with all of the ancestors. According to legend, one who entered too far deep into the cave risked never returning to our world. “Could this be true or was this just a story to keep out grave robbers and the like?” Barnaki thought to himself. “How similar were these stories to those told about the pyramids of the Pharaohs.”   

As Barnaki entered the cave, darkness fell over his eyes and a new type of light illuminated his way. It was as if he was in another world. His eyes no longer worked and yet he knew exactly where he was, where he was going, and what was in front of him. He had studied the site using photographs and maps provided by those who had entered the cave before him. For various reasons, they could only go so deep, but he planned to go even deeper.  

Deeper and deeper he went. He arrived at a circular room with coins and pieces of broken pottery on the floor. The pottery contained inscriptions in ancient Hebrew script. This script had not been used in over two thousand years and yet here it was before him, an archaeological treasure. Barnaki picked up coins that lay upon the ground. He placed them in the palm of his hand. Among the coins were modern Israeli liras and shekels. This made sense since it was customary to throw coins deep into the cave like into a wishing well.  

What surprised Barnaki were the other coins he had in the palm of his hand; a Maccabean coin, a coin from the Bar Kochba rebellion against the occupying Romans and a coin with an inscription in ancient Hebrew which read 
שנת ג למלכו של המלך שלמה
The third year of the rule of King Solomon. This was a First Temple period coin, undeniable proof of the Jewish people’s long history in and claim to the land.

Upon the ground were also notes such as people also place in the Western Wall with people’s hopes that God will read their prayers and answer them. From the circular room, Barnaki entered a long corridor which led to a staircase. He climbed up the stairs only to be blocked by a stone wall in the middle of the stairs.

“Who would place a wall here?” Barnaki thought to himself, “During which historical period was the wall built?”  The materials and design of this wall identified it as neither the biblical architecture that he had encountered in the cave so far nor of the architecture of King Herod of Judaea nor of the Muslim minarets built after the Muslim conquest from the Crusaders under the leadership of Salahadin. This wall stood on its own as a unique structure.  Barnaki pushed against the wall and it moved to reveal a small space, barely enough for a small person to maneuver through. Barnaki was no body builder and his small frame came in handy that day as he slid through the small space.

As he crossed to the other side, Barnaki could not believe his eyes. Before him was a beautiful carob tree and a river with waters as blue as the sky, flowing through the cave, but with no end. It just flowed and flowed as if there was no end to the cave, no walls, no beginning and no end. He walked forward and as he did so, the cave became less dark and more full of light, less brown and more green with grasses and shrubbery. It was as if he was no longer in the cave. The river continued to flow through the most beautiful, greenest garden he had ever seen. He saw trees all around him with fruits that seemed to glow. The aroma, the fresh air, and the beauty were exhilarating. In the far off distance, Barnaki saw that the river converged with three other rivers. Thirsty, he put his hands into the river to gather water to drink. Below the river, he realized, was Lapis Lazuli, also called Shoham, a beautiful, semi-precious stone of blue with bubbles of white, like a pure blue sky with fluffy white clouds floating through it. His perception of his surroundings changed as Heaven and Earth, the blue river and a miraculous blue sky above, became one.  

Suddenly, he felt something on his shoulder. He looked down to see a hand. He turned around and before him stood an old man with a white beard and the kindest face he had ever seen. Isaac Barnaki immediately felt connected to this stranger. “Come, walk with me,” said the man.  
For hours they walked and talked. Barnaki now understood everything; why he was there, who he was, where he had come from, the meaning of his life, and the meaning of all existence. They reached an opening and the old man said, “And now you must go back to where you came from and remember little of our conversation and of what you have just experienced.” “Why?” Barnaki asked. “It is not your time,” answered the wise face before him. “Who are you?” Isaac asked, even though he already knew the answer. “I am Abraham, your father.” 

Barnaki walked through the opening to the world that he was a part of, but he was forever changed. He had touched Eden. He had been touched by Abraham. He had entered the cave of Machpelah and returned to our world to tell the tale.

My Brother’s Keeper

November 17, 2016 - Leave a Response

A modern midrash for our time based on Parashat Vayera, Parashat Toldot, Rashi’s commentary, Talmud Tractate Sanhedrin 89b, and current events
By Rabbi Royi Shaffin
Isaac and Ishmael were playing together. They played hide and go seek. They built sand castles. They laughed together and played together and loved one another, but their mothers hated one another. They were half brothers of the same father, Abraham, but not of the same mother.

One day, the rumor was running through the camp that Abraham was sending away Hagar and her son, Ishmael. The boys were playing when they overheard people talking about it from a nearby tent. Tears started to flow from Ishmael’s eyes. “Our father loves you more than he loves me,” Ishmael said in a tearful voice. “No, this can’t be right. Our father wouldn’t do such a thing,” said Isaac in an attempt to comfort his brother. “It is true. It is true,” said Ishmael, “Your mother made him do it. Why does your mother hate my mother so much?” “I don’t know,” Isaac replied.
“I have an idea,” Isaac said excitedly, “I will pretend to be you. That way, no one will be able to tell us apart. He will not be able to send you away. I will put goat skin on my arms so that I will appear hairy like you and I will wear your clothes so that I will smell like the fields in which you work. I will try to speak with your deep voice and I will tell him that I am you.”
Some time later, God wished to elevate Abraham so God told him, “Take your son.”

Abraham replied, “I have two sons.”

God said, “The one”.

Abraham replied, “I love each of them as if he were my only child.”

God said, “The one you love the most.”

Abraham insisted, “I love them both equally.”

God finally clarified, ” Isaac.”

God continued, “And elevate him to a higher status upon one of the mountains that I will show you.”

Abraham went searching for Isaac, but he could not find him. What he found were two Ishmael’s.  
“Which of my sons are you?” He asked one of them.
“I am Ishmael,” he answered.  
“And who are you?” Abraham persisted.
“I am also Ishmael,” the other one said.
Frustrated, Abraham demanded, “Which of you is Isaac? A great honor awaits you. Come with me.”
Silence.
Abraham turned around to go back to his tent and try again later.
With his father’s back turned so that he could not see him and distinguish him from his brother, Isaac called out, “Father, I refuse to be honored while you send away my brother and he suffers in silence. God has taught me that…
I AM MY BROTHER’S KEEPER.”

Lech Lecha – A Poem In Search of Oneself

November 13, 2016 - Leave a Response

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin
Lech Lecha
Go to you 
Go for you
You! Go out yonder.
Lech Lecha
Walkety walk
Walkie Talkie
Lech Lecha
Go out
Go in
Go deep inside yourself
To find your self 
Turn yourself
Inside
Outside
Like Origami
Twist and turn
Wear your inside on the outside 
Lech Lecha
Show your emotions 
Be real
To yourself
And to others
Lech Lecha
Go to a place you have never been before
A place you have never seen
Trust in God
Lech Lecha
Try new things
Explore the world 
Meet new people
Find commonality with people you think you have nothing in common with
Lech Lecha
Feel emotion 
Feel other people’s emotions 
Be an open heart
Lech Lecha
Be like Abraham
Do that which is right 
Smash idols of apathy and immorality 
Lech Lecha
Don’t just sit there
Don’t just sit in one place 
View life as a gift, a journey, an adventure 
Sieze every moment 
Lecha Lecha
Dream
Pray
Hope 
Go out and make your most fantastic dreams come true 
Lech Lecha to a place that only God can show you… and you shall be a blessing.

The Jewish Mermaid: A Fantasy Story For Parashat Noah

November 3, 2016 - Leave a Response

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin
Reb Dovid the fisherman took his boat to go fishing in the waters near his shtettle as he would usually do on an early Monday morning. Only this morning was different somehow. A deep fog engulfed his boat and eery high pitched sounds echoed all around.  
Thinking nothing of it, Reb Dovid continued rowing farther and farther into the thick fog. A large fish tail appeared out of the water and disappeared. Reb Dovid got excited. Perhaps this day would produce a good catch.  
From a distance, Reb Dovid thought that he saw a beautiful woman in the water, but knew that this was unlikely. He attributed it to his wild imagination. Nevertheless, something inside him told him not to ignore what he saw and he started rowing toward the woman. Various thoughts entered his mind. It could be a survivor of a shipwreck, a dead body, or perhaps he had mistaken a large animal such as a porpoise for a person.
As he approached, it looked more and more like that which he had imagined that he had seen, a woman. Bare breasted, standing upright in the water, the woman was beautiful with dark brown hair decorated with sea shells and dark hypnotic eyes. She smiled at her visitor. He could not help but return the smile. She approached his boat and as she got closer, Reb Dovid realized that she was not swimming with kicking legs and arm strokes but rather up and down with her entire body, like a sea creature. As she approached his boat, she lifted the lower part of her body to reveal a fish’s tail. Reb Dovid almost fainted. He could not believe his eyes.
“Sholom Aleichem,” the mermaid started to speak in perfect Yiddish. Reb Dovid remained speechless for several seconds and then responded with hesitation, “Aleichem Sholom. Who … are you? What are you?”
“Have you ever wondered how come there are so many stories about mermaids?” she responded. “It is because they exist. I’m one of them.”
“You can speak with humans?” Reb Dovid asked inquisitively.  
“Yes, of course. I am half human and half fish, so I can speak with both humans and fish. We mer-people have our own language but we also come out of the water to hear and learn the language of the people that live on the land in the vicinity of the waters that we live in. One day, we hope that humans will be more accepting. You have been horrified by us, hunted us, and experimented on us, as well as fallen in love with us. We never know what to expect when we see a human. I saw you all alone on your boat and you looked so very kind, so I took a chance.”
“You speak Yiddish?” he asked in amazement.
“My city is deep in the water, just off the shore of your shtettle. Whenever one of us rises up out of the water, all we hear is Yiddish,” she answered.
“Rebbono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe), I can’t believe it. I’m talking to a Jewish mermaid.”
Reb Dovid paused and thought for a moment. “But how is this possible? I don’t remember this anywhere in the Torah.”
“Are you sure?” she responded.
“You know the Torah?” he asked, surprised.
“Of course,” she responded, “you cannot live so close to Jews and not hear the Torah. Besides, God speaks to us too sometimes. We have a revelation too.”
“Nisim veniflaos (wonders and miracles),” Reb Dovid responded.

“Wait, how rude of me. I haven’t offered you something to eat. Are you hungry? Wait, I don’t even know what you eat.”
“I was right,” the mermaid exclaimed. “You are kind. Thank you. No, I’m not hungry.”
“You see,” she continued, “once there were many of us creatures of mixed breeding. You would call us hybrids. As Greek and Roman stories tell us, there was once a Centaur, half man and half horse. Pegasus was a horse with the wings of an eagle. There were also mer-humans. The Philistines even made one of us their god and called him Dagon.  
This was what the Torah means when it says, ‘All flesh had corrupted it’s way upon the earth.’ It is speaking of corruption of the genes. Human beings had corrupted their flesh as well for they had mated and produced offspring with angels. These offspring were giants called Nefilim and Anakim. The Greeks called them Titans. I’m sure you have heard of this. It is in the Torah.  
You can also find evidence of this entire story in the Books of Enoch and in the great commentary, Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer. All of the rabbinic commentators, in fact, say that the three reasons for the big flood during the days of Noah were idolatry, blood spilling, and uncovering of nakedness. Most Jews have been taught that uncovering of nakedness is about incest. The Talmud explains, however, that it also includes mating with other creatures. So, God regretted that He had created the world because creatures, including humans and angels, had mixed it all up and so God decided to destroy it with a flood. All living creatures were destroyed except for Noah and those people and animals with him in the ark.”
“How did your kind survive?” Reb Dovid asked.
The mermaid answered, “Well, first of all, sea creatures obviously had an advantage. If you look at the illustrated cover of a sixteenth century German Bible you will find the answer to your question. We mer-people grabbed on to the ark. In and out of the water we went. Some of us could not hold on, but some of us survived. It was not God’s intention that we should survive. All of the other hybrids were destroyed, but we survived. God had compassion for us and let us remain and our civilization has flourished to this day.”
Reb Dovid, astonished, said, “Wow. What a story.”
“You must not tell people. They may come after us and hunt us,” the mermaid pleaded.
“Your secret is safe with me,” Reb Dovid responded, ” but what is your name?”
“You cannot pronounce it,” she responded. “It is said under the water with vocal cords you, as a human, do not have.”
“Then I will have to name you,” said Reb Dovid. “Your name shall be …
בת ים

Bat Yam
mermaid, daughter of the sea….
but I will have to add the Hebrew letter 
ה
to represent God, because you too are a daughter of Adam and Eve. You too were created in the Divine image.
Your name shall be…
בת-יהם
Bat Yahm, daughter of the sea and daughter of God.

The Beauty and Wisdom of Shabbat

October 28, 2016 - Leave a Response

Rabbi Royi Shaffin
Shabbat candles flicker as the flames dance with the joy of Shabbat. Their light illuminates the world, chases away darkness, and reminds us of the creation of light. We appreciate the gift of sight, the ability to perceive the beauty of the world that God created. We use the opportunity of lighting the candles to connect with our Heavenly Parent and ask for blessings of good health, long life, income and blessings for our families, for children, for peace in the home (sh’lom bayit), for peace in our souls, and for a holy, special Shabbat. While our eyes are covered and we are engaged in conversation with HaShem, we can say anything that is on our minds and ask for anything.  
A cup full of wine, the substance of gladness and of sanctification. The cup overfloweth so that gladness and joy should fill our lives. Grapes are the fruit of love. This is our marriage. Lecha Dodi. Come, my beloved… The Shabbat Queen, the Shabbat Bride all dressed in white has entered our synagogues and our hearts. Shabbat is upon us.
Two challahs represent the double portion of mana which God provided for us for Shabbat while we were traveling in the wilderness so that we would not have to work on Shabbat. We are reminded of God’s love, protection, and caring, of having trust in God and in the imperative to rest from all labor on this one day each week.
Sitting around the table we are a family and a community. This is the opportunity to show appreciation for each one of us and the special role we play. Traditionally, a husband sings Eshey Chayil to his wife, calling her his woman of valor.

Children are blessed by both parents invoking the way in which our ancestors blessed their children as well as the birkat kohanim, the priestly blessing with which the kohanim were instructed to bless the people.
“A cathedral in time,” Rabbi Abraham Joshua Heachel calls the Shabbat. Indeed, Shabbat is a time to separate ourselves from all technology, emails, phone calls, demands, and work. On Shabbat we are beyond time and space. On Shabbat we are free to take deep breaths, to rest, to recover from the week, and to re-energize our bodies and our souls.