Moshe Potter and the Search for the Magic Lulav

October 21, 2016 - Leave a Response

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin

– Inspired by a dvar Torah delivered on Sukkot by Neorah Garcia
Moshe Potter was a star student at Hogwarts. He excelled in every class including “Defense Against the Dark Arts”. He was especially talented in controlling the weather. It is for this reason that the Ministry of Magic placed him in charge of placing the ceremonial spell that would herald the beginning of the rainy season.
Moshe came from a long line of Jewish wizards going all the way back to his great great grandfather, nick-named in the Talmud as Choni Hameagel, Choni the Circle Maker. Choni is known in Jewish history as the greatest expert in bringing down the rain through his magical incantations.  
While his cousin, Harry, and that side of the family had mostly assimilated into secular British culture, Moshe’s family was completely observant of Jewish life. His spell book was in Hebrew and Aramaic, older than the oldest spell book in English or Latin and whenever Moshe cast a spell, he was sure to make it very clear where his power was coming from by saying aloud and with great intention, “In the name of [some obscure combination of Hebrew letters that is an unprouncable Kabbalistic name of God]…”
Moshe’s spell was, of course, supposed to be done with the most magical of magic wands, his Lulav, a combination of palm, myrtle, and willow branches representing the shades of the natural world and opening up a doorway to the magical chamber of the Divine waters. He was not the first to have such a wand. Moshe Rabbenu (the original) himself had a natural wand and he used it to do God’s miracles. He even used it to split a sea.
Moshe had placed his Magic Lulav next to his bed, next to his shoes, his hat, his yarmulke, his glasses, his talis katan, his regular wand, his Hogwarts uniform and his quidditch broom, the Nimbus 2000, but when he woke up this morning, it was gone. All of the other items were exactly where he had left them, but his Magic Lulav had disappeared.
He quickly went to the Hogwarts synagogue to say his morning prayers and looked around. Any one of those could be his Magic Lulav. There was nothing to physically distinguish his Lulav from everyone else’s. It, however, had the power to bring down the rain and it was only a few days until Jews all over the world would be praying for rain on Shmini Atzeres.  
Never before had it happened that Shmini Atzeres had come upon the Jews and the Jewish wizard with the Magic Lulav had not cast the spell. No one knew if the Divine chambers of water would indeed open and provide life to the planet. It was imperative that Moshe Potter find his Magic Lulav. 
Moshe was deep in prayer when he suddenly noticed a snake winding itself around his leg, only this was no ordinary snake. It had one large green tooth and green leaves on either side of its head. The snake opened its green toothed mouth and bit into Moshe’s leg. Moshe fell into a deep sleep. In his sleep, he felt drops of moisture coming down upon him …

Interview With A Sinner

October 14, 2016 - Leave a Response

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Yes, I was there. I was one of those who committed the sin, but it is not fair that only Moses gets to tell the story. I want you to hear it from another perspective. Here is my story:

I was finally able to see God face to face. All my life I had dreamed of being in God’s presence and now it had become a reality. I starred into God’s beautiful captivating golden eyes. I lost any sense of reality, looking into those eyes. I was at a spiritual high.
We were dancing and singing. We were also placing all kinds of plants in our mouths and smoking them and smelling them as the air was filled incense. The drumming was hypnotizing. The wine flowed by the bucketloads. We were rejoicing. We were finally free. After 400 years of slavery in Egypt, we were free. Free. Free at last. And Moses, so strict and so serious, was not here.
It was hot and the dancing in the hot Sinai sun made it even worse. People were wearing less and less clothes and pretty soon it became a free love fest. We were making love with everyone in front of God. Doesn’t God believe in love? Aren’t we supposed to love each other? It was a glorious time.
After a few hours my vision was blurry and I couldn’t think straight but I didn’t care. It was better than listening to that man Moses always preaching and punishing.
He had gone up the mountain to receive something from God but was late. We saw, on top of the mountain, thunder and lightening and fire and smoke and shofar blasts. He was surely dead. God had killed him.
Now God had come down from the mountain to be with us, the people. Actually, God came out of the pot of gold. We asked Aaron to bring God to us. We all threw our gold into the pot and out came God.
God was large and powerful. God’s huge, sharp, majestic horns were enough to place fear and awe into any person, but they were also the symbol of lust. We lusted after one another, expressing our God-given biological drives.
God was a fierce animal, majestic and made of gold. And yet, in the form of a calf rather than an adult cow or bull, God inspired a form of wonder and playful enjoyment. There, in front of God, we played.

We are the CHILDREN of Israel after all.  
God was perfect. We danced and played and sang and danced and made love in front of the beautiful golden God of Israel and then…

we heard the sound of stone, smashing into thousands of little pieces. Two tablets of stone lay shattered to pieces at the foot of the mountain.

Psychoanalyzing the Aramean

October 14, 2016 - One Response

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

ארמי אבד אבי

Arami oved avi.

According to Jewish tradition, this verse from the Parashah can be read as “An Aramean tried to destroy my father” or as “My father was a wandering Aramean”. This piece of creative writing is inspired by this duel tradition.

Jacob Ben Aramean sat before his counselor for a late night counseling session with a lot on his mind.
“So,” Dr. Yabok River asked in an inquisitive voice. In fine psychoanalytic tradition, his accent and intonations were the same as the great Viennese-Jewish founder of the science, Sigmund Freud. “What would you like to discuss today?”
“I would like to discuss that horrible uncle of mine, Laban. First he tricked me into marrying Leah instead of Rachel, then he worked me to death, then he wouldn’t let me go and start my own life so I had to leave his house in secret, then he chased me; he was going to kill me for sneaking out, and on top of it all, he tried to pressure me to go to his religious services with him.”
“Didn’t he also take you into his house when you were fleeing from Esau after you tricked Esau out of the blessing?” asked the doctor.
“Yes. But what does that have to do with anything?”
“Didn’t he also give you experience in shepherding?” the doctor continued.
“Yes.”
“Didn’t he also let you marry not one but two of his daughters? Are you not now as related as flesh and blood?”
“I guess so.”
“Isn’t it true that you have been wandering both physically and spiritually?” the doctor continued.
“What do you mean?”
“You have been in search of God all of this time. You have been on a spiritual journey. You traveled from your home to Laban and now you are on your way back home. You fought with your brother and learned humility for as you fled from his wrath, you felt not only your own pain, but his as well. He did not kill your body, but guilt of that which you did to him cut you like a knife. It carved and sculpted out of old Jacob, a new Jacob. You survived many obstacles including cold and heat, traveling in the dark, and being tricked and despite all odds …. you are still here! You have been bargaining with God, sleeping with rocks as your pillow, and crossing rivers. You have fought with both the divine and the human and have prevailed. Stop looking at yourself as the victim. Stop blaming others and stand up tall,” the doctor demanded.
“I can’t. I just got a cramp in my leg from all that sitting in this chair.”
“Nonsense. You should change your name. Then you will feel like a new person.”
“To what?”
“Time is up. I have to go,” said the angel-faced doctor.
“What were you going to say? I’m not letting you go until you tell me.”
“Ok.” the doctor gave in as he was already late for his next appointment. “From now on, your name shall no longer be Jacob, but Israel-the one who wrestles with God.”

Where Art Thou? – A Poetic Interpretation of Parashat Nitzavim

October 14, 2016 - Leave a Response

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Where is the Torah?

Where is the Torah?
Is it in the Heavens?
No, it is not in the Heavens
Is it across the ocean?
No, it is not there either.
Do you have to be rich and famous to have the Torah?
No, even a wood cutter and a water drawer can have the Torah
But where is it?
Is it in a far away land?
No, you will not find it there.
Where is my Torah?
Is it at the synagogue?
There you will find a map to the treasure you seek
Is it in the wind?
No, it is not in the wind 
Is it in the fire?
Black fire upon white fire it is but this is not a fire that you can see and feel
It is not in a fire
Where can I find it then?
It is here, so close to you
Can’t you see it?
Can’t you touch it?
Can’t you feel it?
Can’t you hear it?
Open your eyes
Open your hands
Open your arms
Open your heart
Open your ears 
It whispers 
The Torah seeks you and asks
Ayeka
Where art thou?

Struggling With Goliaths

October 14, 2016 - Leave a Response

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

After David’s fight with Goliath, he went home.  This is the conversation that may have taken place between him and his father Ishai.  It is a modern midrash.  May we think about kingship and humility as we enter the High Holidays.

David: Did I look OK?
Ishai: What do you mean? You were great. You just killed Goliath. You brought pride to God and to Israel.
David: Yeah, but I felt so scrawny. I mean ….I’m so thin. Every one thinks I look so young.  
Ishai: So?
David: Everyone was probably laughing at me. I wasn’t even wearing armor. I didn’t even have a sword. I fought him with a slingshot.
Ishai: I don’t see why that should make any difference. You play music for the king. You write beautiful poetry. Now you have brought glory to the king.
David: That’s the thing dad.  I don’t feel so glorious. I mean who fights a giant in armor with a slingshot?
Ishai: Someone with faith in God?
David: Yeah, I know all that but it is still kind of wimpy.
Ishai: Not as man sees does God see.
David: Yes that’s true, but I still have to live in the human world.
Ishai: Humility is a virtue. It will serve you well.
David: What do you mean?
Ishai: You still do not fully understand why the prophet Samuel came here, but one day, you will. I hope that on that day you will still have that same humility.

Out Of – A Tu BeAv Poem

October 14, 2016 - Leave a Response

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Out of destruction comes building 

Out of the ashes of the fire of hate the fire of lust is ignited
Out of Av the father that punishes comes Menachem Av the father which consoles
Out with free hatred 
In with free love 
Ba Yom Hahu… On that day…
People will no longer speak criticisms behind each other’s backs
They will speak their praises
People will no longer laugh when their fellow falls but will pick them up
The wolf shall lie with the lamb and the soldier with the peace activist 
Out of Tisha BeAv a day of mourning for the loss of our glory, our freedom, our stature
Comes Tu BeAv the day of love, of matchmaking, of joy and of merriment 
A taste of the world to come. A world redeemed. A world of free love. A world which is a Temple to house God’s glory. A house of love. A world of visions.
Olam Chesed Yibane
A world of loving kindness will be built… And we are the ones to build it.

Adam is Born

October 14, 2016 - 2 Responses

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Shshshshsh

The breath flew into its nostrils and it became a living creature.

Hello?
What is this? What am I? Where am I? Hello? Is anyone there? My middle feels empty. How do I make this feeling go away? Hello? What are these green things growing out of the brown thing from which I just sprung?
Why can I see and then it gets dark and I can’t see. My body is shivering. Hello?  
And God brought animals to Adam to see what he would call them.
There are things moving around that look a little bit like me but when I speak to them, they do not respond. It is as if they do not understand anything that I am saying … Or thinking.
Maybe they have answers. Let me follow them. I’ll call this one dog, that one cow, that one lamb, that one fly, and that one snail.  
The cow is putting green things from the ground in its mouth. Maybe I should too. Ooo. That feels good. The emptiness in my middle is going away.  
That animal that I called dog. It is following me around. I’ll stop and see what happens.  
Wow. It is licking me. I feel a connection. It doesn’t talk but it is talking with its eyes and ears and tongue.
Am I the only one of my kind. Does no one understand my language, not even my new friend the dog. Am I to exist in loneliness? Hello? Who made me? Are you out there? Please answer me? Please answer me when I cry out to you. Hello….

The Donkey Talks

October 14, 2016 - 2 Responses

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Bilam why are you hitting me.  
Don’t you remember that time when you rode me to escape from the robber and I ran at zip speed to get you out of there? You trusted me then, but not now.
Don’t you remember when you went to prophecy out in the wilderness and you were hungry because there was no food but I uncovered the insects and worms which sustained you for three days. You trusted me then, but not now.
Don’t you remember when you needed an extra horse to pull your chariot and I kept up with five horses – that’s five strong, muscular, well built experienced horses, even though I am slower and weaker because I am only a donkey. I did it for you, for your love. I came through for you then, but now you think I am changing course and bumping into the side for no reason.
If only I could talk. If only I could tell you about the angel in our path with sword drawn ready to strike you down. By the way, if you are a prophet, how come I can see it but you can’t?  Never mind. I wish I could speak to make you understand.  
I wish I could open your eyes to that which is right in front of you. I wish I could open your heart to feel how devastated I am by the way you have been treating me. I thought we were best friends, siblings.
Maybe I should ask our father. Oh Creator. Master of the Universe. Father. God of all my ancestors, please soften the heart of my Pharaoh, my oppressor so that he will treat me with dignity and respect – like the friend that I am – that I have always been to him.

Bilam’s Debate

October 14, 2016 - Leave a Response

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Oh God of the Israelites, you must be very powerful, for every time I wish to utter a curse, you change it to a blessing.  
Yes. I do and I will. You will not curse my people.
I do not know you, Oh God of Israel, but according to what they told me, you created the world and you gave humans free will. By what right do you now withdraw that right for me to make my own decisions?
I cannot let you curse them.
But what difference does it make? Why does my curse matter? I am a prophet, not a god. Why would my curse even come true if you oppose it?
Words matter.
What?
Words matter. Blessings and curses are real. Words carry power. Every day, people bless or curse one another. Those who bless are blessed themselves. Those who curse are cursed themselves.  
But what does this have to do with me?  
I am helping you to be blessed.
By removing my free will?
I never removed your free will. I’m just placing an obstacle in your path. Just as I hardened Pharoah’s heart so too am I softening your heart.
“How lovely are your tents Oh Jacob, your dwelling places Oh Israel.”

The Prince of Egypt Speaks – A Modern Midrash Reaction to “Prince of Egypt”

October 14, 2016 - Leave a Response

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin

And God said unto Moses go unto Pharoah and tell him

let my people go for if you do not let my people go I will

What?  What are you going to do now God?  
I’m going to smite 
You mean murder
All of the first born of Egypt from the first born of the cattle to the first born of the servants to the first born of the Pharoah.
What? You’re going to kill my nephew. No.  
Go unto Pharoah and tell him to

let my people go.
Why are you doing this to me? You caused me to leave my parents to fight against my brother.  You destroyed all of the food of the country I love.  You made my people sick with boils.  You made them thirst for water.  You caused our animals to die and locust to eat the remaining plants so that my family is hungry. You threw hail down from the sky with fire inside it and it hit my brother and his wife and my cousins. They are waking around with third degree burns.
You made complete darkened. Do you know how scary that is?  And now you are going to kill my nephew. No. You can’t do that. That was not part of the deal. This is the family and nation that raised me, taught me, educated me, and fed me. Why have you made me into a traitor against my own family, my own people?
Maybe Pharoah will listen this time.
He will not listen nor will he let my people go so that I may show my signs and wonders in Egypt.
Then I’ll bring my family into my house with the lambs blood on the door post. 
You will do no such thing for your family is the family of Pharoah and unless he feels the plague personally he will not let my people go.
God, why are you doing this to me?