The Jewish Mermaid: A Fantasy Story

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.

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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.

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.