The Jewish Mermaid: A Fantasy Story
November 3, 2016

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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Psychoanalyzing the Aramean
October 14, 2016

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.”

A JEWISH SPOOKY STORY
October 14, 2016

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin

A JEWISH SPOOKY STORY

A creative interpretation of Parashat VaYishlach based on the P’shat as well as modern biblical scholarship and midrashic sources.

We usually don’t associate Judaism with spooky stories that you tell around a camp fire, but in this week’s Torah portion we have just such a story.  Jacob, our hero, camps out near a river.  Jacob had heard all kinds of frightening tales about rivers and the night time, the creatures of the night, and about this river in particular – the River Yabok.  With trepidation, yet trusting in God, Jacob camps for the night.  All of a sudden, he sees a mysterious shady figure passing by him…then encircling him.  He can’t quite make out the face.  Is it a man or a beast – human or supernatural?  Before he has the opportunity to decipher the being, it attacks him.  The being is strong – as strong as Jacob.  At times Jacob looks closely into the face of this creature and he is startled to see his own face.  It is almost as if he is fighting his own reflection.  He is thrust into the midst of the creature and the creature into him.  Jacob cannot tell where he ends and the creature begins. 

As time goes by and the exhausting fight continues, he gets another glimpse at the face in the moonlight and the light coming from the stars.  It is no longer his face, but that of his arch-enemy, his nemesis, his closest relative.  It is his brother Esau, whom years before he had deceived and cheated out of the birthright and the first – born blessing.  Feelings of guilt engulf Jacob.  But before long, fear overtakes the guilt as he realizes that it is indeed Esau – red, hairy, with sharp teeth, monstrous, tearing away at him like… a wild animal.  This was the monster of his nightmares – the Esau he had imagined and had dreaded meeting again.  Jacob falls to the ground and feels an immense pain.  He sees that he is bleeding from his leg.  He begs from mercy, but Esau won’t leave him alone.  Esau drops to the ground and pounds at him.  They wrestle upon the dry earth, as clouds of dust rise, concealing and enveloping the brothers in a dark womb. 

After a while, Jacob looks at the face again and it is no longer that of Esau.  Jacob cannot believe his eyes.  He is looking into the face of God.  He doesn’t know how he knows it is God’s face and it really is not a face at all but he feels that he is wrestling, intertwined, with God Himself.  He does not understand – what does God want of him?  This is the God he had pledged to obey and had asked to protect him.  Is he being abandoned by God?  Had he offended God?  Is God making war on him? A strange sensation comes upon Jacob as the male presence he once felt becomes a feminine one.  Embraced in her arms, intertwined with her body and soul, immersed in her, Jacob loses himself and feels at one with all of existence.  A rush of energy flows through Jacob. 

He looks at the face again and it is no longer the face of God – in fact there is no face at all.  It is just nothingness – like looking into an abyss – a vacuum.  He continues fighting with this strange creature all night long, his leg in severe pain, his body exhausted.  The first sparks of light appear as the sun begins to rise.  The creature speaks, “You must now let me go before sunrise.”  Has this been a creature of the night? A demon? Or was this part of a test?  Was this perhaps an angel of God standing before him?  Jacob rises from the ground, limping, and grabs a hold of the night terror – his night companion.  Jacob gathers all his courage and says to a face that he yet again cannot determine – even though it is right in front of him, “I will not let you go until you bless me.”

The figure exudes a blinding light.  A warmth embraces Jacob.  A voice calls out, “What is your name?”  “Jacob” he answers.  The figure responds, “No longer shall your name be Jacob but rather it shall be Israel – which means he who wrestles with God – for you have struggled with people and with God and you have prevailed.”  And then Jacob was left alone – completely and totally alone.

Morning came and Jacob crossed the river, looking at his own reflection in the water – barely recognizing himself as if the previous night’s experience had changed him somehow.  He continued on limping.  Jacob limped for the rest of his life.  And we, the descendents of Jacob do not eat meat from the area of the leg where Jacob was injured to remind us of this very spooky Jewish story.

The Seductive Prisoner of War – A Modern Midrash for Parashat Ki Tetze and for the High Holidays
September 16, 2016

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

The Israelite soldier called out to his captive, ” I want you!!!”
The beautiful captive replied, “You can’t have me. I am a woman of the enemy camp. I am a part of your yetzer hara, your evil inclination. You have done such a good job of conquering my troops. Why suddenly do you want me?”
“You are beautiful,” he said, “and attractive and seductive.”
“The shechina is more beautiful. You should bond with her. I will make myself less seductive. I will remove my finger nails and shave off my hair and put on sack cloth. I will mourn for the death of your evil inclination from which I sprung. I will mourn for that part of you that you so enjoyed but knew was wrong. I will mourn for your greed, your gossip, your theft, your lies, and your disloyalty. I will mourn for you. And by the end of my mourning, I will look like a corpse. Then we will see if you still lust after me.”
The soldier retorted, “I will. I will lust after you. What is wrong with lust?”
The captive, the bald headed, hairless, pale, skeleton figure, the ugly guiding angel replied, “Does not the Torah say, 
״לא תתרו אחרי לבבכם ואחרי עיניכם״
“Do not go out after the evil inclinations of your hearts or the lust after forbidden things that can be seen by your eyes?”
“Yes,” he replied.
“So honor the words of the Torah. They are wise,” the angel, the corpse dressed in a white kittel taught, “so why do you still lust after me?”
“Your pull is too strong. I cannot break free of you, my beautiful, seductive yetzer hara.”
“Then you must marry me,” she said, “and remain married to me all of the days of your life.” “You will not be able to break free,” she continued. “You thought you had conquered me but you shall become the conquered. You will lose your free will. Your heart will be mine. Your mind shall be mine. All of your actions shall be mine. Your ability to think for yourself shall be imprisoned. You will move further and further away from God and the Torah and the right and the good. Do Teshuva now, before it is too late. Turn around and face away from me and and never look back. I’m not as attractive as I seem. Call unto God and God will help you. This is what you shall say: 
השיבינו ה אליך ונשובה. חדש ימינו כקדם.

O God, turn me away from the yetzer hara and toward You and I shall turn. Renew my soul as that of a child of Eden.