Broken Wing
November 20, 2017

Based on Parashat Vayetze, Parashat Vayishlach, Midrash Bereshit Raba, Hekhakot and Merkavah mysticism, and biblical inter-textual creativity.

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Sar-El and Satan had a great deal in common. Both were bona fide card-carrying members of the Divine Royal Court. Both were trouble makers. Both wanted humanity to fail, to let God down and played “Devil’s advocate” to prosecute humanity for any and all infractions that it may or may not be guilty of. Both were constant nay sayer. Satan had been given his role and his place. He was the tempter and the prosecuting attorney in the Divine court.

Sar-El however was a young angel. God had other plans for him. God had determined that He had to take him out of Satan’s influence and make a different kind of angel out of him. God thought and thought of how to do this. Sar-El had chutzpah. That was for sure. He had led the angels in advising God against the creation of Adam and Eve, insisting that there was no way that humans would possibly choose their good inclination over their evil inclination. He had led the rejoicing and celebration of the angels when God saved Noah and then Lot. God was furious with this group of angels crying, “My creation is dying and you rejoice?!!!” Sar-El was hardened, without feeling, and without compassion. At one point God had considered making him the angel to harden Pharaoh’s heart.
Then God changed his mind. There was something about this young angel, a light that shined from within him. God sent Sar-El to Jacob’s ladder. There he was climbing up a ladder that connected Heaven and Earth. As he was climbing higher and higher, flying and soaring through the sky, his pride and glory grew. Soon he said, “I am on top of the world. Mi chamoni…?Who can compare to me? God? Metatron? Gabriel?” He scoffed at the thought? As he was flying higher and higher, his wing got caught on one of the rungs of the ladder and broke. In pain, Sar-El fell from grace, from the Heavens, and from the ladder connecting Heaven and Earth. He fell and fell. He finally landed right beside Jacob, sleeping on the ground with his head upon a stone as a pillow. Sar-El knew that Jacob was a prophet, a father of God’s chosen people, but human nonetheless. Through Jacob’s dream state, Jacob could see the ladder and the angels right beside him. He could also see that one of the angels, Sar-El, had fallen and was lying on the ground beside him, clothed in a blanket of dirt.
Humiliated to be lying on the earth next a human (who, on top of everything, could actually see his disgrace) he tried to fly up, but his broken wing would not move. He cried out to God and God answered, “Do you think you are the only one who has fallen? Why do you think Jacob needs to see a ladder with angels going up and down? It represents the exiles and fallings of Israel as well as its elevations and its ultimate redemption. It also represents the empires that will dominate and subjugate my people and their ultimate downfall. Most important of all, it represents each and every human being who has ever fallen down and my commandment to that individual to get back up. Get up, stop feeling sorry for yourself, and start climbing up again.” Sar-El did as God commanded.
He climbed with his legs, rung after rung after rung. His legs grew tired and he knew that he was climbing more slowly than any of the other angels but he kept climbing. Then he stepped and fell again. He had not noticed the broken rung on the ladder. He fell and fell only this time he was able to catch himself and grab another rung before reaching the ground. “How am I supposed to climb now?” Sar-El pleaded with God. “Help me, please.” God could sense Sar-El’s arrogance melting away. God answered, “When one path is blocked, find another. Go over it or above it or even under it. Have faith that I will be with you and you shall succeed.” Sar-El did as God instructed.
He climbed higher and higher, his legs now fatigued and in pain, and when he reached the broken rung, he leaped up in the air, his wings flapping and even his broken wing moving a little bit. He swiftly flew over the broken rung and onto the next rung on the ladder. He climbed higher and higher until finally he reached home, the Celestial Palace. God was so happy to see him and so proud of him that he already had a new mission in mind for him. “Sar-El! Sar-El,” God called out. “Heneni (Here I am),” he said. “Lech lecha- Go for yourself to a land that I will show you near the River Yabok… and there you shall break Jacob.” “What?!!!” Sar-El could not believe what he had just heard. “Just as you felt the pain of a broken wing, so too shall you injure Jacob’s leg. Just as you felt the humiliation of a broken spirit, so too shall you bring down my arrogant prophet who tricked his brother out of the birthright and the blessing and then thought he could make his allegiance to me conditional – he thought he could bargain with me like over a game of lots. Then when he is at his knees, you shall raise him up again and you shall transform him in My Name. You shall give him a new name and he shall be a new person. His name shall no longer be Jacob, the one at the heel who undermines, but rather ISRAEL, the one intertwined with God – an emissary of God.” “Israel?” said Sar-El, “That is almost my name.” “Exactly,” God replied, “he will also be the prophet connected to Sar-El. You have been and will be his mirror image in the Heavens.” “I thought I was Esau’s angel,” argued Sar-El. “No longer. From now on your name as your destiny shall be Sar-El, the angel connected to Israel, for you have struggled and intertwined with challenges both with and without your wings and you have prevailed.”
For more from the Shepherd of Israel:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-hollywood-bible-royi-shaffin/1127094132

Advertisements

The Darkness and the Light: A Jewish Twilight Zone Storybook
November 7, 2017

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Inspired by an episode of Twilight Zone, the story of Sodom and Gemorah, Parashat Terumah, Merkavah literature, the upcoming Festival of Lights, and hope for a better world.

The world was completely dark when Reb Moshe woke up. Where is everyone. He walked around his house but there was no one there. He went outside to see if his neighbors were home. No one. He walked through the entire shtettle but it was deserted. He walked to the nearby shtettle of yukubitz but there was no one there either. It was the middle of winter and there should have been wind and cold but Reb Moshe felt neither. Frightened, he went back to his house. He opened the ice chest but there was no food. This didn’t seem to matter because Reb Moshe was not hungry. He sat down to study Torah. As he studied, the sun began to rise and the light of day came into his house. He enjoyed the warmth. As he continued to study, he grew hungry and wondered what he would eat. He closed his Chumash and started out the door toward the city. As he left the house, he realized that it was still night. Had he imagined the sun? Was there no light or warmth. He could have sworn that it illuminated his Chumash. Otherwise how was it that he studied without lighting a candle?
He decided to continue toward the city. When he got there, there was no one there either. Not a person existed in the shops or the marketplace or in any of the homes. No

Jews. No non-Jews. Even the church was devoid of people. Now Reb Moshe was really scared. What was happening. He felt like he was in the middle of a nightmare.
He went to the city’s grand synagogue. He knelt down before the ark and cried. Rebbono shel Olam, where am I? Where is my family. My friends? Where are all the people? He closed his eyes and concentrated intensely on reaching HaShem.
When he opened his eyes, he was no longer in the synagogue. The floor underneath him was a crystal blue. Blinding lights fluttered all around him. When he looked closely, squinting, he could see that behind the lights were human figures with wings.
A few chariots of fire flew past him carrying holy looking Jews. He walked a little and before him was a gate with two light figures standing in front. “Code word,” they asked him. Out of his mouth came words that he knew not nor understood nor understood how or why he was saying them. The gates opened. He walked some more. The terrain seemed to be taking him upward as if he was climbing a mountain. “Code word.” Again, somehow he knew the code word and the gates opened. This happened again and again as he walked through seven gates, each more grand and more beautiful than the last. He walked through the seventh gate and a blinding light brought him to his knees. I am the Lord your G-d who brought you out of the land of Egypt… the G-d of your ancestors Abraham Isaac and Jacob. Remove your shoes from your feet for the ground upon which you stand is holy ground.
Reb Moshe did as he was told. He was trembling.
“You did not accept my decree,” said the Voice.
“I do not understand,” he replied.
“I decreed that the world should be destroyed but you would not accept my decree. That is why you are here. Accept my decree and I shall build a new world out of you, my loyal servant.”
“I stopped you from carrying out a decree to destroy the world?” Reb Moshe asked incredulously.
“Yes, you and nine others,” said the Voice. “I promised your father Abraham that if there were ten righteous, I would spare it all.”
“But everything is dark. All of the people are gone.”
“Yes, the world is in limbo.”
“Please restore it,” begged Reb Moshe.
“Why?” said the voice. “What will be different?”
“What would you like?” asked Reb Moshe.
“Build me a sanctuary and I will dwell among you.”
“Terumah???!!!” Reb Moshe recognized the words instantly.
“Yes. Trumah is your guide to rebuilding the world.”
“Terumah terumah terumah” Reb Moshe said to himself. “Terumah is the guide. Asher yidveunu libo. We need to give more tzedakah. And it needs to be from the heart.”
“Yes.”
“Orot techashim. Unicorn skins. We cannot use unicorn skin if we have no more unicorns.”
“That is true.”
“We have not been taking care of your garden as you commanded.

Leovda uleshomra.”
“The two cherubs facing each other. They represent our relationship with you. When they face each other, this represents a good relationship with you oh HaShem. When they turn away from each other, that means things are bad between us. How often do we ignore the Divine call. How often do we forget about the spiritual and dwell on the physical. They also represent children studying Torah together. Your Torah has been neglected. It is by virtue of children studying Torah, it says in the Zohar, that the world exists. No wonder the world is on the brink of destruction. The cherubs also represent the love between husband and wife. Why is it that we can’t keep our marriages together? When a marriage fails, you cry and the mishkan sheds tears.
The table represents the Shabbos table. Less and less Jews have a Shabbos table. Where are the candles? Where is the kiddush? Where is the holy challah, the show bread? Where is the matza ball soup, the chicken, the kugel. Where are the zmiros, the niggunim, the vort, the benching? Where are the kinderlach running around? Where is Eshes Chayil and blessing the children? Where has Shabbos gone?
The menorah is the light of yiddishkeit. We are supposed to be upholding our end of the covenant. We are supposed to be illuminating the world with your mitzvos. No wonder it became so dark.
Ish el achiv. Isha el achota. We are supposed to be acting like brothers and sisters and we are constantly at war. You want peace. Shalom.”
“Now you understand why this has happened?” the Voice asked Reb Moshe.
“Yes? Please don’t destroy the world. We can change. We can do better.”
“Asu li Mikdash veshachanti betocham. Make the world into a holy place,” instructed the Voice, “and I shall dwell among you and within you.”
Reb Moshe turned over and felt soft material in his hands. He opened his eyes and found himself holding tight to a sheet. He was in his own house and in his own bed. Had it been a dream?
Reb Moshe got out of bed and went outside to see the the sun rise. He breathed in deeply. Time to get to work.
For more of Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-hollywood-bible-royi-shaffin/1127094132

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.

For more of Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-hollywood-bible-royi-shaffin/1127094132

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.”

For more of Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-hollywood-bible-royi-shaffin/1127094132

THE CREATURE
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.

For more of Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-hollywood-bible-royi-shaffin/1127094132

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.
For more of Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

https://www.barnesandnoble.com/w/the-hollywood-bible-royi-shaffin/1127094132