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.amazon.com/Hollywood-Bible-Royi-Shaffin/dp/1935604139

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Interview With A Sinner
October 14, 2016

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.

For more of Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

https://www.amazon.com/Hollywood-Bible-Royi-Shaffin/dp/1935604139

The Cobra in the Torah
September 7, 2016

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

The head of a fish is eaten traditionally on Rosh Hashana with the plee from heaven
יהי רצון מלפניך ה אלוקינו ואלוקי אבותינו שנהיה לראש ולא לזנב
May it be your will our God and God of our ancestors that we should be as a head and not as a tail.
This idea is also expressed by this week’s parashah, Ekev, as taught by Rabbi Moshe Chaim Ephraim of Sadilkov in his book Degel Machane Efraim. The first two heavy words are direct opposites for the first word Ekev, means if but also means heel and the second word tishmeun, meaning listen or obey refers to the actions done by the ear and the head.
Thus we are asked to choose between facing toward the heavens or toward the ground, aiming to become part of the angelic host or part of the world which slithers on the ground.
The Degel Machane Ephraim points to prayer as of utmost importance in the religious life of the Jew. He places great emphasis on faith: belief that God exists, is the master of the universe, created all, and is in control of all things and that one is really standing before the king of kings when one prays.
In tractate Berachot of the Mishnah, we encounter the snake. It has always bothered me that the Mishnah says that if a snake coiled itself around our leg while we are praying we should not interrupt our prayers to deal with the snake.  
I have always thought of the outcome of such an action as disastrous until I read the Degel Machane Ephraim’s interpretation. The snake is not a literal snake but rather a figurative snake, a foreign thought which enters our minds during intense prayer and blocks us from concentrating on our connection with our maker. Such a snake should not lead us to stop our prayers. R Moshe Chaim Ephraim also explains that we need not get rid of such a thought completely in order to regain our concentration. Rather it can be incorporated into our prayers by connecting it to our conversations with God and sanctifying the thought. Do not let the snake bite at your Ekev, at your heel.  Elevate it.
Even the snake which caused us to sin in the garden of Eden and gets thrown out of paradise, even the creature that winds itself around us again and again until it engulfs us in distracting thoughts and in sin can be transformed into a holy creature, a bronze serpent, as Rabbi Jeremy Sher pointed out to me, as it appears in the Book of Numbers, a bronze snake that heals the spiritually afflicted.  To this day this strange and fascinating animal is the symbol of medicine.
But there is another creature mentioned in the Gemara of Tractate Berachot, who snaps at our heal while we are praying, the scorpion. The scorpion is a different creature altogether. The scorpion represents a complete loss of faith, the crumbling of the structure which houses your system of belief. It is for this reason that if a scorpion approaches, you are supposed to stop your prayers.  
The idea is that faith is a choice. It is not, as some think, the result of a methodological system of critical analysis, observation, experimentation, and scientific rationally acquired results. Rather one chooses either to take a leap of faith or not to. With out a leap of faith, one’s prayers become dry, lack meaning and intention, and loose much of their ability to affect our lives and indeed the entire nature of the universe. So…if you feel that scorpion of doubt snapping at your Ekev, your heel, stop, decide to re-engage in a leap of faith and then once you have regained your composure, return to your prayers.
“Ekev tishmeun” our Torah portion begins. “If you listen…”… but we have just learned that can also serve as a challenge to take those creatures that snap at our Ekev, our heels, and elevate them to our “tishmeun”, our ears and heads, to make ourselves, in the words of the high holidays, “Rosh velo lezanav”, heads and not tails.

For more of Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

https://www.amazon.com/Hollywood-Bible-Royi-Shaffin/dp/1935604139