The Dungeon of Torture
December 3, 2017

A creative interpretation of Parashat Vayeshev inspired by Midrash Bereshit Raba and the Mefarshim (traditional rabbinic commentators).

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin

In the dark and dreary dungeon, there he sat, confined to his cell. He was allowed to leave only in order to perform his duties as the right-hand man of the chief jailor. It had been ten years since the episode of the dreams. He had interpreted their dreams, that of the chief cup-bearer and of the chief baker. He had interpreted them correctly. On the occasion of the Pharaoh’s birthday, the cup-bearer was released from prison and returned to his former position and the baker was hung (or so it was rumored). Joseph had asked the cup-bearer to remember him after he was released from prison, but Joseph was a forgotten soul.

There Joseph sat in anguish, in the dark. At times it was pitch black. Nothing could be seen. Insects chewed on the dead skin upon his feet. Every day, as soon as his once daily prisoner’s food rations were thrown down to him from a small window above the prisoner cells, rats clambered to eat as much of his food as was possible before he was able to get to the food and scare them away. Eating his half devoured piece of bread, wet from the dampness in the dungeon, dirty for he had not bathed in years, there he sat in sorrow.

Why had the cup-bearer forgotten him? Why had God forgotten him? What had he done wrong? Why was he being punished for doing “the good and the just in the eyes of the Lord”? He had been tempted by Potiphar’s wife. She was beautiful and sexy and lucuous. She had grabbed a hold of him. He could have grabbed her and lain with her, but he did not. She defamed his character. She told lies that he had come to her. He was thrown into the prison so that his slave master, Potiphar, could save face.

“Again in a pit. Perhaps this is what I deserve,” Joseph though to himself “to be thrown into a pit.” Years before, he was thrown by his own brothers into a pit. Then they sold him into the pit of slavery. Now he was rotting away in the pit of prison.

What crime had he committed? He simply stated the prophecy that he received to his brothers. Is their jealousy his sin? He worked hard as a slave. He took nothing that was not his. He resisted temptation and would not commit adultery. Was this his reward? Why were they, the cup-bearer and the baker, brought out on Pharoah’s birthday but not he.

The cup-bearer had committed the greatest of offenses. The Pharaoh could have been killed. The Pharaoh’s cup had been poisoned and the cup-bearer failed to check the wine. Had Sheba, the palace cat, not climbed onto the thrown, sipped from the wine and fallen dead from the exceptionally strong poison, the assassination plot against the Pharaoh would have succeeded.

The baker so embarrassed the Pharaoh. Why did the Pharaoh even consider pardoning him? He was placed in charge of delivering all of the baked goods for the wedding of the Pharaoh’s daughter to the prince of Babylonia. He was responsible for the breads and the cakes and the sweet treats and he had failed to deliver them. He gave some excuse about the Nile overflowing, flooding his bakery, and ruining his baking ovens, but everyone knows that is just an excuse. He could have ordered someone to fix them or baked them somewhere else. He was a member of the royal court. With that kind of power, he could have sought assistance from many different quarters, but he did not. The breads and the cakes were never baked and a wedding that was expected to be lavish and full of exquisite food and drink was quite meager. This wedding was supposed to represent the wealth and glory of Egypt. The Pharaoh was so embarrassed in front of his guests, his courtiers, and most of all, the King of Babylonia.

These two were worthy of being released, yet he, Joseph, who had done nothing wrong, who had kept his faith in God strong, and who had followed the Torah was kept in the dungeon? Why? Where was the justice in this? “Why?!!! Please do not abandon me. Please do not forsake me, for I have tried all my life to do ‘the good and the just in the eyes of the Lord’. Please God be with me,” Joseph cried out to the God of his father’s, Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob.

Joseph thought that God had abandoned him. He was convinced that he would soon be executed for ever since that day when the baker and cup-bearer were taken up out of the prison, a light would shine from up above, the upper level entrance to the dungeon, and the voices of guards would call the names of prisoners. As they went up the stairs, the guards would grab a hold of them violently and every one of the prisoners could hear the screams of torture and then a whimper that would fade into silence – death.

Every day, the upper doorway to the dungeon would open and prisoners would go up and not return. One day, they called, “Joseph”. He could not decided whether he should hide as some of the other prisoners had done or walk up the stairs. Joseph said a silent prayer, “God, please be with me.” He walked up the stairs to be greeted by guards. They did not grab him. They said, “We have been instructed to give you a hair cut and to bathe you and to dress you in royal clothing. You have been summoned to appear before the Pharaoh and you are to be treated as if you were a member of the royal house. We do not know who you are or what you have done, but we have never before seen a prisoner be elevated to royalty. Can you explain this to us, sir?” Joseph responded simply, “God is with me.”

For more of the Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

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

Advertisements

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

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

World War Z 
September 26, 2017

By Royi Israel Shaffin

Inspired by the films “Madagascar” and “World War Z”.  Originally published in “City Beat Magazine”.
I declare World War Z

Z is not for zombie

It is for zebra
I declare World War Z

The war to make us realize

that we are all zebras

To make us see our black stripes

And our white stripes

I declare World War Z

Go ahead and check your DNA

No one is just one thing

We are all zebras

Black with white stripes

Or White with black stripes

I declare World War Z

When we shout against that person

Who we think is so different

Or inferior

Or an enemy

Just remember

We carry that person inside of us

That person is a stripe or two or three

on that coat of many stripes

that makes us who we are
I declare World War Z

A war of words

A war of ideas

A war of love vs hate

Compassion vs anger
I declare World War Z

We are all Black

We are all White

We are all Mediterranean

We are all Iberian

We are all East Asian

We are all Jewish

We are all Arab

We are all Hispanic

We are all Indian

We are all Native American

We are all Aboriginal Australian

We are all Inuit

We are all humanity

We are more than 99% identical in every way

In the beginning God made

one man and one woman

So that no one could say

My ancestors were greater than yours
I declare Wold War Z

So go ahead and get that DNA test

Science doesn’t lie

And you will see

That you too are a zebra

And the next time you see

Someone who looks and acts

So different from you

You will remember that

That person is a part of you

And you are a part of them

Because we are all zebras

I declare World War Z

For more of Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

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

Wisdom for Life from the Source:Teachings that will make you a better person and the world a better place.
May 14, 2017

Originally published in “City Beat Magazine”

By Royi Shaffin
1) Whenever you feel like saying something negative, don’t!!!
Stop yourself before it comes out of your mouth. You can do it. Once it is out, it can’t go back in. Once you have blemished someone’s good name, you have damaged their reputation forever. It is like tearing open a feather pillow and letting the feathers out to the wind. If you change your mind, you will never be able to gather all of the feathers.
If you are a person that people listen to, your responsibility is even greater. Don’t use foul language because it pollutes the world and lowers your esteem in people’s eyes. A debate is about ideas. Criticize ideas, not people. Don’t reduce yourself to the level of a school playground. Don’t be a bully. Don’t be a victim either. Seek peace, always.
2) Wear a reminder on your hand, between your eyes, on the corners of your garments, or whatever it takes… to spread only positive energy and to protect you against the negative.
Place words of goodness and blessing, gratefulness and thankfulness, kindness and mercy upon your body. Wind them around your arm. Place them at the entrance to your home. Speak words of blessing day and night.
3) Be the source of the positive.
Find teachers and friends. In a world where a role model is hard to find, you be the role model. Create a family. Love someone. Pass your legacy on to children. Have faith in the future.

4) Give people the benefit of the doubt.
We are all human. We all make mistakes. Try to see the good in people. Believe that people have the best of intentions unless conclusively proven otherwise.
5) Be grateful for all that you have.
Pay attention to everything that people do for you and for others. Say daily affirmations for that which is good and right in the world and that for which you are grateful.

Be mindful when you eat and drink and breathe. Be grateful even when you go to the bathroom. These are all gifts. A functioning body, food to eat, clean water to drink, air to breathe, healthy lungs to breathe it with are all gifts. Do not take them for granted. Pay attention to the tastes in your mouth when you eat.

Someone put time and energy and TLC to make sure that your food tastes good.
6) Be in touch with nature.
Go outside. Take off your shoes and run around in the grass. Pay attention to the feeling of grass in between your toes. Watch the sunrise. Watch the sunset. Be grateful for being able to enjoy the beauty of the world.
Cherish animals. Make a new friend who just so happens to be a dog or a cat. Listen to the songs of the birds.
Protect the planet. Recycle. Do not waste. Don’t throw away food.

Travel the planet. Experience different people, different cultures, and different plant and animal life.
7) Be of outstanding character.
Mean what you say. Say what you mean. Don’t lie. Be a person of truth that people can depend on. Pay workers on time. If you owe money, pay on time. If you owe rent or mortgage, pay on time. If you have credit cards, pay on time. If you owe someone a phone call, call them. If you owe someone an apology, apologize.
8) Be generous with your money, your compliments, your positive facial expressions, your time, your talents, and your good will.
Visit the sick, the old, the dying, and the bereaved and send positive energy their way. Put your arm around someone who needs a hug.
9) Learn, study, read, teach, play, explore, investigate, think, be open-minded, train your brain, try new things, and try to improve as a human being.
Make yourself smarter, faster, more knowledgeable, healthier, more active. Become the best you that you can become and then try to become even better than that and while you are doing that, teach others to do the same.
10) Remember that we are all one. The entire universe is One.
The divisions between us are just an illusion. Treat your fellow human being as a brother or sister. We all come from the same place and our destiny is to all return to that place. So be kind, compassionate, loving, caring, and understanding.
May whatever positive energy you send out be returned to you seven fold.
For more of Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

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

The Human Blood of the Red Heifer – A Modern Midrash on Parashat Chukat
October 14, 2016

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Master of the Universe, please don’t create this category of law called a “chok”, that has no stated rationale. Law without reason is so dangerous. Faith without reason is one of the most dangerous paths. Why must it be a red cow? Does it make sense that the slaughter and burning of a cow purifies from death? What are these laws of purity and impurity? Why must this all remain a secret?
The separation of the sacred law into “chukim”, laws without a stated rationale and “mishpatim”, laws whose reason is clear as day, also creates a place for taking God’s name in vain, claiming that God said or commanded something as ludicrous as mass murder and the claiming that it must be carried out in the name of God.
Oh, Master of the Universe, you have shown me the future. I sat in Rabbi Akiva’s study. I saw him teach the Torah in all of its glory to future generations and expound upon it.

I also saw the holy land that you have forbidden me to enter and seen its beauty.
You also showed me a man by the name of Baruch Goldstein who enters the cave of the ancestors and massacres the Children of Ishmael because he thinks it is your will. You showed me bus after bus being blown up in the streets of Tel Aviv and Jerusalem, the slaughter of the Jews by Muslims who think this is your will. You have shown me Christian Crusaders massacring Jews and Muslims on their way to conquer the holy land because they think it is your will.
Please give a reason and explain the law of the red heifer. Don’t open the door to taking your name in vain to claim that murder is your will.
And God replied, “There will be no explanation, speak unto the children of Israel …”

For more of Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

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