Wisdom for Life From the Source: Each of Us Has a Choice to Make
May 14, 2017

Originally published in “City Beat Magazine”.

By Royi Shaffin

Each of us has a choice to make 

Every hour of every day

Between good and bad

Between right and wrong 

Each of us has a choice to make 

Every minute of every day

In what we do and what we say 

What we give and what we take

Each of us has a choice to make

When we go to sleep and when we wake

To be real or to be fake

To unleash the monster within or our wild animal to break

Each of us has a choice to make

Every second of every day

Over our emotions to reign

Our superiority to feign

Or our rightful place to claim

Each of us has a choice to make

To run away… to return

To feel hunger… to let it burn

To cling to doubt or for faith and hope to yearn

Each of us has a choice to make

Life or death, good or evil

Climb the ladder or stay at level 

Choose life!!! Choose life!!! And you will never…

Each of us has a choice to make

Lech Lecha – A Poem In Search of Oneself
November 13, 2016

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin
Lech Lecha
Go to you 
Go for you
You! Go out yonder.
Lech Lecha
Walkety walk
Walkie Talkie
Lech Lecha
Go out
Go in
Go deep inside yourself
To find your self 
Turn yourself
Inside
Outside
Like Origami
Twist and turn
Wear your inside on the outside 
Lech Lecha
Show your emotions 
Be real
To yourself
And to others
Lech Lecha
Go to a place you have never been before
A place you have never seen
Trust in God
Lech Lecha
Try new things
Explore the world 
Meet new people
Find commonality with people you think you have nothing in common with
Lech Lecha
Feel emotion 
Feel other people’s emotions 
Be an open heart
Lech Lecha
Be like Abraham
Do that which is right 
Smash idols of apathy and immorality 
Lech Lecha
Don’t just sit there
Don’t just sit in one place 
View life as a gift, a journey, an adventure 
Sieze every moment 
Lecha Lecha
Dream
Pray
Hope 
Go out and make your most fantastic dreams come true 
Lech Lecha to a place that only God can show you… and you shall be a blessing.

What does Judaism have to do with my life?
September 7, 2016

WHAT DOES JUDAISM HAVE TO DO WITH MY LIFE?

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

What does Judaism have to do with my life?  I live in a dog eat dog world with a bad economy and I’m just struggling to make ends meet.  How does going to synagogue change any of that?  Will it feed my children, pay the mortgage, or give me a job? These are good questions that I hear every day as I try to persuade Jews to become more active in Jewish life. 

It may surprise you to know that with relation to this week’s Torah portion, Behar, Rashi, the great medieval commentator, asks a very similar question: “Mah inyan shmitah etzel har Sinai?”  What does the Sabbatical year have to do with Mt. Sinai.  Modern Jewish literature and common Torah parlance has expanded this as questioning: What does one have to do with the other?

While Rashi views this commandment as simply an example from which to draw the conclusion that all mitzvot and their precise characteristics were revealed at Sinai, I find it fascinating that it was specifically this mitzvah – Shmita –the Sabbatical year – the essential agricultural mitzvah, that is referred to.  We are dumbfounded by the contrast between the great and awesome revelation of the Master of the Universe, the religious experience par excellence and the technicalities of agricultural law.

And yet, they are intertwined.  For what was the purpose of revelation to begin with?  Was it just for God to show off?  Of course not.  It was for the purpose of revealing God and placing Israel under contract to work for God toward constructing an ideal society, an example for the rest of the world.

Part and parcel of society is economics and the Torah is thus teaching us how to insure justice in economics.  The key word is adjustment.  The Torah does not advocate socialism, since that is impractical and goes against the grain of human nature and human competitiveness.  Rabbi Joseph Soloveitchik, in his book, The Lonely Man of Faith, calls this creative and aggressive drive in the human being “Adam the First”.  Human beings are, by nature, entrepreneurial, competitive beings and this is not necessarily a bad thing because it pushes the human being to excel.  If the human being excels in a positive way, according to Rabbi Soloveitchik, then all is well.  The Torah does not advocate pure capitalism either, however, because this is simply cruel.    When the rich get richer and the poor get poorer and the middle class disappears, when we ignore beggars on the street, the homeless, and hungry and refuse to open our hand to them, this is not a just society.

Torah proposes capitalism with a mandatory adjustment mechanism built into the system.  The Sabbatical year, Shmita, presupposes that we accept the fact that we are not the owners of our money and property.  God is.  Our wealth is ours as a gift or a loan.  Every seven years, we abstain from working the land, reaping its produce, and profiting from it.  It lies fallow for God, the true owner, to do with it as God wills.  God gives its produce to whoever comes by and picks at it – the poor, the destitute, even hungry animals.

On the fiftieth year, the Jubilee, we encounter the ultimate adjustment.  A portion of the wealth of the wealthy reverts back to the poor.  God has apportioned to each tribe, each clan, and each family an ancestral heritage of land and on the Yovel, the Jubilee year, it all returns to its original owners.  The game is set back to the beginning.  Everyone goes back to “Go” and “collects $200”.  That is not to say that the wealthy lose all of their wealth – they don’t.  But everyone gets at least one big break during their lifetime.  Poverty is not never-ending and is not transferrable from generation to generation.

As we debate, in our own country and political system, the merits of socialism versus capitalism, democrats versus republicans, let us remember that the wisest document on Earth, which is neither liberal nor conservative, has something valuable to teach us about fairness, justice, and practicality in economics and about constructing a working society imbued with holiness.

Perhaps one thing does have something to do with the other.  Maybe agricultural laws do belong at the revelation.  If this is indeed the case, then perhaps by going to synagogue and encounter a reenactment of the revelation during the Torah reading, we can learn about and adopt the Torah’s teachings to our lives today and to our society.  Is it possible that going to synagogue can feed my kids, pay the mortgage, and find me a job?  Maybe not to that degree, but it at least starts the process.