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.”

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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.”
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The Encounter: A Biblical Vampire Tale
November 12, 2017

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Based on the film “Interview With The Vampire”, Parashat Toldot, and Parashat Vayishlach.
A skilled hunter, he went out into the field to hunt game. He expected this to be an easy catch, but was not prepared for what awaited him in the middle of the field behind trees and bushes, an ambush.
This was no ordinary ambush. Esau was seized by two powerful arms with hands as powerful as metal clamps. The face before him was pale, lifeless, and apathetic to his fear. Esau trembled. Never before had he, as strong and athletic as he was, been so easily overpowered by another person. He wondered if he was indeed in the presence of a human being or some other creature. The eyes had no color but were entirely black and his face had the expression of a carnivorous animal on the hunt. The face of the creature had the color of a man on his death bed. It was an odd and disconcerting sight.
Yet, this creature was far from dead. It moved toward him and opened its mouth. The front of the mouth contained large, shiny, sharp white fangs. They were a beautiful pearly white except for a few spots of red upon them. The creature closed its mouth upon Esau’s bare neck and Esau fell to the ground. He could feel the blood dripping from the side of his neck.
The creature came down upon Esau and placed his mouth upon Esau’s wound. He sucked on the blood and then sucked blood out of Esau’s body. Esau grew weaker and weaker and every time he tried to get up, the creature kept him down easily with his enormous power.
On the brink of death, Esau cried for his father. “Isaac,” he cried out. Then he called out, “God of my father Isaac and my grandfather Abraham, please help me.” Frightened, the creature withdrew his mouth from Esau. He stood up and observed his victim, close to death.
“You will not die,” the creature spoke, “for you are the son of prophets.  You should have been protected from me but your deeds must have diminished the power and shield of prophecy with which you were born. You must have done evil in the eyes of God. Nevertheless, you will not die. I cannot make you live either. You will be one like me, a man who exists in a different realm of existence in between life and death. Just as you were born a hairy wild animal, so will you continue to hunt and devour prey. Just as you have spilled blood, so will you continue to thirst for blood.”
Esau fell into a deep sleep. When he awoke, he felt like he was no longer himself. His sight had changed. It was sharper and he was better able to perceive spiritual beings from the other world. He was now one of them. He had not only gained back his strength but doubled it or perhaps even tripped it. Yet, he did not feel alive.
Esau returned home from the field. He was famished. He did not crave food, but blood.
Jacob was preparing his brew in his caldron and concocting his plot. Looking into his book for direction, ingredients went into the pot one by one.
“Are you going to give me some of that blood or aren’t you?” Esau screamed at Jacob.
“It isn’t for you,” answered Jacob. “It is a potion. It does contain blood so you are not permitted to eat it. Remember the laws of Noah.”
“They no longer apply to me. I am no longer among the living,” Esau replied.
Jacob thought for a moment. “I will give it to you in exchange for the birthright.”
“I am half-dead,” said Esau. “What use is the birthright to me now?”
“Swear!” Jacob insisted.
Esau placed his hand on his chest and swore.
Jacob took his ladle and scooped up some of his concoction into a bowl for Esau.
Esau placed his spoon inside the bowl and scooped out the adashim, the cows eye balls that Jacob had placed inside.
Esau ate and slurped the bloody concoction. He was satisfied. He left without saying another word.
Years later, the brothers met again as Jacob was returning home. Jacob had fled from his brother’s wrath for he felt that his life was in danger. Indeed it was.
As he was returning, Esau came toward him with hundreds of troops. Jacob sent gifts of livestock in front of him to appease his angry brother. His brother met him and it appeared as if he was going to kiss him on the cheek. As Esau got closer, however, two fangs appeared and pierced through Jacob’s cheek. Esau moved away quickly. He knew that Jacob was off limits but Jacob understood the meaning of what had just happened. He knew that he and Esau could never live together again and he must move as far away from Esau as possible. Esau hungered for blood. His brother, Esau, was a vampire.

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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.
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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.

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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.

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Bilam’s Debate
October 14, 2016

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Oh God of the Israelites, you must be very powerful, for every time I wish to utter a curse, you change it to a blessing.
Yes. I do and I will. You will not curse my people.
I do not know you, Oh God of Israel, but according to what they told me, you created the world and you gave humans free will. By what right do you now withdraw that right for me to make my own decisions?
I cannot let you curse them.
But what difference does it make? Why does my curse matter? I am a prophet, not a god. Why would my curse even come true if you oppose it?
Words matter.
What?
Words matter. Blessings and curses are real. Words carry power. Every day, people bless or curse one another. Those who bless are blessed themselves. Those who curse are cursed themselves.
But what does this have to do with me?
I am helping you to be blessed.
By removing my free will?
I never removed your free will. I’m just placing an obstacle in your path. Just as I hardened Pharoah’s heart so too am I softening your heart.
“How lovely are your tents Oh Jacob, your dwelling places Oh Israel.”

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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.

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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.
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I Am A Tree In The Field: A Poem For Parashat Shoftim
September 9, 2016

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

I am a tree in the field

In a time of war
Armies battle around me
Fires of hatred flare
Blood flows as water
I am a tree in the field
I have not grown any visible fruit
The General says
I may be cut down
I am alone
I have not multiplied
I am frightened
My heart is soft
I have not planted my seed in the vineyard
I have not established my home
I am a tree in the field
There is no refuge for me
No city to escape to
Should an ax come down upon me
Accidentally or otherwise
I am a tree in the field
No one will take responsibility if I am cut down
No hands will be washed of the sap that will flow
Shalom shalom and there is no shalom
Justice justice and there is no justice
Here come the armies to wage war and I, a witness to bloodshed and cruelty, will be cut down
They will refuse to see the fruit hanging from my branches
They will refuse to honor the years of my orla wisdom
I am an obstacle in the way of their cruel deeds
A lone voice crying out to no avail
Oh God, let them see my fruit
Save me from their axes
Let me be your messenger
Let my voice be heard
Let me be a tree of life
Let me teach them the paths of life, of pleasantness, and of peace
I am a tree in the field

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