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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WISDOM FROM THE SOURCE: There Are Angels Among Us     
May 14, 2017

By Royi Shaffin

Originally published in “City Beat Magazine”.

There are angels among us

They are inconspicuous
They do not call attention to themselves
But they are there nonetheless
There are angels among us
They help us out when we are carrying huge loads by ourselves
They save us when we are in danger
They show us the way home when we are lost
They speak words of comfort when we are distressed
There are angels among us
They might not have wings
At least not that are visible to us
They do not necessarily have halos
But they walk among us
They bring light where there is darkness
Hope when there is none
Faith to those who find it hard to believe
There are angels among us
They are black
They are white
They are brown
The next time someone comes out of nowhere to help you
Your prayers are answered through a stranger
You sit next to someone on the bus who just seems to illuminate the world
Look closely and remember
There are angels among us
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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.

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JEWISH JOURNAL: DO WE REALLY NEED THESE NEW SIDDURIM?
May 20, 2011

DO WE REALLY NEED THESE NEW SIDDURIM?

http://issuu.com/the-jewish-journal/docs/may_2011

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

Spirituality is on out of body experience.  Some of the most memorable sights during my travels in Eastern Europe were old synagogues with services in their entirety painted on the walls.  They were painted because these synagogues were built before the invention of the printing press, when the only one holding a siddur was the chazzan.  Some people knew their prayers by heart.  Some people needed a reminder, so they looked up at “the writing on the wall” (Daniel, Chapter 5).  Those that did not know their prayers had the chazzan, with an impeccable hand written siddur, chanting all of the prayers, and especially the repetition of the Amidah, on their behalf.

Today, our synagogues are convinced by their respective denominational movements to purchase multiple copies of the newest siddur with “new and improved” print, type set, and commentary.  This comes at great expense to congregations and fails to address the essential question: do these new siddurim contribute in any way to the prayer experience?  The answer is “no”!  In fact, I would be willing to bet that not a single Jew will enter the synagogue, join, or become more active in Jewish life on account of the recent purchase.

The introduction of the printed siddur for every individual did not save Jewish spiritual life.  It is, in fact, to its detriment.  When people burry their heads in the printed word, the nuances of the Hebrew, the translations, or the “newest” commentary, this makes spiritual concentration – the first step towards union with God- a near impossibility.  We don’t seek God by looking down.  We seek God by looking upward toward the magnificent Heavens, looking inward to find our inherent connection point to the spiritual realm, and not using our physical eyes at all so that our spiritual vision may be sharpened.

As we approach Lag Ba’Omer, we are reminded of the spiritual odyssey of the great author of the Zohar, the primary book of Kabbalah, Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai (Rashbi).  Lag Ba’Omer is known as Rashbi’s Yahrtzeit and many Jews flock to his burial place in Meron, Israel on this day to pay tribute to the sage who brought the hidden light into view for Jewish mystics.

Jewish tradition, recorded in the Talmud, relates that to escape Roman persecution, Rashbi and his son hid in a cave which miraculously grew a carob tree and manifested a stream of water to sustain them.  Strangely, they removed their clothing and buried themselves in the sand.  There, they studied Torah and attained great levels of holiness and scholarship.

While many are tempted to simply accept this story, I wonder how they could study Torah or pray in a dark cave.  Did not the sand, which caused wounds upon Rashbi’s skin, cause him great discomfort and did this not interfere with his Torah study?  Upon further thought and examination, we understand that Rashbi’s seclusion from the rest of the world, darkness, and lack of comfort were spiritual devices meant to quiet his physical senses and open his spiritual eyes and ears.  As he placed his physical needs in the hands of God, totally dependent on a miraculous carob tree and stream of water (whether physical or spiritual), this experience is much like that of Moses on top of Mt. Sinai, alone with God, for forty days and forty nights with no food or water.  It is also much like a Native American vision quest.  Rashbi knew how to tap into his spiritual being and he knew that it had nothing to do with physical vision, clothing, or physical comfort.  In fact, the less we are connected to the physical, the more we are able to cling to God and attain holiness.  That, by the way, is why we fast on Yom Kippur- to detach ourselves from our physical need to eat and concentrate on the spiritual.

As we count the omer, seeking spiritual refinement with every passing day in imitation of Divine attributes (sefirot), and prepare ourselves to arrive at the scene of the revelation on Shavu’ot, the closest we will ever come as living beings to seeing God “face to face” because “no man may see me and live” (Exodus 33:20), let us remember that the revelation took place without any prayer books.  I would like to encourage us to reenact this experience in our synagogue services by memorizing our prayers to the best of our abilities and then to just put down those books.  We need to close our eyes during prayer and lose ourselves in an out of body experience.  If we do this right, we should lose awareness of our physical bodies and physical sensations.  The Torah and Haftorah reading become not something printed in our Chumashim to “follow along” with, but rather something listened to with eyes closed as they emanate from the bimah in a grand, loud, and musical chant – a reenactment of the Sinai revelation.

If we are to draw Jews back into Judaism, we must revert back to our authentic spiritual tradition and abandon our modern stuffy synagogue styles of worship based on the physical and the mundane.  We must close our eyes in order to see physical darkness and then, spiritual light.

The Torah tells us that, at Sinai, our ancestors “saw the sounds”(Exodus 20:15) of God’s revelation.  This teaches us that all of our physical senses are of little use when attempting to experience God.  What is needed is another sense – a spiritual sense- because spirituality is an out of body experience.

For more of Shepherd of Israel’s writings:

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