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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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

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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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