The Jewish Mermaid: A Fantasy Story For Parashat Noah
November 3, 2016

By Rabbi Royi Shaffin
Reb Dovid the fisherman took his boat to go fishing in the waters near his shtettle as he would usually do on an early Monday morning. Only this morning was different somehow. A deep fog engulfed his boat and eery high pitched sounds echoed all around.  
Thinking nothing of it, Reb Dovid continued rowing farther and farther into the thick fog. A large fish tail appeared out of the water and disappeared. Reb Dovid got excited. Perhaps this day would produce a good catch.  
From a distance, Reb Dovid thought that he saw a beautiful woman in the water, but knew that this was unlikely. He attributed it to his wild imagination. Nevertheless, something inside him told him not to ignore what he saw and he started rowing toward the woman. Various thoughts entered his mind. It could be a survivor of a shipwreck, a dead body, or perhaps he had mistaken a large animal such as a porpoise for a person.
As he approached, it looked more and more like that which he had imagined that he had seen, a woman. Bare breasted, standing upright in the water, the woman was beautiful with dark brown hair decorated with sea shells and dark hypnotic eyes. She smiled at her visitor. He could not help but return the smile. She approached his boat and as she got closer, Reb Dovid realized that she was not swimming with kicking legs and arm strokes but rather up and down with her entire body, like a sea creature. As she approached his boat, she lifted the lower part of her body to reveal a fish’s tail. Reb Dovid almost fainted. He could not believe his eyes.
“Sholom Aleichem,” the mermaid started to speak in perfect Yiddish. Reb Dovid remained speechless for several seconds and then responded with hesitation, “Aleichem Sholom. Who … are you? What are you?”
“Have you ever wondered how come there are so many stories about mermaids?” she responded. “It is because they exist. I’m one of them.”
“You can speak with humans?” Reb Dovid asked inquisitively.  
“Yes, of course. I am half human and half fish, so I can speak with both humans and fish. We mer-people have our own language but we also come out of the water to hear and learn the language of the people that live on the land in the vicinity of the waters that we live in. One day, we hope that humans will be more accepting. You have been horrified by us, hunted us, and experimented on us, as well as fallen in love with us. We never know what to expect when we see a human. I saw you all alone on your boat and you looked so very kind, so I took a chance.”
“You speak Yiddish?” he asked in amazement.
“My city is deep in the water, just off the shore of your shtettle. Whenever one of us rises up out of the water, all we hear is Yiddish,” she answered.
“Rebbono Shel Olam (Master of the Universe), I can’t believe it. I’m talking to a Jewish mermaid.”
Reb Dovid paused and thought for a moment. “But how is this possible? I don’t remember this anywhere in the Torah.”
“Are you sure?” she responded.
“You know the Torah?” he asked, surprised.
“Of course,” she responded, “you cannot live so close to Jews and not hear the Torah. Besides, God speaks to us too sometimes. We have a revelation too.”
“Nisim veniflaos (wonders and miracles),” Reb Dovid responded.

“Wait, how rude of me. I haven’t offered you something to eat. Are you hungry? Wait, I don’t even know what you eat.”
“I was right,” the mermaid exclaimed. “You are kind. Thank you. No, I’m not hungry.”
“You see,” she continued, “once there were many of us creatures of mixed breeding. You would call us hybrids. As Greek and Roman stories tell us, there was once a Centaur, half man and half horse. Pegasus was a horse with the wings of an eagle. There were also mer-humans. The Philistines even made one of us their god and called him Dagon.  
This was what the Torah means when it says, ‘All flesh had corrupted it’s way upon the earth.’ It is speaking of corruption of the genes. Human beings had corrupted their flesh as well for they had mated and produced offspring with angels. These offspring were giants called Nefilim and Anakim. The Greeks called them Titans. I’m sure you have heard of this. It is in the Torah.  
You can also find evidence of this entire story in the Books of Enoch and in the great commentary, Pirkei DeRabbi Eliezer. All of the rabbinic commentators, in fact, say that the three reasons for the big flood during the days of Noah were idolatry, blood spilling, and uncovering of nakedness. Most Jews have been taught that uncovering of nakedness is about incest. The Talmud explains, however, that it also includes mating with other creatures. So, God regretted that He had created the world because creatures, including humans and angels, had mixed it all up and so God decided to destroy it with a flood. All living creatures were destroyed except for Noah and those people and animals with him in the ark.”
“How did your kind survive?” Reb Dovid asked.
The mermaid answered, “Well, first of all, sea creatures obviously had an advantage. If you look at the illustrated cover of a sixteenth century German Bible you will find the answer to your question. We mer-people grabbed on to the ark. In and out of the water we went. Some of us could not hold on, but some of us survived. It was not God’s intention that we should survive. All of the other hybrids were destroyed, but we survived. God had compassion for us and let us remain and our civilization has flourished to this day.”
Reb Dovid, astonished, said, “Wow. What a story.”
“You must not tell people. They may come after us and hunt us,” the mermaid pleaded.
“Your secret is safe with me,” Reb Dovid responded, ” but what is your name?”
“You cannot pronounce it,” she responded. “It is said under the water with vocal cords you, as a human, do not have.”
“Then I will have to name you,” said Reb Dovid. “Your name shall be …
בת ים

Bat Yam
mermaid, daughter of the sea….
but I will have to add the Hebrew letter 
ה
to represent God, because you too are a daughter of Adam and Eve. You too were created in the Divine image.
Your name shall be…
בת-יהם
Bat Yahm, daughter of the sea and daughter of God.

Reb Yankel: The Book Thief From Chelm
October 11, 2016

Rabbi Royi Shaffin

The Book of Life and the Book of Death were of great concern to Reb Yankel of Chelm. How black and white, how insensitive, and how judgmental to place someone’s name in the Book of Death.
Reb Yankel went before the Beis Din of Chelm to plead his case.  
The great Sages responded, “Your arguments have merit, but this is the way it has always been. As it says in Unetane Tokef, on Rosh Hashanah it is written and on Yom Kippur it is sealed.”
“But how is that fair? We do the best we can,” Reb Yankel said with tears in his eyes, “so why can’t everyone be written and sealed in the Book of Life?”  
The Sages were compassionate and said, “We wish this were the case. It will only be the case when the Messiah will come, may he come speedily in our day.”
“But I want to change this now.”
“The only way you can change this is to plead your case before the Beis Din Shel Maala, the Heavenly Court. You must travel to Berdichev. There you will find a great Kabbalist who can help you find the ladder leading to the Beis Din Shel Maala and climb it, going through the gates and levels of the Heavens until you finally reach the Seat of Glory. But beware, once you are there, we cannot guarantee that you will be able to return.”
“I don’t care,” he said and started on his journey.  
Reb Yankel reached the Beis Din Shel Maala, the Heavenly Court, and stood before the angelic Supreme Court. “Yes,” they asked him, “do you have an appointment?”
“An appointment?” he said, furious at the thought of needing an appointment after the trials and tribulations that he had endured in order to reach them. “I am Reb Yankel of Chelm and I don’t need an …”

“Oh yes, we’ve been expecting you, said one of the angelic Supreme Court Justices. You’ve come to plead your case before the Seat of Glory.”
“Not my case. The case of all of humanity.”
“We have no time right now. The Jews are about to chant Kol Nidre and our authority is about to be invoked. The Master, however, will see you now.”
Reb Yankel came before the Master.
“Master of the Universe, can’t you please do away with death?”
“I cannot,” said the Master, “it has been the human condition ever since you were exiled from the Garden.”
Reb Yankel argued, “But look at the pain and suffering. Look at the tears. Where is your compassion?”
“I’m sorry Yankale,” the Eirbishter lovingly replied, “you cannot understand my ways, but one day you yourself will join me here (may you live to a ripe old age) and you will understand more.”
“That is just not good enough,” replied Yankale. Yankale left the presence of the Master and sat and thought about how he could change things. Suddenly, Chelmite as he was, a brilliant idea entered his mind. He would steal the Book of Death so that it would be missing from the Royal Court and this Yom Kippur, the Master would have only one book to write people’s names in, the Book of Life.
“Tonight,” Reb Yankel thought aloud, “while the Beis Din Shel Maala is occupied with Kol Nidre, I will sneak into the throne room and grab the book.”
That night, as Jews throughout the world were pleading for God’s mercy, Yankale was taking matters into his own hands.  
“Bishiva shel maala uvishiva shel mata….”
Yankale tip toed quietly past the angels, all standing at attention and listening to the haunting chanting, the serafim and the ofanim, the chayot hakodesh, and of course, the Beis Din Shel Maala ecstatic at the being invoked by name.  

“al daat hamakom veal daat hakahal…”
Only a few more steps.

“anu matirin lehitpalel im haavaryanim…”
“We are permitted to Daven together with sinners…?” Reb Yankel translated. “Aren’t we all sinners? I have to get to that book.”
“Kol nidre veesarei….”  
Reb Yankel arrived at the door guarded by two Seraphs with fiery turning swords.
“Great,” he thought to himself, “how am I going to get through these guys?”
Then he had an idea. He remembered his morning prayers and invoked the Seraphim by name 
והאופנים וחיות הקודש ברעש גדול מתנאשים לעמת סרפים לעמתם משבחים ואומרים
The Seraphim immediately responded 
ברוך כבוד ה ממקומו 
Just enough time for Reb Yankel to pass through. He ran to the Seat of Glory and saw two books before him. One said “The Book of Life” while the other said “The Book of Death”. There was another book there whose title could not be read for it was not in a human language and Reb Yankel had only a few split seconds. While the Tate’s face was looking the other way, he grabbed the Book of Death….

Several day later, Reb Yankel could be heard telling the story in the streets of Chelm. It spread from town to town and that is how I heard of it and am telling you about it today; the story of how Reb Yankel of Chelm stole the Book of Death.  
When people would ask Reb Yankel what he did with it, he would respond that he found the oldest dustiest most unkept Beis Medrash he could find and stored the book among, underneath, and inside the dusty deteriorating volumes of sefarim, holy books. No one will ever use these books and if they do it will only be to bury them in a Jewish cemetery with other shemos. They will bury death.
Reb Yankel has been going around from town to town proudly telling people of the book that he stole and reassuring people that this Yom Kippur they will indeed be written and sealed in the Book of Life.