MY GRANDMA LIL

A fictional tale in honor of Grandma Lillian and all the amazing mothering aunts in my life.

Image result for crockery set flowers and birds

Let me tell you about my Grandma Lil. She was the best cook in the world, well at least I thought so, and that thought was shared by many others.

One day, my Grandma Lil thought she would do a Mitzvah and took some chicken soup over to Mrs. Roseman whose husband was ill. “I don’t feel right accepting a gift from you,” she said to my Grandma Lil. She insisted my Grandma take a few coins.  And Grandma Lil went home and put those coins in a little jar on a shelf in her kitchen.

The next week, my Grandma Lil baked too many rugelach cookies for Shabbat. She took some over to her friend Mrs. Bancroft. She insisted my Grandma take a few coins.  And Grandma Lil went home and put those coins in a little jar on a shelf in her kitchen.

The following week, Mrs. Barnett came to visit. “My daughter is getting married. Would you make her a beautiful wedding cake?  I will pay you for your ingredients and time.” My Grandma Lil was chuffed. Grandma Lil put those coins in that little jar on her shelf in the kitchen.

As time went by more and more people came to my Grandma Lil and asked her to bake and cook her delicious foods for them. It helped them out in their busy lives because they did not always have time to make something home-made. Didn’t I tell you that she was the best cook in the world? And those coins they paid her would go straight into what was now a big jar on her kitchen shelf.

One day my brother and I asked – “Grandma, what are you saving all the coins for on the shelf?”

“I am going to buy a whole new set of dishes for Rosh HaShanah,” she told us. “I’ve seen a set, a beautiful set of dishes, with painted rims filled with flowers and birds, just right for the holiday that celebrates the world’s creation. They remind me of the dishes my mother used in England to celebrate the holidays when I was a child”

The money in Grandman Lil’s large jar continued to grow and grow. When it was almost full, she counted the coins out carefully… even the pennies. She had $360, ten-fold double-chai, just enough for the set of beautiful dishes she had seen at the department store downtown, the with painted rims filled with flowers and birds that reminded her of creation and the set her mother had owned in England.

My Grandma Lil put all the money back into the large jar and decided to take the coins down to the bank to swap them out for some notes. Behind the counter was Mr. Davis. “That’s a lot of coins” he said. He adored my Grandma Lil who would often bring home-made lokshen noodles to his house for his wife to put into their soup. “What are you going to do with this $360, Lil?”

And my Grandma Lil told him all about the beautiful dishes she had seen in the Department Store downtown, that reminded her of the set her mother had in England. Just perfect with painted rims filled with flowers and birds, just right for the Rosh Hashanah holiday that celebrates the creation of the world.

The crisp dollar notes in her hand, on the following day, she set out for town to make her big purchase at the Department Store.

But when she got to the store…. there was not a single dish with the painted rims filled with flowers and birds to be found. You cannot imagine how sad my Grandma Lil was. She had been saving so, so long for these special dishes. And that Rosh Hashanah she was so looking forward to setting her table with those plates and cups and saucers.

“I don’t have new dishes, but I suppose I can fill my old dishes with the foods that everybody loves, and it will still be an amazing Rosh Hashanah. Perhaps no one will notice that the dishes are not the new ones if they are tasting my chocolate babka and honey cookies.” And with a sigh of resignation, my Grandma Lil made her way home.

As she came up her street she saw all these cars. “Someone must be having a party, she thought. And then when she entered her house – she saw that my brother and I and my Mum and Dad were there. Mr Davis with Mrs Davis. Mrs Barnett and her newly married daughter and their whole family, Mrs. Bancroft and Mrs. Roseman, and so many others. “Wow, I am the one having a party…” she exclaimed. And then she noticed. Every single one of us was carefully holding a dish, a cup or a saucer, a plate or a bowl.  Each dish was decorated with painted rims filled with flowers and birds, just right for the holiday that celebrates the world’s creation, the festival that marks the beginning of creation.

“Surprise!” we shouted. “Thank you!” we said.

As everyone all at once shared with my Grandma Lil how magnificent her cooking was, what it meant for our families, and how it helped make our celebrations and sad times and gatherings so wonderful. “Thank you, thank you, thank you,”– “Thank you for your food that so often has brought us all together.”

You know what my Grandma Lil did next?

She went into her kitchen and she began to cook. She invited all her friends and acquaintances to come back and join her on Rosh Hashanah eve for fancy breads and pickles and brisket and fruits and all the wonders that she created. She cooked the recipes she recalled that her Mum had made in England long ago. And she plated it all on those dishes with birds and flowers on the rim, which reminded her of creation and Rosh Hashanah’s past with her family.

What a sweet Rosh HaShanah that was – eating Grandma Lil’s food,  the best food in the world, on those plates with birds and flowers on their rims, that reminded us all of God’s creation on Rosh HaShanah, with the community brought together around Grandma Lil’s cooking.

 

Inspired by the story Grandma Roses Magic by Linda Elovitz Marshall

 

Open the Door: Towards the Future

Image result for mezuzah

A true story. Sort of.

Grandpa Solomon put up the Mezuzah hanging it straight up-and-down.

“Look Jacob. See how straight I place the Mezuzah.

At Passover, we remember how in Egypt when we painted blood on the doorposts of our house God guarded us from the angel of death. The Mezuzah reminds us of that night.

Have I told you the story about a king who sent a pearl to a rabbi and and asks for a present of equal value in return? The rabbi sent him a mezuzah but the King was angry. He felt that a Mezuzah could be purchased by anyone. So, he wrote an angry letter to Rav.

The rabbi wrote back to the King: You sent a pearl. Now I require guards at my house. I sent you a Mezuzah. Surely that is more valuable? The Mezuzah guards your house!”

“This Mezuzah” said Grandpa Solomon, “guards our house!”

“Grandpa really? A box on the doorpost guarding us from harm? Do you believe that?” said Jacob.

His grandson always seemed to question everything.

“Ah little one, now in real life you disagree with me! I dream about you disagreeing with me! We have traditions little one. Ours are not to change the traditions.”

“But what if they don’t make sense? What if they don’t mean something to me? countered Jacob.

“Shush! Jacob. It is tradition!”

Jacob grew up to be a great scholar whose teachings were so beautiful that they touched people’s hearts. He was always looking for meaning and a way to love God.

One day he was putting up the Mezuzah with his daughter Fleur.

“Look Fleur, see how I place the Mezuzah on the door lying flat.”

“Why Papa? Everybody else places the Mezuzah up and down! Why do you need to be creative? Why do you lay it down?”

“Little Fleur. You ask such good questions.

When we carried the Ark in the desert we placed the Ten Commandments and the teachings flat on the bottom of the Ark.  That way they could not fall as we carried them around the wilderness.

I love putting up the Mezuzah this way. It makes sense to me. It shows how much we love God and God’s teachings. We give the Mezuzah a kiss each time to remind us how much we love Torah.”

“But Papa, everybody else hangs their Mezuzah up and down. Why do we….”

“Shush, Fleur. We must play with Judaism so it makes sense to us. It should be beautiful.”

Fleur grew up. She and her children and their children’s children loved being Jewish because Jacob had taught them creativity beauty. To honor her father, she hung the Mezuzah flat  to remind them of the love of God’s teachings.

Others in their family followed the tradition of Grandfather Solomon. Tradition! They honored the idea that God guarded their door.

Who do you think was right?

What is more important?

Tradition?

Creativity and a a love for Judaism?

The members of Solomon, Jacob and Fleur’s family followed different customs down the generations.

One hundred and fifty years later they took they went to a Rabbi from outside their family and asked: Which practice is better? Should the Mezuzah be up and down – guarding tradition? Should the Mezuzah be flat – displaying creativity and love?

The Rabbi came up with a great solution.

Both ideas were right!

He suggested that we place the Mezuzah slanted, pointing forwards into the room. Rooted in tradition but pointed to creativity and love.

That way the people could choose, Sometimes, they could see the Mezuzah as upright, honoring the tradition. Sometimes they could see the Mezuzah as lying down, reminding them to be creative to find ways to feel their love of God and God’s love for them. Sometimes they could see both as important.

The Mezuzah teaches us that we can choose.

We need both tradition and creativity that expresses our love for being Jewish to be true.

Let us say a blessing. A blessing for affixing the Mezuzot of our lives on a slant. Rooted in tradition. Searching for meaning. Searching for love.  Towards the future.

Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, asher qideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu liqboa’ mezuzah.

We bless You, Adonai our God, Channeler of Universes, who gives us awareness of holiness through Mitzvot and directs us to affix a mezuzah.

Note for our adults in the room.

I began by telling you that this is a sorta true story. The people of this story were real people in Jewish history and rabbinic texts. RaSHI, Rabbenu Tam, Fleur de Lis Kolonymos, the Tur. The argument is a real Jewish argument.

If you want to know the emet, the truth, the multiples sources, the midrash, and more behind this tale… feel free to come and study it with me! An open invite through the door of Jewish learning!

 

 

 

 

Let’s open the door with a story.

(open the door)

A true story.

Sort of.

 

Grandpa Shlomo[1] placed the Mezuzah on the door vertically.

“Look Yaakov,[2]  see how straight I place the Mezuzah.

Grandpa put on his rabbi-yalmuke. After all Reb Shlomo bar Yitzchak was known for his teachings. Everybody read RASHI. “The Mezuzah, little Yaakov, represents the blood of the lamb smeared by our ancestors on that night when they stood between the doorway of slavery and the doorway of freedom. God guarded us from the Angel of Death as we went forth from Egypt.

The Mezuzah continues to guard all of us who put it on the doorpost. It stands upright. It reminds us that the God up in heaven, protects us here down on earth.

Once king of Parthia once sent a pearl to Rav and asks for something of equal value in return. Rav sent him a mezuzah but the King was not pleased with this strange gift. He felt that a Mezuzah could be purchased by anyone. It could not be of equal value.So he wrote an angry letter to Rav.

Rav writes back to the King that the pearl he sent requires him to set up protection at his house at great expense. But the Mezuzah he gifted the King, is actually a more valuable treasure, as it will offer protection to the King when he is at home.”[3]

Shlomo felt especially proud that he could tell a midrashic story his grandson Yaakov would understand and remember…. “The mezuzah, my Yaakov, guards us from harm.”

“Grandpa really? A box on the doorpost guarding us from harm? Do you believe that?” said little Yaakov.

His grandson always seemed to question everything.

“Ah little one, now in real life you disagree with me! In my dreams, I held you as a baby and you touched the Tefillin on my head and I saw that in the future you would disagree with me about the order in which we place passages in the boxes on the Tefillin.[4] We have traditions little one. Ours are not to change the traditions.”

“But what if they don’t make sense? What if they don’t mean something to me or to my generation? Shouldn’t we make them meaningful?” countered Yaakov. “Are we to be guards, standing firm in a tradition that does not mean anything, resistant to change?”

“Shush! Yaakov. It is tradition!”[5]

Yaakov grew up to become a great scholar like his grandfather Shlomo. Like his mother Yocheved, his father Meir[6] and his brother Shmuel[7]. He was called Rabbeinu Tam by those who knew him. Rabbeinu Tam meaning “our straightforward teacher” because his teachings touched the heart of those in his generation. His reputation spread far and wide.

Once, Rabbeinu Tam, also known as Papa Yaakov, was standing outside the door of his house with his daughter Fleur de lis.[8]

“Look Fleur, see how I place the Mezuzah on the door horizontally.”

“Why Papa? Everybody else places the Mezuzah vertically! Why do you do we do it differently?”

“Little Fleur. You ask such good questions. Fleur de lis, in the days of the Temple in Jerusalem, we showed our love of God, by laying God’s teachings flat in the Ark, the Torah scrolls and the Ten Commandments. Flat to keep them safe, so they were less likely to fall or be harmed. When we affix the Mezuzah horizontally on our doors, we remind ourselves of our love of God’s teachings in the Temple, how much we cared for them, and the preciousness of God’s teachings in our lives. As you enter the door, give it a kiss each time to show your love of God and God’s teaching.”[9]

“Why Papa, why do you always need to be Jewish differently?”

“Not differently, little Fleur, we need to make being Jewish meaningful. The horizontal Mezuzah teaches us about God’s love for us and our love for God. Isn’t that a beautiful thought?”

“Yes Papa, it is beautiful like your poems that everyone recites, but what about tradition? Everybody else says that we are changing Judaism!”

“Shush, little Fleur. It is important for Judaism to make sense and mean something.”

Fleur grew up. She and her children and their children’s children loved being Jewish. And they always looked for meaning in their practice. They affixed the Mezuzah horizontal for love, as Fleur’s Papa had taught.

Others in their family felt that the rules of tradition came first. Like their father and grandfather and great grandfather RaSHI, they affixed the Mezuzah vertically to remind that God is the guardian of our door. They’d always done it that way. Without rules, without boundaries, Judaism would not be the same.

Who do you think was right? Is the tradition more important than touching the heart? Is touching the heart more important than the tradition?

  • What is more important? (Some examples… if you need to draw them out)
  • Keeping the rules of Shabbat or finding things that feel Shabbastik to you?
  • Eating Kosher or being aware that eating is holy?
  • “MiSinai melodies” that remind us of Jewish history or contemporary tunes that you identify with?
  • Reading Hebrew or praying in a language that you understand?
  • Reading the Haggadah or making the story your own?

 

A hundred and fifty years later, Rabbi Jacob ben Asher also known as The Tur, asked the same question. Some people were hanging their Mezuzot vertically. Some people were hanging their Mezuzot horizontally. Is the tradition more important than touching the heart? Is touching the heart more important than tradition?

Which will open the door to our Jewish continuity?

He could not decide… the tradition gave Judaism roots and authenticity. The creativity and touching the heart allowed Judaism to speak emotionally.

So the Tur split the difference. He wrote in his book that we should place the Mezuzah on our doorpost slanted, pointing forwards into the room.[10]

Our Jewish continuity always stands at that place. The Mezuzah hangs on our doorway between tradition and meaning. We incorporate tradition for roots and authenticity. We search for heart-soul connection for Judaism to have a  meaningful future.

Let us say a blessing. A blessing for affixing the Mezuzot of our lives on a slant. Rooted in tradition. Searching for meaning. Towards the future.

Barukh Atah Adonai Eloheinu Melekh ha’olam, asher qideshanu bemitzvotav vetzivanu liqboa’ mezuzah.

We bless You, Adonai our God, Channeler of Universes, who gives us awareness of holiness through Mitzvot and directs us to affix a mezuzah.

[1] The first name of Reb Shlomo bar Yitzchak (RaSHI) who ruled that the Mezuzah should be applied to the doorpost vertically.

[2] The first name of Rashi’s grandson, Rabbenu Tam, son of Rashi’s daughter Yocheved.

[3] Sefer Haagadah (check reference

[4] Traditional legend

[5] This tradition is according to the opinion of Rashi, Maimonides and the Shulchan Aruch. It is still the custom among Sephardic Jews to hang the Mezuzah vertically.

[6] Meir ben Shmuel

[7] Shmuel ben Meir (Rashbam), 15 years his senior.  His other borthes were Isaac (Rivam) and Solomon the Grammarian)

[8] The children of Rabbenu Tam were: Yitzhak TzarfatiShlomo TzarfatiMoshe TzarfatiFleur de lis Klonymos, of Falaise and Yosef Kalonymus-Tzarfati. You know I picked the daughter because of her gender! We need to write women back into history.

[9] The origins of the custom of kissing the Mezuzah are obscure. It may have been introduced much later by the Arizal. It is custom recommended by some rabbis and vilified by others. I have taken the liberty here of attributing it to Rabbeinu Tam.

[10] Arbaah Turim, Yoreh Deah, 289

Crowns and a Small Aleph

Vayikra

It is not just the stories and laws and words of the Torah that have meaning. We are taught that each-and-every letter, each crown or tagin on the letter, of the Torah is significant.

“Rabbi Yehuda, quoting Rav, said: `When Moses ascended to receive the Torah he found God sitting and tying crowns to the letters. He asked, “Master of the Universe, for whom are You delaying the Torah’s granting on Mount Sinai by adding these crowns?” God replied: “A person who will appear a few generations from now and who will be called Akiva, son of Joseph. He will explain each-and-every crown on these letters and will generate mountains of laws from them.”

Moses said: “Master of the universe, please let me see him.” God answered: “Walk backward.” Moses went and sat in the eighth row of benches in Rabbi Akiva’s academy. He could not understand what the others were saying. He felt weak due to his sadness over not understanding anything. When Rabbi Akiva reached an item Rabbi Akiva’s students asked their teacher: “Rabbi, how did you reach that conclusion?” He answered: “The source of my statement is that Moses received this law at Mount Sinai and passed it on to succeeding generations.”

Moses felt relieved because he heard Rabbi Akiva citing him.

Moses reappeared before God and said, “Master of the Universe, if you have such an individual as Akiva, why are you giving the Torah to me?” God retorted: “Silence! That is my decision.”

Tomorrow we begin the portion Vayiqra.

Generations have commented on the first word which ends with a miniature Aleph in the scroll. Why the small Aleph? There are countless explanations.

One explanation is that in calling out to us, God had to contain God’s voice to a silent tiny letter. By doing so, this would allow room for nature and humans to operate in the universe.

Generations later…

“When Rabbi Akiva, son of Joseph, ascended to the heavens, and he found God sitting by the Torah, painstakingly pouring over its letters. Drawing close Rabbi Akiva noticed that God was carefully erasing the Holy Name in the text.

He asked, “Master of the Universe, what are You doing? Isn’t it one of the greatest profanities to erase Your name?” God replied: “Sometimes it is necessary for Me to Tzimtzum/withdraw my name.” Akiva asked: “Master of the Universe, you have already done so in the tiny aleph at the beginning of Vayiqra. What good can come of you withdrawing your name even more so?

God answered, “Walk backward.” Akiva walked backwards and find himself in a dark room, a huge screen on a wall, the moving light and sound like nothing he had seen before. In front of him were people holding hands crying tears of joy.

The talking picture fascinated him. And he sat down to watch what they were witnessing.

He watched the stories unfold on the screen. He understood not as much as he liked and the situations were confusing.

Israeli Jews sitting with Moslem Palestinians negotiating peace. People of races and colors reaching out to assist each other. Republicans shaking hands with Democrats about policy they could work on together. Leaders of countries dealing with each other fairly and with transparency.

Akiba heard the word “messianic” being uttered by the people watching the moving picture – the “Mashiach” was something he well understood. He too alongside the people in the room began to cry tears of joy. He felt relieved that the old age prophecy might come true – a time of peace and wholeness ahead.

Rabbi Akiva reappeared before God and said: “Master of the Universe, with the time of the Messiah nigh, You choose to erase Your name?

God retorted: “Silence! For the sake of peace it is my decision.”

Vayiqra. And God called out to Moses. Ending in the miniature Aleph. A small Aleph representing tzimtzum withdrawing Godself. Making room for humanity to operate in the universe.

Too much ideology and too many ideologues hear a God that calls out and embodies and emboldens their positions. They expand the small Aleph of Tzimtzum replacing it with a huge letter of enormous proportions. God is made so big by their stance and certitude that God gets in the way.

Rabbi Akiva reappeared before God and said: “Master of the Universe, with the time of the Messiah nigh, You choose to erase Your name?

God retorted: “Silence! For the sake of peace it is my decision.”

 

 

 

Come Forth O Bride: A CAMP STORY

IN HONOR OF JO-ELLEN UNGER

Like an apparition, she came walking down the dirt road. A young woman making her way to a camp-site on a late Friday afternoon. Dressed in jeans and a colored, ragged t-shirt, her hair in loose curls. She stopped at Security.

The young man and woman in the security box by the gate asked “Who are you?” And she smiled.

With that smile a feeling of peace, of warmth, of love enveloped them both. It was inevitable… they just let her on by. As she passed, they suddenly realized what they had done.

She had entered the camp without being stopped. They pulled out their walky-talkies to let the office know.

“We think we let a stranger into camp.”

The office staff sat up when they heard the message. A stranger! They ran into the Camp Director’s office to warn her but before they could get the words out of their mouths… the young woman entered the office.

“Will you show me around?” she said with a smile. With that smile a feeling of peace, of warmth, of love enveloped them. The Camp Director stepped forth. “I will show you around myself,” she said.

The woman smiled and nodded in agreement.

They started on their way around the dirt roads of the campsite. The passed the camper’s cabins. Clattering sounds of cleaning up and showers, melodic sounds of readings being practiced, and prayers being chanted could be heard inside the thin walls. “This is where our campers live” said the Camp Director.

The woman laughed with joy. It seemed to the Camp Director that the woman’s clothes became less ragged than she first remembered seeing them. But perhaps that was just her imagination?

The Camp Director and the woman kept walking. As they passed the Art Room, counselors and campers came forth with decorations for the Shabbat table. Hand-made flowers and beautiful banners. “These will decorate our Shabbat tables” the Camp Director said.

The woman looked so happy. It seemed to the Camp Director that the woman had walked in wearing jeans and a colored t-shirt. But wait! The shirt was now white. Perhaps she just did not remember well?

The Camp Director and woman kept walking. The maintenance crew were putting away their tools and the kitchen staff were returning to the Dining Room readying to serve the Shabbat meal. The glorious smells of which wafted down the hills. “Shabbat is almost here,” the Camp Director said.

The woman smiled. Her shirt and jeans a white color. “I must be seeing things, maybe the light turned them from blue to white,” the Camp Director thought.

The Camp Director and woman kept walking. They passed some huts by the lake. There, song leaders were practicing Shabbat melodies for a song session. As they sang the words “Shabbat Shalom.” The woman did a little dance and twirl.

The Camp Director thought, “I don’t recall our guest having her hair braided like a crown, full of flowers.”

The Camp Director said hospitably: “Come join us for a Shabbat Walk. We meet at the Office and walk through the camp. Each Cabin comes to join us on the trail till the whole camp is together. You will stay for Shabbat Services?” The woman laughed and nodded yes.

The Camp Director looked more closely now. Her clothing was made of fine cloth and lace. Why hadn’t she noticed that detail before?

The counselors and song leaders were standing by the office. The song leaders started their melody and the group began their walk through the camp. As they walked, campers, counsellors and camp employees emerged freshly cleaned and sweetly dressed with their best clothes.

They sang Shabbat Songs as they paraded through the camp: Hiney Mah Tov. More campers joined from more cabins… Bim Bam… and more campers came out the door… Niggunim… na, na, na… until a stream of singing, dancing, laughing folk were winding their way to the outdoor chapel by the lake.

They took their seats singing songs of rejoicing.  Their voices carrying sweetly and far in the late afternoon air.

Lecha Dodi likrat Kallah, Pnei Shabbat N’Kabalah /Go forth my love to meet the bride, Shabbat’s reception has arrived, they sang.

Following them all at the rear was the Camp Director and their guest. From the rear they could see the campers singing as one. They could see the campers celebrating as one.

As they got to the final words of their song

Boi V’Shalom. Aterret Ba’alah/ Come forth, in peace the husband’s pride.

The campers stood and turned to the chapel entrance.

Eyes transfixed on the woman at the side of the Camp Director.

A young woman wearing a white dress, braided hair like a crown adorned with flowers… a feeling of happiness and joy flowing forth from her being. When she smiled a feeling of peace, of warmth, of love enveloped them all.

It was at that instant they all knew. They just knew. The bride had arrived.

Boi Kallah. Boi Kallah/ Come forth, O Bride. Come forth O Bride.

She ascended the chapel’s steps, a Shabbat Queen floating down the aisle.

They heard sung so sweetly in their inner ears a Shabbat Shalom.

They just knew the bride had come. Joyful, happy gratified, into the midst of the tribe.

Then with a communal blink she disappeared as mysteriously as she had entered.

Maybe she was a desire. Maybe a figment of their imagination? Maybe she was real? Maybe she had other camps, in other time zones to visit? Maybe she had other synagogues to enter? Maybe, maybe…  who knows.

They knew they could debate this. But why?

Lecha Dodi… go forth my love…

All they needed to do was to pray and celebrate for the rest of Shabbat.

 

An Old Story Re-newed/Re-Jewed for Halloween: The Rabbi Who Was Turned into a Werewolf

(This story has been adapted, shortened, and changed for re-telling. The original is from the Mayse-Bukh a collection of Yiddish folk tales published in 1602. A translation of the original story can be found in Joachim Neugroschel’s “Great Tales of Jewish Occult and Fantasy: The Dybbuk and 30 Other Classic Stories”.)

A true story:

Once a rabbi, as wise as he was rich, ran a Yeshiva attended by a hundred students. The rabbi performed many mitzvehs –  not only keeping Shabbes, holy days and kashrus. He paid for his Yeshiva student’s education and he gave tzedakah often to the poor. He was a righteous man.

His wife on the other hand, was not so good. She did not like all the poor students eating their food or giving money to those in need.

Oy! The day came when this rabbi lost all his wealth.

Unable to help his students or give tzedakah he became depressed. Perhaps he had committed some sin for God to deal with him this way?

Unable to help his students or give tzedakah he became embarrassed. So the rabbi came up with a plan to leave town, so no one would know of his shame.

Gathering his students together, the rabbi decided to tell them of his secret, that he was now poor and he felt the need to run away. “Who knows,” he told them, perhaps one day God will make me rich again and I can keep you all in a fine manner?”

The students listened to the rabbi but did not want to leave him. “Rabbi, wherever you go we will go,” they said. “And wherever you lodge we will lodge, what is ours is yours. We will get by.”

So the rabbi left town with his Yeshivah students. Now when the poor people of the town realized that the rabbi and his students had gone, they wondered: where would their next meal come from? But because he was a famous man of learning and great piety, no one was surprised that the rabbi had left home. They assumed he was travelling to some other Yeshiva to teach and study for a while.

The rabbi and his students roamed for years, and over time their clothes became tattered and their money ran out. They became beggars, people closed doors in their faces when they asked for help. Folk refused  to give vagabonds food and shelter.

The students, as much as they loved their rabbi and did not want to leave him, finally came to him and said: “Perhaps it is time for us to go home to our parents. Being this poor is really hard.”

The rabbi listened to them and suggested that they remain with him at least till Shabbes… for who knows, maybe God would create some miracle that would keep them together?

The students agreed.

That night as they camped in the forest, the rabbi went to a spring to wash his hands. He sighted a weasel dashing past with a golden ring in its mouth which it dropped into the spring when it drank. The rabbi bent down and picked up the golden ring, looked at it closely, and being wise and learned realized that it was engraved with a magic spell. He wondered about its magic and decided to make a wish. He wished for a purse filled with money… and avarah k’davar, it appeared before him!

The rabbi returned to his students with a smile and a cheer. “My friends, it occurs to me that a wealthy friend of mine lives not so far away from here. Let us visit him in the next town and perhaps he will loan us money.” The rabbi did not say a word to his students of the ring or his new fortune because he feared that one of them might take it.

At the next town, the rabbi bought all his students new clothes and fed them a fine meal. They thought nothing of their change in luck, thinking that the rabbi’s friend had loaned him some money. As they travelled through the countryside their comforts only increased, including a coach fit for a prince on which to ride. The rabbi announced he would pay each student back for all their loyalty and support as now it was time to go home.

The students, offered thanks for the loan from the rabbi’s friend and returned home to their Yeshiva with the rabbi.

They came back to find the townsfolk miserable and poor. But when the town saw the rabbi and the students had returned, shouts of joy filled the air. Such a warm welcome! And the rabbi began to act as he always had with generosity to all, tzedakah, mitzvehs and supporting students and much learning.

The rabbi’s wife however soon became suspicious. Where had all their fortune come from? The rabbi had left the town poor and come back wealthier than before. The rabbi spoke to her of God’s blessings, but she refused to believe that such fortune could “just happen”.

Eventually with much pushing, nagging, and cajoling, her husband told her the secret of the magic ring. But as soon as she knew the real source of their wealth, the rabbi’s wife began to plot…

She asked to see the ring, and when the rabbi refused, she cried out that he did not love her anymore.  When he still did not relent, so she put a flea in his ear till he gave her the ring to look at.

As soon as the ring was in her hand the rabbi’s wife made a wish: “I wish that God would turn my husband into a werewolf and let him run around in the forest with the wild beasts.”

That is how the rabbi became a werewolf running around deep in the woods.

He began to eat people in the forest. He attacked intruders. Everybody throughout the land was terrified to go there.

The townsfolk wondered where there rabbi had gone but thought as before, that perhaps he had gone traveling to study and teach insome far off Yeshiva. The town became miserable once more in the rabbi’s absence. The poor became poorer, and there was no-one to feed and house the students of Torah. But the rabbi’s wife, she seemed to get richer and richer, as she got herself everything she wanted.

The rabbi in the shape of a werewolf continued to invoke terror in everyone’s hearts, for there is no animal stronger than a werewolf. No one was willing to kill the werewolf who was stronger than iron and as smart as a human being.

Hearing this, the king of the land decided that the fear of the werewolf must end. He offered a reward of his daughter’s hand in marriage for one that could catch this terrifying creature. But no-one could catch the werewolf, despite the traps and plots and plans they had.

It just so happened, that a young man lived in the woods. He lived so isolated that he had not heard of the panic of the werewolf or the reward for the king’s daughter’s hand. In fact, he had made friends with the werewolf, tamed him and made him his companion. He fed the werewolf food. He talked to him like a pet. He loved to watch the werewolf’s tail wag with joy.

When the news finally reached the young man about the werewolf threat and the King’s daughter’s hand, he placed a rope around the werewolf’s neck and brought him to the palace.

As you can imagine, the king was terrified when the young man and the werewolf entered the palace because he had heard how the werewolf would rip people to shreds. But the young man assured him that the werewolf would harm nobody unless they tried to harm the creature.The young man was given the king’s daughter in marriage and he continued to look after the werewolf who was loyal to his master. When the king died, the young man and the king’s daughter ruled the land.

On a snowy winter’s day the new king, his companions, and the werewolf went out hunting. The werewolf seemed happy to be back in the woods, tail wagging he ran ahead, and in a clearing made some marks in the snow, marks that clearly were writing. The new king thought a miracle had been wrought, that his werewolf could write so clearly in the snow. It then occurred to him that perhaps his werewolf companion might be a bewitched human as such a thing had been known to have happened in the past.

One of the new king’s companions recognized the script as Hebrew and read the letter the werewolf wrote in the snow:

“Sire, remember our friendship. I could have overpowered you many times but I did not. I am, in fact, a human and my wife put a spell on me with a wishing ring. If I do not get the ring back very soon I will be a werewolf till the end of my days. I beg of you, please remember how loyal I have been and go to my wife and get this ring.”

The werewolf concluded his letter with a picture of the wishing ring he sought.

The new king immediately wanted to help his werewolf friend. He and his servants dressed as merchants and rode to the town the werewolf had directed them too. They pretended as merchants that they loved to buy old rings and jewelry. That nothing would be too expensive. The townsfolk told him they were poor, and the only person with such merchandise to sell was the rabbi’s wife who had many jewels and rings.

The townsfolk bought the disguised new king to the rabbi’s wife, who took out her many ribbons of rings and jewels tied together for the merchant to inspect, greedy at the prospect of even more money. There, amidst many rings, just as the werewolf had drawn, was the wishing ring.

The new king disguised as a merchant, looked at all the rings carefully, and thought a wish – that the wishing-ring be returned to his palace, and thus he stole the ring from under the rabbi’s wife’s very eyes without her knowing. It took her a while before she realized what had happened. Of course, she became miserable and grief stricken.

When the new king returned home he threw a banquet and called for his werewolf friend. The werewolf came in overjoyed to see his master, hopeful to receive his ring, his tail wagging and wagging. The new king took the ring from his bag and placed it by the werewolf’s paw. Had the new king known the true power of the ring he may not have given it up so readily.

Avarah K’Davar. The werewolf disappeared. And a naked man stood before them.

The new king called for clothes and then the naked man, the rabbi,  asked permission to return to his home for he had been gone for three to four years. The new king knowing how loyal the werewolf had been gave consent. The new king wanted to bestow gifts upon his werewolf rabbi friend, but the rabbi replied he had much wealth, which the new king had already witnessed at his home. All he needed was his ring. Of course if the new king had known the true secret of the ring, he might not have let the rabbi return home with it so easily.

The rabbi began his journey home, and on the way made a wish on his ring: “I wish that my wife, damn her soul, would turn into a donkey in my stable.”

When the rabbi returned home he received a hearty welcome from his students and the poor town folks, but alas, his wife was nowhere to be found. The rabbi looked confused about this fact but said, “Maybe she will return in the end.” All the while knowing his wife was now a donkey in his stable.

The rabbi returned to his life of deeds of tzedakah, supporting his students, helping the poor and doing many kind acts and mitzvehs. One Shabbes he announced that he would like to share his wealth even more with the community, and that he would build a beautiful shul. He gave a donkey from his own stable to the builders to haul the bricks. Of course that donkey was his wife!

The workmen worked the donkey hard. And the townsfolk always wondered where the rabbi’s wife had disappeared too?

When the shul was finally built, the rabbi provided a huge banquet, inviting the towns folk, his students and his wife’s relatives and telling them this improbable story of his life. Of course, they thought it was just a story.

Not long after that the rabbi passed away leaving his wealth to his children. The wishing-ring had vanished. And his wife remained a donkey as long as she lived.