Out of the Rabbi's Mind

The Real Knaidlach 

(Or so they were called in my family. Others call them Matzah Kleis – matzah matzah balls – whatever you call them: they are delicious!)

I swore I was going to break the mold this year. I wasn’t gonna  make and roll them. But it is not Pesach until I have made my grandmother’s knaidlach (matzah balls) from scratch. Soaked matzah, onion, celery, ginger, parsley, cinnamon, salt, pepper, egg and a little meal oh my! Vegetarian broth on the 2 hour boil. I think it’s lunch. 

 

Ingredients to taste (as all good old recipes are)

  •  6 matzah soaked 2-12 hours
  • A little onion chopped fine
  • 1 stick celery chopped fine
  • Few sprigs parsley finely chopped
  • Shake of cinnamon 
  • Shake of ginger 
  • Salt
  • Pepper
  • 2 large eggs
  • Superfine (cake) matzah meal 
  • Oil

Method to feel (Yep. Shown the feel by Grandma and Mum as a child and I just know when they are right).

Soak Matzah in water in a bowl.

Place celery and onion in pan and brown in oil. Drain very well.

Strain and squeeze matzah in a fine mesh colander. Place in bowl. Add egg, cinnamon, ginger, salt, pepper, parsley and sauté mixture.

Stir in matzah meal till right consistency is attained for rolling balls.

Roll in matzah meal and stand in tray in fridge.

Cook in soup for 10-20 minutes.

Can be pre-boiled, frozen or not, and reheated in soup.

  

  

The Haggadah as Metaphor

Haggadah 14th Century

As Passover approaches, our minds turn to the Haggadah, the book of “retelling” our people’s mythical history, our experience of when we were slaves in Egypt. The Haggadah tells of our enslavement 400 years from the time of Joseph, the injustices that happened to us in servitude to Pharaoh, and of the miraculous events that lead to our liberation from bondage.

The traditional Haggadah tells not just the biblical story of m’avdut l’cherut, from slavery to freedom, but uses the bible story as a template for the many times in our history when we were enslaved and worked towards independence.

Have you ever wondered why the story of five rabbis holding a Seder in the town of B’nai B’rak appears in the Haggadah? The legend tells us that the rabbi’s Seder went on all night until their students interrupted the Seder with a call to morning prayers. Tradition has come to teach us that these rabbis were not discussing Egyptian slavery but their own struggle against the Roman oppression.

Have you ever wondered why we sing a song about a goat that our father bought for two Zuzim, and all the unfortunate circumstances which occurred to everything that comes into contact with that goat? Chad Gadya, the one goat is a metaphor for those who are oppressed who will be ultimately redeemed by the Holy One.

Szyk Haggadah

The Haggadah is certainly foremost a Jewish story with a particularistic paradigm. It speaks to the creation of our identity as Jews. But it is also a universalistic story that makes us aware that we are part of humanity. The Haggadah is symbolically the retelling of the story of anyone and everyone who is oppressed, enslaved, and who longs for freedom. Hence the tradition of including readings in the Haggadah or writing whole Haggadot  that speak of specific  injustices – topics such as environment, Holocaust Darfur, African American oppression, LGBTQ rights and so much more – have found their way into our Pesach Seder for contemplation.

In its’ particularism and universalism the Haggadah is a metaphor for our own lives. Bottom line, our identity should be a Jewish identity. We form our own and our children’s identities through a Jewish lens. That does not make us impervious or indifferent to that which is not Jewish. The presence of other religions and secular society is part of our reality. However our approach to that which is not Jewish should be appreciated by us through our Jewish paradigm.

We are Jews visiting the Christmas celebration of others. We are Jews lighting candles on the side lines of our child’s Friday night soccer game. We are Jews eating Pesachdik at our families’ Easter tables. We are Jews who seek to understand and learn from Buddhist meditation. We are Jews who are involved in social causes because our tradition demands that we are God’s partners in Tikkun Olam, world repair.

Like the Haggadah which is a uniquely Jewish story that allows for the embrace and understanding of various other narratives within its context, Judaism should be and must be our basic paradigm of our personal narratives in the midst of our modern lives.

Passover is the time of our retelling the tale of freedom and formation as a Jewish people. Let it be a time also to contemplate how Judaism underlies the telling of your own life.

Shift and Consolidation: Thoughts on the Torah Portions Mishpatim and Terumah

Prior to returning to congregational life, I spent 5  years working for the Union for Reform Judaism. When I would go out and speak to congregations we had a common catch phrase that we would use often. A phrase with my Australian accent, but in fact, with any accent, you would have to say very carefully.

That phrase was: SHIFT HAPPENS. One thing we know about congregations, schools, institutions and events in our own lives, is that SHIFT HAPPENS. Shift is one of the few constants in our lives along with… well… death. And while shift is necessary for invigoration, renewal, innovation, it can also be incredibly disconcerting. SHIFT HAPPENS.

Over the last two weeks in the ever-moving stories of our Torah, the Israelites journey from Mitzrayim, narrow places – through the birth canal of the split Red Sea – into the openness of the Midbar, wilderness. Their lives shift immensely. All at once they crave boundaries, vision and stability. Quite a tall order! In Mishpatim, the boundaries begin as 53 laws are outlined. But these laws only inspire the need or want for even greater shift.

So…  At the end of Mishpatim, comes a WOW moment. A visionary moment.  Bring on the shifting sands of the wilderness! The final 9 verses outline a fabulous, fantastical mystical description.

In chapter 24  Moses, accompanied by Aaron and Aaron’s sons Nadab and Abihu and 70 of the Elders, journey up a mountain and there Yiru et Elohei Yisrael behold the God of Israel –  seeing under God’s feet pavement of sapphire like sky for purity.

They eat and drink.

The elders, Aaron and his sons, stay behind on the mountain, as Moses is beckoned by God to journey further.

At God’s behest, Moses enters into a cloud for 6 days and then continues up the mountain to receive the stone tablets, residing on the mountain for 40 days and 40 nights.

Amidst all this, the Israelites stay at the mountain foot, perceiving God as a consuming fire atop the peak.

Here is a mystical vision which teaches us so much about how SHIFT HAPPENS.

Change happens in increments:

  • We have the introduction of Mishpatim, ideas, rules, as inspiration.
  • Then the journey of the leadership up the mountain.
  • An aha moment! When they see God.
  • A celebration of that moment.

Not everyone is in the same place  on this continuum of change:

  • Moses is in the cloud.
  • The future priesthood and Joshua outside the cloud.
  • The people are at the base of the mountain.

The process of change is awe inspiring but also very disconcerting.

Our Torah Portion Mishpatim, leaves us with this very cliff hanger. Spirituality. Awe. Intangibility. Uncertainty. Shift. We wonder where will the journey of change lead? Can we keep up this momentum of spiritual growth as a people? What will the next steps be?

And for that we have to wait for our Torah portion Terumah….

Terumah and the Torah narrative bring us back down to earth.

God tells the Israelite people: Asu Li Mikdash V’Shachanti B’tocham Make Me a sanctuary that I may dwell among them.  We are told what items to bring to build the Mishkan, the Tabernacle.

God’s presence will no longer be “up there” in a vision, but felt concretely in the Mishkan in the middle of the camp. The vision will be given earthly roots and we will be involved in its creation and implementation as we stabilize the vision amidst us.

And so we learn: In the process of SHIFT HAPPENING, it is important that there is a time of consolidation, a time where every one of us gets involved and invested in the vision, when it becomes actualized and present, part of our every day midst, before we can continue through the desert/Midbar into further shifting sands of life.

SHIFT HAPPENS.

Take a moment for reflection and think about change. Change in your work, or your family, your congregation or your life…   How do these lessons and your experiences of SHIFT past relate to your life experience?

  • What was the impetus?
  • How was the vision articulated and realized?
  • What were the increments in establishing that vision?
  • Where were you in the change continuum? Where were others?
  • How was the vision, grounded and consolidated?
  • When was it time for shift to happen again?
  • How might these lessons be applied in your lives next time… SHIFT HAPPENS?

Predicting the Future

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In a few hours when I arrive in Australia my parents will await me in a coffee shop adjacent to the International Arrivals at Melbourne airport, with a “Skinny Flat White” in their hands to greet me off the plane. There will be big hugs. My Mum will ask if I remembered her Dior perfume from Duty Free. My Dad even though he is not allowed to anymore (for health reasons) will ask to wheel my luggage. Then we will walk into a warm summer day, pay the electronic parking ticket and head down the freeway towards their home.

I will notice a year of changes in them (the aging process seems to accelerate year-by-year) and they will point out little changes in the landscape and the city. I will ask after my brother, sister-in-law and nephew and when I am going to see them? Who is joining us for Shabbat dinner and if we have plans yet for “our birthdays”? They will ask if I am hungry after a long flight with constant servings of food and I will say – “not so much”.

There is something very comforting about knowing what our future holds. Not often do we get to predict with accuracy the way that our lives unfold. Excerpts of Alvin Fine’s words which I sometimes read at funerals “life is a journey… a sacred pilgrimage… made stage by stage…” along with the mantra I would often repeat as advice while working for the Union for Reform Judaism: “shift happens” reverberate more often in our lives rather than predictability.

If I was more of a thrill seeker perhaps I would be better at embracing the unknown future. But as in the real world, my emotional world is not terrific on roller coaster rides. I brace myself on the rise holding tight and close my eyes and gasp at the free fall. I am constantly having to remind myself that at the end of the journey there will be a sense of adventure and a realm of experience that will be part of my growth and well being.

When I look back on times of uncertainty past I have always landed on my feet. Trust in God, the ability to be creative and adapt, to do my best in all circumstances, to keep my options open and fluid, have led to a richer landscape of an unpredictable life. I would not change any of it. And I think to myself: if life predictably unfolded and I always knew what the future held, how boring it would be!

But for now, amidst a time of many changes, just for some short moments, I am hankering for predictability and thankful that soon I will arrive at Melbourne Airport. Mum and Dad: bring that “skinny flat white” on!

Getting Out on the Right Side of the Bed

This Thanksgiving weekend I have been thinking a lot about thanks. It is my first Thanksgiving as a US Citizen for which I am enormously thankful after years of visas, green card, peppered with mixed immigration status. I am beyond blessed to have loved long-term friends who moved north around the same time as me, with whom I get to spend Thanksgiving in the Virginia/Maryland/DC area. I have a warm and welcoming community congregational community where I am fortunate enough to be rabbi. I have people around me who make me feel loved, valued and nurtured. Yes, this Thanksgiving weekend I have been thinking a lot about thanks.

However, being grateful for life and blessings as a Jew is not limited to a one-time a year American holiday. Jews don’t limit thankfulness only to a day with laden tables and turkey/tofurky, cranberry sauce and pies. Our tradition would have us every morning, before we rise, begin with a prayer of thanks. It is a prayer said as we lie flat, as our neshema/souls are restored within us from their nightly cleansing in the heavens on high. It is a prayer said laying on our pillows in that sleepy dreamy moment as we awake, as our unconscious gives way to our conscious. It is a prayer said at the beginning of our day, designed to get us out on the right side of the bed.

modeh-ani

There is an importance in the word order. Most translations, like the one above, begin with the word “I”, emphasizing self. However the Hebrew does not put the “I” first. The Hebrew reads: “thankful am I”. Our morning, coming into our own wakefulness, does not begin with a sense of self, but rather a sense of thanks.

What would it take for our one day of American thanks to morph into the Jewish custom of every day thanks? Just a short tiny prayer said under our blankets! That should not be too hard, right?  Imagine how different your day would look if thanks was the first thought upon awakening? Imagine how your life might be transformed if thanks was your set induction into each morning’s existence.

So this American Thanksgiving Holiday, join me in emphasizing thanks in the every day. Vow to always get out on the right side of the bed with the words “Thankful am I…” to see beyond your self to the many blessings in life that abound.

The Limits of our Wills

This week I was able to make some choices. As a newly minted American I could make the choice to vote (finally!). As a voter I could choose between candidates and parties for the House and Senate.

This week we were able to make some choices. We could examine the issues that were important to us and our country – economic recovery, abortion rights, equality, jobs, foreign policy – and help shape the direction our country would take on such issues.

This week we were witness to choices. We could hear the summation of people’s opinions on the political direction of the United States. We were able to watch as different states chose leadership that was Democratic or Republican.

We could let our will and wills be known.

We also learned of the will of one woman’s anticipated choice.

Brittany Maynard, a young woman with an aggressive and terrible form of terminal brain cancer, was an advocate of the death with dignity law. She was very public about her choice to take her own life “when the time seemed right”. Brittany moved her family from California to Oregon, where such a choice was legal. Her story of death and dying has moved many of us. This week, she took medication which ended her life just short of her 30th birthday.[i]

She let her will be known.

Many of us will have varying views on the outcome of the elections as well as Brittany Maynard’s right to die with dignity. What specifically does Judaism have to say about the specific choice of taking one’s own life in the face of an aggressive and terminal disease? Is this permissible?

Let us begin to untangle the web of theological thought:-

Free will exists in Judaism. But it co-exists in tandem with God’s plan. How so? A bit of background:

The Bible understands that the whole of our natural world is ruled by God’s plan. Think about the bible you know: God brings a flood, God hardens Pharaoh’s heart, God decided whether the Israelites will win or lose wars. Within this same system, we can make choices for which we are culpable. Hence the “Thou shalts” and “Thou shalt nots” of the commandments of the Bible.

Rabbi Akiva summarized the paradox with these words: “..everything is forseen [by God], yet humanity has the capacity to choose freely.”[ii] The Medieval Jewish philosopher Hasdai Crescas elaborated that while we have the ability to choose between alternatives, there is an underlying cause to all of existence. [iii] In other words, there is an ultimate plan and destiny. Yet how we traverse the paths and by-ways to the final destination, depends on the choices we as humans make along the way.

This theology of “relative free will” impacts the Jewish view on euthanasia. Several case studies are reiterated in the discussion in Judaism on whether we have the right, or someone has the right, to choose the time of our own death. These case studies provide us a window into some of the thoughts that are hotly debated on the issue.

Story Number One: Rabbi Judah the Prince is dying and is suffering greatly. His rabbinic friends insist on ceaseless prayer which is keeping him artificially alive. His servant woman, noting her master’s suffering, goes up to the roof of the house and throws down a large earthenware jar, the crash interrupting the prayer allowing Rabbi Judah to die.[iv]

This story is used as justification  to withdraw a means that artificially prolongs a life. Similarly we are taught that if the chopping of wood provides a meditational focus that is keeping someone who is near death from dying, or salt on a tongue provides a focus keeping someone alive, these artificial means can be withdrawn.[v]

This story and Jewish tradition operates in agreement with the principle of “relative free will”. It allows free will in removing an impediment to death, but ultimately God is the one who determines the time of death. Death is not a human choice to make. As Maimonides taught:”A dying person is considered to be alive in every respect… whoever touches him is a murderer… whoever closes his eyes as he dies is a murderer…”[vi]

While not completely analogous to Brittany Maynard’s story, the lesson of this case study should be taken into consideration. In Judaism, impediments to death occurring can be removed, but taking a life pro-actively would be forbidden and even classed as murder.

Story Number Two speaks about one who is in great mental and physical agony. It is the story of King Saul on Mount Gilboa. The first King of Israel suffers a defeat at Mount Gilboa at the hands of Israel’s enemy  the Philistines. In conflicting accounts King Saul asks his arms bearer or an Amelekite to kill him. Ultimately, Saul  himself, physically injured, humiliated and defeated falls on his own sword. [vii] In the Amalekite account, King David punishes the Amelekite for the death of Saul.

Tradition teaches in relation to these texts on King Saul’s death, that one may not ask for death if they are in agony. However, if they are to take their life under such circumstances, then that death is to be forgiven.

There is some debate over using this story as general case law. At a reform rabbinic symposium in 1948, Dr. Samuel Atlas suggests that the dilemma using  this tale as precedent, rests on the fact that Saul is a King. Thus, this is in its essence a politically story.[viii] King Saul died by his own sword to prevent a desecration of the divine name in Israel.[ix] Kings are not commoners and are exceptions because of their national status.

So the question arises – can we ascertain a ruling from this story regarding a commoner like Brittany Maynard? How well do these scenarios mesh?

Unlike King Saul, Brittany Maynard did not actually “fall on her own sword.”  She actively chooses her time of death by moving to a state where medications were available for her to “die with dignity”.  Someone provided her with those medications. Both King Saul and Brittany Maynard took their own lives, and the mainstream discussion around the biblical precedent would have us forgive Brittany Maynard like we did King Saul. Like King Saul’s death, Brittany Maynard’s public dyinghas a political agenda. His was the dignity of state. Hers was the dignity of the terminally ill. Are they equivalent? Finally, just as King Saul’s death becomes hotly debated in subsequent Jewish literature, Brittany Maynard’s death is now hotly debated in press and public.

The stories do not quite interconnect, but they both are filled with similar moral dilemmas.

Story Number Three comes from our martyrology . Rabbi Hanina ben Tradyon is wrapped in a Torah scroll and covered with woolen tufts soaked in water.  He is being burned slowly and torturously. His disciples beg him to hasten his own dying by opening his mouth and letting the fire in. He refuses to hasten death since that choice is the preserve of God. When the executioner sees Rabbi Hanina’s piety, he offers to hasten death by removing the wet wool if he, the executioner, is promised ultimate redemption. The Rabbi makes this assurance that the executioner’s soul will be redeemed. The executioner removes the woolen tufts over Rabbi Hanina’s heart, and the rabbi’s soul departs.[x]

In this case the rabbi will not hasten his own painful death even though it is excruciating. In circumstances as excruciating as the painful disease that Brittany Maynard was facing. But easing his death is permitted by someone other than himself.

God’s plan, teaches this story, does not permit us to personally hasten our own death, even underpainful circumstances,  for there is a greater plan beyond our understanding at work here. But if someone else removes impediments to our passing out of compassion, then they are to be forgiven. It seems that our Jewish tradition would have a difficult time with Brittany Maynard’s choice to take her life in her own hands.

These cases are just a window into the complicated literature and debate around euthanasia in Judaism. Many theological questions are asked. Can one take one’s own life? What does quality of life mean? Is quality of life a right? If illness and dying are part of our natural life experience, who are we to hasten life experiences? Who is to say that pain itself is not dignified? Is it ethical to hasten death as a consequence of relieving pain?

There is much back and forth, debate, angst and passion. For these questions are not easy ones to ask or answer. The traditional questions are the ones we still hotly debate today. The old is the new.

Like our forebears and our tradition, we too now engage in the struggle between the tension of free will to act in a world of ultimate destiny. It has resurfaced yet again because of the choice and act of one young woman. It is made real by this current debate on euthanasia.

As we wrestle each personally with the questions that  Brittany Maynard’s death has raised nationally and personally, let us remember that our Judaism has much to teach us on this question. These are not new questions but ancient ones. The past has much to teach us and can inform our present. Let Jewish wisdom be part of our informed choice, enlighten or limit our free will, whatever side of the current discussion we gravitate towards.

[i] http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Brittany_Maynard

[ii] M. Avot 3:15

[iii] David Winston “Free Will” in Arthur A. Cohen and Paul Mendes-Flohr Contemporary Jewish Religious Thought (NY: The Free Press, 1972), p. 273

[iv] Ketubot 104a

[v] Moses Isserles quoted in “Allowing a Terminal Patient to Die”, American Reform Responsa #77.

[vi] Maimonides, Mishneh Torah, Hilkhot Avel, 4:5

[vii] I Samuel 31:3-4 and II Samuel 1:5-11

[viii] “Euthanasia” Responsa 78 in American Reform Responsa

[ix] Sefer Hasidim, Chapter 723

[x] Avodah Zarah 18a

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.