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ב"ה

"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

'You are from a place ... not called Near."

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

‘You are from a place in the East that is not called near’.

These were the words that the Lubavitcher Rebbe told Mr. Abi Kashani when he was introduced by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky as a Jewish community leader from Bangkok.

It seems clear that the Rebbe didn’t want to call a fellow Jew ‘far’.

Hence rather than saying that Mr. Kashani was from the ‘Far East’ the Rebbe reframed it.

‘A place in the East that is not called near’.

Several years after that meeting, Nechama and I had the merit and privilege to be appointed the Rebbe’s Shluchim to Thailand.

As it seems to me, the Rebbe, in that one statement ‘a place in the East that is not called near’ had encapsulated the mission statement that we were tasked to implement.

If Bangkok was ‘a place in the East that is not called near’, it was up to us to make it nearer.

The Rebbe gave us his blessings and off we went.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky said farewell to us in New York. Thirty hours and three plane changes later, Mr. Abi Kashani picked us up in Bangkok on May 5, 1993.

The mission to make Thailand ‘nearer’ had begun.

Near and far are relative.

For a Jew, everything is relative to G-d, Torah and Mitzvot.

If one is aware of G-d, one is ‘near’ to him.

Disregarding and ignoring Torah would be called ‘far’.

One of the most detrimental things one can do to a child, is label him with a demeaning description.

Its beyond pitiful when one hears a parent or teacher call a child a failure. Or telling them how unsuccessful they are. Or even worse screaming at them that they will never amount to anything in life.

Conversely, tell a child how special they are. Find something redeeming about the student and highlight the virtuous quality. Remind them that they are uniquely gifted by G-d to be who they are. The world would be incomplete without them. This creates an impetus within the child to live up to that admirable benchmark.

Healthy self esteem is so dependent on the words we use and the body language we project.

Call a Jew ‘far’ and you have painted him or her into a corner.

Rather, remind them how deeply and dearly G-d loves them.

On the other hand, misleading someone by telling them that they are close, when they are far, is dishonest and counterproductive. Glossing over the need for further growth leads to stagnation.

By acknowledging that someone is not so near, one invites growth and elicits the expending of efforts to become nearer.

There is a balance that must be met.

On the one hand, it is important to know that you are ‘not near’ for then you will make efforts to get ‘nearer’.

On the other hand, it is critical not to define yourself as being ‘far’. For then you may despair of ever getting ‘near’.

Hence the Rebbe’s definition ‘a place in the East that is not called near’.

I would like to believe that this ‘place in the East’, is becoming ‘nearer’ every day.

This week we inaugurated a new Chabad House building in the backpacker part of town.

Click here for article.

Click here for video replay of inauguration event and dinner.

This ‘backpacker’ Chabad House was founded in response to the passing of the Rebbe in June of 1994 – Tammuz 3 – and was named ‘Ohr Menachem’.

It is now twenty-eight long years later. This Chabad House that started off as a fledgling center in a ‘Chinese-shophouse’ has matured into a bustling Jewish center and moved into its new purpose-built building.

The ‘place in the East that is not called near’ is becoming ‘nearer’.

The Rebbe’s empowering words are not just meant in the context of whom they were said to.

This is a message that is relevant to all.

Nobody is ‘far’. Nothing is ‘far’.

It’s just that some people and some things are ‘not near’.

But they are not meant to stay that way.

It is up to you and I to bring ourselves closer to the Almighty and his Torah. By engaging in the world around us according to Hashems instruction we bring the world around us closer to the oneness of G-d as well.

The Rebbe gave a blueprint for doing this.

Add in acts of goodness and kindness.

Do one more Mitzvah.

Study one more word of Torah.

Don’t get overwhelmed by how ‘far’ you look. Reframe your outlook. You may not be so near, but you can change that.

One deed at a time.

Next Shabbat will be the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe. It is a time that the soul of the Rebbe has an ascent in Heaven and all of us who are connected to him, also get the benefits of this elevation.

Benefits in material sustenance as well as spiritual beneficence. We need but open ourselves to this opportunity by being mindful of the mission to make this world a holier place and adding in acts of mitzvahs, goodness and kindness.

The Rebbe’s overarching message was, that by bringing ourselves and the world around us ‘nearer’ to G-d, we are hastening the ultimate ‘nearness’ to come to fruition – the coming of Mashiach, AMEN.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS I will be traveling next week to New York to visit the Ohel, the resting place of the Rebbe in connection with his yahrtzeit. It is a very powerful time to pray for anyone who wishes to be blessed. Letters can be sent directly to the Rebbe’s Ohel where they will be printed and placed at the Ohel. Or if you wish to send me your name and mothers name and nature of request I will be happy to be your representative to pray on your behalf.

negotiable 'rules'?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

My aunt who is a psychologist shared the following observation with me.

‘I ask myself,’ said my aunt. ‘Why is it that when I ask my children to tidy up their room, they tend not to listen. Yet, when I tell my children that they can’t have dairy ice-cream as the allotted waiting time after eating meat according to Jewish law is not yet over, they listen without question?’

‘The answer is simple’ continued my aunt. ‘When I tell them that they cannot eat dairy after meat they hear the absoluteness in my voice. They recognize that there is no room for negotiation. While when I ask them to clean the toys, they sense that this is something I am not so resolute about’.

With G-d’s commandments, since they are Divine, they are absolute. You can’t ‘negotiate’ with G-d to change the rules.

Yet, this week’s Parsha describes what seems to be a successful negotiation.

The ‘second Pesach’.

It’s the chance to bring the Pesach offering in case you missed the first and main opportunity.

Here is how it unfolded. It was in the second year after Exodus. The Jewish people were instructed to bring the Pesach offering. The Pascal lamb had to be offered by every family group. One had to be ritually pure in order to be part of the ‘Korban Pesach’.

After Pesach, some people came to Moshe and Aharon and complained that they had been disqualified from partaking of the offering, as they had been ritually impure. They were the pallbearers of Yosef coffin which accompanied the Jewish people on their sojourn from Egypt to Israel. Coming into contact with a corpse had rendered them unfit to bring the offering. The pallbearers complained “why should we be left out, unable to bring the sacrifice of Pesach?”.

Moshe heard their complaint and informed them that he would ask G-d regarding this matter. G-d responded by granting a second chance. On the fourteenth day of Iyar, exactly one month from the beginning of Pesach the Jews that had not been able to participate in the Pesach sacrifice would be able to bring a replacement sacrifice. This sacrifice was called “Pesach Sheni”, “the second Pesach sacrifice”.

The lesson is simple and empowering. There is always a chance to fix what was omitted.

But let us analyze this a bit further. Was this somehow G-d changing the rules of Pesach? Was this a introduction of ‘flexibility’ in the preciseness of Divine instruction?

Absolutely not.

The people that missed out KNEW that they missed out.

They were not trying to negotiate their way into bringing the offering after the doors were closed. They were fully aware that the rule is a rule and that they were not eligible.

They did however come before G-d humbly and contritely and shared their anguish and pain at having missed out. They implored and beseeched G-d saying, ‘why should we miss out’. They passionately and determinedly appealed to Moshe to find them a way to somehow get them the Pesach offering.

To use a flight analogy, it was as if their airplane had taken off without them. They knew that their airplane had flown. They were not asking to catch that plane.

There was really nothing Moshe could do. Except present their plea to G-d. Which he did. The result was unpredictable and astounding. G-d responded by opening up a new avenue of Pesach offering. Since they were so impassioned about their missed Pesach offering, G-d created a new mitzvah for them. The ‘second Pesach’. An opportunity to make up what they had missed.

It is important to understand the way this works. Hashem didn’t say ‘The rules of Pesach are not really absolute, and you are allowed to bring the offering anytime you want’. The departed airplane had departed. It didn’t come back. Rather, it was if a new airplane was constructed, which they were invited to board.

The epic message that the Rebbe always taught from this mitzvah is that there is no ‘lost case’.

You can always fix things.

G-d gives us a chance to repair.

But before you can make efforts to fix things, it is critical to recognize that the thing is broken.

Ironically, in order to really want to repair, you have to know that what is broken is truly broken.

Because only when you know that you have no way to make up what you omitted, will you be able to dig deep into your soul and be truly contrite. When you know that you are hopelessly lost, you have no illusions of being in control.

When you turn to G-d with truth, from that deep and vulnerable place, G-d gives you the opportunity to repair and be forgiven.

This is what ‘Teshvua’ (return) really is. Returning to G-d after feeling profoundly remorseful for the distance created between yourself and G-d. That deep feeling of remorse gives birth to intensely passionate feelings towards G-d.

This highlights the extent of that unique gift that G-d gave the Jews by giving them the second Pesach chance. It was a chance to fix that which looked irreparable.

In today’s day and age, it’s such an important lesson.

It’s important that we recognize that some things are not negotiable. The word of G-d as taught in the Torah is immutable. Morality is defined by the Almighty.

We have to transmit our insistence on following G-d’s instruction by being clear to those who look to us for guidance. When we say ‘no’ to immoral things we must intimate that our ‘no’ is a hard ‘no’? Not to project that it is a ‘soft no’. Or merely a ‘suggested no’. We ought to be honest and upfront to ourselves, to our youth and to our children that there are firm rules that G-d has mandated.

And that if we break those rules we have broken something in our souls. Irreparably so.

Irreparable from the perspective of man. But not irreparable from the viewpoint of G-d.

When one turns to G-d and truly asks and beseeches G-d for help, something extraordinary happens.

G-d allows us another chance.

This is inspiring and liberating.

Try as hard as you can not to break things. Because you cannot fix what you break.

That is what we must focus on before we ‘mess up’. To stay away from mistakes with all our heart and might.

AFTER one ‘messes up’ the focus must be on what can be done now.

And there is always something that you CAN do.

The second Pesach teaches us that there is always a second chance.

Wherever you are. However, you think you may have been imperfect, you can always fix it.

Let’s go.

Upwards and onwards!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

it doesn't always (seem to) work out

 By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I usually try to share with you the amazing workings of Divine Providence. It never ceases to amaze me how the guiding Hand of Hashem is to be found in every fiber of creation.

For example, yesterday. I was debating if I should go to visit a person in hospital whom I had visited just the day before. He was doing very well, and they were talking about releasing him any day. I thought my further visit may be redundant at this stage. When I saw the number 1213 on a license plate of a car as I was walking down Sukhumvit Soi 22, and this was the exact number of the hospital room, I sensed that this was a ‘message’ to visit the patient. When I walked into room 1213, the patient’s wife started referring to the medical challenge that had just occurred. She thought that I had heard of the setback they experienced earlier that morning and that is why I came. When I told them that I hadn’t heard anything, rather it was Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence) that sent me, they were emotional and thankful to the Almighty for His kindness.

But today I want to share that things don’t always ‘work out’ so neatly. Sometimes I am left pondering why things that in my opinion ‘shouldn’t have happened’ happened. I am staying far away in this article from the big and painful questions. That’s a totally different topic and I obviously do not have an answer to why ‘bad’ things happen to good people. Allow me to focus here today on mildly irritating things. Problems that themselves are a product of great blessings.

Like missing a flight. The mere fact that we can fly by air from one part of the world to the other is a luxury that is an indication of our blessed times. But it can create a new set of problems. For example, it can be aggravating when you check in online and the boarding gate is changed without you noticing it.

This happened to me when I was flying from Toronto to New York. The day trip I had planned was proceeding with incredible success. I flew from NY to Toronto in the morning. No delays. Smooth border crossings. Picked up at the airport by a good friend. Went to say a prayer at the grave of Gerry Sugar, who had lived and worked in Thailand. Our friendship brought him back to his family and Jewish observance and upon his passing he was buried near his parents in Toronto.

Let me digress with a quick story about Gerry and how our friendship deepened. Gerry came to see in the 1990’s when he was unemployed and looking for work. It just so happened that I had just received a fax (in the pre-email days) from a food importer in the USA who I didn’t recognize. They were looking for someone to help them import kosher food from Thailand to the USA. Gerry, in telling me his work experience had mentioned that he had worked for a food exporter for a stint. I gave Gerry the fax and told him to see if he could help them. It turned out that this was one of the major kosher food distributors in the USA. Gerry proceeded to work with them and both sides were very happy. How blessed I felt to be able to help both parties by simply connecting them with each other. And through that, I was able to help Gerry reconnect to G-d and his family as well.

After leaving a stone on Gerry’s grave, I made some visits to supporters of our work – may they live and be well -  and then proceeded to the airport to head back to NY.

Everything went with such smoothness, I got to the gate early. It made sense to me that everything was gliding along. After all I was doing G-d’s work. I sat down at the gate, caught up with my daily Torah studies and then I went to see why my flight was not boarding yet. To my shock, the gate said that the flight was going to San Fransisco. I was going to NY. The gate had changed unbeknownst to me. I had missed my NY flight.

I was overwhelmed at my sheer oversight and inattentiveness. To complicate matters the next flight to NY had been cancelled. It seemed like I may be stranded in Toronto overnight while I had work to do in NY the next morning. I felt hopelessly out of control. It took me a few minutes to remind myself to have complete faith in G-d. I told myself ‘Calm down. Hashem is in charge. Everything is for the good’. I did a little song and dance (not sure what the people around me thought) to make sure that every part of my body remembered that ‘its all for the good’ because ‘G-d is in charge’. Then things started to work out. I managed to make a new ticket. Granted, my car was in La Guardia airport and my new flight was landing in Newark. Never mind that I wouldn’t get back ‘home’ till way after midnight. But at least I wasn’t stranded overnight in Canada and was able to get back to NY.

I searched for meaningful things that may have happened due to this revision in my schedule. I can’t say I have pinpointed anything in particular. I am left in the dark as to what Hashems intention was for my adventure.

Not always does Hashem give us the great gift of seeing why things happen the way they do.

One thing is for certain though. G-d is in charge both in the short term and in the long term. So, even if Hashem does want to show us the rhyme and reason in what happened, it may take a long time for things to become apparent.

(Was it perhaps to give me a chance to exercise the muscle of faith in Hashem? Or will I discover another reason one day).

This weeks Torah portion gives us a very strong clarity about this point. Hashem is in charge of things in the short term and in the long term.

G-d told Moshe to instruct Aharon and his sons in the details of giving the Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing).

The first passage of the blessing is:

יברכך השם וישמרך

‘May God bless you and watch over you’

On the words ‘bless you’ Rashi comments ‘that your possessions shall be blessed’.

On the words ‘watch over you’ Rashi comments: ‘that no thieves shall attack you and steal your money. For when one gives his servant a gift, he cannot protect it from all other people, so if robbers come and take it from him, what benefit has he [the servant] from this gift? As for the Holy One, blessed be He, however, He is the One who [both] gives and protects.

In other words, the uniqueness of G-d’s blessing is that He continues to protect and administer the blessing for the long term as well.

Humans cannot control what happens after they have given a gift.

It may be stolen. It may be abused and misappropriated.

With Hashem this is not the case.

Hashem remains in control.

Hashem sees and manages the totality of creation from the beginning of time and forever.

When Hashem gives a blessing, he can continue to ensure the viability of this blessing even when it looks tenuous.

Why we sometimes see the blessing, while other times the blessing is hidden, this is from the great mysteries of G-d’s world that we are not privy to.

One thing is for certain.

The greatest source of blessing is following the directions that G-d has instructed.

Torah and Mitzvahs these are the conduits for blessing.

And of course, the precondition for blessing is the fulfillment of the  most central mitzvah: ‘love your fellow as yourself’. Or to phrase it differently, ‘don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you’.

On some level, we all have the power to bless others.

Let us use this power of blessing to bless each other and to bless the world with SHALOM – PEACE.

With the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days NOW. AMEN!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Is G-d happy with you? Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I give thanks to Hashem for saving my life.

For bestowing His beneficence and kindness to the undeserving.

The blessing of thanksgiving is traditionally said publicly in Synagogue in the presence of a minyan. The blessings of technology allow me this forum to additionally thank Hashem even more widely.

I was driving in Israel and the left lane ended abruptly for construction while a large truck was passing me on the right. The construction cones slightly damaged my right mirror but thank G-d my passenger and I were saved.

Thank you Almighty G-d, for this miracle.

And for the many other ‘small miracles’ that happen all the time without fanfare and sometimes without us even knowing about it.

Here is what I call a ‘small miracle’.

I had one day in Israel. With a list of appointments and tasks. The last thing on my list was to visit a friend in Ashdod. But it just didn’t fit into the constraints of time. My flight was to leave at 22:45 from TLV and I would be finishing to visit our daughter in Rehovot at 7:30 PM. No time for meet my Ashdod friend. I thought perhaps I wouldn’t even call him as I had no time to meet.

A few hours before the flight, I was notified that the flight was delayed to 23:55.

I was still not sure if that was enough time to get to Ashdod but I called my friend anyway. He was very excited to hear that I was in town as he wanted to urgently consult me about something and ask for my guidance. Amazingly, he told me that he ‘happened’ to be near Kefar Chabad and we could meet there at 20:00. We met for an hour and then off I went to my flight and with the long security lines I had but a few minutes to spare.

To me this constitutes a ‘small miracle’.

Thank you Hashem, for the many opportunities to see your detailed Divine Providence.

****

A young man recently asked me a question that is very straightforward. Yet, I find that it has left me thinking and pondering.

‘Rabbi, how do you know when Hashem is happy with you’ he asked.

The Ethics of our Fathers addresses this exact topic (3, 10):

One who is pleasing to his fellow men is pleasing to G‑d. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men is not pleasing to G‑d.

So now we have to analyze how does one become ‘pleasing’ to ‘fellow men’. How do you make other people happy with you?

The hierarchy of who you should care for, begins with those closest to you. Parents. Spouse. Children. Teachers. Students. Relatives. And then circle further outwards to include friends, peers, and acquaintances.

How do you get your loved ones to be ‘happy with you’?

Let us take parents as an example.

A mother tells her child to please pick up the toys in their room.

The child can respond in one of three ways.

Say no and disregard the parent.

Whyne and ask ‘why’. And wait to see if the reason is satisfactory.

Clean up the toys without questioning.

Which of the three do you think will make the parent happy with the child?

Which of the three requires the most effort?

Both answers are the same. Cleaning the toys without questioning requires the most effort and also creates the most happiness. Because it shows that the child cares for the parent and is ready to do what they want even if don’t (yet) understand why.

Let’s move over to spousal relationships.

Has your spouse ever asked you to do something that didn’t make sense to you?

I am assuming that it has happened on occasion.

Again, there are the three choices.

Not to carry out your spouses wish.

To ask for a rational explanation as to why your spouse is asking for that particular thing. Only upon understanding the reason will you agree to fulfill the request.

Or simply fulfill what you were asked to do without questioning.

Which way makes your spouse happiest?

It’s a no brainer. Carry out your spouse’s request and you will have a happier marriage.

It also requires the most effort. As it is not easy to do something that doesn’t make sense to you.

What makes other people happy with you, is when you do things that show how you truly care about THEM.

This is amplified when you are prepared to put forth effort to do what THEY want without needing to understand why. And doing so even if you don’t ‘feel like it’.

This requires a diminishment of ego. Self-centered egoistic people don’t put forth effort for others. This spirit of sharing and caring for others is called selflessness.

There are no shortcuts. Selfless caring and sharing is what makes other people happy with you.

When a person lives that way, selflessly, and others are happy with him, the Mishna says that G-d too is happy with him.

With regard to the festival of Shavuot, our Sages related a detailed description of what makes Hashem happy with us.

The Talmud ( Shabbat 88a ) states: When they assembled at the mountain of Sinai and G-d asked them if they wanted to accept upon themselves the Torah and its commandments. The Jewish people responded, ‘We will DO (what you instruct) and we will ‘hear’ (i.e. endeavor to understand what the meaning of it is)’.

G-d was very happy with their response and said ‘who revealed to my children this ‘ secret’ that the angels employ’.

G-d was so happy with the response that He sent angels to tie two crowns on the head of every Jew at Sinai.

Why did it make G-d so happy when the Jews responded this way?

Why is this a secret?

Well, conventional wisdom dictates that before one acts, one should first understand what it is they are being asked to do, and become motivated and inspired. Only then should they act.

If so, the Jews at Sinai should have responded to G-d’s offer of the Torah, ‘we will understand and consider, and then once sufficiently convinced and motivated, we will act and do’.

However, they responded in a way that seemed impulsive and even a bit irresponsible. How do you agree to do whatever you will instructed without first hearing and studying the ‘find print’ and details of the instruction?

In Heaven they know the ‘secret’.

The ‘secret’, that the heavenly celestial beings know, is that when one wants to connect to G-d, one should fulfill first and ask about the details second.

When we do what HE – G-d - wants. Even if we don’t understand. And even when it requires effort. This is what causes Hashem to be happy with us.

Innately, our souls are privy to this secret.

But it takes effort. Because doing what is better for Him while diminishing my own sense of ‘I’ doesn’t come naturally.

A telling joke someone sent me.

Becky is having lunch with Hannah, the world’s most perfect ‘Princess.’

Becky says, "My husband David is just impossible. Absolutely nothing pleases him. Tell me, Hannah, is your Marvin hard to please?"

Hannah shrugs and replies, "I wouldn't know. I've never tried."

(This joke could be told in the exact reverse, and about all kinds of relationships).

If it were only a joke it would be ok. The unfortunate thing is that some people don’t ever really try to make their loved ones happy with them.

And sadly, many never get around to making the effort to cause Hashem to be happy with them.

So, to answer to my friend’s question.

How do you know when Hashem is happy with you?

First of all, if this is what is on your mind, then you are already in a blessed place. The greatest blessing one can have in life is knowing that we are here, created by Hashem and tasked with fulfilling His mission here on earth.

There really is only one question that determines every choice. Will my next move cause G-d pleasure?

If you are living a life, doing what HE wants and making an effort to do so, then Hashem is happy with you.

However, one must also not be lulled into a false sense of feeling accomplished. This can lead one astray and stunt growth. For only our Creator can truly gauge if our efforts lived up to our potential. To what percent did we use our abilities. Did we really give our 100% to the Almighty?

Truth be told, you don’t need to know if Hashem is happy with you.

The one thing we do need to do is put forth effort to selflessly do what He instructs.

We have to stay ‘on our toes’ and be happy with our efforts but not feel satisfied.

How do we know what to do? For that we have the Torah.

The Torah is the communication of G-d with us the Jewish people and via the Jewish people to humanity at large.

On Shavuot we celebrate and relive the great moment of the giving of the Torah.

It is the most epic gift of all times.

We rejoice, literally, at the festival of Shavout in celebration of this amazingly holy and G-dly gift.

May you receive the Torah with joy and in a way that is absorbed into your very being.

Shabbat Shalom

Chag Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Uncomplicated

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

What can you do to make sure you have a blessed and successful life?

The trillion-dollar question.

The Torah has a very simple answer.

In this weeks Parsha.

If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them,

I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit.

Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your food to satiety, and you will live in security in your land.

Quite straightforward, says G-d.

Live according to my instructions and I will provide you with all the blessings of life.

Uncomplicated.

Wholesome.

Traditional.

In today’s society that is overwhelmed by technology and speed, simplicity is quite welcome.

One of the most popular energy bars on the marked in the USA is the have trademarked the following sentence about their products.

ingredients you can see and pronounce TM

We have come around full circle in many ways.

For example. During my stint teaching Judaism in Russia in 1989, we took our own bags when went to buy things in the market. Plastic bags were a western luxury that didn’t exist in the Ukrainian farmers market that we would buy our vegetables at.

Today, while in the developing countries, there are plastic shopping bags, in western society plastic bags are not provided.

In the olden days the wealthy ate white bread. Today, those who can afford more, eat the healthier whole grain bread.

It is about time that we came to the realization that good old-fashioned tradition of following in the way of G-d, is the surest path to a happy and healthy life.

What does it mean to follow in the path of G-d?

Maimonides (Rambam), points out his book  of laws, of which we study daily

(De’ot Chapter 1, paragraph 5-6)

We are commanded to walk in these intermediate paths - and they are good and straight paths - as [Deuteronomy 28:9] states: "And you shall walk in His ways."

[Our Sages] taught [the following] explanation of this mitzvah:
Just as He is called "Gracious," you shall be gracious;
Just as He is called "Merciful," you shall be merciful;
Just as He is called "Holy," you shall be holy;

In a similar manner, the prophets called God by other titles: "Slow to anger," "Abundant in kindness," "Righteous," "Just," "Perfect," "Almighty," "Powerful," and the like. [They did so] to inform us that these are good and just paths. A person is obligated to accustom himself to these paths and [to try to] resemble Him to the extent of his ability.

To spell it out every more straightforwardly, following in the path of G-d means acting as G-d acts,

Just as He dresses the naked..., you, too, should dress the naked;
God visited the sick...; you, too, should visit the sick;
God comforted the bereaved...; you, too, should comfort the bereaved;
God buried the dead...; you, too, should bury the dead.

Jews knew this and lived (and loved) this absolute truth for thousands of years.

During the turbulent years in the aftermath of the upheavals of the world wars, it had become fashionable to reject the traditions of Judaism. So called ‘sophistication’ became something to aspire too.

It hasn’t worked.

In the olden days when the Jewish People deviated from the straight path, G-d sent prophets to remind them to come back to the ways of G-d.

These days, we see it in contemporary tales of woe described by psychologist and therapists.

Throwing off the commitment to G-d’s instructions has not brought happiness or contentment.

It has made things more complicated.

It has led to deep dissatisfaction and a sense of purposelessness that is demoralizing and dangerous.

This is a very important thing to bear in mind.

Life is too short to allow ourselves to be Guinee pigs.

The path that is G-dly mandated. The ‘manufacturers instruction’ to us, is the Torah.

For Jews we have the 613 commandments that create a dwelling for Hashem here in this lower world.

For all of humanity there are the ‘seven laws for a beautiful planet’.

By following these instructions, Hashem - the Creator of the entire universe – says, I will give you all the blessings of everything you need for a happy, healthy, secure and joyous life.

The most inspiring and uplifting part of this weeks Parsha for me, is the interpretation by our Sages that reframes the verse ‘if you follow my commandments’ to mean ‘PLEASE, I implore you, keep my commandments’.

In my mind I conjure up an image of a mother, entreating, cajoling and pleading with her child ‘ess mein kind’ ‘eat, my child’.

G-d is, so-to-speak, pleading with us. Please, I wish, I hope, that you keep my commandments.

Living according to the Divine life plan, is the happiest and most wholesome way to live. G-d beseeches us to trust Him on that and follow His instructions.

Even though we are not perfect, He looks at us with a benevolent eye. He desires to ‘catch us’ doing the RIGHT things. So that He can reward us and bless us with the things we so richly deserve.

AMEN

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

VR Glasses

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

My eyes caught a headline on a news site of kids in a Yeshiva getting a guided tour of the ‘Bet Hamkidash’ through wearing VR glasses. I had to stop a think for a moment what VR stood for. I will save you the moment (and possibly a visit to google to search for VR :-)). VR stands for ‘virtual reality’.

Today is Lag Ba’omer. Click here for more information about Lag Ba’omer

Traditionally, on Lag Ba’omer, many Jews flock to the mountain of Meron, (not far from Tzefat) in northern Israel. It is there that the author of the Zohar, the great sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is buried.

Lag Baomer is the day of this great Sage’s passing more than eighteen hundred years ago.

With VR glasses still fresh in my mind, I started to wonder what would happen if you gave those glasses to someone from more than eighteen hundred years ago. When the events of Lag Ba’omer took place?

Obviously, the technology we have now would be unimaginable to those who lived centuries ago. But on the other hand, ‘seeing’ a deeper reality starts from the mind and soul, not necessarily from what things look like from the outside. Is that not the uniqueness of VR glasses? Two people in the same room, each one seeing different things. One seeing ‘real’ reality. One seeing ‘virtual’ reality.

Lag Ba’omer, it dawned on me, is really a day that we celebrate the ‘VR’ spiritual glasses that we can and should all don.

Lag Ba’omer is a day of great rejoicing.

Isn’t it traditional to mark the day of someone’s passing as a day of mourning?

Especially when it comes to great Tzadikim. It is a day that is associated with mourning and fasting. We wanted them to live longer. They wanted to live longer. Moshe Rabeinu wanted to continue to live and take the Jewish people into Israel.

Why the extraordinary celebration for the passing of Rabbi Shimon?

The simple answer is that Rabbi Shimon asked for the day of his passing to be celebrated. Paying respect to his great piety, we fulfil his wishes. This is achieved through rejoicing, not fasting.

R’ Shimon gave the reason behind his request for joy. He described the day of his passing as being the day that his connection to Hashem would be consummate. So long as one’s soul is in its body, there is some level of separation, ever so subtle perhaps, but still not one with G-d. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon recognized that he would be bound up as one with his Creator.

This was non-standard thinking at the time and for many centuries to follow. It was not meant (yet) to be accessible to all. Passing away was meant to signify absence here on this world. And absence is mourned, not celebrated.

But not for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, as the author of the Zohar, is the main source of Kabbala.  This was a division of Torah teaching that was not taught openly and freely to all, for many centuries. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai expounded the teachings of Kabbala and taught it to his select students

Zohar and Kabalistic teachings were considered off limits to regular Torah studiers. It was taught personally by teacher to select students. Only very highly achieving students were deemed eligible to absorb such esoteric and illuminating ‘soul’ teachings.

Let us study the topic of life and absence of life. Why is life celebrated and passing away mourned?

For most people, life has various facets. Spiritual and material. The most important part of life in objective terms, is the connection we forge with G-d. We develop our connection with G-d by studying Torah and doing Mitzvahs.

But let’s face it, for most of us, there are many other facets to life that take centerstage other than our spiritual growth. Family, career, materialistic interests and pursuits.

When one passes away, the absence that is most strongly felt by those left behind, is the absence of their loved one’s physical presence.

The Torah teaches that it is proper to mourn when a loved one passes away. The relatives mourn the absence. Their loved one no longer lives with them here on earth. For sure, the soul lives on, but for the most part we don’t have the capacity to interact with souls. Thus, it’s appropriate and Torah mandated to mourn the absence.

But not just from the perspective of physical existence is mourning appropriate. Even in the spiritual sense, passing away is a reason for sadness. Sadness because of the loss of opportunity to study Torah and do Mitzvot.

The Ethics of our Fathers (Pirkei Avot 4:17) teaches that performing Torah and Mitzvahs in this world is better and more potent than the entire blissful experience of the ‘next world’. The rationale for that is straightforward. Doing Mitzvahs in this world connects us to the ‘essence of G-d’. Whereas the bliss of the next world is ‘merely’ enjoying a ‘ray’ of G-d’s shine.

Nu, whats better?

A ray of G-d’s light in the next world, or connecting to the Almighty Himself here on earth in this world?

Life here on this earth no doubt offers deeper and holier connection to G-d.

(Delight and pleasure in this world, are nothing though compared to even one moment of blissful enrapturement in the next world. So if something ‘off limits’ is ‘calling out to you’ because of its pleasurable indulgence, recognize that it doesn’t ‘pay’ at all. For the indulgence will be only short lived and nothing compared to the pleasure of listening to G-d. The reward given in the next world for listening to G-d and abstaining, is far greater than any pleasure you can imagine in this world).

Especially if we are talking about a Tzaddik who was constantly involved in learning Torah and doing Mitzvahs.

Thus, when the soul is taken to the ‘next world’ we mourn.

It’s a double mourning.

We mourn the physical absence. And we have anguish when we absorb the fact that the person can no longer fulfil G-d’s Will here on earth.

Rabbi Shimon knew that G-d’s Will was for him to pass away from his earthly existence. To him it was clear that there was nothing to mourn about in that context.

(With other Tzadikim this is not necessarily the case. They may have preferred to live longer and do more mitzvahs. Which is why their day of passing is treated with a not very joyous sense of loss. This is a topic that requires more discussion and to be honest while I have seen the Torah sources that discuss it, I don’t fully comprehend them).

As to the physical absence of the great sagely Rabbi Shimon? That is not the cause of mourning in R’ Shimons case.

For a tzaddik of the level of Rabbi Shimon, the entire essence of his being was about his connection to the Almighty.

Passing away meant becoming one with Hashem. R’ Shimon insisted that this was a reason for celebration.

It is this point that he wanted to communicate that to his students and all who would learn from him and about him. He wanted us to know about a different way of looking at life. By telling us to rejoice even when there is an absence, we need to be handed a pair of R’ Shimon’s glasses.

On Lag Ba’omer one gets a chance to put on those glasses. If one puts on those ‘VR’ glasses of Rabbi Shimon, one sees R’ Shimon’s passing as a day of great joy. As he saw it. And as he requested and encouraged us to see it.

With those Kabbalistic glasses, things look very different than they seem from the outside.

And not just on Lag Ba’omer. With all the problems in the world in many ways, we are fortunate to be living during this current era. In the spiritual sense, we are living during a period when the esoteric has been revealed in anticipation of the coming of Mashiach.

As the generations proceed, as we march steadily closer to the ultimate ‘revelation’ and ‘exposé’ of G-d’s true presence here on earth, we get more access to those VR glasses that the Zohar provides.

Kabala teachings become more accessible to us all.

(Click here for an article by Tzvi Freeman entitled   Seven Things People Get Wrong When Learning Kabbala )

And technology is unfolding and leapfrogging at an unprecedented pace. It is not unrelated to the advance of spiritual knowledge.

The Rebbe explained at length a most inspiriting phenomenon that has unfolded over the past few hundred years. There is a fast paced advance in knowledge of all kinds. Together with incredible and dizzying journey of scientific and technological advance, we have a parallel journey of deep insight into G-dly wisdom.

R’ Tzvi Freeman outlines this concept in an article titled ‘Where is Technology Taking Us’ writes:

Long before anyone ever dreamed of a steam engine or a light bulb, the Zohar predicted an era when the world would be flooded with wisdom from below and wisdom from above.

Here’s how the  Zohar  interprets that: “In the six hundredth year of the sixth millennia the gates of wisdom above and the wellsprings of wisdom below will open, and the world will prepare to enter into the seventh millennia, just as a person prepares on the eve of Shabbat to enter Shabbat.”

When was the six hundredth year of the sixth millennia? That’s the year 5,600 on the Hebrew calendar. On the secular calendar, that’s the year 1840….

I am skipping a few paragraphs here Click here for full article .

So what does technology, science and distance communications have to do with “preparing the world to enter into the seventh millennia”?

The seventh millennia is an era when the universe discovers its own oneness, a oneness that expresses exquisitely the oneness of its Creator. So we’re not talking so much about some revelation that pours down from above. We’re talking about the world opening up to its own truths.

For that to happen, yes, an inner wisdom from above must pour down—and that began with the Baal Shem Tov, a hundred years before 1840. But along with that, the wellsprings from below have to burst open. And that happens through science and technology—a new kind of science that discovers oneness wherever it looks, and a new kind of technology that ties us all together as one.

On Lag Baomer, some eighteen hundred years ago, Rabbi Shimon passed away. He requested that we join him in donning the futuristic ‘glasses’ of the Zohar and celebrate his passing as if it were a wedding. For indeed, from the perspective of those ‘glasses’, Rabbi Shimons passing was a new stage in his connection to G-d.

Truly something to celebrate.

My friends, when the great Tzadik offers you those glasses, it’s a great opportunity. It opens myriads of blessings and possibilities.

Today is thus a day of celebration in the Jewish calendar.

It is a day that we celebrate closeness to G-d. It is a day that we highlight and celebrate love between Jews. It is a day that we celebrate total dedication to Torah study and scholarship.

And it is a day that we focus on children, for they truly ‘get’ the deeper reality in an uncomplicated way. They are pristinely able to interact with love and trust toward others. They are able to focus on Torah study unimpeded by worries of ‘making a living’.

The Rebbe used to attend the “Lag Ba’omer parade’ on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and address the children personally. There is loads of wonderful footage from those parades. The Rebbe encouraged children’s outing and parades wherever possible. In Thailand too we have conducted parades (see below pictures).

The great rabbi’s have taught that rejoicing on this day opens up channels of blessing in all that we require and request. May all your requests and prayers to G-d be fulfilled in a joyous and expeditious manner!

And may we merit the final ‘opening of the curtains’ when G-d’s presence will be visible to all (without ‘glasses’) with Mashiach’s coming.

And in anticipation and preparation for getting those permanent glasses (maybe allegorically like a ‘Lasik’ surgery) take a peek at the esoteric part of the Torah and study some of the esoteric and hidden kabbalistic aspects of the Torah. Click here for more.

Happy Lag Baomer

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Doctor in House?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I always knew that our work in spreading Judaism throughout Thailand was spiritually lifesaving. The gift of connection and inspiration that Torah and Mitzvahs provide are an elixir for the soul.

It saves lives quite literally as well.

Recently, our rabbi in Chiang Mai arrived to a routine visit to a member of his local Jewish community. Upon arrival, he found that that the person he had come to visit had collapsed into unconsciousness. He succeeded in getting him the urgently needed medical help that saved his life.

Last Shabbat I got to see how by opening Jewish centers in yet additional locations we can save more lives. Spiritually, that goes without saying. Even physically.

As I have mentioned in this column before, this year is the celebration of 120 years since the Rebbe’s birth. In marking this milestone, we have joined the worldwide effort to add 1210 new centers of Jewish life and observance around the world.

One of our regional undertakings is establishing a Chabad presence to serve the growing number of Jewish people in the island of Ko Pangan. Some of them are digital nomads, some are simply taking some time off from the frenetic pace of modern-day life while others are there ‘just because’.

Click here for the articles describing the Divine Providence we encountered on our initial visit to Ko Pangan.

Miri and Dovi, a young Chabad couple (Miri is the daughter of Eliezer and Rochi Ashkenazi) went out to visit Pangan for Purim. They led Purim activities and scouted out the island to see about taking up the position of leading the Chabad House there.

While there, they met a family with several children who had spent a few months in Ko Pangan. The wife said that her religious parents were coming from Israel to tour Thailand and would be spending a Shabbat in Bangkok. They were debating in which part of town to stay to attend Shabbat prayers and meals. Miri suggested that they come to spend Shabbat at Bet Elisheva as she is currently living there in her parents’ home. The family liked the idea and the family with her parents joined Bet Elisheva for Shabbat.

Last Shabbat, at the luncheon after prayers, one of our older community members went into a state of shock and started to slide off his chair. Those sitting next to him caught him before he fell. All of us have seen him injecting insulin at various occasions and it was clear that it was a case of diabetic shock.

Immediately his pouch was located as this is where he keeps his insulin. Before anyone could find the insulin or inject it, a woman ran over from a nearby table and said that she is a doctor. She took control of the situation and kept him stable till the ambulance came and put him on a glucose drip.

Yes, it was the woman traveling with her family who Dovi and Miri had met in Ko Pangan. She is a doctor.

As a doctor of course she knows that when in diabetic shock, it is forbidden to give more insulin. Actually, the medical term for this shock is ‘insulin shock’ and it comes from too much insulin.

I shudder to think what could have happened G-d forbid if a well meaning but non medically trained person may have instinctively administered more insulin.

Thank G-d we had a traveling doctor in house.

And Miri and Dovi were there too. To share with me the amazing Divine Providence of how the doctor came to be at our Shabbat lunch that day.

A visit to Ko Pangan. A plan put into motion by G-d, to position a doctor exactly where she would be needed.

Clearly, opening more Chabad centers in more locations saves lives. Literally, physically. And spiritually.

The timing of this message is Providential as well.  This weekend, Nechama and I are celebrating twenty-nine years since our arrival in Thailand on May 15 1993.

As we enter our thirtieth year here in service of the community, we have many powerful, positive, and inspirational moments to look back on.

However, the real achievements are still in front of us. As there is so much still to be done.

This story is poignant reminder from Heaven, and it injects an urgency and encouragement to work with alacrity and zeal. Especially when it comes to helping and doing for others, delays must be avoided.

The following poignant story is recorded in the Talmud (Ta’anis 21a). It is concerning the Sage Nochum ish Gamzu, one of Rabbi Akiva’s teachers from whom he learned to thank G‑d for everything. “This too is for the good” was his favorite refrain even when it appeared that something very negative occurred.

Yet, despite his obsessive optimism and the positive spin he gave to virtually every negative phenomenon, Nochum Ish Gamzu never forgave himself for the following incident:

“I was once traveling on the road to the house of my father-in-law and I had with me three donkey-loads; one of food, one of drink, and one of various delicacies. A poor man came and stood before me on the road and said to me, ‘My teacher, sustain me!’ I said to him: ‘wait until I unload from the donkey.’ I did not have a chance to unload the donkey before his soul departed.”

Nochum ish Gamzu blamed his delay for the death of the poor man and accepted upon himself all forms of suffering as penance for what he considered to have been an egregious sin.

In truth, Nochum was not guilty of any crime or moral lapse. If the man had been more forceful and stated “I’m starving” instead of just “sustain me,” Nochum would certainly have acted with much more haste. Apparently the man did not look deathly ill nor did he convey urgency in his request.

Click here for more on this.

The message is clear.

Studying Torah, praying and observing mitzvahs are good for the body and good for the soul.

Facilitating others to be in touch with their inner selves is a doubly good. it is good for the doer and good for the facilitator.

Doing all the above, for yourself and for others, without procrastinating and without delay is the best and most G-dly way.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

 

 

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the 'secret'

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

An elderly Jew living in Prachuap Khiri Khan sent me an email a few days ago that warmed my heart.

Dear Rabbi Kantor, 

For the first time since I was a child I ate only matzah during Pesach, this was due to your provision of Matzah, also the fact that I felt unconnected. Therefore, I made a decision to eat only matzah as a way to feel connected. 

Thanks again for all that you do.

He obviously knows the ‘secret’. Probably his parents instilled it into him during his early childhood.

I met a young Jewish man earlier this week who wasn’t raised with much of a Jewish upbringing but somehow his ‘neshama’ intuitively knew the ‘secret’.

B. was in Bangkok visiting his sister who lives here. His sister has become Torah observant after she left home. Her brother had never yet put on Tefilin in his life. Now that she knows the value and preciousness of performing Mitzvah’s she really wanted to gift her brother the opportunity to put on Tefilin during his visit to Bangkok. She asked me if I would be able to facilitate this. Understandably, I was overjoyed to be handed this special mitzvah on a ‘golden plate’.

I hopped over to the house with my Tefilin just before B. was going to leave to the airport. After introducing the Tefilin and explaining that I was going to ‘wrap’ him with Tefilin, B asked me if I was in a rush or did he have a few minutes for a shower before Tefilin. I said that I needed to get back to the services in the Synagogue, but I assured him that the Tefilin prayers would take just a few minutes and he would have time for a shower before needing to head out to airport.

I was though a little puzzled why he thought about the shower only after I had introduced the Tefilin.

My question was answered when B’s sister sent me this note

‘My brother said he thought you were going to wrap him in something permanent. That’s why he was asking if he should shower first. :-)’

Wow. Now I was totally inspired. A Jewish young man, never put on Tefilin before in his life, was ready to agree to be wrapped with something permanent if that is what the Torah said should be done.

This is a Jew who intuitively knows the ‘secret’.

The ‘secret’ I am referring too, never really loses its ‘secretive’ quality.

Even once we discover it, it remains elusive. The ‘secret’ is so counterintuitive, that our ‘rational side’ resists it. We need to keep reminding ourselves about the powers of the ‘secret’.

The Jewish people discovered the ‘secret’ after leaving Egypt.

The Talmud ( Shabbat 88a ) When they assembled at the mountain of Sinai and G-d asked them if they wanted to accept upon themselves the Torah and its commandments. The Jewish people responded, ‘We will DO (what you instruct) and we will ‘hear’ (i.e. endeavor to understand what the meaning of it is)’.

G-d was very happy with their response and said ‘who revealed to my children this ‘ secret’ that the angels employ’.

Why is this a secret?

Well, conventional wisdom dictates that before one acts, one should first understand what it is they are being asked to do, and become motivated and inspired. Only then should they act.

If so, the Jews at Sinai should have responded to G-d’s offer of the Torah, ‘we will understand and consider, and then once sufficiently convinced and motivated, we will act and do’.

However, they responded in a way that seemed impulsive and even a bit irresponsible. How do you agree to do whatever you will instructed without first hearing and studying the ‘find print’ and details of the instruction?

In Heaven they know the ‘secret’.

The ‘secret’, that the heavenly celestial being know, is that when it is G-d Who is the One to instruct, one should commit and fulfill first and ask about the details second.

Following that, will come epic and immensely powerful inspiration and meaningfulness.

It is not a robotic obedience that creates mindless devotees.

Not at all.

It is a leap of faith that then elicits and ushers-in to the one who has committed, a depth and intellectual appreciation. The level of understanding that follows this commitment is one that mere human efforts could not produce, they can only be achieved through G-d’s benevolent and infinite blessings.

Innately, our souls are privy to this secret.

This is why when one sends matzah to a Jew, he eats it on Pesach and refrains from eating bread.

Another elderly Jewish friend told me that this year he kept nine days of Passover as he miscalculated when Passover ended. He refrained from bread and ate matzah for nine full days.

We know it in ever fiber of our existence that when G-d instructs we act accordingly.

One of the greatest inspirations of my life is when I meet a Jew who is not raised with mitzvah observance and yet is willing and ready to do a mitzvah when offered the opportunity.

Every time a Jewish man rolls up his sleeve to lay Tefilin with me, I sense the power of the soul and depth of its spiritual intuition.

This is a tribute to the Jewish soul – the Neshama.

Our eyes are constantly on Israel and right now it’s very tense. The antisemitic winds around the world, which we hoped were a thing of the past, are most unsettling.

I hate to sound pessimistic. And I am not advocating walking around being scared G-d forbid.

I am conveying a message, a call to action.

A reminder to myself and to those who are listening to me speak to myself, that it is up to us to ADD LIGHT with greater intensity and with more energy.

LIGHT is added by you and I doing more good deeds. Mitzvahs that proclaim our connection to G-d and Mitzvahs that show our selflessness on behalf of others.

Oseh Shalom Bimromov… Hu Yaaseh Shalom Aleinu… Ve’al Kol Yisrael Ve’imru AMEN

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS on the topic of bar mitzvah and tefillin my brother in law Rabbi Alter Korf of S. Petersburg, Florida shared a very meaningful double ‘barmitzvah’ that took place in the most unexpected of circumstances. Click here to read .


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Self/ish/less. Healthier! Shabbat Shalom From Bangkok!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

One day before Purim in 1961 the president of the United States of America gave the following speech:

I have today signed an Executive Order providing for the establishment of a Peace Corps … I'm hopeful that it will be a source of satisfaction to Americans and a contribution to world peace.

A day later came Purim. The Rebbe led his customary Farbrengen (Chassidic gathering) in honor of Purim and mentioned the founding of the Peace Corps, referring to it as a most admirable and noble idea.

The Rebbe saw this announcement as Heavenly sent assistance to his own efforts for a Jewish ‘Peace Corp’. The Rebbe had repeatedly requested of his students and Chassidim, to leave the comforts of Brooklyn New York and take up teaching positions in places that Judaism was not yet readily available. It was not easy to inspire an immediate post-Holocaust generation to leave the spiritual safety of the close-knit community to go out to the spiritual wilderness as pioneers. Having this similar ideal espoused by the president of the USA and touted in the media as being a noble and idealistic concept, would help implement this in the Jewish world as well.

In the Rebbe’s words on Purim (March 2) 1961:

For years now, I have been saying over and over: Don't convince yourself that you can live off the “fat of the land” and serve G-d in comfort here... Listen! There are spiritually “desolate lands” where fellow Jews are wallowing in spiritual poverty. The Mitzva to love your fellow Jew applies even to someone on the other side of the globe whom you have never met. Torah demands that you love him exactly as you love yourself! So give up your own comforts and devote yourself to helping your fellow Jew who is in need.

And with your love of G-d and your love of a fellow Jew, combined with love of Torah and Mitzvos, we will end the exile which was brought about by unfounded hatred, and bring the Redemption through unbounded love.

Click here for the original audio with English translation.

This topic jumped into my mind as I was preparing for the burial of the late Mr. Harvey (Chaim) Price.

I observed that this had been the smoothest, most immediate and most dignified burial process that I have encountered in Thailand to this date.

Harvey passed away on Shabbat which was the last day of Pesach. Day 8 of Pesach. In his 88th year (two days shy of his 88th birthday in the civil calendar) and was buried on Sunday the very next day – the day after Passover.  

Eight is a special number in Jewish tradition. Immediate burial in a Jewish cemetery is a special merit.

One of the things that Harvey was proud of, was that he had first come to Thailand in 1962 as the part of the first group of Peace Corps.

In other words, Harvey’s coming to Thailand was based on an idealistic desire to help others. Quite unique and special. Only years later, in 1969 he opened his law firm.

The lesson I want to highlight here, is the importance that the Almighty places on minimizing self-absorption and maximizing the efforts spent on helping others.

The underlying message of the Torah is about learning and training how not to put one’s own materialistic interests at the core of one’s mission statement for life. Rather we must put our soul-interests at the core of our aspirations.

Rather, than asking G-d what ‘He can do for you’, it is about asking G-d ‘what you can do for Him’.

And G-d tells us that what we can do for HIM is to ‘Love your fellow as yourself’. Put the welfare of others at the epicenter of your life. When you do that, you are more G-dly.

Counterintuitively and surprisingly, the true path to personal happiness is by providing happiness to others.

More fulfilling than eating a good meal and feeling satisfied, is feeding a hungry person and watching the glow of satisfaction shine on their face.

Hashem tells us in His Torah that giving, helping, and sharing with others does wonders not just for the recipient. It creates even more wondrous and blessed outcomes for the giver himself. In other words, Hashem’s recipe for self-happiness is to help others.

It is not surprising that modern medicine also recognizes this universal truth.

Mayo Clinics website says that:

Volunteering reduces stress and increases positive, relaxed feelings by releasing dopamine. By spending time in service to others, volunteers report feeling a sense of meaning and appreciation, both given and received, which can have a stress-reducing effect. Reduced stress further decreases risk of many physical and mental health problems, such has heart disease, stroke, depression, anxiety and general illness. In addition, a Longitudinal Study of Aging found that individuals who volunteer have lower mortality rates than those who do not, even when controlling for age, gender and physical health.

My suggestion to my dear readers is as follows:

Don’t quit your job and become a full-time volunteer for a charitable cause. Wherever you are, and whatever occupation you engage in, may be exactly where you need to be. But DO become a more selflessly oriented person.

Next time that you get a request for help, especially if it is something that will require patience, effort and even toil, don’t irritably reject it out of hand. Rather, close your eyes, take a deep breath and ask yourself, ‘is it possible that Hashem has brought this person to me for help, so that I will have the blessing of giving’?

Once you reframe things in this light, you will joyously engage in selflessly doing good for those who need it.

You won’t suffer because of it. On the contrary.

And you too, will be blessed with a deeper sense of happiness and satisfaction than you had previously experienced.

Try to make sure that at least once a day you do something that this not self-centered but altruistically done to benefit someone else.

It is not so difficult to do, but it requires being mindful and on the lookout for the G-d given opportunities to help others.

With a mindset of benevolence, giving and tolerance, the world will be a brighter place and Mashiach’s arrival will be hastened.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

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follow the money

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

First of all, I want to share some positive news.

We merited to host 2513 people at the Pesach Seder’s on the first night of Pesach across Thailand.

While it’s not like pre-Covid numbers it is definitely an encouraging sign that life is resuming its vibrancy and people are beginning to travel.

May Hashem bless us with health and stability!

CLICK HERE FOR SHORT VIDEO CLIP

And for those who want to be a partner in this beautiful show of Jewish Traditions, Unity and Pride, we had more people than anticipated and the additional bills now need to be paid. YOUR generous gift can turn into holy Passover Mitzvah energy. Click here to donate for Passover

 

I got an unexpected but very welcome call from Phuket after the first days of Pesach that a dear friend of mine, a long time Jewish resident of Thailand, had attended the second night seder at Chabad of Phuket. What prompted him to come?

A CNN interview with a Rabbi in Ukraine, who explained how important it is to celebrate Passover during these challenging times. Amazing how G-dly inspiration can be spread through the most unlikely of ways.

In that spirit, I suggest that you consider celebrating these last days of Pesach, culminating in the ‘Seudat Mashiach’ the ‘Meal of Mashiach’ click here for more info. as the crises in the world should cause us not to be despondent and lethargic, but to be energetic, hopeful and full of yearning for better times. What we can do to hasten this, is add in awareness and good deeds to hasten the coming of Mashiach.

Click here for a mediation to help you ‘Live with Mashiach’.

 

 

 

Have you heard the term ‘follow the money’?

Or the other term ‘follow your gut/instinct’?

The second part of Pesach Holiday that begins this evening remind us that we need to follow G-d primarily.

The Jews left Egypt and followed Moshe out of Egypt upon G-d’s instructions.

By day seven, the heavily armed Egyptians were in hot pursuit of the Jewish people. The Jewish people were camped in front of the Reed Sea, with no good options. The angry Egyptians from behind, the sea in front, what were they to do? Facing this existential crisis, the first since the recent birth of the nation, there was variety of opinions about what to do.

The Midrash tells us that the Jewish people were divided into four camps. There were those who said, “Let us throw ourselves into the sea.” A second group said, “Let us return to Egypt.” A third faction argued, “Let us wage war upon the Egyptians.” Finally, a fourth camp advocated, “Let us pray to G‑d.”

Click here for a detailed explanation and practical application of this Midrash

So, what did they do?

Well, first of all, they were told that none of their opinions was the correct one.

Moshe rejected all four options, saying to the people, “Fear not; stand by and see the salvation of G‑d which He will show you today. For as you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again, forever. G‑d shall fight for you, and you shall be silent” (Exodus 14:13). “Fear not, stand by and see the salvation of G‑d,” explains the Midrash, is Moses’ response to those who had despaired of overcoming the Egyptian threat and wanted to plunge into the sea. “As you have seen Egypt this day, you shall not see them again” is addressed to those who advocated surrender and return to Egypt. “G‑d shall fight for you” is the answer to those who wished to battle the Egyptians, “and you shall be silent” is Moses’ rejection of those who said, “This is all beyond us. All we can do is pray.”

But what should they do?

G-d gave his clear and concise instruction to Moshe.

“Speak to the children of Israel, that they should go forward.”

There is only one thing a Jew needs to follow as he exits his personal Egypt and journeys to receive the Torah and enter his personal ‘Promised Land’.

GO FORWARD.

Do another mitzvah, ignite another soul, take one more step toward your goal. Pharaoh’s charioteers are breathing down your neck? A cold and impregnable sea bars your path? Don’t look up; look forward. See that Sinai mountain upon which the Torah will be given? Move toward it.

And when you move forward, you will see that insurmountable barrier yield and that ominous threat fade away. You will see that, despite all the evidence to the contrary, you have it within your power to reach your goal. Even if you have to split some seas.

This leap of faith is a difficult one. But it is a liberating leap that changes everything else in your life.

Don’t blindly follow the money. Life is about much more than money. And the obsession with accumulating wealth has led many a good intentioned person astray.

Don’t blindly follow your instincts. Some of our instincts are good and have been instilled within us to protect us. Other instincts however are instilled within us to challenge us. In order to have us put forth an effort to overcome them.

FOLLOW G-D.

This is fulfilled by learning Torah, fulfilling Mitzvahs and generally being aware of G-d’s presence in every single aspect of creation.

The ‘move forward’ mode is truly the G-dly way.

So many times, in so many circumstances, I have seen the ‘splitting of the sea’ as a result of moving forward even when the situation looked insurmountable.

Here is an example of a ‘big’ thing.

Just before year 2000 we had an opportunity to rent a large facility for our then bursting at the seams Chabad House in Kasoarn Rd. The leap from renting a narrow Chinese shophouse, to leasing a three storied. hundreds of meters large, location was a great one. The financial ramifications were enormous.

I took a good friend to see the new suggested location with me. He was honest, and told me ‘Rabbi, this project is too big for you’ and advised me to go for something more modest. After rethinking and consulting with others,  it still seemed to me that expanding was the direction that G-d wanted us to take. For the scope of our work was being hindered by the smallness of our facility and we needed to take this leap to further the work of G-d. We took the leap and thank G-d were successful. Instead of having more financial struggle we actually had less. Counterintuitive but true.

Twenty years later in 2017, a property became available for purchase not far from the main backpacker area. This was an opportunity to get out of paying rent and pay a mortgage instead. But the financial cost of property purchase and subsequent Chabad House building, was staggering. After consulting and thinking, it seemed clear that the path of G-d was pointing towards going ahead with the ambitious project. At various points of this project there were overwhelming challenges. G-d helped and at each stop of the way, dear friends stepped forward to be the angels that helped us bring this project to completion.

MIRACULOUS NEWS. This year - PESACH 2022 - at Kaosarn Rd was celebrated in the NEW Chabad House – Ohr Menachem (official grand opening on June 21 please G-d).

Somehow, the sea split, and we are in the new building.

And there are multitudes of small things.

Times when things looked bleak and overwhelming. Days where it seemed like the ideal place would be to hide out in bed with the covers over the head.

But as the Rebbe once answered someone ‘taking action, even the smallest action, is better than sleeping, and certainly better than falling into a deep slumber’.

Wake up. Get out of bed. Take a step in the right direction. Do the next right thing.

Time after time, I have seen, as I am sure that you too have, that when I follow this instruction ‘go forward’ in the direction of G-d, by doing the next right thing, somehow the seas split. The insurmountable obstacles become manageable, and things start moving forward in the right path to Sinai and the Promised Land.

This Holiday that begins tonight, the Seventh day of Pesach, is about the MIRACULOUS splitting of the sea which was brought about after Nachshon of the tribe of Yehuda walked into the sea ready to give up his life in order to fulfil G-d’s command of ‘Go Forward’. At the last moment, before the waters engulfed him, the sea split. Click here for more on this

This holiday is thus the holiday of commitment to the point of Mesirat Nefesh – Self Sacrifice.

May G-d bless us to never need to exercise this in actuality like our ancestors needed to, but rather may Hashem bless us to show our commitment to Him by  sacrificing our wants, desires and egos.

From this holiday we take the power and energy, courage, strength and conviction to move forward and follow G-d and LIVE the life of a believing Jew .

May the Almighty bring us Mashiach speedily in our days! NOW!!!!

Chag Sameach, Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

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Chag HaPesach Kasher Vesameach

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Hashem sent me a few lessons about freedom and liberation during my trip to USA via Israel.

I must admit that I felt quite foolish.

After standing for 90 minutes in a line that inched along to the El Al ticket counter I hurriedly proceeded to the boarding gate. I glanced down at my boarding pass and saw the letters ‘GL’ followed by my El Al mileage number.

I sent a WhatsApp to my travel agent asking him whether I understood correctly that this meant I was a gold member of the El Al Matmid mileage program. He confirmed to me that yes, I was.

It dawned on me. Almost three years ago, before covid began, I had a few back-to-back trips to Israel that earned me the ‘gold’ status on El Al. It’s been so long since I traveled that it never dawned on me that I had this status. Apparently however, the status was preserved.

This means that I could have checked in at the business class check-in counter and avoided the long lines. Not to mention the access to the King David lounge which is well stocked with kosher food and drink.

The oversight on my part was so ridiculous that I chuckled to myself. But I was wondering, what lesson could I learn from the experience.

I had a flashback. To the summer of 1991 one of the highlights of my life. I was the head counselor of the main Chabad Gan Yisrael boy’s camp. It was the last day of camp and the entire camp had traveled from the Catskill mountains to 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. The Rebbe would address the children after praying Mincha with them. After that they would be dismissed and go home with their parents who would pick them up. Before the Rebbe would enter the Shul for prayers, the head counselor – in this case yours truly – would give a short inspirational speech.

This is the story I told:*

Around the turn of the twentieth century, Vladimir, an illiterate and unworldly Siberian peasant, struck it rich. One day he was offered a very lucrative business proposition. Closing the deal, however, required his presence in Moscow.

Moscow. He was pretty sure that a horse—even the sturdiest his village had to offer—would not be able to make the trip of several thousand kilometers . . . Some of the more sophisticated residents of the town came to his rescue, advising him about the existence of a new mode of transportation, a “train.” If he were to travel to Novosibirsk, the closest large city, he would be able to catch a train to Moscow.

Thus, one fine day found Vladimir in the central train station of Novosibirsk. When he informed the lady behind the ticket counter of his intended destination, she asked him what sort of ticket he wished to purchase. Observing his confusion, she told him that he could purchase a first-, second- or third-class ticket. A third-class ticket, she explained, offered absolutely no amenities, and didn’t even guarantee a spot on the train. If the arriving train was already filled to capacity, he would have to wait for the next one. A second-class ticket offered a greater chance of a spot on the train, along with more comfortable accommodations. A first-class ticket came with a guaranteed seat, and all amenities necessary to ensure a luxurious and comfortable journey.

Money was hardly an issue, so first class it would be. The ticket lady explained to her consumer that the ticket was non-refundable, and should be guarded carefully. Vladimir heeded her advice, and tucked his ticket beneath the many layers of clothing he was wearing.

As it turned out, the train would not arrive for another few days. Vladimir noted the date and time of its anticipated arrival, arranged for lodgings in the interim, and arrived back at the station two hours early, since this was his first time attempting such a journey. He decided to just follow the flow, assuming that he would be fine as long as he copied exactly what his fellow travelers were doing.

The train arrived. After his initial shock at seeing such a monstrously large caravan of cars, Vladimir regained his composure and scanned the terminal to see what to do. As it was early, most of the passengers had not yet arrived, but he noticed three passengers boarding the very last car on the train. He followed them into the car, and when each one climbed beneath one of the benches in the car, he did the same. Unfortunately, he wasn’t fully familiar with proper stowaway protocol, and his feet jutted out across the aisle of the third-class car.

Unfortunately, he wasn’t fully familiar with proper stowaway protocol

It was dark and lonely beneath the bench, and Vladimir quickly dozed off. He didn’t feel the train start to move, and didn’t hear the conductor entering the car. He did, however, feel a sharp kick to his shins, and the startled peasant was expertly hoisted out by the burly conductor.

“You moron, you think this is a free ride?” he bellowed. “You need a ticket to ride this train!”

“What’s the problem, sir,” Vladimir meekly responded. “I have a ticket.”

The other travelers on the train car burst out laughing at this ludicrous claim. Their laughter only intensified when he started peeling off layer after layer of clothing, starting with his expensive fur coat and ending with his undergarments. But, much to their astonishment, he pulled out a ticket—a first-class ticket, no less!

After verifying that the ticket was indeed authentic, the conductor, in a distinctly humbled tone of voice, asked the obvious: “Sir, you have an expensive first-class ticket; pray tell me why you are lying under a bench in the third-class car?!”

“Because that’s what the others were doing . . .” was the embarrassed response.

Boys, I concluded, you have spent eight weeks in camp, and you recognize how at Mount Sinai we were given a first class ticket. One day, the Conductor will want to know whether we used it or not. Certainly, it does not behoove us to just follow what ‘others are doing’. Rather we have the blessing to conduct ourselves as befitting ‘first class’ passengers.

Standing there about to board my flight, with a forgotten GL status in hand, after standing for nearly two hours in a queue, I realized that Hashem was reminding me of this story.

Liberation is available to us. We have the ‘Liberated status’. But we need to remember that we are liberated. On Pessach Hashem gives us the gift of Liberation. This is why we have a seder talking about the miraculous Exodus from Egypt, we eat matzah and drink four cups of wine and thus we remember and become aware that we are liberated and free ever since then. This liberation and freedom can never be taken from us.

Click here for an essay on how you can be free even when you are technically imprisoned.

The second lesson I got was when earlier this week I grazed my car with a NYPD school safety department car coming of the Belt Parkway. It was a minor dent to my car and barely a scratch on the NYPD car.

I knew that it was a blessing from Heaven, as I was coming from dropping my parents off at the airport which is a Mitzvah that is very special and I was on my way to the Ohel of the Rebbe to pray. If I had an accident between this great mitzvah and visiting this holy place, it must be a blessed accident. And indeed, thank G-d, no one was hurt. But it did take about 90 minutes till Seargent Pellegrino came and wrote the appropriate report. I asked if we couldn’t just agree that it was nothing and was told that since it was a government vehicle, a report needed to be written and it was forbidden for me to leave the site of the accident till that time.

I was imprisoned in some sense. I couldn’t carry on with my schedule as planned. And I had a minute-to-minute schedule of important meetings for that last day in New York. That was now not to be.

But I felt wonderfully liberated. I used my phone to make calls to the people I wanted to visit but now would not have time to visit. They were wonderful calls as I was at ease and without the pressure of time constraints. I could even dance. Although I chose not to do a jovial noisy dance (see the below humor section) I certainly hummed a joyous melody and tapped my feet in the brisk sunny spring air. Liberation is a state of being, I reminded myself.

The third instance took place earlier this morning.

I landed in Bangkok and was taken by the hotel for the rapid Covid test on the way to checking in to the hotel. After about three hours, my son Mendel came over to pick up our luggage. They let him up to the room. I thought that this was a concession that he had managed to negotiate from the hotel staff. A half hour later, after calling down to the reception to find out if our test results had come back yet, I was told that about half an hour ago they had received the results but forgotten to tell me.

I was free to go but I didn’t know. (that even rhymes 😊 )

An example of how you can be essentially and existentially liberated but because of distractions and desensitizing decadent practices, be totally unaware of it.

This Passover, make sure to ingest the ‘Food of Faith’ = Matzah Shmurah. Drink four cups of wine = the taste of liberation and spend time listening to the questions of your child and explaining to him the gift that G-d gave us of redemption from Egypt and gifting us the Torah of Truth and Life.

Celebrate your liberation. Be aware of it. Delight in it. Savor it. And LIVE A LIBERATED LIFE. There is no freedom, like living a life consistent with G-d’s Torah and Mitzvahs.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Sameach

A KOSHER AND HAPPY PESACH

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

*story as written on Chabad.org

 

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Chai from Thai

Dear Friend,

We are meant to be happy. All the time. It’s a Mitzvah.

Especially now.

Passover is a joyous and celebratory time.

But how can we be happy?

The world seems so scary.

I won’t go into details of world news because that is the job of the news reporters. Suffice it to say the world is covered with darkness in many ways.

It’s even more scary when you realize that what we know is just a tip of the iceberg about what is really going on.

Be happy?

How?

This year we have another reason for special celebration.

In our generation, we were blessed with the great gift of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s leadership.

The day of birth of a leader is cause for celebration. The Rebbe of righteous memory was born four days before Pesach in 1902. This year is thus the 120th year. A most significant and joyous milestone.

But, against the backdrop of our current world predicament how can one be in the state of mind to be joyous?

There is an ancient Jewish tradition to say the chapter in Tehillim – Psalms corresponding to the year of ones life. i.e. when one is born it is year one. When one turns twenty it is year twenty-one etc. Thus as we enter the 121st year since the Rebbe’s birth, we begin to say Psalm 121.

Psalm 121 spells out very clearly how a Jew is able to live his life with joy even while facing adversity.

King David speaks on behalf of all of the people of Israel in his book of Tehillim – Psalms.

I shall raise my eyes to the mountains, from where will my help come?

My help is from the Lord, the Maker of heaven and earth

When things look bleak, rather than hiding in a corner and pretending that nothing is wrong and all is fine and dandy, you should look reality in the eye.

Look up to G-d and be mindful that our lives, our strength, our help and salvation, come from G-d.

And nothing is beyond G-d’s realm of possibility.

As trying and challenging as things may seem, G-d is in charge and can change the course of the world to one of peace and tranquility in no time.

Liberation does not mean living in denial and ignoring the challenges.

True freedom is about recognizing the challenges and transcending them by connecting to the Higher Authority and being enwrapped in His infinite embrace.

On Pesach, each and every year, we are gifted the spirit of liberation and freedom once more.

It is up to us to ‘plug in’ and activate the incredible opportunity of liberation that Pesach brings.

As Moshe shared with the Jewish people on the day that he turned 120

(Devarim 29:33)

Fortunate are you, O Israel! Who is like you, O people whose salvation is through God, the shield who helps you, your majestic sword!

When we but realize that G-d is with us, we truly feel fortunate and JOYOUS.

***

In our post Holocaust generation, inspired by the Rebbe’s leadership, we are witness to the catapulting of Jewish life and experience to the most diverse and widespread locales.

The adaptation of Jewish life to so many varied environments is a source of inspiration and colorful anecdotes.

One of the exciting and incongruous places that Judaism has proliferated, is Thailand.

Nechama and I are blessed to have been sent by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in 1993 to provide spiritual leadership to the Jews of Thailand. Over the years, we have engaged in many incredibly inspiring Jewish experiences.

It has been my privilege to share some of these stories in my weekly emails.

These emails began after the horrendous terrorist attack on the twin towers, knows as 9/11. The Rebbe would often repeat the aphorism that ‘a little light dispels a lot of darkness’. This weekly communique was my way of adding a bit of light.

A dear friend Bennet Hymer of Hawaii was so inspired by these anecdotes that he set out to publish a book of these stories.

These are not really my stories. Rather they are a testament to the vision and empowering leadership of the Rebbe. My stories are not unique. Thousands of my colleagues around the world experience similarly miraculous and inspiring encounters as they go around their holy and vital work. The Rebbe propelled and empowered all of us and continues to do so as the soul becomes more radiant after physically passing.

While the book was published more than half a year ago, I hadn’t yet spoken about it in my weekly email. Bennett Hymer, my dear friend, the publisher of the book, asked me last week when would I announce it?

I wasn’t sure. But listen to what happened earlier today, and you will see how Hashem provided me with clear guidance.

Thank G-d I have the merit to be able to be represent the community of Thailand, in New York for the Monday night celebration of the Rebbe’s 120th birthday after which I head back home to Bangkok for the final preparation of our Pesach activities that are being ably handed by my dear wife and our Chabad staff.

One of my missions for my NY trip is raising funds for providing Pesach food, joy and welfare to Jews residing and visiting Thailand via our communal seders and food distribution.

I was visiting some philanthropic supporters in Long Island and prayed the Mincha afternoon service together with them in the buildings conference room. Just before the prayers, a thought went through my mind that perhaps this week I would announce the book in honor of the Rebbe’s birthday. For it was the Rebbe’s fervent wish that every person inspire others to reach beyond their comfort zone. To do another mitzvah, to study more Torah. The purpose of the book is to inspire this kind of growth. But I still wasn’t sure if I would announce it this week.

The payers were over. People filed out of the room, till there was just one person left who was waiting to tell me something. He introduced himself and then said ‘I have regards from Bennet Hymer in Hawaii. He even gave me a copy of your book that he published’.

My dear friends, I am blessed to see many instances of Divine Providence. Somehow this one simply astounded me.

So, in heeding the message from Heaven, I am sharing the details of the book ‘Chai from Thai – Jewish experiences from Thailand’ . (In Thailand this will be available locally via our office).

***

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom and success in selling your chametz, acquiring Matzah and generally preparing for Pesach – the Festival of our Liberation.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

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Chockablock full of activity

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Pesach is around the corner.

The inebriating spirit of liberation is in the air.

In preparation for the upcoming Pesach, three Torah’s are read from in the Synagogue this week. Busy. In a good and powerful way.

Just like the way the week was for Jewish life in Thailand. Chockablock full of activity.

During this past seven days, we celebrated a birth, a bar mitzvah and (to separate between one form of life and the other form of life) we are about to perform a burial at the Jewish cemetery.

Maybe for New York, London or Melbourne that doesn’t sound so unusual, but for a ‘remote’ Jewish community the size of Thailand’s it was an eventful week.

It showed how deeply rooted Jewish life has become in Thailand.

The Bar-Mitzvah that was held at Beth Elisheva this past Shabbat was joyous and meaningful. It was also highly symbolic. The grandparents of Lucas Rafael Frankel, the Bar-Mitzvah boy, were active and foundational members of the Jewish community since the 1960’s. The Bar-Mitzvah boy’s parents grew up in Thailand. One of the first weddings I officiated at after arriving to Thailand was that of the parents of the Bar-Mitvzah boy.

To see this third generation living in Thailand Jew be called to the Torah at Bangkok’s local Synagogue and to hear him declare how proud he is to be a link in the unbroken 3,334 year golden chain of Judaism was very inspiring.

The words ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ – the People of Israel is Alive – summed it up most fittingly.

Just a few days later, Rabbi & Mrs. Mendy Zayantz who run the Chabad House in Pai, gave birth to a healthy baby girl in Bangkok. This baby too, is third generation Thailand. Her mother is Chanie Wilhelm who grew up in Thailand. She is the daughter of Rabbi & Mrs. Nechemya Wilhelm of Kaoard Rd’s Chabad House.

Sadly a few hours later, we got a call from Roi-Et that Berel (Bernie) Sandow had returned his soul to his creator just shy of his 86th birthday. Berel left instructions that he wanted to have a Jewish burial and please G-d this will take place on Friday. (See below, if you can help with the minyan). Berel was born in NY but spent the last two decades of his life here in Thailand.

Our ‘tzedakah fund’ was very active this week. In a process that took several years, this week we repatriated an elderly man back home to the UK after he had come to the end of his money and was left penniless and homeless. We sent food packages to those who need nutritional assistance. As well, the ‘chessed shel emmet’ tzedakah fund will cover the Jewish burial expenses.

We have launched our Passover appeal so that we can actualize our Passover commitment that ‘all who are hungry should come and eat’.

Pesach supplies will be sold from Sunday.

Many will remember that years ago, when we announced that we would be selling Passover supplies, it meant matzah and matzah meal and a few other items.

Today thank G-d, the choices are many. See the below picture or visit JCafe Pesach Store’s website JCafe Pesach Store’s website to see the range of kosher for Passover products.

Yes, we are an active community thank G-d. It is possible to live a Jewish life in Thailand.

Passover Seders will be held please G-d for our local community with instruction in either English or Hebrew.

As well, we are a hub for Jewish travelers. Thousands of travelers have meaningful and transformational Jewish experiences in Thailand. The Chabad Houses that span Thailand from North to South are welcoming hubs that provide a feeling of home, both physically and spiritually.

And of course, now that tourism has resumed, Chabad House across Thailand will be hosting myriads of travelers at eight different locations. 

My dear friends, the one who foresaw this incredible growth opportunity even in a community as far away as Thailand, was the Lubavitcher Rebbe who believed in the future of vibrant Jewish observance wherever Jews may live. The Rebbe acted on this belief and sent his students as emissaries – Shluchim – to spread Judaism in a meaningful and joyful way.

Jewish life in Thailand of the early 1990’s, when Nechama and I merited that the Rebbe sent us as his Shluchim, was quite challenging to say the least. Fast forward to 2022 and thank G-d one can see the tremendous change and growth. And this narrative is being repeated in hundreds of locations around the globe as the Rebbe’s vision of Jewish outreach is yielding fruits of previously unimaginable proportions.

The Rebbe was born four days before Pesach in 1902. That means that this year on April 12th it will be the 120th year since his birth. This represents a full lifetime. It is a significant date and world Jewry is marking this milestone birthday by giving ‘gifts’ to the Rebbe who gave the world so much. Click here for more.

How do you give a gift to a Rebbe?

How do you give a gift to anyone?

It’s simple.

You do something that is meaningful to him.

If your friend likes cookies, you give them cookies.

The Rebbe’s lifetime was devoted to Torah and Mitzvahs. To illuminating the world. To helping every person by doing acts of tzedakah, goodness and kindness. To selflessly shepherding others, one person at a time. Pushing and uplifting anyone and everyone, to go for the ‘gold’ and bring Mashiach to end suffering and welcome in the utopian peaceful Messianic era.

That is then what the gift should be.

You study some extra Torah in his honor.

You do a Mitzvah in his honor.

Even more, you adopt his ideals, values and ambitions as your own. Join in the mission of filling the world with acts of tzedakah, goodness and kindness. Be imbued with the passion to end the strife, pain and suffering, to yearn for Mashiach.

That would give him real ‘nachas’ satisfaction.

Click here for a video regarding the USA govt proclamation of Education Day in honor of the Rebbe’s birthday.

And since we are in proximity to Pesach it should all be done in the “Pesach mode’.

Pesach means to JUMP OVER.

Applying that to our lives, it means not just not to be satisfied with working at anything less than full capacity.

But that even when reaching full capacity, not stopping to rest but JUMPING ever higher.

The Rebbe would constantly quote the saying of our Sages, ‘If you achieved 100, you should now aim for 200’.

Practically speaking: If you know about Passover and are going to eat Matzah and have a Seder, you should spread the wealth and reach out to another, to make sure that they have matzah and a seder.

It will be our pleasure to partner up with you in reaching Jews who don’t have matzah and provide you with matzah and help in any other way we can help.

If each of us tries a little harder, the unleashing of positive energy and light will be incredibly powerful.

And the world needs positive, powerful and peaceful vibes and energy now more than ever.

Shabbat Shalom

Chodesh Tov

And an early Chag Pesach Kasher VeSameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

 

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homeless not G-dless

 

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

At the beginning of the week, I heard an inspiring story.

(Sadly, I heard many painful stories as well. Like the suffering going on in Ukraine (click her to help relief efforts) as well as a violent terrorist attack in Israel and some close very dear friends going through unimaginable personal tragedy. This week’s Parsha has its painful aspects as it describes Aaron’s great suffering and his response of ‘silence’ click here for more.

The second Torah we read this week is about the mitzvah of the ‘Parah Adumah’ that even the wise King Solomon couldn’t understand. Yes, there are things that happen that we cannot (and dare not) understand or come to terms with. Like bad things happening to good people. Click here for more.

For now, though, I want to share something uplifting, to bring you into the sweet, joyous holy spirit of Shabbat).

Back to the story.

My father-in-law gives Torah lessons to a Los Angeles dentist name Eliyahu. Last week, after visiting his parents, Eliyahu was driving near Sunset Blvd, as he has done hundreds of times before. While driving, he noticed a homeless person sitting there on the sidewalk with a collection cup. He didn’t make anything of it. Somehow, inexplicably, although he is very familiar with the area, he made a wrong turn. He got his bearings and set off once more the party at a friend’s house that he was headed too. Once again, he noticed that same homeless person.

Eliyahu is a sensitive and spiritual person. He said to himself, if Hashem orchestrated my route to make this unusual mistake and notice this unfortunate person, let me embrace the mission that G-d has sent me on and stop and help him.

Eliyahu parked his car and went to speak to the homeless man and said ‘G-d sent me to you’ and gave him some money.

The man started crying. Eliyahu asked him why he was crying. When he heard his answer, he too started crying from emotion.

‘I have been sitting here for more than an hour and a half and no one has yet paid attention or noticed me. I felt abandoned and uncared for. In my hopelessness I turned to G-d. I prayed to G-d and said ‘G-d, it seems like you don’t care for me. I feel like I am worthless in your eyes and you don’t even notice me’.

‘As I finished my discussion with G-d, all of sudden an angel came to me from G-d. I shouldn’t cry’?

Such a powerful, stirring story from the streets of Los Angeles. The predicament of the homeless person was not permanently solved, but he no longer felt abandoned by G-d. Right there in his sleeping bag on Sunset Ave he had a conversation with Hashem, and he was answered in a way that makes it clear to him that G-d is with him.

Prayer is powerful.

And prayer is accessible. To each and every one of us.

Personal prayer, praying when you need something, is a mitzvah. It is simply a conversation with G-d, asking Him to help you with whatever you need.

It doesn’t require any special language. Nor does it require any particular location. There is no charge, nor is there any affiliation requirement.

It is a simple as ‘when you need something, turn to G-d’.

G-d wants us to turn to Him.

No, you won’t be an irritating nudge. Your prayers are ‘music to His ear’ so to speak.

G-d desires our prayers. Our Sages tell us, that sometimes G-d doesn’t give us things till we ask for them. Because He wants our prayers.

May G-d answer all our prayers favorably and bring Mashiach, who will herald in the utopian era of peace and revelation of G-d, AMEN

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

Watch a moment of wisdom for this week's Torah portion👇👇👇

 

 

 

Happy Purim!

 

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

If you are anything like me, you are celebrating Purim and at the same time you have your eyes on the worsening situation in Ukraine and the millions of refugees.

How can we celebrate Purim to its fullest when there is so much suffering?

First of all, before addressing the question, its important to state the following:

You are a Jew. I am a Jew. We both know that our ‘slogan’ of commitment that we coined at the giving of the Torah at Sinai is ‘Na’aseh Venishma’. We will DO and then we will UNDERSTAND’.

The secret of our existence is that we stick ‘religiously’ to the OBSERVANCE of G-d’s instructions even when they may not be fully understood by our mortal minds. And even when we may not ‘feel like it’.

Obviously, the bottom line for us Jewish people is that we observe Purim during good times and during better times. Unfailingly. Unquestionably.

Now to address the feelings many of us are having regarding what the suffering and how to view it in the context of Purim.

There are  four Mitzvahs on Purim (Megillah reading by day and night, food gifts to at least one friend, feasting, and gifts of money to at least two poor people). Of these four mitzvahs, the mitzvah we are instructed to MOST EMPHASIZE is the mitzvah of giving gifts to HELP THE POOR!!!

The first thing one can do when celebrating Purim while being more aware and mindful of the dire suffering, is to give tzedakah to help those in need (Purim monies through this link will be distributed those in need locally, in Israel and in Ukraine)

or to direct your tzedaka specifically to the needy in Ukraine  www.jewishthailand.com/ukraine

This is my first point. Purim is about doing things to create joy. For OTHERS and for yourself. Providing joy to others is the G-dly path to becoming more joyous oneself.

Stay away from the urge to walk around with a sad face and sighing. Having a melancholy temperament as tempting as it is when times are tough, doesn’t help the people who need your energetic help.  Sighing is also not enough. It doesn’t create any positive result.

Action is what is needed.

Physical. And spiritual.

Let’s talk about the most powerful tools we have, to change negative reality.

By doing Mitzvahs, all and any Mitzvahs, and as today is Purim, especially the timely mitzvahs of Purim, we create awesome spiritual blessings for everything good, healthy and peaceful.

And by adding in JOY. Yes. Anytime you are joyous, you are drawing down G-d’s Divine positive ‘energies’ down into this world.

On Purim its infinitely more potent.

By being joyous today, you are fulfilling the mitzvah of Purim and inviting the blessings of POSITIVE TRANSFORMATION into the world.

When its challenging to be joyous, it is even more potent!!!

Hashem sent me a special Purim inspiration this morning.

At the 11:00 AM reading of the Megillah at JCafe I met someone who told me that since as far back as he can remember, he has not missed hearing the Megillah.

And he remembers quite far back… He is seventy-two years old and remembers his parents taking him to the Megillah reading since he was a small boy.

This year, after just returning to Thailand after sheltering from Covid in the USA, and seeing that our big party was called off, he thought that maybe the tradition of hearing Megillah would be broken.

Then he saw that we were having Megillah readings EVERY HOUR ON THE HOUR at JCafe (last reading at 6pm today) and he got to hear the Megillah to his great joy!!!

The Purim Story in Miniature

This small encounter inspired me. for this is the classic Jewish story.

We have been doing this for thousands of years.

We go through ups and downs. Difficult times, easier times. Richer periods, poorer periods. Yet, we know, that as the story of the Megillah so richly tells us, it is G-d who is pulling the strings.

And when G-d is in charge, we are all in good hands.

May Hashem bless our world with PEACE, HEALTH and REDEMPTION!!!!

Happy Purim

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS this is going to be a long PS. I am attaching below an article I wrote two years ago. As we were beginning to ‘mask up’ for Covid. Then, I wrote it about the dangers lurking in microbes from the inside. Today it is as applicable to the dangers in the forms of missiles from the outside.

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Do your best to fight the virus!

PUT ON A MASK!!!

It’s Purim after all.

The reasons we wear masks on Purim?

Here is a smorgasbord of reasons:

Why do we get dressed up on Purim?

Let me focus on one of the reasons that I think is pertinent to us now.

A mask conceals and covers.

The constant Providence of G-d, the guiding Hand that is always on the ‘steering wheel’ is also concealed and covered.

The miracle of Purim is a miracle that took place under wraps. It was guised as a natural event guided by political intrigues.

Only from the perspective of hindsight can we see the miraculous in the events that took more than a decade to unfold.

On Purim we celebrate the miracle that wasn’t overtly ‘miraculous’ like the splitting of the sea. It was a miracle that could have been interpreted as being a series of lucky coincidences.

Wearing a mask reminds us that things aren’t always the way they look.

Behind the mask lies something different.

It’s not nature that runs its haphazard course and creates ‘coincidences’.

G-d is in charge.

G-d makes the constant miracles that we call nature.

He masks His presence so that we don’t see Him unless we choose to look beyond the masks.

My dear friends, now more than ever we have the chance to WAKE UP and realize that it is G-d who is the Master of the Universe.

How big is a virus?

Virus particles are about one-millionth of an inch (17 to 300 nanometers) long. Viruses are about a thousand times smaller than bacteria, and bacteria are much smaller than most human cells. Viruses are so small that most cannot be seen with a light microscope, but must be observed with an electron microscope.

Yet, this miniscule, creature called a virus, has the entire world at its knees.

Click to read this story from the Talmud about Titus the Emperor of Rome

Our lives have all been affected by this little nothing. By this speck of viral matter.

Superpowers. Space-age countries. All have been brought to their knees by this teeny-weeny brat.

It seemingly has no boundaries and doesn’t recognize different religions or political affiliations. All are equally at risk. The contagion is universal. We struggle mightily with being able to contain it. Every once in a while, someone gets it and we can’t even find out how he picked it up.

This all points to one thing.

It is time to peel away the veneer of our belief in haphazard evolution.

It is time to wake up and identify the sophisticated denial of a Supreme Creator as being a subtle and genteel variation of idolatry.

It’s time to put on our Purim masks and recognize that G-d is the Master of the Universe!!!!

If you are Jewish, you have a very timely opportunity during the next few hours.

The gift of being able to help the world out of its great time of need.

How?

By CELEBRATING PURIM.

In connection with Purim, we give the Machatzit Hashekel half shekel about which the Torah uses the words ‘there will not be a plague’, and we pray to the Almighty for His constant benevolence to us.

This year, the entire world needs our prayers.

First of all, let us pray for Israel. The situation there is very tense. The economy is facing unprecedented challenges from the huge numbers of people in quarantine as well as the severe limitations on its borders and subsequent tourism fallout. 

As well the entire world is in distress.

We need to pray on behalf of all of the inhabitants of the world, to send a Purim miracle to the world.

REVSERSAL of the sickness.

Eradication of the fear, panic and terror that grips us and threatens and disrupts our lives.

As there was for the Jewish People in Persia of yore, so may there be for us here and now ‘light and joy’!!!

Dear Friends,

There is something else I want to share.

I want to invoke the memory of a more modern-day miracle and perhaps tap into that miraculous energy of contemporary times and thus ‘draw down’ the G-dly miracles that we are so desperately in need of now.

Twenty-nine years ago in the weeks and months before Purim, Israel was gripped with uncertainty and fear.

Not from a virus. From missiles.

Sadaam Hussein did not just threaten to rain down missiles on Israel. He actually sent barrages of missiles that landed on Israel.

However, MIRACLES happened. There were no direct fatalities.

On February 28 1991 – PURIM DAY 14 Adar 5751 the Gulf War ended the miracle reached its crescendo. The regional conflagration that had the potential to get unimaginably worse, ended with a ceasefire. On PURIM DAY.

The Rebbe had spoken about this beforehand, encouraging us to believe in G-d and anticipate miracles.

Here is an article from ‘kabala online’ about the unfolding of these events from the Rebbe’s perspective.

The Rebbe wrote several letters just after these events, directing us to look at these event at the Divine G-dly miracles that they were.

Not content with simply pointing out our responsibility to thank G‑d for these miracles, the Rebbe encourages all of us to become "even more strongly aware that this is the time of urgent preparedness for the fulfillment of the prophecy 'and the kingdom shall be G‑d's,' when all nations will recognize that... '(the world) has a Master' — a recognition that will lead 'all of them to call upon the Name of G‑d, to worship Him with one consent.'"

Furthermore, in his signature manner, the Rebbe urges everyone to reciprocate to G‑d by elevating our own "daily Jewish conduct to the level of the supra-natural... everyone, man and woman, elevated above their natural tendencies and habits, in the area of Torah study and doing Mitzvos with hiddur (excellence) in a manner of "multiple miracles," striving ever higher and still higher..."

Purim is about remembering the miracles and by wearing masks we remind ourselves that the miracles are still here with us. Constantly. We need but peel away the exterior and reveal the every steady guiding Hand of G-d in every single iota of existence.

Happy Purim!!!!

Do your bit for the world’s health.

CELEBRATE PURIM WITH JOY

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

Watch a moment of wisdom in honor of Purim👇👇👇

 

 

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