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Weekly Emails "Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Musings of Regret

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

As I was putting one leg into my pants, before I had a chance to put the other leg in, it hit me with full force.

‘Oy vey iz mir’. I forgot!

The eightieth birthday party celebration. A dear friend had turned eighty a few days earlier, and I had missed the zoom celebration.

Not just one celebration did I miss. To accommodate all the time zones in which he has friends (he is a wildly popular fellow) there were three separate virtual parties. And I had missed all three.

The feelings of regret and shame were palpable. Yet I quickly pulled myself together and figured that notwithstanding the embarrassment of having overlooked this milestone celebration, I needed to finish getting dressed. 

After thinking for a few minutes, I realized that this was an eminently valuable learning experience. Especially pertinent to the time that it occurred, just before the High Holidays.

It was a poignant and relevant lesson about Teshuva. Return to G-d. The first stage of Teshuva (commonly translated ‘repentance’ but more accurately it means ‘return’ click here for more on this) is to regret your misdeeds. The next stage is to commit to not repeating the mistakes. And attempting to fix what was damaged by the sin.

The feeling I felt so strongly upon realizing that I had ‘dropped the ball’ and missed the party, was one of regret. Deep regret. 

But the matter was done.

What could I do now to fix it?

Well, I could call the birthday boy and tell him the truth that I forgot. And indeed, I immediately sent him a note asking when we could talk via zoom so that I could apologize for missing his ‘big’ day.

My friend was gracious about it.

He accepted my heartfelt apology and truly forgave me. He is that kind of person. An understanding empathetic person. We had a fantastic ‘private zoom celebration’ which was enjoyable and meaningful.

But I knew, that while he was not harboring any lingering ill feelings, I had lost an opportunity to celebrate with him that would never come back. My friend would not turn eighty again.

Hmmm. It drove home the point that there are som opportunities that are simply not ‘make-up-able’. I cannot fix the fact that I did not participate on the day of the birthday. 

This helped bring home an additional point about Teshuva. 

There is a difference between doing teshuva for the sin of commission, for doing something one shouldn’t have done, then for the sin of omission, for neglecting to do something that one was supposed to do. 

On the face of it, it would seem that atoning for doing something wrong would be harder than atoning for not doing something you were meant to do.

In the language of the Talmud:

If one failed to fulfill a positive commandment and repented, he is forgiven immediately.

If one violated a prohibitive commandment and repented, his repentance is tentative, and Yom Kippur atones.

Let’s say for example one ate something that was not kosher. 

If one is regretful and asks Hashem for forgiveness, Hashem acquiesces tentatively, and fully wipes away the ‘stain’ on the following Yom Kippur.

If however one missed an opportunity to do a positive commandment. For example, one neglected to eat matzah on the first evening of Passover.  For this omission, Hashem forgives immediately if one asks G-d for forgiveness.

There is no stain left. No need to wait till Yom Kippur for atonement.

So yes, getting forgiven for neglecting to do a positive commandment is easier than achieving atonement for a violation.

But on the other hand, with omission, the effect is not totally fixable. Even though G-d forgives, the deed was not done. 

If G-d forbid one chose not to eat matzah on the first night of Pesach and on the next day asked G-d for forgiveness, forgiveness is granted immediately, but it doesn’t fill the void that was created. The first night of Pesach has passed and the matzah opportunity is no longer there. That mitzvah/connection opportunity cannot be reclaimed. The G-dly energy that was going to be channeled into the world through this mitzvah is not reclaimable. 

(This is why the law of the Talmud is that a positive commandment overrides a negative one). 

I can’t recreate my friend's eightieth. That day (and he was so proud, and rightfully so, for celebrating on his ‘Jewish’ calendar birthday date) is gone. But I can learn a valuable lesson about recognizing the irreplaceable nature of mitzvah opportunities.

To me this was a timely High Holiday season reminder about getting better at my proactive mitzvah observance. Not just about not ‘messing up’ and making sure I am not doing things I shouldn’t be doing. But also examining the opportunities I may be overlooking. Making sure I am not omitting or forgetting anything. Moreover, even if I am doing them making sure that they are being performed at the best level possible. 

Part of serving Hashem is utilizing all the qualities and character traits He has bestowed upon us. How ‘perfect’ or ‘presentable’ are my good deeds? If I could perform at A levels and I am submitting mitzvahs at F levels, that is a missed opportunity.

Let us embrace mitzvah opportunities with joy, energy and gusto! 

And let us perform then at the highest level possible. Not stymie our observance by insisting on perfection. But not being satisfied with just ‘getting away’ at the lowest level possible, rather investing real effort in our relationship with Him.

Manyana?

That is not the Torah way. 

The Torah way is:

‘A Mitzvah that comes your way don’t let it wait’. 

‘What can be done today, do not push off till tomorrow’.

Do another mitzvah today! 

One mitzvah brings another and then another…. 

Shabbat Shalom,

Chatima & Gmar Chatima Tova,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS another thing I learned. When there are three opportunities to attend a celebration event, it is indeed easier to participate as you can pick a time that suits you best. But… it is also easier to forget. As the mental reminder note is not bolstered by the urgency of a specific narrow time frame. 

This is relevant to our ‘Giving Day’ campaign. We have spread it over three days to allow for more countries and time zones to participate. On the other hand, not having the pressure of only twenty-four hours to contribute (as many ‘giving day’ campaigns do), means that it's also easier to forget 😊. I made a mental note, that I would help my friends and remind them when there was only less than twenty-four hours left for the campaign.

Here I am 😊

More than ONE THOUSAND THREE HUNDRED donors have said YES we want to support Jewish life in Thailand and brought us just over the FIFTY PERCENT mark.

If YOU are able to participate with any amount, I will be gratified. If you have already participated THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU for providing humanitarian support, joy, light, love, inspiration and Jewish continuity all across Thailand!!!!






(I also learned something about human nature. Having something spread over three days or opportunities, while it made it easier for me choose a suitable time, also took away the urgency of the mental note 

 

 

Shana Tova & Shabbat Shalom 5781

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It has been a different and unusual year for every single person on planet earth.

Whether you are young, old, a student, a retiree, a business owner or a salaried worker, your life was disrupted and altered in one way or another.

Even if you were not directly affected, those around you were. This had an impact on you as well.

I think I speak in the name of everyone, when I say that this year had its challenging moments. And I extend my empathy to those who are still enduring the painful limitations of this virus that is still running amok in many places in the world.

On this auspicious day, the last day of this year and mere hours away from the New Year, I would like to focus on what inspired me about this year. From the ‘1,000 feet’ ‘helicopter’ perspective, it was a very uplifting year.

One of the side effects of the long-winded lock downs in cities across the world was the fact that nature reclaimed areas where human life had previously encroached. Monkeys overran certain parts of Lopburi in Thailand. Pumas were seen in the streets of Santiago, Chile. Kangaroos were hopping around Adelaide in S. Australia. 

From coral reefs rejuvenating, to pollution levels dropping, this year has brought with it some remarkable side effects. 

I would like to make what some may consider an audaciously bold observation. 

This year, humanity reclaimed their commitment to Divine values.

What do I mean?

Think of the following question. 

If you could only save one of them, would you save your favorite pet or a random stranger?

Google that question and you will be quite shocked at the varied responses.

I tried it in real life. I asked some teens. Thank G-d most of them got it right and chose to save the human stranger. But some did ask me how old the stranger was. How dear the pet was. As if those details could change the decision regarding who to save. Our modern world with all of its advances also has some blind spots. Particularly in the field of moral soundness. 

When Covid19 hit our world, almost every news article had the disclaimer that the virus was most dangerous to the elderly or those who had other compromising medical conditions. For most others it was touted as being an illness that their body would overcome without undue danger.

The world went into lockdown.

To save the vulnerable. 

Strangers.

Elderly strangers.

Strangers with weaker health. Maybe without all that many years of life ahead of them.

Yet the world instinctively shut down to save those strangers. 

At the cost of giving up convenience and comfort. In many cases at the cost of enduring suffering and considerable financial loss. Some would even face ruin.

The world would not take such measures to save the extinction of pink elephants for example. To raise money for elephant conservatories, yes. But society at large would not cancel weddings, funerals, prayer services, college graduations to save animals. Nor plunge governments trillions of dollars into increased debt. Nor keep kids away from school. And the list of measures the world at large took just goes on and on.

NO!

For animal life, even for our closest pets. We would not willingly enforce and endure distancing and quarantining with all of its difficulty and negativity to the individual and to society at large.

For human lives though. Even for saving the lives of total strangers. 

YES. 

The world stopped. Shut down. Quarantined. For saving human life we are enduring the greatest disruption the world has known in recent history.

WHY?

Because G-d said so.

On Rosh Hashana five thousand seven hundred and eighty years ago, G-d created Adam as the first human in the Divine image.

A while later, to Noah, G-d gave a clear instruction to be handed down to all of his descendants, (every human being is a descendant of Noah). Human life is sacred. Thou shalt not kill is a Divine unchangeable and immutable moral value. 

Murder, taking someone else’s life is forbidden. So is taking one’s own life. Or standing by passively when someone’s life is being endangered. 

Two stories come to mind where I have witnessed the instinctive decision being made and accepted by society at large to preserve life. It is quite likely that you too have had similar such experiences. 

I was at least twice on an airplane that did an emergency landing to save a stranger’s life. All three hundred people accepted that disruption nobly. They understood that their plans could be redrawn, but the life that needed to be saved could not be brought back if it was lost. My subsequent inconvenience because of missed connections paled in comparison to my deep-seated sense of fulfillment of having participated in a ‘human-life-is-sacred’ affirming event. 

While I was once in a major traffic jam on the way from Philadelphia, the newscaster reported a bridge closure as the reason for the delay. Someone was threatening to jump off the bridge. Police activity caused a massive delay. Nobody questioned the moral soundness of causing the delay merely to save a stranger’s life.

I am sure you too have had similar experiences where you have put everything on hold because a life was at stake, even someone you didn’t know.

But these experiences are all individual and highly localized ones. They were also very brief.

This year, second part of 5780 and first part of 2020 has delivered a message to the world of unprecedented proportion. 

This year we lived through an all-encompassing, totally disruptive event, that thunders forth a declaration and statement made by the entire living human race as one collective.

This year will be remembered in the annals of history as the years that the world SHUT DOWN. 

I believe that this year must also be remembered as the year of our reclaiming our commitment to G-d based morality.

THE YEAR WHEN HUMANITY MADE ITS COMMITMENT TO G-D’s COMMANDMENT TO PROTECT LIFE. HUMAN LIFE. THAT EVEN A STRANGER’S LIFE IS SACRED.

In the earliest stages there was a virtually conflict free consensus. 

Instinctively everyone knew it was right and no one complained.

(The subsequent and currently ongoing discord about how much to open or close is not in conflict with this observation. It too is in the context of discussion how to save lives. The arguments are because the experts are divided as to what preserves life more effectively, when taking long term effects into account as well).

All of this leads us back to the fact that this year there is a heightened universal awareness of G-d.

The fact that a microbe smaller than we can see (six hundred times smaller than the diameter of a hair), can wreak such havoc on our world, reminds us that we are vulnerable. We are not the all-powerful invincible men we thought we were. 

For me, even more awesome than the errant virus microbes’ destructive capabilities, is the fact that a hundred trillion microbes regularly coexist in our bodies and act in the coordinated fashion that allows us to live and function. How do they all get along? The cohesiveness and coordination of all aspects of creation point to G-d the Creator of life in all forms.

This is the year where humanity reflects and sees without any doubt that it is not we, who created ourselves, rather Almighty G-d Who is the Creator of the universe and all therein.

My dear friend, don’t let the preachers of ‘gloom and doom’ put you into a tailspin of despondency and depression. 

This is an inspirational year. This is a year where all the inhabitants of the world are aware that G-d is at the helm of our vehicle. 

He and only He is steering.

This year is not one we will forget.

Let us remember it for the awareness of G-d that it brought to the forefront of the collective human consciousness.

Let us remember it for the reminder of our belief in the G-d given Divine moral code.

This Rosh Hashana, the day of creation of Man, we the Jewish people may not all be in Synagogues as we usually are. Lockdowns and restrictions on crowds will keep us away from some of the usual nonessential traditions.

(the hearing of the Shofar being blown in person is the main Mitzvah of Rosh Hashana, it can and will be done this year in numerous venues around the world, here in Bangkok we have a ‘Shofar in the Park’)

But we will be expressing in the most effective and impressive way possible that we believe in G-d and His commandments.

(Click here to the Rosh Hashana prayers (page 17) and you will  see that the central prayer for Rosh Hashana is ‘may everything that has been made, know that You have made it… and may everyone who has the breath of life in his nostrils declare that the Lord, G-d of Israel is King and His kingship has dominion over all’. In light of this, this Rosh Hashana may be one of the most intense ones of recent times).

Let’s be uplifted and inspired to get closer to G-d. 

G-d loves us unconditionally. We are SURE He will give us a good and sweet year. That is why we celebrate with sweet things.

Let us recommit ourselves to fulfilling G-d’s objectives for us. To study more Torah and do more Mitzvahs. To be more forgiving and benevolent. 

As Jews we also have been tasked with sharing the Divine rules of universal morality with the world at large.

If this message resonates with you, share this universal and fundamental message with others.

The message of 5780/2020 in my humble opinion is 

Believe in G-d and in His moral directive to preserve and cherish human life. 

May we merit to complete the Divine mission and usher in the coming of Mashiach.

Shana Tova

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


When Negative is Positive

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

A close friend in Europe sent me a scan of a blood test report he just took.

Negative.

Yep, it was a Coronavirus test. He wasn’t feeling well and went to get tested. He reported back that he has good news. His blood test came back with a coronavirus negative diagnosis.

Negative in this case is positive. So said my friend. Sounds plausible. Finding out that one doesn’t have ‘THE’ virus is good news.

The logical continuation of that should be that testing positive would be negative. 

Is it?

A relative in Denver told me a totally different story. He was diagnosed as positive for Coronavirus a few weeks ago. 

He said that in a strange way he felt very relieved to get a positive diagnosis.

The mental stress was over. Unknowingly to him there was a subconscious anxiety that he had endured for many months regarding the possibility of being infected.

The uncertainty and accompanying stress were relieved with the positive diagnosis.

In this case the negative of being physically ill was experienced by him as being a positive. For it made him stronger in terms of his mental health. 

This is all quite confusing.

Reminds me of the luckless guy who went to the bank to get a loan for a million dollars. The bank manager said ‘we don’t know you, how could we possibly issue you such a loan?’ He exclaimed exasperatedly to the bank manager ‘I don’t understand, the other bank I asked said ‘you? a loan? we know you too well, how could we possibly give you such a loan?’ To get a loan do you have to know me or not know me?’

Is NOT having Coronavirus positive? Or is HAVING (survivable) Coronavirus positive?

The lockdowns and restrictions on travel have a similar double sidedness to them. 

One friend who is retired and travels extensively to visit friends and relatives, complained bitterly about being unable to get away from their home. This friend has a beautiful home in a prime location but is feeling ‘caged-in’ and sorely missing the social benefits that traveling affords them. 

On the other hand, a relative who travels incessantly for her work, and seems to enjoy it, commented to me this it is a wonderful ‘vacation’ to be at home for the last six months. 

As it is the month of Elul, and Rosh Hashana the head of the new year is almost upon us, I am reflecting on the year gone by. Particularly during the last twelve days of the year and now during the last week of the year it is an appropriate time to reflect on how your year went. 

What kind of a year was it?

Spiritually. And materially.

Think back. Since last Rosh Hashana (September 2019). How has your year been? 

It is quite in-vogue right now to be sighing and ‘kvetching’. 

And there is much to complain about.

The world is collectively challenged in a way it has not been challenged ever before. 

(If you suffered personally during these last few months, please know that I am not intending these words to minimize your ordeal or pain. I am intending these words to those who have the luxury of looking at the events of the past half a year from the perspective of being inconvenienced or disrupted rather than pain or danger. 

It is to those of us who have nothing of major importance to complain about, but are swept up in the ‘mood’ of our times of ‘gloom’ and are fixated on the updated count of death and sickness that the media never lets us take a break from, that I write these following words).

Take an honest look at the year that is now coming to a finale.

I think we can all agree on the word ‘extraordinary’ to sum up the year.

It was not ordinary. This year was different beyond recognition than any other year. For everyone and in every place.

However, there have been many silver linings during this cloudy year. Many people have rediscovered their families. It has been a time for many to discover themselves on a deeper level. The acts of benevolent kindness by first responders, by neighbors, by family and friends are inspiring beyond words. 

HUMANITY HAS REDISCOVERED G-D and G-D BASED MORALITY!!!

(I plan please G-d to do a thirty minute online sermon this week on Thursday night 7:30 PM Thailand time, and share what I think is the biggest most wondrous ‘reclamation’ of this year click here to get zoom details).

To sum it up. there have been very very difficult things that have transpired this year.

We would never ask for them.

There have been very very inspiring and uplifting things that have happened as a result. 

We wouldn’t want to lose those gifts either.

The previous Rebbe of Lubavitch was asked after his release from his harrowing ordeal in Soviet prison (where he almost lost his life) how he felt about his experiences. The Rebbe summed it up like this:

‘If someone were to try to ‘sell me’ one moment of suffering like that for a billion dollars I would not agree. Yet if someone tried to buy one moment of my previous suffering from me, I would not sell it either’.

I think this is the answer to the ‘positive/negative’ conundrum regarding catching the virus or not catching it. 

My friend was delighted not to get it. My relative, who did get it, would not have prayed to get it, but once he got it, and passed it, he is very happy that it is over and he can now be a lot more relaxed and a lot less anxious.

What should we be praying for this year?

While we try not to complain about what has already happened to us, for once G-d has brought something upon us, we need to accept it as being for our best and recognize that it is from Him. 

Before it happens however, we ought to be praying and beseeching G-d for REVEALED and VISIBLE good. Good that we DO perceive as being good without needing to resort to intellectual gymnastics. And even if there is some spiritual ‘dirt’ that needs to be wiped off, we beseech G-d to wipe it off with His divine mercies  in a very soft way, rather than with any harshness. 

Last year was wondrous. Extraordinary. It came from G-d so it must be good. But in so many ways it was not the kind of good that we could comprehend from our mortal perspective. 

This year we want it to be wondrous again. 

With one additional but pivotal detail. 

We beseech G-d to make it the kind of good that we can see and perceive with our physical eyes. Things of a happy healthy and prosperous nature.

In the Hebrew I will say it like this:

5780 in the Hebrew is:

תהא שנת פלאות

May it be a year of wonders. That was last year.

5781, this upcoming (next Friday night) year in Hebrew is:

תהא שנת פלאות אראנו

May it be a year of ‘wonders I show you’. i.e. may G-d shower upon us VISIBLE wonders. Visible and comprehensible to all of us. Even from our physical vantage point.

The most awaited for wonder and miracle is the imminent arrival of Mashiach. May he come speedily in our days, AMEN!!!

Shana Tova Umetukah!!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Incredibly simple path to self peace

By the Grace of G-d 

Dear Friend,

In the old ‘normal’, kids hated school.

Not in the new ‘normal’.

My brother runs the Chabad at Temple University in Philadelphia and after four days of ‘in person learning’ on campus, the university management announced that due to high rates of infection they were reverting to online classes only. 

Are the students going home? My brother thinks not. After six months at home they were quite happy to get back to school.

I have seen pictures of nieces and nephews in the USA who have resumed school and they look euphoric.

Kids LIKING school? 

That sounds interesting. A year ago that would have sounded suspicious. What are they doing in school that they like it so much? I am talking tongue in cheek here but I think you get my point.

It is ‘fashionable’ for kids to complain about school.

Hey, our own eleven-year-old, Leibel, started school again here in Bangkok this week. He is very happy to have resumed studying Torah and Talmud with his teacher and classmates in person. 

This example, things we used to think are burdensome, and now we appreciate them, can be extended to many things.

Especially poignant is the appreciation we have for things we once used to take for granted. I met a Bangkok resident who had returned from overseas and spent two weeks quarantined. When I saw him two weeks after he finished his quarantine he still appreciated and enjoyed the freedom of not being holed up in ‘solitary confinement’ in his government approved quarantining hotel. 

Pause. Let this point sink in. How lucky we are to have freedom of movement here in Thailand. Some countries are in lockdown. 

Ironically, during this time period we can easily find many things to be happy about. Even, or especially, every single breath. After seeing so many suffer with their breathing, on ventilators, oxygen or battling the virus at home, we can genuinely appreciate G-d’s gift of natural breathing with a newfound appreciation. 

Gratitude. 

We must rejoice and be gratitude filled to the Almighty for all the blessings that He bestows upon us.

That is the theme of this week’s Parsha that speaks about Bikkurim, bringing ones first fruits to G-d and giving joyous thanks.

(Not everyone agrees fully about my school analysis. Click here to see a humorous alternate outlook how back to school this year is ideal for NO ONE 😊).

****

So Leibel was starting school and my wife was going out to buy him supplies and I decided to join. As Nechama was perusing the stationery section I got bored with looking at pens and pencils and found myself meandering to the books section. The ‘self-help’ section grabbed my attention.

The shelves were full of books with catchy titles. ‘The 5am club’ title grabbed my attention, as did books about not caring about what others say, developing good habits, mindfulness, embracing the wonders around you and it went on and on.

The books were covered by plastic, so I didn’t actually read them, but I got the gist. The 5am one was advocating starting the day early and getting meditation, study, and physical exercise into your day before ‘starting’ your day.

I said to myself, I don’t need a popular author to tell me that. My Creator, in the Torah has already instructed me to study and pray before my ‘day begins’ and to safeguard my life and health which means exercising (in today’s sedentary lifestyle).

The book that talks about not caring what others say, just doing what you know is right for you was also ‘old news’ for me.

For this life-lesson I don’t need to buy a contrarian authors writing. The Torah instructs us very explicitly at the very beginning of the “Code of Jewish Law’ to be ‘bold like a leopard’ and not ‘be embarrassed before cynics or scoffers’.

This is a lesson that needs some borders. Let me illustrate via the following joke. 

A guy goes to the bar and after a few drinks hurls the shot glass against the wall and breaks the glass. After a few repeat episodes the bartender says he wouldn’t let him back in to the bar unless he went for therapy. A few weeks went by and the drinker comes back to the bar. ‘I went for therapy’ he told the bartender. After a few drinks he once again hurled the shot glass against the wall. ‘Didn’t you go to therapy’? asked the bartender. ‘Yes, I did’ responded the drinker. ‘And now I don’t feel guilty about breaking the glass’!

The code of Jewish Law cautions: be bold, but only within the context of ‘don’t be shy or embarrassed before scoffers’ and don’t shy away from doing the right thing even if it is not popular. But make sure not to become a brazen or insolent person by nature. Limit your boldness and ‘chutzpah’ to help you in doing the right thing only without embarrassment from peer pressure. 

The words of King David (Psalms 33, 20) really sum up the key to self-help.

Our soul waits for G-d; He is our help and our shield.

All the self-help books in the world cannot help to soothe the pain or provide inner peace unless they are bringing you closer to your inner self. All the self-help books in the world are human attempts at trying to get you closer to the inner peace we all so deeply crave. Many of them are deep and wise. They can be very helpful and I am not trying to minimize them. 

But they are not Divine. I want to awaken your awareness to the genuine path to inner peace.

Torah is the Divine masterplan. G-d’s communication to us. The Sages call the Torah the ‘building plans and blueprint’ for the world. In other words, G-d so to speak ‘looked into the Torah and created the world’.

The real ‘self-help’ book is thus the book of the Manufacturer of man, the Creator of the universe. 

The Torah? An answer to my search for peace?

Yes.

It is so simple that its counterintuitive. 

In this anxiety laden period, the therapists and mental health professionals are very busy. And sadly, the situation is really challenging and it is only natural that the doctors of the mind/emotion should be called upon. Such huge changes and upheavals in people’s lives are bound to create different feelings in people that they are unused to coping with.

Here is an example of what Torah says to do when facing emotional challenge. The Rebbe answered this to someone in 1951, sixty years ago but pertinent as ever. He was complaining about the possibility that he had a health problem, but it seemed as if his anxiety about his possible illness was more real than the illness. 

After advising the person to consult a medical doctor to ensure that his physical help was being taken care of, the Rebbe continued to the emotional side to guide him to find his inner peace through trust in G-d. The soul of a Jew can only be truly happy when it is fulfilling the reason for which it was send down to the earth. 

In the Rebbe words:

Looking from the inner dimension, you should firmly affix your thought — with the simple faith possessed by all Jews who are “believers, the sons of believers” — that G-d, Who created the world 5711 years ago, creates the world anew each and every moment and conducts it according to His will. He is the ultimate of good and it is the nature of the good to do good. Therefore it is obvious that this includes your personal matters as well. G-d is the Master over your life and your personal matters, and He will lead you to your desired destination. (And the inner desire of every Jew [is to follow the Torah and its mitzvos].

Full letter here. 

My dear friends, it sounds too simple, I know. But absolute truths are quite simple. 

Try it. Start with a simple mitzvah. Performed morning and evening. 

Say the words ‘Shma Yisrael Ado-nai Elo-heinu Ado-nai Echad’ which means ‘Hear people of Israel, Hashem our G-d is ONE’. It is a mitzvah to say the Shema morning and evening. 

Click here to see the text of Shema as well as inspirational and transformations meditations.

Here is a link to self-help in the Kabala online site. The Tanya was written as a guide to ‘self help’.

Any diet or self-help regimen require some form of effort and mindfulness.

Wouldn’t it make such good sense to put forth some effort to connect to your inner self? 

You are a Jew! 

Try to connect to your TRUE you, your Jewish soul. 

One does this by learning Torah and by performing mitzvahs.

Helping others is the turbo charged way to feeling an inner peace.

Let us engage in the ‘three pillars that the world stands on’. Torah study, Prayer meditation and acts of benevolent kindness.

Shana Tova!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor









Win WIN. A battle you can't lose.

Posted by Jewish Thailand on Monday, August 31, 2020

Lemons to Lemonade 🍋

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

‘Rabbi, what are the High Holiday plans’? 

This is by far the most popular question that I am getting these days.

Yes.

Rosh Hashana is coming nearer.

Three weeks from today on Friday evening September 18th the new year of 5781 from creation will be ushered in.

Yom Kippur follows ten days later on Sunday evening September 27 till Monday September 28th after nightfall.

Rosh Hashana will descend upon the world. The energies in the world will change from 5780 energy to 5781 energy. Nothing can stop that.

Nothing in the world can push off the High Holidays, or any of the Jewish Holidays for that matter. 

This is simply because the essence of a Holiday is its spiritual content. G-d revealed to us in His Torah that on certain calendar dates there is a special and extraordinary G-dly energy that needs to be treated in a deferential way. Literally it is Holy Day – day of holiness. The reason we cannot work on Shabbat and Jewish Holidays is because of the special aura that exists in the world on that day. If we had a higher ‘frequency’ we would actually feel it. Since most of us don’t, we only know about the speciality of the day because the Torah tells us.

We feel that the day becomes special BECAUSE we don’t work and BECAUSE we eat special foods and do special rituals.

The reverse is true. The day is SPECIAL without regard for what we do on that day. It is special because of the innate divine flow that is prevalent at that intersection of time. We do all the special rituals on that day BECAUSE of its intrinsic unique holiness. 

Viruses or any other physical hiccups don’t pose a hindrance to the divine light just as fences and locks can’t keep the Holiness of the Holiday out of its perimeters.

So its crystal clear.

ROSH HASHANA and YOM KIPPUR are COMING. That is an immutable reality. No questions about that.

How are we going to celebrate the Holidays this year?

This is truly a valid question.

One that gives me trouble falling asleep at night.

Not to be too strict. 

Certainly not obsessive. 

Not to be too lenient. 

Definitley not callous. 

I have a brother in law who worked around the clock at his ‘Chevra Kadisha’ burial duties in Brooklyn as insane amounts of people died from Covid-19. It was terrible.

So, I know full well that this is a terrible and dangerous disease.

On the other hand, we in Thailand have been miraculously blessed by the Almighty to have zero local transmission for more than ten weeks now.

Which is why Thailand has cautiously reopened. We are no longer on full lockdown.

From the traffic jams it seems like life has taken a vigorous upward velocity.

Restaurants are open. Bars are open. Malls are humming with life. Symphony orchestras are playing. Cinemas are operating. 

Shouldn’t Jewish religious life also benefit from this Joie de vivre?

With three weeks till Rosh Hashana its time to engage and tackle the issue of how to prepare for the celebration of the High Holidays. 

Once I am doing it, I figured let me share it with you my readers. It may be interesting for you as well.

One thing that has come up again and again is the concept of ‘essential services’. Even during the extremely strict lockdowns, food shops remained open. They are essential. Medical establishments are obviously essential. Alcohol shops? Ammunition shops? That depended on who you ask.

Congregating was banned. What about the right to demonstrate? That seems to have been deemed essential. Indeed, it is understandable that democracy requires certain safeguards. 

So much is hinged on the question of what is deemed essential. There were some difficult decisions to be made regarding that by the government authorities.

When I was a kid my mother taught me ‘one man’s junk another mans gold’. A used couch for a millionaire may be a beautiful centerpiece of the more austere dwelling of a low-income person. This is why sometimes people put used stuff out on the curb and the next morning it isn’t there. 

House of worship? It seems like that did not really get into the ‘essential’ list in most places. And this is why indeed Synagogue activities were very severely curtailed for a long period.

To be honest, I think that houses of worship got a bit of a battering during this pandemic in terms of how non-essential some people considered them. However, since the Torah values LIFE so absolutely, it was clear to the majority of the Rabbinic leaders that when in any sort of doubt regarding the safety and health of the community it is proper to keep the Synagogue closed. One can pray at home. But G-d forbid if a life is lost, it cannot be brought back. 

Thank G-d, here in Thailand things are stable. May the Almighty take us from good to better, here and all over the world. We now have the luxury to consider some form of congregating, responsibly, but still together, over the Holiday period.

What is essential regarding the High Holidays?

Let us take a quick look at Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur rituals in terms of their essentiality.

On Rosh Hashanah the one and only Biblical commandment is to hear the blowing of the shofar during the day of Rosh Hashana (this year only on Sunday the second day of RH). 

The only thing you absolutely need in order to celebrate the most essential aspect of Rosh Hashana is a shofar. 

There is still time to get a shofar (contact me if you would like to order one) and learn how to blow it. It can be done in lockdown without any need for any social interaction. Even if you happened to be quarantined, if you had a Shofar and know how to blow it, you can properly and authentically fulfil the requirements of Rosh Hashana.

Next, are the Rabbinic rituals and customs of Rosh Hashana. These include Rosh Hashana dinner on the eve of the Holiday and Rosh Hashana prayers on the days of Rosh Hashana.

While the prayers of Rosh Hashana were composed with the express intention for group praying requiring a minyan, dinner was traditionally always done more privately at individual homes.

To sum it up:

Rosh Hashana has three main items.

Shofar. Can be done with no social interaction.

Prayers. Group prayer is advisable.

Dinner. Hosting at private homes is the traditional way.

The big dinners (last year we had nearly four hundred local Jews at our Rembrandt hotel Rosh Hashana dinner) we usually hold are actually a move away from the original tradition. 

We do them because of the IMMENSE value of togetherness and unity that the community dinners foster. The evening begins with four hundred individuals and by the time the dinner concludes, the individuals have merged into one unified family. It is truly a feeling of elation.

Hmmm. That togetherness probably has some of the characteristics of what they call a ‘super-spreader’ event. This kind of event is exactly what we are not really allowed to do right now, even when there is thank G-d no local transmission, as the Government authorities have instructed us to be cautious about the possibility G-d forbid of a ‘second wave’ virus spread.

Prayers. Communal prayer is the way it was intended to be 

This should definitely be possible in responsible distanced way. Actually, it’s probably the best contribution we can make to good health here and everywhere. Praying for good health. And particularly praying for the elimination of the plague that hounds us.

But, it goes without saying that Prayers with a quorum should only be considered for those who are not considered to be at high risk. For people in what is called ‘high risk’ extra precaution should be taken in consultation with medical experts. 

And certainly only if distancing requirements can be met.

In our case, (seeing that we have a small temporary location for Beth Elisheva as construction on our new Synagogue is still underway), having the right amount of space for communal prayer on Rosh Hashana means securing a suitable venue. 

And realistically, even if we have a proper venue, people are people are people and have different levels of vigilance so perhaps it would be prudent and useful to offer two prayer options. 

A) A full service (but shorter than usual so as to limit ‘saturation’). 

B) A brief condensed prayer gathering of one hour with even stricter distancing and briefer congregating. 

Something that we can definitely do is an outdoors shofar blowing and tashlich service at the Benjasiri Park lake and perhaps at other appropriate venues. 

No communal dinner? 

Yep, sorry, no communal dinner….

That sounds like a negative. Is there anyway to turn it into a positive?

I think that YES, we can take these lemons and make lemonade.

But it takes a willingness to make an effort. 

Lemons don’t become lemonade unless you squeeze them and add sugar. 

I believe that you can take the unique circumstances of this year and bring Rosh Hashana with all of its sweet and blessed spirit, into your very own home.

I am encouraging anyone who has a dining room to consider hosting your own Rosh Hashana dinner. And if you have an open heart, consider inviting others to spend Rosh Hashanah dinner with you and your family.

We can provide the food, delicious kosher food, if you provide the venue.

I will also happily provide the content of how to meaningfully celebrate your Rosh Hashana dinner with song and authentically Jewish discussion. We can share the content, and then you can be the inspiring leader of at your Rosh Hashanah table.

Deal?

As we get closer to Rosh Hashana I will send out a link for Rosh Hashana dinner orders to be picked up from JCafe or delivered to your abode.

As to prayers? 

We will have a minyan please G-d. 

For Rosh Hashana.

And for Yom Kippur.

We are currently in discussion with some venues that should suit our needs for the Rosh Hashanah & Yom Kippur prayers. More details to follow.

In the meantime, 

With blessings of a Shana Tova and Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS In order to plan properly I will please G-d send out a questionnaire during the week,  asking for your feedback about being a Rosh Hashana host, finding out if you need help in finding someone to host you, your preference for attending prayers and your general comments on how you think we can enhance the High Holiday celebrations even during these challenging times.


Asymptomatic. Blessed without knowing it

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Asymptomatic contagion.

I hadn’t heard much about it till the outbreak of this pandemic.

That a person could be a carrier of a Flu or Coronavirus without even knowing that they are carriers.

With Covid19 the reports are indicating that you can be totally asymptomatic and still be a carrier of the virus and unknowingly spread it further G-d forbid.

It’s a game changer.

It means that even though you feel fine, and you are the nicest person in the world, there is no guarantee that you are not going to spread anything negative to anyone else. Because it is possible that you are unknowingly carrying the errant microbe. 

This is the reason for the widespread insistence on masks, and distancing and the other mandated precautions. Because even if you think you feel fine, maybe G-d forbid there is something you are carrying that you simply don’t know about.

Enough of morbidity.

I am going to share two UPLIFTING stories, about life and health that I just witnessed and heard, which will reframe the concept of ‘asymptomatic carrier’ to the context of infinite blessing.

My hope is that  it will motivate you to engage in the hallowed Jewish tradition of wishing all your loved ones, friends and anyone you know, with a SHANA TOVA UMETUKAH to be inscribed and sealed for a GOOD and SWEET year.

Eliezer G. told me the following story:

Last Rosh Hashana, before embarking upon what they intended to be their last attempt at having a child, after all their previous unsuccessful attempts, he and his wife ate Rosh Hashana dinner at a friend’s home. The Rosh Hashana dinner host knew how hard Eliezer and his wife had tried to conceive, thus far unsuccessfully. To lift their spirits, he told them about his rabbinic grandfather who had blessed him and his wife with a child when it looked medically doubtful. A year later they had a baby. 

‘How did your grandfather bless you’? asked Eliezer on Rosh Hashana eve. ‘Like this’ responded the host and proceeded to put his two hands on the head of the couple and blessed them with a healthy baby. 

It is now less than a year later.

The host of the Rosh Hashana dinner is being honored to be the Sandek (one who holds the baby) for the upcoming Brit Milah of the baby boy who was born a short while ago to Eliezer and his wife.

Eliezer and his wife told me this story and stated to me emphatically that they are sure it was the Rosh Hashana hosts blessing that elicited G-d’s miraculous gift to them of their newborn son. 

MAZEL TOV!!!

Phenomenal story. 

It reminded me of a story I heard from a colleague. He said that a visiting couple had come to his Synagogue while on vacation after being married a few years and had not yet been blessed with children. He told the couple ‘I hope you will have a noisy home soon, with the noise of a child’. A few years later, they came to visit again. This time with a toddler in tow. ‘Thanks for your blessings’ they told my friend. 

My friend was truly astonished. He barely remembered even meeting the couple, let alone giving them a blessing. Yet, they were adamant that it was his heartfelt blessing that had elicited G-d’s gift to them of a child. 

I know why my friend was startled. He is a good Jew, but as a close friend, we both know that he is not particularly saintly. I think it is also safe to say that while the Rosh Hashana host may be a nice guy, benevolent, amicable, and son on, but unless he is a really hidden Tzadik, he does not come across as extraordinarily saintly. 

Its kind of counterintuitive. 

You wouldn’t think that these kinds of blessing have such power in Heaven. Traditionally that kind of ‘power’ is attributed to great spiritual giants. And indeed, our tradition is replete with miracle stories of the great Tzadikim, spiritual giants to whom G-d listens and fulfills their prayers and blessings. Click here for Tzadikim stories. 

Again, it is not that I am judging them but I am sure if you ask the host of the Rosh Hashana dinner last year or my colleague who I just mentioned whether they were ‘tzadikim’ or ‘miracles workers’ they would say emphatically that they are just average people. 

Asymptomatic.

But carriers. 

Of huge mammoth blessings. 

Waiting to be shared with others.

Imagine if they wouldn’t have shared those blessings?

My dear friend, can I ask you a question?

Do you know for sure that you are not carrying that kind of power around within you?

Don’t you think it’s worth the try?

Just in case?

We have entire societies wearing masks, just in case they are asymptomatic carriers of a virus.

We ought to be even more attentive to the possibly life-giving potential that we have at our disposal and share blessings with each other.

Actually, according to the Jewish tradition there is absolutely no doubt about the fact that we do have the power to unleash blessings in other people’s lives.

The Talmud (Megila 15, a) states ‘one should never regard the blessing of an ordinary person [hedyot] as light in your eyes’ i.e. everyone has a potential within them to bless others!

I remember learning this poignantly in my early teens. The Rebbe, during a 1983 Simchat Torah gathering told everybody that since they had the power to bless each other, they should make a point of doing so. 

Hashem wants us to bless each other!

Just as with physical parents, when the kids get along harmoniously and lovingly it brings the parents great joy and much nachas, similarly, it gives Almighty G-d the greatest pleasure when he sees us, His children blessing each other lovingly.

Moreover, the Rebbe suggested that Simchat Torah, that they use the verses of the ‘Priestly Blessing’ to bless each other in the deepest possible way. Part of our daily ritual is to say the verses of the Priestly Blessing in the morning blessings. It is a great time said the Rebbe to focus on blessing everyone in the entire world. Starting your day with blessing is a phenomenal thing.

This all becomes magnified as we approach Rosh Hashana.

It is a custom taught in the Shulchan Aruch that during this month of Elul we bless each other in anticipating of the New Year. Click here for a full list of the customs of this month.

May you be inscribed and sealed in the book of LIFE for a GOOD and SWEET year with the fulfillment of all of your hearts desired for the good.

Can I make a request of you?

Please bless me and my loved ones.

I believe that you are a carrier of the power of blessing.

You don’t feel it?

Hey, maybe you are asymptomatic. But you are definitely a carrier of BLESSING.

And bless anyone else you can!!!

Our world needs blessing!!! Loads of it!!!

Stay healthy and safe.

Shana Tova!

And may we all merit to have the coming of Mashiach NOW!!!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

The "I give up" story Part 2

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Which words jumps out more at you when you see the term:

‘I give up’.

There are several options.

 I give UP.

Or

I GIVE up.

Or i GIVE UP

The third option has a small i. A big GIVE. An even bigger UP.

Which way do you see it?

Last week I wrote an article about feeling like ‘giving up’ and how I had discovered that the word UP is an integral part of ‘giving up’. The lesson I had learned was that in a reframed context, ‘giving up’ means realizing that (after you have done whatever YOU can), the true reality is that HE – G-d is in charge.

Once you give yourself over to UP – to G-d, life becomes better and more joyous. (In Yiddish the word often used for G-d is ‘Eibershter’ which means literally the ‘Higher One’ the one who is ‘up above’).

I received much feedback on my article. 

One person wrote to me angrily. Obviously, he had read the heading without reading the article. He was irate that I had used the words ‘I give up’ in my subject line. ‘Giving up’, he berated me, ‘is anathema to Judaism’. And I happen to agree with him. He is spot-on. If it’s used in the context of giving up hope.  Sticking up your hands in defeat and falling into a state of hopelessness, is totally against the ethos and values of Torah. (click here for link to articles about faith and trust in Hashem).

Thank G-d many people did read the article and got the point. They wrote to me with thanks for being honest about the anxieties that some of us go through at times, affirming that they too had gone through periods of feeling out of control. The ‘giving UP’ concept, in terms of lifting our eyes and thoughts to our Father in Heaven in complete faith and trust, was reassuring to them.

The most uplifting response I received was from a friend who is a leader in the business world and in the world of philanthropy. He wrote ‘I too am ‘giving-up’ and allocating an unscheduled donation to Chabad of Thailand’. It took me a second to catch what he was saying and how he was using my words in the context of his gift. 

Obviously, the words that jumped out to him in the phrase ‘giving up’ was GIVING. And he decided to ‘UP his GIVE’. 

This inspired me. Not only because of the surprise and largesse of his donation. Of course, the financial tzedakah was extremely helpful and deeply appreciated. In an ever-greater way, he gave me a living example of how one could hone their character to becoming more giving. By showing how his giving habits had become so deeply rooted in his subconscious.

I recalled that there are studies that show that the words you see first reveal your subconscious personality. 

His trait of giving had obviously been developed to the extent that this is what his eyes noticed, and this is the way his brain processed the aphorism ‘I give up’. 

His eyes caught the words ‘Giving’. And he went ahead and gave.

I found myself feeling envious of his proclivity to giving. 

(Torah teaches that it’s healthy to be envious of someone who is better than you.  As it makes you work on yourself to become better). 

It is the greatest blessing to be able to give.

Don’t roll your eyes and say ‘I can’t afford to give’. You don’t need to be wealthy with money to give. Giving has so many variations and expressions. You just need to be prepared to stop focusing solely on yourself and leave room to see other people and their needs. Everyone has some way that they can give to others.

Giving is a G-dly character trait.

The weekly Parsha says ‘cleave to G-d’.

How is that achieved?

The Sages taught, you connect and cleave to G-d by acting like G-d. 

Mimicking G-d can be achieved by mimicking G-d’s benevolence. 

Just like G-d takes care of his creatures, similarly we need to be giving to others. 

Giving to the undeserving, this is G-d’s ‘trademark’. 

We can act like Him when we incorporate kindness and benevolence into our lives. Especially when we give to someone who doesn’t ‘deserve’ our help i.e. we don’t know them or ‘owe’ them any favors. Click here for more on this.

This is why giving feels so right. So good. So wholesome. Ironically, you give and then you have less, but you gain so much more. You gain the feeling of inner satisfaction. Its naturally that way because G-d, the Creator, programmed us to be in the Divine image and giving is Divine.

Giving is also ‘catchy’. Once somebody has it, it spreads fairly quickly and easily. 

Actually, all human behaviors are ‘contagious’. 

(This is why we need to try and be surrounded by good people.  Or be one of those influencers who changes their environment for the good).

I saw this come to life this week in an inspiring and compelling way.

A young man B.N., who apparently also saw the ‘GIVE’ in ‘Give UP’, wrote to me that he was sending a small donation to help me in my work. He added, that if I knew of a few other causes that could benefit from his modest help, I should let him know. 

A cause jumped into my head almost automatically. I thought about a friend of a friend who had lost his infant child and subsequently fell into circumstances that made him lose his business. He needed help. Every small bit of help he could get. I told B.N. about this unfortunate family. B.N. pledged an amount, that while not huge was certainly more than just a token donation and I knew that the person in need would be most appreciative to receive it. A few hours later B.N. wrote to me that a business associate he had mentioned it to, matched his donation and would give the same amount. A few hours later, B.N. told me that yet another friend was also sending the same amount. A few hours later B.N. told me that a third friend from a totally different locale was joining and giving the same amount to be sent to the person in need. In other words, B.N.’s donation was quadrupled.

My friends’ friend was surprised by the unexpected help and sent a beautiful note:

May the creator of the world pay you back a thousand times as much. and I really hope that you will LITERALLY see the reward from Hashem physically and visibly and right away

 

May G-D Almighty open the gates of heaven to you and give you all your hearts desires.

 

Thank you. and understandably I wish you blessings of unlimited success in Thailand.


May the rest of the year bring you only JOY and HAPPINESS, and may it be your best year ever!


May the rest of the year be even better than last year. MUCH MUCH better. and in every way possible.


And the main thing is that all the good and happiness should be in a revealed way.


AND REMEMBER, IT'S STILL:  Tehay Shnas Pla'os...!!! (Hebrew acronym of the year ‘may it be a year of WONDERS’)    May it indeed be so.


All the best

I shared this with B.N. and he responded 

Rabbi, I feel like this belongs to all of us. A chance encounter with a relative of yours in New York, encourages me to reach out to you a Rabbi in Thailand to give regards and offer help, you share the information of someone who needs desperate help back in the USA. 

We could not write that story if we tried (How I ended up in Thailand to get on your list a little over a year and a half ago is another story of it's own). 

Thank you for forwarding our friend's message and may all his wishes come true. Thank you for your help facilitating this anonymously!!! 

What an amazing week this has been. Thank you for the inspiration. 

May we all continue to do good, be good and see good in every moment of every day. 

Good Shabbos, 

B.N.

My dear friends, I am sharing this with you as it inspired and uplifted me.

And as we are approaching Rosh Hashana (Friday September 18-20) it’s also time to start blessing each other with a Shana Tova and I wanted to share these beautifully articulated blessings with you as well.

Action is the main thing. Let’s get to actionable items.

There are several key aspects here that lead to action.

They are all contained in the oft used statement that people say without thinking much. ‘I give up’. 

  1. Remember to give yourself UP to He Who is the ultimate UP, G-d. 


  1. Make sure to Up your GIVE. GIVE and give even more than you have given in the past. 


  1. (optional, for maximum effect) try to reduce and make your ‘i’ smaller.

It’s ironic and somewhat counter intuitive. To really get maximum happiness in life, you have to focus a little less on the I. A little less focus on yourself is a very helpful first step to getting out of the self-defeating cycle of feelings of entitlement and self-pity. 

The I is important, as low self-esteem is a not a healthy state of being. But you can use the simpler i without a capital. Or even with a capital if you like using proper English but without a bold font. 

GIVE. 

Focus on giving to OTHERS. You will be so much completer. 

This is the path to focus on G-d and trust fully in Him. 

UP

Try it. 

It works. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

I gave UP!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It finally got to me.

I mean the situation with the virus.

I was feeling ‘down’ earlier this week.

And I wasn’t sure why. 

Why now? 

Six months into the plague and now I feel a bit ‘down’?

For no apparent reason.

Thank G-d myself, my loved ones, my community and most people I know, are safe and healthy (virus-wise). 

Intellectually I couldn’t see any reason to be low energy.

But I did feel emotionally weakened.

Why?

Was it the craziness of it all finally affecting me?

Perhaps being in the month of August and not hosting two thousand guests for Shabbat dinners at our currently empty Chabad Houses?

It did feel eerie to in the ‘high season’ of the tourism cycle and have a seat available at JCafe without having to wait for several groups of people to vacate their place.

Or maybe the onslaught of information was demoralizing. 

Perusing the headlines every day to see if there was a miracle cure yet and in the meantime learning how many deaths and sicknesses were taking place at every spot on the globe.

Could it be that not knowing when the kid’s respective schools would open was causing me angst?

Or perhaps it was from consternation about how to proceed regarding the communal High Holiday celebrations. In person? Outside? Inside? Reduced duration? Food? No food? (will be in touch soon regarding High Holidays please G-d).

It could be that it was stress from listening to the multitude of opinions ‘out there’ from all kinds of experts. From trying to synthesize the voices advising caution with those suggesting pragmatism, coupled with the awareness of the impossible-to-please-all reality. 

And the list of things that could cause stress goes on and on.

Admittedly, living in a world fixated on an invisible enemy that has spread from one person to eighteen MILLION people in about nine months is bound to be taxing.

Till now, I thought I was handling it ok. Thank G-d I felt fine.

But… sometime earlier this week it just got to me.

It seemed overwhelming.

And unpredictable.

Out of my control.

It got so bad that I blurted out some words that I didn’t plan to say.

Actually, I didn’t believe my own ears when I said those words. 

I heard myself say 

I GIVE UP!!!

Surprisingly, the words didn’t seem so bad once I said them. It seemed relieving in some ironic way. Therapeutic even. 

I said the words again.

I GIVE UP.

And again. 

And then, as I listened to myself say those words, I heard something I had never noticed before.

The word UP. Where does that term come from in the colloquialism ‘I give UP’?

I grabbed onto the ray of light inherent in the word UP.

I walked into my office with the ‘I give up’ idiom still on my lips. I told Micha our Israeli financial controller, ‘I give up’. He looked at me in shock. He said, ‘Rabbi, people are relying on you to keep your mood resilient and strong. How can you give up?’

But he didn’t ask me in English. He asked me in Hebrew.

‘Harav, eich atah meirim yadayim’ which literally translates as ‘Rabbi, how are you raising your hands’? 

‘Raising hands’ is a Hebrew term for ‘giving up’.

A further flash of light went off in my brain. 

Even more uplifting.

It all started coming together.

Giving UP is indeed the BEST way to go!

Raising hands reminded me of the battle of the Jewish people against the Amalekites described in the portion of Beshalach just after the Jews were redeemed from Egypt (Exodus, 17:11 see Rashi’s commentary)

Joshua did as Moses had told him, to fight against Amalek, while Moses, Aaron, and their nephew Hur went up to the top of the hill and stood in prayer… 

Whenever Moses raised his hand and the people were inspired to submit themselves to God, God came to their aid and Israel prevailed. But whenever he lowered his hand, and they were not inspired this way, Amalek prevailed.

‘Raising your hands’ in the context of praying to G-d is not a sign of defeat. It is not capitulation to your enemy. Rather it is a submission to the Source of all strength thus availing yourself of the greatest strength possible. 

Raising your hands means being mindful that you are truly in G-d’s hands. 

Giving UP in its deepest meaning should not be confused with forfeiting and abandoning one’s drive and zest for life. 

Giving UP can be very positive. If it is used in the context of submitting to the Almighty!!! The ultimate ‘UP’.

Did I feel like giving up? Yes. I did. 

My feelings of not being in any sort of control of the situation caused me a decrease in energy.

Providentially, in my daily study of the correspondence of the Rebbe I happened upon a letter written to this very circumstance. A woman who was feeling a bit ‘down’ because of her diminishing achievements. The Rebbe advised her that it is ‘normal’ to have ‘ups and downs’ and she must make sure to discuss it with a peer as it will help dispel the matter. Definitely she should not follow the negative tendency to think that she is ill and doomed to failure. It is probably but a temporary setback and then she will resume her usual unflagging success please G-d.

After speaking to some peers, I discovered it was very normal to feel under pressure during our current crisis.

(A word of caution and advice. A peer should be someone who would be able to notice if the situation was acute and professional help was required. I am talking about mild and reasonable cases of low energy that do not require professional intervention. If in doubt, please make sure to reach out for professional help).

And then, thank G-d, a very positive healing and rebuilding process began. 

I was uplifted.

I realized that I could use this humbling moment to truly give UP, to submit to G-d and be carried on His wings. I didn’t need to be in any sort of control because He has never left the cockpit. Its G-d’s plane and we are all passengers. The Almighty is in full control.

No. Not to be fatalistic and passive waiting for G-d to do everything for me. I need to put forth my best effort. But I don’t need to be in control, actually I can not be in control of the results even if I wanted to.

My role as main actor in my individual tailor-written ‘movie’  of life is to ask G-d ‘what is it you would like me to do’ and do it!

G-d’s blessing can be compared to ‘blessed rains’. He sends the rains. To benefit from the blessings of rain, one needs to plough, plant and reap. G-d wants our input as well. It is for this reason that He put us here on earth. To partner with Him.

(The doing part is critical. In the previously quoted verses, ‘Raising your hands’ can also be understood allegorically as concentrating on DEEDS and ACTIONS. Even when you don’t feel like doing a good deed, simply DO it).

Joy enveloped me as this concept sunk into my awareness. 

It was exhilarating to feel so not-in-control. What a relief to realize Who’s hands I am in!

And G-d has helped me in my quest to be joyous by giving me external reasons to be happy. Good news started to come my way. Things I hadn’t expected. Long term predicaments that showed signs of moving along in the right way. 

It was incredible. Once I did my part, G-d shone His holy countenance on to me and unanticipated blessings started to materialize.

Most of all, I have been blessed to feel fully ensconced in G-d’s loving care. May He help me to reciprocate that love by doing what He expects of me.

Join me. 

Try it out.

Give UP

Place yourself in the caring embrace of the Almighty.

(For some textual study regarding faith and trust in G-d click here for a newly launched website on the topic).

May you and your loved ones be blessed with EVERYTHING GOOD!!!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS if you are in need of speaking to someone else about what you are going through, please reach out to me via my direct email rabbi@jewishthailand.com or direct WhatsApp +6681 837 7618 and I will try to help please G-d.

 

 

 

 




I said the words.

I GIVE UP!


Enjoy 'Kvetching'? Don't read this!!!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

On his first morning in Auschwitz extermination camp, Milan Bierenkrant, a young Jewish Slovakian, watched a hapless fellow Jew being given twenty-five lashes which he didn’t survive. That was his introduction to the barbaric regime of the concentration camps. A person would be beaten to death for the ‘crime’ of sleeping during the time of the ‘Appell’ roll-call. 

A while later, Milan was given the job to supervise the kitchen staff inmates. The German supervisor asked for a certain trough to be cleaned. Milan assigned a worker, but the fellow Jewish worker didn’t do the job. An hour later the German supervisor came back and saw the job unfinished. He asked Milan who he had assigned. Milan said he forgot. The German said I give you half an hour to remember or else you will be lashed. Milan knew what awaited him if he did not ‘remember’ to whom he had assigned the job. He had witnessed the brutality of lashes and the probably fatal outcome. Yet, a half hour later when the German came back Milan still ‘didn’t remember’. As the German started to administer the lashes, Milan thought about his brother and parents and about how they would cope with his death. 

Providentially, I bumped into Mr. Milan Bierenkrant on my last trip before lockdown. I was in Melbourne, Australia, I went to pray the Mincha afternoon service and we were entering the Synagogue at the same time. Mr. Bierenkrant remembered me from my childhood in Melbourne and we had a nice chat. At that time I didn't realize that I was speaking to a hero of epic proportion. That beneath his very happy looking congenial persona, there was a trove of memories that no human being should ever be exposed to. 

Mr. Bierenkrant shared his experiences a few days ago and you can see the full talk here. It is a tale of tragedy and resilience. A nightmare recounted, and a plea for the new dawn that we all pray for.

He, as all of those survivors who emerged from the crucible of destruction and death and went on to rebuild their lives as best as they could, are Tzadikim, holy and righteous people. 

That a Jew could emerge from such an experience and continue to cleave to G-d and live an observant Jewish life is unfathomable. To meet him at an ‘ordinary’ mid-week afternoon service says volumes about the depth and invincibility of the connection a Jew has with G-d.

****

The lover says to his beloved. 

I love you.

I really love you.

I really really love you.

I really really REALLY love you!

The beloved asks:

Why do you love me?

The lover answers:

Because you are my LIFE!!!!

Everything I have is only because of you.

Anything I have achieved is thanks to you.

You are the reason I get up in the morning.

Thinking about you is the way I fall asleep at night.

I adore you.

Being close to you is the most enjoyable delight I can imagine.

I can never get enough of you.

When I think about you enough, I feel lovesick for you.

The beloved asks:

To what extent are you prepared to go because of your love for me?

Are you prepared to forego your favorite food because the odor irritates me?

Are you prepared to allocate a few minutes each day to spend time with me?

Will you stick with me even in duress circumstances?

Can I ask you to not engage in deep and meaningful relationships with anyone beside me?

Is there a limit to how much money you are ready to spend to save our relationship?

Do you love me enough to even endanger your life to remain with me?

The lover responds.

YES. 

I love you. 

Unequivocally. 

With no limits.

****

SHMA YISRAEL AD margin-top:0pt;margin-bottom:8pt;">Twice daily, every morning and every evening we call out our ‘pledge of allegiance’ to G-d. G-d is ONE. There are no other forces or energies that exist outside of His Oneness.

Then we continue with the second verses.

‘V’ahavta et Hashem’. 

‘You shall love G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might’.

Reread the previous sentences with you as the lover and G-d as the beloved One.

Yep, LOVE means being prepared to really go out of your way and focus solely on your beloved. 

When you think about it, our beloved Hashem only asks us to give Him from what He has given us in the first place.

I saw a cute and inspiring story about honesty and integrity that happened last week in USA.

A western Wisconsin man will share his millions in lottery winnings with a longtime friend because of a promise they made to each other nearly three decades ago.

Friends Tom Cook and Joseph Feeney shook hands in 1992 and promised that if either one of them ever won the Powerball jackpot, they would split the money.

That promise came to fruition last month when Cook bought the winning ticket for a $22 million jackpot at Synergy Coop in Menomonie.

The men chose the cash option of about $16.7 million, leaving each with nearly $5.7 million after taxes are paid.

What Mr. Cook did was the correct and ethical thing. Good on him.

Imagine if Mr. Feeney said, I appreciate your sentiment, but I don’t want 50%, all I would like is for you to show your appreciation by giving 10% to a charitable cause. I am sure Mr. Cook would be quite happy.

That is what Hashem is asking of us.

The Almighty asks us to give 10% of our earnings to do acts of Tzedaka and kindness. But FIRST he gives us the 100% and then He asks for us to give some back for Tzedaka.

(During this very challenging period of time, I know many who need help, if you would welcome a call or email from me with more details on how you could help alleviate suffering, hunger and homelessness please let me know. Or simply visit our ‘humanitarian fund’ www.jewishthailand.com/tzedaka and share your blessings with others).

Yes, we are instructed to put up a Mezuzah on our doors.

But first G-d gives us the abode in which to put up the Mezuzah. 

And He doesn’t ask for much ‘space’ in your abode. The space that a Mezuzah takes up is tiny and inconsequential compared to the total space of a room. Only a room bigger than 39.6 sq Feet – 3.67 requires a Mezuzah. Mezuzahs are not very big. A non-negligibly small percentage of an average room. 

The awareness of G-d when we walk in and walk out, and the protection that G-d provides us with as a result of the Mezuzah is immeasurable. 

Click here for more info on Mezuzah and contact me to arrange a Mezuzah for your door. 

Same goes with prayers. Out of the 1440 minutes of life that G-d gives us every day, saying the basic prayers of thanks and Shma need not take more than 2% of your day. 

The point here is the same. FIRST he gives us 1440 minutes without conditions. Only then does He ask us to acknowledge Him.

I would like to share a not so well known fact. 

One of the greatest things you can do for G-d as a Jew, is love your fellow Jew as yourself. Treat your fellow as you would like to be treated.

This is the greatest way to express your love of G-d.

Here is how that works.

The Torah commands us to "Love your fellow as yourself." The Torah also tells us to "Love the L-rd your G-d." This prompted the disciples of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) to ask their master: "Which is the greater virtue, love of G-d or love of one's fellow?"

Rabbi Schneur Zalman replied: The two are one and the same. He then explained: G-d loves every one of His children. So ultimately, love of one's fellow is a greater show of love for G-d than simply loving G-d. Because true love means that you love what your loved one loves.

When you love someone, you want to do things that make them happy. Things that they really care about!

What does G-d love? What does He care about most?

That we should love EACH OTHER.

‘Love your fellow like yourself’, this is what HE loves most.

If we would each focus a little more on loving each other, and thus expressing our love of G-d, because He loves when we love each other, we would have a world of love and peace. 

Let’s not think ‘who can I forward this article to’…. Someone who really needs to learn to practice love…. Don’t wait for someone else to start the process, start it yourself. 

Find it in your heart to put away the gripes and hatred, start by acting loving. 

Action is a great way to start!!!!

Do acts of kindness to others. You will find that your heart follows your deeds. 

This is the surest way to bring Mashiach and usher in a world of Peace.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Last Shabbat a beloved and special person Dr. Carmel Goldwater passed away in London. Dr. Carmel Goldwater had been part of our community for decades. She was a do-gooder par excellence. A paradigm of ‘love your fellow as yourself’. (Actually, ‘love your fellow more than yourself’). She didn’t need anything for herself. She lived a very modest life in terms of materialism and used any and all resources at her disposal, to help others in the kindest and most gentle way. Dr. Carmel was a friend and mentor to countless people all over the region. It was quite common to get a handwritten note with words of poetry, wisdom, gentle rebuke and uplifting encouragement all in one. 

Dr. Carmel was brought to her eternal rest in the Jewish burial grounds in London at a ceremony that was attended from all sides of the ocean via Zoom. 

May her memory be for a blessing!

 

 

New ✔️ Normal ❌

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Yesterday, Avraham Dov, our (nearly) five-year-old grandson, complained to his mother (our daughter Mushka) that he didn’t approve of her dairy dinner menu and wanted to eat his usual chicken for dinner. 

(This week in observance of the laws of pre-Tisha B’av, we don’t eat meat/chicken or drink wine (besides on Shabbat)). 

His younger brother Levi responded, ‘if we build the Bet Hamikdash we will be able to eat meat’. 

They came to the joint conclusion that by doing mitzvahs they would be providing ‘bricks’ for the rebuilding the Bet Hamikdash (Temple). In their thinking, if not eating chicken is because there is no Bet Hamikdash, then all the need to do is rebuild the Bet Hamikdash. Problem solved. 

They are spot on! Once the rebuilding takes place, the 9th of Av will be overturned and transformed to become a HUGE FESTIVAL.

Kids… 

They are refreshingly futuristic and idealistic… to the point of actually believing they can get rid of the destruction. 

Hey, they have it right.

The Torah definition of standard Judaism is a complete belief in the coming of Mashiach. 

It is for this kind of belief that I want to stay a kid at heart. In order to trust with such simplicity that we CAN make this kind of a radical change without the inner voices of skepticism intruding disturbingly.

We don’t stay cherubic and cute for long. When we grow into adulthood we are exposed to the realities of life. The vast chasm that seems to divide between a utopian world of Messianic peace, and the harsh staccato of gunfire at too many flashpoints around the world. 

It becomes difficult to even dare to imagine that a different reality is possible. 

Let me try to provide a perspective that will not just allow you to dream, but even inspire you to act on your innate optimistic outlook.

It’s all about what you consider ‘normal’. 

The first time I heard the term ‘new normal’ was a few years ago when a family member, advancing in age, was trying to come to terms with their limited mobility. 

Psychologically it is important that an ageing person come to terms with the limitations of their body in its aged state. It is downright depressing when someone aims at running a marathon as if they were in their thirties when in reality, they are nearing one hundred and twenty and shuffling across the room takes herculean effort. 

‘New normal’ doesn’t mean ‘giving up’. ‘New normal’ means coming to terms with your new reality and realizing what the new parameters of your struggle should be. 

For example, if G-d forbid a professional athlete lost the use of their legs, they would be very wrong to feel a sense of failure for not being able to run the marathon. They would also be losing out so much if they did not try to work with the physiotherapist in trying to regain as much use of their limbs as possible. 

Either extreme would not be correct. Rather, the new situation requires a reassessment of the current possibilities and a galvanizing of the strength and determination necessary to achieve the most with the resources at hand.

The term ‘new normal’ is used a lot lately in conjunction with the current state of an errant microbe that is disrupting the world.

Coronavirus. 

Lockdown.

Economic woes.

Unemployment.

Social discontent.

Severely curtailed community events.

Etc.

New normal?

New! For sure. We never experienced anything nearly as disruptive as this.

Normal?

For sure NOT!!!

Should we get used to it? Accept it as normal? 

Not if we can find a way to curb and eradicate it.

Let us proclaim loudly and emphatically. Its not normal! Thank G-d, indeed the civilized world is not just sitting back and adapting. 

There are more than ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY vaccine projects underway. Several of the vaccines have made it to the final stage of trials. Initial results from those trials are expected in ninety days please G-d. (I pray that G-d send a healing to the world much sooner than that!!).

Obviously we all agree that when something is fixable, we should try our very hardest to rectify it. Adapting to limitations without even trying to change the situation is called resigning oneself prematurely and passively to one’s fate. 

G-d doesn’t want us to fail. G-d also doesn’t want us to succeed without effort. G-d wants us to put forth effort, and then to crown those efforts with success. A partnership between Heaven and Earth.

It is the human spirit that G-d has endowed us with, that causes people to not just lie down and die when faced with a threat. We get up and fight valiantly to defend ourselves and change outcomes.

G-d based morality teaches us which things we should consider significant. And for those things we should really put in an effort. Not just accept the status quo.

It is embedded within our human psyche that if a change is possible, even though it may look improbable, it should not be accepted as ‘normal’. 

If it is sickness, we should try to figure out a medial cure. If it is a social ill, we should advocate for better moral education and responsible governance. If it is unfairness in how society treats minorities, we should address the issue at its core to rectify it.

How much can be changed?

Famine, war, envy or competition

Can we get rid of those?

Good in abundance and all the delights freely available as dust.

Does this sound achievable?

‘Nation shall not lift a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore’

Hello? Is this hallucinatory thinking? No. these are quotes from the words our Prophets and Sages.

It gets better. Read the next line from the Rambam about what awaits us when Mashiach comes. 

The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God.

Does all the above sound like that is an implementable vision or a pipe dream?

It does seem farfetched. I agree. But it is the endgame that Judaism has been aiming for since our Temple’s destruction nearly 2000 years ago.

This is spoken about in the Torah, in the Prophets and in all our subsequent holy books. It is at the core of the ‘thirteen principles of faith’ of Judaism. 

The skeptic may ask, hadn’t we better adapt our expectations to the reality?

In reality, our world is full of hunger, war, envy and competition.

Good is not in abundance. And the delights are not freely available as dust.

The sole of the occupation of the entire world is not about knowing G-d. Not even a negligible percentage of the world is involved in spiritual pursuits.

The believer replies. That is not the way it needs to be. Or it is going to remain. It’s not a ‘new normal’ for us to resign ourselves to.

Normal is a world of peace. With a G-dly revealed presence in the Bet Hamikdash in Jerusalem.

Submitting to the ‘reality’ of a non-Messianic world, is like telling all the medical research companies to stop searching for a vaccine.

I know this may sound radical, but it’s quite straightforward if you think about it. Its mainstream Judaism.

We need to keep aiming for it. Chipping away bit by bit at it. Doing one more good deed and one more good deed. 

The stakes are higher than anything else imaginable, as it means the beginning of a utopia that only gets better and better. That is why it is also the most challenging task to succeed in. We all know that the more valuable something is, the more perseverance we need. In this case we have been at it for nearly two thousand years and our generation is the grand finale. We are at the tipping point. A tiny push and Mashiach comes.

While the coming of Mashiach is always on our mind, we don’t always engage in actively mourning the loss of our Temple. 

But once a year we do just that. Our Sages instituted a three-week mourning period to remind ourselves that our situation is not tolerable. We need to find a solution. A cure. We need to usher in a utopian era.  

During the days leading up to the climatic reminder of the Bet Hamikdash’s destruction on Tisha B’av (9th of Av, corresponding this year to Thursday July 30th), we observe various levels of joy-reduction to be mindful of the intolerable state of being we find ourselves in.

Its two-thousand-year mind you.

Pretty mind-blowing that we still haven’t given up.

If G-d forbid this virus situation lasted a few years, do you think there would be 150 companies trying to make a vaccine? Or do you think there would be a headline in every newspaper in the world about the daily sickness and death count? 

We, the Jewish people still remember that our two-thousand-year detour is NOT NORMAL.

We need to fight against it. 

The fight is done by doing more mitzvahs. By learning more about what a G-dly inspired world would look like. By living life in a state of spiritual mindfulness and G-d consciousness. 

The Rebbe made it clear that it is our generation that has to put the finishing touches on the grand master plan of G-d to send Mashiach NOW.

Even little kids know that it is doable!

In some ways, its better to be a kid at heart….

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor





PC or PC?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Do you remember when PC was an abbreviation for ‘personal computer’?

I don’t think it was that long ago. Perhaps before smartphones became so ubiquitous. 

Lately I find that the letters PC usually stand for the term ‘politically correct’.

I am not sure if it is politically correct to comment about politically correctness. 

The last thing I would like to do is to come across having a stand, positive or negative on political correctness.

Perhaps this too is a sign of the pervasiveness of political correctness?

It is pervasive. 

I met a Jew recently for coffee. 

We had been chatting via email for a few months ever since he had a craving for ‘fried matzah’. (This is one of the miracles of Judaism. Culinary memories are more than just about eating. They help keep us connected to our heritage. Matzah, Latkes, Gefilte fish and Chrein have brought many Jews back to their Jewish roots). His quest for this childhood food, took him the Synagogue on Soi 22. He saw that it is under construction and headed off down Soi 22 back to Sukhumvit.

Draped on the side of Marriot Marquis hotel was a huge sign advertising JCafe and Kosher Shoppe as being just one block away. He got to JCafe only to find it closed. That is when he found me the internet. I assured him that while we are closed on Shabbat and Jewish Holidays, after the first days of Pesach the JCafe would reopen. To his credit he came again, but this time it was the last days of Pesach and once again we were closed. Finally, on the third try he got his matzah.

He wrote me a thank you and I asked him if he was Jewish. His response was not clear. That was a pretty good sign that he was Jewish. We met up for coffee. Yes, he was born to both Jewish parents, even had a Bar Mitzvah but was not very much in touch with his Judaism. 

As two fellow Jewish Americans we somehow got onto the topic of the future of America. As usual, I sidestepped any issues that could be interpreted as political.

I focused on the theme of unity and the commonality between all humans which should lead us to building a better society for everyone. 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once shared the following wish with New York City mayor David Dinkins:

“In the near future, the ‘melting pot’ [of America] will be so active that it will not be necessary to underline every time [when speaking of others] ‘They are Black,’ ‘They are White,’ ‘They are Hispanic,’ etc., because they are no different. All of them are created by the same G-d, and created for the same purpose, to add to all good things around them.”

We had a great meeting. He paid for the coffee this time. (I only agreed to that after he accepted that I would l pay next time 😊).

But I was left wondering about our discussion and the fact that I had really stayed unopinionated about the political discussion.  

Was I avoiding something I shouldn’t be avoiding?

It seemed to me that there is a certain wisdom in not being pulled into non-essential discussions and arguments that have the potential of creating a sense of alienation.

Fascinatingly just this week I got my answer. I stumbled on this interview with Dr. Velvl Greene (a former Fullbright scholar and a pioneer in exobiology. There are many fascinating articles by this Professor who was part of Nasa’s study regarding ‘life on Mars’).

Dr. Greene describes how he had written a letter to the Rebbe in which he challenged certain aspects of the Rebbe’s position on the Torah – Science debate. 

The Rebbe didn’t answer. Dr. Greene assumed that the Rebbe had conceded to his position. 

Dr. Greene continued his growth in personal observance of Torah and Mitzvot and the Rebbe continued his letter correspondence without mentioning the scientific debate. 

Only after a year and a half did the Rebbe refer back to his question and provide answers to back up his position. 

When Dr. Greene asked the Rebbe why he had held off on answering till now, the Rebbe responded: 

‘It is not my job to win arguments. 

My job is to present the Jewish point of view. 

To win adherents to the Jewish cause. 

If I were to take issue with you about that letter, I may have pushed you away’.

My dear friends,

It is within my mission statement to comment or debate every issue that exists. As important as they may be.

My job, as stated so succinctly by the Rebbe, is to be a spiritual leader and beacon of light. It is not to win arguments. It is to present the Jewish point of view and win adherents to the Jewish cause!

The Jewish point of view is:

To act morally and encourage all of humanity to act with moral uprightness and benevolence. 

This applies to all sides of the political aisle.

To encourage my fellow Jews to do more mitzvahs and benevolent acts.

Practice unconditional love of your fellow Jew.

Learn more Torah.

On the one hand I need to be unequivocal when it comes to Torah adherence.

Yet on the other hand, the other issues, I choose to remain silent on them. 

Not sure if that is PC or non-PC.

For me PC means ‘personal computer’.

And TM means Torah and Mitzvahs.

My job is to urge you all to practice TM

(Not transcendental meditation of course). 

I mean TORAH and MITZVOS!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS click here to watch R’ Doron Kornbluth’s presentation on the topic of Burial (vs Cremation). Some of his points included. Jewish Burial is the way to make the ‘final Jewish statement’. It is a more ‘green’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ choice in disposing of human final remains. R’ Doron mentioned an interesting statistic that ‘if every American citizen would be buried, it would take 10,000 years to use up 1% of the land mass of America’. The cost issue of burial seemed to be a great handicap. Here in Thailand we are blessed with a wonderful community of locals and visitors who have always benevolently provided burial for any Jew who dies here.

Click here for an inspiring story about a Jew who died alone in Suzhou, China and Chabad’s international efforts headed by Rabbi Greenberg of Shanghai to bring him to burial in Israel.



No private jet? Pitiful!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Are you a compassionate person?

I believe that you are.

There are circumstances and predicaments that you observe that arouse your compassion.

Compassion is defined in the dictionary as ‘sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others’.

(I am interjecting here with an opportunity for compassion. There are several community members who could benefit greatly from a ‘used but still-in-good-functioning-condition’ computer. If you live in Thailand and have a laptop that good still be of use to someone, please let me know rabbi@jewishthailand.com We will take care of pickup and have our computer tech support make sure your data is wiped etc. In general this time period has created a lot more stress for people financially, if you are able to give tzedakah to help those who need it click www.jewishthailand.com/tzedaka).

Allow me to make the following generalizations.

If you were to go and visit people living in a slum in a third world country, you would be aroused with feelings of compassion and pity. 

Let me give you a visual example without having to actually leave your chair. The charity organization ‘Water’, has a video which highlights the fact that 758 million people don’t have access to clean water. I don’t know anything about the charity and how it is run, but I do know that you cannot remain indifferent or uncompassionate when you see images of a little girl scooping up water to drink from a greenish/brown algae filled pond. Their video presentation arouses compassion. 

Pantry Packers in Israel, (who I am very familiar with firsthand, they are an efficient well managed charity), provides food to those who don’t have enough to eat. Not having food to eat is something that arouses our compassion.

Water, clean drinking water is a basic need. Staving off hunger is a basic human need. 

Any of us, when confronted with a person in need of water or in need of food, would be aroused with feelings of compassion and we would be moved to help alleviate the dire need. 

Because we usually don’t interact personally with people who need that kind of help the tzedakah and charity organizations play a critical ‘matchmaking’ role in bringing together those who are in need and those who can alleviate that need. 

If you are an upper-class worker, you may feel compassion for a lower income person who is struggling.

Someone who lives in airconditioned quarters, drives a mediocre car, and can even afford a decent vacation if they cut down on other non-essentials. They are not ‘pity cases’ like those who lack water, but they are juggling and struggling to maintain their lifestyle. Especially when an unanticipated expense comes their way. The higher earner feels pity for the difficulty inherent in that struggle. 

If you are even higher on the financial totem pole, let’s say a millionaire, you may have pity on the upper-class employee for needing to take instructions from their superior.

And so it goes on and up.

Till now I have talked about the easiest thing to draw comparisons about. Money and material quality of life.

Let me move to the field of knowledge.

No doubt you feel sorry for somebody who is totally illiterate. I assume that if you meet someone who doesn’t know how to read or write any language and has no basic grasp of simple arithmetic, you will feel pity and compassion for that person.

If you are a mathematician, you may have pity on someone who struggles with algebra. If you are a dietician, you feel compassion and pity for a person who eats in an unhealthy way.

If you are an expert in epidemiology (how germs spread) you likely felt pity, compassion and dread when you saw how clueless people were (even EMS workers didn’t grasp the enormity of the problem at the beginning) about the super-contagion levels of the new virus. People were carrying on their lives as if all was as usual while you, the epidemiologist was screaming ‘DANGER, DANGER’ and no one listened.

King Solomon said: more knowledge and perception causes more pain.

For example, the advent of TV allowed more people to see what they didn’t even know that they didn’t have. And thus, ironically, become unhappier.

The person without drinking water (who hasn’t seen TV) may not even feel compassion for themselves. They don’t know better. Walking a few miles to obtain drinking water with great difficulty, is their reality.

The struggling middle-class worker should not walk around feeling pitiful. Better would be to lower their expectations and be happy with the very acceptable lifestyle that they have.

The millionaire doesn’t feel sorry for his financial state. Although the billionaire may well think of it as being pitiful to need to make choices based on economic limitations (say like flying first class instead of by private jet). 

Likewise, the person who is clueless about germs and microbes doesn’t feel compassion for himself for congregating in a crown without precautions. He doesn’t see the problem to begin with.

How about if I shared with you, that there is a spiritual reality that we are clueless about. A reality so distant from us, that it puts the chasm of division between the leading world epidemiologist and the most medically uneducated person in the world to shame.

Put on Moses’ glasses for a moment. Moshe Rabeinu who ascended the mountain of Sinai and spoke face to face with G-d.

Imagine him coming down from the mountain after conversing with G-d, the two tablets in hand, and seeing the frenzied dancing around the idolatrous symbol of the ‘golden-calf’. 

Can you imagine how Moshe felt? You can almost hear Moshe’s saying:

DON’T YOU SEE THE REALITY OF G-D? HOW CAN YOU BE SO MISGUIDED AS TO PRANCE AROUND AN IDOL?????

If you can imagine the epidemiologists pain, frustration anger and pity mixed in as one when they see a crowded event without precautions, you can multiply it many times to get a glimpse into what Moshe must have been feeling when he saw that sinful spectacle.

(That event, the worshiping of the calf and subsequent breaking of the ‘Two Tablets’ is marked by a Jewish fast day (it was yesterday) which heralds the beginning of the ‘Three Weeks’ mourning period remembering the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash. Click here for more info)

My dear friends, I have something to share with you. 

We live our lives in a TRULY EXISTENTIALLY pitiful state.

We don’t ‘get it’. We don’t ‘see’ the reality. We live in the ‘dark’. We make life choices from a state of illiteracy of sorts. Our lifestyles are often at odds with true reality and the source of the energy of the universe. G-d.

The reality of G-dly energy is the most real thing in the world. 

Real, but even less visible than a microbe. It is a totally different plane of existence. Spiritual existence may be ethereal. But it is certainly REAL. And the vast majority of us don’t see it. Perhaps we don’t even regularly sense it. 

It is here though. Our SOULS know it and feel it because they are IT. We have within each of us a ‘part of G-d’ literally. But our human consciousness is immersed in the physical dimension of life, thus we don’t ‘see’ G-dliness like our soul does.

Can you imagine how much compassion we should have for ourselves? That we don’t ‘get it’.

I know you will be thinking that we are doing pretty okay in life, materially and spiritually and we really don’t have a problem that should cause us to consider ourselves as a ‘compassion’ case.

True. The way we limited physical beings see things we are okay.

From G-d’s perspective though, he looks at us scurrying around, amassing materialism while trampling on our spiritual values on the way and He feels ‘pity’ and ‘compassion’ for our cluelessness. 

We, like the slum dwellers who don’t even realize how pitiful and miserable it is not to have access to safe drinking water, don’t have any idea, how incongruous our behavior is with the G-dly reality that pervades us.

There is no way we as mortals can really see this G-dly reality.

But we can pray. That G-d have compassion on us and grant us the gift of perspective. That we should make our life choices based on the TRUTH of G-d.  

In simple English, we pray for G-d to inspire us to think and live as if we can see the reality of His presence.

So that we will do what is RIGHT and stay away from what is WRONG.

G-d commanded the Jewish people in this week’s Parsha to bring a daily offering in the morning and one in the afternoon.

A lamb in the morning. A lamb in the afternoon. 

The Torah masters point out that a lamb bleats with such a plaintive and wistful tone that it is reminiscent of compassion and pity. 

Compassion/pity in the morning. Compassion/pity in the afternoon.

The deeper meaning of that daily sacrifice is the daily meditation that we implore G-d to have pity on us. 

And that we should have pity on others. 

And ACT on that pity and compassion.

Try it.

Before you pray, says the Torah, give some help to someone in need. 

Then, realize that you should have pity on yourself. Focus on the pitifulness of your state of being. How pathetic it is that your own self-advancement is more important to you than the needs of a fellow. Pity that eating and sleeping come effortlessly, while praying and studying require immense sacrifice. Pity on the colors we are not seeing because of our spiritual color-blindness. 

Not to get depressed G-d forbid, but to realize that we need to take actions to offset what we don’t automatically see. To work harder at making the right life choices and not remain clueless about reality. 

To finish on a practical note:

Having a Tzedaka box in your home, office, car and anywhere else you spend time, and regularly putting money in it for others, is a wonderful way to exercise and build up the muscle of compassion. 

And pray regularly. Prayer is the most effective way of obtaining G-d’s Divine mercy and being granted the gift of a deeper more sublime, more G-dly perspective. This in turn leads you to better choices and more mitzvahs, which leads you to more prayer, more mitzvahs etc etc till Mashiach comes and beyond.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

'Sacrifice’ the ‘easy’ way!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

A congregant and I were commiserating about the difficult times we are living in.

Herman is a leader in the hospitality industry and understandably the current downturn in tourism and the ‘social distancing’ restrictions have created huge challenges in operating the hotel he manages. 

I am in the spiritual leadership field yet for me too it is a difficult time as the restrictions have handicapped many of the standard aspects of Jewish communal life. 

‘But we really shouldn’t complain said Herman’. ‘When my father and cousin were in hiding from the Nazis during WWII there was no ‘FoodPanda’ or ‘Zoom’. ‘Not to mention that my grandparents who were taken to Auschwitz and Sobibor were never heard from again’.

He has a good point. Indeed, it is important to put things in perspective. The previous generations faced threats of mortal danger that we cannot even imagine. For a large percentage of us, the current situation is more about the disruption and the havoc than the actual danger to life. (G-d forbid I am not trying to minimize the toll this has taken in terms of loss of life and health, but for a great majority it has thank G-d been more about major disruption than actual danger).

Jobs are in jeopardy for many. Incomes are less. Uncertainty is rampant. These are not easy times, but they are for the most part manageable. Not life and death. Even our religious life need not be diminished.

Truth be told, we can maintain a great Jewish life even under these conditions. It takes readjusting and learning to do things a bit differently,

Some things have even received an unexpected upgrade during this crisis. For example, I have seen more attendance at my Torah classes than ever before. They are via Zoom, and I can’t serve coffee or shake hands, but the transmission of Torah knowledge, which is at core of what a ‘shiur Torah’ is, takes place fully. G-d has even granted me the opportunity to teach Torah on an international level. Because of this situation I have been invited to do a daily post on Facebook Live via Chabad.org Facebook page. I am not sure how to figure out how many people watch, but it is certainly more than I have ever had before at a class. What a merit this is, to be able to be a Torah teacher in this kind of forum.

The Synagogue was closed for some time. Prayer however, never stopped. You don’t need anything, other than your warm heart to pray to Hashem. You can do it in your own words, at your own pace, in your own place and all by yourself. The prayers I did in solitude over the last few months have been meaningful and inspiring. Many people have shared with me that their prayers have been heartfelt even when done in their own homes.

The Synagogue is now open for prayers on Shabbat. 

(We are phasing our reopening. 

For now, we are open for tefilot/prayer services only.

Communal meals have not yet resumed. 

Sermons and classes are via Zoom only.

Masks required. Social distancing rules followed. 

For those in a higher risk bracket, this is not to be viewed as a professional opinion about the situation here in Bangkok. Please make sure to get professional medical advice as to whether its safe for you to attend.

If you plan to attend, please email me or WhatsApp me in advance so that we can ensure we keep to the limits and requirements.

We hope that things continue to progress here in the miraculously positive way they seem to be going, thank G-d).

Things have not always been so religiously liberated and rosy for our people.

A hundred years ago in Russia things were vastly different. The Bolshevik revolution aimed to replace religion with atheism. The observance of Judaism was seen as being an obstacle in the way to achieving the utopian communist dream.

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitschak Schneerson, defied them and courageously led the battle for the preservation of Judaism in Russia. He did this via his clandestine network of students who founded underground ‘cheders’ where Jewish children would study Torah. Often they were discovered and the teachers sent to Siberia or simply killed by the firing squad. Mikvahs and synagogues, bris and chupa, all of these Jewish rituals were considered anti-state activities and were carried out in hiding by these heroic Jews. 

Eventually the communists arrested the Rebbe and after a summary show trial they intended to end his life as they had done to so many other brave religious functionaries. 

Friends and followers got to work around the world raising an outcry in halls of governments that may have some influence, including the USA. Miraculously, although Russia didn’t usually yield to outside pressure, the Soviet commuted the Rebbe’s sentence to a ten-year exile in Siberia. After more pressure was exerted it was commuted to a three-year exile in a less remote locale. After ten days in exile, the order to free the Rebbe was received. 

Shortly thereafter he left Russia and after ten years in Poland the Rebbe moved to America, arriving in NY in 1940. All the while, till his passing ten years later, he fought the Soviet atheistic designs. The ranks of his devoted followers, who were ready to follow his lead and exert supreme self-sacrifice to continue to ensure that the flame of the Torah would stay alight for the millions of Jews trapped behind the Iron curtain, was thinned by the war and by the small waves of emigration that followed the war. Only a miniscule group of devout, non-yielding observant Jews remained behind, expending every effort to keep the underground Yiddishkeit alive.

The embers remained but the flame was not evident. Jewish life had gone so deeply underground that it seemed truly endangered.

More details about the imprisonment/release here.

Seventy years later in the late 1980’s with Glasnost and Perestroika, those embers were fanned back to life and they became a roaring flame of Jewishness. Today all across Russia, Synagogues, religious schools, mikvah’s, bris, chupa and kosher food are all readily available. Jews proudly and prominently serve G-d with joy and enthusiasm. 

In 1927 when the Rebbe almost faced the firing squad, it looked like the atheistic enemies of G-d had scored a victory. Today we know that nothing could be further from the truth. Hashem and His Torah are the winners.

The Rebbe was released from the mortal threat of imprisonment on the 12th of Tamuz, corresponding this year to Shabbat July 4th. 

It is a day to be celebrated.

It is a reminder that holiness ultimately prevails over unholiness. Good is ultimately triumphant over evil.

The Rebbe said upon his release that since the battle he had fought was for the essence of Judaism, his release represented a victory for every single Jew. Even for those Jews for whom being Jewish is more of a label than an actual conviction. 

More importantly it’s a day to be mindful that when things are not easy, it is not mean we should give up. It means we simply have to try harder!!!!

We are not being asked for the supreme self-sacrifice of endangering our lives.

For most of us, we have religious freedom. 

With that freedom comes the choice to choose to be more spiritually connected or not.

The ‘sacrifice’ of our times is not risking being shot for upholding our Judaism.

Our ‘sacrifice’ is about giving up some of our self-centeredness and desire for self-gratification and think about what is it that G-d wants me to do.

In the supermarket aisles, the choice of buying something inappropriate for a Jew or keeping the shopping cart ‘kosher’, this is where we are being asked to make a sacrifice.

On Shabbat, to be more mindful of the honor and respect we should accord the Shabbat this is the ‘wrestling-match’ taking place in our consciousness.

Our challenges are about trying to be more G-d conscious. 

To study more of G-d’s Torah.

To pray more to G-d. In your own environment in whatever language works for you. 

And by doing more Mitzvahs. Those that connect us to G-d like Tefilin, Mezuzah and Shabbat candles. 

And those that teach us to how to live more wholesomely with others. By being more honest, benevolent, forgiving and gracious. 

If you are a complainer, lets resolve to stop complaining. Complainer can always find something to complain about. This weeks double-parsha speaks about complainers even after being fed G-dly manna from heaven and being treated to a ‘club-med’ kind of experience. Let’s try to adapt to situations we are not used to and reframe things to try and see how things are good

If you are an optimist by nature, good on you. But there is one place you should tone down your natural optimism. When it comes to your own self-growth you should step up your expectations and demand more from yourself. Find something that’s a bit harder than what you are comfortable with, and practice ‘self-sacrifice’ by undertaking that good deed or character trait development.

May we all be blessed with a life of liberty, happiness and great living conditions, and may we use all of that not to be G-d forbid complacent and pampered, rather to use those blessings to springboard and catapault to ever rising heights by adjusting our goals as we advance.

May your ‘sacrifices’ all be about getting better and better from withing a framework of a blessedly trouble free life.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor




What's the future of travel industry?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Will be people resume traveling after the virus is brought under control like they did before the virus?

The entire travel industry worldwide is wondering the same thing.

I don’t think anyone really knows the answer.

How about working in offices. Will people continue working remotely or will they resume commuting to offices. 

Lots of opinions about this.

Real estate values in cities like New York is very dependent on office rentals. Nobody knows whether that will come back or not.

How about parties and celebrations?

Now that many weddings have taken place in backyards under very basic and modest conditions, will big, large-attendance weddings come back?

There are many similar uncertainties about what our lives will look like after this big disruption. 

Here is another one. A more spiritual one, but perhaps it will help shed light on the subject.

From times yore, it has been a tradition to seek out wisdom by journeying to the great Jewish sages and leaders. Just like Moses was sought out for advice by the Jewish people as they journeyed for forty years through the desert. 

In a nutshell, the Jewish people is analogous to one body, each of us representing and different part of the body. The Tzadik is the ‘head’ of this collective Jewish ‘body’. In recent centuries it became a well-entrenched Chasidic tradition to visit the Rebbe, the ‘collective head’ (also known as the ‘collective soul’) to get spiritually reinvigorated and to realign and fortify their connection with Almighty G-d.

Besides for the wisdom and Torah knowledge that is gained by visiting one’s Rebbe, there is also a vital ‘accountability’ and ‘realignment’ that visiting the Rebbe engenders.  

It is so easy to lose sight of our spiritual goals and missions. We all have egos. Our impulses are vulnerable to the pulls and attractions of materialism and indulgence. It need not even be a vast divergence from the course. It takes but a slight deviation from ones intended route, to eventually become an (almost) irreparable great gap. 

The function of a Moses-like Jewish leader, is to remain steadfast and unwavering in their commitment to G-d and Torah. Thus, the leader serves as an inspiration and lighthouse empowering and enabling the people to stay committed and inspired to the best of their ability. 

Since the Rebbe lives in the same contemporary physical world as his students and is aware of the contemporary challenges posed by material life and its myriad temptations, the student knows that his masters hopes for him are achievable. They are not unrealistic and beyond the scope of reality. 

True connections are built around love. It’s a two-way street.

You become attached and connected to those you love. 

You love those to whom you are attached and connected.

When there is no connection and love, when you don’t care about that other person, living up to their expectations of you is quite unimportant.

It’s the reverse when you respect and love someone. You don’t want to let them down. Even if it means working hard and putting your own self-interest somewhat to the side.

This, says Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch in a Chasidic text on the subject, is one of the reasons for traveling to a Rebbe. Seeing one’s spiritual master awakens the love. It fosters a recommitment by the visitor to employ the means needed to live up to the lofty expectations of his teacher from him. 

When the teacher passes away, this is achieved by visiting the physical resting space.

Continues the text, ‘what if the person is unsure whether he truly feels that love for his Rebbe any more’? 

The answer to that is ‘since he had a desire to travel to the resting place of the Tzadik and he acted on that desire, this is a sign that the love is still there, at last in a minimal way’. If he no longer cared, he wouldn’t inconvenience himself to make the journey.

It is a custom to visit the resting place of a Tzadik and pray there on the auspicious day of passing.

For twenty-five years I have been blessed to be able to fulfil that tradition and it has always been a very special, meaningful and spiritual journey. 

In reflecting on what visiting the Ohel usually means to me, I realized that indeed coming to the Rebbe’s Ohel on his yahrtzeit was always an opportunity to fortify my connection and reassess how well I was living up to the Rebbe’s expectations of me in terms of my commitment to Hashem and His Torah. 

Every year I ask myself the following question. 

Am I still sensitive to the relationship of love with the soul of my Rebbe? Has the passage of time diminished my connection? 

Perhaps...

However, one thing is for certain. The feeling of love and connection is still there. The Chasidic treatise says it clearly. If you cared enough to travel to your Rebbe, you obviously still have a connection.

Yesterday was the Yartzeit, the 26th anniversary of passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory. As the ‘Shepherd’ of the Jewish people, the great ascent that his righteous soul enjoys at this anniversary, translates to great blessings for all of the beloved flock, the People of Israel.

This year I couldn’t go to NY to visit his Ohel.

Of course I was disappointed that I could not physically travel but I was also forced to give the matter deep thought.

It was not at all an indication of whether my connection was still strong. The disruption of this virus has changed life for everyone. I wanted to go. I just couldn’t go. Thank G-d, I still had a very meaningful observance of the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit this year.

In a certain way, because of the inability to participate in the usual way, I felt the yearning and connection even more.

In our age of technology, I can even have my notes printed out and placed on the Rebbe’s resting place. Indeed, so can you via www.ohelchabad.org (there are guidelines in several languages on this site).

But if next year the borders are open and I am able to travel, what will I do?

I don’t know. Hopefully Mashiach will have come long before and the question will be irrelevant.

Clearly though, making an effort to travel and be present at an important destination or event is a sign that you care.

Will people really tell their relatives and friends, ‘I won’t be attending the wedding of your child because I learned from the Corona that the world won’t fall apart even if I stay home’?

Will the human desire to escape normal life and travel to exotic vacations really change because of these few months that it was not possible to travel?

Will we really not do in-person meetings because we have learned about zoom?

Only time will tell.

However, if expending effort for something shows the endearment and cultivates it will we really do away with making efforts in building interpersonal relationships?

This is a deeper look at challenges in general. When things something go awry and Hashem seems more distant from us, it is that Hashem intends to push us away. G-d forbid. Rather, it is in order for us to be even more thirsty for Him and thus generate even greater efforts by us to overcome the apparent distance.

Is it not entirely possible, that the great thirst being built up for human interaction because of the extended lockdowns will cause to an even greater rebound after the full reopening?

I for one, hope to cherish and relish the in-person interactions with people once they are returned to me.

A handshake. A communal meal. Brotherly backslapping. And yes, the ability to get onto a plane to travel for something that is very meaningful to me.

All of the above are not just things I like. Or you like. 

G-d Almighty likes us to do them. He has told us in His Torah that He cherishes the efforts we make for togetherness. 

The Torah is all about Shalom, peace. There is nothing more peace enhancing than camaraderie. Zoom helps when there is no choice. But once we are able to safely fully reopen, I think the Torah mandates us to resume social NEARNESS!!!!

I cannot wait!!!!! 

And once we are talking about not being able to wait… I can’t wait to have G-d’s nearness. We can’t wait for Mashiach to come. Then we will finally be totally at one with G-d. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor




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