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Weekly Emails "Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Unity of Beasts w/ Boundaries

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Multiculturalism or melting pot?

What do you prefer?

The arguments for promoting a society to become a melting pot are many. Let us start with the universally accepted virtue of unity. With a melting pot comes the gift of equal rights for all. Commonality of goals and shared destination makes for a cohesive society.

The multiculturalists will point out no less emphatically, that the uniqueness of the individual cultures is lost when different peoples assimilate into one new identity. The beauty of the mosaic is only to be had when one maintains their distinctiveness and brings it with them to society. Let us thus encourage people to maintain their distinctiveness.

The Torah portion this week sparked my thoughts about this topic.

The fourth plague brought by G-d against the Egyptian as part of the process of liberating the Jewish people, was the plague termed named by the Torah ‘inciting a mixture’.

It’s a name that gives room for some pondering. The name of the other plagues are more easily identifiable. ‘Blood’, meant that the Nile’s waters turned to blood. ‘Frogs’ meant that hordes of frogs swarmed the land of Egypt. And so with the balance of the ‘ten plagues’. They are all self-explanatory. This fourth plague has a name which seems a bit more vague.

The name of the plague is ‘orov’ as in ‘mixture’. A ‘mixture’ that is ‘incited’ against the Egyptians. A mixture of what?

The answer to that is pretty straightforward. It refers to a mixture of creatures that are easily provoked and get even more ferocious and downright destructive when incited.

The details of which kind of beasts they were, are obviously not all that important. This is why the Torah doesn’t give the exact details of what beasts were part of the plague. Just that it was a ‘mixture’. Rashi and the Midrash give some more details. Like snakes and scorpions that came up from the ground. Also other wild beasts. Beasts that we like to see from the windows of a car in safaris. Lions, tigers, bears and other such easily provokable animals.

The name of the plague though, is not ‘wild beasts’ but rather ‘orov’ which means ‘mixture’. The Torah is thus emphasizing that it was the mixture, the combined concoction of many species, that defined the punitive aspect of this particular plague.

Its scary enough when a bear comes to a city and seems bent on going on a rampage. Imagine lions, panthers, snakes and scorpions and a few other lethal creatures added to the mix? It was enough to create a panic and pandemonium that was intended to pressure Pharaoh into releasing the Jewish people.

There is something very unsettling when troubles come from many directions. Even people who usually cope well with stress, when the difficulty is multifaceted, they lose their calm and start to hyperventilate and panic.

Think about our past year and you will recognize that much of the panic is because of the ‘multi-facetedness’ of this attack on our ‘normalcy’. Health, economic, social and various other disruptions. Each problem on its own would be more manageable. Together, they form a greater source of panic and fear.

Plagues are not positive or nice in and of themselves. G-d brought the plagues to bring about a brighter future. To lead to Exodus and the Giving of the Torah at Sinai. This brought a liberation to the Jewish people and a purposefulness to the world at large.

Yet, the details of every plague contain a message for us. Something that we can inculcate and incorporate into our lives, making our way of living more moral and G-dly.

With this fourth plague, it’s a no-brainer. The G-dly message in this plague of ‘mixture’, would be to recognize the amazing undefeatable power of unity.

If ‘mixtures of wild beasts’ are so powerful, imagine how powerful ‘mixtures’ of good peace-loving people must be.

This would point toward the supreme virtue of the melting pot model.

Tearing down boundaries that divide us. Uniting as one. If even beasts can unite as one for G-d, how much more so humans can. And thus, create an unstoppable force of good.

Mixing is unity, unity is what G-d likes.

Hang on a second though.

There is a second part to this. If you don’t stop to hear the second part, it would be like getting a powerful medicine but not paying attention to the dosage. Medicine can be life saving. Too much of a powerful medicine can be lethal.

So, read on please.

This plague also speaks about non-mixing. Boundaries.

This is the first plague that the Torah explicitly describes as being ‘exclusive’ and affecting the Egyptian captors only and not the captive Jews.

Hashem said: I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people dwell, so that there will not be any mixed horde there. Thus, you will realize that I am God  not only in heaven but also on earth, in the midst of the land.

Now, to get wild beasts to stay out of Goshen would take a G-dly force of curtailing and preventing the wild beasts. Wild beasts don’t usually like to be told where to go and where to stay away.

The lesson from the containment of the wild beasts projects a G-dly instruction to create borders and boundaries.

Quite the opposite of the melting pot. Non assimilatory behavior is the message from this detail of the plague.

Some things need to be contained and defined by borders and fences.

G-d made a very strong two-pronged statement in this plague.

Mixtures are good.

Boundaries are critical.

The two above derived lessons from the one plague of ‘mixture of wild beasts that didn’t trespass the boundaries of the area of their free reign’, is that we need both attitudes.

We need to recognize the incredible blessing of unifying ourselves.

All the while not forgetting the inviolable borders that protect our identities.

I will use a radical example although it is horrific, but it expresses the message powerfully.

Being cordial and friendly to children, even not your own children, is good. Smiling at any young child when you see them usually comes naturally and so it should.

When you see someone being too friendly, ‘overfriendly’, to children it is possibly a warning sign. It should not be whitewashed or ignored. G-d forbid that a pedophile should fall through the cracks and prey on defenseless victims because proper boundaries were not in place.

Friendly is good.

Boundaries are critical.

The message is clear.

There are vast areas of life in which G-d expects us to be unite with others.

Not to be disastrously mistaken as being license to tear down all borders.

There are critical and key aspects of our identities which must remain ironclad in their individuality.

To apply this lesson to ‘Jewish continuity’.

A Jew can and must contribute to the surrounding society. Many have pointed out with pride, the places of prominence that Jews occupy in the world of medicine (Pfizer and Moderna’s Jewish upper management, are trending topics now because of their success with the vaccine), science, business and government.

At the same time, a Jew must always robustly maintain his or her integrity and be unapologetically Jewish. Hashem created various differences between human beings. One of them is that a Jew is a Jew and a non-Jew is a non-Jew. To fudge or blur the boundaries would herald the end of Am Yisrael G-d forbid.

The fact that we are Jewish today is because of our ancestors unyielding commitment to the Torah.

Our commitment to the Torah today, is the only guarantee that there will be a Jewish people tomorrow.

Unite with others yes. Assimilate NO.

Being proudly Jewish is also the best formula to fight anti-Semitism.

To quote Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of blessed memory

Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism, and they are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism.

Getting the perfect balance is a ‘balancing act’ but at least we need to identify our goals and work towards them without taking our eyes off the destination.

And think about this. The best thing you can do to help your neighbor, Jewish or non, and actually the best way to help the entire world, is by doing one more mitzvah and bringing more goodness into the world.

You and I doing more uniquely Jewish mitzvahs will be good for us and is also the most effective way of bringing good for everyone in the world.

Thank G-d we live in this golden age of history where we have the freedom to observe our religion without limitations.

Let us appreciate our blessings.

My dear friends, grab every opportunity to do something good for humanity.

Do another mitzvah.

Mashiach will come sooner and bring peace to the entire world!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Jibress or Bordeaux?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

When G-d gives you lemons….

You ought to make lemonade…

But when He gives you grapes, anything less than wine would be a lost opportunity.

Which is easier to make?

Lemonade or wine?

I can tell you.

Lemonade is easier.

How do I know you ask? Did I ever make wine?

Yep, back there in Melbourne Australia. My grandfather of blessed memory made wine and my father may he live and be well made wine.

They made VERY different styles of wine.

My Zaydeh (Grandfather) made wine that tasted like Manischewitz or King David wine. In Israel it is known as ‘yayn patishim’ literally ‘hammer wine’. Because it clobbers you over the head when you drink it. He got the grapes after his Feiglin brothers-in-law had squeezed them for their first round of juice to be used for their commercial wine production. My Zaydeh didn’t call the leftover grape mix something boring and unappealing like ‘grape pulp’, he called them ‘jibress’ (pronouncing the ‘i’ as in the word ‘give’). Zaydeh, the resourceful man that he was, threw the ‘jibress’ into a wooden vat. Added sugar. Waited a few months. Out came deliciously sweet and high-alcohol wine. We kids loved it. A few sips and you were joyous.

My father’s wine was a totally different story. My father made high-end dry sauterne wines. From the finest grapes. In modern casks. With various gauges to ensure that the yeasts were doing their job. No sugar was added to my fathers wines.

The result was a sophisticated wine. The kind of wine that kids make a face at. Not at all the generic ‘hammer wine’. Hints of various flavors based on the choice grapes were discussed by the wine connoisseurs who sometimes joined us for Shabbat meals.

But it is somewhat of a high-risk game with wine. Especially with my father’s kind of wine. Sometimes the ‘bad yeasts’ came and turned the whole vat into vinegar.

But when you got it right, and the ‘good yeasts’ did their job and turned the grape juice into wine, it was a high-class wine. A delight on the palate. Easy on the head. And a real pleasure to drink.

Much better than lemonade.

That may explain why lemonade is cheaper than wine.

It would also explain why lemonade stands can be made by little children.

Many have used the term ‘when G-d gives you lemons, make lemonade’ as being an apt description for 2020. I used that term in a former article.

In hindsight, and I think 2020 fares much better when viewed in hindsight… I don’t think this year we were given lemons at all.

We were given grapes.

Unfortunately, some people’s grapes turned to vinegar. Sickness. Death. Financial woes. Societal upheaval.

Unpleasant vinegar. (Or at least that’s the way it seems through our mortal eyes). May G-d give them the strength to soldier on.

Thankfully, many were blessed to have their grapes turn into wine not vinegar. May G-d open their eyes to appreciate the wine.

(Even if it’s a more sophisticated dry Bordeaux and not a ‘jibress’ based sugary wine. My wine tip is, try mixing the ‘hammer wine’ with the dry wine, you get a great blend 😊 . The wine connoisseurs will be horrified at the thought).

This week’s Parsha describes the beginning of our Egypt journey. Yaakov is depicted as having spent his absolutely best years of his life in Egypt.

Its rather incongruous. It would be like a saintly Jew coming from Jerusalem to Thailand and saying that he spent the most spiritually elevated Yom Kippur of his life in the shul in Thailand. Even better than Yom Kippur at the Western Wall. That would seem bizarre bordering on impossible.

Yet that is what happened.

When Yaakov went to Egypt he knew he was going to an immoral environment.

But G-d told him to go. And he therefore knew that he was being handed not just a challenge, but an opportunity.

Yaakov fortified his spiritual fortress. He sent his son Yehuda to open a Yeshiva for Torah study. This enabled the extended family of Yaakov to relocate to Egypt and still maintain their integrity and wholesome embrace of G-d’s mission. The G-dly and saintly mission of Yaakov didn’t diminish in Egypt at all.

On the contrary. The commentaries explain that Yaakov didn’t just survive in Egypt, he THRIVED in Egypt.

SPIRITUALLY as well as materially. His children, grandchildren and great grandchildren continued in his path. In Egypt. In the capital of decadence and immorality of the world Yaakov and his family maintained and developed an island of holiness outshining even the one he had left behind in the land of his ancestors.

As it turns out things are not the way they seem. The G-dly energy derived from transforming the assumed spiritual decline into a spiritual elevation actually provided a deeper and more intense spirituality than living in the holy environment of Israel would have provided.

Thus, the best years of his life, in all aspects including spiritual, were in Egypt.

(This was a temporary journey though. Ultimately, after Exodus, the ascent to the holy land of Israel was the goal).

Which means that yes, a person may indeed have a more profoundly spiritual experience in a place that seems most incongruous. This is not a permission slip to seek incongruity. Rather it removes the excuse that so many use for not developing their spirituality because of surrounding inappropriate environments.

(Click here for a variety of scholarly classes expounding on this thought as taught by the Rebbe in a printed essay on this weeks Parsha).

The one-liner lesson from all this is, that even when it looks like you have been handed the ingredients for vinegar, if you look closer you will see that vinegar is made of grapes. It may actually be wine in disguise.

Even if it no longer looks salvageable. The grapes seem to have turned to vinegar already. Nonetheless with G-d’s omnipotence, even situations that look, feel and actually are detrimental can be transformed to reveal their latent powerful good. A good that like in Yaakov our Patriarchs case, is even stronger than easy-to-come-by good.

Let me not beat around the bush.

Everyone has something to say about 2020.

I used to think the best way to describe it was a year of lemons. And tried to encourage myself and those around me to make lemonade.

Nope. I now think it’s a year that we were handed grapes.

Grapes have huge potential.

For some, those grapes turned sour to vinegar. May G-d comfort them and strengthen them.

For the blessed ones, they were grapes that turned to wine. For many, the wine is still maturing.

For high quality wine, you have to work hard and be patient. The maturing process is very important. If you are one of those who are still waiting for the grapes to turn to wine may G-d bless you to have good quality wine. May the effect of this challenging year turn to a source of unimaginable BLESSING.

Talking about wine. Let’s talk about sweetness. Sugar is critical to wine. The natural sugars that are contained in the grapes are the most natural, high quality and health pleasing way of making wine. But as I learned from my Zaydeh you can even turn ‘jibress’ to wine by adding sugar and water.

King David says in Psalms ‘wine gladdens the heart of man’.

FAITH. SIMCHA. JOY. OPTOMISM.

I have never felt or understood the importance of faith, joy and optimism in life as much as I have felt it in 2020.

(If you have time for hearing more about joy and positivity as taught from a Torah perspective here are links to the three part Positivity-Bias Zoom Classes Class 1Class 2Class 3)

Caring for others is an identifying feature of this year.

I have never witnessed as much genuine camaraderie, charity, benevolence and empathy as I have during this past year.

One of the stories that touched me very deeply, I would call it my ‘story of the year’ is as follows:

Mrs. L, an elderly woman who had recently lost her husband, was dreading Pesach this year. Pesach without her husband would be devastating enough. The lockdown of COVID-19 and the fear of infecting their elderly grandmother and mother, meant that not one of her children or grandchildren could host her or come to her for the Seder. Never in her life had Mrs. L. had a solo Seder. She was dreading it.

Thankfully she lived in a Jewish neighborhood and had neighbors, the K family, who lived across the yard in a nearby building. They arranged to position their Seder table near the door to their porch. When they opened the door to their porch and Mrs. L. opened her door, she was able to hear the goings-on in this neighboring family’s home.

After Pesach Mrs L. received calls from her anxious children who wanted to know how she had survived the emotionally excruciating ordeal of the Seder nights.

To their surprise she was buoyant and elated. Mrs. L. couldn’t stop exclaiming her absolute amazement at the beautiful Seder she had experienced as an ‘across the yard guest’ at the K family seder. ‘The kids asked the Ma Nishtanah four-questions, the singing was joyous and I really had a full Seder’ said Mrs. L. to her kids.

‘The most miraculous thing of all, was that the K family have the same exact tunes for the Passover prayers as my late husband, your late father. All those traditional melodies that I so enjoy and cherish and that we sang at our family Seders for the last fifty years, were sung. Its totally wondrous that they happen to have those exact traditions’.

Now it was the turn of the kids to reveal a secret to their mother.

‘The K family called us several weeks before Pesach, once it became clear that you would be all alone, and suggested that they invite you as guest from across the yard. They wanted to make your experience complete and meaningful and asked us to record all of our family traditions and melodies’.

This my dear friends is the ‘story of the year’ for me.

It is the way we should live our lives. Not just helping people who need our help. But investing heart, time, thought, energy and creativity in finding the best and most effective and most soothing way of being loving and kind to others.

Click here for a quick but deep thought on this from the Hayom Yom.

Our Jewish year changed at Rosh Hashana. It is now year 5781 since G-d created the world.  

5781 in Hebrew can spell out the following optimistic wish:

ת הא 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!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


Shabbat Shalom! 8th Day of Chanukah

By the Grace of G-d

When I was seventeen years old, growing up in Melbourne, the Rebbe sent an urgent message to his followers around the globe to do even more for spreading the message of Chanukah. In particular the Rebbe was urging us to place more Menorahs in public spaces where the message could be spread to many people.

We got the message in Australia on Thursday. There was a ‘farbrengen’ at the home of one of the Rabbi’s on Thursday night. This was already the seventh night of Chanukah. A lot of nice activities had been done. A sizeable amount of public menorahs were on display around town. 

But there was no ‘back patting’ that night. The consensus was, that as much as we thought Melbourne was impacted by Chanukah, there was still a way to go. The pragmatic Rabbi who was leading the discussion was emphatic that we needed to do more. And that we could do more.

The way he put it, the Rebbe was pushing us to reach new heights.

And, when a Rebbe ‘pushes’ it means that he also empowers.

The Chassidic gathering of song, study and camaraderie now turned into a ‘war room’ directing the battle of spreading light through Chanukah in an intensified way.

Locations where public Menorahs could be placed were drawn up.

Oh, we didn’t have menorahs. We would build them. Overnight we became Menorah builders. A basic sketch was drawn up, teaching how to make Menorahs from equipment found in any plumbing materials store. By the time we had finished planning it was almost morning.

I do not recall if we slept that night or not. I do remember that we worked all Friday from early morning.  Cutting tubes. Gluing them. Painting them gold. Wiring them with electric bulbs.

Finally, there were Menorahs. Enough to make a splash in Melbourne.

Now we needed to put them up.

I was part of the team dispatched to a Synagogue that was right near a major bustling highway. We figured out that the best place to position the Menorah was on the roof!!!! This way the cars driving down the highway would all see the illuminated Menorah on the one story Synagogue building. As the sun was slowly inching down on the horizon on the long summer Friday (in Australia Chanukah is a summer holiday) me and other boys and men were on roofs, in front of community centers and traveling to remote locales, to put up Menorahs and spread the light of Chanukah. All across Melbourne. All across Australia. And all across the world.

The impact in terms of Jewish inspiration from that marathon of spreading light was epic. Far beyond anything we simple people can comprehend.

I don’t know how many menorahs were kindled around the globe during those forty-eight hours since the Rebbe sent out his request but later a book was published with hundreds of locations.

What I do know, is that MY menorah was kindled.

In hindsight of several decades, I now realize that this was the first serious Chabad outreach initiative I had played an ‘adult role’ in. 

When the Rebbe later said how pleased he was at the result and conveyed his appreciation to those who had toiled and exerted themselves, I felt like it was directed at me. And it was. So did many hundreds of others, and they too were right. The Rebbe’s kudos were to them too. 

Thinking back, this was a pivotal moment. For me. My Menorah was kindled. 

And thank G-d those flames continue to burn.

Chanukah doesn’t end after eight nights. The ritual of lighting candles indeed is only for eight days. But the inspiration and the light and the pursuit of goodness only gets more and more intensified!!!!

From year to year Chanukah is more meaningful and empowering to me.

This year though, is even more special. Chanukah means more to me than ever before.

I have observed that this is the case with many others too.

People showed up at our celebration that don’t usually come.

People that don’t always kindle menorah’s have sent me pictures of their menorah lightings. 

I have noticed a heightened observance this year.

Clearly, we all want, need and are ravenous for LIGHT. 

Chanukah reminds us that LIGHT WILL WIN!!!!

If it needs a miracle to happen,

MIRACLES HAVE HAPPENED, DO HAPPEN, and WILL HAPPEN!!!!

Do your part to make a miracle by putting forth your best effort.

Mashiach will come as a result of our collective efforts.

And then we will kindle the ‘real Menorah’ in the third Bet Hamikdash, AMEN

Happy Eighth Day of Chanukah….

And as Chanukah exits, Shabbat enters….

SHABBAT SHALOM

Rabbi Yosef Kantor





Needed!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

There is deeply satisfying feeling that comes from being needed.

It’s quite ironic.

Being needed means that someone needs something of us. That usually requires effort or sacrifice of some degree.

This is why we often complain about all the obligations we have.

Yet it is precisely those responsibilities, as much as we like to kvetch about them, that give us the rewarding feeling of a sense of purpose.

The best example for this that I can think of, is parenthood. Becoming a parent is an irreversible quantum leap in terms of personal character development.

If you have been blessed with G-d Almighty’s ‘sweetest-of-the-sweet’ blessing to become a parent, you know exactly what I mean.

Once you are blessed with a child, responsibility kicks in big time. The little bundle of life that is your baby creates the greatest change possible in you. You are now responsible to care for this human being. You are needed in the most essential way. To feed, diaper, bathe and love your child. As kids grow and get older their needs change. Still, even as they pass through all the stages till reaching adulthood, they have needs that you are expected to provide. You are needed to provide those things.

I know, it is ‘fashionable’ to complain about our kids. There are all kinds of jokes how they tend to call us only when they need us.

Yet, admittedly, we also feel deeply fulfilled when we are called upon for help and we can provide those needs.

The best proof for that is, that once kids don’t live at home and don’t need their parents help on a regular basis, the empty nest syndrome often becomes a real issue.

In marriage too, there is a similar incongruity.

Many complain about their spouses making demands on them and needing them.

Yet, the best marriages often develop between spouses who are not scared to be open and vulnerable with each other. By admitting how much they need each other they allow for a genuine give and take partnership.

In a marriage where a partner feels they are not ‘needed’ dissatisfaction often sets in.

Its counterintuitive. You may want to not be a nudge to your spouse and ask them for something. So you don’t ask and do without. Yet it may be that by your spouse being needed by you, they feel more deeply connected to you and to your marriage. Being vulnerable and expressing your needs to your spouse should actually strengthen your marriage.

I hope my kids are reading this, so that they feel good about asking me for help.

My wife is certainly reading this, and I am sure she will know how to leverage it 😊

Hmm. I wonder if ‘being needed’, is one of the benefits that people receive by owning pets.

What do I know about pets you ask?

Not much. We never had a pet dog or cat when I was growing up in Melbourne. But we did have a pet ‘Galah’ for a time. A Gala is a species of cockatoo bird that is prevalent in Australia. It has a distinctive pink and gray feather coloring. As a prize for doing well in our studies, our father took my siblings and I to the pet store and we bought a bird.

If I remember correctly, we named the Galah with the ‘Jewish name’ of Sholom Aleichem. This was because of our anticipation that we would teach it to talk and parrot back to us the Hebrew greeting of Sholom Aleichem.

We enjoyed having a pet. For the first few months that is. Feeding the bird was enjoyable. We rejoiced when we imagined that we had taught it to say ‘Shalom Aleichem’.

Eventually, after the excitement wore off, the responsibility of caring for the birds was more than us kids wanted to handle. We especially dreaded the weekly chore of cleaning the cage. But our parents had placed the responsibility of caring for the pet squarely on our shoulders. When we were not living up to our duties, and their reminders about taking care of the sanitary conditions of our pet were not being met the decision was made. An alternate safe home was found for ‘Sholom Aleichem’ and we no longer had a pet.

Looking back, I realize that domesticated pets really create a nuisance for their owner. Yes, I realize they provide companionship and warmth. But they also generate a task list of chores that one would otherwise not have.

And pet owners often complain about it. I have heard people complaining ‘Oh, I can’t go anywhere for more than a few days as I have to come back and care for my pet’.

Is it possible that deep down the pet owner also feels fulfilled by having that responsibility on their head? Another living creature needs them.

I don’t have a pet, but I am guessing that being needed by your furry friend provides a very warm feeling.

This has all been a build up to the main point that I would like to share. An existential truth that is AWESOME if you but take a few moments to think about it.

It’s comforting and uplifting to be needed by others.

It’s absolutely transformational to know that we are ‘needed’ by Almighty G-d Himself!!!

G-d, tells us in the Torah that HE needs us.

Let me be clear. To use the word ‘need’ about G-d is a very ‘borrowed term’. As the infinite Creator He ‘needs’ no one and nothing. He IS the ultimate everything. When we use the term that G-d ‘needs us’ we of course mean that He has chosen ‘so to speak’ to ‘need’ us.

This week’s Torah portion ‘Vayetze’ says it clearly. When Yaakov was on his journey to establish his family, G-d communicated with Him. The language of the verse is that ‘G-d was standing on him and said I am G-d the G-d of your father Avraham…etc’.

The Midrash translates this verse that ‘G-d standing ‘on him’ in quite a literal sense. That G-d is being ‘supported’ by Yaakov. I.e. that G-d ‘needs’ Yaakov’s efforts to fulfill His masterplan.

This verse applies not just over our forefather Yaakov. And not just four thousand years ago. Yaakov is the catalyst for every Jew. We are all children of Yaakov (also named Yisrael, thus we are called ‘the children of Israel’). And the Torah is eternal and its message resounds for all times.

Here is what G-d ‘needs us for.

G‑d desired to have a dwelling place in the lower worlds (Dirah BeTachtonim). We are the ones to carry out this desire.

Below is quoted from an article by Rabbi Dubov click here for full article.

It is for this purpose that He created a chain order of worlds, with higher and lower realms, with the purpose of creation specifically in the lowest of all.

To accomplish the task of creating a dwelling place, one would need to take the material world and elevate and connect it to G‑d. This is the basis of Mitzvah performance. The word Mitzvah, in addition to meaning a commandment, also means a connection. The 613 Mitzvot of the Torah are ways in which we may connect every echelon and aspect of our earthly lives with G‑d. We make G‑d feel at home in our kitchen by observing the Jewish dietary laws. He feels at home in the workplace when we keep the business ethic. He feels at home in the weekly cycle when we keep Shabbat. Dirah BeTachtonim means taking the “physical world,” known as Gashmiut, and permeating it with “spirituality” (Ruchniut) and thereby revealing its G‑dly essence.

The bottom line is:

YOU and I and every single one of us is NEEDED.

By no less then G-d Almighty Himself.

We are not just always in His presence.

Even more than that.

We are always needed by Him.

One cannot feel aimless or purposelessness after hearing something like this.

This is why the Torah teaches us that everyone should say and feel that ‘G-d NEEDS me’. ‘For me to serve HIM my entire world has been created’.

This mission continues from birth till the end. It doesn’t matter if you are employed. If you have a career. If you are a parent. If you are single. If you have a pet or you are carefree and responsibility-free to any other creature in this world. You have a purpose.

G-d ‘needs’ you!!!

You have an existential responsibility to your Master and Creator.

We fulfil this by doing Mitzvah’s thus following the ‘instruction manual’ of our ‘handler’.

This is enough to make one want to do whatever G-d wants.

This is a good reason to do so with joy. What could be more existentially uplifting than being able to be a contributor to G-d’s Almighty’s plan.

So, nu, what are we waiting for?

Let’s dance!!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

ZOOM Marathon

Kinus Hashluchim Zoom.jpeg 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friends,

Here I am in Bangkok. Been in the same country since March.

Leaving Thailand is quite easy. It’s coming back that presents the problem.

Quarantining seems quite challenging, not to mention costly.

I did however attend the annual international conference. And I don’t need any quarantine to resume my work here in Thailand.

How is that?

Simple… The Shluchim conference was a ‘virtual’ one.

This year it was held via Zoom. And it just finished a few hours ago. Eight days later. With a break for Shabbat according to the times of Shabbat in each time zone. (I tried to figure it out and it seems like this is the deal. Four and a half hours after Shabbat starts in Honolulu, it ends in New Zealand). I believe that this is the world’s longest ‘Zoom’ meeting so far.

There were many many remarkable stories.

Rabbi Butman of Phnom Penh penned some nice thoughts about it.

Many of my colleagues shared miraculous stories involving the blessings of our dear Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of righteous memory.

Click here for a story told firsthand by Dr. Bob Richter on the marathon Zoom.

It fits neatly into this week’s Torah portion Toldot, which describes the power of the blessing of a Tzadik. When  Yitschak is about to bless his son  Esav , his wife  Rivka goes to great lengths to ensure that their worthier son,  Yaakov, receive the blessings instead. The risk she takes to accomplish this gives us some insight into the importance and desirability of a tzaddik’s  blessing.

During the hundred plus hours of stories that had been shared by my colleagues this week there were many kinds of miracles.

Miracles that had brought about unbelievable reversals and overriding of nature. For G-d is the owner and creator of nature. He can easily override nature and its unyielding limitations.

Impossible situations that somehow worked out. Jewish institutions being built when it didn’t seem that the resources were there.

There were other hugely inspiring forms of miracles shared as well.

The miracle of remaining faithful to G-d even during challenging times.

May we never be tested in this way, but when something painful happens to someone good, it creates a ‘stress test’ on our belief and faith.

It takes a miracle of sorts during those painful times to remain faithful and believing in G-d who is a benevolent Creator.

In the previous generation, we saw this firsthand. The fact that so many people emerged from the Holocaust with their faith in G-d intact, was a miracle of epic proportion. The vibrancy of our Jewish world today is a direct product of that miracle.

It made me realize that sometimes the miracle is not that the reality changes and becomes rosy.

Rather, the miracle is the towering strength and resilience that emerges in those going through the difficulty.

The heroism that seems to spring out of nowhere.

Simple people who become examples of triumph in the face of adversity.

This is a miracle. A huge miracle. The miracle of the Jewish ‘neshomo’ that never gets extinguished.

Out there in the frontlines of Jewish outreach, my colleagues and I experience many interactions that are miracles of Jewish ‘akshnonus’ (obstinateness in a positive way). Jews sticking defiantly to their ideals and faith even when they thought they no longer cared. The Jewish soul that looked like it was flickering out fanned into a roaring flame of inspiration.

I too shared a story on the Zoom.

Here is the story I shared.

A few months ago, my friend YG who lives a few hours’ drive from Bangkok, sent me this email.

Rebbeleh, 

I dreamed I talked to THE Rebbe. We sat side by side and shmoo'est (talked) a bit, and he was just a nice zaydeh and I loved him for it. I told him about my grandfather too, and how he was a misnoged (someone not a fan of Chasidism). THE Rebbe just laughed and said it really did not matter as we are all the same Jews, no matter what. 

YF

When I got this note, I was excited. How nice that he had a dream of the Rebbe. But then when a ‘reminder’ popped up in my computer that today is YG’s eightieth birthday in the Hebrew calendar, I couldn’t believe my eyes. And I knew that YG didn’t know it was Hebrew birthday as there were a full two week left till his Gregorian calendar birthday.

I have shared on this forum before that I have a special fondness for celebrating eightieth birthdays with my local Jewish community members (if you are turning eighty please let me know 😊 ) and I had really wanted to be with YG on that special day, which it why it was marked in my calender. But YG didn’t let me come… and I don’t know his address so I couldn’t surprise him….

 Here is my response:

Y,

 

You bring tears of joy to my eyes!!!!

 

I wanted to visit you on your eightieth birthday… IT IS TODAY (in the Hebrew calendar) but you got something even BETTER.

 

The Rebbe came to visit you in your dream…..

 

And indeed the Rebbe loved every Jew and made every person feel loved and special…..

 

Thanks for sharing this special dream with me!!!!!

 

In the Chassidic tradition, when one has a dream of the Rebbe the next day is a celebration…..

 

With love and blessings to you for more years of Gezunt, and everything else you wish for yourself!!!!

 

If you would call me and give me your brochess today (it’s a mazeldikeh day for you!!!) I would be delighted.

 

Zeit gebensht un zeit gezunt,

 

Yosef Chaim

 

PS if you would allow me to come out there and wave at you in person I would be even more delighted 😊

 

I remember how inspired I was by this story.

I was happy for YG. (When I called him today to ask if I can use the story he said ‘I wish I had more warm and special dreams like that’). Dreams of a Tzadik don’t just ‘happen’. They are a special privilege.

And it was confirmation to me of my role as an emissary/Shliach of the Rebbe, the great Tzadik who reached out to every Jew in love. If I could not personally get to YG to visit, then the ‘Meshaleach’ the one who sent me, paid YG a visit in a ‘spiritual’ way. Today I can perhaps call it a ‘virtual visit’.

May we merit good health in the world,  the resumption of ‘in-person’ living,  and the ultimate blessings of the ingathering of the exiles (we were told that we have a one way ticket to our place of ‘mission’ and we need to earn our return ticket home by finishing the exile and returning with Mashiach) and the building of the Bet Hamikdash through Mashiach, NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Shabbat shalom from Bangkok!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I was standing at the Don Muang Bangkok airport on a Thursday morning seventeen and a half years ago. The counselors for our summer day camp were arriving from the USA and I was waiting to greet them.

There was an important matter on my mind which required legal assistance. Being that I am friends with several lawyers in town I was engrossed in thought about which lawyer would be best for this particular matter.

As I was standing there at the airport waiting for my guests to arrive, this dilemma was swirling in my mind. I was unable to come to a firm decision about which one to use.

Unexpectedly, one of the lawyers I had been thinking about, came walking out of the arrival doors.

I could not believe my eyes. Just like that, out of the clear blue sky. Of the thousands of people arriving in Thailand during those few minutes that I was standing there, this lawyer was one of them.

He walked over to me and asked me if he could use my phone to call the person who had come to pick him up.

I gladly gave him my phone.

And then, seeing this as a sign from Heaven, I asked him if he would please undertake the legal work that I needed.

The rest is history. Looking back from the perspective of almost two decades it was a pivotal decision. He did a great job on the legal work and it turned out to be more important than I realized at the time.

The most significant and inspiring part of the story for me, is the incredible blessing from G-d that I received on that day. Hashem had literally showed me in a revealed way that He was guiding and blessing my steps.

I thought of this story for two reasons.

First of all because in the Parsha of the week, Eliezer finds a wife for Yitzchak via a miracle similar to the one I experienced in my above story.

Eliezer was sent by Avraham to find a suitable wife for his son Yitzchak. Eliezer, not knowing how he would find the right one, makes the following prayer.

 “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please cause to happen to me today, and perform loving kindness with my master, Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the water fountain, and the daughters of the people of the city are coming out to draw water. And it will be, [that] the maiden to whom I will say, 'Lower your pitcher and I will drink,' and she will say, 'Drink, and I will also water your camels,' her have You designated for Your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that You have performed loving kindness with my master.”

Hardly had Eliezer concluded his prayer, when he saw Rebecca, the daughter of Abraham’s nephew Bethuel, approaching. She was beautiful, and Eliezer was impressed by her gracious behavior. She carried a pitcher on her shoulder, stepped down to the well, and filled it. When she came up again, Eliezer asked to be permitted to drink from her pitcher. Rebecca answered, “Drink my master.” When he had quenched his thirst, she said: “For your camels I will also draw water until they have had enough.” With these words she emptied her pitcher into the trough, and filled it time and again until all the camels were satisfied. Eliezer felt sure that this was the girl he was looking for. Without even asking her name, he gave her a golden ring and two bracelets, and only then asked her who she was. When Rebecca answered that she was the granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, Eliezer bowed before G‑d and thanked Him for having helped him find the woman Abraham was looking for to be Isaac’s wife.

I can’t help but think that I was blessed with a similarly Divine message.

The second reason that this story came to my mind, is because this weekend is the annual conference of Chabad emissaries in New York. Well, its usually held in person and in New York. This year it is being held virtually and the attendees are at their rabbinic posts all around the world.

The story I have shared with the G-dly blessing of a lawyer emerging from the arrivals gate, is a miraculous one. But it is not unique.

Every year, when I go to the conference, I discover that these kinds of miracles are the ‘bread and butter’ of my colleagues the world over.

This is the best way I can explain it.

Eliezer, the trusted servant of Avraham was blessed by his saintly master to be successful in his holy mission of continuing the Jewish people by finding the future Matriarch of our nation, and this elicited supernatural assistance.

Quite clearly, the Rebbe who dispatched us around the world, each to their respective post, blessed us in a similar way.

We are instructed to forge ahead in the building and developing of Torah and Mitzvahs and Jewish communities.

The mission comes with the blessings needed. To get the job done. Even if G-dly intervention of ‘higher-than-nature’ is required.

Difficulties?

Challenges?

Invariably there are some. This is the way Hashem made His world.

Man is born to toil’.

For the most part though, the challenges are surmountable. One has to put forth effort and try. Sometimes one has to try harder. Sometimes even harder.

Miracles often appear even if we don’t always recognize them right away. The Torah teaches us that G-d blesses the efforts of those who try.

I have been blessed to see it time and time again.

So have my colleagues.

I am sharing this teaching to share the blessing and opportunity with you.

You too can take up the challenge and mission of spreading more Torah and Mitzvahs in your environment. And you too will please G-d be blessed with Divine assistance.

You may even have the merit to witness a few MIRACLES small or large, that enable you to carry out your mission with joy and success.

However, it is critical to put forth our best effort. Hashem blesses our efforts.

It’s like teamwork. Hashems blessing is critical. Our efforts are indispensable.

The synergy created by the marriage of both human effort and G-dly blessing, yields a more uplifted and spiritually refined world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Holy Coffee Camaraderie

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Earlier this week a simple encounter helped me comprehend a deep truth.

Here is the teaching from the Talmud that I am referring to.

‘Hosting guests is greater than receiving the Divine presence’.

This is the ordinary commonplace encounter that got me thinking.

I walked into the synagogue for morning services and saw that EM had already arrived and was sipping a coffee in the Synagogue waiting for the prayers to begin.

AM walked in and greeted EM with a jovial good morning. AM called out to EM ‘if were here early why didn’t you stop by my home for coffee?’.

I wanted to understand the context of the question. Why would he expect EM to join him for coffee, so I interjected and asked AM, ‘do you regularly host people for coffee in the morning before prayers’?

AM told me that indeed every morning he has other fellow Jewish guests who comes by to drink coffee and have a chat. (Most of them, including the host, come to the Synagogue to pray the morning prayers. One of them almost never join the prayers but after drinking coffee heads off to his nearby place of employment).

I was exhilarated when I heard about this routine.

This is fantastic. Not just do we have prayers in the morning which is an encounter with the Divine, we also have hospitality and camaraderie between the community members which the Torah teaches us is even greater.

I was especially inspired by the timing of this encounter. It was Divine Providence that I overheard this conversation this week out of all weeks.

Amazingly, the above-mentioned teaching about the greatness of hospitality even when compared to a Divine Encounter is from this week’s Parsha.

Avraham was visited by G-d and noticed three strangers in the distances. He excused himself from his meeting with G-d and ran to welcome the guests and give them hospitality.

From this our sages derived that ‘hospitality of guests is greater even than communion with G-d’.

Tzedakah is always good. Especially before praying. King David said in Psalms, ‘I come to see G-d with tzedakah’ which teaches us the great power of giving tzedakah before praying. Click here for more on this.

Based on this Talmudic passage, I told AM that his prayers after hosting guests for coffee must be very powerful. The Torah emphasizes the great importance and holiness of the mitzvah of hospitality. Turning to G-d in prayer after doing hospitality is powerful.

Hospitality is different than ‘standard’ tzedakah. Giving someone coffee if he can afford to buy his own, is not ‘tzedakah’ in the sense of helping someone destitute. Yet, hosting someone for coffee is certainly an act of benevolent kindness that is G-dly.

Hospitality is a form of kindness that is very deep. Bringing someone into the safe space of your own home is a great gift to the guest. Giving a monetary gift is important if someone is in need. But giving the warmth and ‘heimish’ (‘homey’ in Yiddish) feeling is priceless.

Click here for more on this specialness of ‘hachnasat orchim’.

 

That is why hospitality is the mitzvah that is emphasized as being even greater than engaging in a communion with G-d.

You see, an encounter with the Divine is the most exquisite spiritual pleasure imaginable. But it is centered on ‘me’. It is a self-centered delight, albeit pristine and holy.

Hashem wants us to look beyond ourselves, even beyond our spiritual enrapturement and act benevolently with each other.

What point is it to be speaking to G-d and ignoring G-d’s children?

The outcome of speaking to G-d should be to do what G-d wants.

What does he want?

Let’s start by saying what he DOESN’T want.

Almighty G-d does not want us to fight and be divisive.

And deep down we all know what He DOES want.

Hashem wants us to be kind to each other.

Ah, I realized that AM has the best of both worlds!!!

He hosts for coffee and then goes to speak to G-d.

Here is a link to a beautiful Chassidic story… The Inhospitable Leaseholder.

Do you need any more convincing?

I do not. I got the point. And it caused me a sense of nostalgic yearning. For the things we once had and perhaps took for granted.

You see, one of the things that have been curtailed during this past time period is hospitality.

Between all of our locations in Thailand we hosted well over a thousand guests every Friday night.

Now, our borders are closed.

Hospitality always gave me a special and inspired feeling. But now I think, that when please G-d it comes back I will appreciate it even more.

I realize that this limitation is not just here. All over the world, hospitality has been greatly limited during the last many months.

Perhaps by sharing this message, we will all yearn more for the great mitzvah. And subsequently embrace hospitality with a renewed sense of vigor and enjoyment once we can restart.

As well, it reminded me that we have to cherish every opportunity that we do have. For every single hosting interaction even to one solitary guest, is a holy and special interaction.

Even greater than having a Divine Encounter.

Here is the thing though.

You really have to start with a relationship with the Divine. Otherwise you will be totally stuck into self-centeredness or even worse descend into hedonistic and self-indulgent behavior

To get this virtuous way of thinking, where you put benevolence to others before yourself, you can’t rely on ‘conventional wisdom’.

You first need to have a meaningful encounter with the  Divine source of wisdom, the Torah.

Study some Torah.

When you learn Torah your eyes will be opened to G-dly values.

You will become educated and aware about the centrality and importance of being kind to others and loving your fellow as yourself.

If we get better at that, Moshiach comes right away. AMEN!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Indebted. Y/N?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Indebtedness.

Is it a good thing or not?

Probably depends who you are indebted to.

Let’s think about this in the context of this week’s Torah portion.

Avraham goes down to Egypt with Sarah his wife, Avraham’s life is saved in the merit of his wife. He is also granted lavish gifts by the king of Egypt in her merit.

The Zohar comments: ‘ Even though Abraham feared G‑d, he did not rely on his own merit. He did not ask G‑d to save [Sarah] in his own merit, but rather in hers . He [Avraham] knew that it was through her merit that he would accumulate wealth from the other nations, since a man acquires money in the merit of his wife. . . . He relied on her merit that he would not be hurt and that she would not be touched’.

Click here for a fascinating article on this topic.

(For all the men reading this column, The Torah says in no uncertain terms that ‘a man acquires money in the merit of his wife’ i.e. the blessings of life come in the merit of the wife, that ought to be enough of an incentive to treat our wives even better than we have till now).

Then there is a further story told about Avraham in this week Parsha.

Avraham was offered by the King of Sodom ‘give me the people you have rescued from my kingdom and keep the belongings you have retrieved for yourself. This will be my reward to you for having come to my aid.’

Avraham’s response was clear and decisive.

‘Abram said to the king of Sodom… not even a thread or a shoelace will I retain from the returned belongings, nor will I take anything that you offer me from your treasury as payment, so you will not be able to say ‘it was I who made Abram rich’. God has promised to make me rich; I rely solely on His promise’.

Abraham did not agree to take anything and thus be indebted in any way to the king of Sodom.

In contrast, to his wife he stated, ‘through you my life will be spared’. Thus, indicating the he would forever be indebted to her.

I was imagining that this must have reflected superbly in the subsequent years of Avraham and Sara’s marriage.

It seems to be a no brainer. If a husband feels indebted to his wife, and vice versa, they will have a wonderful marriage.

The way I see it, feeling indebted to a spouse will mean that you appreciate them, that you go out of your way to make their lives more enjoyable and meaningful.

Being indebted to the king of the wicked kingdom of Sodom would however be very wrong and thus Avraham desisted accepting any gifts from him. It would be like being indebted to the mafia. Not good.

So, it seems quite clear that it all depends who we are indebted to.

We are all indebted to G-d for starters. This is basic and fundamental.

The beginning of the Ten Commandments reads ‘I am Hashem who took you out of Egypt….’ We are thus indebted to Him for our freedom and liberty.

Moreover, the opening words of the Torah ‘In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth’ spell out that we are all indebted to Him for our very existence.

Our parents as well deserve our indebtedness.

The fifth of the Ten Commandments is the honor we are obligated to give to our father and mother. To them we are indebted as they brought us into the world. They are two out the three partners in the bringing to this world of every person. Father, mother, and G-d.

This is why the Torah obligation of honoring parents is non-negotiable.

Click here to see a wealth of information about the mitzvah of honoring one’s parent.

I thought and still think that feeling indebted to one’s spouse would be quite the right thing.

Apparently, it is not something that all agree on in these confusing times. I tried entering these words into google: ‘I feel indebted to my wife’ and I hit the search button.

I wasn’t prepared for the first article that popped up in google which was titled ‘How to Stop Feeling Indebted to Your Spouse: 12 steps’.

Oops. I realized I had some thinking to do.

Is my thinking right or is googles article correct?

Is feeling indebted good or not?

I haven’t read the google entries. I have read the Parsha though.

And in my understanding of the Parsha being indebted to a spouse (in a healthy way) and expressing gratitude for the immense gifts they bring to your life, is quite the right way to go.

If you are married, please take this to heart. Maybe just maybe if more of us practiced better gratitude practices, the rate of divorces would drop. That would be nice (albeit in some cases divorce is indeed the best way forward, in many cases it could have been avoided if better behavior would have been practiced).

For all of us, let us remember our indebtedness to G-d.

Today I had the merit of helping someone put on Tefilin and I told him that besides for reading the Shma and prayers in the Prayer Book, it is a Mitzvah to pray to G-d for anything you need, and you can pray in your own words and your own language.

He raised his hands to heaven and said two words that summed up his feeling towards G-d at that moment:

 ‘TATTEH TODAH’

which translates into English, FATHER THANKS!!!!

He was thanking G-d for the good month he had in his business this month. I wasn't expecting that 'two worder' and it touched me deeply. Simple but profound and meaningful. 

It reminded me that we can always do more thanking of G-d. And we should do more thanking. Become more appreciative and gratitude filled. Even to the point of feeling indebted.

We have started a family custom at our Shabbat table and other occasions.

Each of us shares something that we want to thank Hashem for. We say it out loud. It makes us realize how bountiful G-d’s blessings are. From the big things, to the very small details.

May Hashem bless you and your loved ones with many happy and healthy things to thank Him for!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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!!!!






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

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