Printed fromJewishThailand.com
ב"ה

"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Gushing Faucets

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Yesterday I heard the following pithy aphorism.

‘We are too busy mopping the floor to turn off the faucet’.

To be honest, I really like the quote.

There is so much truth to it.

We often deal with solving problems but neglect to deal with the root of the problem.

I am wondering how I never discovered the quote earlier.

Till it dawned on me, walking down the bustling, noisy Sukhumvit Soi 22, that Hashem sent this quote my way this week with typical Divine Providential precision.

The connection of this aphorism to the Parsha just jumps out.

Phaaroh is instructed by G-d, via Moshe, to send the Jewish people out of Egypt.

‘If you don’t send my people out, I will afflict you with…’ what turned out to be ten plagues.

Phaaroh followed what became a predictable pattern. When the plague was unbearable, he told Moshe he would let the Israelite people go.

Once the plague subsided, ‘floor was mopped’ of that particular plague, Phaaroh went back to his stubborn resistance. He didn’t solve the problem, ‘turn off the faucet’ and let the people go.

So, the next plague started.

Ten times this repeated itself.

Until finally, there was no choice, and Phaaroh had to look the problem in the face. He needed to get to the source of the issue, and ‘turn off the faucet’ and let the people go.

What a life-changing lesson there is to be learned from this.

Stop and think.

What challenges are you struggling with in your life.

What ‘floods’ are you ‘mopping up’ time after time.

What unhealthy attachment or addiction do you battle.

What problem do you solve only to meet an ensuing one.

Does it seem that the pursuit of happiness is dangling in front of you yet forever elusive?

That after you solve one issue that has been causing you unhappiness, another one crops up?

Perhaps it’s time to reach for the faucet and turn off the never-ending stream of disturbances to our equanimity.

I daresay that inner peace and happiness is more within our reach than we think.

And it may not take all that much fixing of things outside of us.

For if we turn off the faucet, and do a bit of mopping up, the flood will subside.

Why don’t all of us do it if it’s so simple?

Because it takes vulnerability, courage, and honesty.

We prefer to follow our habitual ways. The templates of our upbringing. The temptation to take the ‘short (but longer) way’.

Like when the kids are irritating you. It’s easier to turn on the screen and seat them in from of the drivel that entertains but hardly educates, than look for the reason that they are not settled. Its more effort to find a healthy way to channel their energies. The screen works for a while and then after you try to pry them from the screen they are edgy and discombobulated.

When you feel down in the dumps, a ‘pick me up’ of the substance or mediation of choice seems easier than getting to the root of your dissatisfaction.

On the religious front, it seems easier and more exciting to try eastern mediation than immerse into the traditional and time-tested path of mitzvah observant Judaism.

We often look for short-term solutions.

It is like mopping up the floor without getting to the source of the gushing water.

Those stopgaps help for some time, but they usually won’t work for long.

We are a nation of searchers and seekers. We cannot help but look for answers. The faucet cannot be turned off unless we reach the source. To reach the source of our searching soul we need to embrace our deepest existential truth.

Ironically, we don’t have far to go. We don’t need to travel to the far-flung corners of the earth. We don’t even have to get a one-on-one hours long appointment with a mystic and saint.

We have the deepest truths and spiritual reservoir inside of us.

We need not look beyond our own souls.

And tune in to the whisperings (or clamoring) of our ‘neshama’.

The truth that our Torah teaches us, is that our Jewish souls are yearning for attachment with G-d.

It’s a universal message that needs to shared with all of our fellow humans, all being created in the image of G-d.

A human being can only be truly happy when embracing the purpose of their creation.

The divinely transmitted mitzvahs are the true expression of the human spirit.

The Seven Universal Laws of moral living for all children of Noach.

And the six hundred and thirteen mitzvahs of the Torah for all Jewish people.

It is not enough for a Jew to be a ‘mentsch’ and a do-gooder. We have been tasked with more.

Ultimately, a Jew can only be happy when they recognize that they have been tasked with a Divine mission.

We carry out our mission, by first and foremost affirming that there is a Creator and He has created us for a G-dly purpose. By recognizing that G-d is ‘relying’ on us to fulfill His aspirations for His universe.

We implement this mission by performing mitzvahs and by studying Torah.

The inner peace and happiness that this brings is liberating.

It’s incredibly empowering to be entrusted with a mission by the Almighty.

Once you reframe life in the context of being ‘needed’ by G-d for His mission, everything else falls into place.

You will be able to stop ‘mopping floors’ and get to the business of fulfilling your potential of transforming light into darkness and materiality into spirituality.

Try it.

Open up your mind to this reality and your life has the potential of turning from a drudge to an inspiring journey.

Once you have made peace in your mind and heart that you are G-d’s agent here on earth you are attached to something much larger than yourself. You become sublimely submerged in the Oneness of G-d..

This way of thinking about life is called liberation. It’s an ‘exodus’ from the microcosmic Phaaroh who holds us hostage and wants us to stay alienated from G-d and dealing with ‘mopping the floors’.

True, it’s not easy, for our inner pharaoh prefers to have us so busy with solving problems and creating material creature comforts for ourselves that we don’t have the ability to journey to our rendezvous with G-d at Mount Sinai.

Yet, as Pesach is the celebration of the national Exodus thousands of years ago, contemporary ‘Exodus from Egypt’ in our own lives, means being liberated from the pointlessness and randomness which so many people feel about life. Liberation in this allegory means to leap up from the pits of aimlessness and disillusionment to the heights of inspiration and mindfulness.

Let us embrace our Divine prerogative to exit from our personal Egypt, and journey to Sinai, to receive the Torah and accept upon ourselves the exquisite Divine mission of making this world a place where G-d feels at home.

It’s got to be done joyfully.

Liberation needs to be celebrated.

So let’s party as we revel in our roles as Divine agents (all expenses paid) here on earth.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

elephant

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It is not uncommon for younger people to place more emphasis on their relationship with their friends and peers, than with their parents and siblings.

There are various psychological reasons for this. Not for here and now.

What I want to share is what I have recently observed in the ‘university of life’.

This morning, someone called me at 5am.

(Note: my phone is on virtually all the time (barring Shabbat. For emergencies on Shabbat call Paew at +66 84 728 8494. She will know how to contact me). The ‘data’ is sometimes turned off which means one has to place a ‘real’ call not a WhatsApp call. May we only speak to each other for happy news please G-d).

That puts me in immediate ‘urgent’ mode. I mentioned that it was 5am and he immediately offered to stay up for two more hours and call me back at seven am my time. That would be 2am his time. I told him that once I was already awake, he should go ahead and tell me how I could help him. As it turns out it was a devoutly religious father of two post IDF travelers from Israel. He wanted to ask about hosting his children for Shabbat as they have gone a bit astray and could greatly benefit from being reinspired in their observance of Judaism by a Shabbat at Chabad House. I gave him the phone number of Rabbi Wilhelm who runs the Chabad House at Kaosarn Rd for travelers.

I then advised him to go to sleep and call Rabbi Wilhelm when it was morning in Israel. At a more conventional hour in Bangkok. When you deal with the quantities of guests that we are blessed to host (this week guests list in Phuket tops one thousand may Hashem bless them all) it’s always possible to accommodate another few guests.

I saw that there was still an hour till my alarm was going to ring, so I went back to sleep. Or tried to go back to sleep. But I couldn’t really sleep as I was already wide awake from the call.

I thought to myself, there must be a message here for me. It’s Friday morning, I am about to write a message to the many friends who read my weekly emails, this must be connected to the Parsha.

I began to think about the love that this father had for his children. I later learned from his communication with R’ Nechemya that the children have disappointed him in certain ways. But he still loves them obviously. Staying up till 2am to benefit his kids would be no issue for him.

Illustrations of how parents care for kids even when the relationship has not always been rosy, abound.

I am sure each of you can think of situations where parents stepped in to help their children at great expense, even when the children had been less than respectful to them (to use mild language).

Tossing and turning in my bed, I contrasted this with a recent situation where I was thoroughly disillusioned.

It was when I discovered that someone who I thought was demonstrating true friendship to his friend, was really acting for (partially) selfish reasons.

I am a big fan of the concept of true friendship. The Torah teaches us ‘acquire for yourself a friend’. In the Chassidic tradition the fellowship of friends and their mutual dedication is legendary.

I don’t want to be making sweeping statements here downplaying the immense benefit of developing friendships with others.

I remain hopeful and optimistic that it is possible to have friends who truly care for each other.

However, it needs to be viewed in perspective.

The connection between two friends is the coming together of two separate beings, brought together by commonalities of sorts. That bond can be undone if the commonality dissipates.

This cannot compare to the intrinsic filial bond that a child has with their parents. One quite literally comes from the other. Genetically, and via the ‘nurturing’ that the parents give during the early years of infancy and childhood.

Even if they are or were estranged at some point.

The Torah teaches us this very clearly. One need only study the laws of mourning, may G-d protect us, and you will see that for parents, siblings and children there is the sitting of shiva and mourning. For friends, as close as they may be, there are no halachic mourning requirements.

As I was attending Shacharit at Beth Elisheva at our daily 7:30 am minyan (Sundays at 8:30) I got a flash.

The connection to this weeks parsha is so obvious.

In this weeks Parsha the first of the book of Shemot we read about the enslavement of the Jewish people in Egypt.

It is here (Shemot 4:22) that we first see Hashem calling the Jewish people his son.

The Lord said to Moses, "When you go to return to Egypt, see all the signs that I have placed in your hand and perform them before Pharaoh, but I will strengthen his heart, and he will not send out the people.

And you shall say to Pharaoh, 'So said the Lord, "My firstborn son is Israel." '

So I say to you, 'Send out My son so that he will worship Me, but if you refuse to send him out, behold, I am going to slay your firstborn son.' "

Hashem tells Moshe that His relationship with the Jewish people is like that of a father to a son.

Unbreakable and non-negotiable.

And therefore Pharaoh should yield and send the Jewish people out to their freedom.

We ought to treat our relationship with G-d that way, like a child to a parent. But this takes maturity which does not always come naturally.

With regard to our relationship with our parents, maturing comes more easily. Especially if one is blessed to become a parent themselves. From the vantage point of being a parent, one often begins to understand their own parents and how much they truly loved and love them. Even if they didn’t always know how to express it.

With our relationship with G-d, it may not happen naturally. Our physical (and in a way animalistic) body, does not naturally develop a sensitivity to G-d.

Which is why, when it comes to our relationship with G-d we sometimes make that ‘youthful’ mistake of placing more emphasis on ‘friends’ rather than ‘parents’.

This can lead to decision making that puts materialistic benefits ahead of heeding G-d’s instruction. Like disregarding G-d’s instruction ‘you shall not steal’ in order to line your pockets with dishonest gains.

We should not remain in our natural disposition though. We are not meant to stay spiritually immature. G-d wants us to work on becoming more mature. And we cannot delay it till our soul becomes unfettered from our body and seeks only spirituality. By then we are in the next stage of the journey in the ‘next world’. Too late to make this world into the place that G-d has envisioned and entrusted us to make it.

We need to come to this realization while we live here in an ‘earthly’ and mundane world.

On a practical note.

Let us appreciate our parents more. It’s one of G-d’s Ten Commandments. Honor your father and mother.

And this will spill over to the way we treat our siblings. And our children.

By doing things that cause them pleasure.

When it comes to your loved ones who are alive, there are various ways to please them. A visit. A phone call. A gift. Sharing things that you have done that you know will make them proud, and so on.

If G-d forbid they have passed, the way to send ‘nachat’ to their ‘neshama’ soul in Gan Eden is by doing mitzvahs and studying Torah in their memory.

And let us remember how much G-d loves us.

Like a parent loves a child but infinitely more, as G-d is infinite.

Let us express that love by doing what G-d instructs us to do.

Its an incredible privilege to have the Almighty, King of the king  of kings, tell us how to connect to Him.

And G-d will and always does, reciprocate our love to Him, by showering us with His love.

May that be visible to us all with good health, nachas, prosperity and peace, the real peace, with the coming of Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Holy-daying on vacation

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Yaakov was in Egypt.

The Torah uses the word ‘Vayechi’ which means ‘he lived’, in Egypt.

Let me jump in here with a joke.

(Thank you to Dr. Yitschok Shimshon aka Sandy Schwartz., my ‘Jewish humor provider’ who keeps me stocked with the jokes I provide in this weekly email. In this instance he was so kind as to find me the complete joke after I gave him the punch line, which was all I remembered. I think every rabbi needs a humor provider. Sermons are all that more relatable when they are infused with a sprinkling of humor. Humor that helps inspire, becomes infused with holiness. Holy humor. 😊 ).

The census taker comes to the Goldman house.

“Does Louis Goldman live here?” he asks.

“No,” replies Goldman.

“Well, then, what is your name?”

“Louis Goldman.”

“Wait a minute–didn’t you just tell me that Goldman doesn’t live here?”

“Aha,” says Goldman. “You call this living?”

Yaakov lived in Egypt says the Torah.

Rabbi Menachem Mendel when he was a young boy asked his grandfather the Alter Rebbe, ‘how can you call living in Egypt ‘living’?

The Rebbe explained.

Living is not just about your geographical location. It is about the atmosphere and environment that you live in.

The Midrash relates that before Yaakov descended to Egypt, he first dispatched Yehuda to open a Yeshiva there. This means that Yaakov’s children and grandchildren and great grandchildren were being schooled in the Jewish tradition.

Being enveloped in that aura of holiness causes one to live a spiritually uplifting life. Even if the geographic location happens to be Egypt. see more details here

This is a lesson for our lives as well.

Wherever we live, we can create a holy environment.

Not just where we live permanently, but wherever we find ourselves, even during ‘vacation’, there are opportunities to engage in acts of holiness, goodness and kindness.

Like the following story.

I had dinner last Wednesday night at JCafe, with Martin and Karen, a couple who are longtime friends and supporters of Chabad of Thailand. They come to Thailand from UK and Israel to vacation during the winter period. Being observant, they make sure to have challah’s and wine for Shabbat delivered to their hotel every week.

I thought they would be back in Phuket for Shabbat, so I asked the Chabad House in Phuket to deliver Challas to their hotel in Phuket.

Martin called me on Thursday for something technical and quite trivial. From the conversation I learned that he was still in Bangkok for Shabbat. I set up a challah delivery to his hotel in Bangkok.

But I forgot to cancel the delivery in Phuket.

On Friday, when I checked up if he received the Bangkok delivery he responded

Yes thanks, they also sent to Phuket by mistake , but we have friends next door who are  normally totally disinterested and they were thrilled to receive and will be making Hamoetze blessing tonight- G-d moves in strange ways

I asked Martin to keep me posted on the ‘mistake’.

I was hoping that Hashem would show us the purposefulness in the ‘mistake’.

Martin sent me this note that he received from the recipients of the Challa.

Saying Hamoetze tonight

May be a blessing from G-d to relieve Y….’s pain - nothing to lose everything to gain 🙏🙏

The recipient had fallen and was in pain. Unexpectedly challah showed upon on their doorstep. It was received as a message of healing that had arrived from Hashem in the form of fresh challahs for Shabbat.

Indeed, it was directly from Hashem.

Talking about mistakes… that turn out to be non-mistakes. This week I also had an inspiring experience involving once again what I thought was a mistake on my part.

I left my house to go to my office behind JCafe. My bag felt a drop lighter than usual. I checked to make sure I had my Tefilin with me (I always want them available in case I get the sweet opportunity to share the mitzvah with a fellow Jew), and my computer. When I saw that I had those two items, and yet my bag was a drop lighter, I figured it must be my imagination, and walked to the office.

Only after arriving and setting up my computer for my two important scheduled zoom meetings did I realize that it was the power cord that I had left at home. Since I usually recharge my computer at night, I figured that I had enough juice to comfortably have my two zoom meetings before I needed to recharge.

I discovered that on this night, I had not recharged my computer. I now had only 14% left on my computer.

And the miracle of Chanuka did not kick in to keep my computer running for the required two hours. I started my zooms on the computer which I must prefer, and when my computer ran out of battery I moved over to my phone.

A while later, I left my room to ask my secretary to send a messenger to pick up my cord. I was still on the zoom. Once I was walking around with the phone on zoom, I figured let me show my friend on the other side of the zoom, the way the JCafe looks.

I walked into JCafe with my camera facing outwards.

It was still early and besides the waiter staff there was no one there.

But there was one person in the outdoor seating area. I noticed him from the corner of my eye and I heard him say in English ‘finally a good morning’.

I realized that Chaim the chef had passed him by and said good morning.

He was obviously gratified to get this greeting.

My antennae went up.

Here is why.

The below article by Rabbi Yossi Goldman will give the background. click here for full article.

Would you think that “how are you today?” can be a religious question? And that it plays an important role in a major Biblical narrative?

In Parshat Vayeishev (Genesis 37–40), we read the dramatic story of Joseph—the technicolor dream coat, the sibling rivalry in Jacob’s family, and Joseph’s descent to Egypt, sold into slavery. After being framed by his master’s wife for scorning her attempts at seduction, young Joseph finds himself incarcerated in an Egyptian jail. There he meets the Pharaoh’s butler and baker, and correctly interprets their respective dreams. Later, when Pharaoh himself will be perturbed by his own dreams, the butler will remember Joseph, and Joseph will be brought from the dungeon to the royal court. His dream analysis will satisfy the monarch, and the young Hebrew slave boy will be catapulted to prominence and named viceroy of Egypt.

How did Joseph’s salvation begin? It began with the imprisoned Joseph noticing that the butler and baker were looking somewhat depressed. “And Joseph came to them in the morning and he saw them, and behold, they were troubled. He asked Pharaoh’s officials . . . ‘Why do you look so bad today?’” (Genesis 40:6–7). They tell him about their disturbing dreams, he interprets the dreams correctly, and the rest is history.

But why did Joseph have to ask them anything at all? Why was it so strange to see people in prison looking sad? Surely depression is quite the norm in dungeons. Wouldn’t we expect most people in jail to look miserable?

According to the Lubavitcher Rebbe, the answer is that Joseph was exhibiting a higher sense of care and concern for his fellow human beings. Torn away from his father and home life, imprisoned in a foreign land, he could have been forgiven for wallowing in his own miseries. Yet, upon seeing his fellow prisoners looking particularly unsettled, he was sensitive enough to take the time to inquire about their well-being. In the end, not only did he help them, but his own salvation came about through that fateful encounter. Had he thought to himself, “Hey, I’ve got my own problems, why worry about them?” he might have languished in prison indefinitely.

Sometimes, says the Rebbe, a simple “how are you today?” can prove historic.

It’s a lesson to all of us to be a little friendlier. To greet people, perhaps even to smile more often.

Because of the above teaching of the Rebbe’, this comment ‘finally a good morning’ triggered an immediate reaction in my brain. I went over, zoom meeting still in progress, to the man who was just finishing his breakfast and said a hearty ‘good morning’, ‘How are you’?

He was a Jewish man visiting from New York and was happy to talk. Actually, he looked hungry to talk. I asked him if he was in a rush as I would love to converse more fully with him, but I wanted to wrap up my zoom meeting first. He said he had time.

We met. And enjoyed each other’s company. M. shared some of his colorful life experiences. Then he said, ‘you know, I really needed a ‘good morning’ this morning. And you came out and gave me that ‘pick me up’ that I was starving for’.

I told him that G-d had Divinely orchestrated our meeting. How so, he asked? I shared with him the series of things that had taken place which led me to ‘bump into him’ at the JCafe at 9:45 am.

It all started from a mistake. Forgetting my wire. Without that, I wouldn’t have left my zoom meeting to walk into the JCafe and meet him.

It turns out that we know people in common. After speaking little bit more, I discovered that his late father was an erudite author and I have read some of his books. We struck up an instant chemistry and after sharing the mitzvah of Tefilin with him we hugged and wished each other well.

It never ceases to amaze me when I see the hand of G-d in His Divine providence over every detail.

I felt hugged by Hashem’s Divine Embrace with the palpable and visual Divine Providence that Hashem showed me.

Back to the topic I opened with, regarding living spiritually minded even in Egypt.

Martin called me excitedly a few days ago.

‘I met a Jewish person in my hotel who I think will really benefit from meeting you and getting closer to his roots. He was a little bit distanced from Jewish observance, but I have convinced him to come meet with you and get inspired. Please do your best to connect with him’.

Who said vacation isn’t holy?

It all depends on what you do there.

If you do mitzvahs and uplift and inspire others to do mitzvahs, you are engaging in something higher than just materialism. You are injecting your life with holiness. Making a dwelling place for G-d in the mundane world.

Yaakov’s life reminds us that notwithstanding being in ‘Egypt’ which symbolically means ‘unholiness’, we can do holy things and create a G-dly environment wherever we may be.

And if we can, then we must.

Wherever you are, take a moment to think about the Parsha and Yaakov’s life.

Learn from Yaakov how you can create a bubble of holiness and G-dliness wherever you may be.

Yaakov did not just have a ‘so so’ or ‘okay’ life in Egypt.

The best years of his life were in Egypt.

We have to aim high.

And try to make wherever we are, a wholesome place.

Good air quality is critical to physical wellness.

A wholesome spiritual environment is the key to spiritual wellness.

Click here to find out how the words of Torah purify the ‘air’ and atmosphere around you.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS I am sharing this link to an emotional, heartbreaking, and movingly inspiring letter written by Moussia, the eldest of the Federmans’ 13 children, Chabad emissaries to the Virgin Islands, whose mother is fighting for her life after the family’s tragic water accident on S. Thomas just over a month ago. May the Almighty send a miraculous recovery to Henya Rivkah bat Brachah Devorah Leah.

 

 

 

 

Happiness in difficulty

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

As a parent, when I heard the aphorism ‘you are only as happy as your least happy child’ I found myself nodding in agreement.

A person can be blessed with many children and all of them may be happy and doing well. Except that one of them is not doing so well. The mood of the parent will most likely reflect not the happiness of the majority, but the angst of that one single child who is going through difficulty.

This is the way human nature instinctively works.

The Torah teaches, that G-d is like a father to us.

Let us take a peek into the Divine and reflect on G-d’s relationship with us as a parent.

How does He handle, so to speak, our joys and disappointments?

In this weeks Parsha, Yosef reveals to his brothers that ‘I am Yosef’.

Instantaneously, the brothers go from their fear of Yosef whom they thought was a hostile despotic Egyptian ruler, to deep shame and embarrassment from their younger brother whom they had sold into slavery.

Yosef’s saintliness comes to the fore in his reaction.

Not just does Yosef not take revenge on this brothers, he treats them with extraordinary benevolence.

These are the same brothers who caused him the untold grief and pain that he endured during his twenty-two years away from his beloved father.

Yosef now invites them to come and live comfortably in Egypt at his expense.

The Zohar says, we need to try and learn from Yosef’s magnanimous approach to those who had wronged him.  

As Tzvi Freeman puts it:

“Even when your heart burns with fury at those you envy or despise, or have wronged you, even at the time that your mind is assaulted with thoughts of spite and revenge—

—even then, you have the power to do the polar opposite of what the beast within you demands you do, to refuse to entertain those nasty thoughts or to express any anger, and instead to deal with these people with respect and even greater kindness to the opposite extreme.

 Click here for the full article

Yosef then sends a message to his father Yaakov to come down to Egypt.

Yaakov is fearful to leave his ancestral land of Israel and relocate to Egypt. Hashem appeared to him and reassured him that He would be with them.

"I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up.

G-d promises the He will be present with the Jewish people in Egypt.

But not just in Egypt.

In the book of Isaiah (63:9) there is a verse ‘In all their troubles, He was troubled’.

Our Sages explain the meaning of this. In every journey that the Jewish nation make, even when they are in troubled spots, in exiles such as Egypt, Babylon and the current exile, Hashem is right there with them.

Moreover, this also pertains to each of us individually, continues the Midrash. Whenever someone is in trouble, Hashem is with them. As it says in Psalms (91:15) ‘When he calls on Me I will answer him, I will be with him in distress’.

This knowledge, that we are never alone, even during troubled and difficult times, is uplifting. It may not erase the challenge but it takes away the aloneness that so often accompanies suffering.

It is that way with joy as well. Hashem is right there rejoicing with us when we have times of joy.

The Midrashic work Mechilta tells us that the verse (I Samuel 2:1) ‘I rejoice in Your deliverance’ means that when there is joy to the people of Israel, there is joy to Him.

שמחה לישראל, כאלו שמחה לפניו

But this seems to pose a bit of a quandary.

At any given time, there are people who are in deep trouble and G-d is with them in their trouble.

And at that very time there are joyous things going on in Am Yisrael which cause joy to the Almighty.

How does Hashems empathy with two opposing situations like this work?

Obviously with Hashem, who is unlimited, non-definable and omnipotent, this is not a question. The talk of joy and trouble in Heaven is allegoric and poses no real question.

However, with us humans, who may be empathizing with a child who is going through a challenging time, and at the same time rejoicing with a child who is celebrating a happy time, it is truly challenging.

It is beyond the scope of this article to explain how to balance these emotions.

For now, I wanted to suggest that we try to be more mindful of the good things that are happening to those we love and care about. not just have angst from the challenges they face.

I must be honest and admit. I was more aware of the words of empowerment and solace of Isaiah regarding Hashem being with us even during our exile and suffering, than I was regarding Hashem rejoicing with us when we rejoice.

Sure, it made perfect sense, but it took me time to find the actual source in the words of our Sages. The quotes about Hashem being with us in troubled times are in my experience, more universally known.

(It was so exciting for me to see the quote about Hashem rejoicing with us that I shared the Hebrew text, just in case there are others like me who are not so familiar with that quote).

This may be telling. It may indicate more than a gap in my knowledge. Perhaps it reflects a certain bias in terms of when we most feel Hashems presence. It may be that we feel that special presence of G-d more during challenging times than during good times.

This week’s Parsha tells us about the emotionally charged reunion between Yaakov and his favorite son Yosef after twenty years of separation. Our Sages tell us that Yaakov recited the Shema at that encounter. The simple explanation is that Yaakov wanted to take those overwhelming emotions of love and gratitude and focus them toward G-d who was with him at that time.

Click here and here for further thoughts on this inspiring topic.

This teaches us that in our lives as well, we should aim and practice to be more mindful of Hashems presence in our lives when we enjoy good times.

I suspect that sometimes in our lives we have a form of selective empathy with others. The sad events that happen to others get our attention more quickly and affect us more deeply.

The celebratory and joyous events amongst our loved ones sometimes require more effort for us to really feel and identify with.

When there are two emotions competing for the upper hand in our minds and hearts, it seems quite common for the anxious feelings to be the winner. Hence the saying ‘you are only as happy as your least happy child’.

What can we do about it?

Well, first of all we need to be aware of it. As then we can work on changing it.

It doesn’t have to be or remain that way. We can work on balancing our feelings and even tilting them towards joy.

Without minimizing or being indifferent to the plight of others, we can choose to also reflect on the good and joyous things that are happening to us.

Perhaps we can even coin a new phrase.

‘Allow yourself to be as happy as your happiest child’.

I can see the unhappy child not being so happy that his or her parent is happy even when they are unhappy.

What the unhappy child may not realize is that this is for their good as well. For a happy parent is always more effective.

(Not to be confused with ‘toxic positivity’ which means that you don’t at all acknowledge someone else’s pain and suffering. Definitely one needs to validate the difficulty that a child or a fellow is going through. I am advocating for not getting stuck in a despondent mood, or going into a funk for the rest of the day. It doesn’t help the one you are trying to help either).

 The Zohar has told us that it works that way in our relationship with Hashem. If we are joyous down here, Hashem beams down joyousness and blessing from Above commensurate with our joy.

Which means that if you want to change the ‘Divine energies’ coming down to you from Heaven, you should try to put some joy into your life.

If I had but a few seconds to explain to someone how to change their reality for the better, an elevator pitch, it would be this Kabalistic teaching about the great power of being joyous.

Try it.

It will lead to a lot of good things. Better physical health. Better spiritual health as you will be energized to doing more mitzvahs and studying more Torah.

If you don’t naturally feel happy, try ‘jumpstarting’ your system. ‘Fake it till you make it’. Even force yourself to smile if you need to. Studies have shown that even fake smiles are positive and often lead to genuine smiles.

May G-d bless you with multiple genuine reasons to be joyous so that you can easily and truthfully be happy. And the Almighty ‘gains’ as well as He is there with us during our joyous times.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS I don’t know about you, but I have been receiving multiple emails with tzedakah opportunities as we end the fiscal year.

I think it is wonderful.

And I am certain that buzz of activity around tzedakah and philanthropy that takes place during these final days of the calendar year, certainly cause Hashem much joy.

There is no greater way to emulate G-d than by acting like Him with benevolence and kindness.

Giving takes many forms.

One way is through giving money.

Money is a very powerful way to express your feelings of benevolence and kindness. Sometimes it’s important to stretch yourself a bit beyond your comfort zone and give more than you feel comfortable with (not G-d forbid endangering your financial situation). Like with a physical workout. It’s good for your health to put forth exertion.

Tzedakah is good. Period. Give, and give more, to the chartibable causes that speak to you.

One of my responsibilities is raising the funds for providing Yiddishkeit in Thailand.

Please consider giving a ‘Chanuka - fiscal end of year’ tzedakah gift to building Yiddishkeit in Thailand as per below

Are you a saver or spender?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

We celebrate the miracle of Chanuka for eight days.

The reason being, that after the Maccabees victoriously entered the Bet Hamikdash they immediately set out to reinstate the kindling of the Menorah in the Temple. They searched for pure ritually uncontaminated oil. They found one flask that was sealed by the High Priest.

The oil that was enough for one day, burned for eight.

There is a classic question regarding this.

If there was enough oil for one day and it lasted for eight, doesn’t that mean that the miracle was only for seven days?

Think about it. For the first day of kindling the Menorah there was enough oil. Naturally, without a miracle there was oil enough for one day. It was only from the second day onward that it started becoming miraculous.

Why do we then celebrate Chanukah for eight days?

There is a lot of discussion around this question.

Click here for a detailed essay on this topic .

One of the answers is, that finding the oil was itself a miracle. On the first day of Chanukah, we celebrate the miracle of finding the oil.

Another angle is that on the first day of Chanuka we celebrate the military victory where the weaker Maccabean fighters prevailed over the larger and mightier Greek legions.

I would like to focus on two other answers provided by great Rabbinic Sages more than three hundred years ago.

When the Jews found that one flask of oil that was enough for only one day, they had a dilemma.

They knew from experience that the time needed for producing new ritual olive oil was eight days.

There are two possibilities.

Either they filled up the Menorah with the full quantity of oil to kindle for that first day in the proper way. Disregarding the fact that this would leave them totally without oil for the following seven days.

Or, knowing that they needed to stretch this oil for eight days, they only filled the Menorah with one eighth of the oil. Thus allowing for at least a partial fulfillment of the kindling of the Menorah.

The miracle in the first scenario was the fact the oil level only went down one eighth every night. Thus on the first day of Chanukah there was already a miracle. The flames were alight, while the oil was not consumed as usual. Only one eighth.

In the second approach, the Menorah was only one eighth filled but burned as if it was totally full. This miracle started on the first day and continued every single day of the following seven days.

In both accounts the Jews of that time were witnesses to a miraculous slowdown of the rate of combustion of oil. This miracle started from the very first day of Chanuka and lasted for eight days.

Every single day was a miracle.

Which is why we celebrate Chanuka and light the Menorah for eight full days.

What jumps to my mind when thinking about the two scenarios regarding the usage of that one insufficient flask of oil, are the real live accounts I have read regarding the concentration camp inmates during the Holocaust.

Reading those Holocaust diaries is heartrending.

What took place only eight decades ago is already unimaginable to us, as it should be. The bestial inhumanness of the Nazis is a scourge on human history.

Those painful and detailed accounts of the indescribable conditions in the death camps expose some of the deepest aspects of human behavior.

In various personal diaries of Holocaust survivors there is mention of the two different kinds of approaches to the daily bread ration.

Some would eat it immediately. While it did not satiate them as the amount was too paltry, it did relieve them of the intense hunger pangs for at least a while. It also guaranteed that it could not be stolen from them. But it left them without any bread till the next days distribution.

Others would carefully divide their bread ration into several portions. They would allow themselves to eat only a small portion of the bread. They knew that they would be in need of the nutrition later on, as meager as it may be.

What caused some inmates to finish their bread at once and others to divide it up?

It would appear that different people have different approaches to dealing with these kinds of scenarios.

During the most desperate times, whilst suffering from acute malnutrition and hunger, there were two approaches to consuming the meager bread ration.

At the other end of the spectrum, during the heady victorious time of the Maccabees, when faced with the holy and inspiring task of kindling the Menorah there were also those same two options.

Fill in the Menorah fully, to at least do the mitzvah properly on the first day.

Or divide the oil up into eight portions, so that at least every day they could do some of the Mitzvah.

What would you and I have done if you had to make the decision on how to use the limited oil when you knew it would not be enough for your needs?

Perhaps we too as ‘different folks’ with ‘different strokes’ would have had those same differences of opinion.

But there is no need to get too concerned or even panicky about our possible varying reactions.

The great miracle of Chanuka assures us, that whatever way the oil was divided, the miraculous outcome was the same.

The Menorah burned for eight days. Uninterruptedly.

Perhaps we can learn an important lesson from this regarding reducing our stress levels.

Let me use driving a car as an example.

Some people drive ‘on edge’. They are always changing lanes. Zipping in and out. Trying to catch green lights even as they are turning yellow. Never driving under the speed limit. (I am not talking about reckless driving which is wrong and forbidden).

Others are more laid-back drivers. They take their time. Catching a red light doesn’t bother them very much.

Each style is unique.

And each style is valid.

And it is not just about driving behaviors where people differ.

In all aspects of life different people have different approaches.

Some people are stressed out about their retirement account.

Others spend their finances happily and wholesomely, without always thinking about their old age. (Within reason. I am not talking about irresponsibly frittering away needed funds).

Some of us get really uptight and constantly try to fight our natural disposition.

Perhaps, the story of Chanuka, and particularly the Sagely discussion about how to allocate the oil, can reassure us that both approaches are valid.

And here is the punch line and the most important part of this discussion.

In both instances, the Almighty intervened and miraculously caused the Menorah to burn for the full eight days.

Many have seen that in reality; the uptight driver does not necessarily arrive at his destination before the laid-back driver.

For those who are blessed enough to be well into their years of retirement they know that there are those who always lived excessively frugally yet do not necessarily have a better quality of life when they actually arrive at retirement.

I am not advocating for either side.

Rather, I am suggesting that one can feel comfortable with embracing whatever nature it is they have regarding the ‘how to divide up the oil’ kind of dilemmas.

Provided that they recognize that the outcome is ultimately up to G-d.

If G-d is your Provider, then all you need to do is act responsibly. And there are various approaches to what responsible behavior may be. They are all fine, provided you leave space for Hashem.

Reducing stress levels is a mitzvah.

Trust in Hashem in the full and proper way, reduces stress.

Its good for our material health. And vital for our spiritual growth.

In this weeks Parsha we are told that Yosef was delayed in prison because he ever so slightly put too much emphasis on his own efforts to get out of prison, thus delaying G-d’s miraculous intervention by two years. Click here for an enlightening article regarding the balance between faith and human efforts as it pertained to Yosef.

Let us kindle our personal Menorahs by adding in acts of goodness and kindness and holiness.

And once we do our bit, the way we should, each according to their personal and distinctive nature, may G-d bless our efforts with MIRACULOUS SUCCESS.

Shabbat Shalom

Chodesh Tov

Chanukah Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

are you a gold miner?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

While I as growing up in Melbourne, we once had a school trip to visit one of the oldest Synagogues in Australia. It was about a two-hour drive from Melbourne in the town of Ballarat.

Why was a Synagogue built in Ballarat in the 1860’s?

The ‘Gold Rush’.

Significant gold deposits were discovered in the Ballarat area in the 1950’s which sparked a flurry of immigration to Australia. Many Jewish people came from around the world to participate in this blessed windfall.

Would you travel half way around the world to participate in a ‘gold rush’?

It’s hard to relate to the question as we are not miners.

Let me ask it differently.

If you heard of an opportunity to buy an expensive house for 20% of its value but only if you personally showed up to sign the title deed. The problem is that it is in a location that is many thousands of miles away from where you live.

Would you make the effort to get on the plane and show up at that location?

I think there is a good chance you would.

Moreover, while you may not be a miner, I think that if you knew that you had gold in your backyard, you would figure out how to hire a professional mining company to mine that gold.

I would like to hope that barring health challenges, none of us are silly or lazy enough to turn away a blessing that G-d has provided for us.

Even if it requires some effort.

Let me steer this conversation to something more meaningful than gold.

Let us talk about self-worth as human beings.

And in the context of Judaism, let us take a look at our intrinsic and existential Jewish identity.

These are the equivalent of ‘gold’ in terms of the human and Jewish experience.

Do we each have ‘gold’ in our own ‘backyards’?

Welcome to the story of CHANUKAH!

The holidays of the Torah are immemorial and age-old, yet acutely relevant and pertinent.

The Maccabees were victorious.

Bet Hamikdash was in disarray.

The Menorah couldn’t be lit because there was no pure uncontaminated olive oil.

The Jews searched for oil.

Their efforts yielded the finding of one flask of pure, holy, olive oil. Sealed with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest).

My friends, this is a message to us all.

The oil is there. But it must be found.

One must sometimes search and dig and even mine.

Deep down, there is an untainted, uncontaminated spark of humanity, of intrinsic worth and value. A place within us that is aware of our irreplaceability in the eyes of G-d.

As Jews we know that our souls have a place where nothing can sully it. It remains purely faithful and committed to G-d.

Our souls yearn for one thing. To be more at one with G-d.

The Jewish spark within us can never be extinguished.

This is the reason why there is no ‘exit’ from being Jewish. No matter how much a Jew observes or lapses, he or she remain Jewish forever. It is a part of our existential identity. You cannot change something that is part of our core identity.

Albeit it can sometimes be hidden.

Sometimes you need to pull out the shovels.

Even the excavators. The mining tools.

Chanukah assures us that if we search, we will find the untainted oil.

Within our own ‘temple’ deep inside of ourselves.

How timely, that the book of ‘Tanya’ that teaches exhaustively about the Jewish soul inherent within us, was printed just before Chanuka some two hundred years ago.

(There is an annual cycle of Tanya study that begins today. Click here for many different types of study options and lectures.)

This is all good for people who are open to reframing their thought process to one of positivity.

But some people are not so sure if they should buy in to this optimism.

Some people are full of self-doubt.

They insist on homing in on their negativity spots.

What is the correct way?

Consider the following teaching from (today’s) Rambam lesson. (Today’s lesson according to the 3 chapter annual cycle).

When a blemish appears in a house, even a sage who knows that it is definitely a blemish should not definitively say: "A blemish appeared in my house." Instead, he should tell the priest, "It appears that a blemish appeared in my house…. Afterwards, the priest will come and inspect the blemish.

The Torah tells us that when we are inspecting our home and see something that may be a ‘blemish’, don’t label it as being a blemish. Call an expert Kohen for an assessment. Until the expert has ascertained that it is indeed a ritual blemish, view it as a possible blemish. Don’t decide that it is a ‘blemish’.

The lesson here is, when it comes to negative self-evaluation, be super cautious. Don’t jump to conclusions. Definitely don’t view yourself as being blemished by default.

If you are a pessimist and really like beating yourself up, stop doing that.

It’s not the way advocated by the Torah.

Rather, be a Macabee.

Believe in, and look for, the ‘gold’, the ‘oil’, the untainted spark of Divinity that is embedded in your soul.

And if this is how you should view yourself, how much more so, you need to view your fellow person as a veritable gold mine. As a full flask of untainted oil.

Only if you are a ‘doctor’ and it can be of benefit to notice someone else’s shortcoming in order to help them, should you concentrate on someone else’s flaws. Otherwise, see the good in them and concentrate on that.

And they, just like you, do have good intrinsically embedded within them.

The story of Chanuka reassures us that if you search, you will find.

Try looking at yourself, your spouse, your parents, your kids, and your colleagues from this perspective. I am convinced that you will be uplifted and astounded by the positive energies that this will unleash.

If you think that small spark of soul within you is not enough to sustain you? Lest you be concerned that the inspiration of that spark of light is not enough to sustain you?

Think again.

The oil that was enough for one day, lasted for eight.

The inspiration that comes welling up from deep within your soul will be enough to sustain you till you get to the proper space and environment to obtain fresh inspiration.

On a practical note:

Do you get attracted by ‘too good to refuse’ offers?

Are you savvy enough to act, before an opportunity passes and you are left with regrets?

Then now (starting this Sunday night) is the time to act.

For the next eight days there is an opportunity that is infinitely valuable.

Avail yourself of the miraculous energies in the air.

Light up a physical Menorah.

By doing this physically you be will simultaneously kindling the spiritual Menorah within you. G-d’s light will shine in your soul.

All it takes is lighting that first light.

A bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.

Take the courageous act of kindling that first light.

Your world will be brighter for it.

The world at large will be brighter.

Once you start, you will be propelled to continue.

It will be ‘addictive’ in a good way.

One light won’t be enough for you anymore.

Two lights for the second night will satisfy you.

But not for long.

For the third night, two lights won’t ‘do it’ for you anymore.

Indulge in your increased spiritual appetite. Go ahead and light three lights.

Till you get to the full eight lights of Chanuka.

Once you reach eight you are in the groove.

Eight is symbolic of leaping to a spiritual gravity-free plane. Beyond the seven-day cycle of the natural world.

Shabbat Shalom

Chanuka Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS (We will be happy to send you a menorah anywhere in Thailand. Either email me [email protected] or call/WhatsApp Yossi Goldberg at +66817535071 or create your own by lining up ‘tea lights’).

PPS Our end of year Chanuka Campaign is up and running.

Would you consider an end of year Tzedaka gift to provide ‘oil’ and wherewithal to light up the lives of others, by providing humanitarian help, emotional support and spiritual inspiration?

www.jewishthailand.com/donate

humility Google flavor

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

This week I learned a deeply inspiring Torah concept from L., a businessman who has been blessed with financial success.

(We were going together to inspect the progress on the landscaping and building of a ‘Tahara preparation and facilities house’ at our new cemetery grounds. L is one of the significant donors to this vital project).

L was sharing some stories with me about his business activities. I always find it fascinating to hear the ins and outs of people’s life-experiences.

Then he dropped this one-liner, which once I heard it, I couldn’t have imagined how I never knew it till now.

L said, ‘I believe that all my business success is a ‘ness’ a ‘miracle’.

He continued with something he learned from a Torah lecture on the internet: ‘the Hebrew word for ‘livelihood’ as in ‘income’ is פרנסה   .

Embedded in that very word, is the word נס which means ‘miracle’.

My friend, I couldn’t wait to share this with you.

Do you remember the craze in the 90’s over ‘auto-stereograms’?

I remember gazing at the auto-stereogram of ‘Lady Liberty’ hanging at the lobby of the hotel (which was at the time the home of the Even Chen Synagogue) and getting very excited when the 3D image of the Statue of Liberty finally jumped out at me.

As one writer described it:

The world, it seems, is divided into two kinds of people: Those who can see the 3-D illusions in computer-generated cards, prints and calendars that are turning up in malls and bookstores. And those who can't. Every day, the first group grows a bit. Skeptical shoppers view the "auto-stereograms" on display racks or gallery walls. They gaze into them, try to relax and, if they've got the knack -- POP! The image blossoms out and in to produce disarmingly realistic depth.

I felt a similar rush of energy when in my mind’s eye I saw the two letter word ‘ness’ jump out of the five letter Hebrew word of ‘parnassa’.

It’s a great time to talk about miracles.

This Hebrew month of Kislev is universally known as a month of miracles.

Chanukah is during this month. Chanuka is about celebrating both the miracle of the military victory and the nature-defying oil that burned for eight days instead of one.

(Chanukah begins on Sunday night December 18th. JCafe is fully stocked with all your Chanuka needs. Menorahs, Dreidels, Latkes, Donuts (five kinds of toppings) and of course ‘Gelt’).

Two hundred years the Chassidic community added the 19th of Kislev to the calendar of miracles. The newly founded Chassidic movement promoting the inner wisdom of Torah to all, regardless of background, was here to stay. It required that the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman have a miraculous liberation from Czarist prison.

These are noteworthy miracles. They come quite infrequently. When they do come, we ensure that they are commemorated and celebrated.

We recognize that the miracle days of yore, are not just relegated to being a historical bygone, rather they continue to pump miraculous energies into our contemporary lives when the annual cycle reaches the same calendar dates.

By marking and celebrating these dates we are able to ‘tap-in’ to the energies of the day. Miracles. Liberation and ‘unstuckness’. (See below for details regarding ‘men’s farbrengen’ on Tuesday evening at Bet Elisheva).

But what some of us don’t realize, is how ubiquitous ‘small’ ‘everyday’ miracles are.

We think that the splitting of the sea didn’t happen to me, so that means that I have never experienced a miracle.

Not true.

The word ‘ נס  is in the very word ‘ פרנסה  . Albeit a bit hidden. Waiting to be discovered though.

In the very process of providing a livelihood for yourself and your loved ones, there are embedded miracles

You haven’t seen them?

I beg to differ. You have encountered ‘small miracles’ but you may not have noticed them.

Let us start by talking about ‘income’ and ‘livelihood’.

Why is that topic so central?

Let’s face it.

Making a living is something that drives an overwhelming majority of a person’s decisions.

People spend many years in school and college aiming to have skills that will help them ‘make a living’.

People often choose in which location to live, based on where they can ‘make a living’.

A lot of the stress people experience in life, is centered around ‘making a living’.

This simple nugget of Torah wisdom, that ‘making a living’ has a hidden chip that drives it called ‘miracle’, is transformational.

In two diametrically opposed ways.

To the ones who micromanage life and overstress their financial situation there is a clear message.

Let go. G-d is in charge.

And there is a corresponding albeit opposite message to the apathetic fatalist who lies on the couch waiting to win the lottery.

Stop ‘kevetching’. Get up and do something. Anything. This will serve as a catalyst for drawing down Hashems blessing.

This G-dly truth, about miracle and livelihood and their symbiotic relationship, negates the extremes at either end of the spectrum.

On the one hand, it tells us that no matter how hard we try to micromanage and ‘stress’ about making a living, we are reliant on the ‘miracle’ of G-d to actualize our ‘making a living’.

On the other side of the spectrum, and just as important for the balance of life, this teaches us that if you want to access that ‘miracle’ that is inherent in ‘livelihood’ you have to engaged in ‘parnassah’ in actively trying to earn your living. Only then will you access the ‘ness’, the miracle hidden within the pursuit of ‘livelihood’ as the miracle doesn’t (usually) come without the ‘vehicle’ of the efforts to make a livelihood.

As the Torah sums it up:

 G-d will bless you, in all that you do’.

The proper way is both human efforts, coupled with G-d’s blessing.

One needs to ‘do’, to be proactive in helping themselves. G-d’s blessing will rest on that ‘doing’.

One of the things that gets me a bit irritated is when people boast about ‘how they did it’. For example, if they were successful financially it sometimes happens, that rather than seeing the blessings from G-d, they become self-consumed with arrogance.

Here is an example of what I mean when I talk about the miracle in the making of a livelihood.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, are both mega billionaires. How did they get there? The below quote (from a Google search) gives some little-known background.

The story goes that after Excite CEO George Bell rejected Page and Brin’s $1 million price for Google, the duo agreed to reduce down to $750,000. But Bell still rejected that.

Whoops. As of today, Google’s market cap stands at $167 billion.

How did they become billionaires?

By not selling.

They were eager to sell, even to the point of taking less than a million dollars.

Why didn’t they sell?

Because G-d made a miracle and put it into the mind of the potential buyer that the company was not even worth $750,000.

That ‘small miracle’ resulted in some major wealth for them.

My ‘livelihood’ is building Jewish life in Thailand.

The miracles that I see in this work never cease to amaze me.

They are often ‘small miracles’ which means that they are hidden within efforts. But there are frequent ‘big miracles’ as well. When things just happen in an obviously miraculous way.

How should we react to Hashems miracles for us.

What should success breed within you?

Arrogance or humility?

Should the parent who is blessed with a child who excels, become vain?

How about a professional who brings extraordinary achievements to his field of expertise. Should he become pompous.

Does someone who looks beautiful have the right to have their nose in the air.

How about a computer geek who is turned to as a savior when things go wrong on the computer. Is it correct for that genius to be haughty?

And the rich guy, the financially successful entrepreneur. Is becoming an arrogant person the proper outcome of wealth?

Yaakov, in this weeks Parsha comes home to Israel from twenty years of toil at his uncle Lavan’s house. He arrives back home as a rich man. Rich with children, eleven of the twelve tribes have been born. Rich with possessions.

Exceedingly rich, as a matter of fact.

The transformation in Yaakov’s financial status could not have been starker. He left home with ‘but a walking stick’. He came back fantabulously blessed with an amazing family and incredible wealth.

Yet, Yaakov says ‘I feel small’.

Rebbe Shneor Zalman understands this to mean that he felt humble.

Why does Yaakov feel humble after achieving so much success – children who excel in their piety and qualities, and wealth that is remarkable?

Yaakov recognized, explains the Rebbe, that his blessings all came from G-d.

Marrying well, being blessed with exceptional children, extraordinary wealth, all of this was an indication to Yaakov of Hashems Benevolence and Kindness to him.

Yaakov saw in all of this an expression of Hashems relationship with him. He felt how Hashem was holding him near, dear, and close.

When you recognize that you are close to Hashem, that the Great and Awesome Almighty is shining His beneficence on you, the reaction ought to be one of great thankfulness and deep humility.

It takes an oblivious person to remain an ingrate in the face of blessing.

It means that they do not recognize the ‘miracle’ within the ‘livelihood’.

Even more tragically, some people whom G-d blesses with success, rise to greatness and proceed to act G-dlessly arrogant. As in the acronym, EGO = Edging G-d Out.

My goal with this article is to make us more appreciative and humble. Thus, we will be more sensitive to the needs of those around us.

My friends, take a moment to think about your life. In particular think about the things you are proud of.

Everyone has something that they have achieved. And those achievements come as a result of tools and wherewithal provided by G-d. There is not a person in the world who doesn’t have gifts from G-d that they should acknowledge.

Is success in your life really your OWN doing? Or can you now discern the ‘miracles’ that G-d has delivered to you throughout your life that have enabled you to reach where you are.

And now take a second moment to reflect on how you should be feeling now that you are aware of G-d’s closeness to you.

Yes. Humility and gratitude should be the resultant emotion.

By being grateful to Hashem for His bountiful blessings, you are inspired to emulate him and share your beneficence with others.

Being humble means that you don’t think ‘I deserve everything for myself’, rather you say ‘doesn’t my friend deserve to also share in my blessings’.

Let us focus on G-d’s kindness to us.

Let us channel the humility and gratitude into a renewed commitment to Hashem and to follow in His ways of compassion and benevolence.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

1.5 million. Would you?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Selfishness.

Is it a good business model?

It is definitely not the moral way.

Are we ‘hardwired’ to be selfish or selfless?

Yaakov our patriarch, was a shepherd for his devious uncle Lavan.

Notwithstanding his uncle’s unscrupulousness, the Torah (in this week’s Parsha) describes Yaakov’s impeccable dedication to his job. He fulfilled his commitment to his uncle of tending to his sheep with integrity and industriousness. His commitment was legendary.

The dedicated behavior towards his employer, learned from Yaakov, has become enshrined in Halacha. Jewish law quotes Yaakov’s behavior, as being the benchmark for an employee’s ethical behavior.

Lets look at the other side of the coin. At employers. How are ‘bosses’ meant to act?

Yaakov’s boss Lavan, was blatantly unethical.

From him we can only learn what not to do.

However in multiple places, the Torah instructs employers how one must treat their workers with humane and even generously benevolent treatment.

It is not always so easy. And sometimes truly challenging.

There is a story that is told about Zeideh Moshe Feiglin (my father’s maternal grandfather) of Shepperton and later Melbourne, Australia.   

R’ Moshe Feiglin had successful fruit orchards in rural Shepparton. In those days, fruit was transported in wooden cases. This led Moshe to eventually purchase a timber mill where he could make his own fruit cases. The bigger business was selling wood to the housing industry. The business was a successful one and the Feiglin family was well to do thank G-d.

During the great depression, in 1932, the housing industry in Australia came to a virtual standstill. The Feiglin timber mill didn’t have enough work to keep the thirty-two workers at full employment. The Feiglin sons asked their father what they should do. Their father Moshe said that while the single workers could be given reduced hours, the married workers should be kept at full salary.

They calculated the cost of this undertaking. A year’s wages for all the workers amounted to fifteen thousand pounds.

Zeide Moshe went to the bank and asked for an overdraft loan in the amount of one year of wages amounting to fifteen thousand pounds. The bank said that this was not possible as their overdraft maximum was only 200 pounds.

Moshe explained to the bank manager in Shepparton why he needed the very large loan. The manager was duly impressed, and he said, ‘I know your object and I know you’ but I cannot approve such large amounts. Let me send you to the head office in Melbourne to meet Mr. Hemingway, the head of the bank. Moshe went to the head office of the bank accompanied by his two sons. Although his English was limited Moshe did most of the talking.

After hearing his request, Mr. Hemingway clapped Moshe on the shoulder and said ‘Mr. Feiglin don’t ask me why, but I am going to give you the fifteen thousand pound overdraft’.

Moshe responded thankfully and then made a commitment that reflected his trademark optimism. He told the bank manager ‘within three years I will (not just pay back the loan) but also put 500 pounds in your bank as fixed deposit’.  He made good on his commitment.

The story is recorded as part of a documentary about the early beginnings of Chabad in Australia. (this story is at around 25 minutes)

I heard this story many years ago and was greatly impressed by the ‘beyond-the-letter-of-the-law’ benevolence. Quite clearly, my great grandfather, a devout Chassidic Jew, took the Torah’s instructions of emulating G-d’s benevolent ways quite literally.

During the depression years when unemployment was rampant, being laid off from work meant falling into poverty.

Zeideh Moshe undertook major debt so as to protect the livelihood of his workers.

But I never actually took the time to translate the loan amount into 2021 figures.

Today, I decided to figure out how much money this would amount to in our times.

Google says that fifteen thousand Australian pounds in 1932 would be the equivalent of $1,539,674 in 2021.

That is serious money by all accounts. I now have a much deeper appreciation of what Zeideh Moshe committed to, in order to stand true to his Divine based morals and values.

I can only bless myself and wish that I emulate him in my own dealings with others.

It should be possible. Albeit challenging.

After all, I do have his genes.

Are you nodding? Thanks for agreeing. And for inviting me to share the implications of genes.

For you too, have the best genes possible.

You and I, as part of the Jewish People, are the descendants of Avraham, Yitschak, Yaakov, Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.

Our souls contain the spiritual ‘genes’ of our ‘forefathers’ and ‘foremothers’.

It therefore behooves us, and more importantly it is ‘genetically’ possible and accessible to us, to behave similarly to them.

This is why we look so closely at the behavior of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs as described in the Torah. The stories of the Torah are not just a historical account of what took place. They are our ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ and we are their ‘children’. Thus, their actions are a lesson to us, of how we should and CAN act.

My dear friends, someone sent me a link to a story of a modern day hero who put his concern for his employees over the benefit of his own pocket. To the tune of millions and millions of dollars.

Click there for a ten-minute film entitled ‘The $300 million dollar Kiddush Hashem’. I enjoyed it and I think you will too. Most importantly I think you will be inspired by it.

What happens when you act unselfishly?

Do you fall behind or get ahead?

In other words, does being benevolent, altruistic and unselfish destine one to a life of deprivation and hardship?

Counterintuitively, the opposite is true.

The Torah promises that this is how life works. Do good and you will be blessed. Be altruistic and your own interests will be protected without your even intending it.

The Torah relates how Yaakov, who acted unselfishly to the extreme, by giving his all to his devious employer, was not just moderately successful.

Yaakov was WILDLY successful.

In the Torah’s narrative, acting honestly and benevolently is not a recipe for suffering.

It is a catalyst for blessing.

That is not why we are to do the right thing. But it is comforting to know that good begets good.

Fascinatingly, there are contemporary university studies that show linkage between unselfishness and happiness. And that even higher financial returns come to those who are more prone to charitable giving and helping others.

It makes perfect sense.

Success comes from Hashem. He is the source of everything.

Follow in Hashems path. He will provide you with success. Not just spiritual reward, but material wherewithal as well.

It sounds counterintuitive but it works. Admittedly, sometimes it takes some time to see. The dishonest people often get temporarily ahead. If you, like me, have been blessed by G-d to be alive for more than a few decades here on earth, you have no doubt observed that in the long term, happiness and success goes to those who emulate G-d and live a life of moral virtue.

Selfishness may bring short term gain but it is a very unfulfilling, and ultimately unsuccessful, way to live.

Today we are into ‘natural’ and ‘non-GMO’ foods. Acting like a ‘mentsch’, with values and integrity like G-d wants us to, is the most natural thing we can do. It is consistent with non-GMO, as we live according to the unmodified genes that we have inherited from our very own ancestors.

Be more like yourself. Be unselfish. Others will benefit from your largesse. You won’t lose out.

Its called WIN WIN

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Murphy? who is he?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

There was a novice rabbi who was about to give his maiden speech in the synagogue he had been hired to lead.

The newbie asked the retiring rabbi for a tip. The elderly rabbi told him, excuse yourself just before the speech, make kiddush and have a shot of lechayim, it will help take the edge off your nervousness.

After the speech the novice asked the seasoned rabbi how he did.

‘You were great, till you said that Samson beat the xxxx out of the Philistines’.

The language we use, the tone of voice, the gruffness or politeness, these are all indicative of who we are.

Some things may be commonly said by cussing sailors and it doesn’t raise any eyebrows, but they certainly don’t bel ong in a rabbi’s sermon.

This weeks parsha speaks about how Yitschak (whose eyes sight has dimmed) asked Esav to bring him some freshly prepared meat and come to receive a blessing from him. Yitschak’s wife Rivka realized that her husband had been duped by Esav’s outwardly righteous behavior and she quickly organized for Yaakov the truly righteous son, to bring the meat to his father Yitschak and receive the blessing.

When Yaakov arrived with the meat he said to his father:

Please arise and be seated at the table, and partake of my meat, so that you may grant me your soul's blessing.

Yitschak asked his son, "How did you find it so quickly, my son?" He replied, "Because God, your God, arranged it to happen this way for me."

Yitschak said to himself, "This seems out of character for Esau: he does not usually mention God, nor does he usually address me so politely."

He therefore said to Jacob, "Please come close and let me touch you, my son. Are you really my son Esau?"

Click here for the continuation of the story (scroll down to 27:1).

My dear friends,

I would like to zoom in and highlight Yaakov’s words. ‘Because G-d arranged it to happen this way for me’.

These words are not just a onetime statement by Yaakov. Rather they represent a perspective on life.

It behooves us to remember that it is Hashem who is the source and cause of everything we have.

Not just should we think that way in our minds, but we should verbalize this belief in the words that we speak, as this causes the message to resonate more deeply within us.

Thus, we look for ways to integrate the mentioning of Hashem in almost every spoken interaction.

Here are some examples of casual conversations where G-d’s presence can be noted:

How are you feeling?

Baruch (blessed be) Hashem, I am feeling fine!

Are you planning to attend the Torah study session tonight?

Be’ezrat (with the help of) Hashem I plan to be there!

Are you going to Miami during the winter?

Im Yitrzeh Hashem (if Hashem wants) I will go to the warmer climate for a few days during the winter!

I just spent several days with my Shluchim colleagues. All of us live very much with the recognition as Yaakov said, that ‘God arranged it to happen this way for me’.

The unique success associated with the work of Chabad is G-dly success. Neither I, nor any of my colleagues thinks that it is their prowess and talent that has granted them the astounding success that they are blessed with. The miracles, small and large are quite prominent and leave no room for doubt.

The Divine Providence that Hashem shows us makes it clear and obvious that it is Hashem who has arranged things to work out with success.

Here is one of my favorite stories.

The Shliach of one of the cities in Florida was really stressed out. He had deferred some very important payments to the very final date. He could no longer push off the payment. If he did not come up with a few hundred thousand dollars, the school he had founded would be in jeopardy. But he had no idea where he could raise that kind of money. Anyone he knew had already contributed and there was still this large amount missing. To whom could he even turn to talk about such a large sum? There was only person he could think of. A certain philanthropist who lived in his region and was generous with this Tzedaka. He had the ability to contribute such a large amount if he but wanted.

The problem was, that this particular person was not so easy to contact. How would he even get an appointment to see him? The Shliach had a brainwave. The philanthropist was making a celebration for his son’s bar mitzvah a few days later. The rabbi figured he would stop by to wish mazel tov and perhaps he could find an angle to be able to talk about supporting his school.

As ‘murphy’s law’* (see below) would have it, on the day of that bar mitzvah, the rabbi was called to officiate at a funeral of a woman who had passed away. It was someone who he knew only vaguely, but the funeral home said that there was no family and no other rabbi to whom she had any connection. The rabbi didn’t hesitate. He knew what the right thing was to do. The mitzvah of burying a dead, especially when there is no one else to do it (Met Mitzvah), is a mitzvah of the highest and holiest proportion.

But, to be truthful, with this major financial crisis breathing down his neck he was feeling quite disappointed about missing the opportunity to meet the philanthropist who seemed to be the possible solution to his crisis.

The funeral time was set and the rabbi figured out that he could still race straight from the funeral to the bar mitzvah. However there would be no time for a shower. Taking into account the Florida heat, he asked his wife to meet him at the bar mitzvah hall with a fresh change of clothing.  

Sweating profusely from performing the Jewish funeral including the tradition of shoveling the earth to cover the casket, he arrived at the bar mitzvah hall predictably hot and exhausted. His wife gave him the change of clothing and he went into the men’s room to change. In emptying his pants pocket, he took a peek at the envelope handed him by the funeral director just after the funeral as he was racing out.

Presumably it was a few dollars for his officiating fee.

Except that it wasn’t a few dollars.

It was a check for a few hundred thousand dollars. The precise amount that he needed to pay his outstanding obligations.

The funeral director later explained that the woman had left instructions to give this money to the rabbi who would perform the funeral. But only if he did the service without knowing about the donation in advance.

The rabbi, in his fresh change of clothing, and in an exalted state of mind, went into the philanthropist’s bar mitzvah with a bounce in his step. Albeit he was not an invited guest, but that just made it more spontaneous and real.

He turned to the philanthropist and told him ‘I admire you so much for your philanthropy that I could not resist coming to wish you mazel tov on this special day’.

It was truer than true. He currently had no other reason to come to this bar mitzva other than to wish a heartfelt mazel tov to this benevolent philanthropist.

Hashem had taken care of alleviating his financial crisis.

He had no other agenda anymore for attending the bar mitzvah other than genuinely wishing mazel tov.

The philanthropist was so touched that the rabbi came to wish him a heartfelt mazel tov even without being invited, that he struck up a friendship with him and went on to become a supporter of that Jewish educational initiative.

This is a story that is quite similar to the stories that my colleagues and I all have. Perhaps not quite as dramatic but with the same Divine Providential theme.

We are blessed that as emissaries of the great tzaddik, the Rebbe, we have the blessings of Hashem showering down upon us in an unusually and extraordinarily visible and potent way.

The results of these miracles are the Chabad shuls, schools, community centers and Jewish activity that are thank G-d flourishing on all four corners of the globe.

The Rebbe taught, there is a saying among Chasidim that goes as follows:

‘A Jew should behave with Hashem as a goat behaves with its owner.

The goat ‘knows’ that it must produce milk.

It also ‘knows’ that it has no reason to be concerned about what it will eat and drink. Nor does it need to be concerned about having a stable to sleep in.

All of those concerns  are all up to the owner’.

The lesson for our lives is so crystal clear.

Always focus on doing what you know to be the right thing to do from Hashems perspective.

Our job is to ‘produce milk’ for Him.

Don’t worry about the things that are His responsibility to us.

You may be facing a problem that seems pressing, you may be tempted to put aside what you ought to be doing in favor of doing something that would seem to be solving your problems, but that is not the correct path to take.

Hashem is in charge of everything.

Which means in a very practical way. At all times there is but one question.

What does Hashem want me to do right now.

All the rest is on His responsibility. It will somehow fall into place. (And if He doesn’t want it to fall ‘into place’, whatever you will do won’t make it happen…).

Sometimes you will get the great gift and merit to see the guiding Hand of G-d in its sheer brilliance. You will see how through doing the right thing, your original problem is solved in a way you never could have imagined.

Sometimes things will remain shrouded in Divine mystery, but ultimately following the path of Hashem leads us to exactly where we need to be.

When we are blessed to experience ‘small miracles’ of this nature we should make sure to share them with our loved ones as well. So that we actively look out for the Hand of Hashem in our lives.

Do the right thing for Hashem!

Hashem will show you how it was the right thing for your own benefit as well!

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom

And a Chodesh Tov (today is the first day of the Hebrew month of Kislev which means that Chanuka is around the corner…).

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

*

Ah, I said I wanted to tell you something about Murphy.

Who was Murphy of Murphy’s law?

I really don’t know. And I certainly don’t believe in that ‘law. We just finished talking about how G-d is in charge of every small details. Not murphy. If you have never even heard of that preposterous ‘law’ called ‘murphy’s law’, good for you. Don’t bother looking it up.

But I do want to share something about a different Murphy.

The late Ron Fleitman who passed away in Thailand earlier this year, and was buried in our local Jewish cemetery, was proud to tell me that he had his bar mitzvah in Murphy’s Shul across the street from 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn NY, in the 1940’s.

On Monday night of this week I remembered Ron (Yehuda ben Hershel z”l) as I gave a talk to a group of Yeshiva boys who study in Yeshiva Chovevei Torah housed in Murphy’s Shul.

Why is it called Murphy’s Shul?

Because the Irishman Mr. Murphy, whose bar ‘Murphy’s Bar’ stood at that very location, deeded his property to a group of Jews to build a shul.

In tribute to Murphy, who had given his very prominent Eastern Parkway location to build a Shul, the Shul was fondly referred to as Murhphy’s Shul.

Now that is a Murphy with a good lesson for all of us.

Money comes. Money goes. Material pleasures are fleeting.

Our good deeds live on for eternity.

Do a mitzvah and it is ‘yours’ for eternity. It’s the best investment possible!

 

Love is irresistible. Shabbat shalom from New York

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It was Chanuka in the 1970’s during a tense security period in Israel. The Rebbe’s message to his followers in Israel was clear. Visit every Israeli army base to strengthen the spirit and gladden the hearts of the young chayalim (soldiers).

Rabbi Yisrael led a group of yeshiva students to visit a large army base in Israel. They interacted with the soldiers, offering them a chance to lay tefillin as well as distributing sufganiyot (donuts) in honor of Chanuka.

R’ Yisrael overheard a conversation between two commanding officers.

One officer, while not religious, was a traditional Jew and comfortable with doing mitzvot when given the chance. He had just finished putting on tefillin and was now happily enjoying a sufganiya. He was conversing with his colleague who was adamant that he didn’t want to put on tefillin, neither did he want a sufganiya.

The traditional officer asked his friend, ‘What do you have against the warm sweet sufganiya, that you refuse to partake of it?  I am not asking you about why you are resistant to putting on Tefilin, but what do you have against an innocuous donut’?

To which the unyielding officer responded:

‘Don’t you see how inside that sufganiya there is the ‘neshama’ (soul) of the Rebbe of Lubavitch? The moment I eat that sufganiya I will start thinking differently and eventually behaving differently’

Rabbi Yisrael overheard this exchange in the 70’s. I heard it from his son, who runs a Chabad House in London, just a few hours ago.

Where did I hear it?  

In New York.

Once a year, the Rebbe would invite all of his Shluchim (emissaries) to convene a conference.

Yes, the conference of Shluchim is being held this weekend with 6,500 rabbis and Jewish lay leaders participating. It is expected to be the biggest conference ever held yet please G-d. It is the year of ‘Hakhel’ gathering after all.

A journalist asked me to sum up in an ‘elevator pitch’, my feelings about the importance of coming to the Kinus (gathering) of Shluchim.

Here is what I shared with him.

When I come to the Kinus in the Rebbe's 'court' I remind myself why I went out to Thailand, rededicate myself to those values and that core mission, imbibe wisdom and experience from peers, and get energized and reared up from the camaraderie and energy of the thousands of my like-minded and focused brothers and colleagues

There will be serious introspective moments. When we all gather at the Rebbe’s holy resting place – the Ohel – we pledge to try to do better that we have done till know, and we pray for ourselves, our families and our respective community – you – to have all the gifts of health and blessings needed for carrying out our respective roles.

There will be many uplifting moments. Meeting old friends. Eating Shabbat meals together. Having comradely Farbrengens with each other.

In our family’s case, my parents will get to have their sons at their Friday night Shabbat table. This is unique, as my parents rarely if ever get their kids at their Shabbat table as thank G-d my parents are blessed to have all of their children living ‘out of town’. Each of their children were appointed as Shluchim of the Rebbe in various parts of the USA and world.

The overriding agenda is always about making this world a better, G-dlier, more moral, and more peaceful place. i.e. about bringing Mashiach.

The intended outcome of this weekend is first of all, a massive reenergizing of the existing family of thousands of Shluchim. If the motivational levels increase within each of us, the results in terms of output and yield will grow commensurately.

This conference and its adrenaline, will inspire additional couples to go out on Shlichus. This will generate exponential growth in the Jewish world.

There will be new ideas generated for community programming, from toddlers through seniors. For teens and for college campuses. For special needs children and for young professionals. For every niche and segment within the Jewish community, there is a group of Shluchim who are servicing that demographic and are developing programing and sharing ideas.

And then there is something else that this weekend will imbue.

Upon hearing the story of the Israeli army base, I realized that the sufganiya-resisting officer in the 1970’s picked up on something that is subtle yet so real.

The sufganiyot were not just donuts.

The Rebbe was not teaching his Chassidim to give out donuts.

He was guiding them on how to transmit his best wishes and unlimited love for the fellow Jews they were visiting.

The officer felt that love shining through the sufganiya.

It is that love that the officer was wary of.

Love is irresistible.

As King Solomon taught in Mishlei 27:19 ‘As water reflects the face so one's heart reflects the feelings of the other's heart’.

The officers only mistake was that he shied away from that love. His life would have only been enhanced by having embraced that love.

If you dig deeper, what lies behind the incessant requests the Rebbe made of us to offer fellow Jews opportunities to perform individual mitzvahs whenever and wherever possible?

Love.

If I love you, I want to try and get you to do the most amazing thing you can do for your soul (and body). Perform a mitzvah.

And by the same token, because I love you, I want to send you a sweet donut on Chanuka.

The motivation to send your students and chassidim to all corners of the glove to offer a fellow Jew the opportunity to lay Tefilin, is the same motivation for sending a sweet sufganiya to a solider in a tense army base.

Its all about Ahavat Yisrael. It is about seeing the ‘neshama’ in a fellow Jew. And treating it with the love it deserves.

LOVE.

This is at the core.

The sufganiya is merely the expression of that love.

If you like bagels and lox, then that love can be expressed through that.

The most powerful gift one Jew can give another Jew will always be the opportunity to share a mitzvah. The greatest sum of money or most indescribably exquisite gift is infinitely smaller than the ‘smallest’ mitzvah. This is why Chabadniks can sometimes even come across as ‘nagging’ when offering a fellow Jew to share a mitzvah. It is simply such an incredible opportunity for the recipient that we don’t want to give up on easily.

The conference is an opportunity to reconnect to that spirit of Ahavat Yisrael, the inspiration that the Rebbe imbued us with and make sure that it remains at the core of our mission.

This great love that the Rebbe, a true Jewish leader, had and has for each and every Jew, is expressed in the Tefilin we lay with fellow Jews, in the Shabbat candles we inspire Jewish women to light, and also in the warm chicken soup and sweet sufganiyot, among all the other forms of material assistance that Chabad Shluchim administer.

Act of love by act of love.

Mitzvah by mitzvah.

The world will thus be transformed into a world ready for Mashiach.

You too can join the revolution by carrying the torch forward, by doing more mitzvahs and by finding ways to transmit the true love and Ahavat Yisrael that is at the very foundation of the entire Torah.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

'nagging' reframed

Dear Friend,

I got a phone call this week that both inspired me and simultaneously ‘took me to task’.

The call came from a colleague who is the Rebbe’s Shliach to a city in UK that has a very small Jewish community. As part of his pastoral responsibilities, he is the Jewish chaplain at the local hospitals.

Rabbi J. was called to the bedside of a woman who is facing a very serious illness.

She told the rabbi about her Jewish ancestry. Her mothers, mothers, mother was Jewish. Her great grandmother was buried in a Jewish cemetery. Her grandmother, while married to a non-Jew, kept Shabbat every week.

It was a tenuous connection she had with her Jewish identity that was hanging on by a ‘thread’.

The spark of Jewishness in her soul prevailed. It eventually caused her to search for Jewish connection.

In her quests for meaning, she discovered Chabad.org and became an avid student of the ongoing classes. The ‘live’ broadcasts on Chabad.org’s Facebook page were especially dear to her.

And that is why I merited hearing this story.

While hooked up to oxygen, battling a serious illness (may Hashem send her a miraculous recovery) she told the visiting rabbi that she wanted to thank the rabbi’s on the Facebook page for their classes.

And when she commented on my classes on Facebook she specifically wanted to give me thanks for opening up the daily class with the joyous singing of a Chassidic melody.

This is not the first time I have received touching regards from people I have never met who have been listening to classes I have given.

But this is certainly the most heartfelt and touching message I have received.

As Rabbi J. explained to me, besides her Jewish identity being so nearly lost to the assimilation that comes with intermarriage, she also lives in an area of the UK which has no organized Jewish life within a fifty miles radius.

What were the chances of her being able to study Torah and be inspired to reconnect to Judaism.

And now, against all odds, her life is deeply bound up with the three thousand years of tradition that emanate from the giving of the Torah at Mount Sinai.

All because of the vision of the Rebbe who saw the development of technology and modernity as tools to spread the knowledge of G-d to the four corners of the world. Thus, the pioneering work of Chabad.org on the internet is constantly adapting to utilize the newest technology as it unfolds.

It was a wakeup call of sorts for me personally.

While I have tried to restart my Facebook posts on Chabad.org, there are technicalities that have hindered me.

Why have I not worked harder to solve those technical issues?

Perhaps there was a little voice inside of me saying that if it is so important then someone from the internet broadcast team would be on my back reminding me or even ‘nudging’ (as in nagging) me to get back online. I was not proactive enough about overcoming the issues.

However, if a woman struggling for her life, takes the effort to thank me personally for my contribution to her Jewish experience, it makes me recognize, that I too, need to try a bit harder.

This story is a reminder for me that one needs to be proactive in their acts of giving and kindness, not just reactive.

It just ‘so happens’ that this is a poignant message that can be culled from this weeks Parsha.

This week’s Parsha opens up with the following narrative.

Avraham had his circumcision at the age of ninety-nine. G-d had made it swelteringly hot in his area so that no one would be walking in the streets. Thus Avraham, the indefatigable and legendary ‘hospitality man’ would not need to host anyone. After all, it takes a little while to recover from the operation that he went through. Hashem wanted to give him recovery time.

Avraham didn’t enjoy his enforced respite. He was unhappy. He wanted to host people. But there was no one in sight. So, he sat at the entrance of his tent and waited with anticipation. Perhaps someone will show up out there in the streets and be available to be a recipient of his hospitality.

When the Almighty saw Avraham’s burning desire to host, and the anguish that he felt by not having guests, He sent three angels in the guise of men. Avraham saw them and indeed prepared a lavish meal to host them.

This aspect of Avraham’s kindness is unique.

There are many people who are responsive to those who are in need.

When a poor person, or worthy institution turns to them and asks them for help, they contribute generously.

However, if they are not approached and solicited, they are happy to remain on the sidelines.

When there is a need they don’t run away. They are genuinely kind people. Yet, they are not actively searching for ways to activate their charitable muscle.

Avraham’s approach was twofold. Avraham was attentive and super-responsive to the needs of those around him.

Avraham was also constantly proactively searching for opportunities to be kind and help others. To the point that when he deserved to take some ‘time off’ to heal himself, the lack of ability to give caused him so much pain that Hashem provided miraculous angelic guests to be recipients of his kindness.

The message from Avraham our Patriarch’s behavior is inspiring and compelling.

The first thing is to make sure to respond to calls for help that reach you. React with benevolence and charitableness.

But don’t stop there. Don’t just be a responder to pleas that reach you.

Dig deeper into your heart and see how you can broaden and widen the circle of those whom you help. What else can you initiate that will be helpful to those in the world around you who can utilize your help.

Even if you must persevere and toil to find and implement those giving opportunities, don’t shy away from being proactive.

In our times of connectivity, the parameters of whom we can reach have broadened to being nearly limitless.

It used to be that you could only help people in your immediate proximity. Avraham only recourse to search for hospitality opportunities, was to sit at the entrance to his tent and scour the horizon for guests.

Today the world is open in a way that it never before was.

You can help people and causes from all four corners of the world.

If you search for ways to implement goodness and kindness, the opportunities are endless.

(It’s important to insert a word of caution that one also needs to focus and not be pulled in all directions. There are some clear limitations and guidelines to ensure how we channel our giving. The Torah teaches us that we need to focus on family first, then community and only then should we go more global)

The same thing goes for spiritual giving and sharing of inspiration.

Today one can spread Torah knowledge and inspiration to individuals from all walks of life, on all four corners of the globe. Jews who are wandering in the proverbial desert and desperately thirsty for the soothing waters of the word of G-d are able to be reached via the ubiquitous internet.

Thank you, Rabbi J., for sharing this with me.

Thank you, dear student, for making the great effort to record your words of thanks to my colleagues and I who broadcast on the Chabad.org page. May you be blessed with a miraculous recovery.

I have heard the message I need to hear.

Please G-d I am going to try harder, and overcome the ‘hiccups’ to get back on the ‘air’ with messages from the Torah for contemporary times. At least once a week please G-d. And yes, with a joyous melody to set the tone.

Look out for me on Sundays on Chabad.org Facebook page.

‘Start your week with Torah light and joy, delivered live from Bangkok’

And may G-d provide you with opportunities to ‘flex your giving muscle’.

Here is the first step I think one should take.

Don’t look at solicitations for help as being a ‘pain in the neck’.

Rather, view them as G-d gift to you.

Deep down, you really want to give. Its in your DNA. By having people ‘chase you’ for help, G-d is giving you the opportunity to actualize that potential.

It’s Hashem sending you a gift to encourage and enable you to merit the great mitzvah of helping others with tzedakah.

When you reframe people’s requests of you, as G-d giving you the gift of being able to give, (just like he did when he sent Avraham the angels), you will discover how uplifting and special it is to be solicited for tzedakah. The recipient will get the gift of receiving tzedakah with a smile. This is the highest and most noble form of giving.

And once you get ‘hooked on giving’, you will not suffice with those causes that chase you.

You will start to look out for opportunities to volunteer to help others.

It’s ‘addictive’ in the most positive and powerful way.

Not an addiction to something external to us. For as descendants and progeny of Avraham, giving tzedakah and helping others, is at the core of who we truly are.

Lechayim, may we always merit to be able to give!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Act First

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Sometimes you hear something that sounds so ridiculous that it sticks in your memory.

‘The only thing that I know I will do for the rest of my life, is check my Facebook account daily’.

Why do I think it is an unrealistic statement?

Well, for starters, who knows if Facebook will even be around for much longer. Will it still be popular in the future? Do you still remember how to operate a computer using DOS? Or a program called Lynx for browsing the web. Fax machines have come and gone. How many people still use ‘Hotmail’? I think you get my point.

But most importantly, regardless of whether that brand of technology will still be around or not, how could you propose to know how you will feel when you start ageing. Are you so sure that you will still care about what people are thinking about you? Would you really care as a wise elderly person, how many ‘likes’ you have on your FB page? Conversely, will you still be motivated to see what people are posting about themselves?

Maybe yes. But maybe no.

Let me change that statement slightly.

But radically.

‘I hope that the one thing I will do every day for the rest of my life, is put on Tefilin’

(except Shabbat and Chagim of course).

Or a slightly altered statement.

‘I hope that on every Friday for the rest of my life, I will kindle Shabbat candles’ .

You can ask the same question.

Will Tefillin be around forever?

And the same question I asked earlier. How do I know how I will feel about Tefilin as I age?

Same with Shabbat candles.

Will the practice continue to exist?

Well,  the New York Times thinks it will.

Rhona Lewis wrote an article about the meaning of lighting Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon before Shabbat comes in. I am sharing the following excerpt which I found fascinating:

Let us see to what extent candle-lighting has become associated with our nation.  On January 1, 2000, the New York Times ran a Millennium Edition. It was a special issue that featured three front pages. One had the news from January 1, 1900. The second was the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000. And then they had a third front page—projecting envisioned future events of January 1, 2100. This fictional page included things like a welcome to the fifty-first state: Cuba; a discussion as to whether robots should be allowed to vote; and so on. And in addition to the fascinating articles, there was one more thing. Down on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page was the candle-lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Reportedly, the production manager of the New York Times—an Irish Catholic—was asked about it. His answer was right on the mark. It speaks to the eternity of our people, and to the power of Jewish ritual. He said, “We don’t know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain—that in the year 2100 Jewish women will be lighting Shabbat candles.”

I can personally vouch for that story. By Divine Providence I met the marketing expert who had placed the Shabbat Candle lighting times for several years during the 1990’s. They were paid for by a Jewish philanthropist who was later unable to continue the expensive space on the front page of the NY Times. He had stopped paying for those lines by year 2000 but the NY Times included it in their millennial edition as the non-Jewish editor was quite sure that the Jewish people will continue to believe in G-d and His Torah and Mitzvot for eternity!

Can I be sure that doing Mitzvahs will be meaningful for me in the future?

I certainly hope so.

The greatest gift one can have in life is to be connected to G-d through observing his Mitzvot.

The reward of a Mitzvah is the actual connection formed by the fulfillment of the mitzvah. Click here for more on this.

But even if it is not meaningful to me.

As a Jew, I know that it truly doesn’t matter if these Mitzvahs will feel meaningful to me or not.

The main thing is that I physically observe them.

It wasn’t always that way.

You see, there are two ways to look at Jewish observance.

One is the bottom-up approach.

Here is how that process works.

First let me meditate and get inspired about connecting to G-d.

Then let me talk about it and discuss it with others.

Finally let me implement my inspiration by doing a deed that expresses my connection to G-d.

The other way is a top-down approach.

The breakdown goes as follows.

First let me do the action of the Mitzvah.

Let me then discuss and study about it.

And then let me meditate on it and make sure I connect deeply with its meaning and significance.

Close to four thousand years ago, Avraham, the first ‘Jew’, searched for G-d. He climbed the ladder in his quest for the truth.

Emerging from a society that was totally vested in the confusion and darkness of idolatry, he found G-d. He came to this realiztion by meditating on the logical imperative of the presence of a creator to this sophisticated and diverse universe. It couldn’t just have ‘happened’ he realized. There must be a Creator who designed it all.

From his meditation he moved to preaching to others about his newfound discovery.

After that, Hashem gave him the mitzvah and he did the action of circumcision.

With the formalization of the Jewish nation at Mount Sinai, Hashem gave instructions for the future of Judaism.

It was now going to be a reversal of Avraham’s journey.

Top-down.

First the deed.

Circumcision eight days after birth.

Then, fine tune your speech.

And follow that by aligning your mind and heart with your deeds and speech. Click here for more.

The Mitzvah action is most important. Understanding, inspiration and motivation can follow.

Therein lies the difference between those rituals that you do based on motivation and G-dly mandated Mitzvahs.

Checking your Facebook account is a result of a desire to connect socially. If you lose that desire, there is no reason or purpose to open your account.

Doing a Mitzvah deed is an instruction from the Almighty.

It makes absolutely no difference if you feel like it or you would rather snuggle inactive all day under your covers.

A Jewish boy becomes Bar Mitzvah and learns that he has joined a very special ‘club’. Something that please G-d he will do for the rest of his life. Hopefully he will ‘feel like it’ but even if not, never mind. When the sun rises, he knows that sometime before sunset he will be making every effort to lay Tefilin.

And the same notion applies to all of the other mitzvahs.

Take tzedakah for example.

Some causes make us feel motivated to be helpful.

A cute little child who needs food or medical attention. The heartstrings pull and the pocketbook opens naturally without much effort.

Sometimes, the person who is in need is irksome and irritating. He doesn’t engender and desire within us to help. Truthfully we would rather just walk away and ignore.

The Jewish way is to take action regardless of feeling.

It’s great to be in the mood to give. But what to do if you are not in the mood? It’s very simple. If objectively there is a need to help, then help should be given. Regardless of how you feel about it. If you are not sure, consult an unbiased third party to get an honest appraisal.

Doing without feeling seems a bit uninspiring.

Have no fear. Inspiration and elation will follow.

The G-dly (albeit counterintuitive) blessing in all this is, that once you do the action, Hashem makes sure that you get the inspiration. Usually right away, sometimes with a delay.

When in doubt?

When you are not motivated.

Don’t wait to get inspired.

Take the leap.

Do a Mitzvah.

The feeling will follow.

It always does.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

No Hangover

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Irrelevance.

When someone feels unneeded and irrelevant, it is tragic.

One of the most heartrending stories I heard this month came from the streets of Patong Beach in Phuket.

The rabbi was walking down the street with his lulav and etrog. Two young men called out in English ‘hi rabbi’. He went over to them. They didn’t ‘look’ particularly Jewish. But when they started speaking Yiddish they identified as having grown up in the Williamsburg Chasidic community. They had been raised in the Chassidic tradition and rejected that way of life. Now there were traveling through Thailand and partying. The Shliach asked them to make a blessing for Sukkot. It took a bit of coaxing, but they agreed. After making the blessings (in which they were proficient) they thanked the rabbi and asked him to explain the meaning behind the mitzvah.

The rabbi explained.

These four species are noticeably different from one another. The esrog has both a pleasant taste and a pleasant fragrance. The fruit of the tree from which the lulav is taken, the date, has a pleasant taste, but no fragrance. The myrtle has a pleasant fragrance but no taste, and the willow has neither fragrance nor pleasant taste.

Each of the four species represents a different type of individual. The esrog represents a person who studies Torah and fulfills the mitzvos, the lulav represents one who studies Torah but does not perform mitzvos, the myrtle represents one who fulfills mitzvos but does not study Torah, and the willow represents a Jew who neither studies Torah nor observes mitzvos.

The mitzvah of the lulav and esrog demonstrates how even the esrog, the species which symbolizes both the virtues of Torah study and observance of the mitzvos, cannot be used for the mitzvah on Sukkos unless it is taken in hand and held together with the humble willow. By the same token, no matter how much we develop ourselves as individuals, we cannot reach our true potential without the help of others. The unity of our people is an indispensable ingredient in the growth and progress of every individual.

The young men were incredulous. They said, ‘we have never heard anything like this before’.

In our community, we grew up feeling that there is no room for a Jew who is a ‘willow’. We, rebellious youth, who have neither Torah study nor Mitzvah observance – willows -, feel totally unneeded by our community. To hear this message emanating from the lulav and etrog is inspirational’.

I cry inwardly when I retell this story.

How tragic that these young people never got to feel how needed and relevant they truly are to the community at large. Notwithstanding their level of Torah knowledge or depth of commitment to Mitzvah observance.

Why people feel the way that they feel is not always to be blamed on the parents and upbringing. Different personalities absorb and reframe things in various ways.

It is quite natural for parents to have expectations of kids.

Most kids take it the right way.

I am sure these too rambunctious young men have many siblings who are excitedly continuing in the traditional path of their parents.

But some children clearly don’t see it in the way it was intended by their (for the most part) well-intentioned parents.

And we need to be sensitive to this and validate it. For it is real. Not to be waved away or belittled. Rather we need to try and guide our youth to hear the narrative of hope and empowerment that Judaism provides us with.

Let us take a stroll through the early stories of the Torah.

(I am going to use some poetic license and superimpose contemporary psychological issues into the eternal teachings of the Torah. If it serves to move us to an enhanced relationship with the Almighty and his Torah and Mitzvah’s it is allowed).

Adam was created as the only human on earth.

G-d communicated with him directly. Told him the ‘house rules’.

The weight of the world rested on his shoulders.

No one to blame. No crowd to hide in. Not even one other person to share with.

A very short time later he was to be joined by his wife Chava (Eve).

Life seemed like it would be blissful.

And it was. Till shortly afterwards they jointly erred.

The aftershocks are still shaking our world.

Adam tries to blame Chava. Chava tries to blame the snake.

Hashem adjusts the world to be a world that is not paradise. The world becomes a place where mistakes are made. The Divinely provided way forward is to own up to your malfunction and change your errant way. Teshuva. It is a world where things are broken. Humankind is charged with trying their very best to fix it.

The birth of children to Adam and Chava and proliferation of man on earth lead to its own set of challenges.

Eventually, some 1565 years into the world’s history, as humankind degenerated into atrociously evil behavior, Hashem said, ‘enough is enough’ and brought the Flood to wipe out the worlds inhabitants, humans and animals. Only eight humans were to be saved. Noach, Mrs. Noach, their three sons and daughters-in-law rode out the fatal Flood in a specially constructed Ark. Together with representatives of all animal, fowl and reptile species (the fish were fine staying in the flood waters) the future of the world was all contained in that one ark.

Then it was time to emerge from the ark.

Noach planted a vineyard.

He made wine. Got drunk. It was an unpleasant event.

I want to meditate on what we can learn from this.

Let’s pretend we are therapists in the year 2022.

A young handsome adult comes strutting in full of self-confidence.

Self-esteem galore.

Feeling super relevant. As if the world is not worth being created without him there.

Except that he seems a drop to sure of himself. Upon listening more closely, we hear him saying ‘I am the epicenter of the universe and therefore I am entitled to anything I want’. It is not just self-esteem that he has, which would keep him serious and grounded with a sense of responsibility, rather it has degenerated into unproductive pride.

When confronted with doing something wrong, he defends himself by using the blame mechanism. He says, ‘I did something wrong only because I am a victim of someone else’s negative influence’. Parents, school, peers or any of the other myriad things that he chooses to blame.

Following him comes another client. A different kind of young adult. Not brimming with confidence but on the contrary, he comes in dragging his feet, clearly unmotivated. He seems overwhelmed. His complaint is that since he was a little kid, he has always felt that here are unreasonable expectations placed upon him. He felt that if he didn’t live up to the dreams that his parents had for him, he wouldn’t be accepted or loved. He doesn’t want to be the center of the universe. He just wants to just be ‘one of the boys’ and not have this great responsibility placed on his shoulder.

He prefers the oblivion of quasi-irrelevance.

Meet Adam and Noach.

Adam knew that he was the center of the world. The mission of humanity rested firmly on him. He was okay with that. It’s just that he was a bit too sure of himself and therein lay the potential for his downfall.

Noach, on the other hand had come from a world where people looked at him as an irrelevant old man. Serving a G-d that no one else had time for. Counterintuitively, it seemed that Noach was fine with that position. It was once the world was destroyed, leaving only him, that he felt the crushing burden of having the full responsibility of the world on him. And that seemed overwhelming.

He looked for some respite. Something to take his mind off the huge responsibility. His ‘drug of choice’ upon exiting the ark was alcohol.

I know I am oversimplifying. There is a point I want to make. Regarding ourselves. Our kids.

Do we want our kids to feel relevant to the point of feeling supremely entitled?

Or do we want them to feel how much is expected of them to the point of being overwhelmed?

Of course, we should search for the perfect balance.

Mr. Therapist, what do you say?

How shall I try to raise my child with balance.

With healthy self-esteem that doesn’t cross the border into entitlement.

How do I empower my child to recognize that the world needs his gift, without making the task seem overwhelming and risking

If I was the therapist I would say.

Meet Avraham who is born at the end of this week’s parsha of Noach.

A child born into challenging circumstances.

His father was an idol merchant.

He had every reason to blame his upbringing and to feel like a victim. The set of circumstances he was born to doomed him to a life of dedication to false g-d’s.

But Avraham doesn’t hang around and say ‘pity me’. From the tender age of three, he searches for the truth. After discovering the truth of the Almighty he focuses not on himself and how he feels, rather he says ‘here I am and ready’ to do your bidding G-d.

G-d takes him up on his offer and gives him ten challenges to prove his faith.

His reaction is instructive to us all.

If in his youth, Avraham teaches us not act like ‘victims’ as Avraham doesn’t run away or try to blame someone else, in this next stage when he is challenged, he teaches us how to rise to that occasion. He doesn’t cry that he is overwhelmed and being asked to do too much. He doesn’t look for a way to oblivion, rather he follows G-d’s instruction to ‘Lecha Leacha’ ‘Go’, ‘Journey’ to the land that I will show you.

He says to G-d, ‘here I am and ready’ to do what is needed.

Avraham becomes the first ‘Jew’.

Here is an important concept to absorb.

Judaism is not a religion of ‘feelings’.

Judaism is an authentic acceptance and undertaking to do what G-d has instructed.

It’s not easy.

I think we all have challenging days.

Although many think that rabbi’s never have challenging days... some days I wake up and consider surrendering to the path of feeling like a victim of circumstance. If only this and that were different….

Other days I am tempted to feel like I don’t want this huge responsibility of ‘doing the right thing’. Hey, let me get ‘distracted’ and have someone else be the ‘responsible adult’.

And then I remember (or I am reminded, thank G-d I am married 😊 ) that I have the great blessing of being a student and emissary of the modern day Avraham, the Rebbe.

There was no greater embodiment of a balanced and wholesome approach to life than the Rebbe.

Click here for a collection of the Rebbe’s letters entitled Healthy in Body Mind and Spirit.

 Torah is a true guide for life—“the Torah of truth, the Torah of life”—the Rebbe pleaded with parents, educators and legislators to  G‑d within themselves, and therefore possess the ability to overcome obstacles in their path and fulfill their Divine purpose.

“When I read the Rebbe’s letters to people on this topic, I’m struck with how much the Rebbe believed in the person he was talking to,” said Rabbi Yanky Raskin, LMSW, a local rabbi and school therapist in the Crown Heights neighborhood of Brooklyn, N.Y. “You can see how much the Rebbe had a deep-seated respect for his addressees, talking to them with the rapport of a trusted friend who really knows and believes that you can be the best version of yourself.

“So while to some, it may seem that at times the Rebbe sets the bar very high and demands quite a bit, it’s really a reflection of how much the Rebbe insisted that one is never a victim of their circumstances and truly possesses the inner fortitude to realize their greatest potential. Of course, it may be a process to get there, and perhaps one will need to marshal additional resources to climb up to that bar, but in the Rebbe’s view, it is eminently possible.”

For me there are some quick meditations that help keep me on track.

When faced with a feeling of being overwhelmed I remind myself of the Rebbe’s handwritten ‘one liner’.

Taking action, even a small action, is better than going to sleep. Certainly better than falling into the distraction of a deep slumber.

And I get up and try to make one move in the right direction.

Another cornerstone of my life is what the Rebbe oft repeated that the ‘way you set things up from below’ is the way you will be treated from above. Quoting from the Zohar that if you act happy down here, Hashem will reciprocate your happiness from above. When things aren’t working out, don’t be predictably gloomy. Try to force yourself into being happy.

It works.

I am eternally grateful that G-d bestows upon me undeserved kindness, and shows me miracles, large and small, every single time I make even a small move in the right direction.

My dear friends, this is my actionable item.

I know we are all different.

And I know that some people have challenges that seem insurmountable.

I feel humble before so many who confide in me, who have been placed on a journey that is excruciatingly difficult.

They are giants.

With humility I share the following.

In whatever predicament we may be.

We have two choices. To surrender to the inactivity that too often results from feeling overwhelmed.

Or, let us try not to focus exclusively on how we feel.

Rather let us focus on the one question that really counts.

What does G-d want of me now.

What action can I take now, do further that mission.

And let’s try to do that.

One item.

One mitzvah. One step in the right direction. One positive thought that will push aside the other non-positive thoughts.

And here is the best news.

Ultimately doing the right thing will make you feel better about yourself, far better than you will feel with any indulgence.

Oh, and it won’t bring a hangover with it.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

new beginnings

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

On Simchat Torah – just three days ago, the final portion of the Torah was read in Synagogues around the world. Tomorrow, we begin to read the Torah again from the very beginning.

Thus, this Shabbat is called Shabbat Bereshit – the Shabbat that we begin to read the portion of Bereshit.

Beginning the Torah again, brings with it the wonderful experience of relearning the same material that you have read last year, but seeing it with added depth.

A sixth-grade teacher was once sharing how much they loved their job. Someone asked him incredulously, ‘how do you teach the same Talmudic tractate to your sixth graders year after year, don’t you get bored?’

To which the teacher answered ‘I don’t teach the Talmud, I teach the students. The students change every year’.

True, we are reading the same words and the same stories. But WE are not the same.

Every day we grow in our knowledge and maturity and when we come to the same verses from the perspective of our accumulated knowledge and experience, we now have a deeper and even newfound appreciation and depth of understanding of the text.

The Torah being the ‘wisdom of G-d’ is unlimited in its depth and content, on can constantly delve into it and reach new vistas of understanding.

Amazingly, notwithstanding the fact that the words of the Torah are more than three thousand years old, we constantly find contemporary messages of G-dly inspiration and direction in those hallowed words.

The Torah is as relevant to us today as it was when it was given. And it is a great joy to start again.

And with the start of the Torah comes the opportunity to make a ‘clean start’ to our year.

Thus the Rebbe would oft repeat that on the Shabbat of Bereshit – the first Shabbat of the year – there are special opportunities available to us and that the way you ‘start things off’, that’s the way things will go for the duration of the year.

That would be a very good reason to take extra effort in doing things as properly as possible this Shabbat.

Now is also the best time to jump onto the bandwagon and start learning the weekly Torah portion – the Parshat Hashavua.

Besides for enhancing your own Torah knowledge by embarking on this study, you will be joining hundreds of thousands of other Jews who are all focusing and studying on the same subject at the very same time.

Essentially you will be uniting with the entire Jewish people via this study. Of course that would be a great thing to do especially in this special year of “ Hakhel ”.

With blessings for a great ‘beginning’ this Shabbat,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS here is something new that I learned this year about the Cain & Abel story .

Now it came to pass at the end of days, that Cain brought of the fruit of the soil an offering to the Lord.

And Abel he too brought of the firstborn of his flocks and of their fattest, and the Lord turned to Abel and to his offering.

But to Cain and to his offering He did not turn, and it annoyed Cain exceedingly, and his countenance fell.

Two brothers, each of them brought an offering to G-d. To one, G-d turned. To the other G-d ignored.

What was going on here. And what can we learn from it?

According to the Midrash, Cain brought flax seeds as his offering. It was the finest species of vegetation as per the norms of that time. It was considered a superior species. However, he brought flax seeds of inferior quality.

Abel, brought animals as a sacrifice. Actually, he didn’t bring the most impressive animal sacrifice possible. He brought sheep. Not cattle, which would have been a more superior species.

However, Abel brought the fattest of his flocks.

To sum it up:

Cain brought the best species but brought inferior quality within that species.

Abel didn’t bring the biggest kind of animals. He brough sheep not cattle. But he did bring the choice sheep of his flocks.

What was the result?

G-d turned to Abel’s sacrifice.

And rejected Cain’s.

The lesson is foundational.

It’s not about bringing the most superior species.

You may not even be in possession of the superior species.

But that is fine. Because G-d doesn’t expect you to bring what you don’t have.

We need to bring to G-d, the best of what we DO have.

It’s an important lesson to remember.

From both angles.

First of all, it removes the angst of comparing your gift to G-d with someone else’s.

And secondly, it reminds us to put forth the effort to give the best of what we have to G-d.

Why is it so important that the choicest portion go to G-d?

Think about this analogy.

You bring a guest to stay in your home. There is a guest suite and a master bedroom.

Where do you host your guest?

Most probably in your guest suite.

The master bedroom is nicer, but that is for the ‘master’. You as the owner ‘deserve’ the sleep in the master bedroom.

By allocating the ‘first’ and ‘choicest’ to G-d, you are reminding yourself that the world and all that is therein, is really HIS. He is the master. You are the guest.

Once you have proclaimed that all is His by dedicating the ‘first’ to Him, you can partake of His world with His blessing and permission.

So next time you give something to G-d, give your best.

Click here for a more in-depth rendition of the above lessons.

Mazel Tov for our starting of the new cycle of Torah reading!

חג שמח From Bangkok!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

This is the special time of the year – the festival of Sukkot - when the Torah instructs us to be joyful and happy.

To be precise, the Torah mentions the mitzvah of having joy on Sukkot three times.

The ways we fulfil this instruction is firstly by doing things that make us happy. Like eating fine food and drinking wine. Buying new clothing and jewelry. Or, in the case of children, by giving them extra treats and sweets.

This is the place to give a shout out about the grand Simchat Torah celebration on this coming Monday night. There will be treats, sweets, fine food and plentiful ‘l’chayim’ and most importantly, joyous camaraderie with fellow Jews.

As humans, the best way for us to be truly and thoroughly joyous is by understanding the reasons behind the joy.

The simple reason for this joy is based on the agricultural cycle of the year. At the time of Passover (beginning of spring) the produce is still in the process of growing. Nothing to rejoice about yet, as it is not yet certain that the yield will be successful. Seven weeks later at the time of Shavuot it is being harvested. Still, this is not the time to sit back and rejoice as the crops need to be dried in the fields and only them brought to the storage holders. During the subsequent summer months, the grain is gathered and placed into the granaries for storage.

Only at Sukkot time, once the summer has passed and the produce is safe and sound in the storage bins,  just before the rains of the winter, can one truly rejoice and give thanks to G-d for his bounty.

Living in Thailand, I am familiar with the way the gem industry works.

There are various stages one must pass through before being sure that one has turned a profit. First you must buy the stone at a favorable price otherwise you won’t be able to sell it for a profit. Then you need to find a buyer who agrees to your sale price.

However, even once it’s sold, the industry standard is to pay with a check dated ninety days later. Only once the check has cleared the bank do you know that your profit has been made.

It is only, then that you can rejoice and be sure of your profit.

The Chag of Sukkot is equivalent to the check being cleared and your profit is safely in your account in the bank.

Now, that is something to be joyous about.

But there is something much deeper going on as well.

The festival of Sukkot comes after the forgiveness of Yom Kippur.

When you have a relationship with someone, and everything is going well, you are happy. But there is always a nagging thought in the back of your mind. How long can the ‘good times’ last in this relationship? What will happen if I mess up and say something out of line. Or even worse, what would happen if I did something offensive to my partner.

If you hit an actual snag in the relationship and your partner is angry at you, it is very painful.

However, if you are able to smooth out the differences between the two of you and work things out, this leads to a feeling of true joy and happiness.

If you have ever been in a fight with a loved one and then you managed to make peace, you will know exactly what I mean. There is a deep joy and relief when you realize that you can overcome hiccups in your relationship and recreate the original love.

Yom Kippur is the day that the Almighty forgives us.

Notwithstanding the fact that we have violated our relationship with Hashem, Hashem has forgiven us and restored His love to us.

Sukkot follow four days after that.

It is the celebration of the resumption of our loving relationship with Hashem even after we had become distanced from Him through our errant behavior.

The culmination of that joy, the climax of the celebration of our deep existential relationship with Hashem, is on Simchas Torah.

This is the case every year. Sukkot and Simchat Torah are one of the happiest days in our calendars.

This year is not a regular year.

It is the year of Hakhel. The year of gathering.

Every seven years, after the shemitah year, the King gathered the entire Jewish people and read from the Torah. This deeply inspiring assembly impacted all those who were there, to draw nearer to G-d and be more dedicated to fulfilling His mitzvahs.

This year, on Simchas Torah when we come together and unite in the rejoicing with the Torah we are also reenacting the Hakhel ritual of the Torah being read by the king and the community recommitting to the absolute adherence to the Torah that they undertook at the foot of the mountain of Sinai.

You ask what does his have to do with you?

The king had an obligation to gather the people and inspire them. But I am not a king, you rightfully point out?

But perhaps you are more of a ‘king’ than you realize.

Do you have a group of people or are you a participant in any activity in which you are the leader?

If you are a parent, you are a ruler of sorts to your child.

If you are a teacher, you reign over your classroom.

If you hire workers you are a boss to your employees.

I think you get my point. Every person has an area in which he or she is a leader of sorts. You may not immediately associate being the head of your family, the director of your company or the teacher of your classroom with the word ‘king’ but there is no question that in the eyes of your subordinates your word carries weight far greater than that of a mere peer.

Let me use the example of a parent to his child. In a parent child relationship, the parent is like a king and the child is his or her subject. The effect of the words and beliefs of the parent make an indelible impression on the child.

A while back, I met a young man who was telling me that while he was not very observant, he certainly did believe in G-d. He told me that he believed in G-d because his father had told him that he believed in G-d.

His father had also shared that he had not always believed in G-d himself until he had a miraculous incident.

He had undertaken to say Kadish for his father and one summer Sunday afternoon realized that he was not going to make it back from the beach in Long Island before sunset to his usual congregation for the afternoon service. In desperation, he pulled off the highway and turned into a gas station to as for directions to the nearest Synagogue. As he turned into the Synagogue just as the sun was setting, he met someone outside who was looking for a tenth man for the afternoon service.

‘That Divine Providence allowed me to truly believe in G-d’ he said to his son. The son has now incorporated that same belief into his own set of values. Today, as a grown man, successful in his field, he believes in G-d because his father had told him so when he was little.

For sure, he has studied and deepened his knowledge and understanding of belief in G-d but unquestionably the most important roots were planted by his father many years ago.

Our children look up to us as role models or at very least as ‘big bosses’ and are extremely impressionable and dependent on our guidance which then becomes their default position. And it works that way with morality as well. In all areas, we have huge influence on our children.

Hakhel empowers us to use our ‘kingship’ positions to inspire our ‘subjects’ to be more connected to G-d and to continue to move forward in the right direction.

So while we may not have a rebuilt temple yet, and we may not have an actual Jewish king, we do have a mission to make our own environments into a place that G-d resides – a mini Temple.

And we are all rulers and ‘kings’ of sorts within our own environments.

This means that we can reenact this ‘Hakhel’ gathering idea in our own way with our own circle of people with whom we have contact and upon whom we bear some influence.

The agenda? Just like the Hakhel of yore. To gather Jews together – enjoy each other’s company, maybe even eat or socialize – but always bearing in mind the end goal of this gathering is about generating more awareness and sensitivity to G-d and His commandments, thus generating a superior moral environment in our families, in our communities and in the entire world.

You may be thinking, I’m not a rabbi or a community leader. Why are you asking me to gather fellow Jews and inspire more connection to G-d and our heritage?

Well, you don’t have to be a rabbi or ‘official’ to do this kind of work, on the contrary, if you look like ‘one of the guys’ your invitation to get together at a Jewish event, may meet with even more success.

The Rebbe taught that during the year of Hakhel there are extraordinary opportunities for getting Jews together. In other words, there are G-dly cosmic energies that enable achievements in the field of gathering Jews together that in other years may not be so easily accessible to us. To read more about this wonderful year click here.

My suggestion to you is, try it! You will see that it will work. Think of a way to get your circle of friends together, keep in mind the overarching goal of heightened spirituality and morality that this gathering should engender, and you will see inspiring results.

Feel free to reach out to me if I can be of assistance in advising regarding your gatherings or even addressing your gathering.

May this year be the year that we merit to have the ‘ingathering of exiles’ the greatest Jewish gathering of all times, Amen.

With blessings of Chag Sameach and Shabbat Shalom and may you and your loved ones be provided with everything good and sweet in this new year.

Chag Sameach!

Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.