Printed fromJewishThailand.com
ב"ה

"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

missed flight

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Last week I shared an incredulous story of Divine Providence where a young mans life was saved in three miraculous ways.

Where can I go from that?

Something more stupendous?

Counterintuitively, I want to tell a story of Divine Providence at the opposite spectrum, in the most mundane details of life.

You see, many see the hand of G-d in the big items of life. I recall a person who missed the Silk Air flight that crashed in 1997.

I dug up the letter I wrote back then to the person who miraculously was saved.

December 1997

Dear G,

I thank you so much for sharing with me the story of your personal miracle last week in which you missed the ill-fated flight on Silk Air (because of being stuck in the traffic) and thereby saved your life. THANK G-D.

As we discussed briefly no one walks away from such an experience unchanged and certainly being presented by G-d with a special gift of life begs at least a revaluation.

While giving charity is certainly appropriate at this time, I think that this is not yet sufficient to put the feelings of gratitude into their proper perspective. My humble suggestion is that you add in some of G-d’s commandments as in the Shabbat (the night the event occurred) first of all to try avoiding travelling on the Shabbat at all costs (certainly not by plane) and to light candles (before the Shabbat comes in – Friday before sunset) and make Kidush. I also suggested the putting on of Tefillin (if not every morning, then) at least once a week and preferably on a day when the kids are home and can see you doing this (i.e. Sunday).

While this may seem somewhat difficult at first I am sure you will agree that the tremendous tragedy that was averted deserves some kind of focus on the “real things of life” those that don’t get affected by currency devaluation's recessions  etc. the doing of good deeds - Mitzvot

I hope you accept this letter in the good spirit it was written as a friend who is genuinely happy for you all and wishes for your physical and spiritual well-being. May we merit speedily the coming of Mashiach when disasters will be a thing of the past, Amen.

Sincerely,

 

YK

 

Ever since that event, when someone tells me that they missed a flight, I ask them the rhetorical question ‘if you were to hear that the flight had an accident, would you still be upset that you missed your flight?

After they say ‘no, of course not. If I knew there would be trouble with the plane, I would be happy that I missed the flight’. I then continue ‘so please have mercy and pity on the other passengers who did make it on the flight and pray that they arrive at their destination safely, and still be happy that you missed the flight’.

The really ‘big moments’ of life are few and far between. Many people are open to seeing the Divine input in those seminal events.

It is the daily ‘grind’ and ‘routine’ of life in which we would do well to infuse and inject with meaning.

Finding Divine Providence in the mundane and ordinary is transformational. It is a recipe for injecting meaning and joy into every aspect of our daily lives.

This week I had a wonderful Divine Providence that involved something as mundane as the timing of hearing a joke.

Yep, you heard it, a joke. A good friend in our local community supplies me with (kosher) jokes and on Monday morning just as I was preparing to give a short class via Zoom, a new joke came to my inbox. One of them grabbed my attention and in honor of the month of Adar in which we are instructed to be joyous, I decided to open my class with this joke. Albeit feeling a little bit strange to start a Torah class with an unrelated joke, cute as it may be.

Here is the joke I shared.

Sarah was recently married and called her mother one evening in tears. "Mom, I tried to make Bubbie’s brisket for dinner tonight, and it's just awful! I followed the recipe exactly, and I know I have the recipe right because it's the one you gave me. But it just didn't come out right, and I'm so upset. I wanted this to be so special for Chaim because he loves brisket. What could have gone wrong?"

Sarah’s mother replied soothingly, "Well, Sarah, let's go through the recipe. You read it out loud and tell me exactly what you did at each step, and together we'll figure it out."

"OK," Sarah sniffled. "Well, it starts out, 'Take two dollars’ worth of brisket' ..."

(In the grandmother’s era, two dollars of brisket was a sizeable chunk, today it is a thimbleful if even that).

As I was telling the joke, wondering why I had this urge to share this joke at this class, I realized that it was perfectly aligned with the lesson I was giving (a repetition of the post shacharit daily Chumash class at Synagogue which I had given just moments earlier).

The topic of the lesson was the diminishment of prophecy and ‘holy spirit’ (ruach hakodesh) after the first Bet Hamikdash times.

The Parsha relates as follows (Kehot interpolated translation)

Into the  fold of the Breastplate of Judgment you shall place  a parchment inscribed with God’s Name. This parchment shall be known as ‘the urim and tumim,’  since it makes the Breastplate into a shining [or ] and precise [ tamim ] oracle: it will cause the letters of the tribal names inscribed on the stones set in the Breastplate to light up in sequence, spelling out the answer to questions of national importance posed by the king or leader. Placed inside the fold of the Breastplate, the urim  and tumim shall be over Aaron’s heart whenever he comes before God , i.e.,into the Sanctuary.  Thus attired, Aaron shall carry the instrument of judgment for the Israelites over his heart at all times  he enters the Sanctuary and stands before God.  The Breastplate serves as an oracle only by virtue of the urim  and tumim . Nonetheless, they are not an integral component of the Breastplate; if they are missing, the high priest is still considered fully and properly attired despite the fact that the Breastplate cannot function as an oracle.

Click here for more on this topic.

In talking about the diminishment of the levels of holiness as the world gets spiritually darker the joke about the diminishing value of money fits right in.

This theme of increasing darkness is mentioned in the Talmud Sota 49a ‘Rava says, each and every day is more cursed than the previous one’.

On the surface it sounds very negative.

The Torah is a book of ‘life’ and ‘light’, Why would the Talmud, a book of the Torah, proclaim something that seems so bleak?

The Rebbe explained this as being a call to action. Not G-d forbid a just ‘for your information’ morbid statement of fact. When there is a purpose in sharing ‘bad news’ to do something practical to rectify it, then the ‘kid gloves are taken off’ and the facts, as unpleasant as they may seem, are shared in the clearest way possible.

There is a tendency for us humans to be comfortable in a particular zone and with a particular level of energy output. Comes the Talmud and tells us in vivid language that our energetic efforts of doing goodness and kindness and shedding light that were enough for yesterday, are no longer enough for today.

The world today is darker than yesterday.

And since the world is getting even darker, the efforts of today will not suffice to brighten the world tomorrow.

We can not rest. We need to constantly advance, even if just to keep the status quo.

When trying to climb up an escalator going the wrong way, energy is needed merely not to fall lower.

This is an urgent call to action. A wake-up call for those who may be tempted to slumber or stagnate or just coast along on ‘cruise control’.

Forward march.

Upward climb.

More good deeds.

More Torah.

More shining altruistic behaviors.

No, we cannot just look at what worked in the past and continue the status quo saying all the while that ‘I am doing enough already’.

The Talmud gives us the clarity to know that today the world is more challenging and requires more positive input than ever before.

Two dollars’ worth of brisket was a small meal in the earlier parts of the 1900’s. In the 2000’s it is hardly a smidgen.

The Talmud tells us that in the spiritual world too, there is a decline. We need to do better to get the same results.

And we are blessed by modernity with all its amenities to have more time at our disposal.

) The huge entertainment industries of Hollywood and it’s like are testimony to the ‘disposable’ time available to a large swath of the population).

We also have more access to knowledge and information.

This means that we are able to do deepen our knowledge, and dedicate more time to do much more good activity and thus light up the world with G-d’s light of deeds of goodness and kindness – mitzvot.

Prayers for our brethren all over the world and especially for security and peace in Israel, for the safe return of the hostages, healing of the wounded and for the safety of our soldiers and most importantly for Mashiach to come and usher in Shalom speedily in our days.

With blessings for a joyous and happy ‘Purim Katan’ - ‘minor’ Purim.

Today would be Purim if not for the extra month of the Jewish leap year this year. click here for more info.

Save the date for ‘major’ Purim on Saturday night/Sunday March 23/24.

Shabbat Shalom with much joy.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

incredulous Divine Providence

In this week’s parsha the reason for our creation is spelled out. G-d’s mission statement for us.

‘Make for me a ‘Mikdash’ sanctuary and I will dwell in them (in the people)’.

G-d wants us to create a space for Him in this physical world.

The ultimate fulfillment of Hashem’s plan is that Hashem seeks to ‘reside within us’.

When our minds are acutely aware of Him. When our hearts are filled with longing and reverence for Him. And most importantly when our deeds align symmetrically with His wishes. All of this invites the presence of G-d to reside here on earth, the fulfillment of His ‘desire’.

This week I received an email that expressed the way Hashem dwells in the heart of the young Jew who wrote to me.

It started off as a simple email.

A young man who lives part time in Israel and part time in Thailand who wanted to say hi to me and to thank me and tell me how meaningful our connection is.

‘I was a typical Israeli living in Thailand, without awareness about Hashem and His Torah’.

‘A family member pressured me to go to Synagogue for Yom Kippur. I joined your services at Beth Elisheva and was inspired and uplifted. Your passionate explanations of the prayers touched me deeply in my heart. Particularly, the high-spirited singing and dancing at the climax of Yom Kippur just at the end of Neilah elated me.

It was on that Yom Kippur that I connected to Hashem, to my Jewish soul and started becoming more Torah & Mitzva observant’.

Then the email took a leap upwards to a different dimension and filled my heart and mind with thanksgiving to Hashem for the incredulous Divine Providence that was shared with me.

Here is the story that he told me.

‘The inspiration of Yom Kippur eight years ago gradually caused changes in my life. A year ago, I began to keep Shabbat, wear a kipah, tzitzit, keep kosher etc.,

During the year prior to this commitment, out of nowhere, I would find myself humming the song ‘for I keep the Shabbat, Hashem will guard me’.

It was as if an inner voice was telling me ‘You are aware of your relationship with Hashem for seven years now, you have no excuses for continuing to live in a secular way without the sanctity of Shabbat’.

I had this deep and urgent feeling that my life is now dependent on keeping Shabbat.

On October 7th of this year, the truth of that inner voice was validated.

I grew up in ‘Otef Aza’ the ‘Gaza envelope’ and my parents and family still live there.

Hashem wanted to show me his kindness and truth and I was there in ‘Otef Aza’ on October 7th.

Here is where the chain of three and a half miracles begins to unfold. There is no other way to explain what happened to me other than an display of ‘Divine Providence’ in full view.

The first ‘half miracle’ is that I wasn’t at ‘THE party’. All my friends were there. Many are tragically no longer with us. If I had not yet changed my lifestyle to one of Torah observance, I would have very likely have been there with them.

The other threesome of miracles are as follows:

Because I didn’t grow up Mitzvah observant, I know that there are many details that I am not aware of. Every Friday morning I study some laws of Shabbat observance and thus I steadily advance in my knowledge and implementation.

On Friday morning October 6th, I studied the laws of Shabbat. By ‘coincidence’ the laws I studied were about the limitation of how far one may walk outside of the city limits on Shabbat.

In the moshav that I grew up in, there is no minyan. Once I started observing Shabbat, I would walk 8 kilometers to the nearby moshav that does have a Synagogue and minyan. After seeing the law that prohibits walking more than (approx) 1 km outside the city, I resolved that I would sleep over in a moshav with a minyan rather than walk to synagogue from my home on Shabbat morning which is prohibited due do the distance.

I asked a childhood friend in a moshav that has a Synagogue if I could stay with him. He said yes. I packed up my shabbat hotplate, kosher food, and anything else I would need for Shabbat and drove over to my friend. On the way my friend called me and apologized. From the tone of his voice I understood that he had a girlfriend coming over for the weekend and it wouldn’t be convenient to have me there as well. Although I always provide him with hospitality when he visits Thailand, I overcame my disappointment and cheerfully told him that he should enjoy his weekend and I would easily find another place.

I then pulled over at the side of the road and searched the internet for ‘tzimmerim’ (literally ‘rooms’ for rent) in moshavim that have a Synagogue. I located a motel in Kibbutz Beeri, but they didn’t answer their phones, perhaps it was too late in the afternoon.

I finally found a motel in a different moshav with a synagogue and went there to settle in. I called a friend I know in that moshav and he picked me up to take me to his home for coffee. After we finished our chat he took me back to my motel. A short while later I realized that I had left the keys to my car at my friend’s home. I called him and he said he would bring them right over. Looking at the time, I realized that my friend had no time to bring me the keys and arrive back home before Shabbat. My friend said, ‘I don’t keep shabbat so there is no problem for me to come over’. I explained to my friend that I could not take a favor from him if he was going to violate Shabbat on my behalf. My friend suggested that he would bring the keys to me by foot at the Synagogue that evening. I explained to him that this too wouldn’t fit the laws of Shabbat. He told me ‘You have gone crazy’ and burst out laughing, I laughed together with him and that is how we ended our phone call, laughing hysterically.

At 6:30 am on October 7th I was in the motel and heard the barrage of missiles flying over the area on the way to central Israel. As someone who grew up in Otef Aza, I knew that this was a very unusual barrage of rockets, quite unlike the ‘usual’ ones. I left my motel to go outside, thinking of climbing up on the roof to see what is happening. The former leader of the commandos lives across the street from the motel, and he too came out of his house at that same time. I know him from my childhood. I asked him what is going on. The commander told me that he suspects there is going to be a massive incursion of terrorists from the Gaza border. He did not yet know that the main roads of the region had already been captured by the terrorists.

At that moment I thought to myself, if there will be a terrorist attack on the villages in this region, it is a true case of ‘pickuach nefesh’ danger to life which pushes aside the prohibitions of Shabbat, and I had best be near my parents to protect them.

I realized that my keys were not with me. I couldn’t go to my parents. The biggest contribution I could give to my people right now was to join the ‘security response team’ of the moshav I was in, which I did.

Here are the three open miracles that saved my life.

If I would not have discovered the laws of Shabbat prohibiting walking more than a kilometer outside my village, I would have been walking along the roads at 6:30 am, and would have met the terrorist filled pick-up trucks as they made their murderous way through the area.

My friend in the moshav I wanted to stay in, heard about the incursion into his moshav in the early hours of the morning. He and his girlfriend jumped into their car and tried to escape. They were shot at. My friend escaped miraculously unscathed, while his friend was shot and critically wounded. I shudder when I think that I would have likely been in the passenger seat if I would have been there with him.

I wanted to go to my parents but didn’t have my keys. What we didn’t know at that time was that the roads were being manned by the terrorists. People who tried to drive from place to place were shot at and killed. This would have happened to me if I had tried to get to my parents.

The note now moves into a reflective tone.

‘When I hummed to myself for a year before starting to keep Shabbat ‘when I keep Shabbat, Hashem protects me’ I had a deep feeling that for me this would not just be a song, but it was a message that I must take seriously.

Thank you Almighty G-d the Creator of the world.

And thank you rabbi for being one of the messengers of Hashem in my journey that saved my physical life and spiritual life.

I share this story with you to express my loving gratitude to you… and share with you how unbeknownst to you, through your passionate leading of prayers and teaching Torah you are sometimes saving souls not just spiritually, but even physically….’

Dear Friend, I felt compelled to share this inspiring story of Divine Providence exactly as it was shared with me by the person who experienced it firsthand.

During the current month of Adar, we are instructed to increase in joy.

It takes effort, especially during this very trying times, to focus on the rays of light and of goodness and to fill our consciousness with positivity, joy and optimism.

May Hashem bring an abundance of light and joy to the world.

May Hashem bless and protect our soldiers, bring home our hostages, heal our wounded, and bless Israel and the world with secure and stable peace.

We want Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

A joyous Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Tomer must be in his early thirties. Long braids of hair piled up in layers on the top of his head. A few years ago, after packing up his trade school in central Israel he deposited the tools and workbenches in his parents’ home at Kibutz Re’im and headed off to backpack in South America.

He was homesick and arrived home in Israel for a month or two with his girlfriend who had never visited Israel before as she isn’t Jewish. After some time in Tel Aviv, they decided it was too noisy for them, so they went off to spend the holiday of Sukkot with his parents in the serene rural environment of Kibbutz Re’im near Gaza.

On the morning of Simchat Torah – October 7th 2023 – the Hamas terrorists attacked the kibbutz. Tomer and his family locked themselves in their safe room and piled heavy furniture against the door.

After waiting many terrifying hours and hearing the ominous sounds of gunshots and grenades they were finally able to leave their safe room. Miraculously his whole family was saved as were most of the residents of the kibbutz. The six members of the security team fought valiantly and held off the attackers till the army and police could come.

After surviving that ordeal, praying to Hashem all the time, Tomer went to a Judaica store and bought all the religious ritual items needed to observe Mitzvot. Candles for Shabbat. A goblet for making kidush on wine for Shabbat, a cover for the ‘challah breads’ of Friday night and a shofar. He already had Tefillin and Tzizit from his Bar mitzvah.

Tomer went off to New Zealand to calm down.

The awakening in his soul led him to learning how to put on his Tefillin and feeling deeply connected to G-d and Am Yisrael. As the days went by, Tomer felt an irresistible desire to head back to Israel to help rebuild the kibbutz. His girlfriend said that the experience she had endured during those excruciating hours and the continued aftermath, ruled out ever living in Israel. They realized their incompatibility and separated.

I heard all of this from Tomer as he makes his way back to Israel. He told his story in Chabad House of Phuket after the Friday night meal.

As an afterthought, Tomer shared an additional detail.

‘For the last few years, I had this deep gnawing feeling of guilt for having filled the entry hallway/porch of my parents’ home with bulky and heavy workbenches and boxes of equipment from my previous trade school. I had planned to clean it up and deal with it many times but had always procrastinated. As it turns out, the windows that were blocked by this paraphernalia were the first line of defense against the terrorists. Our home is one of the closest to the entrance of the kibbutz. Who knows what would have happened if that window had been accessible and the hallway ‘junk free’.’

I thought to myself how significant a message this is. Sometimes the very thing that you consider to be the opposite of blessing, is a catalyst and a vehicle for your blessing.

Rabbi Sholom G. who does a wonderful job running the Chabad House in Phuket asks people to share with him after Shabbat what memory they take with them from the Phuket Shabbat experience.

If you ask me, Tomer’s story was the highlight of my Shabbat in Phuket. Hearing firsthand how the Divine Providence had weaved itself through the life experience of Tomer.

Here is a response from one of the other guests about their memorable experience.

‘Rabbi, the memory I take with me is a half-undressed young man bursting excitedly in to the full hall at Shabbat dinner, wearing pink ‘wings’ on his shoulders and receiving a warm embrace from you’.

Here is the background. There was a young Jewish man visiting from overseas who was suffering from a mental episode and had his money stolen. Rabbi Sholom had been busy trying to help him and was in touch with the distraught parents who were overseas and quite helpless. He had taken a drink in the bar on Friday night and left without paying. The police wanted to detain him, and he convinced them to follow him to the Chabad House. This is when he entered, the packed dining hall and ran over to the Rabbi.

The rabbi hugged him, calmed him down and sent down a staff member to sort things out.

This was the memory that stood out most in the eyes of the shabbat meal attendee who responded to the rabbi about his impressions from Shabbat.

A humane gesture by the rabbi to someone who was mentally unable to cope with life at that moment.

This week’s parsha of Mishaptim, is the first one after the Ten Commandments related in last week’s parsha of Yitro.

In this weeks parsha we have the basic laws of society.

Here is a sample of one of the mitzvahs in this week’s parsha.

When you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its load, you must disregard your hatred and help the person unload his donkey. 

After all the high power of the Sinai experience of the giving of the Torah, with the lighting, thunder and fire that symbolized Hashem’s epic revelation, the Torah goes on, in the very next parsha, to speak about such mundane earthly things.

Hate is usually not a holy feeling; it is an emotion that expresses our human ego when left unchecked.

Donkeys carrying loads are so mundane and uninspiring.

Is that the first thing to teach after the intense communication of the Ten Commandments?

Really? The most inspiring mitzvahs to be taught after Revelation at Sinai are such unheavenly and even earthly extremes? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to speak about more lofty things when emerging from the revelation at Sinai?

The Torah is teaching us that after all said and done, with all of the supreme G-dly holiness available through Torah study, the most holy thing of all is to fulfil G-d’s instructions for acting and conducting one selves in the physical world according to the dictates of His divine wisdom.

Rabbi Sholom gave some amazing Torah speeches during the Shabbat. That wasn’t what remained embedded in the visitor’s memory.

It was the implementation of the mitzvah of ‘loving your fellow as yourself’, that made the deepest impression.

For the Torah itself teaches us that it is not the inspiring study that is the main thing of the Torah, it is the deed, the action of kindness that the Torah instructs.

One of the most mundane items of life, perhaps even more than a donkey, is money.

This week’s parsha instructs us in a not so well-known mitzvah regarding money.

The mitzvah of tzedakah, giving monetary help to others is well known. However, what is a bit less known but every bit as important – even more important  - (see the eight levels of tzedakah), is the mitzvah of lending money to others without interest. Simply as help and kindness to someone who may be cash strapped at the moment.

The Torah sees money as a tool for serving Hashem. That is the true purpose of it.

The following story involves the giving of a ‘gemach’ an interest free loan, which leads the giver to a very deep level of revelation.

As this story illustrates:

Although his grandfather, the saintly Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, had passed away many years earlier, the Tzemach Tzedek merited to envision his grandfather often. At times he saw him at night, other times by day. This afforded him the unique opportunity to present his Torah difficulties before his grandfather for resolution. After becoming accustomed to these visions, the Tzemach Tzedek prepared for them by accumulating his questions in advance.

The Tzemach Tzedek was therefore quite distressed when the visitations suddenly ceased. It was 5575 (1815); he was twenty-five years old, and his father-in-law, Rabbi DovBer, was the rebbe in Lubavitch. The Tzemach Tzedek had gathered many complex Torah questions for which he could find no solutions. He had always relied on his grandfather for answers, and felt greatly anguished at this sudden change.

One morning, as the Tzemach Tzedek was walking to synagogue, he passed through the village marketplace, where he was approached by one of the merchants, a chassid by the name of Reb Mordechai Eliyahu. “Could you lend me five or six rubles just until tonight?” he asked the young scholar. “I expect to make a profit during market hours today.”

“Certainly,” replied the Tzemach Tzedek. “Come to my house after I return from the synagogue, and I will lend you whatever you need.”

When the Tzemach Tzedek arrived at the synagogue, he prepared himself for prayer. He had already taken out his tallit and put it over his shoulder in readiness to wrap himself in it, when a sudden thought occurred to him. “Doesn’t the Talmud (Bava Batra 10a) say that Rabbi Elazar would give a coin to the poor, and pray only afterwards? And doesn’t the Talmud (Sukkah 49b) also say that lending money is greater than giving charity?”

The Tzemach Tzedek immediately regretted his actions. Rather than delaying the good deed, he should have offered Reb Mordechai Eliyahu the loan immediately. In the meantime, the chassid could possibly have earned something. He laid down his tallit at once, returned home, and took out the amount of money the merchant needed.

The Tzemach Tzedek could hear a loud commotion as he retraced his steps to the marketplace. Dozens of merchants had descended on the marketplace, each offering various kinds of wares. The hundreds of customers haggled loudly, animals brayed and clucked and mooed, and merchants fought with each other over prospective customers. Finding Mordechai Eliyahu now would be no easy task.

The Tzemach Tzedek walked slowly through the bustling marketplace, looking intently at every face. The minutes ticked away as he sought out the needy merchant. Finally, after much effort, he located Reb Mordechai Eliyahu, and gave the grateful merchant the funds he so desperately needed.

Leaving the busy market behind, the Tzemach Tzedek returned to the synagogue to resume his prayers. A pleasant surprise awaited him; no sooner had he donned his tallit and tefillin when his grandfather suddenly appeared to him, his face radiating spiritual joy. “Lending money to a fellow Jew in a wholehearted fashion has great merit,” said R. Schneur Zalman. “Doing a selfless favor for a fellow Jew without imposing restrictions, in accordance with the great precept to love your fellow as yourself, throws the portals of heaven wide open.”

The Tzemach Tzedek realized that he had merited this divine revelation with the act of lending charity before even starting his own prayers. He then advanced his complex questions, receiving his grandfather’s replies to all his queries.

Decades later, when he related this incident to his youngest son and successor, Rabbi Shmuel, the Tzemach Tzedek added the following: “Helping another Jew earn his livelihood—even just to earn a small amount on a calf—opens the doors of all the heavenly chambers.”

Less words. More action.

Because the world is holistic, and Hashem created the material as well as the spiritual and holy, doing a physical act mandated by Hashem can engender the most sublime feeling of G-d’s presence.

Forward march to adding in good deeds, kind deeds, G-dly deeds.

They will bring healing, peace and Mashiach to the world ever sooner.

Shabbat Shalom

And Chodesh Tov – today is the ‘head of the month’ of the first Adar as is tomorrow Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh together.

This year is a leap year with two Adars.

Purim will be on the 14th of Adar 2. Saturday night and Sunday March 23/24.

Our local Jewish Community party will be held on Sunday afternoon please G-d.

About the months of Adar we are told to increase in joy.

משנכס אדר מרבים בשמחה

Have a Joyous Shabbat,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

 

Get Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok in your inbox!

Click here to get Rabbi Kantor’s weekly emails with colorful stories of Divine providence and Torah inspiration to uplift and inspire.

 

 

 


By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I always get excited when I see the number 770.

Since I was a little boy growing up in Australia, when someone said ‘I’m going to seven seventy’ it meant not an address somewhere in Australia, but ‘770’ in Brooklyn NY, many thousands of kilometers away.

The address of the main synagogue/study hall/office of the Rebbe’s of Lubavitch since arriving in the USA in 1940, is 770 Eastern Parkway.

Therefore, seeing that my flight number to Phuket yesterday was flight number 770 was heartwarming to me. I don’t recall ever being on a flight that was numbered 770 before.

It was especially meaningful to me, as yesterday was the 36th yahrtzeit of the Rebbetzen Chaya Mushka Schneersohn the wife of the Rebbe and the daughter of the previous Rebbe who escaped war torn Europe and established the Chabad movement at 770 Eastern Parkway.

Click her to learn more about the Rebbetzens inspiring legacy.

The Rebbe pointed out that by Divine Providence the number 770 is the numerical value of ‘Paratzta’ as in ‘spread out’ and ‘burst forth’. These became the marching orders and mission statement of Chabad. It spawned the growth of thousands of Chabad Houses, centers of Jewish outreach and social services.

Over this weekend the Rebbetzen’s of Chabad, the Shluchos are having their international annual convention at… 770 Eastern Parkway. Click here for link to their banquet that will stream live early Monday morning (5am Bangkok time)

And my day in Phuket was indeed a ‘770’ day. A day that highlighted and expressed this borderless outreach that the Rebbe taught. The Rebbe’s paradigm of leadership was fashioned after Moshe who the Torah describes as a shepherd who tended to every one of the sheep according to their individual needs and I witnessed so many people from such varied backgrounds at the Chabad House.

On my way from the airport to the Chabad house I stopped to pay a visit to dear friends and supporters who have a holiday home in Phuket. They help fund the activities and it is a pleasure to be able to express my gratitude to them in person.

Upon my arrival at Chabad house, I assisted the Chabad of Phuket rabbi in providing urgent intervention and life-saving help to a youth who had gotten into an entanglement. The kind of which, there are no shortages of in this colorful country.

Later in the day a couple visiting from Moscow ambled into the Synagogue. They are not very observant they say, but they make it their point to visit a Synagogue in whatever country they visit. They had driven an hour from the other side of Phuket, just to visit the Synagogue. The Jewish visitor happily performed the mitzvah of Tefillin with me.

Dinner at Chabad house restaurant was with some old-time friends from Australia.

For after dinner activities, I was invited to give a Torah class at our new location in southern Phuket.

(For those who have settled down in Phuket for longer term, Rabbi Avraham Greenberg and his family run a Chabad House location in Rawai beach as well as organizing communal activities in the Laguna beach area).

The topic of my class was about seizing the ‘here and now’. Recognizing that wherever you are is exactly where Hashem wants you to be. And endeavoring to carrying out the mitzvah opportunities – between man and G-d and between man and man - that are available to you at the unique intersection of time and place in which Hashem has placed you.

It is not smart living, to think wistfully ‘if only I was there’ or ‘if I only had the chance to go back in time’ while finding excuses why you can’t do what is available and appropriate for you to do in your exact location and time.

More importantly, neither is it the holy way of living,

In this week’s parsha Yitro we read the Ten Commandments.

The Torah describes the giving of the Torah as follows:

In the third month of the children of Israel's departure from Egypt, on this day they arrived in the desert of Sinai.

Rashi comments on the choice of the use of the word ‘on this day’ and explains:

On this day: … It could have said only, “on that day.” What is the meaning of "on this day"? That the words of the Torah shall be new to you, as if they were given just today.

Here lies one of the most important life lessons.

To truly receive the Torah in the way Hashem gives it, is to know that the Torah is not a book of antiquity that was given three thousand and some years ago, rather it is a current and vibrant Torah that is contemporary as if it were given today.

The Torah is a book of life that has a directive for you in this exact point of time that you live in.

Where was the Torah given? Not in a dazzling, developed and bustling metropolis. Not in a holy location. Rather the Torah is given in a desert. A neutral place.

This teaches us that the Torah is relevant and accessible everywhere an anywhere. And to be sure, it is applicable in the exact geographical location that you find yourself in.

From Paraguay to Phuket and every place in between.

And as it turns out Phuket (and Thailand in general) seems to be a crossroads of the world.

In the space of just a few hours, I met a Jew from Canada who prays with my nephew from Florida. A group of young Jews from South Africa are on a company trip and come in to eat a kosher dinner and reserve for Shabbat.

(When I meet these young Johannesburg Jews, they ‘name drop’ and tell me that they are friends with S. from South Africa/Australia. I tell them, S. is in town as well and just happens to be sponsoring the Shabbat meals this week. They had no idea, a Divine rendezvous).

A while later, a young honeymooning couple from Panama brings me regards from the Chabad house there.

And then we have the VIPs I have been blessed to meet.

The VIPs for this Shabbat are the heroic soldiers who are visiting from Israel. They are coming to get the well-deserved respite and rejuvenation that will restore their inner selves.

We thank them for their selflessness and sacrifice in doing their holy duties of protecting our people in our land.

Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.

The chayalim thank us for being here to host them so warmly. Expressing how meaningful it is for them that Chabad House provides them with inspiration and light on their furlough.  

One of the visitors to Chabad House last week, sent a beautiful note, expressing his feelings after Shabbat. I share it here:

Aside from weddings and bar mitzvahs, it was the biggest reunion of Jews I have ever seen in my life—so much spirit, togetherness, and life in the room. So special to have seen everybody singing together and strong during these times. Best of all, it was in Phuket, Thailand, which seems so random to me. It shows how unbelievable the Jewish community is—to have this many Jews in the middle of nowhere and a massive Chabad and organization there. From start to end, there was never a dull moment. I ate amazing Kosher food with people all over the world, and sang songs and prayers mid meal. After dinner finished, there was an amazing transition to the Rabbi’s house. It was an intimate setting filled with people who, one hour ago, had never seen each other before. At one point, we went around the room introducing ourselves. There was a group of 10 boys from the same unit who had just fought the war in Gaza. It was unbelievable to see such comradery, happiness, and joking around from these boys who were around the same age as me. Then, a guy who sat in the corner smiling all dinner introduced himself. He was present on October 7th. Everybody from his Kibbutz got killed other than him. After 30 hours of hiding, he said, “I was not religious before, but the first thing I did when I was free was go to the Kotel and buy myself a Kiddush cup.” Amazing. What an experience. Absolutely honoured to have been part of it and welcomed undoubtably with open arms. 

Am Israel Chai,

I thank Hashem for the honor and pleasure to be spending Shabbat this week in Phuket and to join with Jews of varied backgrounds and from multiple locations.

This is especially exciting for me on this Shabbat.

One of the highlights for me of this week’s Parsha  is the verse describing the perfect unity of the people as they anticipated the receiving of the Torah:

The people of Israel camped at Sinai ‘As one person with one heart’

Wherever we are in the planet, may we absorb the special blessings of unity that are shining through on this Shabbat.

And may we take those opportunities given from Heaven and ‘run with them’, develop them further, accentuate them, commit to them and never every forget that we are all parts of one singular united entity.

YISRAEL – AM ECHAD – ONE UNIFIED NATION

Our prayers go up to Heaven to protect our soldiers, to bring home our hostages, to heal our wounded, and to bless Israel and the world with secure and stable peace. And of course we pray for Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

AI & birthday story

Click here to sign up for Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok.

Artificial intelligence has been chasing me this week.

At an event I attended, one of the speakers shared how she prepared for the speech. She fed the main points into Chat GPT and out came a speech.

In case you, like me until a few minutes ago, were not aware what the acronym GPT means, here it is:

Generative Pre-trained Transformer

The GPT stands for "Generative Pre-trained Transformer," which refers to how ChatGPT processes requests and formulates responses.

From a community member I received a suggestion on how to better respond to tourist enquiries. He offered to donate and implement that software that his company had developed. He showed me some samples of how this technology could respond efficiently to many of the standard enquiries. The results are incredible.

Just this week, it came even closer to home. A young man in his twenties that I was studying Torah with, suggested that I ought to be using AI for writing my articles.

To prove his point, he typed in a few words on the topic that we had been discussing about the Parsha‘the deeper spiritual significance of the splitting of the reed sea upon Exodus from Egypt, in rabbi yosef kantor style’. To my amazement a coherent and somewhat decent article appeared.

And then I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Do my readers think that I write my weekly article via artificial intelligence?

My mind rewinds some three decades when after hosting some of the oldtimers of the Thailand Jewish community for dinner, one of them complimented the taste of the food. But then innocently asked if the ‘cook’ had made the meal. I remember the look on my wifes face. She had worked so hard on preparing the meal, and it was assumed that a hired maid in the kitchen had been the cook?

How can I prove to you that I actually compose this article myself?

An even more existential question. What contribution and point is there to my efforts in painstakingly composing a weekly torah inspirational thought?

This question became more acute this week as my younger friend showed me firsthand the incredible power of artifical intelligence.

(There was an aspect that was even scary. He showed me a video of him speaking, marketing a service online. It was his face, his voice, his style of words, but he told me that he had not actually spoken those words or made that video. ‘Look closely at the mouth’ he told me. I saw his mouth annunciating the words. The same words that I was hearing in his voice. He told me if you look closely you will see that those teeth are not my teeth. In todays advancing world, there are now computer simulator programs that can have you ‘say’ things that you never said, in your voice and with your face. You need to be a technology whiz to figure out what is authentic and what is fabricated.

I share this, as I think it is imporant to recognize that thes days even if you ‘see’ and ‘hear’ someone say something online, you cannot be sure that it is not doctored and altered to look and sound like they have said those words. It may be a simulated and artifical statement).

After seeing what AI can do, why would I be motivated to be writing these lines?

Blessed be Hashem, for providing me the answer even before I knew that I had the question.

Last Shabbat morning, before I went to Synagogue to give my Torah class and pray, I was reading through some responsa with the Rebbe. This is one of my standard early Shabbat morning rituals. It is fascinating and inspiring to see the questions about daily life that were presented to the Rebbe, and the light and Divine Torah wisdom that the Rebbe shared in his responses.

Out of the tens of volumes of correspondence, I was in middle of reading the ones from 1984 and on Shabbat morning I arrived at the following letter:

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of Chabad head office in NY, had written to the Rebbe that he was invited to officiate at a wedding on the 14 of Kislev and asked for a blessing for the young couple and their families.

Rabbi Kotlarksy also shared some background about the families of the couple he was going to marry. The chattan-groom was a relative of a famous rabbi in prewar Warsaw, Rabbi Tzvi Yechezkel Michelson who was subsequently deported to Auschwitz and murdered by the Nazis.

The Rebbe responded to the part of the note about the family connection to Rabbi Tzvi Yechezkel Michelson:

‘I think that he (Rabbi Michelson) attended my wedding, and also gave me the book that he had authored, as a gift.

(The book is in the bookshelf in my office, near the Midrash Tanchuma close to the electric)

I will lend the book to you to hold it under the chupah while you officiate at the wedding and say the blessings.

The Divine providence of this now becomes apparent - 55 years later’

The Rebbe’s wedding to his wife had taken place on the exact same Hebrew date, 14 Kislev, in 1929. Fifty-five years later exactly, on 14 Kislev 1984, the Rebbe’s representative would be officiating at the wedding of the relative of the great rabbi who had attended the Rebbe’s wedding in Warsaw.

It is a fascinating bird’s eye view of Hashem’s Divine Providence as it weaves through history, sometimes only becoming apparent after fifty-five years.

I was reading a story from 1984, or so I thought initially.

Suddenly, the story jumped out from the annals of history and became a contemporary 2024 story. The Divine Providence continued, unfolding in front of my eyes.

You see, last Shabbat morning – Shevat 10 – was my 55th birthday.

I was stunned, excited beyond words.

I had received a message about turning 55 from the Rebbe’s teachings that had Providentially reached me on the exact day of my birthday.

I am sharing this with you as one of the customs related to celebrating a birthday, is sharing with others the inspiration that the birthday celebrant is imbued with on that special day.

To me the message was so pertinent. Especially in a generation where the speed of life has become so accelerated.

Each one of us is an irreplaceable part in Hashems world. Every one of us has a role to play. Something that we are uniquely positioned to carry out.

You and I, all of humanity, are playing a role in the master plan of G-d that may span decades or even millennia.

Usually when we talk about seeing Divine Providence at work, we refer to events that ‘line up’ in a shorter time span.

But sometimes, Hashem gives us a glimpse into the multi decade mosaic of life and the way that Hashem orchestrates every single detail.

To me it was a powerful reminder that even though I am not the young man I was in my twenties, I have unique possibilities open to me specifically now as I am older. There are things that are waiting for me to do and interact with, that have been ‘cooking’ for fifty-five years. It is my privilege and duty to be the one to fulfil Hashem’s plan that has been scheduled on my individualized Divine calendar for today.

You and I are part of the greatest mission imaginable. You may be in your eighties or even nineties (I am blessed to have many in my readership who have passed the eighty and even ninety year mark thank G-d, may Hashem bless them with long healthy life) yet, you are still on active duty, ‘soldiers’ in Hashems army. Indispensable links in Hashems master plan.

There are things that are waiting for you to interact with and bring to their cosmic Divine purpose, since you were born.

Oh, I was talking about replacing my personally written article with Chat GPT?

Could I have written this article with artificial intelligence?

Impossible.

This required authentic Divine Intelligence. To bring everything together.

The Rebbe and Rabbi Michelson in 14th of Kislev Warsaw wedding in 1929.

Rabbi Kotlarsky of the Rebbe’s office, with the relative of Rabbi Michelson in New York at a chuppah 55 years later in 1984.

Myself in Bangkok reading this letter exactly on my 55th birthday in 2024.

Certainly, artificial intelligence can help us fulfil our Divine mission. It is a tool sent to us by Hashem, much like a sewing machine that alleviated the hard-working tailor from hand stitching clothing.

For the meantime I write my own articles 😊 .

In one of my meetings this week, when I brought up the AI concept, a woman shared with me that she had received a birthday card from her adult son. It started off with ‘Dearest mother, the sweetest thing in my life, I cannot imagine living life without you…’ and other kind of talk that her son was not wont to use in their interactions. A mother knows right away if her son wrote the note, or he used an artificial service. She called her son and told him that if he sends an artificially written note, she would rather not get the note…’

It is important to remember. In relationships, authenticity and heartfulness still counts.

In our relationship with Hashem, it is the passion and lovingness that we express to Him that he really desires.

Our deepest feeling of appreciation and yearning for G-d are expressed in our physical fulfillment of His commandments. You cannot claim to truly love G-d and refrain from fulfilling his requests of you.

Yet, it is really that ‘hitlahavut’ and fieriness in the relationship that He seeks.

Artificiality, doing things out of rote and habit, needs to be replaced with genuineness and excited devotedness.

Sometimes Hashem even chooses to hide His face from us, to allow us the gift of being thirsty for Him. It is critical not to mistake this ‘hide and seek’ as a rejection by Him, G-d forbid.

It is an invitation to long for Him, to yearn, with an insatiable and heartfelt thirst.

Let us aim at keeping our relationship with G-d passionate and heartfelt even while He is revealed and available to us, and may we generate a thirst for Him without the ‘hiding of face’ that is so painful.

Till we merit the ultimate blessing we await the coming of Mashiach which will bring peace, healing and eternal authenticity in our relationship with the Almighty.

With fervent prayers for Israel, freedom for our hostages, successful and safe homecoming to our holy soldiers, healing to our wounded and security and SHALOM for the entire region and the world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

cost price

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

A Jewish man was in a supermarket in Thornhill, Ontario.

He saw a seemingly non-Jewish woman trying to get her young child to put down a candy bar he had picked off the shelf.

'Latrell, you put that down! It's not kosher!'

Intrigued, the young man decided to investigate.

'Excuse me, ma'am, are you Jewish? 'No.'

'So why did you say that?'

'Why? I'll tell you why.

'Cuz I see all the Jewish mothers saying that to their kids — and it works, so I decided to try it.'

My aunt, who is a psychologist once shared with me her epiphany she had while raising her young children.

‘Why is it, I asked myself, that when I tell the kids to clean their room, they whine, procrastinate, and may not even do it. While when I tell my children that they can’t eat ice cream as they had recently eaten meat, they obey without question’?

‘It became crystal clear to me that the difference was entirely in the way I, the parent, was projecting. Cleaning the room was something I preferred, but I could live without it. A clean house is not an absolute inviolable requirement for life.

Following the instructions of G-d is something that is non-negotiable. My insistence that they do not eat milk in proximity to eating meat is a part of my relationship with G-d as it’s a commandment in the Torah.

Regarding my connection to G-d, I have no room for negotiation. The kids pick up on it.’

As it turns out, children are expert negotiators from a very young age.

They sense what things they can negotiate, and at the same time they are acutely aware that there are some things that are not negotiable.

At a very early stage in life a child learns when their parents ‘no’ is not negotiable and when ‘no’ is just an invitation to whine enough till the no turns into a yes.

Have you ever thought deeply and hard about the following question?

What do you consider sacrosanct and non-negotiable?

What are your unyielding principles?

For what values and actions will you be obstinately uncompromising.

As a Jew writing to fellow Jews, I know that your connection to Hashem is absolute. Your connection to your neshama is a fact. Your commitment to your core Jewish identity, is ironclad.

When we translate that into the actual nuts and bolts of living life how does that express itself?

It can seem quite complex.

You first need to establish your bottom line. You must define your inner convictions regarding which you have no room for flexibility.

Let me give an example from one of the popular industries in Thailand, the precious stone industry. Over the years while visiting community members who deal in stones, I have learned a little bit about how it works. 

The stone dealer will be sitting with a client showing him a stone, or he will get a call from his salesman who is out in the ‘field’ trying to sell a stone. The potential buyer hears the asking price and starts to bargain, giving a lower counteroffer.  The salesman needs to call the stone owner to see if he agrees to the reduced price being offered.

Many a time I have watched what happens next. The stone dealer will pull out his records to see how much he paid for the stone, punch in some numbers to a calculator and announce a price that he says is ‘my cost’.

What he is saying is that ‘I cannot go lower than this price as that would leave me with no profit and perhaps even incurs me a loss.’

In business, if you know your cost price and you figure in your overheads, you know that if you sell below that price you will find yourself out of business. This becomes the ‘final and lowest price’. At that stage the seller projects in words and in body language that he is prepared to walk away from the sale if he doesn’t get that price.

This week’s Parsha relates the negotiation between Pharaoh and  Moshe who has been sent by Hashem to redeem the Jews.

Pharaoh called for Moses and said, "Go, serve God—only your flocks and cattle shall remain behind to ensure your return. Even your children may go with you."

Moses replied, "Not only will our flocks and cattle go with us, you will even provide us with some of your animals for sacrifices and ascent-offerings so that we may offer them up to God, our God.

Our livestock must also go along with us, not a hoof shall remain, for some of them we must take for the service of God, our God, and we will not know with what we will serve God until—i.e, how many sacrifices He will require—we arrive there. Maybe He will require more than just our own animals."

After the tenth plague Pharaoh agreed to send the Jewish People free.

Pharaoh searched all the entrances of the city and called out for Moses and Aaron in the night. When he found them, he said, "Get up and get out from among my people, you adults and the young children of Israel, too, and go and serve God as you said!

Take both your flocks and your cattle, just as you said, and go!

Moshe could not negotiate with Pharaoh and agree that the Jews would leave their animals in Egypt, as he knew ‘his cost’ may be all the animals that the Jews possessed. It may even be that Hashem will require more than they have. There is no ‘fat in the budget’ that they can ‘trim’. It is therefore impossible for Moshe to agree to Pharaoh to have the people leave Egypt minus their animals.

In business, knowing your bottom line is critical. In simple terms, if you buy merchandise for 100 and sell it for 90 you are going to bankrupt your business.

It’s hardly ever so simple though. There are so many factors involved in figuring out the real cost of an item. There is the actual purchase price, the delivery charge, the storage cost, the wastage if it’s something with an expiry date, the rent and utilities on the office or store etc etc. To really know your cost requires careful calculation and experience.

It is quite common for people to question the selling price of an item as being too expensive. Only if you know all the myriad of details and have experience in running a similar business can you really know the true cost. There are often associated costs that you would not know about and take into account.

When it comes to our life values, we also need to clarify our ‘final price’ – the red lines from which we have no room to negotiate downwards.

It is critical you know what you cannot compromise on.

It’s not just about you. It is a multi-generational message. Remember your children and those influenced by you, will learn from your body language what your true inner values are.

Not so much from what you say. Much more impact will be had from how you live.

One may say, ‘to maintain my connection with Hashem I need to do the very basic things like fast on Yom Kippur, eat Matzah on Pesach and stay away from eating pork and seafood’.

And I must instill those rudimentary values into my children. As well as impress upon them the critical importance of marrying Jewish. So that they too keep their relationship with Hashem strong and vibrant and transmit it to their children.

In the business analogy, if one didn’t consider wastage and spoilage, and incorporate it into the cost price, the business may go bankrupt.

Similarly, when one builds a ‘bottom line’ of a ‘minimum’ requirement to stay connected to G-d and their Jewish identity, they ought to factor in all the challenges and social pressures pulling away from Jewish identity so that they don’t sell themselves short.

When it comes to transmitting Jewish traditions, observance and identity it is quite clear that one cannot expect the next generation to automatically adopt all of the values of their parents.

It is fanciful and unrealistic to think that one can practice the bare minimum of a commitment to Hashem and Torah and expect to convey a deep and inspiring message of Jewish steadfastness to their child.

We need to fortify our ‘bottom line’ and bring it up a few notches.

It is not too late. Even if the milk is spilled. It is never too late to take the next step in the right direction and begin to enhance our connection to Hashem.

The more connection points to Hashem we initiate, the more commitment we show, the stronger the message will resonate and be transmitted.

This response that Moshe gave to the ‘negotiation’ that Pharaoh tried to initiate speaks to me so poignantly and practically.

‘…we will not know how many sacrifices He will require until we arrive there. Maybe He will require more than just our own animals."

This is a powerful argument against procrastinating. When one pushes off an important thing he was intending to do today, for another day and ‘wastes’ the original time allocation, he is making a serious misjudgment. The alternate date may have already been scheduled by Hashem for a new mission. There is no ‘spare time’ that we can pull out of our hidden reserves to make up for what we didn’t do when we were meant to do it.

Along the lines of what Moshe was saying, we don’t know what Hashem has planned for us to accomplish in our lives and it’s possible that every single day/hour/minute is already figured in to Hashems expectation of our work output during our journey of life.

Since Hashem created our world, everything in it and time itself, there is no room to delude oneself into thinking that something is redundant.

Rather, one should think to themselves, that if I have been given another day of life, I have also been given a mission to achieve on that day. Hour by hour, minute by minute etc.

If I have been given certain wherewithal, abilities and resources, they are all precisely allocated to me for me to do what I have been privileged by Hashem to be tasked with.

To shirk todays, work and put it off for next week is not a possibility. Next week’s calendar is full with next week’s tasks.

It is unG-dly to leave opportunities on the table without utilizing them. If He gave an opportunity, He expects us and empowers us to actualize it.

Part of leaving Egypt is knowing your true inner self and actualizing it.

For a Jew, this means opening the Torah, the code of Jewish law, and living according to one’s true self.

It is not ‘all or nothing’ and one must take steps that are sustainable, the main thing is that one must not stagnate.

Liberation from Egypt is the theme of this week’s Parsha, and it reminds us to never yield to the inner Pharaoh who would like to keep us enslaved.

G-d liberated us from Egypt back then and He gives us the opportunity to be liberated from Egypt every single day.

It is up to us to take up his offer and ‘run with it’.

May Hashem bless us with the collective liberation that we all await, the true redemption, with the coming of Mashiach, who will bring peace to Israel and usher in an eternal era of abundant good, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

compassion

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friends,

He was very unassuming.

An elderly French Jew living in rural Thailand who had to come to Bangkok for medical treatment that is available only in Bangkok.

J. came to meet me to discuss Jewish burial when the time comes.

Naturally, we prayed together with Tefillin as well and had a chat about his background and family.

He mentioned something about his ‘babies’. I raised an eyebrow as it didn’t seem to me that he had babies. It turns out that he was meaning to say children, as he was talking about kids in their teens. (I have had that experience with other French speakers as well, referring to their children as babies even when they are fully adult).

J. told me about his daughter.

She was a dirty and smelly baby lying apathetically under a tree somewhere in Pattaya. J. saw the baby, felt pity and asked his maid to look into it. The mother was located not far away from baby, high on drugs. J. gave his maid money to give to the mother to take care of the baby. Several days later the baby did not look any less neglected. Obviously, the money had gone to support the mother’s habits and had not benefited the baby.

J. and his wife took the baby home. After a short while the baby was clean and had learned to eat. Initially the baby was so undernourished that she didn’t even have the energy to eat. She had also become used to not eating. Bit by bit they taught her to eat. Once the baby was brought to a stable condition, J. went to a lawyer to ask what to do with the baby.

The lawyer said, you can put her back where you found her. Near her mother in the streets of Pattaya.

J. said, ‘no way’! ‘If this abandoned child has come to my care I will continue to raise her’. He located the grandmother of the baby in a district not far from Bangkok. This is where the mother gave birth to this abandoned child.  J. went there and paid for the baby to be issued papers and legally adopted her.

She is now sixteen. She doesn’t like going to school. She hates farangs and curses her French adoptive father. Not an ounce of appreciation.

I was waiting to hear a word of complaint from J., about the ungratefulness of this girl to whom he had provided with a life, a home and a future. There was not one word of complaint.

J. said I am happy that I saved her life, raised her, educated her and hopefully she will have a happy future.

It was inspiring to meet someone so giving and selfless.

J. did an act of kindness without thinking of ‘what is in it for me’ and as of yet, there indeed has not been anything in it for him. And he knows that there may never be an angle of benefit to him.

He is happy to have done the right thing in the circumstances.

(I was secretly relieved that J. didn’t have any feelings of rejecting his ingrate daughter as I ponder how we possibly act similarly in our relationship with Hashem. He provides us with everything, and nonetheless we find ‘bones to pick’ about things we perceive as imperfections in our life.

Just as J demonstrated, a good parent continues to love and provide for their child even when they kick and scream and act inappropriately and ungratefully.

Hashem in His infinite mercy certainly tolerates us and continues to pour His benevolence on us regardless of our inadequacies.

Yet, it behooves us to make efforts to be even more mindful of the infinite gifts we receive from Him and be gratitude-filled and reflect the happiness in our dispositions).

J’s compassionate act in reaction to something he could have ignored, sets a tone of how moral human beings ought to live their lives.

This week’s Parsha, the first portion of the book of Shemot, starts with a narrative about the bondage in Egypt. Very quickly we are told about the birth and early childhood of Moshe Rabenu (Moses our teacher):

In those days,  the precocious Moses was elevated  by Pharaoh to be the overseer of his personal household... Some years later, when he was 18, he went out to his brethren and observed their suffering , for he felt for them. He saw an Egyptian  taskmaster striking one of  Moses' fellow Hebrews… Moses investigated what was happening:  He turned this way and that and saw that there was no one  observing him, so he struck down the Egyptian  by pronouncing God's Name, and hid him in the sand.

Moshe saw a grave injustice being perpetrated by the Egyptian taskmaster. He could have pretended he didn’t see, he could have ‘minded his own business’, ignored it and kept going on with his life. But he didn’t. Moshe evaluated the situation and reacted in a way that would save his fellow Israelite from certain death.

A few pages later, Moshe once again demonstrates his care, empathy and willingness to act to alleviate the suffering of others. This next verse describes Moshe as a shepherd of his father-in-law’s sheep.

…G-d examined the behavior of Moses , who was tending the sheep of his father-in-law  Jether, who would later be known as Jethro, priest of Midian , and concluded that he would be suitable. For example, a kid once ran away from the flock and reached a shady place near a pool of water where it stopped to drink. Moses ran after it and, when he caught up with it, said: "I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty. You must be tired." So he carried the kid back to the flock. God said: "Because you showed such mercy to a mortal man's flock, you will tend My flock, Israel."

Click here for interpolated translation by Kehot

Clearly, one of the undisputed requirements to be a Jewish leader is the sensitivity to the suffering of others. And the absolute commitment of time, energy, and effort to come to the aid of those in need.

This is a lesson for all of us.

We are all leaders in our own way.

Here is another example:

In response to my end of year fundraiser (click here if you are those who like giving at beginning of the fiscal year your support at any time is impactful and appreciated by those to whom you provide) I got the following response from D. a Jew living in a rural village in South East Asia

Dear Rabbi,

I hope you will understand that I have adopted and provide all necessities for 3 orphans who live with me. I wish I was able to donate something, but my available funds are already stretched to the limit.

It sounded most inspiring to me, and I followed up with D. to hear more. As it turns out three village-children who lost their father to mental illness when they were mere children, have come to stay in D’s home to study in the local college. He is providing them with a chance to have a career beyond being a salesclerk in a convenience story.

I remarked to D that the Heavenly reward for taking care of needy orphans is already being awarded to him here in this world.

You see, D is a North American retiree in this particular SE Asian town and would be living all on his own if not for those boarders whom he supports.

D’s mitzvah of helping provide a better future to orphaned children is an ongoing series of acts of kindness and giving. The feeling of wholesomeness and deep satisfaction that giving causes, translates into better health, mental and physical. It saves one from being self-centered and dispirited with nothing to think about besides himself.

Giving is a gift that benefits the giver even more than the recipient.

Taking care of others is a remedy to the disconsolate and empty spirit that creates an unhappy void in the lives of those who have no one to care for.

How sad it is when society sees having children as a burden and sacrifice that is not worth the effort.

The greatest path to maturity, selflessness, and happiness, is the commitment of taking care of others that comes with parenthood.

Yes, parents ‘kvetch’ about how hard it is to raise kids. And it can be challenging. But don’t buy in to this shallow conversational piece that parents love engaging in.

Being a parent is the most rewarding and meaningful thing a person can do in life.  If G-d bestows upon one the circumstances and blessing of being able to have children, one gets the immeasurable privilege to partner with G-d in bringing the next generation into the world.

It’s hard to change oneself. At the beginning of the new calendar year many people are making good resolutions about self-betterment. The problem is, that a few days into the year the resolutions often slide away. The best way to solidify a good resolution is by cementing it into your schedule without needing to constantly rethink and recommit.

Dare I say that the best way to transform oneself into a giving person, is by ‘burdening’ oneself with the commitment of raising children. Not more than a few hours (or minutes for infants) can go by without your needing to give your child something. Food, drink, a diaper change or a smile and hug. And once the children get older, a whole new and more sophisticated series of obligations, negotiations and opportunities come your way.

I would like to digress here.

Our generation asks many more existential questions than the generations of decades and centuries ago.

Questions like ‘why should I get married’, ‘why should I have children’, ‘why should I live’ are more prevalent these days than ever before.

Not to mention the big ‘are you happy’ discussion.

It seems clear to me that these questions are a sign of our privileged lifestyle. In the days where survival required all of our energy, there was no brain space left to ponder these questions. Because the basics of life require less energy (think washing machine vs handwashing laundry near the river) we have available time to contemplate the meaning of life and our own happiness and satisfaction.

It is not by chance that the deep Chassidic philosophy taught by Rabbi Shneur Zalman (whose day of passing is today) has proliferated among the general Jewish community over the past two centuries.

Click here for insight into his pivotal work the ‘Tanya’

More than ever before we need to be engaging our minds in the deep Torah teachings that speak to our intellect and heart in creating a meaningful Jewish experience by contemplation and comprehension.

So much of our life centers around our minds and moods. We need to invest into framing life from the perspective that G-d has provided in the Torah.

Rare is it for a person these days to always be so tied up in work and chores that they go unthinkingly through life. It may be that during busy periods you have no time to think, but usually there are occasional quieter periods.

It is a burden to live in a time that we are able to think so freely.

Our society grapples with it.

The Torah gives us the best recipe for life by giving us instructions and mitzvahs that we are to perform regardless of whether we feel like doing them or not.

Those deeds lead us to proper and positive thinking.

I want to focus on the incredible positivity latent in our modern lifestyle.

The Torah tells us that being exhausted by hard labor quashes the spirit and doesn’t even allow one to dream of a better future.

Moses related  God's message to the Israelites, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their anguish of spirit  evinced by their shortness of breath, which had made them despair of being redeemed, and  because of the harsh labor , which had made them skeptical of Moses' promises.

We now have the gift of time to think and with it comes the ability to dream and set the scene for a transformed future, the coming of Mashiach who will usher the world into a place of peace and Shalom.

Let us try to take the message of this Parsha and remind ourselves to ‘do something’ if you ‘see something’.

Have you noticed someone in need? Did a charity that helps others in need reach out to you for help? Is there a person who is down in the dumps that needs a pick-me-up?

Don’t just walk by, or ‘scroll down’ stop for a moment and think whether there is something that you can do to help.

Hashem wants us to do our bit in making this world a more G-dly space by doing mitzvahs between us and G-d and increasing in our acts of kindness to others.

The good deed that you do, will bring you blessing in your personal life, will tip the scales of the world for the good and will bring salvation and saving to the whole of mankind.

AMEN.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

the Singapore story | Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

There are some very poignant messages that jump out at me from the Parsha of Vayechi.

One of them is gratitude.

Let us see how gratitude brought success. And how subsequent ingratitude led to downfall.

When Yaakov passed away in Egypt a very large and dignified contingent of Egyptian notables went to the funeral in the land of Canann (Israel). 

Why did they go?

Because they felt a deep debt of gratitude to Yaakov.

When Yaakov came to Egypt at the invitation of Pharaoh, and his son Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt, the seven years of famine came to an immediate end.

Based on G-d’s communication to Pharaoh via his dream that was interpreted by Yosef, there was supposed to be seven years of plenty followed by seven lean years. Yaakov’s arrival stopped the famine. Lest one not be sure that this was due to Yaakov, the Nile River miraculously rose when Yaacov walked near the river. 

It was an undisputed fact. Yaakov and his family were a source of blessing for Egypt.

At this stage of history, the Egyptians had not yet enslaved us. They treated the Jewish people as a blessing and were appreciative of their contribution to their country. They showed their gratitude by attending the funeral of Yaakov ‘shlepping’ all the way to the land of Canaan.

Gratitude is central to inviting blessing into every aspect of humanity.

The troubles of Egypt start in next weeks Parsha of Shemot when the Torah relates that a new king arose who ‘did not know Yosef’. He threw away the feeling of gratitude and acted to Yaakov’s family as if they were interlopers and usurping the resources of Yosef. 

This led to their subsequent enslavement of the Jewish people.

The Jewish people, worked to the bone and exhausted in body and spirit, had all but given up on their relationship with Hashem.

This all led to G-d bringing the ten plagues and the death of many of the Egyptian people.

What a disaster.

Imagine the following scenario that could have been. 

If the Egyptians would have continued to respect the Jews for their blessed contribution. If the Jews would have continued their commitment to the observance of G-d’s mission. 

This partnership would have brought prosperity to all of Egypt. The Egyptian kingdom could have continued to flourish and still be the superpower that it once was.

Lack of gratitude turned everything upside down.

We can’t change the past. But we can learn from the past for the future.

If only society and leadership would practice gratitude to those who do them good and bring them blessing, society would be the better off for it.

As Jews we need to remind ourselves to be more grateful to G-d. 

Gratitude is central to Judaism. We start off every morning with the Modeh Ani, thanking Hashem for giving us back our life.

If only we Jewish people would be even more mindful and practice even more gratitude to G-d by observing His wishes conveyed in the Torah.

Hashem would undoubtedly bless the Jewish people for their commitment.

And in turn Hashem would bless the governments who assist and host the Jewish people. Every country would compete in how well they treat their Jewish population and hold them in respect. 

That would be a sustainable model.

It would be a win-win situation.

The Prophets tell us that this is the Messianic utopian model. The Jews serve G-d with their 613 Mitzvahs as the nations that surround them give them the support and back up that they need while keeping their seven ‘laws of Noah’ – Universal G-dly morality. 

The blessings spread forth to everyone in a peaceful and prosperous way. 

No more war, no more strife, no more unhealthy jealousy. 

We may not be able to change the geopolitical situation top down, as we are not heads of state. But we can and must start by making a a difference in our own lives, and this will have a ripple effect outward.

I am reminded of an incident in which Hashem, in His kindness to me, sent me a vivid reminder to place great emphasis on gratitude.

It was fifteen years ago. We had procured mileage tickets to NY to have a family bar mitzvah celebration for our eldest son Mendel. They were very good tickets. Bangkok to Singapore and a short time later Singapore to New York nonstop. 

We set off, the entire family, checked in our multiple pieces of luggage and proceeded to immigration. We needed to make ‘reentry permits’ to come back into Thailand. There was a backlog at the airports immigration office and it took longer than anticipated. 

We finally got the paperwork done and started running to the plane.

On the way we met Mark, a friend and supporter, stopped for a very hurried hi and continued running to the gate. 

Upon arrival at the gate, we were witness to the many pieces of the Kantor family luggage being offloaded from the Singapore airlines flight.

We were shocked. Devastated. And unsure what to do.

Was this a sign from Heaven that we should just abandon our carefully planned trip? 

We decided to go.

The airline told us that they could rebook us for no extra charge, but not on the nonstop flight. With a longer stop in Singapore, a stop in Frankfurt and then on to New York. Quite a shlep with a bunch of little kids.

We now had a stop in Singapore. Exactly at the time that there was an opening dedication ceremony for the new Jewish Community Center named the “Jacob Ballas Center’.

Jacob of blessed memory was a very successful businessman who lived in Singapore and supported many worthy causes in Singapore and Israel. After his passing a new center was built with funds that he left for that purpose. 

I had visited the late Mr. Ballas many times and he had contributed generously to helping set up the kindergarten. I felt a deep sense of gratitude to him. It was only after I had made the tickets to NY that I realized I would not be able to attend the opening as I would be heading to our son’s bar mitzvah with tickets that were not changeable.

I didn’t think it was that important to change our well-laid plans to attend that dedication ceremony.

Hashem taught me otherwise.

Hashem in His unlimited kindness gave me the merit of doing what is right. He orchestrated that I find myself in Singapore for exactly four hours between flights, enabling me to attend the evening of tribute to the late Jacob to whom I needed to give gratitude. 

(A cute addition to the story is that since I hadn’t been planning on doing anything ‘official’ on my trip to NY, I hadn’t taken a tie with me in my carry-on luggage. Now that I was going to attend a fancy event, I wanted to be dressed appropriately and needed a tie. The Jim Thompson store sells ties, and I bought one. Which I still have and wear occasionally. Every time I wear it I think of the warm embrace of Divine Providence).

Here is a story I just read yesterday. Written by the brother of an Israeli solder who is in the front lines.

The observant soldier utilized the few minutes of relaxation his unit was allotted, to pray the Mincha afternoon prayers. It was a ‘clean’ area which means that the terrorists were assumed to no longer be operating in that area. The troops were sitting and relaxing. The soldier who got up to pray turned to face Jerusalem. In the middle of his prayer, he noticed something moving. Apparently, there was a tunnel opening that had not been cleared. A terrorist came out, with an RPG missile. The soldier screamed out for help as he started to engage the terrorist in battle. Together with his friends they were successful in neutralizing their would-be killer.

The entire group of soldiers was so inspired by this miracle that had come as a result of praying Mincha that they decided they would all pray the Mincha service the next day in thanksgiving to G-d.

A small story in a large and complicated labyrinth of multifaceted military operations. 

One of those rays of light in the very tense situation that has engulfed us since Simchas Torah – October 7.

One of the ways we generate light is by finding the kindnesses of Hashem in every aspect of our lives. 

Moreover, many people feel Hashems presence even more strongly during these challenging times.

It is really up to us, how much we choose to see Hashem in our lives.

If we pay attention, we will begin to notice the small miracles and signs that He is here. 

The Baal Shemtov taught that since nothing is random, we should search to find a lesson in everything we see.

For example. Even in the number of the new secular year we can find a lesson.

(I had this thought when I was meeting earlier this week with Elon from Brooklyn (now living here). He came to learn how to put on Tefilin daily in honor of the protection of our soldiers and our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel and all around the world. We got to talk about the numerology of this year, and he pointed out the number eight in the sum of the year. 

Please follow Elon’s example and transform your deep feelings of ‘am yisrael chai’ into tangible mitzvahs. Hashem gives us the mitzvot in order to illuminate ourselves, our immediate environment and the entire world. Click here to see how your mitzvah helps the soldiers and the collective Jewish people).

2+0+2+4 = 8.

Eight is a number that symbolizes ‘beyond nature’.

Seven are the days of the week.

Eight are the days of the ‘bris’ G-d’s covenant with Jewish males. G-d supersedes nature.

Seven are the number of strands in the harp in the temple of yore.

Eight are the number of strands in the harp that will be used when Mashiach comes.  

We need and anticipate Mashiach now more then ever.

It’s the year of 5784 in the count from creation. The ‘eighth decade’ of this century.

It’s 8 if you add up 2024.

May G-d shine His supernatural presence here on earth and may we merit the coming of Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

what's your story?

This week we read in the Torah parsha of Vayigash regarding the dramatic revelation of Yosef to his brothers.

They had reached the end of their tether with the peculiar and "spooky" behavior of Yosef towards them. Yosef had the advantage of recognizing them without them recognizing him. He was able to tell them things about themselves that a stranger would have no chance of knowing. The frustrations and uneasiness with the intimate information that this "stranger" seemed to possess regarding their family melted like magic once Yosef said "I am Yosef". It was as if a huge halogen light had been turned on in the midst of a dark prairie far from the lights of civilization. The brothers went instantly from total disorientation to perfect clarity as to why Yosef had been so knowledgeable regarding their personal family.

Yosef was their brother.

Now however, they had to deal with the immense shame of standing in front of the brother they had long thought would be out of their sights forever. This was the person whom they had wronged in life and now he stood towering over them as the viceroy of the superpower of their time. Not a very pleasant situation.

Yosef nobly responded "do not get agitated or upset, it is not you who has brought me here, rather G-d has orchestrated this.

You may have had negative intentions, but G-d had planned it all along, so that I would be catapulted to power in Egypt and have the ability to sustain our family during these days of famine.

Yosef espoused the classic Jewish belief of "Divine Providence".

In the saga of the sale of Yosef Hashem allowed us to see how what had seemed bad, was actually good.

When Mashiach comes, we will see how everything Hashem did throughout history was somehow for the good. That will require a Divine revelation of otherworldly magnitude.

From the context of that messianic-era light, all the misfortunes, trial and suffering of the long Jewish exile, will be understood.

For now, before that ‘projector’ is turned on, we have many questions that remain unanswered.

Yet, even now, we are sometimes given opportunities to see G-d’s Hand in things that transpire. And sometimes even when initially it seemed bad, it turns out to be for the good.

There are many stories that illustrate this. I would tell you some things that have happened to me that illustrate this, but I prefer to invite you to be the story teller and 'own' the story.

May I suggest that you take a few minutes to try and remember if something like that ever happened to you? Something that seemed mistaken, wrong, bad or painful but turned out to be an opportunity and of benefit.

Share the blessings of the story with your loved ones and then they too may very well recall stories of hope and inspiration where G-d allowed His benevolence to be shown openly.

Today is the fast day of the Tenth of Tevet.

When Mashiach comes, fasts will be transformed to festivals. We await that utopian, blissfully peaceful era with great anticipation and impatience.

May it come NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


 

Chanukah Finale

WhatsApp Image 2023-12-14 at 12.16.12.jpeg

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

As I was sitting at the seventh candle of the Menorah on Wednesday night, I felt optimistic and invigorated.

Seven lights of miracles burning brightly. Seven is a wholesome number.

Seven are the days of the week.

A complete cycle. Including six workdays and Shabbat.

The pattern and rhythm of life can be summed up by those seven days.

Having all seven lights of the Menorah kindled, symbolizes a fully motivated life. Replacing a ‘dreary’ Wednesday to be an inspired one. Reframing ‘Monday morning back to work blues’ with an excitement to resume making your contribution to Hashem’s world.

The menorah filled with its seven lights, in the context of living and inspired and illuminated life, is a goal worth pursuing.

But its not a stopping point.

It’s like a ‘Cape Canaveral’ launching pad.

For the next day. The 8th light of Chanuka.

If seven is the days of the week. The cycle of nature.

Eight is transcendent of the days of the week. The infinite leap beyond nature.

In the seven day cycle, Sunday is day one of week two.

On Chanuka, day eight, is not the first day of the second week of Chanuka.

Day eight of Chanuka, when the eight lights of the Menorah burn brightly, is an expression of the miraculous energy of Chanuka in full view.

In its very essence, Chanuka is an eight-day holiday. Starting from the very first moment of day one, Chanuka is a supernatural revelation of G-d’s presence here on physical earth.

Chanuka is all about miracles.

The miraculous victory of the few against the many and the weak against the mighty.

The oil that naturally could be alight for one day and stayed alight for eight full days.

These are supernatural occurrences that expose Hashem’s presence in the world.

Today on the eighth day of Chanuka we get to see it in full view.

Eight lights shine brightly in the millions of Menorahs that span the globe.

They call out to us with a reassuring confidence.

G-d, the Master of the universe made miracles in the time of the Maccabees and He makes miracles in our times as well.

The message being beamed out to the world is this:

Even though the world is dark. And even when the darkness has intensified,

Believe in the impossible . Believe that G-d can miraculously intervene.

In times like our current moment of history where there is fear, and uncertainty, the eight lights of Chanuka stand there proudly and reassuringly and proclaim:

Believe in the light of G-d. The light of holiness, goodness, kindness and morality that has the supernatural powers necessary to banish the darkness.

Let me share a Kabbalistic secret with you.

The lights of Chanukah symbolize not just the dispelling of darkness, they proclaim the incredible power of G-d to transform the darkness into light.

The darkness itself will shine.

Because deep down at its source, darkness is a creation of G-d as well. And once the real ‘game plan’ of Hashem is revealed, the darkness too will shine.

Think of it this way.

In the battle of Chanukah, the Greek armies had to be vanquished.

In the ultimate perfected world, when Mashiach comes, the legions of opposition will in a transformative reversal, become support staff to the forces of light.

This is our ultimate and most fervent wish and goal.

At one of our Menorah lightings, I wished an elderly Israeli man, Happy Chanuka. He sighed and told me ‘How can we say Chag Sameach this year when Am Yisrael is in such a difficult situation. Our soldiers are fighting valiantly. Tragically too many have fallen. Our hostages are still removed from their families and loved ones’. So many are wounded. He suggested that we say ‘Chag’ without adding ‘Sameach’.

I understood the feeling he was trying to convey.

Our son Efraim shared a similar sentiment that he heard while he and a friend went door knocking in Netanyah to offer people menorahs and candles. At one home, an elderly woman opened the door and when asked if she had a menorah and candles, she responded that this year although it’s the sixth night of Chanuka they were not going to celebrate Chanukah. After the horrible massacre of October 7th, and with our soldiers on the battlefield, she and her husband can’t bring themselves to celebrate Chanukah.

Efraim and his friend didn’t let the matter rest. With the youthful exuberance of eighteen-year-olds, they asked, begged, cajoled and pleaded that they be allowed to come in and light a menorah with this couple.

Finally, Efraim said, ‘there are so many of our soldiers in Gaza who would love to light the Menorah but can’t as they are in the midst of their work, do it for them’. To this the woman relented and invited them into the home.

There they met the husband. He too tried to resist but his wife had already given the green light so to speak.

The yeshiva bachurs kindled the menorah and then did a heartfelt joyous dance.

The couple was deeply touched and joined in the singing with tears in their eyes. Their hearts were warmed by the flames of Chanuka and the deep caring they felt from the hearts of their fellow young Jews who didn’t give up in trying to get them to do the mitzvah of Chanuka.

They found out which rabbi had recruited them to do the house visitations and they called him to thank him.

‘In our building there are other religious Jews, some build Sukkot during Sukkot and other religious observances, but we are not religious, so we haven’t ever participated. This boy who came all the way from Thailand and wouldn’t take no for an answer, stood there at the door full of concern for us, insisting that we should bring some light into our home and heart, this stirred me and touched and inspired me. Thank you so much for sending those wonderful boys’.

Think of it this way.

Have you ever been so hungry that you have no power or strength or even desire to eat?

Or have you seen a person with high fever who doesn’t feel like taking medication to reduce the fever.

When G-d forbid someone gets so famished they may not even have the willpower to go and get themselves food. With very high fever there may not even be strength to take necessary mediation,

Yet of course, the thing they must do Is eat, and that will give them power to be able to function. It is critical that they take appropriate medication to fight the fever.

Lighting the menorah and rejoicing on Chanuka is like oxygen and food for the Jewish people. It is like vitamins and medication. Yes, we are in a difficult, extraordinarily challenging time, but that is why we must no just celebrate Chanuka, we must celebrate it even more.

We need the miracles of Hashem now more than ever before.

And today, the eighth day, this is the day when the miracle is strongest.

In a literal way, back then in the first Chanukah when the candles were still burning atter eight full days, this was the day that the miracle was most evident and strongest.

My dear friends, let us keep the miracles flowing even as Chanuka comes to its grand conclusion.

An incredible way to bring light into the world is by giving tzedakah.

It is a fundamental Jewish tradition to have a box in your home, a tzedakah box, a tzedakah pushka, a kupat tzedakah, that you put money into on a daily or several-times-daily basis.

It can be given to to any needy person or any worthy cause. You choose where to give it.

Just like eating when you have no strength to eat, giving when you think you don’t even have enough for yourself, (even a very small coin is an act of giving) invites the blessings of G-d’s giving into your life. leaving your own self-preoccupation to think of others, spreads light and invites miracles into your life.

The act of giving tzedakah is transformational.

The way the Rebbe put it. Even if you use credit cards and checks, it is so holy to designate a kupat tzedakah pushka/box for giving ‘tangible’ money with your very own hands. Hands are best used by giving and sharing.

May we merit the ultimate transformational and peaceful light of Mashiach and merit to kindle the Menorah in the Bet Hamikdash, NOW.

Happy Chanuka

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Happy Chanukah

WhatsApp Image 2023-12-07 at 13.38.40 (1).jpeg

First of all, Happy Chanuka!

Last night the first lights of Chanuka were kindled across the world.

In private homes, in public spaces and outside in the most prominent squares and streets of the world. And more celebrations and public lightings will be held throughout the eight days of Chanuka. Click here for some pictures.

Our Bangkok community party is on Monday night at the Rembrandt hotel. During the rest of Chanuka we have Chanukah lightings across Thailand as per this link.

The miracle of Chanuka is several-fold.

The vastly outnumbered Maccabees won the war against the mightier Greek army.

While the Greeks had tried their hardest to rid the Temple of any ritually pure ‘tahor’ olive oil, the Maccabees found one flask that had miraculously escaped their desecration.

The oil contained in that flask sufficed for one night. It burned miraculously for eight days straight.

Let us unpack the message that the lights of the menorah proclaim. In simple byte size form.

First message:

The Maccabees were righteous and good. The Greeks were dictatorial, immoral, and evil.

G-d made a miracle.

The good guys won over the bad guys.

The message couldn’t be clearer.

‘When the going gets tough’ and it looks like the bad guys are stronger and the majority, don’t give up. Keep on resisting. Hashem made miracles in the past and He will make miracles for those who follow in the path of goodness, kindness and morality.

Chanuka reminds us that the forces of light will overpower the gangs of evil.

Second message:

The Maccabees searched for oil even though it looked like there was no pure oil.

G-d made a miracle and they indeed found one jug of oil.

The takeaway is simple.

Hashem waits for our efforts, sincere and sometimes strenuous efforts, before He blesses us with His miraculous input.

Don’t give up trying to do the right thing.

Try harder.

Third message:

The Maccabees lit up the Menorah although they assumed it would only remain lit for one day, and once the oil finished, for the next seven days it would remain unlit. Rather than saying let’s wait till we can do it perfectly, they went ahead and did what they could.

You can’t get anywhere without that first step.

For now, it may only be a very small flame, a glimmer of light.

Tomorrow it will grow and become a twosome. And then a threesome until before long, with consistent growth, it becomes a fully kindled eight candle Menorah.

The beginning is always more difficult.

And that’s why the beginning is always more powerful.

It doesn’t have to be a massive or perfect accomplishment.

Just do what you can do right now.

While the headlines of most newspapers broadcast all the dark things going on in the world, the violence, suffering and injustice, on Chanuka we have a mitzvah to do a different kind of PR. To make waves and headlines that have the farthest reach possible through kindling lights.

Peaceful lights that signify warmth and kindness.

The miracles of Chanuka provide hope and inspiration to the Jewish people and we share it with all of humankind.

What could be more positive and enlightening than kindling lights to dispel darkness and spreading the message of positivity as virally and outwardly as possible?

This is why I was stunned to receive a voice note from someone who is usually quite ‘outward’ that went something like this.

‘I know it’s not my place and maybe I shouldn’t be telling you… but still I am going to tell you,

I don’t get the point or understand the publicity of Chanukah

Especially during difficult days like this

Why do we have to do our ‘religious ritual’ outside, in the presence of others who are not connected to it at all.

It’s fun and nice to do it in your house or in my house,

Why do we have to take it outside to the streets,

I have heard from other friends as well , they don’t understand why we are going out to kindle the menorah in the streets

The Muslims have their mosque, the Christians have their church we have our Synagogue,

Why should we go outside and to it in the presence of everyone

I don’t understand the concept, especially during these turbulent times.

I want you to consider it again as it really angers me to see things being done like this,

Phew, its off my chest, I’ve shared my feelings with you,

Bye,

Before I share the Torah’s perspective on the publicity of Chanuka, let me first make an important and timely point. Safety is paramount. One must follow the security instructions as they pertain individually in each locale. Any outdoor or public celebration must be sanctioned by the security experts.

I realized that the person who sent me the note, saw Chanuka as a ‘ritual’ that is tribal or ethnic and therefore belongs only in the private space of a Jewish home or Synagogue. They mistakenly assumed that the public celebration of Chanuka was a recent and unnecessary addition to the mitzvah. Maybe it was intended as a PR stunt.

Interestingly, celebrating Chanuka in public is an intrinsic part of the mitzvah of Chanukafrom its very inception. The Sages who initiated the holiday of Chanuka instructed that the Menorah be lit in the doorway or in the window. It is intended to be a mitzvah that spreads the awareness of the miracles that Hashem made.

Now more than ever before it is important to be public about Chanukah (while preserving safety).

The Jewish people is in a state of soul searching.

There is the awakening of those who had been so alienated from Judaism for so long and yet feel their deepest Jewish feelings stirring at this time in the most unexpected way.

Especially for all of us Jewish communities living around the world.

There are those who live with the fear of the resurgence of antisemitism around the world.

No one is unaffected.

Questions abound about how to move forward.

Do we hide and cower away in fear. Or do we joyously and proudly march forward raising the banner of our Judaism with confidence.

One thing is clear. We learned this lesson from the Holocaust.

Hiding away in the shadows hoping that ‘they’ won’t see us does not work. Thinking that we will prevent antisemitism by staying away from doing positive things in public, doesn’t work. Antisemitism and prejudice require no outside causes.

Kindling menorahs in public has proved to be a major source of reconnection for Jews who have not felt so connected.

As to the statement it makes to our non-Jewish neighbors?

We are blessed to live in an era when for the most part ‘Non-Jews respect Jews who respect their Judaism’.

We need to be proud of being Jews.

As Jews, we have a mission. We need to represent G-d and proclaim to the world that Hashem made miracles during the Chanukah time and makes miracles now as well and will make miracles in the future.

Kindling the Menorah is a mitzvah that spreads and engenders positivity and optimism about creating a better world.

Spreading the message of light over darkness has never been so critically vital.

In short, I would sum it up:

Chanuka reminds and empowers us that G-d empowers good people to be victorious over evil.

No matter how unlikely it seems, fight valiantly to follow the moral path as taught by G-d. Don’t wait for perfection. Do what you can do now.  

Kindling the lights of the Menorah symbolizes the power of light over darkness and morality over immorality.

Light the Menorah as publicly as possible for when every citizen of the world embraces this message, it will leave no room for darkness in our world.

We pray for the BIG miracle, the ushering in of everlasting global peace with the coming of Mashiach.

And we pray that even before that ‘grand finale’ miracle happens, we have the ‘smaller’ miracles of our soldiers coming home (having achieved secure peace) in complete health, return of our captives, healing of our sick and good physical, emotional and spiritual health for all.

This year don’t stand on the sidelines. Each and every one of us must participate. No one is indispensable.

LIGHT UP YOUR HOME AND YOUR CORNER OF THE WORLD.

Kindle a Menorah. Empower yourself, your family and your environment to join the forces of good and together we will make this world a more G-dly, kindly, goodly and peaceful place.

Shabbat Shalom

Chanuka Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS click here for everything Chanuka

‘Fight or Flight’

‘Fight or Flight’?

When you meet up unexpectedly with an adversary who poses a threat to your life, you have one of two immediate choices.

Run.

Or stand your ground and fight off the enemy.

It’s an instinctive reaction that our brain comes to. Not before subconsciously considering vast amounts of pre-acquired experiential knowledge.

Some people are hardwired to be more prone to standing their ground and fighting. Others are far more comfortable to run away from confrontation.

Those are instinctive reactions.

I want to touch on conscious decision-making when facing challenges. For that we need to consider the theological question that arises when one faces an unanticipated challenge.

Let us talk about a not uncommon scenario. You are on the path to doing what you think G-d has instructed you to do. And then you hit a snag and you don’t see a way forward.  

What should be your next move?

Does the insurmountable barrier tell you STOP. G-d is the creator of that barrier. And obviously G-d doesn’t want you to go forward.

Or is it that G-d wants you to find a way to scale or breach the seemingly impenetrable wall. The impediment is intended by G-d to cause you to dig deeper and try harder.

How does one know whether to accept defeat or to soldier on?

It’s a theologically strengthened question, as G-d can do anything even if it seems impossible.

For example, after the exodus from Egypt, the children of Israel found themselves trapped between the Egyptians and the deep waters of the sea. The sea was not traversable without ships that they didn’t have.

There were at least four opinions among the Jews as they stood by the sea as to what they should do. G-d communicated to Moshe that He didn’t side with any of the opinions.

G-d said do the unthinkable.

Travel forward!

Once G-d said to travel forward on foot, Nachshon led the way into the sea. Just before he drowned, the sea split.

So, if G-d can do anything, how do you and I know when to call quits and when to keep digging deeper and trying harder even when things look highly improbable to the point of impossible.

Chanuka is the classic story of doing the impossible. The Maccabees fought against an army that was stronger and mightier.

In their case there was no dilemma about what they needed to do. The Greeks and Hellenists were introducing a form of idolatry into the Jewish nation. When it comes to idolatry, we are instructed to resist even at the cost of our lives.

The Maccabees didn’t know that they would win. But they knew what they needed to do. They did it heroically and unhesitatingly.

Countless Jews have given their lives in sanctification of G-d’s name when they were given the choice between the ‘sword or the cross’. They chose G-d over life. This is the default feeling of every Jewish soul. A life lived in idolatrous denial of G-d, is a life not worth living.

The Maccabees won the war miraculously. We have Chanukah to celebrate it and to remind us that there are certain immutable laws that require self-sacrifice. There are not two choices.

If you face a dilemma that puts you in a position of choosing a difficult moral path over an easier immoral path, you know what you need to do. Choose the moral path even though it is more cumbersome and difficult.

Morality is light. Immorality is darkness. Chanukah is all about choosing to add light to overcome and dispel the darkness.

Chanuka reassuringly teaches us that G-d blesses the efforts of those valiantly struggling and fighting to stay true to His wishes. G-d has not limitations and makes miracles when needed, to have the ‘good guys’ win.

Let me now move onward to discuss a different kind of scenario. Very often we face situations where there is no clear moral imperative for one choice over the other. It may be quite confusing as both choices are not immoral and unG-dly. In this instance, how do we view possible barriers in the path we have set out on?

This weekend we commemorate and celebrate the founding of Chabad Chasidism.

What may be less known, is that the Chabad movement that has become the familiar face of Judaism in large as well as remote Jewish communities, almost ‘aborted’ before being born so to speak.

The first Rebbe, R’ Shneur Zalman, was imprisoned shortly after laying forth his systematic approach to Chassidut in the Tanya as the spiritual heir to the Baal Shemtov and his disciple known as ‘The Maggid’.

It was clear to the Rebbe that this imprisonment based although it was on false libelous charges leveled against him, was Heavenly sanctioned.

Why would there be a Divine plan to imprison him? The way the Rebbe understood it, it was Divinely intended to stop the development and dissemination of his teachings. The teachings of Chabad Chasidism comprise a revelation of the Kabalistic secrets of Torah to the broader community.

At the time this was revolutionary. Kabala and Chasidism were kept more discreet. One had to first gain entry via pre-acquired broad scholarship to the circles that taught these kabalistic traditions.

The Rebbe saw his imprisonment as being a protest from Heaven to his new path. His revered teachers who had already passed away, visited him via a spiritual vision he had in prison. They confirmed to him that he was being challenged in Heaven for his public teachings and that he would ultimately be released.

‘When I get out shall I desist or continue’? the Rebbe asked his holy predecessors.

To which they replied, ‘continue and with added vigor’.

After undergoing a cross examination where he was given the opportunity to answer the accusations against him at length, he was miraculously released from the Czarist prison after having spent 53 days in prison and thus his life was saved.

From that moment onward the Chabad movement began to develop and blossom. First in Russia in the shtetl of Lubavitch and from the 1940’s onwards, headquartered in New York with branches worldover.

This story of challenge, doubt and the resolution of this doubt, is one of the stories recounted every year at the celebratory gatherings ‘farbrengen’ that are held to commemorate this day. (In Bangkok we are hosting a men’s farbrengen at Bet Elisheva on Motzei Shabbat at 8pm).

This story speaks to me very personally right now.

Our family are blessed to be the Rebbe’s representatives to Thailand for three decades.

The growth has been exceptional and miraculous.

Jewish life is flourishing across Thailand.

Looking forward, there is much more to do. There are several ambitious projects in the pipeline that are in various stages of planning and implementing.

The path to achieve all of the aspirations seems challenging.

I am thinking out loud.

When I reach a challenge to implement what seems to be a Divinely mandated project, how am I to interpret it?

Is it a divine big red STOP sign. Telling me that Hashem doesn’t want me to continue down that path?

Or is it a hurdle that tells me gather your strength, pray hard, dig deep into your soul and take a leap of faith.

Is there a kind of divine ‘voice’ calling out that the plateau on the other side awaits you if you but have the right faith and march on joyously.

Does G-d want me to have faith that the proverbial ‘sea’ will ‘split’ if need be. That all I need to do is march on with optimism and faith and I will get successfully to the other side?

How did the Rebbe know whether to continue his newly forged path or change course?

He asked his spiritual masters.

This is what we must do when faced with a dilemma in which there is no clear moral imperative. It’s not like it’s a choice between doing something moral or something immoral. Those decisions are clear cut. I am referring to scenarios where both options could equally fit the description of being G-d’s intention. Both make moral sense.

The Rebbe made it very clear to our generation that we must implement what our Sages have instructed ‘make for yourself a teacher’. Every Jew, layman, scholar or even rabbi, needs to appoint someone else from whom he or she take counsel. We are all subjective and partial to ourselves and thus cannot rely only on our own judgment to come to clarity.  We need to seek advice from others who are greater, wiser, older and most importantly objective, to help make certain pivotal decisions.

Perseverance is a wonderful quality, but it is not always the right choice. As a matter of fact, it is quite wrong to keep marching down the wrong road in the name of ‘trying harder’ and persevering. If G-d is telling you STOP. You ought to listen to G-d’s instruction to ‘recalculate’.

On the other hand, changing direction spontaneously and fleeing every time you hit a bump in the road, is evading your Divine mission. It is misguided to misinterpret a hurdle that is meant to energize you, as a barrier that has come to stop you.

This is my first take away.

If you are facing a dilemma, check it out with your ‘rav’ – morally and spiritually healthy teacher/mentor/advisor. Arrive at what seems to be the right decision, be it either ‘fight or flight’ or a combination thereof. And then forge ahead joyously and faithfully.

My second and main point.

The Maccabees won their battles against all odds.

The oil lasted supernaturally, not one day but eight days.

The Rebbe exited jail and expanded his spreading of the inner Kabalistic track of Torah. He said that his redemption was a sign from Heaven that all who would follow his example in promoting inspired Jewish living would have an upper hand against their challengers.

If you are doing the right thing and you apply yourself with faith, joy and effort, these stories of light and miracles remind you that Hashem will bless you with success.

This month of Kislev is historically a season of liberation and victory and it continues to be a month of miracles to this very day.

We are reminded during this month that light overcomes and dispels darkness.

And we are empowered by Divine opportunity to tap in to the energies and spirit of liberation and light that awaits us if we but put forth the effort.

Let us utilize the powers we have access to.

On a practical note. Was there something morally good and socially kind that you wanted to do but thought you couldn’t do it?

Try it again during these fortuitous times. This time trying a bit harder than before.

May Hashem show you that the hurdle was only intended to energize you and this time you will be successful.

Does the world seem very dark?

Don’t hide away under your covers.

Take the incredible opportunity of Chanuka and run with it.

Kindle the menorah yourself and with anyone you can reach, in your home and in the public domain, and LIGHT UP THE DARKNESS both by the physical lights of the menorah and by the additional mitzvahs that you perform.

Shabbat Shalom

Chag Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS as I write these lines, the situation in Israel is evolving. Our prayers for safety, security and peace are with our soldiers, with our brothers and sisters living in the holy land and the world over.

Shabbat SHALOM

Balancing act

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It is quite natural for people to like living life with a plan.

When there are too many unknowns it can be quite stressful.

Let’s face it, no one in this world really knows what will happen in their lives in the future. But balanced people are able to banish thoughts of ‘the sky falling down on their heads’ or being struck by lightning, from their list of concerns and live nearly predictable lives.

We, the Jewish people, have more of a challenging existence.

In every generation there are challenges of a real nature.

To be Jewish means to be straddling two worlds. Trying to live a natural life. At the same time recognizing our reliance on the miraculous’ness’ of Hashem’s protection.

Particularly at this moment of history Jews grapple with the pain and suffering inflicted by the Hamas. And with the anxieties and fears relating to the war in Israel and the resurgence of antisemitism around the world.

At the same time, there is a collective awakening among the Jewish people to strengthen our identity as Jews. Rallies of Jewish solidarity are attended in unprecedented numbers. Synagogues in the USA are reporting higher attendance than usual and there is a flurry of purchase of Tefillin and Tzitzit like never before.

We have become clearer about who we are.

While at the very same time, what the future holds in store for us has become less clear to the rational-logic-oriented mind.

Last week I attended the annual conference of Shluchim in NY.

I spent twenty-four hours in Israel on my way home.

To pay condolences to the family of a fallen soldier.

To say Mazel tov at the wedding of a family friend.  

To drop in and say hi to our Israel based children and grandchildren.

And just simply to ‘be there’ and breathe in the air and atmosphere of the holy land. The land that the Torah describes as being the land that Hashem’s Eyes are always focused on. Thus, the land that is the safest place in the world for a Jew.

The twenty-four hours in Israel was really forty-eight hours. As I traveled from New York to Bangkok on El Al. When you travel El Al, you get the full experience of being in Israel the duration of the flight.

I love sitting surrounded by fellow Jews – especially during this trying time in history. There is a very special feeling while traveling with the airline of Israel that serves kosher food and keeps the day of Shabbat holy. The pilot even said ‘Shabbat Shalom’ when we landed.

So as you can see, this past week brought me into direct contact with literally hundreds of people. Different countries. Varying backgrounds. And multiple differences of opinions.

I come away with two things that stick out in my mind as being universal feelings to Am Yisrael at this time.

Amongst the Jews of the world today there is a unity and a deep sense of conviction about our eternity as a people. Our future is guaranteed by G-d Himself.

Yet on the other hand, in our rational analytical minds, there is a deep feeling of uncertainty as to how the future will unfold. This leads to conscious and subconscious anxiety, fear or even dread.

Most people I have spoken to know and believe that we will be victorious and defeat our enemy with G-d’s help. Yet many feel that the way forward after that is very much unknown.

And that leaves them unsettled and anxious.

Then we have the nuanced task of balance between pain and joy.

It is clear that while our hearts are reeling with pain, our hearts aching empathetically, we must place special emphasis on our Jewish identity and on the joy of our connection to G-d.

The pain and sadness are ubiquitous. If one merely thinks for a moment about the bereaved families, the families waiting for any snipped of news from the hostages or our wounded brethren one feels hurt and agony.

Not very energetically joyous.

Yet, without energy and joy we won’t muster up the incredible energy levels that we need to be victorious physically, emotionally and spiritually.

That would be counterproductive and detrimental to those who need our help.

How does one live with two competing emotions that are both true?

Uncertainty coupled with pain. Vs conviction coupled with joy.

This weeks parsha gives us an answer.

Yitschak the son of Avraham looked exactly like his father Avraham.

In the Rebbe’s words, Avraham and Yitschak had differing styles in serving Hashem. Thus, the Midrash posits that Yitschak would have looked very different than his father Avraham.

Avraham who was extraordinarily kind, had a benevolent look while Yitschak who served G-d from a place of strength and judgment would have naturally looked stricter.

Hashem made a miracle and formed the facial features of the stricter Yitschak to look exactly like the benevolent Avraham.

What does this have to do with us?

We, who call the ‘three fathers’ our ‘forefathers’ are expected to embody the modality of serving Hashem with all of the attributes of our forefathers.  

How can that be?

Avraham represented benevolence while Yitschak represented strictness.

How can they coexist within us? How can we be expected to embody these conflicting qualities without some form of spiritual schizophrenia?

The answer is that Hashem is infinite. Higher than definition. Kindness and strictness are definitions. Our souls at their deepest most essential point are a part of G-d. When Hashem’s infinite light that resides within us is accessed, those mutually exclusive traits can be embodied in one person.

Kabala teaches that we ought to have bitterness on one side of our heart and joy on the other side. We need to bemoan our undeservingness while celebrating our relationship with G-d.

Admittedly, I have asked a question with logic, and I have answered with faith.

That blend of the rational and the supra-rational, is ultimately the way we Jews have always lived.

We have a song that proclaims joyously and even jubilantly ‘Ashreinu…’ ‘How happy we are, how good is our lot’.

On the other hand, we look soberly at our reality and recognize the deep pain and suffering that we have undergone and the still unfolding tragedy of war in Israel.

One way of dealing with this dichotomy is by allotting different times for focusing on the painful things and reserving other times for engaging in positive thinking.

An even higher level is trying to simultaneously bear in mind and heart the awareness of both the joyous and the painful.

G-d gives us the gift of being able to aim for that synthesis and make the impossible possible.

From our very inception, the Jewish people were born as an impossibility.

Yitschak, the first Jew, was born to a ninety-year-old barren mother. A miracle of epic proportion.

Couldn’t G-d have blessed Sara to have her son when she was of childbearing age? Did we have to start as a total miracle?

The lesson here is that the Jewish people is born as a miracle.

The continuation and sustaining of our people is also a miracle.

In other words, if your rational mind doesn’t understand how things will work out for the Jewish people, don’t worry.

Place your trust in Hashem and do the next right thing.

Even in 2023, or perhaps especially in 2023 we are acutely and painfully aware of the words in Tehilim ‘if Hashem doesn’t guard the city, the watchman works in vain’. The inference is that with Hashem guarding us, we are safe and secure.

I would like to suggest this exercise.

Don’t try to ‘escape’ and ignore your feelings.

Give yourself permission to feel the two competing emotional states that you are likely embodying at this time.

Feel the deep pain for the loss of life, for the hostages and for the wounded.

Conversely, feel the deep conviction and joy of being Hashem’s specially chosen and endowed Jewish people.

And recognize that both emotional states are very much valid at this time. It is natural to vacillate between the two, though it is helpful to oneself to focus more on the positive and even more beneficial to those suffering if you are energized by positivity as you will be more able and willing to help.

To protect your inner equilibrium and underlying anxiety let us try to liberate ourselves from the crippling fear that pervades us.

Identify the subconscious fears that you have.

Recognize that they are likely coming from the disturbing recent events and the ensuing uncertainty that they invoke regarding Israel’s future. And from the frightening sounds of antisemitism around the world.

Remind yourself that that a Jew is meant to ask not ‘what till be’ but ‘what shall I do’?

Ask yourself, is there something practical that I can do to fix that feeling of insecurity?

If yes, (like providing appropriate security to protect lives) then go ahead and do it.

And then proceed to surrender your dreams of ‘living a life totally reliant on nature’ and take the leap of  strengthening your trust in Hashem, the only thing that is infallible and eternally reliable.

(If there is nothing you can or should actively do, jump straight to the trust).

The most certain thing that exists is G-d.

Meditate on the fact that Almighty G-d is the master of the universe, and He runs every single detail of this world. Place your trust and reliance solely on Him and then breathe in, breathe out and try your hardest to ‘chill out’.

The more you trust, the more calm and peaceful you will feel.

Plan concrete positive actions. Like thinking about and planning joyous events.

(On a personal note, while the thousands of tourists who would usually be in Thailand now, are currently in the army in Israel, we are projecting that once it will be possible, the guests will start streaming into our Chabad Houses in larger numbers than before. This is the time to prepare the appropriate infrastructure to prepare to be able to welcome our soldiers with open arms).

Placing your trust in Hashem will give you inner calm and a sense of tranquility.

Connecting to Hashem and sending Mitzvah spiritual hugs to our soldiers, captives, wounded and citizens of Israel, is the ‘order of the day’ for all of us.

Each Mitzvah adds light to the battle of light against darkness.

During our conference, much emphasis was placed on how to spread the joy of being Hashem’s chosen Jewish people with our respective communities.

Jews world over are starting to make plans on how to best celebrate the upcoming Festival of Lights – Chanukah!!!

Chanukah is around the corner starting on December 7th.

Save the date for the Bangkok community celebration on Monday December 11th at Rembrandt hotel.

May Hashem bless us with secure peace, the coming home of our hostages, the safety or our soldiers, the healing of our wounded, and peace and serenity for all of the humane and good people of our world.

We want Mashiach NOW!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS here is a link to a number of inspiring articles related to the war in Israel.


Thanks

I write these lines in between attending workshops, lectures and general sessions at the International Conference of Shluchim in New York.

I would like to highlight the incredible energy that fills the room as dedicated rabbi’s fill the conference hall.

And speak of the resoluteness and conviction that fills our hearts as we recommit to being faithful to our mission of spreading Judaism and Chasidism notwithstanding the winds of hatred that blow in all too many places.

Truth be told, there are two directions I could go with this article.

I could have chosen to highlight the glaring absence of the many hundreds of rabbi’s from Israel who are at their posts. During the current war situation, they are not able to attend the conference.

I could speak about the comparing of notes that points to the resurgence of antisemitism almost everywhere in the world right now.

Do I focus on the looming issues that are not ok, or do I hone in on the many points of light that shine brightly from the darknesss?

As the Torah is our guiding light, I look to the Parsha to get my ‘marching orders’.

This weeks parsha tells the story of Avraham sending his servant Eliezer as his agent to find a wife for Yitschak his son.

Eliezer faithfully sets out on the mission without having any idea how he will successfully find the right girl.

On his way into town he prays:

"O God, God of my master Abraham, arrange events for me this day such that You grant a favor to my master, Abraham.

Here I stand by the spring of water, and the daughters of the townsmen are coming out to draw water.

Let it be that the maiden to whom I shall say, 'Please tilt your pitcher so that I may drink,' and she replies, 'Drink, and I will also give water to your men and camels,' will be the one whom You have designated for Your servant Isaac. She will be a fitting match, because her demonstration of considerateness and generosity will prove that she is worthy of becoming a part of Abraham's household. Let her be from his family and a suitable companion for Isaac; thus I will know through her that You have acted kindly with my master."

He had not yet finished speaking when three-year-old Rebecca came out. She had been born to Bethuel, the youngest son of Milkah, the wife of Abraham's brother, Nachor. Her pitcher was on her shoulder.

The maiden was of beautiful appearance, … She went down to the spring, and the water level rose as she approached, making it easier for her to fill her pitcher. Eliezer duly noted this miracle and concluded that the girl enjoyed this Divine aid because was righteous. She filled her pitcher, and came back up.

The servant ran toward her and said, "If you would, let me sip a little water from your pitcher."

She said, "Drink, sir," and quickly lowered her pitcher onto her hand and gave him a drink.

When she had finished giving him to drink, she said: "Let me draw water for your men and camels, too, until they have drunk their fill."

She quickly emptied her pitcher into the trough and ran to the well again to draw water, and she drew water for all his men and camels.

Seeing that Rebecca had performed precisely those acts that he had requested from God that she perform as a sign that she was a suitable wife for Isaac, the man wondered about her if she would also prove to be from Abraham's family. He thought silently to himself, wanting to know whether or not God had made his journey successful.

But his doubts were outweighed by the confidence he had in Abraham's merits and his reliance on Abraham's promise that God would prearrange success in advance. When the camels had drunk their fill, the man took a gold nose-ring … and two gold bracelets for her arms, and gave them to her, thereby engaging her to Isaac.

He said: "Whose daughter are you? If you would, tell me if there is room in your father's house for us to spend the night."

Answering his questions in the order in which he asked them, she said to him, "I am the daughter of Bethuel, son of Milkah, whom she bore to Nachor."

She then said, "We have plenty of straw and fodder, as well as a place to spend many nights."

Hearing this, the man bowed his head and prostrated himself to God.

He said, "Blessed be God, God of my master Abraham, who has not withheld His kindness and truth from my master. God has guided me along the right road, to the house of my master's brothers!"

It is an uplifting story.

Everything went right. Worked out perfectly.

Eliezer took on the task and he was blessed with the miracles needed to carry out the task.

The thousands of rabbi’s attending the conference of Shluchim have all experienced similar stories. Of times that they had no idea how they would prevail, yet by Divine Providence, things worked out.

It is inspiring and exhilarating to hear those success stories.

Yet, at the same time it’s true that at the same time these rabbi’s also have their share of challenge. In some instances, formidable challenges.

I am sure you are facing the exact same dilemma. Do you immerse yourself into the constant stream of news and social media and feel like you are drowning in a raging sea of a world gone mad.

Or do you limit your media intake and open your eyes and heart to the many myriad of blessings that are being given to you by the Almighty.

Which mode should we focus on? The miraculous successful side of things or the challenging aspects?

As I said. I take my cue from the weekly Parsha. Unlike the Parsha of past weeks which had the dramatic destruction of Sodom, this week the topic is much more positive and calmer. This week the parsha is focused on the successful matchmaking efforts of Avraham’s servant to bring Rvika as a wife to Yitschak.

In line with the success story of this week’s parsha, I would like to focus on the good news that surrounds us. On the success stories, rather than the challenging ones.

There is a actionable item in this weeks Parsha.

After Eliezer saw the miraculous outcome of this mission, that Hashem has led him to the exact girl that fits Avraham’s criteria, he prostrated himself on the ground to God in thanksgiving for the good turn of events. 

This teaches us that we must thank G-d for good things.

Let us implement this.

As a people we are experiencing turbulent times. In Israel. And outside of Israel.

At the same time, we are also being blessed with many positive things.

In honor of this week’s parsha, may I suggest that you take a moment to thank G-d for something good in your life.

For example, if you are reading this article you are blessed with eyesight. That is a gift from G-d that you ought to thank him for. If you have a roof over your head, food in your refrigerator, etc. all of these things are blessings from G-d.

Take a moment to think about them and be grateful to Hashem.

Don’t feel guilty for taking your mind off the troubles and focusing on the good. This is also good for the collective people of Israel.

By expressing gratitude to Hashem you become a lightning rod for attracting healthy and positive energy upon yourself and upon our people of Am Yisrael.

By performing mitzvahs you bring down Divine energy that provides protective blessings to our brave and heroic soldiers.

May Hashem bless us with secure peace, the coming home of our hostages, the safety or our soldiers, the healing of our wounded, and peace and serenity for all of the humane and good people of our world.

We want Mashiach NOW!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS I will be visiting the Ohel – the holy resting place of the Rebbe in a few hours with thousands of my fellow Shluchim, to pray on behalf of our soldiers, the hostages, our local communities and the collective people of Israel.

If you would like me to mention your name in prayer, please send me by email your Hebrew name and your mothers Hebrew name. As well as writing if you have a particular request, you would like me pray for.

 

Undefeatable LIGHT!

Dear Friend,

I am more inspired than I have ever been in my life.

Never in my lifetime have I felt so acutely connected to every single Jew in the world.

A profound joy and sense of purpose as a Jew suffuses my being.

Let me explain why.

Our eyes and hearts are directed to Israel.

We have family in Israel. Friends in Israel. Fellow Jews in Israel.

Many of us are not physically living in Israel.

Yet we are at war.

All of us.

If you are a Jew, you are witnessing a phenomenon that you thought was a relic of the past.

We say it every year in the Haggadah of Pesach:

For not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand.

Many have thought that we can relate to this statement as something of allegory.

But no. It is quite literal as we see with our own eyes.

Old fashioned antisemitism.

If you are not sure, just google ‘antisemitism 2023’ and see what shows up.

Unapologetic and stripped naked of any sophisticated cover ups.

We have nowhere to run. Nowhere to hide.

You cannot run away from yourself. Wherever you go your identity goes with you.

I have many friends who have Jewish names.

They may not dress or act outwardly Jewish, they may feel totally blended into their respective ‘western’ societies, but ultimately, they cannot hide their identity.

My name may not be so Jewish, (the original Kantorovitch had a more Yiddish tone to it) but I was blessed to be raised by parents who taught me to make every effort to look and act as Jewish as I can.

What is the most troubling to so many Jews is the shock of this all.

Many thought that they were so integrated within societies that they occupy that they were looked at without bias or judgement.

Yet somehow, just being a Jew means that you are a prospect for antisemitism.

The ‘excuse’ now? The war that has been forced onto Israel on Simchat Torah this year.

I grew up in Australia in a community made up of many Holocaust survivors. One of the reasons survivors emigrated to Australia was to get as far away as possible from the region in which they had suffered inhumanely.

Today that is not the case.

To quote Josh Frydenberg the formal federal treasurer of Australia

“As a person of Jewish faith growing up in a tolerant and multicultural Australia, I never thought I would feel as my grandparents did in 1933 the rising tide of European antisemitism which would consume their families in the flames of the Holocaust. But now I do.”

How does this make sense?

When America fought back after 9/11 was every American a target to be screamed at all over the world?

When Russia invaded Crimea was every Russian looking over their back to see if the protesters against Russa’s aggression would be hurling catcalls at them?

Why when people have complaints about Israel is every Jew a target for demonstrating against?

Why is that a reason for a Jew in Australia to feel unsafe?

(The hypocrisy of the demonization of Israel is a very important topic beyond the scope of this article. It is important to familiarize yourself with basic facts as our enemies have a very well-oiled PR machine. If you need guidance email me privately).

I have never lived through such a time of upheaval. Never in my lifetime have I witnessed the evil head of antisemitism come out so forcefully and openly without shame.

My intention is to make a serious point but NOT to depress you.

You and I are soldiers in this war of light against darkness. We dare not fall asleep at our posts.

READ ON PLEASE TO EMOWER YORSELF AND GALVANIZE INTO ACTION:

I am more inspired than I have ever been in my life.

Never in my lifetime have I felt so acutely connected to every single Jew in the world.

You see, what the antisemites got right, is the fact that we are one people. The best analogy for that is that describe the Jewish People as one organism.

The Sages taught us that the Jewish people is compared to one body.

Every Jew is part of the collective Jewish body.

When our enemies persecute anyone of our nation anywhere in the world, it is a blow to every limb of that collective body.

Right now, in Israel our soldiers are fighting, putting their lives on the line, may Hashem protect them, to protect our people.

As I am writing these words, I get the tragic news that the 28 year old son of my dear friend Rabbi Chanan Brand fell in battle – ה' יקום דמו .

Our fellow Jews who are living in Israel are heroes for staying in the Holyland and going about their daily routine of life as much as the situation allows.

What should we, you and I, be doing?

It has never been clearer that we are all like one body. The best way to help your body fight illness is by strengthening your overall health.

We need to strengthen and fortify ourselves spiritually and emotionally.

A healthy body can ward off illness more effectively.

Likewise, when one part of the body gets a dose of energy and health, the other part of the body gets the benefit as well.

The ‘body of Israel’ is spread out over the entire world in multiple and varied locales.

We must all contribute to the war effort.

We in the diaspora are not bearing physical weapons. Our children are not in the army.

Our job is to be healthy, proud, devoted and joyous Jews.

We have G-d’s recipe and instructions for the collective strength and health of the Jewish people.

Hashem’s ‘manufacturer instructions’ to us have withstood the test of time and endured through the worst circumstances in history.

In every generation they have risen against us to destroy us.

We are still here. Hashem has promised to Avraham our forefather that we will forever bear His torch.

Hashem has given us the mission of being a light unto the nations. It is a mission that will usher the world into the eternal Messianic peace we believe in and hope for.

The spiritual weapons in the Jewish arsenal are eminently accessible.

Prayer. Tefilin. Shabbat Candles. Tzedakah. Love of our fellow. Being joyful about our Judaism. Everyone has a plethora of mitzvahs that they can engage in.

The overarching mood and perspective we must work on projecting is POSITIVITY and JOY.

I am incredibly joyous to be a Jew. Every day when we wake up in the morning we thank G-d for the gift of a healthy body.

And we thank G-d for the G-d given gift of being a Jew.

My friend Rabbi Aaron Moss sums it up well:

Judaism is the most powerful idea that the world has ever seen. Jews should survive because we have a message that the world needs to hear.

The Jewish way of life is a revolutionary force that can transform ordinary lives into lives of meaning. A family that keeps Shabbat is always reminded of what is really important—that there is more to life than accumulating wealth. The kosher laws teach us that we are not mere animals that must feed our every urge and desire, and that eating itself can be holy. A mezuzah on the door tells the world that this home is built for a higher purpose.

Judaism teaches lessons that the world urgently needs to learn—that every individual person is created in the image of G‑d, and is therefore unique and valuable; that morality is not relative but absolute; that humans are partners with G‑d in creation, with a mission to create heaven on earth.

These bold Jewish ideas are more relevant now than ever. But bold Jewish ideas need bold Jewish people to perpetuate them. The world can only be elevated if individuals first elevate themselves. We can only make the world into a divine home if we start with our own home. This is Judaism's formula to change the world for better. This is why we must stay Jewish.

The biggest threat to Judaism is not external pressure but rather internal confusion. When we lose sight of our mission, we lose the strength and stamina to survive. The Jewish feeling we need to develop in ourselves and our children is not fear of anti-Semitism, or guilt about assimilation. It is a humble pride in the greatness of the Jewish mission and confident resolve to fulfill it. When we are clear about our identity, no threat in the world can shake us.

Click here for complete article

Don’t be a victim. Be a proactive initiator.

Transform from being a worrier to being a valiant warrior.  

Soldiers don’t cover away in hideouts. They come out and fight.

This is a defining moment in history.

As rabbi Tzvi Freeman put it to 1200 Jewish kids on American college campuses:

Be like Abraham. Don’t let the world define you. Sure, there are people out there that don’t like Jews so much. Don’t let that define you. You are not a Jew because they want to destroy you. You are a Jew because you are an emissary of light to the world. (click here for full article).

Spread light by studying Torah.

Spread light by praying in Synagogues.

Spread light by being openly and proudly Jewish.

Spread light by giving your child Jewish education.

Spread light by laying Tefillin .

Spread light by lighting Shabbat candles.

Spread light by affixing Mezuzahs to your doors.

(To purchase or inspect your tefillin or mezuzahs contact me).

Spread light by keeping the laws of Jewish Family Purity (Mikvah)

Spread light by giving Tzedakah.

Spread light by buying letters in the Global Jewish Unity Torah scroll being written in Israel.

Spread light incessantly and join the thousands of years of Jewish history as we fight for the victory of light over darkness.

May Hashem bless us with secure peace, the coming home of our hostages, the safety or our soldiers, the healing of our wounded, and peace and serenity for all of the humane and good people of our world.

The destination is so near. Mashiach is about to come. We must each try our hardest to do one more good deed, one more act of goodness and kindness, so that we can cross over the hill from the darkest part of the night to the breaking of dawn over the gentle pastures of G-d’s peaceful and benevolent utopian endgame that we all eagerly await. AMEN

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS: UNIQUE OPPORTUNITY: history being made in Thailand

My friends, here in Thailand we are writing history. A new shul is being built on Soi 22. The Bet Elisheva campus will contain a Synagogue and other aspects of Jewish life. Mikva’s, kosher dining, children educational wing, and even a Jewish Museum.

Now is the time to build.

By building a strong Judaism in Thailand, we strengthen the Jewish collective.

An investment into Jewish life in Thailand is a statement of hope, optimism and pride in the future of our people.

Click here for ways to participate or contact me for more information.

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