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Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

This Stays the Same

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I recently met a friend who is several decades older than me. When I asked him how business is going, as thank G-d he is still sprightly and active in the business world, he told me ‘better don’t ask’. So of course, I did ask…. 

It turns out that he is facing a considerable tax liability. That puzzled me. Twenty years ago, this friend had told me that his tax status was set up in a very efficient manner. What had changed I asked him? To which my friend replied with a sigh, ‘the companies I established remained the same. However, the tax laws have changed several times’. 

It seems that what was an perfectly acceptable tax arrangement years ago, has now turned into a liability. 

I was saddened to hear that at eighty plus years old, my friend may have to make serious changes in his lifestyle. Not because he did anything wrong or hadn’t planned well. Simply because the laws had changed.

We are living in a time of radical change. 

To cite but a few examples: 

The USA/China trade war and the tariffs that have been imposed have changed the entire manufacturing landscape of the world. I see this firsthand as businesspeople have started flocking to Thailand and its neighboring countries looking for new manufacturing opportunities to replace China.

Hong Kong, for so many decades was a great success story. Who can now even pretend to know what will happen there?

Many people who came to Thailand to retire based their calculations on fixed pensions that they receive in their home country. Someone complained to me that fourteen years ago when he decided to retire in Thailand, he was receiving seventy-seven THB to the GBP. Now he gets only thirty-nine baht to the pound. Additionally, the cost of living has gone up.  He is considering moving away from Thailand. Another elderly person told me before he passed away that he had lived beyond his life expectancy and had used up his savings. When he had saved for old age it was expected that he would not be alive by age eighty. By the time he reached the ages of eighty, the average life expectancy went up and he lived for many more years, becoming impoverished at some stage. 

Things don’t remain the same.

People who said or did things that were in the vogue several decades ago, now find themselves sounding like insensitive boors when held to todays standards. 

Vaping was in. Vaping is out. 

Marijuana was an outlawed drug almost everywhere till very recently. Today its not so simple. Depends where. 

I think you get my point.

One thing is for certain.

Hashem! 

His Torah. 

His people. 

They are here to stay!

Even the NY Times editors recognized that. In the mock edition of the NY Times year 2100 edition, the Shabbat candle lighting times are printed in the bottom corner. The editor said, we don't know what will be. But one thing is certain. Jewish women and girls will be lighting the Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon.

Judaism is about fulfilling G-ds commandments.

G-d is infinite and unchanging. 

G-d’s mitzvahs are eternal.

We may not always find it easy to live up to the fulfillment of Almighty G-d’s commandments. We must work on ourselves to get better at fulfilling the mitzvahs. Not G-d forbid change the mitzvahs to accommodate our ever-evolving lifestyles. 

Talking about taxation laws, there is an interesting connection to this weeks Parsha of Vayetze

In this week’s parsha, Yaakov, while running away from his brother Esav, pledges to give a tithe to G-d from everything G-d will give him.

This ‘tax structure’ of sorts, the ten percent tithing that Jews are obligated to give to charity, has been around for four thousand years. And it aint goin’ anywhere. It’s here to stay!

Besides for being the right thing to do, it also brings with it the ability to do more. For our Sages taught that giving ten percent to Tzedaka of one’s earnings is the surest way to earn G-d’s blessings of wealth. More wealth means more opportunity to give.

Tzedaka, just like all the other mitzvahs, is a mitzvah that is here for eternity. 

Not just on ‘Giving Tuesday’.

Tzedakah is a mitzvah EVERY DAY!

The more you exercise the ‘muscle’ of giving, the stronger it becomes. The easier it is to give. The more you want and enjoy to give.

Besides for the ‘bigger’ donations at various occasions, or to pet causes, make sure to make giving a regular activity in your life. At least once a day (besides for Shabbat and Chagim when you must give before the onset of Shabbat).

Take a moment every day to put a coin into a Tzedaka box. Or give a gift to a poor person. Or do it via your ‘best friend’ your phone… (and thus bring some more holiness into the mundane world of electronics) and give an electronic donation to tzedakah.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Same Same but Different (Reflections on the Kinus)

 By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

‘What was your favorite part of the Kinus conference’? 

I have been asked that question by many.

It is truly a hard question to answer… 

There were so many highlights and special moments. Sleep was hard to come by as the Fear Of Missing Out (FOMO) was not just a phobia. With five thousand likeminded colleagues and friends in a ten-block radius there was bound to be action around the clock.

In my dear parents home on Eastern Parkway the action was nonstop thank G-d. There were ‘kugel summits’ and ‘coffee and cake summits’ with our parents around the kitchen table. For my brothers, brothers in law and I, there was ‘study and laughter’ in the car on the way to the banquet in New Jersey and good natured teasing about the ‘snoring competition’  taking place nightly in the family basement during those few precious hours we actually slept. 

Last Friday I read this post (click on link) by my fellow-Shliach in Calabasas CA !!! 

DON'T BELIEVE THIS PHOTO

If there is ever a contest for "World's Most Misunderstood Photo" the annual class photo of the Shluchim (Chabad rabbis) will surely be a finalist.

You know the one I'm talking about? About six thousand Shluchim (G-d bless them) convene in New York every year for an annual conference and Shabbaton and on Sunday morning they pose in front of 770 (Chabad World Headquarters) for a massive group photo. (This year's conference is this weekend.)

When you look at the photo, you could be forgiven for thinking that someone had taken a picture of a Shliach (Chabad rabbi) wearing a black fedora and black suit and then hit copy and paste 6,000 times. Aside from the beard colors (black, white, gray and red) very little differentiates one rabbi from the next and on the surface it seems like a conformist convention.

And that is exactly what it isn't. It would be an injustice to the Shluchim to believe that they are all the same with identical stories, attitudes or personalities. The beauty in the deluge of black and white is the colorful diversity hidden everywhere in the picture.

You look at one face, you're looking at a prominent community leader, rabbi and spiritual leader to 2,000 people in a large American suburb. Grinning right next to him is the Shliach in a South American village, a man whose only struggle greater than making a living is the struggle to assemble a Minyan so a local can say Kaddish.

Pan over to the next Shliach and find the chief rabbi of a massive European country. He rubs shoulders with billionaires. And next to him - the Shliach to Nowhere, USA. He can't rub together two pennies.

In this one picture you have newlyweds, middle-aged parents, fresh grandparents, and patriarchs of massive families with legions of grandchildren and great-grandchildren, often in the hundreds, kinehora.

The guy with the red beard over there spends most of his time behind bars tending to the desperate needs of local Jewish prisoners. The short, salt-and-pepper beard behind him started off as a local youth director at the age of 23 and is still at it, devoted to his third generation of kids 30 years later. (And that short beard is rolled up; it's two feet long. I've seen it!)

Scroll down to that guy there with the black beard. Ten years ago, this guy didn't know what a Mezuzah was. He was the starting quarterback on his high school varsity team and his chances of ending up a Shliach were as good as his chances of ending up starting for the Cowboys. But here he is, flush with excitement, living the dream (the Shliach one, not the Cowboys one.) The very tall one next to him was a successful business attorney who yearned to do more, so he traded in his law practice for a campus Chabad post. He admits that his 401(k) is poorer but that his life is much richer.

And just above him, with the silky white beard, is the rabbi's rabbi, an expert in Jewish law, a genius of enormous proportions, a man with miles of Torah on the tip of his tongue and a heart of gold in his chest. Just one of the guys.

That one over there brought Tefillin to Sandy Koufax. That one put Tefillin on Sid Caesar. That one put Tefillin on the president of Ukraine. That one put on Tefillin with Bob Dylan. That one put on Tefillin in Auschwitz. That one sent Tefillin into space with Ilan Ramon. The serious-looking one there put on Tefillin with virtually every Jewish man in his city. (And don't let the look fool you - he's one of the funniest men in the group.)

This guy here grew up in a mansion in Missouri and he's a beloved spiritual mentor to Yeshiva students. The guy talking to him grew up in a matchbox in Michigan and he's growing a community in Colorado.

This Italian here runs Chabad in Utah; the Italian there runs Russia; and yet another Italian runs Sweden. That Russian runs Texas. This Israeli runs Alabama. That Brazilian runs New Jersey. This Australian runs Georgia. And of course, these boys from Brooklyn are running Nevada, Montana, Louisiana, and Nebraska. And Germany. And Ghana.

This tall one saves lost backpackers in Thailand. That short one saves lost souls in Nepal. The gray-bearded one lives 5,500 miles away in Siberia and he's laughing with his old friend who lives three miles away in Flatbush.

Some of them have encountered astonishing success, like in Paris, where half the Shluchim were inspired to Jewish observance by the other half. And some of these men have encountered astonishing resistance, like the man who has loyally served an American Jewish community for twenty years and still needs to argue with the locals about the importance of Yom Kippur.

This shy scholar here? He is in the midst of a $20 million building campaign. The charismatic gentlemen listening to him is in the midst of a $300,000 foreclosure. The thin man next to him just opened a Glatt Kosher restaurant in Mexico, just like the guy behind him who just opened a Kosher eatery in China. But the rabbi behind them, serving the Russian hinterlands, hasn't seen a Kosher restaurant since last year's conference and has been slaughtering and koshering his own meat for fifteen years.

The rabbi in the corner is part of a family that has been Chabad since Chabad began 230 years ago. His classmate and colleague embracing him is the child of two ex-hippies who searched their way to Chabad in the 60's and reversed four generations of assimilation.

Most of these men speak Yiddish, Hebrew and some English. But if you listen closely you can hear the conversations accented by countless languages and dialects. Most of these men are of Ashkenazic background, but many are Sefardic, some are Yemenite, some are Persian. Many are fourth or fifth generation Americans.

Some are natural extroverts, some are painful introverts. Some are born optimists. Others struggle to maintain their optimism. Some are naturally exuberant; others, melancholy.

The differences never end. Each and every person in this photo is genuinely unique and each of them has a one-of-a-kind story that will yet be told.

But what they have in common is so powerful that it unites them together like a family. Their love for the Rebbe spills over into a love for each other and a love for every single Jew. Their love for the Rebbe's mission and vision of a world conquered by goodness, kindness and Yiddishkeit unites them like brothers around a singular, unstoppable sense of purpose.

Drenched in that family vibe, all the colorful languages, backgrounds, upbringings, personalities and living conditions blend together brilliantly. They produce a spiritual harmony the likes of which has never been seen before.

Shabbat Shalom, good Shabbos.

Rabbi Eli Friedman
Chabad of Calabasas


I was touched and inspired by his words. It helped me choose my most poignant moment of this year’s Kinus. 

The picture!

But here is the thing, I actually MISSED the picture.

The picture was taken in front of Lubavitch World Headquarters 770 Eastern Parkway, on Sunday morning 9 am.

I had decided to pay an additional visit to the Rebbe’s Ohel for prayer. 

(My ‘main’ visit to the Ohel was on Friday morning. As part of the schedule of the conference I had joined the thousands of Shluchim to pray together for our families, supporters and respective communities (if you get this message you are one of those I prayed for…). It is always the most sacred and holy part of the weekend). 

But that visit was not enough for me. Living so far away, I took advantage of the proximity and visited the Ohel several other times. Knowing that the picture was at 9am I made sure to finish my prayers and head back off to Brooklyn with just enough time to arrive at the picture.

Arrive in time I did. The people that I gave a lift home, jumped out of the car and got into position for the picture. I kept my eyes open for parking. 

A perfect parking spot opened up. Three cars in front of me. Problem was that that the second car in front of me indicated with his blinker and proceeded to parallel part in ‘my’ spot.

I saw a sticker saying ‘Honda of Wesport’ on the back of the car. My brother Yehuda is the rabbi of Chabad of Westport (CT) and I wondered if perhaps it was him. Yep, as I drove by that perfect parking spot, I saw that it was my brother who got it. 

He made it into the picture. I continued to circle around the block looking for parking. I didn’t make it into the picture. So, my brothers all decided to make another picture just for the Kantor brothers (see below). At least it would make our parents happy. 

Brothers.

Brotherly Love.

One brother should rejoice in the success of his brother. Even if it means that he is not successful. After all they are all children of one father. 

When you lose a parking spot to a brother whom you love and care for, you haven’t really lost anything. It’s still ‘in the family’. If I would have got the spot and he would have needed to go around the block, he would have missed out. I was thankful that he made it into the picture. 

It doesn’t always work that way though.

This week’s parsha describes the rift between Yaakov and Esav that stretches throughout history and will only be resolved when Mashiach comes.

The fight between them was an almost unavoidable one. It represents the struggle between the intensely powerful chaotic and unchanneled raw energy of Esav vs the refined, serene, bright and holy energy of Yaakov. Esav had a great potential. It needs to be harnessed and developed to be able to be useful. That will be recognized and appreciated when Mashiach comes. Until then, Esav will oppose Yaakov (as we are witness to, with the continual anti-Semitism we face). 

Yaakov goes on to father twelve sons who are the progenitors of the people of Israel (Yisrael being the second name of Yaakov). It is Yaakov’s descendants, us, who will bring the world to the advent of Mashiach.

Ever since that irreparable rift between those two archetypal brothers, Esav and Yaakov, we, the children of Yaakov are expected to have only deep love and respect for our siblings. No irreparable rifts G-d forbid. 

Not because we are all the same.

I have included the picture of my four brothers and I. All of us are Shluchim thank G-d. Each of us in quite a different place and situation. 

Brother Yehuda is the ebullient head of Chabad of Westport Brother Zalman is a scholarly head of Chabad of Rancho S. Margarita Southern California. Brother Baruch is the lively ‘redhead’ head of Chabad of Temple University in Philadelphia. Youngest brother Yaakov is the intense yet hilarious director of Chabad of Lugano. He is the only member of our family besides me, to live outside of the USA. 

Me? I am in Thailand. Totally different than any of the above places.

Brothers come from the same parents. Yet, they are not exactly the same. The Torah expects them to get along. To appreciate and enjoy each other. Not despite their differences. Rather the differences between us are what make it so exciting.

In a sense, the five thousand of us who gathered last week are brothers. It was exhilarating to realize that. 

And if you take that just one small step further, all of our people, Am Yisrael in its entirety is ONE people. Brothers and sisters.

We are not Esav and Yaakov who get ripped apart till the end of times.

We are all the ‘people of Israel’, sons and daughters of Avraham, Yitschok and Yaakov. Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah who stick together through thick and thin. We have lived through nearly two thousand years of exile. We have come through inquisitions, the Crusades and the Holocaust. We are one undivided people. 

When one of us succeeds we ought to all rejoice.

When G-d forbid one of us has not such good news we must all rally to his or her support. Like we should and would do for an immediate sibling.

Next time you lose your parking spot, or the ten million dollar order to your manufacturing company, pray that it is your brother who got it. If he did? Rejoice!

It takes a spirit of largesse to rejoice when your friend succeeds more than you. Once you realize it is YOUR OWN FAMILY, you should have a much easier time with it.

Shabbat Shalom Sister, Shabbat Shalom Brother!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS Yesterday was the Yartzeit of Rabbi & Mrs. Gavriel & Rivka Holtzberg who were murdered al Kidush Hashem in their Chabad House in Mumbai eleven years ago.

Tomorrow is the bar mitzvah of their miraculously surviving son Moshe. I will be attending the Bar Mitzvah celebration in Israel on Sunday please G-d.








 

Heavenly timing!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

What amazing Heavenly timing!

More than three thousand years ago, Hashem instructed in His Torah that when a baby boy is born to a Jewish mother, G-d enters a covenant with him at his ‘Brit Milah’. The Torah further taught that circumcision should take place on the eighth day after the birth. 

(Provided the baby is in good health, otherwise the healing must take place before circumcision. For however important doing a Brit is, and it is one of the most important an fundamental Mitzvahs we have, preserving life comes first. A Brit can be done later. A life lost G-d forbid, cannot be brought back. Hence we wait for complete health before doing a Brit). 

Baruch Hashem we celebrated the Brit of our grandson yesterday (Wednesday) on the eighth day as proscribed in the Torah. 

My family and I are full of praise and thanksgiving to the Almighty for His absolute kindness to our family for blessing us with happy and healthy things. May Hashem bless you and your loved with gifts of healthy and happy developments in all areas of your life.

Besides for the ‘huge’ miracles like healthy births and things like that, there are hosts of ‘small miracles’. Like the blessing of being shown how even the smaller details like the timing of the birth was also so obviously Providential. 

A Wednesday November 20 Brit in Bangkok meant that I wouldn’t miss the International conference of Shluchim held in NY. I could leave several hours after the Brit and arrive in NY on Thursday morning just in time to participate in the opening sessions.

It is important to point it out and thank Hashem for all his kindnesses. The ‘Big Miracles’ as well the ‘small miracles’.

Our weekly Parsha imparts that message.

This week’s Torah portion tells the story of Avraham sending his trusted ‘servant’ Eliezer to find a wife for his son Yitzchak. Eliezer said a prayer that he be led to the right girl. It had to a girl who was from Avraham’s extended family, this was a non-negotiable condition instructed by Avraham. Eliezer prayed that he meets the right girl. He said to G-d ‘when I see a girl, I will ask her to give me to drink. If she gives me water to drink and offers water to my camels on her own accord, this will be a sign that she is the one that you have destined for Yitschak’.

Eliezer the servant of Avraham continues his narrative and says ‘I had barely spoken those words, when Rivka came out. Eliezer asked her for water, and she said ‘I will give you water and I will also give water to your camels’.  Eliezer now knew that he had found the right girl.

Amazing! 

When Eliezer bring back Rivka to meet her future husband, he relates to Yitzchak all of the things that had transpired. He told him about the wondrous miracles and Divine Providence that had been performed for him while on his mission to find his masters son a wife. 

Hence, I too share these stories with you. they are uplifting and inspiring to me and I hope you too are 

Several hours after the Brit I headed off to the airport. Joining me on the very same Korean Air flight from Thailand were three rabbi’s from Thailand’s Chabad team. As we transited through Korea, we were joined by Korea’s Chabad Rabbi and his son.

It was great to see everyone, and we were all excited for the conference. Is it then any wonder that a few hours into the flight we were standing at the back of the big Airbus A380 schmoozing, sharing anecdotes and words of Torah? 

The stewardess came over to us after a little while and asked us to please not ‘congregate’. As this is a plane that is headed to the USA and American law does not allow passengers to stand up and congregate in the aisles or near the lavatories (as you have probably heard over the loudspeaker if you have flown in and out of USA).

This was a law that was instituted as a direct result of the tragic 9/11 events. People congregating on a plane could be G-d forbid a planned hijacking. 

It dawned on me that here was another instance of revealed Divine Providence. G-d was reminding me of the awesome and mighty power of ‘gatherings’ and ‘congregating’.

It can be used to generate immense good. It can also G-d forbid be used to wreak massive havoc.

The TSA is concerned with the evil people congregating and scheming horrible and cruel things. They base their fear on the horrific event that took place on 9/11.

The Talmud has stated this concept very clearly. ‘Gatherings of righteous people is pleasant for them, and pleasant for the world around them’. The opposite is true for the congregating of wicked people. It is terrible for the world. 

I realized that I had been given a message. 

The gathering I am on my way to attend is a gathering of the Rebbe’s emissaries. Shluchim of a great Tzadik. Rabbi’s, spread across the globe, righteous and good people. 

The conference has grown in leaps and bounds over the years, and clearly just as the Talmud says, is beneficial for the attendees and the world around them. The rabbi’s are inspired and rejewvenated (pun intended) by attending this gathering and come back to their posts with a new bounce in their step and more spiritually attuned.

The conference is also of immense benefit to the Jewish world at large. 

The discussions at the conference are all about being more selfless and loving to those around us. The lectures and workshops focus on improving methods and programs aimed at inspiring Jews to reclaim and reengage with their own identity.

Early next week the thousands of Shluchim will head back to their respective posts recommitted to the mission of changing this world for the better, one Jew at a time, one Mitzvah at a time thus hastening the coming of Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS You can tune in to the grand finale of the conference, the banquet on Sunday late afternoon NY EST time.

PPS Shabbat services at all locations in Thailand will continue as usual please G-d.

A NEW STORY JUST HEARD

Last week we buried Shimon Ben Avrohom, a Jew we knew nothing about, other than the fact that his mothers, mothers, mother was Jewish.

Today I got an email from a Mr. Goldstein in NY.

Hi Rabbi Yosef C. Kantor 

I got your info from Simons Friend and he mentioned that you handled his levaya (funeral). Just a little history about myself, my Family back in Manchester England took him to our house when he became friendly with my late brother.  

We arranged his bris and his bris meal was at our home, his fist Pessach Seder at 30 years old was by us, and my late mother took care of him until he left England.  

I would like to know if I can call you.  

Please let me know. 

 Here is what Mr. Goldstein shared with me. 

In the early 90’s my brother and some friends in a summer camp in UK went missing on a hike. The UK mounted police was called in to help in the search and the boys were found thank G-d. Simon was one of the mounted police and when he saw that it was obviously Jewish boys he had rescued, he mentioned that he too was of Jewish decent from his mothers side. 

My mother, Mrs. Goldstein insisted that we bring him into the house and establish a relationship with him. This led to his establishment of a connection with Judaism. His bris took place in our house and it was in our house that he experienced his first seder.

Simon got his Jewish name Shimon Ben Avrohom at his bris and he changed his legal name to that. He had always mentioned that he wanted a Jewish burial. 

My dear friends, we only found out this part of the story after Shimon providentially came to Jewish burial as told last week.

It is so inspiring to see how Hashem runs His world and allows us opportunities to do acts of kindness and partner with Him. 

May we always be blessed to be able to help

SHABBAT SHALOM 


Eternal Soul 🔥

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

My emotions have fluctuated this week. 

Won some. Lost some. But my spirit is strong, and I am optimistic. 

Unquestionably the Neshama, Jewish soul, that has been gifted us since Abrahams times, will emerge victorious.

Good will prevail. G-d based morality will triumph.

Ultimately, that is. 

When Mashiach comes. Then, at that time there will be only good news.

Till then there is good news and not so good news.

There are some moral and religious struggles that have successful outcomes, while others temporarily fail. The good guys don’t always win immediately. It is for sure though that eventually they will emerge successful. 

A quick recap of my week.

On Monday I was in Rechovot, honored with being the ‘sandak’ at the bris of our grandson born to Devorah Leah and Shneor Brod. My heart was overflowing with joy, love and thanks to Hashem for this new addition to our family. Menachem Mendel, as the baby was named, was born in Israel to parents who are committed to living in Israel. 

Israel, what a vibrant, pleasant and Jewish-observance-friendly place.

On Tuesday, as I landed back in Bangkok, I opened my phone and was greeted by the news of missiles flying around Rechovot and hasty trips to shelters. My heart was filled with concern and more than a smidgen of trepidation for our loved ones living there.

Israel, what a challenging place to live. I consider every Jew who lives in Israel a tzadik!

Location: Samitivej Hospital. Sad event.

On Friday night we lost a dear Jew, a long-time member of our community, Richard Frankel. Richard greeted us so warmly when we first arrived and was the epitome of kind and gracious as well as learned and forever-giving mentsch. A truly gentle soul. May his memory be for a blessing. May his children and grandchildren be a source of nachas to his soul through their good deeds and may they carry the unbroken chain of their Jewish heritage with pride and inspiration. 

Location: same Samitivej Hospital. Joyous event.

On Tuesday night, a new life was born. A new Jew joined Am Yisrael. Our daughter Mushka (Kaltmann) gave birth to a bouncing boy thank G-d.

Post life:

On Wednesday afternoon at the Bangkok Jewish cemetery a Jewish man was gently buried in the traditional shrouds and wooden casket. The event was inspiring, as it was attended by nearly twenty members of our Jewish community. None of us who had ever known Shimon Aaronson who was being laid to rest. Prayers were said, and the age-old tradition was perpetuated.

On that same Wednesday afternoon, a different Jewish man was taken by his zealously-Buddhist second wife, to a temple. The proposed schedule includes chanting by monks, and may G-d protect him, planned cremation and scattering of ashes into the sea. 

It’s been a week with a lot of emotions.

Overflowing happiness at the bris of our grandson in Israel.

Sadness at the loss of a dear friend who was a great help during our early years here.

Elation that we had managed to visit Mr. Shimon Aaronson in Hatyai and raise the funds needed for paying the hospital bill and subsequent burial. The non-practicing next of kin understood the importance of Jewish burial for a Jew and gave their consent.

Deep and painful frustration at not being able to save a Jewish man, born into a Jewishly observant family some eighty years ago, from the harsh anti-Jewish rites of cremation. 

And painful cremation is. In Jewish thought, the body does not die entirely at death. The flesh of the body still contains some life. That life gradually dissipates as the body decomposes. To incinerate a body is according to Jewish thought a cruel act. For there is still some form of life in the body which should be treated with care. Burning the body is like killing that vestige of life that still lingers on in the body. The fact that cremation is so widespread or that some ask for this to be their means of final disposal, does not make it any more correct. There were many Nazis, including cultured and family minded people, who burned Jews alive. When something is cruel and wrong, the fact that many do it, does not change the immorality of it.

(The even greater immorality of the ‘dying with dignity’ movement which makes it seem okay to choose to shorten life, is certainly something we must rally against. Click here to read more about the Jewish perspective. We must be unyielding in our commitment to affirming the sanctity of life as these immoral trends gain proponents).

My dear friend, I know you are used to me being soft-spoken. Regarding these topics I hope I am coming across quite adamant. I have no choice. Some things must be said forcefully and emphatically!

Life is sacred! Even when one is too sick to enjoy a quality of life.

Cremation for a Jew is cruel and un-Jewish.

‘Rabbi’, someone told me, ‘don’t take it to heart’. Enjoy ‘your family simchas and happy occasions and don’t get disturbed if ‘lapsed Jews’ unrelated to you, turn their backs on their Judaism’

That kind of thinking is anathema to my life mission.

The Rebbe who sent us here to Thailand, viewed every Jew as his family. He considered the most alienated Jew as dear to him as the disciples who drank from his fountain of wisdom. The Rebbe expects that those influenced by him adopt that same perspective.

So, yes. It is painful. Even though the Jew awaiting cremation is not related to me by blood, I am aghast. Ironically, I am happy that I am deeply pained, for it tells me that I am not G-d forbid desensitized to the plight of a fellow Jew. I feel at fault for not having been able to reach him intellectually and convey a compelling enough message to have him insist on the right Jewish choice. 

Dear Friend, I don’t intend to leave you with a message of disappointment. Let’s do a transformative reframing. Remember, the greatest good can come where its least likely, as a result of challenge and apparent negativity.

The situation in Israel? 

Let’s reframe it from a positive perspective. Hopefully things will be quiet now with the ceasefire. But as the missiles were raining down deep into densely populated central Israel, we are reminded that G-d promised in the Torah that Israel is a Divinely blessed geographical location. During the first Gulf War the Rebbe encouraged people to go to Israel, certainly not to leave. The Rebbe quoted the verses in the Torah that say that Israel is a land that ‘the Eyes of G-d are attentive to, from the beginning of the year till the end of the year’. ‘Israel is the safest place in the world’ said the Rebbe during that crisis. Indeed, the miracles in Israel abound. Missiles falling is absolutely unacceptable, yet we must not overlook the wonders. Somehow the damage to life from those bombs were miraculously small. The army may they be blessed, do fantastic work, and G-d provides miracles that are too numerous to count. click here for miracle captured by traffic camera

We must all pray for Israel and support our fellow Jews there, in any way possible!

Nechama and I are overjoyed and honored that our daughter, son-in-law and their two children, our adorable grandchildren, are living in our Holy land of Israel. 

Our hearts are overflowing with thankfulness to Almighty G-d for the great gift of a new grandson born this week in Bangkok. We are so very excited to G-d willing have the pleasure of celebrating his Bris with our friends, here in our Bangkok Jewish community (please G-d it will be this coming Wednesday in the late afternoon at the Shul (double check to make sure of schedule)).

The planned cremation? I am still praying for a miraculous change of heart by those who can affect the desired change.

And I am now driven with more passion to intensify my efforts to EDUCATE people about the misconceptions that drive decisions to cremate. Click here for something basic on the topic. 

And finally, I am inspired by Shimon Ben Avrohom Aaronson whose funeral we were privileged to do on Wednesday. Here is why.

Shimon lived in a Thai rural (‘shtetl’) village somewhere within the general region of Hatyai. 

Shimon’s mothers, mothers’ mother was a Jewess from Russia. His great-grandmother was Jewish. They all married non-Jewish men.

The Jewish chain seemed all but snuffed out. How could it not be? It was so diluted.

Yet, that Jewish soul that is transmitted matrilineally refused to sputter and die out. 

Inexplicably, and against all odds, Shimon was proud of his Jewish heritage and chose to reclaim it. To the extent that he changed his legal last name to Shimon Ben Avrohom Aaronson. According to his close friend and housemate, Shimon kept meat and milk separate and always spoke about going back to live in Israel. 

Shimon even made Challa in the hinterlands of Thailand. Click here (scroll down) to see his dialogue with the online recipe tutor. I have now gained a deeper appreciation for the efforts of my colleagues at chabad.org for developing very useful and engaging kosher cooking webpages. It seems that some Jews connect to their Judaism via the culinary path.

Can you see why I am INSPIRED and ENERGIZED and feel incredibly blessed by the events of this week?

I have seen with my own eyes, that the pact that G-d made with Avraham, Yitschak and Yaakov and the subsequent birth of Am Yisrael at the revelation at Sinai is ALIVE AND WELL!

Nothing can vanquish or extinguish the spark of the Jewish soul and its attachment to the Eternal G-d.

We need to add in Torah and Mitzvahs. As our good deeds of Mitzvahs, acts of devotion and lovingkindness bring us ever closer to that special day when death will be no more, goodness and G-dly morality will reign supreme and our very mortal eyes will soak up the revelation of G-d. 

We want Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor 

OY to JOY (Part Two of Shabbat Shalom)

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I was greeted in Shul at 7am this morning by someone who had already read my weekly email. He was surprised that it had come in middle of the Bangkok night and perused it before coming to morning prayers. Of course, once he read it, he knew why I had sent it early.

I had needed to ask for help to be able to release a fellow Jew’s body from the hospital and begin the burial proceedings.

When I saw him looking at the ‘shabbat schedule’ hanging on the wall of the Shul I knew something was amiss.

 Pointing to the printed schedule on the wall he proclaimed, ‘Shabbat starts at 5:31 PM today not at 5:33’.

I took a quick peek at my emails and saw that not just had I misquoted the starting and ending time of Shabbat, I had also not written the correct Torah portion. Last week’s portion of Noach and last week’s Shabbat times were still listed.

At first, I thought OY VEY.

But then I realized that this was a G-dsend.

Like many other things that initially have a feel of something going awry. And then it turns out that they are actually hidden opportunities.

This weeks Torah portion of Lech Lecha is all about progression. Going ahead. Moving forward.

The thing about moving forward, is that sometimes it looks like the opposite is taking place. It sometimes looks like you are going backwards when really you are poised to move forward.

Very often, challenges look like obstacles. In the absolute reality of G-d’s plans they are often things that elevate and advance us. Looking like obstructions, but actually serving as catalysts, catapulting us to even greater heights.

This week’s Parsha Lech Lecha says it all.

Avraham and Sara are sent to the land of Canaan (Israel) by G-d. Upon arrival they are greeted by a famine. They head off to Egypt. Seems like a real setback. As it turns out, they enter Egypt penniless, yet they leave Egypt fabulously wealthy, famous and honored.

G-d had planned their successful emergence from Egypt all along. Avraham had demonstrated his absolute faith in G-d and never questioned why he was meeting with misfortune.

So it was with the Jewish journey into Egypt. We got enslaved in Egypt were downtrodden and oppressed and many lives were lost.

Yet we emerged from Egypt, to go on to receive the Torah and enter the land of Israel as a liberated nation. We soared to heights that were previously unimaginable.

So it will be in the future. We will emerge from this sojourn in ‘exile’ and enter the glorious Messianic future that awaits us.

Back to our reality. Friday November 8, 2019.

I made a mistake in my email that cannot be ignored. Shabbat candles must be lit at the proper time. To light Shabbat candles after sundown is actually the opposite of honoring the Shabbat. Shabbat candles must be lit when the sun has not yet set and the Shabbat has not yet begun. (If the mistake was in the reverse and I had written an earlier time for Shabbat candles, I could leave it. A few extra minutes of Shabbat is certainly good.

But not in this instance where I had written a later time which could G-d forbid cause a mistake of violating the Shabbat).

I realized that I need to send out a second email. That’s a tad embarrassing.

It dawned on me that this was a golden opportunity.

First of all, it gives me the opportunity to report back to you about our success.

I get the chance to thank all the donors who through their joint effort facilitated and enabled the release of the body of the late Shimon A. from the hospital for burial. The embassy and undertaker are working on the next stages. (bureaucracy… bureaucracy… or as my Bobbe would say in her accented English ‘paipehwoik’).

Thank you to all of you generous Tzedaka enthusiasts!!!

YOU DID IT. Collectively. Am Yisrael once more demonstrated their unshakeable and unbreakable bond with each other. Even to a Jew unknown to them or anyone who contributed!

And now to the sweetness. The simchas, joyous events that I want to share with you.

In our community, this week we have been blessed with joyous life cycle events connected with Bris Milah, circumcision. Just like Avraham our forefather in THIS WEEKS PARSHA…

This morning, we were blessed to have the bris of Ari Ariel born to one of the members of our ‘Chabad Young Professionals’ community led by Rabbi Boruch Hecht. The youthful and joyous event was hosted at JCafe and enjoyed by all.

On an even more personal note, our daughter and son in law, Devorah Leah and Shneor Brod were blessed with a baby boy. Please G-d the bris will be in Rechovot, Israel on Monday 14:30 PM. (For exact address please email me).

Nechama and I are full of thankfulness to G-d for His infinite kindness to us. May Hashem bless you too with happy occasions in your families.

So, I hope you agree with me that a second email is not a mistake, rather an opportunity to share the sweetness of this week with you.

May we enter the Shabbat with feelings of joy and happiness.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

(An early) Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Is it easier to get help for a destitute human or a wayward dog?

Ouch. It hurts to even write that sentence.

But just Google ‘dog rescue Thailand’ and see what an impressive array of options shows up.

I have tried Googling several variations of ‘help for humans in distress’ and the options are unfortunately not all that notable. 

Why would I be googling ‘dog rescue thailand’?

Here is why.

On Monday I received a call from a woman who lives in Bangkok. She told me that she rescues dogs. She told me that a fellow ‘rescuer’ Shimon Aaronson had fallen ill and been taken to hospital in Hatyai. Knowing that Shimon was Jewish she wanted to know if we had a rabbi in Hatyai who could say some prayers.

I sent out a note to all of our rabbi’s across Thailand to see if anyone knew of a Jew in Hatyai who we could call upon to pay a visit.

Rabbi Moshe Hadad of our Thai Kashrut certification responded to me that providentially, we had a rabbi going the very next day on a scheduled kosher inspection visitation at fish production factories in Hatyai. The rabbi visited Shimon and said the Shma and other prayers recited before passing, as the situation looked quite bleak. We learned that Shimon was destitute, as was the friend who was at his bedside till the end. 

Earlier this evening (Thursday) Shimon passed away. His family in the UK had not been happy with his decision to live in Thailand without any social welfare benefits. As pensioners, they are unable to settle the hospital bill, nor deal with the expenses of burying the body. Additionally, they really had no interest in helping with burial as they do not practice the Jewish faith. But to their great credit, they understood that this is the right thing for Shimon and acquiesced to my request to allow us to bury Shimon in the Jewish tradition. 

As a fellow Jew, albeit unknown to our community, it is our sacred duty to see to it that Shimon not be cremated but be buried as a Jew. 

There are many organizations engaged in helping animals. 

The Torah tells us not to be cruel to animals.

Infinitely more important however is to ensure that our fellow humans are cared for.

It seems to be a far greater challenge to help people.

First of all, people talk back. People have attitudes. People can make bad choices. Animals are just acting their natural selves. Nothing can really make you upset at an animal.

Moreover, caring for humans is far more costly. 

As Jews we are the continuation of our ancestors Abrahams legacy of righteousness and justice.

We must keep reminding ourselves of our G-dly responsibility to care for others.

We Jews as the recipients of the G-dly moral code taught at Sinai must make it our mission and goal to teach the world about the laws of Universal Morality.

Tzedakah is one of the greatest mitzvahs. 

One of the greatest forms of tzedakah kindness is helping bring a person to their final rest. It is a kindness that is one of ‘truth’ without any possibility to be repaid by the person you have helped.

I must be honest. When I get a call that someone has passed away in Thailand, a feeling of anxiety overcomes me momentarily. I don’t think I need to explain why. There are more enjoyable things to be involved with than burying the dead. 

But once I jump into the work of preparing and tending to the deceased together with my colleagues, I feel the uniqueness of being part of the ‘chevra kadisha’ literally the ‘holy society’ who do their work with love and with a benevolent spirit. 

And I realize with gratitude, that Am Yisrael truly is one people. No matter where a Jew dies, he or she will be tended to with that same care and compassion. 

May we live and be healthy and well till the Mashiach comes and dying will be but a relic of the past!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS I hasten to send out my weekly email tonight, because I need your help. I can appeal to you my readers, to participate in this great mitzvah of helping to bring Shimon to his proper Jewish rest in the Jewish cemetery in Bangkok.

We need to pay up the hospital bill, arrange transport from Hatyai and cover the burial expenses. All of this will cost between 7-8 thousand dollars. 

Any amount will be helpful.

www.jewishthailand.com/tzedaka


Impulsive Spontaneity

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Thanks for all the wonderful, varied and colorful responses that I received to my email of last week.

This story happened way back, some twenty six years ago. We had gone to Singapore for a few days to apply at the Royal Thai embassy for a visa. 

We had tried flagging down a taxi in middle of the street, not at a designated taxi stand. A uniformed policeman appeared and told us it was against the law to stop a taxi without going to the designated stand. We already knew that Singapore was a strictly organized country because of the well known chewing-gum ban. Now we became trepidation filled not knowing what other laws we may be inadvertently breaching. 

It was then that my wife told me ‘I think I like Thailand better’. It was a pivotal moment. Until then we had thought that the clutter, chaos, smells and ‘balagan’ endemic to the streets of Bangkok were distasteful to us. Singapore had appeared to us from the distance as being the ‘greener grass’. We had now come to the realization that we had gotten quite used to Thailand and were even fond of its uniqueness.

It goes without saying that our work and mission in Thailand was very dear to us. We loved, love and hopefully will always love being emissaries of the Rebbe to reach out to every Jew in Thailand with love and care. But during that Singapore visit we realized that there was something about life in Thailand that we had become attracted to. Not just the spiritual work, but the actual ‘atmosphere’ if you wish. 

No, it wasn’t the smells we had gotten attached to. Nor was it the uneven sidewalks. The cacophony of noises, smells and sights that comprise life in the teeming city of Bangkok was surely not what we found attractive. 

(I grew up in Melbourne, Australia before my family moved to New York and my wife was raised in Los Angeles. Both of those locales are suburban, green lawns, backyards, orderly, sanitary and just generally very livable). 

The morally repugnant things that Thailand is famous for, are still and hopefully will always be, abominable to us. 

What then was unique about life in Thailand that we had become attracted to?

I think that what we find special about life in Thailand is the SPONTENAIETY. Doing things at the spur of the moment, with a touch of impulsivity. This characteristic seems to be part and parcel of the ‘This is Thailand’ experience. 

Singapore is the polar opposite. Everything is organized. Melbourne and Los Angeles are likewise well-planned cities. The gutters drain excess rainwater without having constant flooding. The traffic lights are predictable and almost never overridden by police officers. The sidewalks are walkable, street vendors are licensed and five people on a motorbike is unthinkable.

Being reliably predictable is great. There is much goodness to organization. The Torah considers being orderly a virtue. The dinner of Pesach is called a ‘Seder’ which means ‘order’ as it is an orderly set of rituals that constitutes the order of events for the Seder.

But that is not to say that impulsivity and spontaneity don’t have their contribution to make to our lives in a positive way.

Thailand is a place where people do things spontaneously. There is something in the air that almost elicits spontaneous impulsivity. 

This unfettered energetic trait is what I would like to suggest we can adopt in our service of G-d.

Let’s say for example when it comes to giving tzedakah. There is the orderly, responsible and structured Torah obligation. The mitzvah of giving ten percent of one’s earnings to tzedakah. 

Then there is the spontaneous additional tzedakah that one is motivated to give because they saw someone in real need, or because they are so thankful to G-d for giving them so much.

Yesterday someone called me to ask where my home is. I had just arrived home from a trip and was a bit surprised that someone who was not even Jewish was coming to see me without coordinating in advance. The person said that it involved possibly saving a life. Immediately I agreed to meet. 

A few minutes later that person showed up at my home. He explained that his friend needs an urgent surgery, but they can’t operate without having blood ready to transfuse. The blood type (0 negative) is not prevalent in Thailand. The man sitting with me told me that he has Jewish friends in the States and knows the Jewish people to be kind and resourceful. He came to me for help. I told him that I will spread the word and see if I can find any blood donors.

(Please urgently let me know if you have the blood type O negative, are in Thailand and able to give blood. I will then put you in touch with the relevant people).

I thought to myself, here is a good example where being organized and formal may have been a handicap. Calling to make a meeting and setting a time may have delayed this matter further. Moreover, the urgency of this matter was much more adequately conveyed by the fact that the friend simply showed up at my doorstep to plead for help. 

My colleagues around the world have their Passover guests ‘glued in’ to their guest list way in advance of Pesach.

But not here in Thailand. Last minute seems to be quite popular in Thailand.

The day before Pesach, my email inbox always floods with people asking if they can still join the Pesach Seder. The dates of Passover are known hundreds of years in advance. We open up to take reservations at least a month in advance. Yet, on the day before Pesach, people who had not made firm plans to attend the Seder sent urgent emails asking if there is still room.

Here in Thailand we are prepared for them. We anticipate that as the day comes closer the Jewish soul will awaken and not let the Jew rest till he finds a Seder dinner to attend. 

For after all, TIT = This is Thailand. Unpredictable. Spontaneous. Unfettered.

It is this unrestrained energy and joy that I would like to inject into the performance of G-d’s Torah & mitzvahs. 

Thailand is famous for hosting the largest Pesach seders and Rosh Hashana dinners. People who wouldn’t necessarily be open to performing a mitzvah back at home, somehow become inspired to draw closer to G-d in Thailand. Spontaneously.  Impulsively. 

I would like to leave you with this practical tip.

Do you sometimes feel an impulse to do a mitzvah you don’t usually do?

Perhaps you saw a person in need and though impulsively to give them a gift that is more than you would usually allow yourself to give.

Go ahead and give it.

Be spontaneous and consider joining Torah class that you usually wouldn’t consider attending.

(If you wake up on Sunday morning and spontaneously decide to join the first lesson of ‘From Worrier to Warrior’, come on over and join…we will push in an extra seat for you). 

And may Almighty G-d bless all of us with greater than expected blessings in every way possible, especially with the coming of Mashiach spontaneously.. NOW!!!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Same same but different

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Today I would like to ask you for your help.

What characteristic do you think is unique about Thai society? 

Is there something specific that you have noticed about life in Thailand that is different to life in other places in the world?

Here is why I am asking. 

During the course of the Simchat Torah, I was studying the talks of the Lubavitcher Rebbe from the Simchat Torah celebrations of fifty years ago.

The theme was a basic one. It was based on the declaration of the Rebbe’s father-in-law and predecessor as he arrived on American shores in early 1940 that:

 ‘America is no different’. 

The leadership of the Jewish community in the USA at the time, had wanted to protect the Rebbe from disillusionment. They wanted him to understand that the landscape in America vis a vis religious observance was vastly different than that of the ‘alteh heim’ back in Eastern Europe. They hoped to influence the Rebbe to relax and adapt his religious ambitions to the reality of a religiously ‘laid back’ and ever increasingly secular American Jewish community. 

It was in response to this notion that the Rebbe passionately and valiantly declared

‘America is no different’

The Rebbe insisted that the same Torah and mitzvahs that flourished till the Holocaust in Europe, was relevant and applicable in the free country of America. It would be hard work and take years of perseverance, but it could be done. 

The Rebbe immediately embarked on the mission of achieving his goals to transform America to a place of Torah and Mitzvahs. Many Jewish immigrants were trying to melt into the melting pot of the American dream. The Rebbe, on the other hand, was influencing young men and women to take up the mantle of leadership and spearhead the growth of Judaism in America. (I know about this personally as my maternal grandfather Rabbi Abraham Hecht dedicated his life from the 1940’s onwards to realizing this mission). 

In his Simchas Torah address in 1969 the Rebbe added a dimension that was a gamechanger.

In some ways, America IS DIFFERENT!!!!

Those differences need to be highlighted and utilized. We ought to harness those very differences to enhance our Torah and Mitzvot observance. 

For example. One of those uniquely American characteristics is ‘publicity’. 

It is time to employ the American fixation on publicity for the service of G-d, said the Rebbe.

And, continued the Rebbe, so it is in every locale. There are unique qualities and flavors in every country and culture.

Unequivocally, Torah and Mitzvahs be scrupulously observed in each locale.  No geographical location is ‘different’ and excluded from the Torah’s instructions on how a Jew is to live life. Yet, there are certainly uniqueness’s and differences inherent in each varied place. 

Those differences should be employed in the fulfillment of Hashems mission.

I would like to apply this thinking to Thailand. 

Thailand is no different.

The same Torah and Mitzvahs that are incumbent upon Jewish people living in Israel, America and any other major Jewish community, are obligatory to Jewish living in Thailand.

This is the primary mission that Nechama and I have been entrusted with. To ensure that in Thailand the Torah and Mitzvahs are fulfilled just like in any other Jewish locale.

Baruch Hashem, we have made some progress. There is still so so so much more to do, and we are raring to go and do it. Yet thank G-d in many ways it is now more possible than ever to observe Torah and Mitzvahs in Thailand. (The recent opening of the JCafe & Kosher Shoppe is a giant leap in enabling keeping kosher in Thailand).

Now, we would like to begin to fulfil the next step of the Rebbe’s mission. 

We would like to identify the special and unique aspects of Thailand. And use those very DIFFERENCES in enhancing the observance of Torah and Mitzvot in Thailand.

I would like to ask for your help. To identify those uniquely Thai things that can be harnessed in the enhancement of keeping the Torah and Mitzvahs.

What in your opinion is a characteristic unique to Thailand, its people or its culture?

Please respond if you can to rabbi@jewishthailand.com with a few words about how you think the  uniqueness of Thailand can enhance our connection to Hashem. 

Thank you in advance for your valuable opinion. 

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS I can’t resist pointing out that the ubiquitous ‘tinglish’ (Thai/English) phrase ‘same same but different’ seems to sum up the above article 😊


Roses? on Sukkot?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

My younger brother Baruch is the rabbi of Chabad at Temple University in Philadelphia. Baruch was walking in the streets near Temple University on Sukkot holding his lulav upright in his hand. An older black gentleman out walking on the street took a look at the lulav and told him "I think you’re supposed to give her roses".

I thought that was hysterically funny. And then I thought to myself that this comment, made in passing by an older person to my obviously youngish brother about how to build goodwill with his wife, was spot-on and contained a deep lesson.

‘I think you’re supposed to give her roses’. 

Well, that’s only if she likes roses of course. 

If she likes daffodils, tulips or lilacs then that is what you should get her. 

Let’s say she asked you very specifically to get her a lulav (branch from the date palm), hadasim (myrtle boughs), aravot (willow branches) and an etrog (citron), then that is exactly what you should get her. Anything else just won’t do the trick.

The reason my brother was not walking down the street with roses is because G-d didn’t instruct us to take roses on Sukkot. Rather, G-d asked us to take the four species mentioned above on the holiday of Sukkot, join them together and wave them. 

Because HE asked us to bring these exact four species, when we take them, we generate a ‘nachat’-pleasure for Almighty G-d. 


On the day before Sukkot, I was in the Sukkah binding the lulav together with the other species in preparation for performing the mitzva the next day. One of our longtime local staff saw me and asked ‘isn’t it time that you had one of your younger Yeshiva bachur assistants do this for you’?

I want to go back to those roses again. At what stage in a person’s career will he delegate bringing roses to his wife to his personal assistant? 

The answer to that (if he wants to stay married…) is never! The whole purpose of bringing roses is for the husband to personally show his affection and love to his wife by showing her that he cares. Having a personal assistant deliver those roses would be achieving the exact opposite effect. It would show that bringing a gift to his wife is another chore to him just like scheduling a business meeting. 

Clearly, when it comes to doing a mitzvah, you must do it yourself. That is the whole point of the mitzvah, to connect you with G-d.

What about just choosing and buying the gift that you will then bring personally to your loved one? Can you delegate that? (In today’s online world it’s a bit more complicated). Probably it wouldn’t be tragic if you had someone else source and buy the gift. 

However, it is unquestionably more ‘relationship-building’ when a spouse personally picks out and buys a gift than when they just ask an assistant to choose something nice and get it to their spouse. 

The Torah teaches us that when we do a mitzvah, even the preparations for a mitzvah, we should be personally involved. Yes, we can delegate a lot of things, but there are some things that we should be doing ourselves to show our love to G-d and the Mitzvahs He has asked us to fulfil.

The Talmud gives many examples of esteemed rabbis who personally did chores in preparation for the Shabbos.

Rava would personally prepare the fish for Shabbat. Rav Chisda chopped vegetables. Rabbah and Rav Yosef chopped wood. Rav Nachman bar Yitzchak would be seen running about on Friday, carrying bundles on his shoulders. Many of these were wealthy men who had numerous servants to do their work; yet they insisted on personally toiling in honor of the Shabbat. (Talmud, Shabbat 119a; Shulchan Aruch, Laws of Shabbat)

This is why I was sitting in the Sukkah on Sunday afternoon binding my four species personally. Of course I delegate many other chores to others. So that I will have more time. More time for this most important relationship in my life – my relationship with G-d.

There is nothing more joyous, inspiring and relationship-enhancing when you do a mitzvah than DIY (doing it yourself), even the preparations for the mitzvah. 

Just like with those roses, more than the joy of the actual roses, is the warm loving feeling of your significant other thinking and exerting himself for you. The more effort you had to expend, the more you will feel the love and the more your spouse will appreciate that gift. 

With mitzvahs its no different. The more you exert yourself for a mitzvah, the more you will feel G-d in your life. Paying money for a mitzvah is important as it makes it feel more precious and special. And G-d promises that ‘the reward is according to the effort’. G-d knows us from the inside, He creates us and any effort expended on doing a mitzvah is known and appreciated by Him.

There are still three days left to make a blessing on eating in the Sukkah, and two days left to make a blessing on the Lulav and Etrog (on Shabbat they are not taken).

If you haven’t don’t it yet, (or even if you have, it’s a new mitzvah each time you do it), make an effort to get to your nearest sukkah and find a four species near you!  (click here for a Global Chabad directory).

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom an a Chag Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS if you are in Bangkok, I will be available pretty much all-day Sunday please G-d to make a brocho with you on the Lulav and Etrog and to make a brocho on the Sukkah. No need for appointment, just drop by the Shul on Soi Sai Nam Thip 2 and call me 081 837 7618 if you don’t see me in the sukkah. 

 

 

Halle/Holy Miracle

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

A tragedy occurred in Halle, Germany.

A miracle occurred in Halle, Germany. 

Tragically, two people were killed in proximity to the Synagogue in Halle, Germany on Yom Kippur this year.

Miraculously, the more than eighty people inside the Synagogue were saved. By a locked door. 

I say miraculously, echoing the words of some of the people who were there during the terrifying ordeal and were saved. They, knowing the particulars of the door and its strength, testified that this was a miracle from G-d. That the door stayed locked and did not open. Even when fired upon and notwithstanding the piece of equipment the assailant used to try to pry it open.

I don’t want to think more deeply into what could have happened. It’s too frightening. 

But I do want to shout out praises to Almighty G-d for the ‘wondrous’ rescue of my brothers and sisters in Halle, Germany.

And offer sincere condolences to the families of the victims, the man and woman who lost their lives tragically in the attack. Gunned down mercilessly by a hate filled anti-Semite.

Friends, sadly the scourge of antisemitism has not dwindled. As advanced as we may have become, the hatred against us has not abated over the past years. 

Yet, in an inexplicable way, Jewish pride and heightened Mitzvah observance is on the rise. The events that our enemies anticipate will weaken us, have the reverse affect. They awaken within us our indomitable Jewish essence. The result is a steadfast resolve that we will not yield!!!

AM YISRAEL CHAI!

We need to express our resolute stubbornness and determination by doing acts of Jewishness. 

Start of your day with a prayer.

Put on tefillin when you have a chance.  

Light Shabbat candles before the onset of Shabbat.

Give tzedakah.

Keep a bit more kosher than you have until now.

Make sure to have a kosher mezuzah on your door.

Jewish family purity is the key to a blessed and sanctified family life.

Educate yourself and your loved ones by studying Torah.

Get some ‘Torah’ books for your physical bookshelf. 

Be more loving to your fellow.

These are example of ‘DOING Jewishness’. The light that we add to the world through these deeds will combat the darkness that our enemies are so intent on producing. 

Sukkot is coming up. Siting in the Sukkah, outside, without protection from the elements, reminds us that G-d is our true canopy of protection and peace.

May G-d bless us all with a Chag Sameach a happy and safe Sukkot holiday.

Shabbat Shalom

Chag Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor



 

 

 

YOM KIPPUR MEDITATION

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

What does one do to prepare for the holiest day of the year?

So, first of all, let’s be practical. We have a close to twenty-six hour fast beginning this evening so we need to eat and fortify ourselves. It’s actually a mitzvah to eat today.

Holiness can be tricky. 

Let me explain what I mean.

I was invited to visit a dear Jewish friend, who has a huge heart and a great spirit, but not so learned about Torah and Judaism. He wanted me to join a lunch he was hosting for religious leaders. There were at least five religions represented. And me. Not wanting to be alone, I took along my colleague Rabbi Wilhelm. While the others were eating, Rabbi Wilhelm and I sipped our mineral water as the food was not kosher. 

The topic at the table moved to holy people who were to be admired. A tale was told about an ascetic mystic who lived on the peaks of a cliff. For decades he sat and meditated. He was kept alive via some kind fisherman who would put two fish into a basket that would be lowered down from the cliff every day. 

The clergy around the table all nodded and agreed that indeed the meditating mystic was a saintly person. A man of great holiness. Admirably pure and pious.

I found myself blurting out ‘what did the world or any fellow humans gain from his asceticism’? ‘Wouldn’t it have been better if he would have helped others rather than live in solitude for his entire life on an isolated peak?’

Ten eyes looked at me in astonishment. I realized I had said something ‘politically incorrect’ for that setting. 

This morning as I prepared to pray, the story jumped into my mind. 

We are about to enter the holiest day of our year. 

Every Jew feels Yom Kippur in some way or another. There is a G-dly presence that is in proximity to our souls. It is sensed. We don’t always know what we are feeling. Some think it’s only because of their childhood. Others recognize that there is something real, albeit ethereal, in the ‘air’ that makes them feel different than just any other day of they year. 

Across the spectrum, on Yom Kippur Jews look to return to who they truly are. Nary a Jew doesn’t mark Yom Kippur by some form of observance. By fasting, by refraining from forbidden activities or by pledging to be better in the coming year.

That special inexplicable and indefinable feeling is no really ‘earned’ by us. It comes automatically from above. G-d beams it down to our souls so to speak. As long as you don’t consciously fight and block it, you will access it. Yom Kippur will work its holy ‘spell’ on you if you but so allow it to.

But what can one do from below to prepare for that? What can one do that is objectively holy? What would be the best way to prepare for the holiness of the day of Yom Kippur?

G-d granted me the great gift of spending several Yom Kippurs in the presence of a holy person. The Lubavitcher Rebbe embodied everything the Torah says in describing our great saintly Jewish leaders of yesteryears. To me, the Rebbe was the ultimate of what it meant to be a holy man. My mind goes back to reminisce about my Brooklyn Yom Kippur experiences in the presence of the Rebbe. How did the Rebbe prepare for the holy day of Yom Kippur?

If you have a few minutes, click on the below link and you too will see what the Rebbe did all day before Yom Kippur.

The Rebbe stood on his feet for hours upon hours and distributed ‘Lekach’ honey cake. 

Here is the background. There is a minhag custom on the day before Yom Kippur to ‘ask for lekach’. Just in case it had been decreed that one would need to be a recipient of a handout from a human during the upcoming year. By being a recipient of a sweet piece of cake from a fellow human, one would have ‘fulfilled the decree’ of receiving a ‘handout’ and from now on they could be recipients directly of G-d’s beneficence. 

The Rebbe spent hours upon hours receiving anyone who wanted to come and receive a piece of honey cake directly from his holy hand. He would utter thousands of times, annunciating to each individual that passed, the blessing for a ‘shana tova umesuka’ ‘a good and sweet year’. As the Rebbe uttered those words and handed them the piece of sweet honey cake he gazed upon them with kind fatherly eyes. An unforgettable experience.

But what about preparing for Yom Kippur? The holiest day. Wouldn’t the Rebbe’s time be better spent by praying and learning in private meditation?

Obviously not. This, the bestowing of kindness and grace unto others, is obviously the way one should prepare for the holiest day of the year. 

For holiness is not defined by what makes you feel more exclusive or pious. 

Holiness is defined by what brings you closer to G-d.

In a way that is almost counterintuitive, getting closer to G-d can only be gauged by how loving you are to others.

Its confusing. 

Spatial disorientation in the context of a pilot flying a plane means that the pilot no longer knows what is up and what is down. This can obviously pose a grave danger G-d forbid. That is why it is critical to have instruments that remind the pilot where is up and where is down.

In a similar vein, if one finds themselves feeling holy yet those around him are feeling hurt or ignored, they are likely in the state of spiritual disorientation.

The ‘litmus test’ of whether you are acting holy is how loving others perceive you to be. 

Click below inspiring for an inspiring story of how holy Tzadikim expressed their holiness by caring for others.

Chopping wood on Yom Kippur?

So, as you go about your preparations for Yom Kippur the holiest day of the year, make sure to keep your bearing about what true holiness is. 

Look out for those around you and make sure that they are cared for and loved. 

Start with yourself. If G-d gave you back your soul this morning its is because he NEEDS you. and if you are needed by G-d you must be lovable. And you must try to live up to what He expects of you 

Move on to your family and loved ones. Widen the circle if you are able, to include those more distant from you. 

Prepare for Yom Kippur by helping others!!!!

Say a nice word. Give a smile. Send a message via social media to someone you haven’t reached out to in a while. Do some random acts of kindness and goodness. Give tzedakah to those in need.

You will be holier, feel holier and merit G-d’s blessings for a good and sweet year!!!!

Chatima Umgar Chatima Tova

Shana Tova

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS if you are joining us at the Rembrandt Hotel for services, I will be happy to give you a piece of sweet cake at the pre-fast meal starting at 4:30 PM

PPS Tzedaka for the needy in Israel for the needy closer to home in Thailand



PEI for Redemption|Wondrousness

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Wow. It’s been an exhilarating beginning of year 5780!

Allow me to share that in Hebrew 5780 is ‘תש"פ’ 

In the acronym system, the Hebrew year could be read as an abbreviation to spell out ‘תהא שנת פ'’. May it be a year of PEI. 

The Pei could be used to spell פדותינו which means our Redemption. Redemption through Mashiach is what we are all waiting for!!!

Pei could also spell פלא which means ‘wondrous’. Indeed, we would all love to have a WONDROUS year!!

So first of all blessings to you all for personal and collective redemption during this year. And for a wondrous year in all things good!!!

For me personally, the exhilaration comes from meriting to host thirty-two hundred guests Baruch Hashem on the first evening of Rosh Hashana throughout Thailand.

And I am inspired and amazed by YOU. 

For the tremendous outpouring of support in giving Tzedaka during these special days and funding the work of Jewish Thailand.

Because of you and your support, whether via giving money, whether via offering prayers to the Almighty on our behalf which is the TRUE source of our blessings, it is because of you. The combined merits of all of you is what creates community. 

Our strength is indeed in our unity!!!

Another ‘penny dropped’ for me this week. I would like to share it with you as the message is a universal one.

A colleague, fellow shliach wrote to me yesterday saying how he much he enjoyed my article last week about the great importance of hearing the shofar on Rosh Hashana. 

But then he asked me a question that I have often asked myself. ‘Do you think anyone was influenced to actually attend the Shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana because of your article? Is there any way to know?’

I wouldn’t have known what to answer… except that by Divine Providence I was able to share the below email that I received just several hours earlier.

Shabbat Shalom, Rabbi:

This email inspired me to attend the Shofar service on the morning of Rosh Hashanoh

and I’m so happy that we did.

Thank you for the sermons you send me in California.  They are very meaningful.

Best,

Yes, people read what we write, absorb the messages we convey and ACT on that inspiration and newfound knowledge.

Another example of this.

This year we conducted the funeral for a fifty-five-year-old Jewish man who had lived in Thailand for a number of years. He was not a regular Synagogue goer as he lived in a remote part of Thailand. I met him only a few times. But he was a recipient of this weekly mail. Occasionally I write about the fundamental importance for a Jew to be buried rather than cremated G-d forbid. An about how imperative it is to bury in a Jewish cemetery in the traditional hallowed way. 

A few weeks ago I got this WhatsApp 

hello, are you Rabbi Yosef Kantor?

my name is .... I am contacting you because my father died yesterday and he has mentioned you in his will

your synagogue was the place he wished to be buried

I looked back at my email records and saw that indeed Leo had written to me asking how to ensure that he would receive a traditional Jewish burial. I had advised him that he could simply leave written instructions that he wanted to have a Jewish burial.

(I also would like to insert here the importance of providing for a ‘Jewish Tomorrow’ in one’s final will & testament)

Indeed, L left instructions for Jewish burial and his son who lives in Europe made sure to fulfil his request. Earlier this month he was laid to rest in the sanctified grounds of the Jewish cemetery in Thailand.

I gained a deeper understanding of one of the teaching of the Rebbe that goes as follows:

Groaning by itself won't do a bit of good. A groan is only a key to open the heart and eyes, so as not to sit there with folded arms, but to plan orderly work and activity, each person wherever he can be effective, to campaign for bolstering Torah, spreading Torah and the observance of Mitzvot. One person might do this through his writing, another with his oratory, another with his wealth.

Wealth is an old and classic way for influencing change. Money buys influence. When used in the right way it can be a powerful catalyst for creating positive change.

Oratory is another form of influence that has since the times of the Prophets and before, been a powerful method of swaying the minds and moods of the hearers.

Writing. Is that only for prominent authors?

No longer!

To me it seems that writing has risen to much greater prominence in the last decade or so.

Social media, emails, WhatsApp, Facebook, all transmit written words for the large part. 

It used to be that you had to be an author of note to make a difference. Today you can write an article, post it on the web and have it read by large audiences unbeknownst to you. In remote places and at odd times.

Imagine what kind of an opportunity that affords you and I?

And the tremendous responsibility that comes with that!

If you and I can generate more Yiddishkeit, promote more Torah study and Mitzva observance and make the world gentler and more morally upright, we dare not ‘groan’ about the situation. Rather we must DO something about it.

As the Rebbe says One person might do this through his writing, another with his oratory, another with his wealth.

Any means at your disposal. 

I am grateful to the reader who shared her Shofar mitzva with me. It has reinforced the importance of sharing the eternal values of our heritage so that more people will be inspired to take an additional step in their observance of Hashem’s mitzvahs. It has impressed upon me beyond doubt that people read what I write and for this I feel blessed, privileged and obligated.

And I share this enlightenment with you.

Don’t underestimate your power of influence.

Use your ‘writing’ to generate good will. To influence good behavior. When in doubt about writing something negative, snooze indefinitely. Conversely, when unsure about writing something positive and inspiring, go ahead and write.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS THANK YOU THANK YOU THANK YOU…. FOR YOUR GENEROUS SUPPORT IN MAKING OUR GIVING DAY CAMPAIGN A SUCCESS…

OOPS… WE ARE ALMOST THERE. 

EACH BRANCH RAN THEIR OWN CAMPAIGN WITHIN THE GENERAL CAMPAIGN… SOME CAMPAIGNS HAVE FINISHED WITH SUCCESS…. BUT SOME STILL NEED A SMALL EXTRA PUSH…

IF YOU LOOK CLOSELY YOU WILL OBSERVE THAT IT IS THE BRANCHES THAT SERVE YOUNG POST IDF BACKPACKERS THAT NEED OUR HELP NOW… AS WELL AS THE TEENS AND YOUNG PROFESSIONAL’S

WHEN THEY GROW UP, THEY WILL BE THE ‘BIG DONORS’ RIGHT NOW THEY NEED SOME MORE HELP FROM US THE ‘MATURE’ (NICE WORD FOR OLDER😊) CROWD

https://www.shutaf.im/p/jewishthailand


 


 

Shofar Exposed

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

 ‘They come down from the mountains, out of the jungles, from remote rivers and hedonistic beaches. It is a remarkable scene that takes place every year at this time, at seven Chabad locations across Thailand. 

 Thousands of Jews – many with little or no connection to meaningful Jewish life; many who are escaping from anything or everything – suddenly respond to the call of the shofar and reconnect to what that truly matters. 

 Most are young men and women who have given their prime years protecting our people in our Holy Land of Israel….

A friend of mine who is a veteran and extremely creative copyrighter, wrote the above words as the opening lines of Chabad of Thailand’s High Holidays fundraising letter. It is an intro into asking for donations to help with funding the Holiday meals at our Chabad Houses across Thailand.

When I first read his descriptively poetic words, I thought to myself that perhaps he had overstepped the boundaries between fact and fancy.

Yes, it’s true that thousands of young travelers from Israel attend our Chabad Houses over Rosh Hashana and the Chagim. But the part about ‘responding to the call of the Shofar’ seemed to be a bit of a stretch, as we have many more guests that come for dinner than those who come during the day of Rosh Hashana to hear the sounding of the Shofar. 

Which is a tad ironic. Wouldn’t it make sense that the huge overflow crowds be there for shofar as well as dinner?

I mean, if you do the ‘calculating’ it’s a no brainer, on the side of shofar.

The main mitzva of Rosh Hashana as taught in the Torah is to hear the sound the Shofar – a rudimentary instrument fashioned from a ram’s horn - anytime from sunrise to sunset on the Rosh Hashana days. 

The festive dinner on the eve of Rosh Hashana is important of course. It is replete with traditional sweet dishes as that signifies our optimism about the new year to come. I am planning to point out the power of optimistic behavior that is reinforced by our Rosh Hashana dinner sweet food customs. That is if my voice will be heard above the lively celebratory noise of the communal Rosh Hashana dinner at Rembrandt Hotel 😊 

But if you were faced before a situation where you had to choose one of the two, the festive dinner, or the hearing of the Shofar, Jewish law would unequivocally direct you to the Shofar.

Which made me think that my friend the writer was really being a bit fanciful and not tethered to reality.

If our guests were responding to the call of the Shofar wouldn’t they all be coming to hear the Shofar? Not just attending the dinner as some do.

As I mulled over this, it came to me with clarity.

They are responding to the call of the shofar!!!

Let me explain what I mean.

First, let’s acquaint ourselves with the mitzva of blowing the shofar. 

Why do we blow the shofar?

Like all mitzvah’s it is first and foremost the will of G-d. Doesn’t need any reason. Beyond human rationale. Supra-rational. 

Yet, our sages taught us to search for meaning within the mitzvahs. G-d wants us to have an appreciation and gain insight into why He asked us to do the particular mitzvahs that He instructed. The mitzvahs, through being understood, will inspire us just as they allow us to express our obedience to Him. 

There are ten basic reasons given for the blowing of shofar on Rosh Hashana. Click here for the full list. 

I would like to focus on the symbolism of the shofar as taught by the Ba’al Shem Tov founder of Chasidism. He taught it via a parable.

A King had an only son, the apple of his eye. The King wanted his son to master different fields of knowledge and to experience various cultures, so he sent him to a far-off country, supplied with a generous quantity of silver and gold. Far away from home, the son squandered all the money until he was left completely destitute. In his distress he resolved to return to his father's house and after much difficulty, he managed to arrive at the gate of the courtyard to his father's palace.

In the passage of time, he had actually forgotten the language of his native country, and he was unable to identify himself to the guards. In utter despair he began to cry out in a loud voice, and the King, who recognized the voice of his son, went out to him and brought him into the house, kissing him and hugging him.

The meaning of the parable: The King is G-d. The prince is the Jewish people, who are called "Children of G-d" (Deuteronomy 14:1). The King sends a soul down to this world in order to fulfill the Torah and mitzvot. However, the soul becomes very distant and forgets everything to which it was accustomed to above, and in the long exile it forgets even its own "language." So it utters a simple cry to its Father in Heaven. This is the blowing of the shofar, a cry from deep within, expressing regret for the past and determination for the future. This cry elicits G-d’s mercies, and He demonstrates His abiding affection for His child and forgives him.

The call of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah thus reminds us of the primordial scream, the eternal voiceless call of the soul expressing its desire to return to its Creator.

The call of the Shofar awakens and arouses the souls and hearts of Jews to search for G-d. Wherever they may be and however observant they consider themselves; something stirs in ever Jew’s consciousness around the High Holidays and inspires us to reach closer to our true identities as Jews. 

I don’t buy the cynical ‘Jewish guilt’ theory as the reason Jews flock to shul on the High Holidays. 

This Kabbalistic insight reveals something way deeper. Deeper than our conscious identity. That it’s about our core being, our essence.

It’s a soul thing. The G-dly soul feels the energies of the season and doesn’t let us just enter the High Holidays with indifference.

The feeling is ignited within every Jew. Commensurately, Jewish observance swells during these few weeks. A Jew can’t just remain indifferent during this highly charged Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur period. 

That’s why Shuls are filled to capacity.

This is the true reason that Jewish homes the world over fill up with family and friends coming together to mark, celebrate and find meaning on the night of Rosh Hashana. 

They are hearing something. They are responding to the stirrings of their soul. And they are looking to connect to G-d.

They are hearing the inaudible plaintive sound of the spiritual Shofar within their own soul as it cries out ‘FATHER… FATHER… ’.

What is appropriate expression of this plaintive existential cry? It is the Torah’s commandment to observe the mitzva of sounding the physical shofar on the days of Rosh Hashana. 

By listening to the blowing of the Shofar we are communicating our deepest soulful cry to G-d. We are joining the myriads of Jews who are collectively crying out to our Father in Heaven to have mercy and bless us with a good year. 

There is something about a wordless cry that reaches deeper than anything that you could possibly say.  If you are a parent, you know how your heart melts when your baby cries wordlessly. Even before they learn to say Mama, Papa, Aba or Imma. Our shofar blowing has that kind of depth and potency.

Nu, if so, who wouldn’t make every effort to attend the shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana day?

Why then are our Rosh Hashanah dinners more full than our Shofar services?

I would like to offer my own explanation. Based on a joke.

A man was down on his hands and knees looking for something under a spotlight on a dark city street. A well-intentioned passer-by asked the man what he was looking for, intending to help in the search. The man responded that he was looking for his wife wedding ring. ‘Do you remember exactly where it fell off your wife’s finger’ asked the would-be helper. ‘Yes’, responded the man, ‘it was in that dark corner just a few meters away from here’. So why are you looking here if it fell off a few meters away? ‘Because its dark over there in the corner while here there is a light’.

Perhaps it’s just like in the joke (except this is absolutely not a joking matter). Sometimes when we are inspired to reach out to G-d we choose to observe in a way that is easier even if in all honesty we should be aiming a few notches higher. 

Here is my point. We want to see overflowing Rosh Hashana dinner! No question about it, the festive dinner of Rosh Hashana is a mitzvah!

So make sure to attend or host a Rosh Hashana dinner replete with sweet things and symbolic ‘head of the year’ foods.

But don’t stop there. Go from one mitzva to another. Not just to any other ‘random’ mitzvah. Proceed to THE main mitzvah of Rosh Hashana.

Start the year on the right note. Seize the opportunity to observe the most important mitzvah of Rosh Hashana – try to hear the Shofar wherever you are!

Shana Tova!!!

PS the shofar needs to be sounded during the daylight hours.

In Bangkok we will be blowing it at the Rembrandt Hotel Ballroom (where all of our High Holiday services and meals will take place) on Monday September 30 and Tuesday October 1, at around 11:15 am. 

We will also be blowing the Shofar on Monday at 5:15 pm at the Tashlich service by the Lake at Benjasiri Park (on the side of Marriot Marquis Queens Park Hotel).

PPS Please help us host the thousands of guests who will join the holiday meals at Chabad of Thailand

 

 

Don't Leave Home Without ...

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

If I would have traveled to Mumbai just to meet and wrap Tefilin on Eban Hyams for the very first time in his life, it would have been worth my trip

These words were told to be this morning by D.H., a young Jewish man living in Thailand who just came back from a business trip to Mumbai.

D.H. grew up in Long Island but has really developed his observance of Judaism in Bangkok, Thailand of all places. 

I knew that one of the mitzvas that D.H. has zealously embraced is the mitzvah of wrapping tefillin daily (except for Shabbat and Chagim). 

But what I wasn’t so much aware of, and this is what D.H. shared with me today, was the fact that he has since put on tefillin on several ‘first timers’ which is an incredible mitzvah!!!

When D.H. went back for a visit to NY he took his dad to say hi to my brother in law Rabbi Paltiel of Chabad of Port Washington in Long Island. As Providence would have it, the Chabad House is just across the street from D.H’s dad’s office and they stopped in to say hi to the rabbi and give regards from our family. Mazel Tov! At that meeting, D.H.’s father put on tefillin for the very first time in his life! And that is a cause for celebration – a bar-mitzvah of sorts. 

Oh, the business part of the trip to Mumbai worked out fantastically for D.H. as well.

Hearing this story this morning, I realize that this is exactly the message of the opening verses of this weeks Parsha. 

The Torah instructs us to take from the first fruits that have grown in our field and to take them to the Temple in Jerusalem to express our thanks to G-d for all the good that He has given us. (And although we don’t have that mitzvah right now for lack of Temple, we certainly must fulfil the gratitude aspect of thanking Hashem for all the good that He gives us constantly!).

The actual language the Torah uses goes like this: ‘go to the place on which God, your God, will choose to rest His Name’

The Ba’al Shem tov elucidated this verse, exposing within it a message that is compelling, particularly to those who travel. 

The place that you go to, wherever it may be, even though it seems you are going for your own reasons and purposes, really this is the place that Hashem your G-d has chosen for you. Hashem has chosen it for you to go and ‘rest’ His name there. 

This is exactly what happened  in a very open way for D.H. He went to Mumbai on behalf of a client who invited him to come. As Providence would have it, there was a young Jewish man staying with that same Indian host that was hosting D.H. 

D.H. did his business. His material business. Marketing, invoicing, buying and selling. No question that it was a beneficial trip businesswise. 

But he discovered that there was a deeper reason for his trip as well. 

To cause the name of G-d to become more revealed there. 

By doing the mitzva of Tefilin with a Jew who had never had the opportunity for tefillin before in his life.

The challenge is merely to look beyond the surface and recognize that alongside the obvious reasons for why we go where we go, there is also a G-dly reason. 

When we act scrupulously honest, we are causing an awareness that G-d fearing people are meticulous about interpersonal morality. 

When circumstances take us to a particular place, it is for a higher purpose than just carrying out our mundane tasks. We are also there to do a mitzvah, say a prayer, help someone out of a predicament. 

This should not be looked at as a burden. We are happiest and most fulfilled when we engage in both aspects of our respective ‘promised land’. The material, and the spiritual. 

So next time you head out on a trip, pack those tefillin in your carry on. Shabbat candles if you will be away for Shabbat. A prayer book just in case you get the urge to pray, or you meet someone else who wants to pray.

‘Don’t leave home without it’.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

Irritated? UPLIFTED!!!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

The ‘Grab’ (the regional ‘Uber’) car came to pick me up. I was just finishing up an appointment in the office and came down seven minutes late. As I ran towards the pick-up spot, I saw three cars in the designated pick-up spot. One car was helping a second car start up its engine with jumper cables. The third was standing ready. 

I was a bit uptight as I was running late to a meeting. I muttered, perhaps even grumbled, to myself ‘I hope that it’s not my driver who is helping out with igniting the other car. That’s all I need, to be even later for my appointment’.

And then thank G-d I got the epiphany. 

An inner voice called out: Slow down and smell the roses. Wake up and smell the coffee. The Torah is summed up as a Torah of pleasantness and peace. Acting kindly to others is the cornerstone of our religion. 

It dawned on me, that I ought to reframe this experience to reflect the benevolent chessed-values of Torah Judaism.

Erase the original reaction. Reframe. 

Once I moved over to my revised perspective of what was transpiring I felt uplifted rather than irritated. 

I now thought to myself I hope it IS my driver who is providing the benevolent service of helping a fellow person whose car battery failed him.

(Besides the obvious that I hope that the car transporting me is in good condition and not in danger of stalling :-)).

I mused to myself. I thought I was running late and was inconveniencing the ‘Grab’ driver to wait for me for seven minutes. Whereas really Hashem was providing for an opportunity for one person to help the other. The hapless driver who needed a battery boost was stuck outside my office not knowing how he would boost his battery. Out of nowhere, Hashem sent him a driver who happened to have jumper cables in his car. And Hashem matched that up with a rabbi who was running late. Presto! The scenario was all set for this random act of kindness.

Wondrous are the ways of Hashem.

Indeed G-d provided the set opportunity. But my driver gets special credit for utilizing the opportunity to help his fellow. 

Uplifting oh how uplifting it is when people step out of their selfish zone to help others.

After the stalled car roared to life, the cables were wrapped and restored in my ‘Grab’ car, we were on our way. Now I would be even later to my meeting. But I was not concerned. 

I thought about the irony of our lives. Why am I running to this appointment? It was not for my own enrichment. Rather, I needed to meet some philanthropic supporters to further my ability to do acts of kindness. Nu, so I should be overjoyed that even before I sent out on my journey to search for more resources to do kindness in the future, I was already an ‘accidental’ partner in a random act of kindness. The driver who I had called helped his fellow driver with a boost.

I thank Hashem for bringing me to my senses. And pray that He continue to shower me with His open guidance.

It gets better….

When I arrived back home, my wife showed me a bird nest she had discovered just outside our window earlier this afternoon. Click to see pictures. She was showing the air-conditioning technician where a drain pipe was and she discovered a nest. With eggs. And with a little chick that had just emerged from a broken egg. Any other time I would just say ‘how cute’ and move on. But not this week. 

Finding this nest, replete with eggs and a newly hatched chick, this week of all weeks, was an amazing Divine Providence.

This week we read the Torah portion that speaks about what to do when you see a bird sitting on eggs or chicks. That you may not take the eggs while the mother is there. Rather you need to send away the mother. This Mitzvah is quite intricate. Generally, it teaches us how Hashem is merciful to all His creatures. Click here for more thorough discussion on this enigmatic mitzvah.  

I want to focus on the first words of this Mitzvah ‘If a bird’s nest chances before you on the road’. These words teach us that this mitzvah only applies to an ‘unplanned’ finding of a nest. It does not apply for example if you are a bird grower and anticipate having nests. It only applies if you ‘happen’ to find a nest.

If you ‘happen’ to find a nest, the Torah instructs you how to react in a compassionate fashion.

I find that it is a greater challenge to react generously and kindly to scenarios that just ‘happen’ to fall on us when we are unprepared.

Even genuinely nice people, who would be hospitable and amicable if they were forewarned about a guest coming over to their home, may act quite curtly when someone turns up at their door unannounced.

It is not that they are inhospitable. It is simply that they were caught off guard.

The great sage Hillel was a paradigm of kindness. In whatever circumstance you caught him, he instinctively reacted with patient kindness. The Talmud relates the following story:

Hillel’s tolerance and understanding personality were renowned. One Friday afternoon, as Hillel the Elder was busily preparing for Shabbat, a man came to his door and demanded to speak with him. Hillel calmly dressed himself in proper attire and went to speak with his visitor to find out what was so urgent. The man related a question: Why were Babylonians’ heads unusually round? This was a dig at the Babylonian-born Hillel. Without missing a beat, Hillel answered that the unusual shape of their heads was due to improper care by midwives.

The man left, seemingly satisfied. A few minutes later, though, he was back, once again with an all-important query. This time he wanted to know about the squinted eyes of the residents of Tadmur. Hillel answered him and he left. This cycle repeated itself again, with the man asking about the wide feet ascribed to the people of Africa.

After the third question and another even-keeled response from Hillel, the man became very upset. He told Hillel that he had bet his friend four hundred zuz that he could get Hillel the Elder upset. Now, he would lose four hundred zuz! Hillel smiled and said, “Better you lose four hundred zuz than I get upset.

This week the Torah teaches that even if you just ‘happen’ onto a situation without having been forewarned, make sure your response is one of kindness and benevolence. 

For you never truly ‘happen’ to find yourself in a situation as a fluke. This is G-d’s preordained path for you. The purpose for throwing a curveball? To see how you will respond.

Your Torah-guided benevolent response even to an unanticipated situation is the goal. May Almighty G-d have compassion on us and carry us on the wings of eagles to the Messianic Redemption.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS Much success in the lead-up to Rosh Hashana. Click here for a wealth of information on this special Elul month of introspection and preparation for the upcoming High Holidays.

 

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