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Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sameach From Bangkok!

 By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Pai, in the hills of Northern Thailand

An unfolding story: (I shared part one back in May).

Part One, May 2018

I thought I was going to NY on Saturday night for Chabad-work-related matters. The check-in agent noticed that my Thai passport was expired and my visit to Suvarnabhumi airport turned out to be for naught.

A day later a friend called me from USA and asked me to help out with a Jewish man who needed possibly life-saving counseling in Chiang Mai. I said ‘sure, I will help and if need be fly down there’. I figured maybe this is the reason I didn’t fly to NY. Maybe G-d had kept me here in Thailand to help one of His children. When I called the person in distress, he said he was in Pai, not Chiang Mai. To my American friend no big difference, Pai, Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai it all the sounds the same to him. But of course there is a huge difference. Chiang Mai is easy and inexpensive to reach. Pai is tedious and time-consuming as there are no flights and the two lane highway is scenic but dizzying. It was a three-hour drive from Chiang Mai on the windiest mountain roads I have ever experienced. The trip left me dizzy for twenty-four hours.

The person I wanted to see indicated that he may not be prepared to see me. I decided to go nonetheless. The way it seems to me sometimes you have to go even when you are not sure of the outcome.

My thinking goes like this: If you are on the waiting-list for a flight and you don’t go to the airport, you certainly won’t board the flight. If you go, you have a chance.

‘Showing up’ is the first step, without which, nothing starts.

I got to Pai at 1pm and wandered around for two hours.  . Met at least a dozen young Jewish travelers (and one motorcycle-riding Northern Californian ‘hippy’ (her words) with her ten-year-old son).

The guy I came to see didn’t respond to my calls, WhatsApp’s or SMS’s.

No regrets about going there. For some years now I had wanted to see the Israeli backpacker scene in Pai to assess the viability of setting up a Chabad House there. This was a prodding from Above to get me there. Knowing that someone may be in need of help NOW, made this trip actually happen…

The fellow I went to meet? He knew I had traveled far to get there and that showed that I really cared.   The next day we spoke by phone and thank G-d things are on the mend. Hopefully I can help him in his quest for a brighter future.

Part Two April 2019

The person I had gone to visit has since ‘wandered’ around Thailand and more recently made his way back to Pai. His friend from the USA called me a few days ago and reminded me to reach out to him for Passover.  I was very happy to be reminded. For if he was in Pai I had a Seder to invite him to.

Yes. This year Chabad of Thailand is hosting a Seder in Pai. For Jews that were planning not to be at a Seder. They were planning to be in Pai over Passover. We dispatched a young rabbi and his wife from Israel and they are literally ‘walking the streets’ looking for Jews. They already have a guest list of more than one hundred.

I wrote a note to my ‘wandering’ friend, the Jew who I went to see in Pai but who had not come out to meet me. I asked him ‘are you still in Pai’. No response for a few hours.

Then I got a call that filled my heart with joy.

It was the young shliach we had dispatched to Pai. He told me excitedly that he had met a Jew in the street who said he knows me and had confirmed that he would join the Seder.

A classic ‘fifth son’ who would now join the Seder table as one of the ‘four sons’.

Yes, you guessed it. It was that Jew I have been trying to interact with since last May. The rabbi put him on the line and we got to speak for a few minutes. He apologized for not answering my note yet. He confirmed that he would join the Seder. And he sounded like he was doing surprisingly well coping with life thank G-d. I pray that his ‘liberation’ continue and that life goes well for him going forward.

This story brought home to me what I already know but the more reminders the better. G-d runs His world in a way that is full of miracles and divinely orchestrated ‘coincidences’. It is just that most of those miracles are not evident. Like the fact that our body functions day after day. When G-d forbid something small goes awry in the body a person feels it. Very small mishaps in the vital organs can be fatal. Do we know when things almost went wrong and G-d saved us at the fateful moment. These are things we take for granted. We call them nature. The miracle inherent in so many uneventful events are not evident even to the one who experiences them.

Pessach is a time for remembering the miracles of going out of Egypt. The ten plagues. The splitting of the sea. The raining down of the Manna.

It is also a time to remember that G-d is always ‘liberating’ us. G-d is performing miracles for us on an ongoing basis. Usually, we don’t notice them. But sometimes we do get a peek into G-d’s interaction with us. Either by experiencing something that is incredible enough to be called a miracle. Or by experiencing an intersection of events, where the pieces of the puzzle come together in a way that is too immaculate be written off as happening by chance.

Through this sequence of events I was gifted a sensory reminder of G-d’s Divine Providence at work in this mundane world.

It is liberating to realize that there is a ‘Boss’ to this universe.

When you look at the world as being run directly by G-d, the world becomes a kinder and less stressful place.

It is also obligating.

Some people mistakenly think that liberation and obligation are mutually exclusive.

Ironically, it is liberating to be obligated.

Rabbi Gurkow summed it up well in an article about the liberation of Passover. He was explaining how leaving Egypt and becoming obligated to serve G-d at Sinai was liberating.

In our own lives we also experience these two pulls. On the one hand we resent the obligation to wake each morning and go to work; we aspire to freedom and leisure. On the other hand, as soon as we retire or vacation for several days we feel the emptiness of life and yearn for structure and commitment.

Both desires are real. The first is a desire to be free of others so that we can serve ourselves. The second is much deeper. It is a desire to be needed. We cannot be needed without serving another’s needs and we cannot serve another’s needs without sacrificing some of our leisure in order to help others.

The desire to be needed is fundamental to the human experience. Without it the soul feels empty; drained of all significance. If I serve no one, I am important to no one. Gripped by the imprisoning vise of isolation, I am left utterly and completely alone. Ironically, true freedom comes with commitment. CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE

This unfolding story also drove home to me the importance of giving attention to each and every individual. It comes at a pivotal time. This is a time when at Chabad of Thailand we are involved in providing Seders for some six thousand guests spread throughout Thailand. It is critical to remember that each one of those thousands is an individual and requires personal attention and inspiration.

This was the theme of my motivational talk to the staff of thirty ‘roving rabbi’s’who had been dispatched from Chabad world headquarters to help run the Seder for thousands in Ko Samui (see pictures below).

While hosting more than two thousand guest at an epic Seder event, I urged them to notice each individual and ensure that they have an enjoyable and meaningful Passover evening.

As budding emissaries of the Rebbe, I urged them to look at the Rebbe’s leadership as one to emulate.

Rabbi Shmotkin summed it up well in an article:

 Rebbe was a global leader whose towering personality, innovative methods, organizational skills and vision impacted the entire world. At the same time, to hundreds of thousands who came in direct contact with him, he was their personal Rebbe.

The pain of every individual was his pain, and the joys of every individual were his joy. No one was dispensable. Everyone belonged and everyone counted.

 Moses, who with loving tenderness fed the right type of grass to each type of sheep and chased a single lost sheep in order to return it to the flock.

 Midrash says, is why Moses was chosen to be the shepherd of the Jewish people. CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE

May this Pesach be a truly liberating one for you.

May you be blessed with liberation from worries. This includes material worries like health, nachas and money. Namely you should be blessed with an abundance of all those blessings. You should also be liberated from spiritual angst. Finding purpose in life. Knowing that you are an integral part of G-d’s plan for His creation and connecting more deeply to the spark of G-d within you.

May we be collectively blessed with the liberation from this exile, with the coming of Mashiach.

L’shana Habaah Beyerushalayim!

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach – Kosher and Happy Passover.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS ALL WHO ARE HUNGRY COME AND EAT – the traditional Pesach invitation to all those who don’t yet have a place for the Seder, is extended to anyone reading this note! rabbi@jewishthailand.com

So many of you have helped us prepare to host the six thousand guests we anticipate at our Seders around Thailand. We still need more help… if you are able to host some guests at our seder please click here.

Wicked? Perhaps. But needed!

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Which of the ‘four sons’ (or daughters) are you?

Truth be told I kinda always believed my momma who said I was the ‘wise son’.

This year will be different though.

No, my mother hasn’t stopped calling me a good child and I still try not to let her down. But I have recently given a lot of more thought to the ‘wicked son’ character who is mentioned at the Seder night.

Let me explain why.

A recent encounter with Ron, a Jew from the Hollywood in his seventies, opened up new vistas in my empathizing with others.

It wasn’t the first time I had put on Tefilin with a man in his seventies for the very first time in his life. Thank G-d, I have had the inimitable pleasure of introducing many a fellow Jew to this awesomely inspiring mitzvah.  

Roneleh (as I endearingly refer to my new seventy-one-year-old friend) didn’t just put on the Tefilin. He bared his soul. He emotionally told me what had changed his feelings toward his relationship with G-d and his Jewish birth religion.

In anticipation of our meeting he had watched a video on our website in which I shared the teaching that every Jew is comparable to a letter in the Torah. We all know that every letter of the Torah is critical to the validity of the Torah. If one letter is missing the entire scroll is invalid. Similarly, every single Jew is an integral part of the Jewish people. From the greatest saint, down to the most wicked. Every single one of us is an irreplaceable ‘member of the tribe’.

Ron told me emotionally, ‘I never knew how important I, the non-observant Jew, am to the Jewish people. To realize my critical importance to the nation of Israel, to the extent that the entire nation of Israel is incomplete without my contribution, is a game-changer’.

It was a game-changer for him. Ron, aka Reuven, put on Tefilin and gave me an appreciative hug.

I hugged him back. It was no less game-changing for me. Ron gave me a glimpse into the feelings of a Jew who did not at all feel like a ‘wise son’ in terms of his relationship with his Jewishness.

I have not been the same since that meeting.

My world has changed.

It’s like a lightbulb went on in my head!

I’ve attended Pesach Seders for as long as I can remember.

At every Seder we have spoken about the ‘four sons’ who attend the Seder.

The four kinds of children that comprise out Seder tables. Wise, wicked, simple and the ones who do not know how to ask.

I will be unabashedly honest. While I try to be an empathetic person, I now realize that I had never put myself in the shoes of the ‘wicked son’.

What would it feel like to attend a Seder if you viewed yourself as a ‘wicked son’?

Actually, why would you even bother attending the Seder if you felt so wicked?

Wouldn’t you feel really out of place?

This is precisely the point of the Seder declaration highlighting the different kinds of children.

Every single Jew has a place at the Seder table.

The Seder is not only for the wise, good, full of mitzvahs kids. Or for kids who are simple but at least don’t create waves by their rambunctiousness and questioning of their heritage.

The Seder is held for the ‘wicked’ child as much as it is for the other less provocative ones.

A JEW IS A JEW IS A JEW.

We need the wicked son to know that he is NOT merely a tolerated ‘outside guest’ at the family table. He is an integral member of the family. He may need to be tamed, he may be asked to tone down his rhetoric, certainly he is expected to be respectful, but he will not be asked to leave.

For if he leaves, the family is not complete.

Hey, it’s pretty amazing that the kid showed up at the Seder. He couldn’t be all that wicked you say. Well, the Haggada does call him wicked. So I believe that he may indeed be wicked.

But wicked as he may be, he has been blessed that he is not alienated. Obviously, his Jewish self-esteem is intact. He may feel that his actions are aggravating to his family and his G-d but he just can’t control himself.

Not for one moment though does he think he is redundant. Not for a second does he think he is now an outsider. He knows and feels that he is a Jew as much as any other Jew at the Seder table.

This is what we proclaim at the Seder. It doesn’t matter how you view yourself. It may even be the truth that you are quite a wicked Jew. But you are a Jew and therefore you belong. And if you don’t show up, something is missing.

But here is the catch. Only the Jews who actually show up to the Seder get to hear about this.

I shudder when I think of how many Jews may not be showing up at Seders simply because they are feeling a low Jewish self-esteem.

It could be that the reason so many Jews stray so far is because they don’t really think their absence will be noticed?

What I learned from Ron is just how critical it is for a Jew to realize that he is absolutely critical to the community.

It’s a vicious cycle. If they don’t come to the Seder, they don’t get to hear the Seder leader explain how important every single Jew is to the entire people.

This Tuesday, the world celebrates the birth of the Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory 117 years ago.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe called upon all Jews who are planning to attend Passover Seders to think about those who are not planning to attend.

Four sons come to the Seder. Even the wicked ones.

There is a ‘fifth son’.

The one who wasn’t planning to come.

Get him or her to come to the Seder. Explain to them that the table is not complete without their presence.

Once they get to the Seder they will get the point. That they matter. That the table is not complete without them. Next year they won’t be the fifth son. They will join the other four. And they too need to reach out to those who are not yet planning to be at the Seder table.

The Rebbe constantly taught that it is not at all difficult to connect Jews to their Yiddishkeit.

All it takes is to impresses upon our fellow Jews that they belong.

That they matter.

That G-d loves them and waits for their Mitzvahs longingly.

That the Jewish People NEEDS them to be whole and complete.

Once they know and feel that they are needed, there is no doubt that they will connect more to their Judaism.

So, my dear friend, G-d loves YOU. Am Yisrael needs YOU. And YOU can best express your love to G-d and strengthen our people, by doing another mitzvah.

Shabbat Shalom and happy Passover preparations.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS. Please email me if you need help with a place at a Seder or if you can’t make it to a Seder we will be happy to send Matzah to you!

Tradition Transmission

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It is always special to visit my parents in New York and spend time with them.

During my current visit I got a special treat. My father shared a deeply personal story with me. One that took place more than six decades ago, at the celebration of his Bar Mitzvah. The celebration took place in the fledgling Chabad community of Melbourne, Australia.

At the Bar-Mitzvah celebration Mr. Zalman Yankelevitch (Ben-Yaakov), a visiting politician from Israel, was honored to address the crowd.

Mr. Zalman Yankelevitch, a religious Jew born near Lodz in Poland, was a powerful orator. In his passionate address delivered in Yiddish, he spoke as if he was the mouthpiece of the myriads of children who had not survived the recent Holocaust.

In descriptive language he painted an imaginative throng of children who were pleading not merely to be memorialized but to vicariously carry on living. ‘The children whose lives were cut tragically and brutally short, are standing here, imploring you to live your life on their behalf.  To carry on the Jewish traditions and create the meaningful Jewish future that was cruelly denied them ….’.

‘Mr. Yankelevitch’s passionate words to me as a young Bar-Mitzvah boy, placed an overwhelming weight on my young shoulders’. ‘'I was sobbing so heavily and was so overcome by emotion that I was unable to deliver my ‘pilpul’ (Talmudic discourse) that my father had prepared for me to recite’ recalled my father.

My father concluded his reminiscence with the following statement that left me with a lot of food for thought. ‘This message delivered at my Bar-Mitzvah and its highly demanding call to action, remained embedded deeply in my subconscious.  It was likely what created that insatiable, unfulfillable desire within me to achieve. It was that mission that was thrust upon me to achieve the goals of those saintly souls whose lives were cut short unnaturally’.

This story touched me deeply, because while I had never heard the story before, I felt as if I knew it from the inside. It was no doubt an event that shaped my life too. My father’s constant drive to achieve, and rebuild the post-Holocaust battered Jewish world, impacted my siblings and I. It affected us in a very positive way as far as it seems to me. The effect of that immemorial speech impacted the way I raised my children.  

I asked my father for permission to share this story with you.

For this is truly the story of our people. The story of Am Yisrael.

The Jewish people is no stranger to the colossal influence of transmission of tradition.

On Pesach the Torah instructs fathers to answer their children as to ‘why is this night different that all other nights’. The message of indebtedness and thankfulness to G-d for the Exodus from Egypt has been passed down through the generations in an unbroken chain, for more than three thousand years!

Pesach is without question that most celebrated Jewish holiday.

It is the basis of the entire Judaism. For it is only once we were freed from Egypt that we became an independent nation. Forty-nine days after we left Egypt, G-d gave us the Torah.

Eating matzah on the night of Pesach, particularly the handmade shmurah matzah which is called ‘the bread of faith’, is a mitzvah that strengthens our faith in Al-mighty G-d.

It is for this reason that the Rebbe urged and encouraged us to be proactive about reaching out and providing Pesach to all whom we can reach. To do all that is within our power to ensure that every Jew has a Seder on the eve of Pesach. So that not just the ‘four-sons’ come to the Seder. To make sure that the ‘fifth-son’, the one who wasn’t planning on coming to the seder, also comes!

For the unbroken and uninterrupted chain of Jewish tradition must continue. It is we, who need to transmit to our children and it will be they who will transmit to their children in an lengthening chain of generations.

Chabad of Thailand has ambitiously taken up the challenge to host in excess of fifty-five hundred guests at a dozen locations around Thailand. Many of them young heroes who have just given three years of their life defending our people in our homeland.

It is a challenge to pay the bills for the Seder.

This is what brings me to New York during this hectic time before Pesach. To knock on the doors of offices of generous Jewish donors. Asking them to add their link in the chain of Jewish continuity by hosting guests at our Seders.

You too can participate in providing this essential Jewish experience by clicking here.

Please consider this a personal invitation to our communal Seders in Thailand.

Reservations can be made here, or if its easier, just email me back that you will be coming. Please invite any other Jewish people that you know. We will be most happy to have them.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS (a long and special PS) Last Friday, Chabad of Thailand had the indescribable merit to save a life. Literally.

Hear the story in Rabbi Wilhelm's words, (translated into English)-

"This past Friday, I received a call from a concerned man in Toronto. He told me that his elderly parents had arrived in Bangkok to visit on Thursday afternoon. On Thursday evening, his mother left their hotel room and had not been seen since. She had simply disappeared.

I immediately went to the hotel, with the Chabad Houses’ security team. We met with the missing woman's husband and tried to get as much information as to where she may have wandered off to. By this time, we had reached out to the police and they conducted an intensive search operation in the area of the hotel.

After an extensive search, the woman was found, thank G-d.

She had become disoriented due to the long and arduous trip to Thailand and had left her hotel room and wandered around areas of the hotel which were not usually accessed by guests. She had landed up falling into a deep three-meter shaft near the hotel's pool and refrigerator rooms. Lifting her from the shaft was not an easy process. In order to reach the woman, the hotel had to break open the walls of the refrigerator rooms which they graciously agreed to do. When she was brought up from the pit, she was unconscious and very weak. BUT ALIVE thank G-d.

We brought her by ambulance to the hospital where she was checked. Thank G-d, there were no significant injuries and a little later, she regained consciousness. As of now, she is feeling good and should be released very soon.

We are grateful to YOU, our friends, who through your support, create happy endings to dramatic stories like this one.

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov

Divine Hug

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

We didn’t time it consciously that way…

Is it not clearly the hand of Hashem’s Divine Providence?

Let me tell you the background. And then you can decide for yourself.

After weeks, actually years, of dreaming and planning, the J Café and kosher shopin Sukhumvit area finally opens on Sunday this week.

Just as we begin the week of the weekly Torah portion of Parshat Shemini.

What am I so excited about?

It is in the portion of Shemini that G-d gives the laws of what is kosher and what is not.

Until this morning, when I sat down facing my computer screen meditating on what I would like to share with you this week, I didn’t realize that there was this major and obvious connection between the weekly Parsha and the opening of our new kosher food establishment.

It is so heartwarming to get this ‘Divine-Hug’ so to speak. When G-d shows you how your efforts from down below are in sync with His Torah reading schedule it is truly inspiring and heartwarming.

You may be wondering, what do I find so exciting about a new kosher eating establishment? Why would Chabad rabbi’s expend efforts and resources to establishing a food eatery? Something that seems to be in the realm of body building and revenue generating rather than soul tending and altruistically flavored.

You would be right if we were talking about opening a new kosher food venue in New York, Jerusalem or even Melbourne. In those bastions of Jewish life, kosher venues are business enterprises and hardly a reason to make a rabbi’s weekly Torah column.

Not so in Thailand.

Two and a half decades ago, just after we opened the backpacker Chabad House in Kaosarn Rd it was clear that we needed a kosher food solution. Young people were visiting the Chabad House, becoming inspired to connect more to Judaism but left unable to feed their bodies in a kosher way. It was difficult to encourage travelers to commit to eating kosher when there was virtually nothing available for them to eat.

Opening a restaurant at the Chabad House twenty-five years ago was a mitzvah. It was founded as an outgrowth and result of the Jewish outreach mandate of Chabad. Rather than being a revenue source, it was another significant expenditure. It didn’t seem to have a future as a commercial enterprise but that didn’t matter. It was nurturing Jewish souls and guaranteeing Jewish continuity. These are critical values that you cannot put a price tag on.

The value of a kosher eating establishment where there are none, is immeasurable.

The obvious benefit is that enables more people to keep kosher. G-d instructed Jews in a detailed dietary code and without proper resources it can be quite difficult to adhere to the kosher laws.

Providing a kosher eatery is thus a great mitzvah. It’s as simple as that. Which is why the kosher restaurants at the Chabad Houses are still open, notwithstanding their inherent non-profitability. They have become an expected feature at each of our Thailand Chabad Houses and thousands merit to keep kosher because of the availability of kosher food that they provide.

Not to mention the incredible Jewish unity opportunities it enables. The kosher restaurants at Chabad of Thailand’s four locations, provide more than two thousand Shabbat meals every single week. These meals are inspirational celebrations that foster and cultivate Jewish unity.

The kosher establishment in a remote location goes beyond just providing kosher food.

A kosher eatery in a place that is off the traditional ‘Jewish grid’ becomes a Jewish meeting point of sorts and provides a vital community service.

The new J Café and Kosher Shoppe is a cause to celebrate for any Jew living in Thailand. It’s a ‘one stop shop’ for Yiddishkeit and Jewish accessories. It may be a Yartzeit candle one is looking for. Chanuka candles. A half kilo of rugelach. Challa bread on Friday. Hamantaschen on Purim. Israeli soup croutons. Tahini or Humus or Matzah & kosher wine for Pesach.

Not to mention the Israeli style café menu that is mouthwatering (don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself).

All of this and more is now readily accessible and centrally located at Mille Malle Mall on Sukhumvit Soi 20.

Going to a community focused kosher shop can do wonders in fanning the flames of Yiddishkeit and Jewish identification in one’s soul. Especially if you bump into other community members and have a good schmooze. Or you may even meet me or one of my colleagues and get to put on Tefilin or hear a Torah thought.

For all these reasons and more, I am excited about the new venture.

Will it be sustainable. I am hardly worried. Because it’s a community service at its core, I am not fazed by the possible or (as the pessimists say probable) lack of profitability. The benefits to the community far outweigh the possible deficit.

But I challenge you and invite you to prove the naysayers wrong.

Support the new endeavor. Invite your business associates and friend to dine with you. Order deliveries to your home or office. Help build it up till it becomes financially self-sufficient and then continue to support it till it even turns a profit.

As indicated on the signage, J Café is a project of Chabad. This means that any profits go back to the community chest. So if you succeed in making this new project viable, the community benefits further by having more resources to provide ever increasing Jewish and social services.

It’s a win-win proposition.

Eat kosher. Support the community. Nourish your body. Nourish your soul.

And check out the wonderful selection of kosher wines.

LECHAYIM!!!!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS to those of you who live in established Jewish communities I hope you too can relate to the game-changing nature of providing kosher where it was scarce. And perhaps I can suggest that you be more mindful about the need to support the kosher establishments in your cities and towns. This would be done by shopping and eating at kosher stores and eateries wherever the option exists.

Did Volvo time it for Purim?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Purim in Thailand was AMAZING thank G-d!

For me personally, the grand finale was the WhatsApp messages that kept coming all night.

I don’t mean the thank-you’s for the party and that kind of stuff.

The community Purim party at the Rembrandt Hotel was fantastic! Hundreds of people may G-d bless us all, joyous atmosphere, fantastic food (see below notice about new café/bakery/kosher-shop opening in Sukhumvit) and inspiring Torah thoughts. Indeed, there were plenty of gratitude notes, and I send a special thank you to those who said thank you.

The flurry of messages was in reaction to a selfie I had sent out.

At the end of our community Purim party I saw one of the young men who was helping with the security arrangements. Wanting to give the young man’s father some nachas, I took a selfie and sent it to him.

And what I discovered the next morning, is that I had also sent it to 256 other people. Apparently without realizing it, I sent it to a WhatsApp list I had compiled some time back when we were doing a crowdfund ‘giving day’.

Two hundred and fifty-six people got this random picture from me. Each of them sure that I had sent it personally to them.

Most responded with ‘am I supposed to know the guy?’.

Some were sure they knew the guy and had just forgotten who he was. They wrote ‘please remind me who that is standing next to you’. Some even tried guessing the name, they were that sure that they had the person before.

Others just sent a question mark (or two or three ???,s).

My favorite response was from one of my friends. He wrote, ‘Send regards! And please don't tell him I have no idea who he is’.

An interesting social experiment.

But it wasn’t at all planned from my side as an experiment.

It could have been a major mess-up.

I thanked G-d from the depth of my soul that the message I had inadvertently sent out was simply a selfie. It was not some private correspondence that went unintentionally public.

It gave me a very clear message though.

How absolutely careful we have to be during this exciting information age.

In the olden days it was a bit simpler. We had to watch what we said with our mouths.

Our Sages taught that our mouths are formed in a way that reminds us to be cautious about what we say. The teeth and lips can be viewed as two gates that control one’s speech. The Torah places much emphasis on what comes out of our mouth. Words are very powerful. They can build and they can demolish.

I am going to digress here. Take it as a Purim meandering…

Parents, must pay particular attention to the power of their words. It is so sad to see when a parent verbally pushes down their child. ‘You are such a klotz’ may seem like a statement made in exasperation. It slipped out of your mouth without you even noticing. You didn’t mean it to be a clinical assessment of your child’s motor skills. But too often this kind of speech turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy and shapes the kind of adult our children turn into.

On the other hand, you wouldn’t want to lie to your child and tell him he is a Yehudi Menuhin if he is really an amateur beginner violin player.

You should though, find uplifting and empowering things to say to your child. Find something that you can give your child a compliment about. It will make a world of difference. It is a major factor in whether a person will grow up with low self-esteem or healthy self-esteem.

I cringe and cry when someone confides to me that their parents said they were ‘a mistake’. What kind of emotional strength are you giving a child by essentially telling them that they were unwanted.

One of the most critical parts of my work is to tell people how absolutely essential they are. How much they are irreplaceable. As humans. G-d doesn’t create ‘spare parts’. It’s not like there are just a couple of extra billion people kicking around. If G-d put a soul down here on this world, it is for a reason. Whether your parents consciously thought about the reason for bringing another child into this world or not, is immaterial. If you are here, it means that Hashem wants you and ‘needs’ you here.

You need to have patience though. Sometimes it takes time till one gets to see what their contribution to the community is.

This is one of the powerful lessons of the Megillah which we just read.

Esther was in the court of Achashverosh for five years. Long painful years. For a virtuous Jewish maiden who was forced to be the Queen to a Persian king of dubious character it must have been excruciating.

Five years later, Mordechai asks Esther to intervene on behalf of her people. She sends back a message that Achashverosh may be her husband but he is unpredictable and she would be endangering her very life by trying to approach him without being invited.

Mordechai told her the fateful words that ring so loud till today (Esther 4, 14) For if you will remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, and you and the house of your father will be lost. And who knows if it is not for just such a time that you reached this royal position."

One of the sometimes overlooked details of this story is the fact that Mordechai went every single day to the palace gates to enquire about Esther and see to her welfare. Mordechai’s persistent support gave Esther the needed strength. Can you fathom the depth of that commitment? Mordechai came every single day for 5 years to check up on Esther, an orphan who was taken against her will to the palace. By doing this, Mordechai showed that there is someone who cares for her, loves her, and that she is never alone

This is what a true Jewish leader does. A true leader imbues and inspires those around them with the knowledge that they are essentially good and that they have a unique contribution to make.

Albeit it may not always be obvious. It may take many years. But G-d does not create anything redundant. Not even a blade of grass. Certainly not a human being.  

The Rebbe, in our generation, reinforced this critical message and made it central to the mission of the Shluchim he sent around the world. Tell every Jew that G-d is waiting for their mitzvah. The community is not complete without their unique persona. No Jew is too ‘small’ to be a critical member of Am Yisrael.

For the Jewish nation in its entirety, is like a Torah scroll. Every Jew is like one letter in that one Sefer Torah. If even one letter is missing from the Torah, it renders it invalid.

My dear friend, take the opportunity to be one of those who builds people and strengthens them. You don’t to have a degree, no money needed either. All you need is a sincere desire to help someone else. Your uplifting words can make a person. Just as negative words can G-d forbid break a person.

You can do it! Your words can make a difference!  

End of digression. Back to my WhatsApp mistake….

The mouth used to be the main thing we had to look out for. To use it for good. not for negativity.

Today it’s our index finders as well. With the flick of a finger a lot of emotional damage can be wreaked. By the same token, self-esteem can be built by that same smart phone. ‘Likes’, empowering emoticons, inspiring pictures and videos all of these are amazing tools to build people up.

You really have to be careful with this. I learned this lesson. Thank G-d not the ‘hard way’. Rather the ‘fun way’. My apologies for the infringement on the time and attention of those two hundred and fifty six recipients. Most of them were in Purim mode and more open to being laid back and ‘chilled out’.

Actually, part of me is happy that it happened. It gave me a chance to touch base with a few hundred people I wouldn’t have made contact with.

Okay, I am going to go clean here and be unabashedly honest. Probably this unintentional message was sent because I was operating my smartphone ‘under the influence’. I was under the joyous influence of Purim. Enhanced by the lechayim’s I had toasted at the Purim party & farbrengen. That is probably what made this mistake much more prone to happening.

I haven’t searched for studies on this topic, but I think it would be common sense that one should be extra careful about operating their smart phone when ‘under the influence’. When one’s judgement is impaired, it is easy to post pictures and write texts that may prove embarrassing afterwards.

Look at this fascinating headline from the day before Purim about Volvo’s safety feature to prevent drunk driving.

I thought it was amazing that one day before Purim when we drink wine and spirits this very significant breakthrough was announced.

Do you think Volvo executives timed the announcement for Purim?

The saying ‘don’t drink and drive’ has become an ironclad rule in society.

It is clear beyond clear, that when one drinks one is forbidden to drive.

There used to be a huge billboard on a building in Bangkok that read DRINK DON’T DRIVE. I don’t care much for that messaging as it is clearly promoting drinking alcohol which is not a positive message. However, on Purim that saying makes some sense. The Talmud says one should celebrate with ‘drink’ on Purim. Click here for some important clarifications about this. The Torah strict instructions about protecting one’s life, automatically leads to the next part of the statement. ‘Don’t drive’!

Technically, the smartphones could implement such a feature as well. There could be a feature where the phone would shut down its broadcasting if the operator was under the influence of a mood altering substance. It could probably also figure out if you are angry based on certain criteria and limit some functionality on your phone if you so desired.

(Is this an idea for a new app? Or is it perhaps out there already?).

For the meantime though, till those features are added, we gotta rely on the ‘old-fashioned’ way. Which is to think before we speak. And before we tweet. And before we post pictures or send WhatsApp’s.

This ‘mishap’ also reminded me of another very exciting possibility that technology provides.

The Chasidic Masters said that when Mashiach will come, it will be broadcast in the newspapers.

Today, our virtual newspapers and transmission of news is yet swifter and further reaching than the newspapers of yore.

May we merit to get tweets, WhatsApp’s. Facebook posts and Instagram’s (and all the other platforms I haven’t mentioned) that MASHIACH IS HERE!!!

AMEN

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Hollywood Shmollywood

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

One of the earliest conscious memories I have from my childhood, is of Purim.

It’s a scary one.

Perhaps that is why I still have the memory.

My parents hosted a Purim celebration for adults that started in the evening. I was in bed, but of course there was no way a curious kid would go to sleep when guests are arriving and there is action going on in the dining room.

A gorilla walked down the hall, passing my bedroom and throwing me into a hysteria. Gorillas seem quite scary, especially if they are not in the zoo but have invaded the safe environment of your home.

It didn’t help much that my parents invited the ‘gorilla’ into my bedroom and had him take off his ‘head’ so that I could see the nice human being underneath. The vision of that gorilla still terrified me. It obviously made a deep impression on me as it is one of the earliest childhood memories I have.

It certainly allowed me to relate to the hysterical crying of some of our kids upon meeting clowns and other forms of masqueraders in various settings.

Purim is the day of Jewish masquerading. It is a custom to ‘dress-up’ on Purim. Queen Esther is one of the favorites for girls, as Mordechai is for boys. Firemen, policemen, elderly persons, cooks, superheroes, and all kinds of other creative get ups fill the streets of Jewish communities around the world on Purim.

Why?

Years ago, I took the ‘world-famous studio tour’ at Universal Studios in Hollywood.

I remember walking away feeling confused.

On the one hand I was wowed by how creative the movie producers were. They didn’t need to go to a suburban neighborhood to film a show about housewives, they simply created a facade of suburbia. They even created a crashed airplane for one of their scenes. Sets could be created for almost any scene Hollywood was interested in creating. Artistic, resourceful, ingenious and a host of other words could all be used about these backdrop producers. In one word, it is ‘amazing’ to see what they have developed.

On the other hand, I was disillusioned and disappointed to see how fake the entertainment industry was. It was all merely a facade. People acting. Production sets that were built and customized to portray a certain image. There was nothing real about it.

Millions upon millions of people spend millions upon millions of dollars to watch something that is not real. Not to mention the untold number of hours spent watching these productions.

Is society so bored that we can’t figure out real and meaningful things to spend our time and money on?

Ultimately, in the long term, I walked away enlightened.

I had been shown in a tangible way that things are not always the way they look.

Granted, it looks so authentic. Which is why it takes so many millions to produce. If it didn’t look real, it wouldn’t sell.

But it’s not real. It a ‘dress-up’. A masquerade.

Should one get heartbroken over a tragic divorce in a movie? Should a gun-toting terrorist engender fear while one is merely watching a film?

Not more than a kid should get terrified of a man dressed up as a gorilla.

Yet, there is no question that people do grip their chairs during thrillers and gasp during horrors. The illusion is strong enough to almost forget that it is not real. It takes an effort to distinguish the real from the illusion.

Just like a man dressed as a gorilla is scary. If you don’t realize that it is not real.

Purim is coming. On this Wednesday night and Thursday.

In the Megilla that is read on the eve of Purim and then again on Purim day, the ancient story is retold.

How the Persian King Achashverosh killed his queen Vashti in a drunken rage. Esther was chosen as the new queen and did not disclose her Jewishness. Mordechai through his government position learned of a plot to kill the king. Through Esther, Mordechai relayed the message to the king. This life-saving favor was recorded in the royal chronicles. Haman wanted to kill the Jews. Esther invited the king to a private banquet with chief minister Haman. Esther revealed her Jewish identity to her husband the king. Haman’s plot of annihilating all the Jews would include Esther as well. Achashverosh had a royal change of mind. Haman was deposed and killed. The Jews were allowed to bear arms and successfully repelled those who wanted to kill them. From disaster and sadness, we went to gladness and joy!

Sounds amazing and miraculous when you read it in one paragraph. Everything came together spectacularly.  

Actually the full story spanned a decade. It didn’t seem all that miraculous as it was unfolding. It’s not like the dramatic splitting of the sea or the raining down of Manna from heaven.

The scenarios seemed quite ordinary and coincidental.

The hand of G-d was not evident. Actually, the name of G-d is not mentioned during the entire story of the Megilla.

It is precisely that ‘invisible’ hand of G-d that wrought the Purim miracle, that we celebrate on Purim.

Purim reminds us that things are not the way they seem.

What looks like nature bereft of G-d’s direct and detailed input, is actually the well concealed hand of G-d.

If movie directors can make things look realistic even when they are merely facades, I don’t need to explain to my mature audience of readers, that G-d can make ‘nature’ look self-navigating.

On Purim we masquerade.

We celebrate the invisible hand of G-d in the day to day natural progression of life.

Even though we don’t witness many ‘open-miracles’ we do get to see many ‘small-miracles’. When we look back, we can often see the guiding hand of G-d.

The Rebbe would sometimes advise people who were complaining about their lousy lot in life, to look back. See what you were complaining about and praying for five or ten years ago. Have you really not had any blessings in your life? Invariably, when one looks back, they see patterns. An invisible coordinating force seems to be at work.

G-d masquerades.

On Purim we celebrate the ability to see beyond the masks.

For a young Yosef Chaim Kantor the challenge was to assuage his fears of that masked gorilla. My mother and father tried their best to sooth my fears by showing me the kind person who was in the mask. (I still remember who he was as well. A kind and benevolent man)

To a now grown Yosef Chaim, the challenge is still the same.

To see the benevolent Hand of G-d in everything that takes place to me and around me.

I pray and plead to G-d to be blessed with the awareness and ability to discern G-d’s presence in every aspect of my life.

May you too be likewise blessed!

What we can do to help reveal G-d’s presence is study Torah and do Mitzvahs.

There is nothing as powerfully revelatory of G-d than saying ‘no’ to something G-d has instructed us to refrain from, and saying ‘yes’ to something G-d has requested us to do.

Ultimately, humanity in its totality will be exposed to this reality with Mashiach’s arrival, AMEN!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


No Excuses

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Today is the first day of the month of Adar the second. About Adar our sages tell us that we should increase in joy.

‘Joy about what?’ some may ask.

Life can quite rough at times.

The Talmud tells the story about Hillel. He was very poor. So poor that all he earned every day was one coin. He needed half a coin for feeding his family. And a half a coin to pay the entrance fee into the house of study of the famed master Talmudists of his time.

One day he didn’t earn enough money to pay the entrance fee. Not wanting to miss the lecture at the Yeshiva he climbed onto the roof and lay near the skylight to be able to hear the class. It started to snow, on top of him. The Rabbi looked up and noticed something amiss. A person was on the roof covered in snow. They brought Hillel down, warmed him up thus saving his life. Following that incident they removed the mandatory entrance fee to the hall of study.

Our sages tell us that Hillel’s behavior ‘obligates’ even the poor to make every effort to study Torah. If Hillel who was so poor, found a way to study, anyone can find a way to study. If they but put their mind to it.

Rabbi Elazar ben Charsum had the opposite problem. Rabbi Elazar is described in the Talmud as being very rich. Wealth often brings distractions. Managing wealth is not as easy as it looks from the outside. It has its own set of headaches. Yet, Rabbi Elazar’s Torah study was impeccable. He studied Torah day and night. This ‘obligates’ and takes away the excuses from the wealthy. They too can study Torah if they truly make an effort. Just like Rabbi Elazar.

There is a special young man having his birthday on Shabbat. Rabbi Yitzi Horowitz.

Rabbi Yitzi was diagnosed with ALS six years ago. He was an active Chabad rabbi till then in Temucala, California. Witty, personable, cheerful and single-minded about his mission.

The diagnosis of ALS came like a thunderbolt on a clear day.

Yitzi’s life changed unrecognizably.

His heroic wife and family have been by his side for the duration. His friends have rallied to his support. Eventually he lost all abilities except for the communication device that allows him to type via eye movements.

Rabbi Yitzi writes a weekly blog.

Almost always he is upbeat and positive. Acutely aware of his situation. Yet accepting that this is where Hashem has placed him. He knows that even in his limited physical capacity, he is an irreplaceable soldier in the ‘army of Hashem’.

Take a few moments to see Yitzy ‘say’ it in his own words.

Yitzi’s positive attitude against all odds, ‘obligates’ everyone to adopt a positive attitude about life. By his living a joyous life even under those circumstances he takes away any excuse one could come up with for not being happy.

There is a Yom Kippur war veteran who spends some time in our shul. When I ask him how he is he says that as he was taken to hospital after being wounded during the fighting he said ‘Baruch Hashem ani noshem’, ‘Thank G-d, I am breathing. (In Hebrew it rhymes). And he has continued to say it ever since. Giving thanks to G-d and recognizing that our mere breathing is something we should give praise and thanks to the Almighty for.

This is indeed a healthy attitude to life.

To count your blessings.

Starting from the fact that you can breathe.

And then continue noticing all the blessings you were granted from the moment you opened your eyes this morning and onward.

The morning blessings are exquisite in the way they point attention to all of the gifts we have, most of which we take for granted.

Take a moment to learn about the morning blessings in contemporary language.

The month of Adar 2 has started. Time to be happy!

And we have so much to be thankful and happy about.

Hey, if you try the happiness experiment you will see that happiness is contagious.

Smile at someone tomorrow morning. Hum a joyous tune. If you have the guts, do a little dance.

You will start a ‘simcha’ ‘joy’ revolution that will create a ripple effect with unimaginable results.

Shabbat Shalom and a very joyous month of Adar!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS. In honor of Yitzi’s birthday an ambitious project has been launched, to gift Yitzi a mitzvah done in his honor. Click here for more info.

Billionaires & Half Shekel’niks

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

When I heard about it I was proud.

Proud, that it is the individual human being that occupies center-stage in the hearts and mind of the Shluchim. Notwithstanding the thousands of people Chabad of Thailand hosts on an ongoing basis,

And the fact that the ones who did this magnanimous act didn’t make a big deal about, actually, I almost didn’t even hear about it, made me even more pleased.

Last Saturday night, at our traditional post Shabbat ‘Melaveh Malka’ gathering, we were schmoozing. Rabbi Nechemya Wilhelm made reference to an elderly man they had helped that week. This was the first I had heard of it. I asked him for some more details.

It started on a Wednesday night with a call from Arkia Airlines. The Tel Aviv bound airplane had already taxied from the gate on the way to takeoff. At the last minute the captain decided not to take chances with an elderly man on board who did not seem very stable.

Turns out that this elderly Jew from Israel, had been living alone in Cambodia and slowly his mind became unclear. Rabbi Butman from Cambodia arranged to have him return to Israel. He even flew with him from Phnom Penh and accompanied him to the gate at the Bangkok airport. Rabbi Butman didn’t want to bother the staff at Chabad of Thailand as everything looked like it would be simple. He figured we are busy enough and thought all would be fine and dandy.

Once the plane left the gate, Rabbi Butman figured that all was ok and caught a flight back to Cambodia.

Till Rabbi Wilhelm got a phone call saying all was not ok.

The airline, not knowing what to do with a frail confused man who didn’t seem to have any family contacts, called Chabad for help.

Rabbi Wilhelm asked to speak to the elderly Jew by phone to try to understand the situation.  When he asked him how he had arrived in Thailand, the elderly man responded ‘I am not in Thailand I am in Cambodia’. It was clear that this person was totally disoriented.

Rabbi Wilhelm sprang into action. Simcha, one of the volunteer yeshiva bachurim, was dispatched to the airport and brought the elderly Jew to Chabad House.

The Thai Tourist Police were looking after the confused man till Simcha would get there. The police very kindly helped out and gave them a ride from the airport to the Chabad House.

A hotel room was organized. A volunteer from Chabad House was found to accompany him on the next day’s flight to Israel.

All this is standard. We have done this many times. The man traveled to Israel the following night and was taken to an assisted living facility in Northern Israel.

Nothing very unusual. We are blessed to be able to help people in a wide variety of ways. Repatriations are quite common. Till I heard some more details.

Casually, as if it were part of his every day routine, Rabbi Wilhelm mentioned that that this elderly person was incontinent. They had provided him with adult diapers and personally cleaned him several times during his twenty-four stay in the hotel across the street from Chabad House.

Hosting, helping, accompanying, this is what most nice people would do. Cleaning someone up when they are unable to tend to themselves, is quite a different story. Nurses, medical aides and live-ins for the elderly, for them it’s a part of their life. As almost anything in life, you get used to things. Even if they are not so pleasant.

For the average person, cleaning someone in that situation is something quite out of the ordinary.

I was deeply touched by the raw kindness and wanted to share.

This is something special. Caring in this way for a total stranger takes kindness to a different level. Moreover, his advanced state of confusion means that he is not even capable of ever thanking his benefactors.

This is an act of TRUE (as in no personal gain) charitable kindness.

Straight from the heart.

End of story. But not end of my article.

For my point is not to simply laud my colleagues, or share my admiration for their good deed.

I want to use this opportunity to stimulate more acts of kindness

In our Torah reading this week of ‘Shekalim’ we will talk about the giving of the half shekel.

The annual half shekel collection was incumbent upon every Jew equally. The rich man could give no more and the poor man no less.

The half shekel was not a substantial amount by any means. But every Jew was required to give it annually to participate in the buying of the public Temple offerings.

It reminded the wealthy that they needed others to participate with them. As high and mighty as they may be, they cannot do it on their own.

And it empowered the poor with the knowledge that their half shekel was a critically required part of the communal collection.

Obviously when it comes to giving money to the various other charity coffers, we can’t all give the same amounts. Let’s face it. Some people have more material possessions than others. G-d has entrusted them with additional resources so that they help those who are in need.

Ironically, this week when we talk about the equality of the half shekel contribution, AP published an article naming Bangkok at 8th place in the world for the highest number of resident billionaires.

Billionaires should voluntarily contribute to charity commensurate with their wealth.

(I don’t think I have bumped into a billionaire yet in Bangkok. I guess they are not coming to shul…..:-)).

But for the annual half shekel appeal there was a requirement for everyone to give equally.

On the most basic level this mitzvah of giving a half shekel reminds us that we are all capable of giving.

There is no one who does not have something to give.

After hearing the above story from my colleague about the help they had given the old man, I realized that this was a perfect example of a ‘giving opportunity’ that did not cost money.  It required something altogether different than money. It required REALLY caring about someone else, and focusing on ‘doing what needed to be done’. With no ‘if’s and but’s’ or other excuses.

This kind of giving contains the kind of ‘raw kindness’ that in some ways is even more impactful than giving money.

We all have the capability of accessing and activating the attribute of kindness that is within our souls.

And there are no shortage of kindnesses waiting to be done.

On the contrary. Opportunities for doing acts of charitable kindness abound.

I am talking about the kind of charity that is affordable for every budget.

The gift of the half shekel reminds that no one is ever too poor to give.  

A half shekel.

A smile.

A positively reinforcing compliment.

Even cleaning up a mess for someone. Remember to smile and have a caring attitude when you do.

Just say YES to giving!

You will not just have done a mitzvah.

You will also have done yourself a favor.

Giving causes happiness.

Actually, you will have done two mitzvahs.

It’s a great mitzvah to be happy.

Especially during the months of Adar in anticipation of the upcoming Purim!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Procrastination is good

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Who said life wasn’t confusing.

Take for example this humorous anecdote. A guy goes to a rich man that he doesn’t know and asks for a loan of ten thousand dollars. The rich man looks at him quizzically and asks ‘hello, do I know you from somewhere?’ and walked off. Then he goes to a rich man that he does know and asks him for a loan. The guy looks at him and says ‘oh boy, no way. I know you too well to loan you any money’…

One couldn’t blame this poor guy for being confused. Is it better to be known or unknown?

How about this seeming paradox.

On the one hand we say

‘Don’t delay to tomorrow what you can do today’.

Contrast that to another saying which has the exact opposite connotation. ‘Haste makes waste’.

It seems confusing.

Which way is better. Swiftness? Or procrastination?

The answer my dear friend is; it depends what the circumstance is.

Let’s take a stroll through the weekly Parsha and you will see for yourselves that it all depends on the context.

The Torah relates how Moshe ‘sees’ the Shechina (presence of G-d) about to ‘pass’ before him. He hurries to bow and prostrate himself on the ground on honor of G-d’s presence.

The Parsha also tells the story of the golden calf debacle. Aharon was strong armed into making a golden calf on behalf of the misguided Jews who were looking for an image to worship. The calf, fashioned out of gold, was completed. Aharon said, ‘let’s declare tomorrow a holiday’.

Why tomorrow? It is quite clear that Aaron was deliberately procrastinating. He was hoping that Moshe would return by the morning and then the foolish and sinful desire to serve the golden calf would be obviated and cancelled. Aharon was sure that under the firm guidance of Moshe the people would resume their service of G-d and abandon their brief flirtation with the idolatrous calf.

All he needed to do was buy time. Till Moshe came back. Aharon figured it he pushed it off till tomorrow and declared it a holiday, people would sleep in.

It almost worked. But the temptation to sin was so strong (as it so often is – that’s the way G-d designed temptations…). The people got up early. They didn’t sleep in. Moshe came back after midday. By that time the damaging sin had been done.

It would seem very safe to say that this is the rule of thumb.

For good things, say YES right away.

When it comes to negative things. Delay your reaction. Wait, snooze, delay, procrastinate. Don’t speed headlong into a negative activity.  

In today’s email and social media age, it pays to be prudent.

Don’t spill your innermost secrets on a public social media forum. What you say now and what makes you feel cool right now, may not be what you will feel in a while from now.

There is a saying I grew up with (I heard it in Yiddish originally). ‘You are not allowed to lie, but one does not have to volunteer all the truthful information that you know’.

The antics and personal revelations you expose on social media, will be there for anyone to find. For as long as there is an internet.

In such an instance STOP and THINK. DELAY.

When it comes to helping someone and doing a good deed.

DO! ACT! MOVE! IMPLEMENT!

Don’t think, mediate and ruminate over something good that you need to do. Do it quickly. You never know if you will get another chance. It may well be that the help you offer is needed right now. Later may be too late.

Who knows if the person seeking your help has much time left? Every moment may count.

In our current information age, a new tzedaka model has emerged that brings anti-procrastination to a digitized world.

Crowdfunding.

The model used for these fundraising campaigns are quite effective. A limited window of time is allotted for the campaign. The potential donor is urged to give his or her contribution of any size before the stated campaign deadline.

Creating a deadline is a common marketing tool.

Twenty five years ago I hosted Rabbi Riskin of Efrat and showed him around Bangkok. As we exited one of the famous sights of Bangkok, we were approached by a tuk tuk driver. According to this driver we were the luckiest people in the universe. For we had just ‘happened by sheer chance’ to be in the right place at the right time. There was a jewelry factory that only he, this peppy driver, knew, that was having a sale on jewelry. Prices were reduced by 80%. The sale was taking place right now but would end in a few hours. After that, prices would be back at their normal unaffordable prices.

Would you believe it? We went to see the factory. I was new to Bangkok after all. Alas, we couldn’t make any purchase. Rabbi Riskin told me that he has an agreement with his wife not to make purchases over a certain amount without her express confirmation. In 1993 one didn’t make a telephone call to Israel just like that. It was expensive. We didn’t call. Reluctantly we left the factory feeling that we had missed the amazing sale of the century.

We were saved from what I later learned was a standard Thailand scam operation.

The point is quite clear. Creating a deadline is a good tool for eliminating procrastination.

The charitable crowdfunds do a great job at that.

The Torah’s rule is crystal clear.

If you can give charity and help somebody else, or do any other good act, don’t hesitate.

You won’t regret it.

If you are tempted to do something wrong or hurtful and can’t seem to overcome the temptation to do it, buy yourself a temporary reprieve at least. Hit the snooze button. Sleep on it overnight. Maybe by tomorrow morning your ‘internal Moshe’ will awaken and help you overcome the challenge.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

A Surreal Story...

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

A surreal story.

If I wouldn’t have heard it from the person it happened to, it would be hard to believe.

Why did I even get to hear the story? Perhaps that too is part of the story.

A neighbor of ours from Melbourne Australia passed away in a tragic work accident just short of his sixty ninth birthday. He was well known to be a benevolent man.  Moreover, quietly, behind the scenes he did many nice things that nobody new about. Personally I felt a strong sense of gratitude to him for a significant favor he did for our family just before they relocated to the States.

It’s almost thirty years later. The family was taking him for burial in Israel. They called me to ask about kosher food and minyanim for Kadish for their one-day transit earlier this week in Bangkok. I went to Chabad House to ensure the minyan for Mincha and offered to take the family to the airport later that night to catch their midnight flight to Israel.

While waiting till it was time to head out to the airport, I sat down in the Chabad House restaurant to absorb the bustling atmosphere and have some dinner.

I got to see the touching sight of a tour-group comprising of handicapped men and women coming to eat at the restaurant (picture below). The positive and energized group leader said that she works for an organization called ‘Hotze Gvulot’. They provide tours to those handicapped, allowing them to participate in overseas travel experiences despite their handicaps. It was heartwarming to see how much they were enjoying their trip. I was honored and gratified to be able to welcome them and share some words with them.

(The group leader said that their organization also provides wheelchairs for those who cannot afford it here in Thailand. If you know someone local who needs a wheelchair, please contact Mrs. Merav Shaibi).

Then a wiry Israeli man who I would guess was in his sixties, came rushing in. He excused himself for interrupting a conversation I was having with someone at my table and told me the following story:

In the early eighties I was on a clandestine mission for Israel that required me to be totally cut off from my family and friends for more than a year and a half. Only my mother knew where I was.

My father Levi, worked for the Chabad Yeshiva in Migdal Haemek as the cook. He was an industrious worker and never took time off. One day he came to the head of the Yeshiva and told him that he must go rest as he suddenly feels really unwell. It was uncharacteristic of my father but he just felt so ill that he went to bed. My father fell asleep and had a dream. In the dream he sensed that I was being killed. The Lubavitcher Rebbe (whose picture was in the dining hall of the yeshiva) then appeared in his dream and reassured him that his son would be alright. He awoke, and told the dream to his wife who was upset and perturbed. It was reassuring to them that the Rebbe had assured him that their son would be alright.

Around that time, I was discovered and barely managed to get back to Israel alive. Wounded and beaten I had one request of my superiors. I must meet the person who almost killed me, who had in the meantime been apprehended.

When I met the man who could have easily killed me, I asked him in Arabic ‘why didn’t you kill me’. ‘I was within reach of you, without any energy left to run’. To which he responded ‘didn’t you see the ‘bearded man’ who held me back and didn’t let me finish you?’. I didn’t know what he was talking about. I thought perhaps the other people in the room were a disturbance to him saying the truth. I asked for everybody to leave. It was just me and him looking at each other in the eyes.

Again I asked him why he didn’t kill me. Again he responded that someone had held him back. He again explained to me that a dignified man with a beard had held him back and not allowed him to kill me’.

The teller of this story told me that his name is now Rami. Rami showed me how he still got goosebumps when he told the story, as it was so clear to him that his father’s dream of the Rebbe reassuring his safety indeed came to fruition.

Rami, apologized that he was in a rush and couldn’t elaborate more. The reason he had rushed in to tell me the story is because the Rabbi at the Migdal Hae’emek yeshiva had told him to tell the miraculous story to any disciple of the Lubavitcher Rebbe that he meets. So he felt bound to that commitment and having seen me sitting close to the door of the Chabad House, he came in to share the story with me.

Off he disappeared into the bustling Kaosarn night scene leaving me to my thoughts…and here I am sharing his words with you….

The tradition of telling miraculous stories has a twofold goal.

First of all, it reminds us that one should never give up, even when all seems lost.

G-d’s salvation can come as quickly and unexpectedly as the blink of an eye.

He – with a capital H – often obscures His presence. Yet at other times it’s as if the very Heavens have opened and one gets a glimpse of His direct and detailed involvement in the minutiae of our lives.

Additionally, I see an inherent message in this story that defines Jewish leadership.

That a ‘spirit’ of a saintly tzadik can be sent on missions by G-d to save his flock is quite well documented. A similar story that took place around twenty three hundred years ago is recorded in the Talmud about Shimon the Tzadik.

In 3448, Alexander marched through the land of Israel, bringing Persian rule to an end. Filled with trepidation, the Jews sent a delegation of Kohanim led by Shimon HaTzadik, all dressed in their priestly raiments. Upon approaching Alexander, they were astounded when the great conqueror prostrated himself before Shimon! When asked the reason for such inexplicable behavior, Alexander replied that before his battles a vision of Shimon appeared to him promising victory. After arising, Alexander promised to treat the Jews benignly. In appreciation, the Jewish people honored Alexander in two very special ways. First, all male Kohanim (according to some opinions, all male Jews) born that year would be named Alexander. Second, a new dating system for documents would be instituted, one based on Alexander's rule. This system was known as Minyan Shtaros and lasted more than 1,000 years.

The above Talmudic miraculous story was for the benefit of the general community of the people of Israel. The leader of the Jewish people – Shimon Hatzadik – is no doubt deeply vested in activities on behalf of the general community. What touches me more deeply about the new story I head this week, is that the miracle happened for one person.

The miracle involving the Jewish leader happened for one solitary Jewish man. A heroic man, to be sure. Putting his life on the line for the people of Israel. But ultimately it was one individual.

The story highlights that a true Jewish leader cares, prays and elicits G-d’s miracles even for individuals.

Moshe, our first leader, was chosen by G-d for his care to a little lamb that had strayed from the herd he was shepherding.

Thus was created the everlasting definition of true Jewish leadership.

Caring for the individual who is under your stewardship as well as for the general community.

To care for every individual that you are responsible for, you have to NOTICE and SEE those often overlooked individuals.

Ever heard of ‘inattentional blindness’?

It means when you don’t notice something that is right in front of you because your mind simply hides it from your attention.

Many people I know would help someone IF THEY NOTICED that they needed help.

The tragedy is that so many people simply never notice.

Moshe noticed and cared even for a lamb under his responsibility.

He was chosen as the quintessential Jewish leader.

A hard act to follow. To be a Jewish leader is not about being voted as being most popular. It’s a G-d given mission. To care, fret, uplift, inspire and lead by example the entire community.

The community as a community and each and every one individually.

We can and should endeavor to emulate and imitate this characteristic.

Leadership today is such a challenging topic. There is a dearth of real leadership. Too many leaders only see their own special-interest groups. Their own similarly minded group of friends within the larger group they are supposed to care for and lead.

Maybe somehow we can convince leaders to see EVERYONE they are responsible for. To care. To want to make a difference.

But let us not make this a lesson for others. For the leadership ‘out there in the halls of governments’. It’s a lesson for me. And it’s a lesson for you. For after all, we are all leaders in some way. In our own environments. Some larger in quantity, but all require the same leadership qualities.

Don’t fall victim to ‘inattentional blindness’. Make an effort to notice ALL the people around you. To empathize with them. Try to get a sense of how you can make their lives happier and more meaningful. You may even be able to help them get a few steps forward in their health or finances.

Who knows, you may even end up saving a life!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Offer inside: For those in debt ONLY

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I once heard someone complain ‘why is there so little paycheck left when there is still so much month left’?

It’s no secret that many people live from paycheck to paycheck. That may not be so bad if the paycheck would indeed cover all their expenses comfortably. However, that does not seem to be the case. People are not keeping up to their obligations. The reports on debt in America say that 71% of workers in America are in debt. This is not very uplifting.

Perhaps you too feel like you are always chasing yesterday’s bills.

Never getting ahead of yourself. Certainly not managing to build a small nest egg for a retirement or for a rainy day.

What would it take to put you in the black and not in the red?

(I am not talking about the extraordinary cases of massive debt which may inevitably lead to bankruptcy)

For most, a little miracle from G-d of an unexpected windfall would do the trick. You don’t have to win the mega lotto. It could be an unexpected tax refund. A gift from a parent who cashed in a long term investment. Perhaps a forgotten stock investment that appreciated in value. G-d has many creative ways. Many people do eventually manage to extricate themselves from the debt cycle. Some even manage to put away savings.

Life is not all about money.

Far from it.

It is just that when it comes to money it’s easy to calculate and know how far behind you are and how far forward you jump when you get an unexpected windfall.

So it’s easier to make my point about money. That even when we are behind in our finances and we don’t see where the salvation will come from, we should not despair. Sometimes G-d alleviates debt and injects unexpected incomes into the equation.

When we move the discussion to personal achievement it gets a bit vaguer.

Certainly if we talk about healthy lifestyle changes, one can identify certain aspects and create targets. For example, being overweight is not a positive thing for many people. It is relatively straightforward to figure out how much one may be over their ideal weight and create a plan to slim down a bit. The follow up is also a no-brainer as the ‘scale tells the tale’.

Exercise is also something quite easily quantifiable. How long one can exercise for and evaluating stamina levels is the bare bones of any fitness trainer.

In targets for bettering our spiritual lives it gets yet vaguer, but we can definitely find some criteria by which to judge our setbacks and successes.

How well was one able to focus on prayer. How many times did you overcome your anger even when someone irritated you? Did you help the needy person or did you turn away and pretend you didn’t see them? Were you able to shift your mind away from negative thoughts to positive and holy ones. Were you charitable according to your true potential or did you just pay a token of what you really should have.

In all these arenas we have some successful periods and some not such successful ones.

Oftentimes, we fall short of our own expectations of ourselves.

We find ourselves in a form of debt. Unable to do good on our commitments.

In a way that is a good sign. It is a sign that we have reached higher than our current norm.

But then we must ask. If we don’t see success shining its face on us, how should we react?

Should we readjust our aims? Curtail our ambitions? Our keep on trying and hope for some unexpected help?

The leap year is a concept embedded by G-d into our calendars that reminds us how we can always catch up. Even get a little bit ahead and put away something for a ‘rainy day’.

Here is the concept in brief:

We are instructed by the Torah to mark time by using the lunar calendar cycle. The lunar year is twelve months of 29.5 days (rounded off), which equals 354 days.

The solar year is 365 days.

This offsets the lunar year from the solar years by 11 days.

Say for example if we started counting the new lunar year on January 1st. The following lunar year would start 354 days later on December 20th of that same year. The third lunar year would start on December 9th of the second year. By the fourth lunar year the year would begin at the end of November. This would mean that the lunar months would not be linked to the seasons of the year. For the seasons of summer, winter, spring and autumn are all based on the solar cycle and are firmly fixed in the Jan to Dec months. While the lunar year would be floating around the calendar.

This cannot be allowed. The Torah teaches that Pesach must be in the spring. Which means that the gap between the solar year and the lunar year must be offset somehow. We need to make sure that the lunar years missing eleven days do not move Pesach away from the spring season.

The Torah does this by inserting ‘leap years’. A thirteenth month is added every 2 or 3 years.

In this way the lunar year ‘catches up’ to the solar year.

By way of analogy, it would be like getting an unexpected monetary windfall and paying off all your debt.

Or in the realm of personal development, finding that your goals and aspirations came to fruition.

Really exciting concept. Who wouldn’t want to be debt free? And how exhilarating to be able to actualize your dreams and goals of self-fulfillment.

It gets even better than that.

The lunar year doesn’t just ‘catch up’.

It creates a reserve.

The extra 30 days that is inserted to the lunar year ‘oversteers’ and pushes the lunar calendar further ahead relative to the solar calendar than it usually is.

You may have wondered why this year Pesach is so ‘late’. It is always on the fourteenth of Nissan in the evening. Never changes. But in the Gregorian calendar, Pessach this year starts ‘late’ on April 19th in the evening.

This is because this year we have an added month.

To explain this simply, using my earlier analogy.

If we started counting our lunar year at January 1st, and every subsequent lunar year started eleven days earlier, by year three we would start the lunar year on December 9th.

However, because year three is always a leap year (sometimes year two is a leap year instead), we add thirty days and now year three lunar year will begin on January 9th.

The added month, pushes the lunar year ‘ahead’ and gives it some ‘wiggle-room’. So that for the next year at least, the eleven day per year ‘shortfall’ will not affect the positioning of the lunar year vis a vis the seasons of the solar system.

I speak about this idea now, because this year is a Jewish leap year. An additional thirty-day month has been inserted. On Wednesday we celebrated the first day of the month of ‘Adar rishon’ the first Adar. In four weeks we will have ‘Adar sheni’ the second Adar.

This most empowering message is one that the Rebbe would speak about during leap year.

The leap year teaches us that G-d injects opportunities to ‘catch up’ into our lives.

Furthermore, He sometimes even gives us the ‘wherewithal’ to build up a ‘reserve’.

I want to use this powerful message to encourage ambitious undertakings.

(A note of caution here. I refer to those goals that are within the realm of ambitious. It is critical not to cross the thin border to irresponsibility or recklessness).

Truly ambitious projects require a leap of faith.

If you have truly undertaken something ambitious, beyond your current norms, you may wonder where will you get the strength from?

It is tempting to consider staying away from committing to advance. A person may ask himself ‘why should I overextend and overexert’? Let me stay away from making ambitious resolutions of personal refinement and deeper connection to G-d.

That sounds tempting. More relaxing.

But not more fulfilling. Certainly it is not an attitude that will lead us to greater achievement.

Here is something you can think about that will make it easier to jump into commitment.

Imagine if you knew that once in a while G-d will surprise you with a windfall. That G-d would send you everything you need to ‘wipe away your debt’. That He would relieve you of the financial, psychological, physiological and spiritual baggage that was holding you back from reaching more ambitious goals?

But, with one important caveat. He would only send those opportunities to those who had gone out of their comfort zone. Only those who had committed using faith, even before they knew how they would cover it, would be allotted those unexpected blessings. Only ‘debts’ would be repaid. Those who hadn’t overextended themselves would not gain from this surprise and most generous offer.

Wouldn’t you feel really bad that you hadn’t committed to those seemingly elusive goals?

In certain scenarios, having this mindset is not just admirable, it can be critical. Imagine if a school said no to a Jewish kid who wanted to study Torah because they didn’t have enough money. They could have created more spaces in the school but they didn’t want to go into (temporary) debt. Imagine if then along comes a surprise donor who is looking to donate specifically to pay debts of schools.

How foolish that school management would feel. And how disappointed they would be with themselves. It is simple to understand that they would regret their earlier misguided decision.

The kid they rejected may be lost forever G-d forbid. Whereas the debt they were scared of, would have been wiped out if they had just had the courage to take a loan and invite that child in.

That is why the Rebbe instructed his emissaries not to be fazed by temporary debt incurred while doing Jewish outreach. Certainly the work must not stop because of financial nervousness. Debts can be repaid. Souls cannot be easily restored once the opportunity to reach them has passed.

This is a golden rule when it comes to charting one’s advancement in life.

Knowing that Hashem wants us to do good beyond our comfort zone, should give us the faith and courage to jump beyond what seems easily achievable.

Try it. Undertake to exert yourself beyond your comfort zone. Even if you don’t know how you will keep up.

G-d will certainly bless your ambitions with success.

Maybe not immediately. Lunar years fall behind solar years for the two years in between leap years. But then eventually things even out. They even get skewered in favor of the moon.

Here is my call to action:

Take the ‘leap-year offer’. Make good resolutions that are at least slightly beyond your immediate capacity.

Undertake to observe more mitzvahs. Commit to deepening your relationship with G-d and your Jewish soul that He has breathed into you. To study more Torah. To give more tzedakah. To become more physically fit and healthy – this too is a mitzvah. To be more loving and pleasant to those around you.

Of course you should try your hardest to fulfil your undertakings. But don’t give up if you don’t see success overnight. Or if it seems beyond easy reach.

Hearten yourself with the lesson of the leap year in our calendar.

G-d injects ‘windfalls’ and ‘surprises’ to offset our lack of resources. He may even send some extra, to give some ‘wiggle-room’.

May you, my dear reader, as well as I, see this come to fruition in all aspects of our lives. Materially and spiritually.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS the month that is added is Adar. About Adar it says that when the month of Adar arrives, we must increase in JOY!!!! this year we have SIXTY DAYS of joyous Adar (two months). Let us be joyous and ambitious and merit to see Hashem’s blessings of windfalls and miracles beyond our wildest imaginations!!!

Bangkok Air Quality

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By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Air.

Oh wonderful air.

Cheaper than water.

Available, in plentiful quantities.

Accessible to all.

Essential for life.

Air quality?

That is a different question and an ever growing concern.

In Bangkok the air pollution became an acute problem this week. Causing the local authorities to close the schools.

I will not comment on the actual problem, that is for experts. At best I could become a self-taught ‘google’ expert. But so can you.

It is about the schools being closed that I want to comment.

When it comes to teaching children Torah we are taught that even building THE (capitals intended) Holy Temple in Jerusalem is not a reason to cancel the Torah study of young children.

True, building the Bet Hamikdash is crucial to our nations identity and their connection to G-d. Actually, the Bet Hamikdash is a source of blessing to the ENTIRE world! Nonetheless, children’s Torah study is even more important. Classes are not cancelled to facilitate building the Temple.

I would argue that this concept should be taken to heart in our general outlook on education. Educating children is something that is of extreme importance for the betterment and advancement of society. Schools provide knowledge and for the most part they try to impart moral values (or so they should).

This raises the question in my mind, as to why the students and their studies were the only sacrifice made to lower the pollution. Shouldn’t educating the next generation be the last thing we tamper with.

Couldn’t some other measures (like closing down some construction sites) have come first?

Some will say that the government specified that it is for the safety of the children to close the schools. My eyebrows are raised when I hear that. For couldn’t the children stay indoors in the schools. Where are they going to be if they stay at home? Perhaps there is something I am missing, and there is importance in children not going to school during these pollution spikes. But on the face of it, I wonder if the kid’s health has really been helped. The streets seem filled with children accompanying their parents on errands outside.

The other reason I found mentioned in the press about school closures, was the reduction in traffic through closing schools.

It is a no-brainer that on school days the traffic is a snarling maze throughout the city.

But is this the only way to reduce the emissions that are causing the damage? There are various other steps that could have been taken. Steps that may actually address the true culprits that have led to this urgent predicament.

I am concerned that this closure of schools and the fact that this was the only major measure taken, shows where the importance of education rates on the totem pole of society. We need to do whatever we can to highlight the importance of wholesome education.

Truly, I don’t want to get caught up in a discussion about air quality indexes. As I said, I am not an expert and will be happy to hear back from you if you have information to share.

It is the ‘air’ that our ‘hearts and minds’ ingest that I want to focus on.

Each and every one of us lives in a particular peer-based ‘environment’. We are enveloped in a societal embrace that pervades our consciousness.

The value system of the society around us affects us deeply. Peers, coworkers, relatives and just about everybody we come into contact with, leave their imprint on our conscious and subconscious.

Living in a wholesome, happy, mindful and G-d-based-morality environment, leads to a healthy, wholesome and happy spiritual as well as material life.

It’s as simple as that!

Life in a morally-untethered, self-centered and cynical society, causes near irreparable damage to the innocence and positivity of the human experience.

Because we are all initially created in the image of G-d, humans can only be truly healthy, well balanced and psychologically sound if G-d’s ‘handbook for life’ is adhered to.

Breathing in the kind of polluted values and ethos that so many segments of contemporary society propagates, can be downright injurious and detrimental. It causes short term as well as long term damage.

For the citizens of the world it is the seven universal laws given at Sinai to all the ‘children of Noah’ that create a purified and healthy atmosphere.

As Jews, it is the Torah and Mitzvahs that purify the ‘air’ around us. The only truly healthy way to raise Jewish children, is by exposing them to the pure ‘air’ of Torah. The morals, ethics and wisdom of the Torah, filter out all the ‘toxins’ and long term ‘havoc-wreakers’ on the moral fibers of our own selves, our families and our wider communities.

Some people tell me that they don’t want to teach their kids about Judaism and its values at a young age. They would prefer that they get older and make their own choice.

Here is the reality. You can’t say ‘my child, please don’t breathe for the next two days, as the air-quality-index says it is dangerous. Wait till the weekend when we will be out of town’.

Sounds ludicrous. Right?

It’s just as mindless to think that you can delay the moral development and decision making of your child till they are old enough to make their own choices.

Nope. They are absorbing, like we all are, from the atmosphere around us.

When society is not sure that saving a human life, even if he may be a total stranger, comes before saving a beloved animal-pet, we have veered way off the correct moral path. There a host of other issues that I could point to which society now tolerates, nay, in 2019 even encourages, which are totally warped from the perspective of G-dly based morality. .

Friends, I know that some don’t understand why in the traditional way of raising Jewish children we limit the information reaching them from the ‘outside’ world. Thank G-d and kudos to my parents, I was raised that way. Please G-d, I hope to raise my kids in that very same way. It is the healthiest way in my opinion.

I know it sounds outdated. A lot of sensible things sound so antiquated these days. Like traditional marriages. Kids respecting elders. Families getting along with each other in a loving way. Selflessness. Self-control. Stuff that the Torah constantly reminds us about.

It is actually very simple.

If the pollution outside is dangerous, keep the kids indoors.

When they do go out, equip them with masks.

It’s the same with the environment you choose for living in. It is critical to find the proper society to surround yourself with. Values and morals slide so easily when the society around you is decadent or even vulgar.

Time to get out the masks.

Except that masks, the effective ones that is, are not so easy to find in Bangkok right now.

Air filtration systems are more in demand than ever. The laws of supply and demand push up their prices.

Not so when it comes to spiritual air filtration systems. For spiritual refinement tools, we live in unprecedented times. Torah is more accessible in any language and any delivery medium than ever before.

If you are in Bangkok and staying indoors, wanna know what you can do while you are cooped up indoors escaping the pollution? Or if you are sitting at the seaside lapping up eons of fresh air and have time on your hands, think about helping the world get purer. Contribute to the betterment of humanity by spiritually purifying the ‘air’ of our society as well.

Here is how you can do that.

Study Torah. Better yet, commit some concepts of Torah to your brain cells by memorizing them. By doing this, you will clean your own ‘air’ and you will be contributing to bettering the ‘air’ and environment for all of those around you.

Especially when it comes to our kids, give them the purest material possible to ingest and absorb.

www.jewishthailand.com/kids

As you will see in the above site. No one said you can’t have fun while doing the right thing!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS on the topic of Torah study. If you are in Bangkok, have a pretty good head on your shoulders, and interested in seeing how Torah speaks to the burning issues of our time please consider joining our next JLI course. Labeled ‘Crime and Consequence’ it is compelling and thought provoking. (For lawyers in the USA it even provides CLE credits). It is a serious class and attendance is by registration only. Takes place on six Sundays starting in mid-February. Let me know if you are a candidate and drop me a note so that I can try to convince you to come and streamline the process for you.

 

Cashless society. Are you ready?

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By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Gifts are wonderful and heartwarming things to receive.

To give an appropriate gift can be a challenge.

A philanthropic friend of mine once came home to his apartment at the end of Purim and he was not able to enter his home. Bags, packages, boxes and parcels of ‘mishloach manot’ (Purim food gifts) lined the hallway leading to his home. The senders of these gifts meant well of course. They wanted to send their benefactor a physical sign of their deep appreciation for his help. The philanthropist on the other hand, was dismayed by the fact that so much would go to waste. He penned a note to all of his beneficiaries and friends, thanking them for their good intentions, but informing them that he would no longer accept Purim food gifts. Instead, they could send him a note about a needy person they had hosted at the festive Purim meal in their respective communities. This, said the philanthropist, would be the best possible Purim gift.

I have received my share of gifts over the years. Some spot on and some really off target. The most hilarious gift I ever got at a birthday party was after-shave lotion.

Ties, wallets, belts and other accoutrements were the more typical gifts.  

This year I got the most atypical, but most precious gifts of all. The gift of Torah and Mitzvahs that were done on my behalf by so many of you, in honor of my fiftieth birthday.

My dear wife Nechama put together a mitzvah registry that provided a smorgasbord of mitzvah suggestions and so many took the time and made the effort to choose something. I was elated to receive the notes detailing the Torah that would be studied and the Mitzvahs that would be done. The gift of the G-dly, spiritual energy generated by the good deeds are an eternal gift which gave me much joy. And will continue to give me, and you, so much joy.

However, some of those who attended my party in Bangkok told Nechama that didn’t feel entirely comfortable with only gifting a mitzvah. They said that they didn’t want to come with ‘empty hands’.

I know what they mean.

Giving a spiritual gift seems a bit ‘virtual’ and intangible. We are earthly beings who live in a tangible world. Not all of us are able to really sense and feel spirituality. We thus do not easily relate to it as being something ‘real’. It may feel a bit awkward to give a gift that is so ethereal.

(Mind you, we all enjoyed their objection to coming with empty hands, as they brought along some bottles of ‘lechayim’. A joyous toast with friends is always a good thing, and I don’t see how that can be done virtually or vicariously :-) ).

The Rebbe, in an address fifty years ago, urged people to consider giving gifts of Torah and Mitzvahs in lieu of physical gifts. The Rebbe explained that it would take away the peer pressure to give gifts by those who can ill afford it. It would certainly do away with the societal competitivity that causes people to try to outdo their peers, reaching beyond their means.

If one is able to afford a material gift and can bring joy to the recipient, by all means give a gift. There is value to material gifts.

But, the Rebbe taught, one should also consider adding a gift of studying Torah on that person’s behalf, or giving Tzedaka for them. This kind of gift is infinitely more valuable than merely giving a gift.

I have heard this concept since I am a child. To tell you the truth, giving spiritual gifts to the Rebbe for his birthday or other milestone occasions seemed to make sense. It’s a no-brainer. To a spiritually attuned Tzadik you are not going bring a new tie. To the Rebbe it was obvious that the most valuable gift would be the gift of doing more Mitzvahs in his honor.

But the Rebbe was advocating that the Jewish community at large, people like me and you, should adopt these kinds of intangible gifts.

I am not sure how us ‘regular’ people could have really related and understood it fifty years ago. Back then money was ‘hard cash’. Letters were physical pieces of paper that traveled with postmen and ships across countries and continents. Radio waves, satellites and other invisible things were relatively recent innovations.

We seem light years away from those times.

In today’s day and age, I think it is just so easy to understand the beauty and deep meaning of giving a spiritual gift and the joy it engenders in the recipient.

We live in a world where intangible virtual reality is almost tangible. When it comes to money, cold cash may soon be a relic of the past. Having a cashless society may not be that far off. When I recently rented a car in NY and declined to take the E-ZPass option for toll paying (I have my own pass) I was asked if I knew that that the NY bridges and highways are now cashless.

When it comes to our moods we are certainly affected by the virtual world. People post things onto social media and then wait expectantly for the ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. It used to take tangible substances like caffeine or alcohol to get people high and energized. Today the same can be achieved through virtual cheering and acknowledgment. (Unfortunately, this also applies to the addictive qualities as well).

In today’s reality, if you send someone a ‘cash’ gift through PayPal is it any less valuable?

Do you follow my train of thought?

Because of the changes in the world around us, thanks to the advances in technology, we have the ability, to relate to spiritual concepts with more clarity. Fifty years ago it may have been a challenge to conceptualize the joy you could give someone by giving them an ‘empty hands’ virtual gift. Today, we interact with invisible and intangible realities with the same ease as with tangible and visible objects. Granted, your level of comfort with virtual reality is going to be commensurate to your age. But like it or not, the changes around us affect us all. No matter how old your passport says you are.

Gifting things that are intangible is so 2019!

The Rebbe’s suggestion seems so plausible these days. He saw it half a century ago through the lens of the Torah. Today we can even see it through our mundane technology savvy eyes.

And yes, I did feel elated and overjoyed to read through the beautiful and meaningful mitzvahs accompanied by good wishes. I thank you so much for taking the time and making the effort to wish me well and give me the gift of a mitzvah.

There is another benefit to Mitzvah gifts.

You can feel comfortable soliciting them.

When someone gives you the gift of doing something good on your behalf, to be ‘credited to your account’, they too are blessed. The blessing and spiritual energy enriches both the doer, as well as the intended recipient.

Which is why I am going to do something that is considered really impolite when it comes to material gifts.

I am going to ask you for a gift.

You and I are connected. Simply speaking, if you have read all the way down to this point in my article, you have given me the privilege, honor and pleasure to take up some of your precious time and share ideas and inspiration.

We are having a dialogue of sorts.

So I feel comfortable asking something from you.

Please pick a mitzvah from the registry. Or be innovative and pick another mitzvah. It’s as simple and inexpensive as giving a few extra pennies to a needy person. Or study a few extra minutes of Torah.

And consider a ‘Torah/mitzvah gift’ as an option in your future gifting to your loved ones and friends!

It is a gift that gives the recipient so much. And gives the giver just as much.

Above all, it is a gift that gives G-d so much nachas  and satisfaction.

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Outnumbered but Victorious!

******Receive "Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok" directly to your inbox with links and pictures, www.jewishthailand.com/4080692***** 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

On the desk of the hotel, in one of the fanciest in Jerusalem, was a little plastic adaptor that allows for the straight prongs of plugs to be inserted into the round holes of the Israeli electrical outlets.

It’s a very simple piece of plastic. Quite cheap. I don’t think it could cost more than one dollar. Which is why I was surprised that this gadget was covered by a note that read:

Dear Guest, It is our pleasure to supply you with this adaptor. We kindly request that you leave it the room upon departure’

There is an assumption implicit in this note that is confrontational. It is almost like there is an expectation that I would want to take this gadget and therefore the management of the hotel needs to take the pains to print a card asking me not to take it. I felt offended for guests who pay top dollar to stay in this hotel. (I was merely a guest of someone who was hosting me there). Why would the hotel assume that they would want to take this ninety-nine cent piece of plastic?

(Ironically, this is totally out of character for this particular hotel. They provide a full refrigerator of complimentary soft drinks, have a personal espresso machine in each room and overall give their guests a wonderful feeling. In my opinion this note and it’s out of character language was an oversight. I took the time to write a note to the hotel manager and he concurred with me that the note was incongruous with the super hospitable culture of their hotel).

I share this story because it speaks volumes about how the underlying attitude one has towards others affects the tone of the interactions between them.

There are studies that show that teachers who assume that their students are intelligent will teach more effectively.

If you believe when interacting with kids that they are ‘vildeh chayess’ (wild animals) you are likely to have a harder time. Believe that they are ‘gutteh neshomos’ (good souls) and you will have an easier time.

As a rabbi, I see it time and time again. If you assume that your fellow Jew really wants to be more observant of Judaism, but just doesn’t understand its importance you have a better chance to interest them in performing more mitzvah. Whereas if you approach them with the attitude that they are essentially disenfranchised from Judaism and a totally new interest has to be created, you are likely to have a much harder time creating that interest.

The Torah’s perspective regarding every Jews intrinsically positive connection with their Judasim, is very clear. The Torah states unequivocally that deep down, every Jew WANTS to do all the mitzvahs. It’s just that there are sometimes external mitigating factors that keep him from actualizing this subconscious desire. Knowing this about my fellow Jews is a game changer. I am not trying to change something in them when encouraging them to do a mitzvah, I am simply uncovering their true and most essential desire. A Jew doing a mitzvah is the truest self-expression possible.

There is a similar underlying choice of perspective to be made, when engaging in the mundane activities of life. Eating, drinking, sleeping, commerce and all the other big and small things that comprise our lives. You can look at the world and at the mundanities of life as being inherently negative or even evil. Interaction with the world should therefore be kept to an absolute minimum. Or you can believe that the world and all the complexities of life are essentially good so long as they are permissible according to the Torah.

Life is so much more difficult when you look at things with the assumption that they are all negative and out to attack you. But isn’t looking at things as being good at their core, overly naïve. Perhaps even simply untrue?  

The sages of the Talmud debated this very issue:

The following argument recorded in the Midrash, pertains to the revelation of G-d that came down to this world after Exodus, through the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the building of the Mishkan (traveling Temple).

Through the building of the Mishkan, G-d came down to this world, says Rav.

G-d came BACK down to this world through the building of the Mishkan, says Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

The Rabbi’s argument is about whether this was the first time such a revelation had been present in this world. In other words, they are arguing about what the state of the world was like at the time of creation.

Rav says that the revelation precipitated by building the Mishkan some 2448 years after creation, was one that was never before experienced. It was a new phenomenon for this world.

Whereas Rabbi Shimon says that the post Exodus revelation wasn’t a new revelation. That same high level, revealed presence of G-d had been there at the beginning of creation.

By all accounts, G-d’s revealed presence hadn’t stayed down in here in the world. It had been driven away from earth. The sin of Adam and Eve, Cain and other subsequent sins, pushed G-d’s revealed presence away from earth.

It was the great saints, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and ultimately Moshe, who brought G-d’s revealed presence back to the world.

That is why Rabbi Shimon says that G-d came BACK to this world in a revealed way at the building of the Mishkan. Because he had been there before. It wasn’t a totally new revelation.

At the core of their argument is the debate whether the world was totally holy, pure and G-dly at the outset of creation, or whether that was a change that came later.

It sounds like a slight nuance, did G-d come (for the first time), or come back (returning the world to a state it had already experienced). It is far more than a subtle or pedantic debate. It actually makes a world of practical difference.

In a poignant public address, held exactly fifty years ago, the Rebbe addressed this point.

(The Rebbe quoted as he did every year, from the discourse written by his predecessor for the very day of his passing. The previous Rebbe had prepared a written Chasidic Maamar (essay) to be studied on Shabbat the tenth of Shevat in 1950. As G-d willed it, he passed away on that very day. That essay then became the theme that our Rebbe discussed on every Yartzeit anniversary. This was also the day that our Rebbe subsequently accepted the mantle of leadership).

The discourse begins ‘Bati legani achoti kalla…’ ‘I have come to me garden, my sister my bride’ (from King Solomon’s ‘Song of Songs’). The Midrash explains it to mean that at the post exodus Sinai revelation G-d said ‘I have come BACK to this world where I initially was’.

The Rebbe taught that this essay clearly follows the opinion that at the very outset of creation G-d’s presence was in this physical world in a revealed state.

In other words, the perspective we need to adopt in our lives is the that the world in its original state, in its very essence, is good and G-dly.

‘So what’? you may ask. Who cares what the state of the world was at the dawn of creation?

It may have been pure and G-dly at the beginning of creation but now it is clearly impure and unG-dly. It’s downright bad and ugly. Look at the overflowing jails. At the myriads of people suffering from all kinds of pain and suffering.

It would not be easy to disagree about the current pitiful state of the world. Immorality is rampant. Injustice abounds. You would have to be an ostrich with your head in the sand not to see that the world needs major repairs.

Granted, the unrepaired state of our world must not get us down. On the contrary. It highlights what we need to do. Our work is cut out for us.

The world is dark. We can make it lighter. Simple enough

For it is up to us to try and change the status quo. To bring more light into the world by doing Mitvahs. By being sensitive to the pain and hurt of those around us. By trying to alleviate peoples suffering. We are meant to be a moral beacon of light by standing firm to our values. Just because everyone around us is acting immorally does not give us a license to do the same.

But is it actually possible? Or is it an exercise in futility?

While it is simple to understand what our mission is, it is also seemingly impossible to ever achieve it.

Look around. The ‘good guys’ seem hopelessly outnumbered.

The world looks like a jungle. The mission seems be out of our reach.

The questions about the difficulty and elusiveness of making the world good, would be true if we needed to create a new reality. If the world was inherently bad and we were trying to coax it and bend it into new positions.

The Rebbe taught us that we must adopt the opinion of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. G-d’s revealed presence was there at the inception of our world. Thus the world is naturally good. We don’t need to create something from scratch. Yes, it’s currently covered with bad. We don’t need to change its essence. We need but to peel away the layers of grime and darkness to expose the inherent goodness and G-dliness within this lower world.

I feel especially attracted to this teaching. The public address in which the Rebbe taught this, was on the tenth of Shevat fifty years ago. I was born a few hours earlier on that very day just a few miles away from the venue that the Rebbe held this address.

It is this message of optimism, hope and belief in the inherent goodness of our world that I would like to share with you in connection with my soul coming to this earth. Join me in adopting the Rebbe’s approach to the world, to our fellow Jews and to humanity as a whole.

Allow the message to sink in. G-d’s creation is GOOD. Granted, it is currently overtaken with bad. But because at its core it is good, the task at hand to revert the world back to its inherently good state through doing mitzvahs, is eminently achievable.

We need to take on this mission armed with joy and optimism. Our joy will be fueled by the belief and knowledge that at their core the world we are trying to change is good. If we but try, we can positively influence those around us and expose the true goodness inherent in them and in the world at large. We will reveal that this is G-d’s world. The continued efforts in this direction will bring Mashiach who will once again open the curtains and expose the truth of G-d’s revealed presence down here in this world once more.

This time for eternity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS Thanks so much for all those who attended the Bangkok birthday celebration. Thanks to those who sent blessings. Special thanks to those who visited the gift registry and undertook mitzvahs as a gift for my milestone birthday. Mega thanks for being a reader of this column. I learn so much from writing these articles as I dig into my heart and mind to share Torah lessons with you.

PPS If you are in the New York area please join me at 11:00 for prayers at the Ohel followed by brunch. Details below.

 

It was surreal

 By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It was surreal. I was standing at the chupa wedding ceremony in Israel of a cousin in his twenties. Everyone around me was joyous. At the same time my smart phone was buzzing with WhatsApp updates about a funeral procession. Tragically, a funeral that was taking place at the same time in New York, of another cousin who had just died prematurely in his forties.

Same family name of Hecht (my mother’s maiden name). All of us descendants of the same great grandfather. One – may he and his bride be blessed with a long happy healthy life - was about to begin his life in a joyous ceremony, the other was on his final journey in an anguish filled funeral.

Rather than dealing with the feelings that were flowing through my heart, it was easier to retreat into my imagination. I tried to imagine what our common great grandfather would feel like if he was alive.

What emotion would be the dominant one.

Would he be joyous or mournful?

Joy from the wedding of his offspring.

Or anguish from the untimely death of his other offspring.

Births, bar mitzvahs, wedding and birthdays are all cause for celebration. Death is marked by mourning. They are for the most time not happening simultaneously. Usually these different events happen at different times and the emotional responses are thus separated chronologically.

Sometimes, like the scene I just described, these conflicting events coincide incongruously. In such an instance, the mutual exclusivity of the nature of the events stands out starkly.

It’s an emotionally laden scenario that I just shared. Weddings are intensely joyous. Deaths, particularly premature and unexpected ones, are excruciatingly painful. I would like to lower the intensity a bit and move away from the life and death topic, moving into the more amenable highs and lows of regular life.


I shared with you last week that during my Israel trip I didn’t even have 7 shekels in my pocket. Many wrote to me, that in reading my article they empathized with my feelings of frustration and inadequacy.

I don’t like kvetching, certainly not out loud to all of my readers. What I like even less than kvetching is sharing things that could be misconstrued as boasting. So why don’t I just steer clear of relating such personal incidences? Because from the feedback I get from my readers I know that the messages strike a responsive chord in many. I am therefore prepared to overcome my reticence for airing these personal feelings. As others are inspired and motivated by the lessons extracted thereby.

So if I kvetched last week, it is only fair that I tell you how I felt when I arrived at the Chabad House in Phuket to run the Shabbat services there.

I felt like a million bucks!

(Actually I felt like much more than a million bucks.

It used to be a compliment when you told someone ‘you look like a million bucks’!

I am not so sure if that is still the case.

You may actually offend someone by saying that. A million is not what it used to be…. Actually, the value of a million dollars in say 1950 is about ten times that amount in 2019).

To see the Phuket Chabad House – a six storied, purpose built, modern building - was inspiring and uplifting. To realize that although the building cost around one hundred million Thai baht to build, somehow we got it up, was empowering.

More importantly it was reassuring and soothing. It injected meaning and purpose into not having 7 shekels in my pocket. It put a positive and joyous spin on the monthly anxiousness and worry about covering the substantial building loan payments.

Ironically, at the same time that the building gave me a sense of delight and cheerfulness, it also reminded me of the formidable challenge of covering the substantial building loan payments to make sure that the Chabad House remained current in its financial obligations.

Context is so important in life. That is why it is critical to remain focused and not lose sight of the context.

Last night my friend was telling me that he is going to a Shabbat retreat which would be attended by a few hundred others, many of whom are his friends.

Then he sighed deeply.

I asked him what are you sighing about? You are going to have a great time at the event.

He said, ‘I am going to be called on to lecture and mentor some of the younger attendees. It’s going to require some exertion on my part’.

‘Why is that a sighing matter’ I asked him. ‘I know that you love doing that kind of work’.

He didn’t have a good answer. Because he knows better than me how thoroughly he will indeed enjoy himself. He had sighed instinctively, thinking about his exertion. He had not focused on the general context of the enjoying weekend he is about to embark on.

Here is another great example. Arranging a wedding for yourself or a child, is a big headache and quite tiring. But it is exertion and hard work that must be viewed from within a context of joy.

My wife tells me that one of the favorite topics for discussion among women is complaining about their maids. We call it ‘rich people tzorris’. The context is one of a luxury lifestyle. Within that luxury there are also downsides and difficulties.

It seems easy to forget the overall context and focus on the negative and hardships.

One of the great Chasidic Masters was known to carry two notes in his respective pockets. One note quoted the Talmudic passage ‘the world was created for me’, while the other note contained Avraham’s biblical statement ‘I am but dust and ashes’.

A person must always be cognizant of two fundamental principles. One the one hand man is the center and raison d’etre of the universe while on the other hand he is a mere speck of dust.

When he has but a few kopeks in his pocket he must realize that he is nonetheless significant to G-d and the world was created just for him to contribute his unique contribution to the world.

I used money as an analogy, but it goes far deeper. How about when a person feels that they have nothing to contribute to those around them. Perhaps they have aged and their families or society no longer depends on them for the things they used to be needed for. The feelings of irrelevance that often come with the advanced years of life are one of the very significant challenges of ageing. It is at this time that they must remember that G-d created them and ‘needs’ their unique contribution.

(Yitzy Horowitz who has ALS bravely shared this post that provides deep and evocative thoughts on the topic of relevance).

On the other hand, if one feels conceited, smug or entitled, that is the time to remember ‘I am but dust and ashes’. You and everything you have come from G-d. There is nothing that you can truly take credit for. Boasting is quite silly and downright untruthful. On the contrary, if you take into account how much potential G-d has entrusted you with, your achievements may be quite a disappointment in His eyes.

A perfectly balanced personality should have a healthy dose of self-esteem coupled with a corresponding level of humility.

It is when things are not evenly keeled that dysfunction comes into the picture. Low self-esteem can lead to depression which can lead to addiction and other self-destructive behavior. Exaggerated levels of self-confidence can lead to the noxious atmosphere that exists around arrogant people.

Life is full of things that are LIGHT. There is however, an almost commensurate level of DARK.

There are joyous things.

There are sad and challenging things.

Often, the lifecycle mutually exclusive events come at different times.

This is not the case with the ‘mundane’ ups and down of life. They are usually lumped together as one.

What emotion should be the dominant one?

Which should we be focused on?

This weeks parsha speaks about the near to final plague that G-d smote the Egyptians with. The plague of darkness. There is a telling verse that describes the scenario as it unfolded in Egypt. The Jews had light in their dwellings. In stark contrast to the darkness that reigned outside in the Egyptian quarters.

Perhaps there is a lesson here to us. The ‘Jewish’ way, the path that leads to ‘exodus’ and liberation is to reveal and find the light within every situation. Even when the darkness on the outside is undebatable.

The holy sage Rabbi Dovber was explaining the Talmudic teaching of joyously accepting whatever G-d brings upon you. The sages taught that one must praise G-d when negative things happen, just as one blesses G-d when good things happen. For they too, are from G-d. A student said he found it difficult to understand how one could truly be joyous and accepting of the bad things that come onto a person. ‘Go pay a visit to your colleague Reb Zushe’, said Rabbi Dovber. Upon visiting Reb Zushe he saw the abject poverty and obvious suffering that he lived in and understood why his teacher had sent him here. He asked Reb Zushe to explain the perplexing concept of thanking G-d for the bad with as much joy as one thanks Him for the good. To which the ever-joyous and radiant Reb Zushe answered ‘how would I know? Nothing bad has ever happened to me’!

There is light. There is darkness. Both are there.

In front of a mortal king sadness is banished. The court jesters job was to create happiness in the king’s presence. The Kabbalists taught that joy and cheerfulness are always to be found in proximity to G-d. Surrounding Him there is always radiance.

Our challenge is to recognize that we are always in G-d’s presence. We are in His embrace.

Sometimes we get trapped in our own personal ‘Egyptian enslavement’. That is when we feel like we are engulfed in a paralyzing darkness.

G-d gives us the opportunity to lift ourselves out of our morass. The Exodus from Egypt that we read about is not just a historical event. It is a G-dly gift and opportunity that we can and must avail ourselves of every single day and at every single state of life.

The Rebbe, whose ascent to leadership we mark on the Tenth of Shevat, exuded this message of positivity and light. He exhorted and inspired Jews world over to recognize their unlimited potential. He cajoled and motivated the gamut of the Jewish people. From the greatest sages to the least observant. To take the leap and free themselves from their personal self-imposed ‘Egypt’-limitations.

One step at a time.

One mitzvah at a time.

JOYOUSLY. OPTIMISTICALLY.

Armed with the knowledge that we are at the threshold of a new world. A world of everlasting peace and tranquility that will be ushered in by our additional acts of goodness and kindness.

Let us not shy away from our mission.

Forward march!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

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