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ב"ה

"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Emor - say a kind word

A small group of children went out on a hike with their teacher.

They stopped on a road, near a farm, at the foot of a large mountain range. Running down from the mountains was a bubbling brook of fresh water.

The children drank some water. But first they said a  berachah (blessing).

They washed their hands (ritually) before their lunch, and again they said a  berachah. They sat under a tree. They ate their lunches, and then they said  Birkat Hamazon ( Grace After Meals). They then studied Torah under the tree.

The water they drank.

The grass they sat on.

The water that washed.

The shade of the tree.

The development.

For over five thousand years, this little farm was waiting for development.

The children came.

And they went.

They saw two cows as they went.

Click here to find out about the rest of the story written by my dear esteemed father Rabbi Mattis Kantor.

The part of the above story that I wish to focus on, is the centrality of speech in our human experience.

With our mouths we make blessings, we study Torah and we say prayers. This is uniquely human.

Humans are often referred to in the Torah as ‘speakers’.

Minerals, plants and animals do not have the gift of speech.

As the part of G-d’s creation that is identified by our abilities of speech and communication, it is important to stop and think periodically about the power of our words.

Not just the Torah and Prayers holy words, but regular mundane day to day words.

Words can maim and injure.

We are all familiar with the saying ‘you have hurt my feelings’ when someone is rude, condescending or even poisonously vindictive.

Words can also uplift and empower.

Jewish mothers have been doing it right for millennia. They label their little children ‘mien tzadikel’ (my little ‘tzadik’ saint), ‘sheifaleh’ (my little soft, cuddly and gentle lamb), my ‘little bubaleh’ and other endearing words.

I shudder when I hear people refer to their children with words like ‘demon’ ‘monster’ and things like that.

Let us not underestimate the power of our words and choose our words wisely.

How much more so the power of our kind deeds.

Even the simplest of kind gestures can be transformative.

A colleague called me from Europe this week to share the following story.

Yanky is the oldest of many children who grew up in a very religious family in Israel. Before he turned fifteen, he had run away from home and his close-knit religious community. His escapades took him to places and experiences that were irresponsible, wildly hedonistic, and downright dangerous. Besides being totally irreligious.

Over the past few years Yanky started to make steps to leading a more responsible and balanced life. He started working and gradually built himself up to a self-respecting member of the society around him.

As well, Yanky started to reengage with his Judaism. He prays with Tefillin daily, doesn’t work on Shabbat and comes to join in the Shabbat meals at this European Chabad House.

Last week, said my friend, we went around the Shabbat table and asked everyone to share something. Yanky shared the following:

‘Do you know what the catalyst for my turnaround was?

I was partying in Thailand, in an environment that is very inappropriate for the way I was brought up as a religious boy. Judaism, responsible living and being a ‘metsch’ was not in my sights.

A Chabad Shliach saw me, realized I was Jewish and offered me a donut – a sufganiya.

‘Today is Chanukah’, he told me.

I took the donut.

That moment was a catalyst for everything that happened next.

I looked at myself and said, ‘I am still looked at as a Jew, a member of my people, despite the vast distances I have traveled from my Jewish observance?’

That donut told me that my presence and participation is still valued by the Jewish people.

Something in me changed on that day with that donut.

The rest is just a gradual evolvement, a step-by-step process which is bringing me more and more in touch with my inner self’.

My rabbi friend shared this story with me, knowing that because it happened in Thailand I would be interested to hear.

This donut story does much more than just make me feel happy.

It comes at a special time.

As our family celebrates our three-decade anniversary of Shlichus in Thailand.

Yes, this week on Pesach Sheni (the day of ‘second chances’), we will be celebrating the great gift of empowerment that the Rebbe gave our family in 1993, when he sent us to Thailand to be his emissaries in spreading Jewish life in Thailand.

To mark this milestone, we will be holding a Gala in New York, benefiting the work of Chabad of Thailand in one month from today on June 17. (Formal details to follow next week please G-d).

At the benefit dinner we will share our vision for the next decade. The new Beth Elisheva Synagogue community center and various other bold and exciting capital projects throughout Thailand.

Big projects, new buildings, expanded centers, are all critical for developing vibrant Jewish life.

It is easy to get swept up in the exhilaration of exciting projects.

Hosting more than thirteen thousand meals during Passover is exciting.

But ultimately it is the individual interactions that create the big change in people’s lives.

When you get to hear how meaningful even one interaction can be, you recognize that each of us has a contribution to make.

It is tempting to say, the vision is so big, if I am not a ‘big macher’ (‘big cheese’ in American English) how can I contribute something meaningful towards it?

So here is a message to each and every one of us.

There is something unique that every Jew can contribute to Am Yisrael – to our strength as a nation.

Ultimately building Jewish continuity all boils down to one empathetic and compassionate word.

One positive interaction with a fellow Jew.

One word.

One kind deed.

One mitzvah. Click here to see how your one mitzvah can make a world of difference.

Even one donut.

There is not one of us who cannot afford one inspiring and uplifting word.

We have an almost unlimited reservoir of words in our ‘soul’.

This weeks parsha is ‘Emor which literally means ‘Say’.

Take this as a empowering instruction of G-d to you in your own life and your own interactions.

Say something nice.

Say something positive.

Say nice things about others.

See something, say something.

Something NICE. Something EMPOWERING. Something INSPIRING.

And of course, DO ANOTHER MITZVAH. ANOTHER ACT OF GOODNESS AND KINDNESS.

To bring Mashiach sooner.

To protect our soldiers, to heal our wounded, to return our captives and to bring SECURE PEACE to our fractured world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

numinousness

Have you ever achieved a state of numinousness?

If you don’t know what that means, I will feel a bit better about myself.

I too did not know what it meant .

Until very recently that is.

Moshe, a young man in his seventies who has a passion for studying philosophy, asked me if I had ever experienced a feeling of the numinous.

He then explained to me that in simple English numinous means something along the lines of ‘holy’, ‘divine’ or ‘spiritual’.

Moshe S. made an appointment to see me. He told me something was bothering him, and he was seeking my advice.

I was assuming that the meeting was to ask for my advice or help in mundane matters of life. It is no secret that many ‘farangs’ who live in Thailand struggle to make ends meet. The Torah value of Tzedakah teaches us to help those in need.  I assumed it was a request for assistance.

I was so happy to learn that Moshe is not in need of material help thank G-d. I was delighted to learn that the consultation was about religious and spiritual matters. This was music to my ears.

Moshe felt that he was missing out on something. He confided to me that while he has become much more observant of the Mitzvahs through his coming often to the Shul, he doesn’t get the feeling of the numinous. For example, he doesn’t feel the holiness and aura of putting on tefillin. This bothers him. He knows intellectually that rituals and mitzvahs are the very basics of Judaism. Thus, he is bothered by the lack of feeling of the Divine.

Moshe wanted to hear about my experience with the numinous.

I had to admit to Moshe that I too don’t live in a constant state of feeling the Divine.

However, I am blessed to have studied Torah since I am a child, and therefore I know that the connection with the ‘numinous’ is not defined by our own perception. Connection to G-d is defined based on the criteria that Hashem sets forth.

Holiness means closeness to Hashem and it is Hashem who defines what brings one close.

This week’s Parsha is called ‘Kedoshim’ – ‘Holy’. The Torah starts off by saying ‘You shall be holy’.

What does that mean?

The Torah makes it clear. Firstly, it means something very basic. To stay away from sinful relationships. Forbidden unions, incest, adultery etc are the antithesis of holiness. By staying away from that kind of boundary-breaking immorality, one is already on the way to being holy.

The higher level of being holy is going beyond the letter of the law. Doing even more than required by the Torah. If the Torah says that you can eat food if its kosher, the way of holiness is to eat only what is required. Even when it comes to kosher food, indulgence should be avoided. Indulgence, even in permissible things, is a recipe for unholiness.

A few verses later the Torah lays out the central theme of the Torah.

‘Love your fellow as yourself’.

This is where holiness takes a fascinating counterintuitive twist.

If I overpamper myself with material excess, I am unholy and indulgent.

When I pamper someone else with an abundance of material bounty, I am doing something holy.

For example, choosing the most expensive item on the menu for myself, may be indulgent.

Treating my friend to the best item on the menu is an act of selfless giving.

It is a great rule of thumb.

When catering to my own material needs I should be analytical as they may be self-centered and should be treated with caution not to overdo it.

(I am not advocating an ascetic lifestyle. It is excessiveness that I am referring to as being something one should be wary of).

When it comes, however, to the material needs of my fellow, those should be treated as equivalent to spirituality.

Therefore, one should do their best to provide amply and generously without the meticulous examination one would employ for oneself.

Clearly, when it comes to feelings, things get a little more complex.

Let us try to reframe what ‘feeling holy’ can mean.

When do you feel more holy?

When you feed a hungry person a satisfying meal?

Or at the end of Yom Kippur when you haven’t eaten for twenty-six hours and you cry out ‘Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad’?

Here is a classic story of when doing something holy and feeling holy may not align.

When a birthing woman was in danger and no one was at home to provide her with warm nourishment on Yom Kippur, the great Rebbe Shneur Zalman left his place at the Shul and unobtrusively went to make a fire and heat up some food for her.

Imagine that. On the holiest day of the year, the holiest man of the community went to do activities that are un-Yom Kippur like.

How would you feel if you had to ‘violate’ Yom Kippur to save a life?

I am sure you can relate intellectually that even if you didn’t feel holy, you would recognize that are doing a truly ‘holy’ act by saving someone life.

Saving a life is true holiness.

Whether or not you feel it.

The sanctity and decorum of synagogues all across Israel was shattered on Yom Kippur 1973 when Israel faced an unprecedented attack that threatened its very survival. Men were hauled out of shul, removing their talitot and closing their prayer books to go and defend our people.

Fifty years and twelve days later, on Simchas Torah of this year, we had a tragic repeat of history when hordes of ruthless murderous terrorists came to wage a war of annihilation against the people of Israel.

Once again, reservists were called up for army duty, plucked from the holiness and peacefulness of this most joyous holiday to the front lines of fierce battle.

What does it feel like when instead of swaying in the Synagogue to the chant of the chazzan, you are standing holding a machine gun and shooting at the enemy?

Regardless of what it feels like, fighting in defense of our people is truly holy.

The soldiers who stand in protection of our people are holy.

The medics who dedicate their lives to healing people are holy.

Those who fall in the line of duty are called ‘kedoshim’ ‘holy ones’. They soar to the highest levels of holiness as a result of their absolute selflessness and sacrifice.

Holiness is not meditating in the mountains and reaching ecstasy.

Holiness is doing what Hashem wants you to do.

We now know how to ‘be holy’. How does one also achieve ‘feeling holy’?

Or does one not necessarily ever ‘feel’ holy?

Sometimes Hashem gifts us with a feeling and aura of holiness when we engage with doing the right thing.

At other times, the ‘reward’ and ‘aura’ and ‘feeling’ of holiness is waiting for us for when we enter a more pristine space.

Those who have passed away meet up with their ‘cache’ of holiness in the Garden of Eden. They get to enjoy the fruits of their work in the next world.

We look forward to unlocking our spiritual ‘treasure chest’ here in this world, when Mashiach comes.

The accumulation of spiritual G-dly energy that is generated by us doing the right thing will be the source of divine pleasure in which our souls will bask and radiate.

The determination of what is ‘holy’ can only be sourced in one place.

In the book of Hashem’s communication to humanity – the Torah.

The books of generic and secular philosophy lead down the dangerous path that emerges from time to time in the bastions of ‘culture’ and ‘higher learning’. It ends up in misguided notions of morality which turn out to be twisted and immoral.

There is only one source for defining holiness.

One source for morality.

It comes from the One G-d to the One people of Israel and we are empowered to communicate it to the entire world.

Train yourself to recognize true acts of holiness. To the discerning Jew, acts of mitzvah and righteousness are perceived as holy acts even if they may feel mundane as they engage with the physical objects of this world.

The Kohen Gadol had to be a married man when he entered the holy of holies on the holiest day of the year of Yom Kippur.

In Judaism the act of marriage, when done in the way of ‘Taharat Hamishpacha’ is a holy act. Counterintuitive.

Money, when used as a tool of tzedakah and social benefit becomes a vehicle for the divine.

Be ‘holy’ my friend.

Don’t run away and hide.

Stand up and shine.

Celebrate being a Jew.

Revel in your mundane acts of living life according to G-d’s instructions.

Keep your spirits high and fulfil the commandment of serving G-d with joy.

Simcha – joy – breaks down the barriers internal and external.

Our enemies would love to see us disillusioned, depressed, dispirited and ready to ‘throw in the towel’.

We are G-d’s Holy people. He is with us. In His presence there is strength and joy.

The happy outcome is so close. The darkness in the world is a prelude to the great light that is about to come.

Mashiach is on his way.

If you have discerning eyes, you can see the rays of light poised to drive away the darkness.

AMEN

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Chag Samayach!

Pesach is an eight-day festival.

The first two days of Pesach are marked by the gloriously uplifting Seders in which celebrate our Exodus from Egypt.

Four intermediate (Chol Hamoed) days follow.

Tonight, we celebrate the seventh and eighth day of Pesach.

The highlight of these last days of Pesach is the splitting of the sea.

And ‘Seudat Mashiach’. The ‘feast of Mashiach’ that we eat during the final hours of Pesach.

Let me share some timely perspective.

Merely three days after the Jews exited Egypt triumphantly, they were chased by their former captors. By the end of day six since their escape, the enraged crack commandos of the Egyptian army were in position ready to launch an attack on their former slaves.

G-d’s holy clouds were the only things that stood between the Egyptians and the Israelites.

There was tension in the air all night. They had thought that they were liberated but they stood in danger of losing that freedom and their very lives.

What would happen?

 Just before daybreak the unimaginable happened. The miracle of the splitting of the sea.

The Israelites walked through the seabed while the waters stood solid like walls on either side.

The Egyptians followed in hot pursuit.

As the last Israelite feet left the dry seabed, the waters came cascading down on the Egyptians drowning them to death. Subsequently, their corpses were spit out onto the seashore.

After this happened, the Jewish People were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. They now knew that they were truly liberated and would not have to look over their backs and live in constant fear of the counterattack of the Egyptian. The Egyptians were vanquished and no more. After all they had seen their captors dead bodies spit out of the sea.

The Jews broke out into a joyous song called ‘Shirat Hayam’ the ‘Song sung by the Sea’. We recite this daily in our prayers.

The seventh day of Pesach thus truly constitutes the completion of the liberation that started on the first day of Pesach. The Exodus seven days earlier would not have been conclusive if not for the miracles at the splitting of the sea on the seventh day.

This is a reason to be joyous. And joyous we are!

Yet, we don’t say the complete Halel.

This following is one of the reasons why we don’t say a complete Hallel (thanksgiving prayer) on these last days of Passover.

The Talmud points out (in Sanhedrin 39,b), G-d is not gladdened with the downfall of the wicked:

Rabbi  Shmuel bar Naḥman says  that Rabbi Yonatan says: What  is the meaning of that which is written  in the passage describing the splitting of the Red Sea: “And the one came not near the other all the night”  ( Exodus  14:20)? At that time the ministering angels desired to recite a song before the Holy One, Blessed be He. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them: My handiwork,  i.e., the Egyptians, are drowning in the sea, and you are reciting a song before Me? 

In other words, even when G-d needs by virtue of His Divine justice, to punish the wicked enemies who rise against His beloved people Am Yisrael, He does not rejoice in the suffering of the wicked.

This important message is also transmitted at the Seder night when we pour wine out our cups when we mention the ten plagues.

Although we are celebrating our nation’s  exodus  from Egypt,  Proverbs 24:17  tells us, "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice." Thus, during the  Seder , we spill a bit of wine to demonstrate that our joy is not complete since it came at the expense of others, even if they were deserving of punishment. (from Chabad.org click here for full article)

An important point to always bear in mind, especially during moments of history when our enemies rise against us and face retribution.

The Jewish nation has battled many times throughout the last thousands of years. From the battles in Eretz Yisrael thousands of years ago, to the contemporary military operations to safeguard Jewish life in Israel.

The Torah instructs us unequivocally that when our enemies wish to attack us, we must preemptively neutralize them.

Here is where we encounter what seems to be a contradiction.

One the one hand, Hashem instructs us to not rejoice in our enemies downfall. On the other hand, we must be fully aware that G-d instructs us clearly and unequivocally in the mitzvah of self-defense.

Yanky Tauber sums it up well: (click here for full article)

… each and every life is of Divine — and therefore infinite — significance.

In light of the above, it is surprising to find the following law in the Torah (codified in Talmud Tractate  Sanhedrin 72a, derived from Deuteronomy 22:26): Habah l'hargecha hashkem l'hargo — "If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first." (This law applies equally to someone coming to kill someone else — you're obligated to kill the murderer in order to save his intended victim.)

This law seems to contradict the principle of life's infinite value. If no life can be deemed less valuable that any other, what makes the victim's life more valuable than the murderer's life? Furthermore, this rule applies to anyone who is "coming to kill you" — he hasn't even done anything yet! Maybe he won't succeed? Maybe he'll change his mind? Nor does the law say anything about trying to run away. It says: If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first.

The same Torah that tells us that G‑d placed a spark of Himself in every human being, thereby bestowing upon his or her physical existence a G‑dly, infinite worth — that same Torah also tells us that G‑d has granted  free choice to every person. Including the choice — and the power — to corrupt his or her G‑d-given vitality and turn it against itself, using it to destroy life. A person can choose to turn himself into a murderer — someone who is prepared to destroy life in order to achieve his aims. In which case he is no longer a life, but an anti-life.

To kill an anti-life is not a life-destroying act, it is a life-preserving act. It is not a violation of the commandment "Do not kill," but its affirmation. Without the law, "If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first," the principle of life's infinite value is nothing more than an empty slogan, a mere idea.

Judaism is not an idea. It is a way of life — G‑d's ideas made real.

One of the most empowering interpretations I have read on this topic is from Rabbi Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz of  more than 400 years ago known as ‘The Shelo’.

There are two kinds of songs one can sing to G-d.

The conventional songs of praise that we sing to Hashem, are songs of gratitude.

Thanking Hashem for something good that He has blessed us with after Hashem delivers us from our troubles, is quite elementary. It’s simple ‘mentschlichkeit’ - common decency, to give gratitude when Hashem does good to us.

It would seem quite incongruous to sing a song of praise when one has only received a blessing for salvation, but the situation is still dire.

Yet the Sheloh proposes that true believers are able to give songs of thanksgiving to Hashem even before Hashem’s blessing has been fulfilled.

The most powerful form of singing is to sing even before the favor has been done.

He reframes this previously quoted Talmudic statement:

G-d said My handiwork,  i.e., the Egyptians, are drowning in the sea, and you are reciting a song before Me? 

to be an expression of disappointment on G-d’s side:

You, the Jewish people, have waited with your saying of the ‘Shira’ song till you saw the final ignominious end of the Egyptian enemy?

Why didn’t you have the faith in G-d that all would turn out alright and break out in joyous song even before the good actually arrived. Your faith should have been strong enough (especially after seeing the redemption from Egypt just a few days earlier) to erupt in jubilant song as if the final positive outcome had already arrived.

This concept, to dance even before the final positive outcome has arrived is an empowering message. And especially pertinent and uplifting for our times.

We need to step up our song and dance in anticipation of G-d’s deliverance and miracles. (Especially in light of the many miracles we are witnessing on a daily basis, the 99% interception of missiles and drones from Iran etc.).

It is not presumptuous to rejoice in G-d’s salvation before it arrives.

On the contrary it is a sign of deep faith and received by G-d as a sign of our deep trust in Him.

During these grand finale days of Pesach the motif and theme are all about looking forward to bright and glorious future.

The Haftorah on the last day of Pesach speaks about the utopian world where ‘the wolf will lie with the lamb’. Our enemies will lay down their arms and become peaceful.

It hasn’t happened yet, but G-d has promised that it is going to happen.

The Ba’al Shemtov taught that the Pesach is ushered out with a special meal. The Rebbe taught that this meal is also to include four cups of wine.

It is called ‘Seudat Mashiach’ the ‘Mashiach Meal’.

It is a joyous meal. A meal in which we affirm our belief, hope and faith in the imminent coming of Mashiach.

Is it premature to rejoice about Mashiach’s coming even before he has come.

Especially during these post October 7 (Simchat Torah) days.

Whence are we to muster joy when we have hostages still missing, the war in Israel still raging and anti-semitism rearing its ugly head world over?

This teaching of the Sheloh reveals to us that it is precisely now, when things don’t look so good, that we have to express our super faith in Hashem and in the words of ‘Moshe his servant’ – in our generation the Rebbe – who announced unequivocally that we are living in the times of Moshiach.

Anytime now Mashiach will come.

During these last days of Pesach, during these last days of the darkness of the exile, when we face unprecedented challenges, we must galvanize our emotions and inspire ourselves to be joyous and celebratory in the faith and knowledge that Mashiach is about to come.

Celebrate the Mashiach Meal, Matzah, four cups of wine and all. Set your table for a joyous meal at the end of Pesach and together may we celebrate the coming of Mashiach with joy, even before he has come.

Chag Sameach – Gut YomTov

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Seder Reflections

I looked around the beautifully crowded Seder tables which represented the entire gamut of the Jewish community. The proverbial ‘four sons’ (and daughters) were all there.

But there were some missing.

Quoting the Rebbe, I acknowledged the ‘fifth son’.

The son who was not at the Seder because of ignorance. Either ignorance about Pesach, or ignorance about the fact that there is a place that is awaiting him or her at the Seder. Or perhaps a ‘son’ who would attend a Seder if it was ‘available’ without him or her having to make a huge effort.

The Rebbe constantly urged us to reach out to the fifth son and invite him to the Seder so that by next year he would be at the table as one of ‘the four sons’.

Nechama and I have merited to lead the community Passover seders since 1994 when the guest count hovered just under one hundred guests.

This year our community Seder hosted more than five hundred. Divided into two adjacent banquet halls. An English led Seder, and a Hebrew language led Seder.

Additionally, another six plus thousand guests, from Israel and many other countries, sat around the Chabad Seders throughout Thailand.

Besides for the Sedarim in Bangkok, Chiang Mai, Pai, Ko Samui, Ko Pangan, Phuket and Luan Prabang, our children, Efraim, Leibel, Miriam and her husband Yosef went to Krabi to run a ‘pop-up’ Seder. (It was announced at the last minute and catered to those who had not made plans to be at a Seder – proverbial ‘fifth sons’).

With Hashems help all the Pesach Seders, with all the myriad details involved in the logistics of putting on such Seder, went smoothly. And a meaningful and inspiring experience was had by all. See pictures below of the moments before the Chag of Pesach began.

This year, I acknowledged with deep pain that there were some other ‘sons’ absent.

The hostages who have been cruelly kidnapped and being held in impossible conditions since October 7th.

The soldiers of the IDF who are on the front lines of defending our people. They ate Matzah and did Seders out in the field, but they were absent from their families Pesach Seder.

And then my mind turned to those who are unable to attend Seders because of the hostile environment fomented by the demonstrations and riots against Israel and the Jewish people.

While it is shocking for me to see the ugly head of antisemitism rear its head in my hometown of New York, I cannot say that it is an absolute shock.

History repeats itself with different variations on the same theme.

In preparation for Pesach, I reviewed the laws of the Seder in the Kitzur Shulchan Aruch (Concise Code of Jewish Law) .

You should do your best to obtain choice wine to perform the  mitzvah  of drinking the Four Cups. If red wine is available, that is, of the same quality as white wine, and its  kashrus  is as reliable as white wine, the red wine is preferred for the Four Cups, for it is said, "Look not after wine when it is red," ( Proverbs 23:31)  indicating that wine is most desirable, when it is red. In addition, because it reminds us of the blood, which flowed, when Pharaoh slaughtered innocent Jewish children. In backward and ignorant countries, where people, make slanderous accusations, Jews refrain from using red wine on  Pesach .

Do you get the twisted irony?

Upon the advice of his advisors, Pharaoh bathed in the blood of slaughtered Jewish children in an attempt to heal his leprosy.

Generations later, the Jewish people were murdered upon allegations that the Pesach ritual involved the blood of gentile children.

To the extent that it became dangerous in certain locales to drink red wine at the Seder.

Such a preposterous and outrageous claim.

The Torah forbids eating blood period.

These unfounded blood libels have hounded our people from 1144 till the last blood libel in Russia one hundred years ago, the famous Beilis trial. (Click here for an interesting lecture regarding the history of blood libels).

Before that, we were blamed only for ‘deicide’ killing the god of the Christians.

The blood libel was another twist which took off and became popular.

Anti Semitism has always relied on misinformation.

Today, twisting history and factual events becomes even more achievable.

The saying goes ‘seeing is believing’.

Another saying says ‘a picture is worth more a thousand words.’

We must seriously rethink that in our current Photoshop and AI world.

Today, photos and videos can be doctored and engineered to present a reality that is non-factual and totally false.

The anti-Semitic tropes have evolved from deicide and blood libels to their current mutation.

It is important for us Jews to know that a blood libel is simply that. A libelous twisted claim by our enemies intended to harm us physically and demoralize us so that we feel we have no choice but to cower and hide.

Let us not fall prey to this hideous plan.

We must stand firm and proud and committed to G-d, His Torah and stand ironclad as AM YISRAEL – one people with one common destiny.

My colleague R’ Yuda Drizin in Columbia University made the following statement in light of the unconscionable riots on that campus:

“We refuse to yield to the forces of hate. Instead, we’ll raise our voices in song and dance throughout the nights of Passover 2024,” the rabbi said of the resolve to continue celebrating as Jews and not letting evil win. “They want us to back down, to cower and hide. Instead, we will continue as proud Jews.”

They hosted Seders on campus and pragmatically – without misplaced bravado - hired security guards to escort the student’s home in safety.

Millions of Jews around the world proclaimed at their Seders on Monday and Tuesday evenings the ‘Vehi She’amda’ prayer:

And this ( Hashem ’s blessings and the  Torah ) is what kept our fathers and what keeps us surviving. For, not only one arose and tried to destroy us, rather in every generation they try to destroy us, and  Hashem  saves us from their hands

(click here for a Chasidic melody on this passage)

Click here to hear the ‘golden oldie’ tune for ‘Vehi Sheamda’ .

It is quite ironic that we sing the Vehi She’amda quite heartily, (granted it’s after the first full cup of wine). It doesn’t seem to be a singing matter ‘that in every generation they want to finish us…’ yet we recite this prayer in a loud and joyous voice.

I recently heard this parable that gives a wonderful context to this prayer.

There was a young newlywed couple, living with the bride's parents, because of their limited finances. Their elderly grandmother, who lived independently, passed away and bestowed upon the newlywed couple her modest dwelling tucked away in a lesser-known neighborhood.

They loved their new home. Save for one problem. Their home was soon disturbed by a series of burglaries. Upon hearing a peculiar noise, the vigilant groom armed himself and successfully scared off the intruder. However, these break-ins persisted, puzzling the couple, who possessed no valuables or wealth to speak of.

Despite their meager possessions, their home remained a target for thieves. Intrigued by the repeated attempts, the young man resolved not to chase away the next attempted burglar, but to apprehend him and discover his motives.


The truth behind the burglaries was unveiled. It had become common knowledge among criminal circles that a great treasure lay hidden beneath the couple's residence. Thus, the impoverished young man began to dig, eventually unearthing a substantial chest brimming with gold and silver. Suddenly, the once struggling newlyweds found themselves abundantly wealthy!

We, the Jewish people, are likewise in possession of a vast fortune.

Hashem has chosen us as his treasured nation.

Though at times unbeknownst to us, our wealth lies far beyond our immediate perception.

Yet, our adversaries, it seems, are well aware of this treasure and seek to dismantle us in order to seize it.

This treasure that we are now even more aware of, is something to sing loudly, heartily and joyously about!

We must always remember that we are custodians of a priceless inheritance – the Torah and traditions that safeguard our existence, a wealth of immeasurable value.

There is something else that should be said.

And that is, that there is a win/win scenario that should be implemented.

If the nations of the world will protect us and support us in our mission of being the Divine Ambassadors on earth, they too will be blessed by Hashem.

Hashem has promised ‘I will bless those who bless you’.

 

The way forward is clear. We, Am Yisrael need to continue and strengthen our embrace of our Divine mission. All of our fellow citizens of the world should treat us with respect and protection.

This is the holistic way our world is meant to function and will lead to a healthy situation for all of humankind.

May we be blessed with the coming of Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Moadim Lesimcha

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Singing and believing - Pesach

I am resending as the second day holiday timing was omitted by oversight.

I figured that I may share something else that was shared with me. I asked a ninety year old Jewish person living near Bangkok if he would share his earliest Pesach memory with me. Here is what he shared:

I remember being at my Grandparent’s apartment in London because of the German bombing raids on London.  All children were evacuated to the countryside in fear of a German invasion.

I was 9 years old when we were all evacuated.  My mother said we were nearer to the Germans than she was!

I ended up at a farm for safety and all of this did not do that much for any Jewish studies although I have to be thankful to Hashem that me and my family survived at all!

Another weird fact is that I ended up in the British Army as a Lieutenant in British Armed Forces in Egypt at the Suez Canal!

Thank you for your interest in all this Rabbi!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Are you a ‘lamenter’ who sings?

Or a ‘singer’ who laments?

Unusual question?

Isn’t this the time period to ask questions?

I have managed to ask four questions within the first few lines of my article, make sure to ask THE Four Questions this Monday night at your Passover Seder.

Yep, it’s that season of liberation. I can almost taste the crunchy matzah, imagine the feelings of giddiness after four cups of wine. And of course, the traditional melodies that accompany Pesach ring in my ears.

Click here to hear the ‘golden oldie’ tune for ‘Vehi Sheamda’.

וְהִיא שֶׁעָמְדָה לַאֲבוֹתֵיֽנוּ וְלָנֽוּ. שֶׁלֹא אֶחָד בִּלְבָד, עָמַד עָלֵיֽנוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנֽוּ. אֶלָּא שֶׁבְּכָל דּוֹר וָדוֹר, עוֹמְדִים עָלֵיֽנוּ לְכַלּוֹתֵנֽוּ. וְהַקָּדוֹשׁ בָּרוּךְ הוּא מַצִּילֵנוּ מִיָּדָם

Vehi She’amda, La’avotainu Velanu Shelo  Echad Bilvad, Amad  Aleinu Lechaloteinu Ela Sheb’chol Dor VaDor Omdim Aleinu Lechaloteinu V’HaKadosh Baruch Hu Matzilenu Miyadam.

And this ( Hashem’s blessings and the  Torah) is what kept our fathers and what keeps us surviving. For, not only one arose and tried to destroy us, rather in every generation they try to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands



Or join Mala from Chabad of Bangkok as he gets us ready to sing it at the Seder

I never really understood the depth and strength and immortality of this prayer in the way that I do now.

Lots of stuff going on.

The magnitude is immense.

The pace is dizzying.

I refer to events in Israel.

This week we witnessed epic miracles.

And on the other hand, we are quite unsettled.

(Below I am going to ‘copy paste’ a very poignant article from my colleague Rabbi Lazer Gurgow’s titled ‘Miracle of Miracles’. It calls our attention to the revealed miracles that we witnessed at the beginning of the week as our enemies rained major firepower down on the Jewish People in Israel).

A combination of opposites.

Jubilation and thanksgiving for the miracles.

Concern and prayers for the ongoing and future protection.

We sit at the Seder, thanking and praising Hashem for His miracles of Exodus. We drink four cups of wine with the intention of allowing ourselves to glide into a feeling of freedom, wealth and liberation.

And at the same time, we acknowledge that in every generation we have those who want to exterminate us.

I have said this part of the Haggadah for more than five decades thank G-d, yet never have I seen so vividly the enemies who stand by to finish us off if they only could.

But we don’t let the ‘realistic’ view hamper us or demoralize us. We are a people of miracles. Israel is a country which the Torah says has ‘Hashem’s Eyes on it from the beginning of the year till the end of the year’.

‘They’ – those who thought they could defeat us, are long gone.

‘We’ – the people of Israel whom Hashem chose, are still here.

We are a SINGING and BELIEVING nation.

Hundreds of thousands (or millions) of the Jewish people will gather around Seder tables on Monday night and sing and declare their thanks with true joy and jubilation. (Some seven thousand in Thailand alone please G-d).

At the very same time that they recognize the reality of our contemporary geopolitical situation.  

King David in his book of Tehillim Psalms seems to anticipate this dichotomy by placing chapter 122 and 123 adjacent to each other.

The heading to chapter 122 reads:

‘the (Psalmist) ‘Singer’ relates about the praiseworthiness of Jerusalem and the miracles that were wrought in Jerusalem’.

The heading to chapter 123 reads:

the (Psalmist) ‘Singer’ laments the long and protracted period that they have been in exile’

(I noticed this contrast as I have recited Psalm 122 for the last year, and today moved over to reciting Psalm 123 for the upcoming year.

This is according to the tradition taught by the Ba’al Shem Tov, that one should recite daily the chapter of Tehillim that corresponds to the number of years one has been alive. At the age of 18 one would recite chapter 19 and so on.

It is a great custom to include your personal Tehillim chapter into your daily prayers.

Many say the chapter for their children as well. Some do so for their parents.

As a chassid, I also say the chapter of the Rebbe, corresponding to the years since his birth.

Today is the Rebbe’s birthday 122 years ago. Hence, we began to recite chapter 123. Click here for more on this topic).

I feel that these two chapters sum up the kaleidoscope of emotions that fill my heart and mind.

We sing and yet we ‘ lament ’.

There is such a feeling of solidarity and unity within the Jewish community all over the world.

We are a people who are alone.

If you are in the mood to ‘lament’ there is what to ‘moan’ about. It’s not easy to be and feel alone. To be singled out and targeted in the overt antisemitism that has reared its ugly head.

However, from the perspective of the ‘singer’ and the believer it is uplifting and inspiring to recognize that we are indeed a people who is alone. This is by design. It is because we have been singularly and uniquely chosen by G-d for the mission of spreading His Glory throughout the world.

We refer to this paradox in our Pesach Seder.

We drink four cups of wine and sing the Halel praises of G-d.

We sing the praises of the miracles in Jerusalem and Israel.

Yet we declare that if not for G-d’s protection, our enemies would totally finish us off.

How do we live and thrive while harboring both sets of emotions?

This is part of the impossibility and miraculousness of being a Jew.

Impossible that we are still here, from a ‘nature’ standpoint. And inconceivable that we are able to celebrate.

Eminently achievable when we embrace our identity as the nation whom Hashem has chosen for His treasured task of creating a space for Him in this lowly world.

The Jewish trademark is JOY. Chapter 122 with its miracles comes before 123 with its lament.

The statement in the Haggada about our enemies’ murderous intents is recited from the context of a super celebration around festive and wine filled Seder tables.

Optimistic Jewish life must continue under all conditions.


(See a very heart stirring clip of a bar mitzvah celebration at the Kotel for war orphans).

We can and do rejoice because we are all ‘believers the children of believers’.

The three thousand plus years since Hashem took us out of Egypt has not tired us from singing His praises and eating Matzah ever Pesach.

Neither have the nearly two thousand years of exile disillusioned us for dreaming, yearning, anticipating and even celebrating the imminent coming of Mashiach.

Remember, at our core, we are SINGER’S, who lament a bit here and there.

We are optimists who know that Hashem loves us and wants our best.

The Rebbe whose birthday is today was a consistent source of positivity. Click here for ‘practical tips for positive living’.

Dear fellow Jew, embrace your role as a ‘singer’ and claim your Jewish ‘birthright’ of being a perennial optimist.

Continue the golden and joyous chain of Am Yisrael. In your own home, with your own family, around your own table, sing the praises of Hashem for the blessings of liberation from Egypt, and the blessings of freedom now.

Before this Monday 11 am sell whatever chametz that you have not disposed of by clicking here.

On Monday night eat Matzah to remember the great gift of Exodus and to strengthen and bolster your faith in the eternity and omnipotence of G-d.

To get Matzah contact JCafe or click here to contact me or head to your nearest rabbi/synagogue and or Pesach shop.

And my dear friend, let us pray, hope and celebrate that -

L’SHANA HABAH BEYERUSHALAYIM

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Hair in the parsha + Divine Providence stories from US trip

This week’s parsha of Tazria, references hair.

The Midrash tells the following story.

There was a man who was not able to support his family and he was planning to leave Israel to search for ‘parnassa’, avenues of support.

This man was a Torah scholar and in one of his Torah lessons, he was expounding on the greatness of Hashem. He taught that even from our hair, we can learn about Hashem’s greatness.

With all of the myriads of hairs on our body, every hair has its own ‘hole’ in the skin (today we call it a hair follicle) from which it grows and is sustained. This means that two hairs are not being nurtured by the same energy source. They each have their own follicle from where they grow.

His wife was listening to his speech, and she commented ‘you perceive the greatness of Hashem and His immaculate design even of a hair, and yet you are planning to leave the holy land of Israel to find ‘parnassa’ a livelihood for our family’?

If Hashem provides an energy source for every individual hair, certainly He can provide you with the support you need for our family without having to leave the holy land of Israel.

The Midrash concludes, the man listened to his wife’s inspirational insight and stayed home. Hashem indeed provided a source of sustenance for their family.

The Talmud states something very similar:

No person may touch that which is prepared for another by G-d; everyone receives what is designated for him. 

If every hair has its own follicle, this means that there are no two hairs that are competing for the same source of nurturing.

This inspired way of thinking and believing in G-d’s Providence is a way to living more calmly and being more scrupulously honest.

A lot of angst comes from being uncertain about where one’s livelihood and subsistence will come from.

Dishonesty is making the mistake to think that you can deceitfully take that which rightfully belongs to someone else.

Fear of competition is the mistaken notion that someone can take something from you that is rightfully yours.

By reflecting on how G-d is running of every single aspect of the universe, down to every hair having its own ‘source’, one can live a more inspired and balanced life.

One could ask the question, according to the teaching I quoted above, why are there so many devout people who travel to support themselves and their families?

(The topic of travel for earning one’s livelihood is discussed in ‘Gates of Trust’ – ‘Sha’ar Habitachon, click here for further discussion ).

The simple understanding is that Hashem wants us to do what is needed according to the laws of nature and then He blesses our efforts with success. Which means that since in today’s global environment it is quite common that one needs to travel for work, this is then the way Hashem chooses to send you the blessings of parnassa and support.

The Baal Shem Tov added a deeper dimension.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that it is Divine Providence that leads a person to a certain place. G‑d orchestrates that you end up in a specific place. The person may think that he has traveled there in order to generate his livelihood but really the Divine plan has him travel there in order to spread the light of G‑d in that very place

He explains the verse ‘And you will go to the place that the L-rd, your G‑d, will choose to make His name dwell there; ( Deuteronomy 26:2)  as follows: You must know that you go from one place to another because G‑d has chosen this path, so that His name will dwell there. ( Hayom Yom 18 Elul ).

Sometimes we can see the deeper mission inherent in our travels, sometimes it may remain more obscured. It is a blessing when Hashem gives you glimpses of deeper meaning at play during one’s travels.

I have just landed back in Bangkok after a trip to the USA to raise funds for our extensive Pesach Seder hosting. We are preparing for the upward of ten thousand Pesach meals being served at our Chabad Houses throughout Thailand.

Let me share a few stories from my trip which showed me so poignantly the inner purpose of the journey ‘to spread the light of G-d in that very place’.

My dear friend Abtin (Yitschak ben Aharon) Etessami passed away a day before Purim. Abtin who was a jeweler and precious-stone merchant visited Thailand many times and we became close friends. As one of the most popular men in his community (the Mashadi community of Great Neck NY), Abtin introduced me to many philanthropic members of his community who became supporters of the work of Chabad of Thailand. Every year before Pesach, Abtin would dedicate a few days to take me around and raise funds for our Pesach hospitality and Seders.

Sadly, after battling illness for a few years, Abtin passed away. I arrived in NY on my scheduled trip just in time to speak at the last Shiva gathering in the main community synagogue. The family and friends were inspired by my words in which I shared some of the unique qualities that Abtin possessed in terms of his unyielding devotion to G-d coupled with his incredible love and acts of kindness to others.

A group of friends made an evening in Abtins memory and invited me to share stories from Thailand. In one of the stories, I shared a ‘chance’ meeting with a Jew, on Charoenkrung Rd who I was able to bring to the Even Chen synagogue to complete the minyan on the Shabbat before Yom Kippur in the late 1990’s. I mentioned that I had lost contact with this person and mused that it would be nice to perhaps send him some shmura matzah for Pesach. Someone at the small gathering said that he recognizes the name of this person as he works in the same area. I asked him to follow up and deliver some shmura matzah. A few days later he sent me a note that the mission was accomplished, the matzah was delivered.

Telling this story, had seemed so coincidental, yet clearly it turned out to be part of the Divine mission of my journey.

Fast forward to the end of my trip. I attended a wedding in Dallas, Texas on my way home and found that the most convenient flight back to Thailand was on the following day from Houston. I decided to use the opportunity to visit very dear friends that I have there and we made a lunch appointment.

While I was there I also planned to pay a spontaneous visit Mr. S whom I had ‘randomly’ met in NY the year before.

Last year, while I was in one of the NY gem dealers’ offices on 47th St. before Pesach, I met a Jew Mr. S. from Houston who is a jeweler. I offered him the opportunity to put on tefillin which he gladly did. Afterwards he gave me a modest donation for tzedakah.

This year when I visited the same office in NY, I mentioned that I am going home through Houston and remembered that last year I had met Mr. S. from Houston. The NY gem dealer gladly gave me the address of the Houston Jew.

After having lunch with my dear Houston friends, I set off to find the jeweler and provide him with some shmura matza for the seder. I pulled up to the address given and asked for Mr. S. When they asked me which Mr. S. I was stymied. I really didn’t know the person that well and didn’t remember his first name. Apparently, there were a few Mr. S's at that business. I said I think he is in his sixties. To which the staff responded, look outside the store, the Mr. S. you are looking for just pulled up in his car in front of the store. Mr. S. walked in and remembered who I was. I presented him with matzah, we put on tefillin, and he once again kindly gave me a modest donation.

It was a meaningful encounter, spreading the light of Yiddishkeit, albeit one that was definitely not part of my conscious reason for traveling to Houston.

Earlier that day as I was driving from Dallas to Houston, I was talking to my wife and she suggested that I should consider visiting G and his wife, a couple who had lived in Thailand for two years about twenty years ago. An hour later I received a voice note from one of the Chabad rabbis in Houston who knew of my friendship with G. ‘I heard that you were in Dallas for a wedding, I think if you had the opportunity to visit G it would be very meaningful as his disease has come back…’. I reached out to G and he told me he was leaving the next day to NY to participate in an exploratory treatment regimen but could see me that afternoon. I visited G and his wife, brought them shmura matza and had a very meaningful conversation in which I both shared and received inspiration.

With the few hours available between my meetings and my flight I was invited to give a class for the Israeli Chabad House in Houston and share Torah inspiration flavored with ‘Jewish Life in Thailand’ stories. How gratifying it was to be greeted be S. who I had helped repatriate back to Israel twenty some years ago after he had a mind-altering substance experience that went awry. Thank G-d he is recovered and is fully functional.

Similarly, I had the opportunity in NY to share inspiration with college students when my brother who is Chabad at Temple University brought a group to visit the Chabad neighborhood of Crown Heights.

These ‘side’ activities were not the ‘main’ conscious reasons for my travels, but certainly they are part of Hashem’s plan and who knows, perhaps they were the ‘real’ reason, and the fundraising was just a ‘cover’.

There were so many other stories, connections and incredible ‘Divine Providence’ encounters during my trip, but for now I will simply say Thank You Hashem for showing me Your Guidance in every single detail.

We are a bit more than a week away from Pesach the festival of our liberation. Pesach is the holiday of our personal liberation. It is not just a historical liberation of our ancestors, rather it is Hashems gift of personal freedom for each one of us.

Faith and trust in the Almighty are the surest way to freedom and liberation from angst, worry, anxiety and fear.

May Hashem bless each and every one of us with liberation from all worries and anxieties. May we be blessed with all that we need.

May Hashem bless us with the release of our captives, success of our soldiers, healing of our wounded, secure peace in our holy land of Israel and security for Jews world over.

And most importantly ‘Leshana Habaah BeYerushalayim’ may we celebrate Pesach with Mashiach in Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Two Kinds of Miracles: Nature Defying and Nature Friendly

Some miracles are nature defying.

While other miracles are quite natural. The miracle is that the natural components have lined up and are working with exact balance and precision.

A friend of mine told me about his brother who was cheated out of a million dollars’ worth of merchandise. When he tried to recoup his losses, he was threatened by some bad people. He didn’t take the threat seriously. A few days later when he pulled up to a meeting with a customer, he noticed a box-like contraption attached to the bottom of his car. Naively, he removed it from the car chassis and took it into his customer’s office. The customer took one look, noticed some wires protruding and called for an evacuation of the entire office while the bomb squad was called. The bomb squad confirmed that this was an explosive device, intended to detonate when he turned the ignition.

For no obvious reason, one of the wires came loose and the bomb never went off.

A nature altering miracle.

The young man was shaken to the core and consulted his rabbi about how to gives thanksgiving to Hashem. He suggested that he start to keep Shabbat properly and distribute Tzedaka money to the needy. The young man took his rabbi’s advice seriously. The keeping of Shabbat was such a blessing in his life that many of his relatives also followed his example and became fully engaged in Torah and Mitzvot.

Someone else told me a story about the dollar he had received from the Lubavitcher Rebbe when he was a young man. He described the incredible feeling of being in the presence of a Tzadik whose gentle eyes seemed to read him like an x-ray. He took the dollar and kept it under the cash in the cash register for mazal and blessing.

One day a robber came in and pointed a gun at his head. ‘Give me all the money in the till’ said the thief. My friend handed over the contents of the cash register.

Once the thief had the money, my friend asked him if he would mind giving him back the bottom dollar which was a ‘lucky’ dollar. Much to his surprise the thief agreed immediately and handed him back the dollar of blessing that he had received from the Rebbe.

Miraculous outcome. In the fact that he wasn’t shot at close range. And in the fact that the criminal agreed to give him back the dollar of blessing. Not necessarily nature defying but rather a ‘nature friendly’ miracle.

This Shabbat represents an incredible fusion of miraculous energy.

On the one hand Purim is still ‘in the air’. We are about to celebrate the ninth and ‘grand finale’ shabbat of the sixty days of the two joyous months of Adar.

And Pesach is also around the corner. On this Shabbat we announce and bless the Head of the month of Nissan that begins on Tuesday.

Thus, the Shabbat combines the highest level of Purim energy with the ‘head’ and ‘nerve-center’ of Pesach energy.

Miracles are the common theme of Purim and Pesach.

Pesach represents nature shattering miracles. Wearing down Pharoh’s resistance by bringing the ten plagues and forcing him to release the Israelites. Splitting the sea. Raining down the miracle food called ‘manna’.

While Purim represents gradual miracles disguised as coincidences. It took ten years for the Purim miracle to unfold. It seemed much like a political intrigue. With Queen Vashti being deposed, Queen Esther the Jewess becoming the new queen. Mordechai saving the king’s life. Haman overstepping his boundaries of arrogance. The Jewish people being given permission to bear arms and fight their intended killers. The Jews being victorious in battle.

We need both kinds of miracles in Israel. On the battlefield. For the hostages. To heal the wounded.

We need all kinds of miracles for the protection and success of the Jewish Nation world over.

And of course we need the ultimate miracle of PEACE IN THE WORLD with the coming of Mashiach.

This is a Shabbat where both kinds of miracles are ‘in the air’.

Let us begin to usher in this miraculous atmosphere by resolving to leave our usual and habitual ‘nature’.

Let us kick start the flow of supernatural energy by jumping a bit higher than usual and exiting our comfort zone.

Study a bit more Torah. Help out your fellow a bit more generously than you usually would. Be a bit more patient and forgiving with things that usually irritate you and set you off.

And resolve to celebrate Passover the holiday of liberation by eating matzah and ridding your home from chametz.

And watch how Hashem provides you the energy and wherewithal to fulfil your holy desire to better yourself, your society, and the entire world.

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom and a Chodesh Tov (Tuesday is Rosh Chodesh).

And early wishes of Chag Hapesach Kasher Vesameach – Happy and Kosher Passover!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS below are links for seder reservations in Thailand.

And here is a link to help sponsor the thousands of visitors expected a the thirteen seders spread throughout Thailand.

Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Purim is not yet ‘over’.

For six days a week we work, and on the seventh day we rest. This means that the food that we eat on Shabbat is paid for by the efforts of our ‘six-day’ work week.  

As the six days of the week prepare for the physical needs of Shabbat, so too are the spiritual ‘energies’ of the Shabbat generated by the ‘energies’ that are prevalent during the week.

Purim was celebrated on Sunday, and Its ‘energy’ and ‘power’ continue all the way to Shabbat and becomes ‘uplifted’ and infused with the special holiness of Shabbat.

So let us continue the incredibly empowering, JOYOUS and energetic spirit of Purim for as long as we can. Enjoy the super-elevated-holy version of Purim that the Shabbat after Purim provides.

What would have happened if not for the miracle of Purim?

A young, intelligent Polish born Jew joined us for the Purim feast. In hearing his story on Purim day, I was giving a vivid insight into the epic nature of the Purim miracle.

P. told me that his mother was Jewish, born in Poland to parents who were Holocaust survivors.

P’s grandmother joined the partisans during the war and was one of those who smuggled weapons to her brethren in the Warsaw Ghetto to be used in the ‘Warsaw Ghetto uprising’.  His grandfather spent almost the entire war in the concentration camp Dachau and had an identification number tattooed on his arm.

P was raised totally secular, not even having a Bar Mitzvah yet something stirred within his Jewish soul and when studying in the USA he searched out Jewish community and visited Israel on a birthright trip. On Purim I had the merit to lay Tefilin with P for the second time in his life. The first time had been at the Kotel – Western Wall – in Jerusalem.

P’s grandparents were anomalies. They were of the ten percent who survived the holocaust.

According to Yad Vashem, ‘Jews lived in Poland for 800 years before the Nazi occupation. On the eve of the occupation 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland… At the end of the war, approximately 380,000 Polish Jews were still alive in Poland, the Soviet Union, or in the concentration camps in Germany, Austria and the Czech territories.

In the story of Purim, if the miracle would not have happened, the result would have been a more complete Holocaust than the German one of recent history may Hashem protect us.

Haman had permission from Achashverosh to kill every single Jew in his dominion, which covered the entire civilized world at the time. This international pogrom was slated to take place on one day.

On Purm we celebrate the miraculous turnaround that Hashem made.

Instead of our enemies killing us, there was a reversal and we the Yehudim (Jews) ruled over our enemies.

Our lives were miraculously saved, and the intended Holocaust of Persia never happened.

For this miracle we give celebratory thanks and praise to G-d. We rejoice and bring happiness to every single fellow Jew by the gifts of food (Mishloach Manot) and money (Matanot La’evyonim) that we are instructed to give on Purim.

My dear friend, Hashem made miracles at the time of Purim, Hashem makes miracles now too.

The soldiers who are visiting the Chabad Houses throughout Thailand are sharing stories of heroism. Tragically, there are too many soldiers who have sacrificed their lives on behalf of Am Yisrael. We hear about those in the news reports and they are excruciatingly painful.

The chayalim are sharing countless stories of G-d’s Divine Providence. They tell of their experiences where the ‘near misses’ ended miraculously. Most of these stories are not reported in the press, as thank G-d they ended in a non-newsworthy story as far as the reporters are concerned. As far as you and I are concerned these incidences are precious and attest to Hashems individual Divine Providence..

This is why I want to stretch the Purim ‘energy’ for as long as I can. For in our challenging times, we too need a reversal.

Our hostages must come home. Our enemy must be vanquished. Peace must be restored to Israel ina secure and sustainable way. By extension, we pray and hope for peace and stability in the entire world.  

Purim miracles are sorely in demand in this year of 2024.

At the same time that we draw inspiration from the Purim we just celebrated we begin to prepare for the upcoming Pesach.

Around elegantly bedecked tables, with cups brimming with wine we declare:

This is what has stood by our fathers and us! For not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand!

We beseech the Almighty for miracles. Both overt and hidden.

This year, as we feel the ‘bondage’ and ‘exile’ more acutely, we ought to put forth more effort in feeling the ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ more fully.

Eating Matzah on the first night of Pesach (this year Monday night April 22) is the most important component of the Pesach Seder. It invites G-dliness into one’s material self.

My dear fellow Jew.

The Matza reminds us of our faith in following G-d ‘blindly’ into the desert at very short notice, not even allowing our bread to rise.

By eating the matza, we are recreating that experience of ingesting ‘bread of faith’. This is why we make a point to eat the ‘old fashioned authentic’ handmade matzas (made of wheat that has been guarded from moisture from the time of harvest) at the Seder.

(We will be serving handmade shmura matzah at all of our communal seders across Thailand and will be happy to provide this matzah anywhere in Thailand, to those making their own seder, or unable to attend a seder. Please contact me with your mailing/delivery info to send you the matza – food of faith and healing).

The message of Purim and Pesach is one of liberty.

Stand tall, proud and free.

Embrace the role that Hashem has given our people to be his treasured nation. Spread light, morality and clarity in the world around you with healthy self-esteem about who you are as a Jew.

May we merit the liberation from this exile that we so yearn for. Just like it happened during the miracle of Pesach.

May the darkness be transformed into light just as Hashem transformed the darkness into light in the times of Purim.

May you have a Shabbat Shalom,

Injected with the joy of the Purim culmination and the taste of liberation from the approaching Pesach.

With blessing,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Mounds and pits

Bob and his wife were the architects for the Chabad House Synagogue that my brother built in Westport. They were visiting Thailand two weeks ago and came to meet me.

Bob told me about one of the challenges. The land that had been purchased for the parking lot needed to be raised to conform with local requirements. Getting the ‘fill-in’ earth was a costly undertaking. It just ‘so happened’ (i.e. Divine Providence) that a builder friend was doing a redevelopment and needed to dump earth and other materials to clear his site. The developer was happy to offer his earth for free, so long as the Chabad House sent the trucks to pick it up.

It reminded me of the story in the Megillah of Esther that we will be reading on Purim.

Haman said to King Achashverosh, "There is one nation, scattered and dispersed among the nations throughout the provinces of your kingdom, whose laws are unlike those of any other nation and who do not obey the laws of the King. It is not in the King's interest to tolerate them.

"If it please the King, let [an edict] be issued for their destruction, and I will pay ten thousand silver talents to the functionaries, to be deposited in the King's treasuries."

The king removed his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, son of Hamdata, the Agagite, persecutor of the Jews.

The king said to Haman, "The money is yours to keep, and the nation is yours to do with as you please."

It seems that Achashverosh turned out the offer of a large sum of money being offered to him by Haman.

Why?

The Talmud tractate Megillah provides more details to this part of the story of Purim.

The actions of Ahasuerus and Haman can be understood with a parable; to what may they be compared? To two individuals, one of whom had a mound in the middle of his field and the other of whom had a ditch in the middle of his field, each one suffering from his own predicament. The owner of the ditch, noticing the other’s mound of dirt, said to himself: Who will give me this mound of dirt suitable for filling in my ditch; I would even be willing to pay for it with money, and the owner of the mound, noticing the other’s ditch, said to himself: Who will give me this ditch for money, so that I may use it to remove the mound of earth from my property?

At a later point, one day, they happened to have met one another. The owner of the ditch said to the owner of the mound: Sell me your mound so I can fill in my ditch. The mound’s owner, anxious to rid himself of the excess dirt on his property, said to him: Take it for free; if only you had done so sooner. Similarly, Ahasuerus himself wanted to destroy the Jews. As he was delighted that Haman had similar aspirations and was willing to do the job for him, he demanded no money from him…

Much has been said about this and how it relates to anti-semitism throughout the ages. For example an article by Aron Moss or Rabbi Josh Gordon.

When I heard this exact story being told by Bob the architect as something that had transpired in real life, with my own brother’s shul, a mere few years ago, it prompted me to look into some of the commentaries on this story.

Chacham Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1832-1909) commented on this story.

From the way the Talmud depicts Achashverosh, he too, was a hater of the Jews and was pleased to have Haman dispose of them. Why then, does Achashverosh not meet an ignominious end just like Haman? Haman was killed for scheming to kill the Jews; shouldn’t Achashverosh have been at least demoted for his role in enabling this diabolical plan? Yet the Megillah ends off with Achashverosh firmly ensconced on this royal throne.

The matter can be understood by the following analogy.

There was a king who had a son that was captured by two people who were sworn enemies of the king. They planned to kill the prince, but the actual killing was delayed.

The motivation for the delay was not the same by each of the enemies. One of them recognized the innate dignity of the royal family and wanted to procure a poison that could be inserted into a drink and kill the prince in a ‘gentler’ and more ‘refined’ way.

The other enemy was delaying the killing as he wanted to create a big fire and cause the prince a more agonizing and ‘dehumanizing’ death.  

The king swooped in just in time to save his son the prince.

He treated the two captors very differently.

The cruel captor he puts to death for his role in planning his son’s murder.

The other captor, who also wanted to kill his son, but was more respectful of the king’s stature and wanted to preserve some of the royal dignity even while killing the prince, was allowed off without being punished by the king. It was this delay that allowed the prince to live. Although admittedly, had the king not come in time, the more ‘genteel’ opponent would have murdered the prince.

Similarly says R’ Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, Achashverosh respected the stature of the Jewish people. To be sure, he hated them and was going to facilitate the extermination plans against them. But at the same time, he didn’t want to do it in a demeaning way. Which is why he rejected the money offer.

You see, Haman wanted to pay money for the right to kill the Jews as part of his plan to demean the Jews. He wanted them to feel like human chattel and mere assets and thus dehumanize the Jewish people.

Whereas Achashverosh did not agree to take the money as he wanted to avoid demeaning the Jewish people in that way.

This also fits the ‘mound’ and ‘pit’ in the Talmud’s analogy.

Achashverosh saw the Jews as a mound, something elevated above the flat earth. Whereas Haman saw the Jews as a ‘hole in the ground’ as something totally worthless and disgusting.

When Hashem brought about a salvation for the Jews on Purim, He treated Haman and Achashverosh differently. For Achashverosh, although he was innately antisemitic, he at least treated the Jewish people with a modicum of respect.

Do you see any parallels in the patterns of anti-semitism as they play out in 20th and 21st centuries?

I find the Haman figures very identifiable. We can quite easily identify our enemies who want to kill us and treat us like dirt.

It is the Achashverosh kind of antisemite that to me seems more difficult to identify. On the outside they may be quite genteel, but a deeply rooted intolerance of the Jews may be lurking in the background, only waiting for a ‘cover story’.

The Talmudic story with its various commentaries is like dots. Applying the story to the contemporary geopolitical situation is like drawing the lines to connect the dots.

I have provided the dots. The drawing of the lines and the lessons for the world news headlines of today, I leave to you. No two people think alike. I am curious how you understand this topic.

Some Torah scholars share Torah thoughts with each other (in addition to food items) as a form of ‘Purim gifts’ Mishlach Manot.

Perhaps you have a thought to share with me in honor of Purim about this story. I would love to hear feedback from you.

To draw two quick lessons from this story that are applicable in our personal lives.

Sometimes a person may have a ‘mound’ in their life. Perhaps they have gone through a very difficult challenge that they would have preferred to avoid. They have layers of experience that others who have not gone through those circumstances don’t have.

The way to move forward in a positive way is to understand that there must be purpose in gaining the wisdom that could only be gained by going through this difficulty. And to pray to Hashem that He guide you to find the person with a ‘hole’ that can be benefited by the experience gained.

I have seen people who have gone through very difficult things take that experience and use it to counsel, console and bring positivity to others. I am in awe of such giants.

For the second positive message garnered by this story, let me end with another story.

The Alter Rebbe once sent a messenger to a chassid of his to ask him to participate in a very urgent life-saving cause. It was a significantly large amount of money that the Rebbe was requesting. The messenger, himself a very devout chassid was sure that it would take a few days for the benefactor to put together such a respectable sum of cash. To his surprise, the moment he arrived at the persons house, he was greeted warmly, and asked by his host ‘how much money does the Rebbe need to alleviate the crisis’. The messenger named the amount, and the host went to the next room and brought the full amount.

The messenger asked incredulously, ‘how did you know to prepare such a generous sum and have it on hand’?

To which the benefactor replied ‘yesterday I transacted a very successful business deal, and I said to myself ‘if Hashem sent me such a tidy profit it must be that the Rebbe has a larger than usual need and I have been sent this amount to be able to provide Tzedaka for this need’.

My dear friend, if you have a ‘mound’, understand that your excess is for a higher purpose. The extra money you have found in your budget can be used to help someone. Find someone who has a hole and help him or her fill it.

There are a number of people I know, who are ‘baalei tzedaka’ philanthropists that look at their financial success in exactly this way.

As well as people that are blessed with other blessings, who give freely of themselves and their gifts to fill the needs of others.

This is a truly inspirational way to live life.

So relevant to Purim, as two of the four mitzvahs of Purim are about helping others.

These are the four mitzvahs:

Hear the Megilah by night and then by day

Send food gifts to at least one other person.

Send monetary gifts to at least two other needy people.

Eat a Purim feast.

May Hashem bless us with salvation from our enemies just like he did in the time of Purim.

In closing:

Let my talk about antisemitism not G-d forbid be taken in the wrong way.

The celebration of Purim is all about the reality that has been borne out over the millennia of world history of the eternity of the Jew.

We are Hashems people, his precious children and He has promised that we will always be here.

As we say in the Haggadah on Pesach:

For not just one enemy has risen against us to destroy us. But in every generation they rise against us to destroy us. And the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands.

Nations and superpowers have come and gone. Am Yisrael is still here, proud, strong, positive, and passionate.

In just a few short moments the history of the world will take a giant leap, to welcome Mashiach and usher in the world of peace that we yearn and wait for.

So let us now cower and hide and pretend that if we act invisible and try to ‘blend in among the nations’ we will be better off. The opposite is true. Let us stand up with determination and pride and engage with Torah and Mitzvahs with joy and enthusiasm.

During those few short moments before Mashiach comes let us have ‘light’ אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר , may Hashem bless our soldiers, return our hostages, heal our wounded and banish antisemitism to the annals of history while we the Jewish people spread the message of G-d and His universal laws of morality to the entire world.

Shabbat Shalom

Purim Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


Call for action! Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

For the joyous month of Adar, let me start off with a joke.

A young man asked an old rich man how he made his money.

The old guy fingered his wool vest and said, “Well, son, it was 1932, the depth of the Great Depression. I was down to my last nickel.

I invested that nickel in an apple. I spent the entire day polishing the apple and, at the end of the day, I sold the apple for ten cents.

The next morning, I invested those ten cents in two apples. I spent the entire day polishing them and sold them at 5:00 pm for 20 cents. I continued this system for a week, by the end of which I’d accumulated a fortune of $6.40.

Then my wife’s lost long great uncle died and left us two million dollars.”

The ‘moral’ of the joke?

Sometimes it’s not really our efforts that are at the source of our wealth, rather it’s someone else’s hard work that we were gifted with.

I used this in my Shabbat speech at Synagogue last week in connection with the special reading about the half shekel that was given by every Jew as a donation to the construction of the Temple. 

Fast forward from the story of Pesach (Exodus from Egypt) to the story of Purim which took place almost a thousand years later in Persia. 

When Haman offered Achashverosh ten thousand talents of silver to the royal coffers for permission to kill all the Jews in his kingdom, Hashem said ‘you wicked person, their silver shekels already preceded and preempted your silver shekels’.

In other words, the instruction of giving a half shekel in the year 2448 from creation was the mitzvah that averted the Haman scheme of annihilation of the Jews some 950 years later.

Think about the incredibleness of it. A half shekel was a modest amount and was required to be given by poor and rich alike. Who would have imagined that a mitzvah done so many years back would be the spiritual power needed to generate the miracle of Purim.

Makes you stop to wonder about how powerful our actions are. Not just in our lifetime but for our future progeny.

I spoke about this at the Friday night Shabbat meal last week. At Shabbat lunch, one of our overseas visitors shared how proud she was of the fact that she has three sons who are rabbis. Indeed it is quite something to be proud of, a source of Jewish ‘naches’ (nachat).

As we were chatting over lunch she also shared the following story:

My father was a soldier in the British army during WWII. As he was about to be sent to the Far East, his commanding officer suggested that he remake his army issued identity disc that bore a J indicating that he was Jewish. His officer explained that the Japanese were allies of the Germans and it would be prudent to take off the J. My father responded, ‘The J represents that I am one of G-d’s children. He has protected me till now, and when I head off to battle, I am even more eager to have His protection. I will keep my disc with the J’.

As the lunch progressed, our London guests shared another story from the war years. This time she shared a story from her mother’s childhood during The Blitz (the German bombing campaign against London in 1940-1).

My mother was a young girl and was part of the evacuation of children to rural areas of England. My grandmother accompanied my mother to settle her in. On Sunday morning they awoke to a smell that was unfamiliar. Upon going downstairs to the kitchen, the mother saw that the smell came from frying bacon. She decided then and there that she was not going to leave her daughter in an environment that could have very wide-reaching consequences and they returned home to London.

While the stories were told without connection to each other, I see a pattern in these stories. They both speak of determination and unyielding commitment to the point of sacrifice. 

All of a sudden it dawned on me that maybe this connected to the theme I had conveyed in my speech on Friday night about the impact of the shekel many generations later.

Could it possibly be that these acts of valor by the grandparents and great grandparents are the spiritual ‘wealth’ that came to this family by inheritance?

To think this way is quite humbling. It means acknowledging that it may not be to my credit that I am the way I am. The power and blessings for what we do may be sourced in the holy and brave deeds of our grandparents and ancestors.

It is also quite inspiring and empowering to think that our deeds have the potential to reverberate and impact future generations even without knowing it.

It’s a call to action.

Next time you think about being too lazy to do a good deed, try to evaluate how much worth it may have to your grandchildren’s grandchildren. 

The next major holiday coming up is Chag Purim (evening of 23 and entire day of 24 of March).

The story of the Megilah is read every single year. To remind us to be grateful to Hashem for saving us then. And we must read it as a contemporary story as well. Hashem is making miracles for us now as well. 

We exchange food gifts so that the joy is shared with everyone in the community.

Monetary gifts are given to the poor so that they too should be able to full partake of the festivities.

And of course, a festive meal. A Purim feast.

These are the four Purim Mitzvahs.

Click here for more information and for instructions on how to fulfil the mitzvahs the way they were instructed. 

In the meantime, Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Saving lives

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Two people shared similar stories with me this week.

Is this a sign from Heaven to share the stories and find how the parsha or date relate to the stories?

Perhaps I can ask you for your help.

Here are the stories. Please share with me if you see the connection with the Parsha of the week – Vayakhel. Or with the time of the year, Shabbat when we read about the Shekalim (half shekel) or Rosh Chodesh Adar the first day of the month of Purim.

S.Y., a community member who was eating lunch at JCafe, told me that he had merited to save a life this week.

A business client was visiting him from the USA and started experiencing pain in his chest. The visitor brushed it off and said he would check it out in the USA when he went back the next day. S.Y. insisted on taking him to the doctor to check it out. It was a 95% blockage in one of the main arteries. Who knows what could have happened G-d forbid on the plane. An angioplasty cleared the blockage and now he is free to travel back home safely.

A life was saved thank G-d through S.Y.’s caring and responsible intervention.

As S.Y. told me his story, I remembered that I had heard a similar story just a few days earlier from a visitor to Beth Elisheva’s daily afternoon service.

It was related to Tefillin.

Dr. H. told me that he was in the airport in NY checking in to a flight to Israel. He needed to use the bathroom and didn’t want to take his Tefillin which he was carrying by hand, into the bathroom. He saw a Jewish couple nearby and asked them if they could hold his Tefillin for the few minutes. After retrieving his Tefilin he conversed for a few minutes with the couple and noticed that the woman didn’t seem right. Being a doctor, he asked a few questions and came to the conclusion that she has a delicate medical condition and shouldn’t be flying. They indeed went straight to a medical clinic, and it was confirmed that she needed medical treatment. Again, a life was saved because of a concerned person who acted to intervene responsibly. In this instance it was a doctor who through his commitment to honoring Hashem’s mitzvahs, was granted the gift of saving another life.

The common denominator of both stories is the great mitzvah of saving another person’s life.

Another thing that stood out was the uplifting way the protagonists of the story related this to me. Their voices reflected joy and feelings of gratitude to Hashem for being able to have the merit of saving someone else's life.

There are so many things that we can be grateful for in our lives.

Every morning when we wake up, we make twenty blessings of thanksgiving.

Click here for more information and guidance to incorporate these blessings of gratitude to your life).

Before we eat, we make a blessing and recognize the gift G-d gives us of food. After eating we thank G-d for the food. These are parts of our life that we are aware that we ought to be thankful for.

For the most part we recognize the great gift of helping someone else. Often helping someone else is not so easy. Effort, sometimes great effort, is required. Some people refer to it as a ‘pain in the neck’ when they get requests of help from people.

However, at the end of the day, they recognize that this is the greatest form of joy.

When looking back at your day, your week, your month, your year or your entire life, there is so much precious joy in the knowledge that you were able to contribute beneficence and goodness to someone else.

How much more so the gift of literally saving someone’s life.

What we sometimes don’t realize is that we need to be grateful to G-d even when He places us in a position of neediness. When we need to be recipients of favors from others, we must also thank G-d for that role in life.

If you are like many people I know, when you need to ask someone else for a favor, you cringe. You would rather be the provider, rather than the receiver.

Let me present a reframing of asking for favors.

(Care must be taken that this information doesn’t fall into the ‘wrong hands’).

Have you ever considered that when Hashem puts you in the position of needing kindness from someone else, He has given you a ‘giving’ role as well?

How so?

Hashem has designated you as His messenger to deliver a gift to the person you are asking for help.

The gift of the mitzvah opportunity of being kind to a fellow.

(I say it must be saved from ‘wrong hands’ as it is possible for someone to use this way of thinking in a dysfunctional way becoming an ingrate and taking advantage of the kind persons benevolence).

To sum it up.

Hashem has created His world with giving and receiving built into the very rubric and rhythm of creation.

Sun and moon. Male and female. Givers and receivers.

In each of these roles, the receiver is also a giver.

A group of wealthy people were once complaining to their Rebbe that he was asking them to help the poor too much. To which the Rebbe responded that Hashem created two groups. Receivers and givers. Hashem intended for the wealth he entrusted to the rich people, to be His way of supporting the poor people from whom He had withheld abundance. If you – the wealthy ones – are not happy with your role as being the Givers on Hashems behalf, the other group – the poor ones – are standing by and quite happy to take on that role. “Would you like to flip roles”, asked the Rebbe?

You can imagine the answer. Nobody volunteered to give up their role of being on the side of the wealthy ‘givers’ to be on the side of the needy ‘receivers’.

Today I want to speak to those in the role of receivers.

Fortify your faith and trust in G-d.

He has not withheld from you the gift of wealth.

Rather, He has GIFTED you the individual financial status that you are currently struggling with.

It is valid to ask Him and pray to Hashem for a change in that gift, for a few more zeros in your bank account, but from a place of inner serenity and peacefulness knowing that Hashem is your loving Creator and is directing and overseeing every single aspect of your life.

While you are still in the receiving mode for the most part, meditate on the fact that as well as receiving, you are also giving.

You are giving your benefactors the gift of giving.

Sometimes, allowing someone else to help you through a touch patch, may be lifesaving – literally – for the giver.

A social worker once told me that a woman she was counseling through suicidal depression would ‘come to life’ whenever talking about the help she was providing to others.

Conventional thinking is ‘woe to me that I need to ask someone else for help’.

Counterintuitive thinking is, ‘I will embrace my role in the world of giving and receiving and right now I need to receive graciously’.

As I have said, and it bears emphasizing, this way of thought, requires caution not to be misused. But it’s the truth.

Do you see the connection with the Parsha of Vayakhel?

Hint: every Jew contributed to building the Mishkan sanctuary for G-d in his or her own way. (Click here to see it spelled out).

Do you notice the connection with the second Torah we are going to read from on this Shabbat speaking about the half Shekel?

Hint: by giving a non-complete shekel, we are reminded that each of us is in need of the other to become complete. (Click here for more on this theme).

How about the connection with Rosh Chodesh Adar II (Sunday and Monday)?

Hint: the fact that we have two Adar months – i.e. a leap year – is to realign the moon and the sun. Giver (sun) reflector (moon). The leap year represents their alignment. (Click here for more on this).

May Hashem give us the gift to give to others graciously. If we need to receive, may Hashem give us the healthy mindset of seeing the blessing in receiving.

And most importantly, may we recognize that each and every one of us is an indispensable part of the community.

In the spirit of Adar, here is a joke that Rabbi Gordon told: (click here for full article).

I am reminded of an adorable story about a mechanic that was called in to try to fix a gigantic cruise ship that suddenly stopped working. Surveying the situation, and after making an elaborate show of taking out all his tools, he proceeded to tighten one single screw, and then announced that the ship was repaired. The mechanic’s bill arrived a few days later, for $10,000! Unwilling to pay such a hefty sum for seemingly minimal work, the cruise operator requested an itemized invoice. The revised invoice arrived: $1.00 for turning the screw; $9,999 for knowing which screw to turn.

My dear friends, what we know from the stories regarding space shuttles (tragic Challenger explosion) and airliners (Boeing door blown off) is that every rubber seal and every bolt a small as it may be is critical to the functioning of the huge and powerful aircraft.

Each and every Jew is even more critically needed for the community to be wholesome.

Every person must look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘I was created to serve my Master’. I am needed. I am not a spare part. Without me Hashem’s world is incomplete.

The proof? He created me. He doesn’t create ‘junk’.

Engage in your mission. G-d will bless you and bless the collective.

May Hashem bless us with secure peace, health, and the safe return of all who are in captivity and let us ask for the real ‘gold’ – the ushering in of world peace and harmony, the coming of Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Chodesh Tov (for Sunday).

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Inspired to be a hero?

By the Grace of G-d Dear Friend, In this week’s Torah Parsha we read about the Jews worshipping the golden calf and G-d’s suggestion to Moses that He wipe out the current people of Israel and make a fresh start. Hashem proposed that He would rebuild a new Jewish nation from Moses’ offspring. Moshe’s reaction was unequivocally decisive. Moses told G-d ‘And now if You would forgive their sin (all is well) — but if not, erase me now from this book that You have written.' This constituted the ultimate sacrifice by a leader who’s entire being was about Torah. Nothing was more important to Moshe than the Torah. Nevertheless, when his flock was facing a serious danger, he put himself and his own wellbeing on the side, in order to save his people. A truly selfless act! Indeed, Moshe is described as being the humblest man on the face of the earth. We are living in times when heroism is tragically very prevalent. So many of brothers and sisters in Israel, army, first responders, medics and civilians have given their lives as heroes. A friend has shared a fund he is involved in to help the families of the heroes and when you watch the video it’s heartbreaking. Every hero that has fallen affects all of those loved ones around them. At the same time, it is deeply inspiring and empowering to recognize that selfless sacrifice is not embedded in history and books, but it is alive and well within people of flesh and blood like us. Often it leads to the feeling that if one’s time on earth is up one would hope to pass on in a selfless heroic way in the service of others. This kind of death is called ‘Kiddush Hashem’ sanctification of G-d’s name. Those who pass away for being Jewish, for standing up for G-d and His people are called ‘kedoshim’ ‘holy’. We are privileged to be hosting scores of living ‘holy’ heroes at our Chabad Houses throughout Thailand. The stories that these chayalim of the IDF are sharing depict valiantly heroic bravery and unlimited commitment to protecting and saving our people. Meeting heroes brings one to contemplate their own life from that prism. How can I be a hero is what comes to mind. I would like to address a different form of selflessness. One that it is within reach of each of us. A few years ago, I busy working in my office at Chabad House near Kaosarn Rd when one of the rabbinic interns called me to tell me that there was a young lady who was in tears and asking to see the Rabbi. I interrupted what I was doing and met with the distraught young lady. Rebecca told me that she had just gotten tragic news via her email. One of her friends from college in the USA had been found dead, apparently it was suicide. For the better of an hour Rebecca poured out her heart and expressed emotions that ranged from pity for the loneliness her friend Joe must have felt to do such a terrible thing, to anger at the selfishness of inflicting this kind of pain to the circle of family and friends who will grieve him. Rebecca was no stranger to the tragedy of self-inflicted death as her grandfather had done the same thing. Rebecca’s very own mother had not known her father who had taken his own life when she was but a young girl of three. There was not all that much I could add to the conversation through words. Most of my contribution was my empathetic silence which I find to be the most important in these kinds of conversations. The strong message that I heard from this young lady was the fact that taking one’s life was simply something that was selfish. She was well positioned to make that observation. Her mother had grown up fatherless as a result of such an act. ‘Didn’t Joe know how much I and all of his other friends cared for him’ Rebecca kept asking in anguish. I tried to steer Rebecca more towards feelings of pity for the young man. He was obviously in great pain, and we should view his act as a moment of ‘temporary insanity’ (indeed Rebecca confirmed that he did have a history of emotional illness). Here is the ‘counterintuitive’ message I would like to share. Inspired to be a hero? Sometimes the most humble, selfless and noble thing you can do is simply to be the best ‘you’ that you can possibly be. It may not seem glorious or heroic to fulfil the responsibilities you have to those around you and to G-d, but that is exactly why it is so honorable and holy. You may be the only person who can fulfill the role, even if you feel like escaping from it. Don’t run away from yourself. Embrace your mission. Believe it or not, we are happiest when we do what we are meant to do. Our lives become most fulfilled not when we spend inordinate amounts of time figuring out what makes us happy but rather when we step up to doing that which we are needed for. And each and every one is needed. Every single creation of G-d has a task. Here is the basic meditation to battle feelings of worthlessness if they come to bother you.. It is quite simple. Tell yourself: ‘G-d created me, and He doesn’t create anything in vain. He doesn’t create ‘spare parts’. My job is to concentrate on doing the next right thing that deep down I know I should be doing. Sometimes it’s not exciting to fill the roles G-d has given you in life. Sadly, it may sometimes even be excruciating. But ultimately, doing what is right (absolute right is defined according to the instructions of G-d in his Torah) is the only way to be truly and authentically living up to G-d’s intention for you in His world. And there is a great benefit to following this path. Fulfilling your life-tasks is the ‘long short path’ that brings with it the most happiness both for the person himself as well as for all his loved ones. The heroes who have fallen in the line of defending and caring for the Jewish people in our times and throughout our long and event-laden history, deserve our admiration and gratitude. They also implore us, that we turn this inspiration into positive action. As King Solomon taught (Kohelet 7, 2) ‘the living shall take to heart’. Our lives should be lived more ‘heroically’ and ‘selflessly’ one deed at a time. For some people, going to work and faithfully bringing home a paycheck to care for their family is tedious and uninspiring. But it is selfless because their loved ones are fed, clothed, and housed. Doing a mitzvah even when you don’t feel like it. Helping a person in need when they irk you. For a person who feels G-d forbid like they are not interested in being alive, their heroism is even more basic. Simply by not doing anything self-destructive and by breathing, eating and drinking they are heroes in their selfless determination to keep going. Choosing life is a G-dly choice. Staying true to your values even when severely challenged, is selfless and heroic. On the other hand, surrendering ones moral values in the face of confrontation is cowardly. Let us be inspired by Moshe, the Macabbees, our soldiers and all of our glorious heroes throughout our history who have stood up for truth, faith, community and all of the moral values taught to us by Hashem in His Torah. This period of adversity, is our moment to be a golden link in the chain of Jewish history. Let us recognize the opportunity we have. Let us stand together, proud of our role to be ambassadors of light, moral clarity and holiness to the world. Click here to see thousands of Jewish teens in NY’s Times Square last week in show of positive and optimistic Jewish pride. And here for their ‘count on me’ event. Minute by minute, mitzvah by mitzvah, choice by choice, keep choosing right over wrong, light over darkness, good over evil LIFE OVER the opposite of life. These steps are not earth shattering, they are eminently achievable, and if we do them consistently they will break through the darkness and pain of our current state and usher in a world of peace, holiness, goodness and kindness. MASHIACH NOW! Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Yosef Kantor

missed flight

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

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

Where can I go from that?

Something more stupendous?

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

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

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

December 1997

Dear G,

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

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

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

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

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

Sincerely,

 

YK

 

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the joke I shared.

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

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

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

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

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

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

The Parsha relates as follows (Kehot interpolated translation)

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

Click here for more on this topic.

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

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

On the surface it sounds very negative.

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

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

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

The world today is darker than yesterday.

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

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

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

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

Forward march.

Upward climb.

More good deeds.

More Torah.

More shining altruistic behaviors.

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

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

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

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

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

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

We also have more access to knowledge and information.

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom with much joy.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

incredulous Divine Providence

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

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

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

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

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

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

It started off as a simple email.

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

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

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

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

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

Here is the story that he told me.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The other threesome of miracles are as follows:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Here are the three open miracles that saved my life.

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

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

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

The note now moves into a reflective tone.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

We want Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

A joyous Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

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

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

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

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

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

Tomer went off to New Zealand to calm down.

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

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

As an afterthought, Tomer shared an additional detail.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Donkeys carrying loads are so mundane and uninspiring.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

As this story illustrates:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Less words. More action.

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

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

This year is a leap year with two Adars.

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

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

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

משנכס אדר מרבים בשמחה

Have a Joyous Shabbat,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

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