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"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Extraordinarily ORDINARY

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Last Friday night as I was thinking about the upcoming week, I realized that there was nothing extraordinary about it.

It was the first full week after the High Holidays/Sukkot without even a ‘minor’ special day like Rosh Chodesh or 7th of Marcheshvan.

Just an ordinary week.

There are not so many weeks that are that ordinary.

Extraordinarily ordinary.

Which lead me to an obvious conclusion. On week that is ordinary, one should focus on finding the specialty in the ordinary.

You see, we tend to pay attention to the extraordinary moments of our life.

The births, bris, baby namings, bar/bat mitzvah, engagement, wedding, milestone birthdays and anniversaries and perhaps even unexpected financial windfalls. Those are the events and moments that stick out.

 Our calendar is dotted with memorable days that comes only once a year. Annual Festivals like Pesach, High Holiday, Purim Chanukah and a few more.  

Those are highlight moments.

They are exhilarating and uplifting. They inspire us and gladden our hearts.

But are they truly the ‘nuts and bolts’ of life. In terms of quantity and duration of time, it is the mundane daily grind that takes up most of your living time. Those ‘regular’ hours that are sometimes monotonous and often boringly predictable. There is no away around it, as not exciting as they are, these are the ‘meat and potatoes’ of life that occupies most of our life here on earth.

Think of food types. Desserts, even G-d’s natural sweets, like succulent fruit, are sweet and enjoyable. But you can’t be eating goodies all the time. Good nutrition is made up of things that are duller and more dependable, like grains and proteins.

True, joyous lifecycle events are enjoyable and warm. Most of our lives though, we are living ‘life as usual’. Working not partying.

It would be sad if one resigned oneself to life those many days of ‘life as usual’ without joy and warmth. If one kept his or her exuberance only for entertaining guests and ‘highlight’ moments.

The goal of our Jewish Festivals is not just to elevate the actual days that they fall out on. Rather they are tasked with the mission to change the mundane days that follow them as well. Not just to be holy on Rosh Hashana. Rather we are to bring that holiness into the rest of the year that follows. Even into the 9-5 of our working environment.

To be happy on Sukkot and Simchat Torah is not something that ends once the Chag finishes. Rather we are to take that joy and infuse it into our observance of G-d’s commandments for the duration of the year.

Our feeling of passionate devotion to G-d at the climax of Yom Kippur should be injected into our entire being. Impacting us in such a way that whatever we do, we do as passionate children of G-d.

Much as a marriage anniversary celebration should not just be about the moments that are spent reliving the great gift of their marriage. Rather the couple ought to inject the relationship with a depth that remains activated and alive even on a rainy Wednesday morning when one of the spouses wakes up feeling grumpy.

An ordinary week bring with it extraordinary opportunity. It allows us to inject our ordinary life with the extraordinariness of G-d’s mission to us here on earth.

The mission is:

Bringing Heaven down to Earth.

Creating a place, a dwelling, for G-d, here in the lower spheres. Not in Heaven. Heaven already knows about G-d. Here on earth, we need to swamp the universe with the awareness of G-d.

This is not just about lifetime cycles or annual cycles. In a way, it’s a daily pattern. If you look at your daily schedule, you will find that there are highlight moments and inspirational components, and conversely there are dull and very ordinary moments.

We pray to G-d and study His Torah first thing in the morning. This is intended to create a focus and chart the path for the day. To bring holiness that can then be infused into the continuation of the day. When we are instructed by G-d to go out from our Synagogues and Houses of Study and go to work. To do mundane things.

What do I mean by mundane things? In the olden days it would mean going out to the field to plough, plant, and harvest. Today its more about bargaining, buying, haggling, selling. Or pushing buttons on a computer. Food industry. Medical industry or whatever other conduit G-d has provided as a means to pay your bills. As well as the things we need to keep our body and soul united and healthy. Like eating and drinking. Spending quality time with family and friends. These are not ‘holy’ engagements perse like praying or studying Torah.

It is precisely during these ‘earthly’ experiences that we need to make sure we are ‘heavenly’ oriented. We do this by remembering the ‘why’ of our existence. We eat, because we need to have healthy bodies to carry out G-d’s mission here on earth. We work so that we can do the mitzvah of supporting our families and of giving Tzedaka and helping others. And so on.

In this way, the ordinary is transformed into extraordinary. The mundane is transformed to being a conduit of holiness. It is almost like we have an opportunity to be an ‘alchemist’. To transform the ‘lower spheres’ into a vehicle for hosting the ‘upper spheres’.

That’s called transforming the ‘ordinary’ into the ‘extraordinary’.

Those were my thoughts about this week, before the week started. That I was looking at a very ‘ordinary’ week. Perhaps even a bit dull.

However, G-d had other plans.

Immediately after Shabbat I got the horrendous news that a young person had passed away tragically, and we needed to repatriate them to their home community for Jewish burial.

On Sunday I had a trip to Phuket to meet M, an old friend and an avid supporter of our work.

It was an extraordinary meeting on many levels. It seemed as an afterthought. As we were finishing our meeting, M told me that he has a lifechanging piece of advice for me. ‘Reach out to people who have Bitcoin to support your work’ he told me. Interesting. I had not ever paid much attention to the cryptocurrency topic, but apparently it has turned into something quite profitable for those who had it from the beginning. M said that there are people out there who have the ability to give Tzedaka from their bitcoin accounts. I followed M’s instruction and opened an account for receiving bitcoin donations. Click here.

On Tuesday night I got an emergency call from a distraught NY mother who had a son backpacking in our part of the world and was very concerned about pains he had in his abdomen. During these Covid times it was not simple to find the nearest person on the ground. Through our regional Chabad network, thank G-d we located the closest contact and was able to reassure the mother that her son would be looked after. Thank G-d it turned out to be a false alarm and was a temporary gastro ailment.

On Wednesday O, an expat who has lived here for quite some while, asked if he could come over to have coffee with me and chat. (BTW feel free to reach out to schedule a time for coffee if you would like to catch up with me, I will try my best to accommodate please G-d). I was schmoozing with O and mentioned that my friend M suggested that I take bitcoin seriously. Would you believe it? O started to tell me that he had invested in the cryptocurrency platforms way back. Seems like he knows the field very well. I hadn’t heard of crypto till recently and in one week, twice.

During the week I got a WhatsApp from a dear friend who has relocated to the States due to Covid and was apprehensive about the move at first. It turns out that the move has done absolute wonders for his families deepening connection with Torah learning and Jewish observance. I was overcome with joy for this friend and for the progress he was making in his life.

I had some deep and meaningful conversations with some peers this week. In each of those conversations I got to see the hand of Divine Providence in the most obvious way. I was majorly uplifted by these Providential events.

Oh, at the beginning of the week, I went to sleep a bit grumpy one night. Something was bothering me. The next morning, I woke up and felt like a new person. The bothersome thing hadn’t gone away, but it now excited me rather than bothered me.

A while later, after prayers, I opened my ‘mobile data’ and allowed my WhatsApp and email in. I was delighted to find a new picture in my inbox. The picture is from two days before Yom Kippur in 1988. It is a picture of the Rebbe giving me honey cake (Lekach) and wishing me a sweet year (link to picture). I had never seen the picture before, it was recently uploaded in the Jewish Educational Media’s website as they digitalize their vast amount of still pictures.

I now understood the spiritual energy behind my uplifted mood. When the Rebbe, a Tzaddik, gives you sweet honey cake, it is not just for then, it is a gift for life. A gift that comes with a responsibility. To share that sweetness and holiness with others. When the picture was sent to me by my brother who discovered it, my spiritual subconscious, my soul, must have felt it. When your soul feels the sweetness of the Rebbe handing you sweet spiritual energy, you cannot be anything but an inspired joyous servant of G-d.

There is more to be said about my ‘ordinary’ week. But I will stop here.

Have I made my point?

Ordinary is not so ordinary.

Even when it is ordinary, we must remember that our mission is to inject the mundane with holiness.

G-d takes us ordinary people and empowers us to the extraordinary.

To bring Heaven down to Earth.

The full culmination of the wedding of Heaven and Earth will be the coming of Mashiach.

May it be speedily. AMEN

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Price of Fish in China?

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

When I was a kid and someone was trying to make a point that was totally irrelevant, there was a popular idiom that was used.

‘What does that have to do with the price of fish in China?’

It’s a rhetorical question. It means, ‘what does your comment have to do with the matter we are discussing’.

Our son Mendel just moved to Vegas with his family (his father-in-law Rabbi Harlig is the head of Chabad of Southern Nevada) and was looking around for a car. Mendel told me that there is a shortage of cars for sale in the USA because of Covid.

That saying came to my mind. ‘What does Covid have to do with the price of fish in China’.

Well, turns out that maybe the price of fish in China is not the culprit, but ‘chips’ coming out of China are to blame. Obviously I don’t mean potato chips. I haven’t heard of any shortage of those. (If there were less potato chips it may be good for our heath…). Rather ‘semiconductor chips’ that are used in modern cars. Little ‘wafers’ that have intricate components of electrical circuits and wiring. They are made in factories in China. There is a shortage of those very advanced chips.

The internet is full of theories about why there is a shortage.

For my purposes in this article, it makes no difference as to what the cause is. The point I wish to bring to your attention is the fact that when a little ‘wafer-chip’ is not as readily available as it was, the big hunks of tin known as cars, are less available.

This can be summed up by one concept that is very much heard about these days.

SUPPLY CHAIN.

When it comes to procuring all the ingredients required by factories to produce an object, we are all dependent on the supply chain.

We are also dependent on the availability of shipping those ingredients from their origin to the producing factory.

I have heard from my friends who are importers and exporters that the price of shipping containers is through the roof.

Turns out that we are indeed a global village. When a semiconductor factory in China’s output gets reduced, or when shipping is backed up, people in far off Vegas get hit with ‘price adjustments’ in the car market that push up prices to unreasonable amounts.

So yes, what is going on in China has everything to do with car sales in the USA.

Why am I sharing this?

Because now I better understand another story that I heard as a child.

A rabbi once chided his devout disciple about becoming a bit lax in one of his intense Torah study commitments. The student didn’t seem to think it that his very minor slacking off was something to criticize him about. After all, it was a very small infraction, and he was still doing way more than most others. The rabbi told him that his performance or lack thereof was very impactful:

‘The Jewish People is like one living organism. If you reduce your intense study commitment, the ‘barely hanging on Jew’ at the ‘edge of the village’ may neglect his observance of Judaism entirely’.

It dawned on me that through my newfound appreciation for the importance of the ‘supply chain’, I can now relate to this ‘community chain’ much more vividly.

Yes, the semiconductor chip may be very small and for someone unaware, very insignificant. But if there is a hiccup in that small chip, vehicles cannot roll off the production line to consumers in an uninterrupted way.

You may think that avoiding putting forth that extra effort won’t make a big difference to anyone but you. That is not the truth. For it may be that your exertions are exactly what the Jewish collective needs right now to keep things humming and balanced.

What part of the supply chain are you?

Are you the computer? The brake pads? The shipping company? The finance company?

That is a question that only you (perhaps in consultation with your spiritual coach) can truly answer.

But whatever your role in the Jewish People is, be mindful that it is not just you who is affected by it. It is critical to all of us.

Let me start off with what you definitely should not do.

You should not dismiss yourself as being inconsequential to Am Yisrael.

Even if your role in the supply chain doesn’t seem particularly significant, without you playing your role, the chain will be defunct.

This week’s Parsha tells us that Avraham was offered gifts by the king of Sodom whom he had saved by going to war with the opposition kings who had conquered Sodom. Avraham personally refused to take anything for himself, but he agreed for his servants to be rewarded.

Avraham divided the gifts offered to him by the Sodomite king between his two groups of faithful servants. Half went to the servants that had gone to battle at his side. The other half went to the servants who had remained behind to guard the vessels. Why the soldiers get a reward is obvious. They worked hard and fought valiantly. But Avraham did what is not so obvious and also gave half the of the gift to those who had stayed behind to guard the home front.  For they too had played a vital role in the successful outcome of the battle. Without knowing that the families back home were safe, the warriors couldn’t effectively fight.

The reward was divided equally, creating a precedent for the future in terms of equitable distribution of war spoils.

The lesson therein is critical to understanding collaborative undertakings.

The positions may be quite different and diverse from each other. The front lines of the army is a different scenario than the civilian duties on the home front. But they are both critical and indispensable.  

In life we all have different roles and duties. Maybe your G-d given mission is to be a mover and shaker. On the other hand, you may be assigned by G-d the role to be a behind the scenes facilitator.

One thing is for certain.

YOU have a role to play in the world.

And YOUR role is critical.

Maybe more significant than you can imagine.

(This week on the 7th of Marcheshvan the Jews in Israel began to pray for rain, (outside Israel we wait till the eve of December 5th). The collective request for rain was delayed for two weeks after the Sukkot holiday so that the ‘last Jew’ who lived near the Euphrates river could arrive home from the pilgrimage to Jerusalem before the community asked for rain. Rainy conditions are not conducive for travel. We are instructed to wait for the ‘last Jew’ who lives on the periphery of Israel, to arrive home first.

That is an amazing application of the concept of Ahavat Yisrael – love of fellow Jew. Even if 99% of the community needs rain, we feel for our friends who are still traveling and hold back our prayers for rain till they get home.

There is an allegoric meaning to this as well:

the “last Jew” is the most distant Jew in the spiritual sense—the one whose occupation is the most material of all. Yet all Jews, including those whose missions in life have placed them but a stone’s throw from Jerusalem, cannot pray for rain until the lowliest of pilgrims has reached home. For without this last Jew, their work is incomplete; it is he, more than any other, who represents what life is all about. (click here for full article).)

So what should you do?

First of all, DO.

Do what your Jewish soul pulls you to do.

Do what your study of Jewish History and the burning desire that Judaism continue to exist, motivates you to do.

Jewish continuity is hinged on YOU stepping up to the plate.

Learn more Torah.

Perform more Mitzvahs.

The ritual mitzvahs between you and the Almighty alongside the social mitzvahs between you and your fellow.

Support more Jewish institutions and leave a legacy gift to Jewish continuity in your will alongside your request for a Jewish burial. (See below, we have thank G-d completed the transfer of land for a new Jewish cemetery in Chachoengsao)

When you feel lethargic and your mind starts creating excuses for why you can’t or don’t want or need to do your bit, remind yourself of the supply chain.

I am sure you wouldn’t want others to suffer or be deprived because of your short-lived self-gratifying indulgence.

Do the right thing!

Not just for yourself.

For ALL OF US.

When you do the right thing, and I do the right thing, we get a healthy supply chain and the G-dly blessings flow uninterrupted and in a great abundance!!!!

Hastening the arrival of Mashiach. AMEN

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS We are about to announce details regarding our new Sefer Torah campaign. Every Jew in Thailand will be invited to ‘purchase’ their own letter in the Torah. Any amount will be accepted as payment for that letter. This campaign is about recognizing that every Jew is deeply rooted and connected in the Torah. Stay tuned….

Chag Samayach

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Sukkot is every bit as joyous as I was hoping.

Perhaps this year I am attuned to it more than ever because it comes against the backdrop of an unusually challenging era.

The glowing feeling of being securely ensconced in G-d’s embrace is uplifting, serene, liberating, and transformational.

Even as the world around us continues to be disrupted and uncertain, Hashem remains an eternal constant, upon Whom we can and do rely.

Sitting in the Sukkah is a poignant and audio-visual sensory reminder of Hashem’s protection and care. We need but to ‘recharge’ our ‘faith-batteries’ and we are good-to-go, to dance our way back into the world fully ‘charged’.

Why do I mention disruption and certainty? What happened now?

Two things, affecting people and objects very close to me, shook me up over Sukkot.

My hometown of Melbourne, Australia. A dependable, usually not overly unpredictable place. A bit boring at times, in a good way.

Something totally unpredictable happened in Melbourne. On the second day of Sukkot, Wednesday Sep 22, they had an earthquake of almost 6 on the Richter scale. It was short, but long enough to be scary. Our daughter Mushka who lives in Melbourne, told me that she huddled with her children under the doorposts. One of my friends told me that he was so rattled that he said the ‘Shema Yisrael’ as is the custom when one thinks that their time has come, and they are passing away from this world.

Thank G-d there were no injuries to anyone!!! A real miracle!!!

It happened on the second day of Sukkot.

(One rabbi in Melbourne shared that he was shaking his lulav at that exact time… and the walls of his home started shaking with him… that must have felt very other-worldly…)

Sukkot reminds us that we are all vulnerable. So does an earthquake. How much more so when an earthquake comes on Sukkot. But Sukkot also provides the response to our feelings of helplessness.

By sitting in the small ‘Sukkah’s’ we construct, we remind ourselves of G-d protecting our ancestors in the ‘clouds of glory’ as they left Egypt. And He continues, for more than three thousand years now, to be the only ultimate provider and protector of us and of all that we hold dear. Even the usually unflappably dependable stability of ‘mother earth’ is only because G-d wishes it to be so.

The gift of Sukkot is the invitation to tap-in to the source of all stability. Once you ‘plug’ into a solid connection with G-d, you are able to live a serene, or at least a less stressful, life.

Actionable item: We have a Sukkah in JCafe, in Beth Elisheva, and mobile Sukkah’s. Feel free to reach out by email or phone to schedule to make a blessing in the Sukkah and wave the Lulav and Etrog in all directions as well. By doing so you will be taking concrete steps to invite Hashem’s protective aura from all directions and in every aspect of your life.

Here in Bangkok at Beth Elisheva something happened that was very close to home, and even more so, close to heart and soul.

Due to a crack in the building, the rain started leaking in from the roof on top of the Aron Kodesh – Holy Ark.

Initially, when we first discovered it, rain was dripping inside the Ark on the Torah, and it seemed like G-d forbid a tragedy had befallen us and the Torah’s were ruined.

Upon further inspection, once we took out the Torah’s and inspected them, it turned out that we had experience a miracle of sorts.

First of all, the fact that the leak started on Monday evening this week is a miracle. Because this Monday evening was the first night of Sukkot. Only because of Sukkot, were we downstairs at the Synagogue on a Monday night. Because the next day was the first day of Sukkot we opened the Aron Kodesh to prepare the Torah’s for the reading next day.

Because we discovered the leakage so soon after it started, the Torah’s were slightly damaged but not ruined.

Actually, all the Torah’s besides for one, seem to be fine. One scroll did get quite soaked at certain parts. But, after opening the scroll and leaving it overnight it seems like the parchment has some wrinkles at some areas, but the Torah letters are all intact. Which means that it remains a kosher Torah to be used for many years to come. This too is a miracle, as the damage could easily have been worse. (In order to be absolutely sure, we will send it for a full check-up by an expert scribe in Israel).

The initial shock that registered on the faces of everyone who saw the possibly ruined Torah, spoke volumes about how deeply and inextricably Jews are bound up with the Torah. It was as if someone they loved dearly had gone through an accident where the worst was feared. The relief on everyone’s faces upon learning that the situation was far better than imagined, was like getting a positive prognosis from a doctor that the injuries were not life threatening G-d forbid.

Indeed, the Torah teaches that ‘Israel, Torah and the ‘Holy one blessed be He’ are all one’. This threesome, the Jews, G-d and His Torah are inseparably intertwined with each other. It is thus of no surprise that everyone was so deeply touched by the possible loss of this Torah.

When one thinks about what could have happened, and how we were saved from that possible outcome, one realized that we experienced a miracle and for that we are joyously thankful to G-d.

Being thankful is great. Acting on that gratitude and showing just how much the Torah’s being saved means to us is even more impactful.

Perhaps there is an actionable message here.

The actual Torah that was affected, was the ‘community Torah’. This was a Torah scroll that was written especially for our Jewish community in Thailand. It was commissioned and paid for by the contribution of many tens of members of our community. It was initiated at the time after our long standing Sefer Torah had become invalidated.

Maybe it is time for a new unity Torah?

Truth be told, by amazing Divine Providence, this idea was already germinating in my head without me even knowing it.

Just two nights earlier, I had been listening to a talk that the Rebbe gave forty years ago (1981) the night before Sukkot. The Rebbe had initiated a campaign to unite as many Jews together as possible by having them ‘purchase letters’ in the Torah and ‘writing them into a Torah scroll’. When a Jew pays for a letter to be written into the Torah in his or her merit, it becomes so to speak ‘their letter’. Each letter of the Torah is irreplaceable. Thus, by having your own letter in the Torah, you become united with the other hundreds and thousands of Jews who have also partaken of this Torah.

Every Torah has 304,805 letters.

That is a lot of opportunity for unity.

The purpose of this campaign, explained the Rebbe, was not to increase the numbers of Torah in the world, which is in itself a holy mission but not the purpose of this particular campaign. It was a campaign to generate unity.

We had done this before in Thailand. And it was this unity Torah that had now been damaged.

I looked back at my records to see when exactly the former Thailand unity Torah had been written.

Twenty years ago exactly. At the end of Sukkot.

A lot has changed in twenty years. Many have been born. Some have passed. Our community has grown. Not just in Bangkok but in many other provinces and cities.

Join the dots.

Do you think it may be time to write a unity Torah again?

Let it sink in…

Let us think about it over Shabbat…

And then, if you like I think that it may be a Heaven-sent opportunity, let’s work on the details.

Shabbat Shalom,

Chag Sukkot Sameach,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Positive start?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

A new beginning.

After the High Holidays, followed by Sukkot and Simchat Torah, we begin to read the Torah from BERESHIT – In the Beginning…

We all like to start things off on the right foot.

Thinking back to my school years, the first pages of my notebooks were far neater and invested then the subsequent pages.

The Torah begins on a fantastically optimistic, bright and positive note.

The first item that Hashem created on day one of creation was LIGHT.

In describing the creation, G-d uses the word ‘TOV’ – good, six times, for the six days of creation.

On day six, just before the informing about the seventh day in which G-d rested, the Torah sums up creation as being TOV M’EOD – VERY good.

There is an email that sticks in my memory. It was many years ago. It was a challenge to an article I had written.

I had written an article describing how man is innately good and positive.

Someone sent me an email hotly contesting what I had written about man’s intrinsic goodness. The person quoted an explicit verse in the portion of Noach, where after the flood Hashem promises not to destroy the world again because man is evil from the get-go. "I will no longer curse the earth because of man, for the imagination of man's heart is evil from his youth, and I will no longer smite all living things as I have done’ .

This year, I was reading a talk from the Rebbe delivered on this Shabbat in 1964 and this very topic jumped out at me from the text on the page.

The Rebbe commented on his own pre-Rosh Hashana letter that year, (click here for full letter) where he had stated:

There were times when the said idea, namely, the ability of a single individual to ‘transform’ the world, met with skepticism, and demanded proof etc.

However, precisely in our generation, unfortunately, we do not have far to seek to be convinced of this. We have seen how one individual had brought the world to the brink of destruction, but for the mercies of the King of the Universe Who ordained that ‘the Earth shall stand firm; shall not fall’.

If such is the case in the realm of evil, surely one’s potential is much greater in the realm of the good. For, in truth, creation is essentially good, and therefore more inclined towards the good than the opposite.

The Rebbe asked a question on his own above premise that ‘creation is essentially good’ quoting the verse from Noach about the heart of man being ‘evil from his youth’. Based on that verse, asked the Rebbe ‘how could I have written that creation is essentially good’?

I was so excited to see the question spelled out. Because it has been mulling in my mind since that person asked me the question.

The Rebbe answered, that based on the verses quoted above about creation being good, the true essence of creation and of man is good.

The Torah says that unequivocally. And even after Adam sinned, Hashem still summed up creation by saying ‘it was very good’.

However, the innate goodness is only the true essence, at its deepest core.

Once you proceed outward, to the less essential and deep levels, there indeed man has negative tendencies from his very youth.

On the surface, the world is not good. There are many aspects that are just downright bad.

But, Hashem calls the creation ‘good’ because at its core, it is GOOD.

‘How does that help?’ further asked the Rebbe. We don’t live at our ‘core’. We live with the reality of what is evident at face value. And the negativity that we encounter around us, flies in the face of the Torah’s description of humankind and the world being essentially good.

The fact that the world is good at its core, is extremely helpful, answered the Rebbe.

There is an intrinsic and gargantuan difference between the task of transforming a bad world into good to the work required in merely uncovering the negative layers of externality and revealing the innate good from within.

To sum it up.

We, you and I, as well the entire world created by G-d, are innately good.

The negativity that we have in ourselves, and in the world is only an outside addition.

We need but to dig deep and shovel away the dirt, to hit GOLD.  The gold that is deeply embedded within us and is actually the truest level of ourself.

Let’s get to work and discover our true selves.

This is achieved by studying Torah.

Simchas Torah and Shabbat Breishit is the time to make good resolutions about studying Torah! Sign up to a daily study program at Chabad.org or if you would like something that emanates from Thailand, one of our local community has a ‘weekly nutshell’ or the ‘daily aliyah’ that he sends out weekly and daily respectively. If you would like to be on that list please click

By doing mitzvahs.

Mitzvahs between ourselves and G-d.

Mitzvahs between ourselves and our fellow.

And let us work very hard, to always see that innate good in others.

And may G-d bring our essential good to the fore!

This is what will happen when Mashiach comes. The inside, essential goodness of humanity and the entire creation, will be revealed!

Can’t wait for that day.

Gotta do more deeds of goodness and kindness to hurry it up and hasten his coming NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

what notes are you taking?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Q.

Do Rabbis Make Mistakes?

A.

Yes.

In some of my emails I got the dates of Yom Kippur wrong…

Yom Kippur begins from before sunset on Wednesday September 15 till nightfall on Thursday September 16.

Q.

Will we be having ‘in-person’ Yom Kippur services in Bangkok?

A.

Yes. But we are optimistically awaiting the results of today’s meeting of Thailand’s Covid-19 administration to see what further relaxation of rules will allow for.

Q.

Is it ‘holy’ to speak about money on the ‘HIGH holy days’?

A.

Short answer. YES it is a mitzvah.

Long answer click here.

ACTIONABLE ANSWER:

Please consider contributing to our annual ‘Jewish Thailand High Holiday giving days’ by clicking here.

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

On Rosh Hashana at the blowing of the Shofar I pray to be taken back in my memories to the golden years that I merited to hear the Shofar blowing by the Rebbe in the overflowing synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway, Brooklyn NY.

It was not the actual sounds of the shofar that are so much embedded into my memory, rather the sweetness and soulfulness of the Rebbe’s voice as he said the pesukim (verses) before and after the shofar blowing. As well as the melodious and soul stirring recital of the blessings before the Shofar. These are memories that I hang on to dearly and they become more vivid as I stand near the Torah’s preparing to blow the Shofar for my community.

There was one item in particular that stands out in my mind as it was unique to the Rebbe. I have never heard of it being done anywhere, certainly not by ‘regular’ shofar blowers or rabbis.

The Rebbe would enter the synagogue on Rosh Hashana morning followed by his secretariate who were carrying packages of something wrapped in brown paper and tied by string. These were placed near the Rebbe’s seat till the time came to blow the Shofar. Then they would be carried to the raised bimah upon which the Shofar would be blown. They were placed before the Rebbe on the bimah just in front of the Shofars that he was about to blow.

The Rebbe, before beginning the recital of the pre-Shofar pesukim, would throw his tallis over himself and those packages for several minutes. His body would heave with emotion. Those close enough could hear him sob, deep tearful sobs.

Thousands of people were packed together with not an inch available between them. The natural noise ceased, and it was totally quiet as all eyes would be on the Rebbe as he carried out his holy tasks of the service of G-d. The scene was pure and angelic.

Those minutes felt like eternity on the one hand yet passed fleetingly on the other. We all sensed that something deeply spiritual was taking place, albeit, we had no inkling of what that was.

It was uplifting and spiritually charged. I try and keep it alive and fresh in my mind, anxious that G-d forbid the time that passes could bring forgetfulness and erode those irreplaceable images from my mind and heart. I pray to G-d that those inspiring and uplifting moments of holiness are not taken from me.

What were in those packages?

Notes, or in the Yiddish, ‘tzetalech’. Hundreds of them. Perhaps thousands of them.

Presumably, notes of petition from Jews around the world. Asking the Rebbe to pray on their behalf.

But which of the notes that streamed to the Rebbe throughout the year in thousands made it to be there at the Shofar blowing in front of the Rebbe?

What notes did the Rebbe take under his Tallis and cry copious tears over?

Here is the enigma.  We know that many of the ‘tzetalech’ that were brought to the Rebbe throughout the year, he took with him to his father in laws ‘Ohel’ resting place and after reading them and praying on behalf of the petitioners he would tear them and leave them on the grave.

(We learned from the Rebbe’s conduct how we could best perform our own prayers when visiting the Rebbe’s resting place, and similarly write a note and leave it at the holy site after tearing it. The staff at the Ohel even have a service where you can send a note to be placed at the Rebbe’s resting place by email or fax www.ohelchabad.org . During the High Holiday period it is extremely active as people write notes praying for a good, sweet year).

Some notes the Rebbe would bring back with him to his office.

Before Rosh Hashana we would traditionally write a note asking the Rebbe to pray to G-d on our behalf and for those who were in NY we could even hand it to the Rebbe personally before Rosh Hashana. (click here to see some footage of that tradition).

(if you have a few moments, click here to get a fuller perspective on why it is the Jewish tradition, to ask a Tzadik, alive or even deceased, to pray on your behalf. Taking into account of course that it is a cornerstone of our belief that we all have a direct connection to G-d and pray directly to Him without intermediaries, G-d forbid).

Perhaps it was those notes that contained requests for prayer that we had handed him just before Rosh Hashana?

Perhaps it was a compilation of extraordinary notes that he had received during the year?

I don’t know, and I don’t know if anyone knows….

But I can bare my soul and share with you, what kind of notes I speculate the Rebbe would take under his tallis for the most sacred moment of the year, the blowing of the Shofar.

You see, I have been blessed to be a rabbi of a community that is very special. A community of Jews that includes such a variety of backgrounds and nationalities all united by a love of G-d, Torah and fellow Jews.  A community that knows how to embrace with love the myriads of guests who pass through their doors and treat them like extended family. The variety of those who pass through Thailand is colorful. From businessmen who come here for work, tourists who come for leisure, to those who just happen to land up here as Thailand and get attracted to stay.

As a rabbi, and especially a rabbi of this kind of special community, I can tell you that there are certain ‘notes’ i.e., situations that come to my attention, that I think may have made it under the Talis.

The heartfelt emotional cries to G-d for health. The pleas to G-d for making enough money to keep a roof over the family’s head. The prayers to G-d to grant mental health and emotional stability even during these ultra-challenging times.

The ‘why’ notes. Why me? Why, after I took upon myself to get closer to G-d and do more mitzvahs, why did G-d send me the greatest challenge of my life?

This just gives me not even the smallest inkling of the frustrations, the pain, the challenges, the absolute ‘I can’t go on like this’ contained in the notes that must have come to the Rebbe. I can only surmise, from my small bag of conceptual ‘notes’ that I have collected over this past year from the people of our community, how vast that bundle that came to the Rebbe from around the world must have been.

Why did the Rebbe bring it to the Shofar blowing.

Once again, the only one who could truly answer that question would be the Rebbe, and I don’t recall ever hearing that the Rebbe had explained this custom unique to him.

But I will share what I feel as it may be inspiring to you as well and then it will be worth it although I tread in terrain that is out of my depth.

The Rebbe quoted many times what the Baal Shem Tov taught, that the blowing of the Shofar is like a plaintive cry emanating from the depths of a young child’s heart:

FATHER SAVE ME!!!!

The shofar blast is wordless.

Not limited to any particular language or any configuration of letters or words.

(click here for R’ Yitzi Hurwitz’s article on this).

It doesn’t even get uttered by a human. Its human breath making noise as it comes from an animal’s horn. This symbolizes that this cry is unfettered and not limited by human intellect which may temper or limit the primal depth of the cry. It is a base, instinctive and innately primal cry.

It is coming from the deepest recesses of our Jewish heart as we turn to G-d and cry out to Him. Wordlessly, existentially, in a compelling piercing cry that is irresistibly arousing of His divine mercy

FATHER…

A father who hears that kind of cry from their young child doesn’t need to hear the word ‘father’ or ‘save me’. The mere sound of voice of the child. The intensity and depth of the tone of the cry, they express it more deeply than words.

This is what is taking place at the Shofar blowing.

The Rebbe’s as the ‘head’ of the Jewish people had a consummate sensitivity to the needs of others. Thus, his piercing cry to the Almighty, carried with it not (just) his requests, but the requests of the entire Jewish people. Furthermore, the Rebbe himself taught, that a true leader places his people even before him.

These requests to G-d that were spelled out in detail, contained in the hundreds or thousands of notes that had arrived at his office. These were the pleas, cries and entreaties that he carried on his shoulders as he prepared to blow the shofar and cry out:

FATHER……

This year, thank G-d, we were blessed to be able to blow the Shofar here in Bangkok. The government relaxed the rules just six days before Rosh Hashana. We had small minyanim (less then twenty five people, as per the law) and we blew Shofar in the park. While it was raining all round us, on the first day of Rosh Hashana it was dry in the park and we had a Shofar blowing and short service with Tashlich.

On the second day of Rosh Hashana there was a veritable deluge that stopped just forty five minutes before the Shofar blowing time, the flooding on the streets was still draining, and it would have been comfortable to assume that nobody would come to our appointed Shofar blowing. We set out, and greeted one Jew who had indeed come to the Shofar blowing only on this second day of Rosh Hashana. It was exhilarating to be able to blow the Shofar in the midst of the Bangkok tumult and proclaim the oneness of G-d amidst the multitudinous distractions around us.

We turned to G-d, as did Jews the world over and cried out

FATHER……

And indeed, G-d our Father in Heaven hears our cries.

And we are supremely confident that He is blessing us with a good and sweet year.

Which leads me to discuss another kind of note that may have been there under the Rebbe’s tallis.

The notes of good news.

Many thoughtful people wouldn’t just share their troubles with the Rebbe and ask for his blessing. They would come back to him with the reports of how his blessings had helped. How the situations of grim prognosis had resolved themselves miraculously. How they turned out to be opportunities to be recipients of G-d’s miracles and to proclaim the greatness of G-d.

They would share how the Rebbe’s blessing and insight helped them gain clarity. How they now realized that even as they were suffering, the closeness to G-d that was brought about through their trials and tribulations had birthed something special within their soul.

How even though it didn’t make logical sense, and the ‘why’ wasn’t answered, the fact that they had come closer to G-d before their suffering, was a source of strength to withstand their difficult times. Without having had that closeness to G-d brought about through the mitzvah, the challenge would have thrown them into a sense of despair and hopelessness.

Then there were the many notes of commitment and achievement that people sent to the Rebbe. How they had pledged to study more and had successfully progressed in their study of Torah and observance of Mitzvahs. Some shared their goals of tzedakah giving and how that had brought them success in their earnings.

There were ‘lifecycle’ notes asking for confirmation and blessings for engagements, marriages, informing about births, bar mitzvahs, weddings and passing’s.

So I ask you, which notes do you think were under the Rebbe’s tallis?

Once again, I don’t know.

But I do know what I can learn from the Rebbe’s notes under his tallis.

Today, in 2021, thirty years since 1991 when I last heard the Rebbe blow the shofar himself we live in an ‘information age’.

We have access to information from around the world.

Things that only the Rebbe would have been informed about, as people wrote to the Rebbe from around world literally and shared their news.

Back then, we didn’t know most of those things. Our knowledge was limited to people in our immediate circles.

Today we know about a lot of those things that once upon a time were known only to the Rebbe. (I refer to ‘natural knowledge’ not to the spiritual powers that Tzadikim have, that is beyond the scope of this article).

It is incredible how many more painful situations we have become aware of because we live in an information age.

People passing in an untimely way. Orphaned families. People battling illness. Parents receiving a special-needs child to raise. Breadwinners struggling to place bread on the table. Loved ones tormented and traumatized by a dear one taking their own life G-d forbid.

The list goes on an on. We are in an ‘information age’, we know so much about so many people. We take it in and often promptly forget about it.

I know we forget about it, because sometimes when I say ‘WE WANT MASHIACH NOW’ I get a look from the person I am talking to who is not sure why it is so critical for Mashiach to come. In our minds we may sometimes be thinking, times are pretty good these days.

But that is because we have forgotten. The needs and suffering of others is not obviously in our consciousness.

Here is my humble suggestion about what we can learn from the Rebbe’s custom in enhancing our own Yiddishkeit.

As we stand before Hashem during these special days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we ought to bring all those ‘notes’ and entreaties to G-d and put them into our consciousness.

To remember and pray for all those people suffering.

To emphasize with and pray for all those who are having a rough ride.

To pray for ourselves as well. But to pray first and foremost for others.

And not just to pray.

To act. To help. Assist. Encourage. Reach out. Say a nice word. Bring a smile to someone else, and if need be, a loaf of bread and money for essentials. Share an inspirational thought.

But most importantly not to forget to activate those ‘notes’ whose content, when we recall them, cause us to cry out to G-d from the deepest recesses of our hearts

FATHER!!!!!

SAVE US!!!!!

And then, to also, to recall those notes of ‘nachas’.

Particularly to remember those blessed things that have been gifted to us personally by the Almighty.

We tend to ‘kvetch’ and remember the problems. It is really important for us to remember and praise Him for the good things.

The big things, and the small things. Pay particular attention to the gifts that are taken for granted. That are really HUGE but we call them small because we rely on them being constantly here.

Like every breath that we take.

And thus let us cry out in joy!

at the same time that we cry out in pain, yes, its paradoxical, but we are an enigmatic nation after all. (click here for related story)

FATHER

THANK YOU!!!!

May you be blessed with a SHANA TOVA UMETUKAH

A Good and Sweet Year!!!!

Shabbat (Shuva) Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

פ"ב F(uture) B(etter) Shana Tova

I cannot resist sharing this ‘message from Heaven’ of sorts.

The ‘grab’ car that came to pick me up today was literally brand new.

The driver spoke a mixture of Thai and English with me.

He was saying that he feels optimistic about things become better in the ‘pee mai’ which means ‘new year’ in Thai. The driver meant December. But obviously for us, ‘pee mai’ means tonight when the new year is ushered in.

Nice. Hashem sent me a new car, with a driver who is talking about a new year. Cool, as they say.

But it gets better.

The driver says in English ‘FUTURE BETTER’ and repeats it a few times ‘FUTURE BETTER’.

My mind converted the words ‘future better’ to Hebrew and the letters F and B as in פ  and ב  jumped out at me.

I couldn’t resist sharing it.

It’s a blessing that was relayed to me by an unsuspecting Thai taxi driver… . תשפ"ב may this year bring a FUTURE BETTER as in a BETTER FUTURE.

I hope it brings a smile to your face… the Rabbi hearing messages through taxi drivers?

Yes, Hashem is everywhere and messages of Divine Providence can come to us in every which way. It is only up to us to recognize G-d’s presence and to act as we would act in His presence.

And it’s a call to action. To become better in the future!!!

May WE become better in the future and may our future indeed become better.

And for those who recall that תשפ"א   stands for פלאות אראנו may G-d show us wonders (Pei for wonders), then this year the ‘bet’ in 5782 can stand for ‘everything’ as in ‘may it be a wondrous year in every single aspect’ in absolutely everything פלאות בכל

The main reason I am writing to you today, is to send you my prayerful wishes for a good and happy year materially and spiritually.

In the traditional words, may you have a Ketiva Vechatima Tova, Leshana Tova Umetukah.

May you and your loved ones be written and sealed in the book of the righteous. For life, health, prosperity, peace at home, nachat from offspring and may the ultimate blessing of Mashiach coming be a reality NOW.

Rabbi Yosef & Nechama Kantor

mummy proud of me

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

One of my grandkids brought home the following note to their mother from their pre-school teacher:

Hi,

‘Levi had a great day today, … the cutest thing happened the other day he made a drawing and he said he hoped you would like it. He thought about it and then said actually, mummy likes everything I make even when I don’t try, she likes it’

I am deeply impressed at the quality of our daughters’ parenting skills which has impressed indelibly on her child’s inner self that he is loved and valued by his parents no-matter-what.

This unconditional love is a fundamental part of building a child’s self-confidence.

I started to ponder.

How does one provide that feeling of total acceptance and at the same time instill within the child a motivation and drive to put forth effort and keep progressing?

It’s a dance of sorts.

As children, in our formative years, we look to our parents for validation.

On the one hand, when parents show children that they value effort, the children are driven to try harder.

On the other hand, when parents are judgmental and demanding, the child may feel intrinsically unworthy. That they are only loveable if they perform to the expectations of them.

Obviously, there is a balance that is required.

For some, the balance comes naturally. For many, it requires constant revisiting and recalibrating.

I can’t stop revisiting the note in my mind and admiring how relevant it is to our pre-Rosh Hashana self-reflective mode.

Our relationship with Hashem our G-d also incorporates these two facets, for He is our Father and we are His children.

On the one hand, He loves us unconditionally.

Yet, He has expectations from us.

He redeemed us from slavery by taking us out of Egypt and thus expressed His love to us. He liberated us. Fed us. Clothed us. Gave us the greatest eternal gift of divine communication, the Torah at Sinai. And continues to nurture and sustain us.

Yet, He also spelled out in no uncertain terms that He wants us to live up to certain standards.

What happens though if we don’t live up to his expectations?

It jumped out at me from the Parsha this week.

Last week’s Parsha related what happens if G-d forbid we don’t listen to Hashem. Quite harsh words are used.

From reading JUST those verses one could mistakenly feel that G-d’s relationship with us is intensely judgmental.

And actually, that is what the Jewish people felt. After hearing how seriously G-d took their adhering to His commandments they began to feel that they could never ‘make the grade’ and it wasn’t even worth it to put for the effort to try and please their stern Father in Heaven.

Immediately after those strict words, Moshe reacts to this feeling and reassures the Jewish People that first and foremost G-d loves them. Unconditionally.

Here is how it reads in the Torah (Interpolated translation of Kehot based on Rashi):

29:1 After the people heard Moses’ 98 curses and recalled the 48 curses God had threatened them with earlier, they became frightened, doubting if they could endure such suffering. Moses therefore summoned all of Israel in order to reassure them of God’s love for them, and said to them, “You have seen before your very eyes all that God did in Egypt, to Pharaoh, to all his servants, and to his entire land:

the great trials that you saw with your own eyes and those great signs and marvels. You have indeed appreciated these miracles, and they have taught you to believe in God’s omnipotence and to respect His word.

3 But this is not enough. You must also learn to appreciate God’s kindnesses. However, until this day, God did not give you a heart to know, eyes to see, and ears to hear—that is, with which to appreciate—His great kindnesses, specifically, how—

4 and here Moses continued in God’s name, “I led you through the desert for forty years, during which time your garments did not wear out and fall off of you, nor did your shoes wear out and fall off your feet.

You neither ate bread nor drank new wine or old wine, but instead ate the miraculous  manna and drank the miraculous water from the well—all this in order that you would know that I am God, your God.”

Continuing in his own name, Moses said, “Furthermore, you came to this place, the territory east of the Jordan River, and King Sichon of Cheshbon and King  Og of Bashan came out towards us in battle, but we smote them.

We took their land, and we gave it as an inheritance to the tribes of Reuben and Gad and to the half-tribe of Manasseh.

8 So you see that God truly loves you. In order that you be sufficiently impressed by God’s kindness, you must safeguard the words that constitute this covenant by studying them diligently, and fulfill them, in order that you succeed in all you do.”

Moses’ words of reassurance continue into the first verse of the next  parashah: Look around; you see that, despite having angered God on numerous occasions already, you are all still standing firm. Just like the day, which is overtaken by the night but overcomes it in turn, you have enjoyed periods of tranquility in the past and so will enjoy more in the future, despite whatever suffering you may endure in between. And it is precisely the dark periods of life that will strengthen you, enabling you to endure forever.”

In other words, Moshe told the people of Israel, G-d loves you unconditionally.

Even when he punishes you it is rehabilitative. For your own good. Not to be vengeful or vindictive G-d forbid.

Our traditional observance of Rosh Hashana highlights this balanced relationship.

On the one hand, every year at Rosh Hashana we prepare copiously, examining our deeds and making resolutions to be better. In a sense we tremble with trepidation before the ‘day of judgement’ of Rosh Hashana.

Yet, we don’t express our nervousness in our demeanor. We dress in our finest clothing. We eat a festive meal. Our general behavior is intended to portray a sense of confidence that we will be written and signed into the book of life, health, and sweet things.

Some communities focus more on the judgement aspect of the day and don’t get so intimately involved in the joy derived from the festive culinary and clothing component.

Some place more emphasis on the joy generated by the culinary and festive component.

They are both true. It’s a question of emphasis.

Coming back to that note about my grandson.

Here is what I am thinking.

For a child, knowing that he will be valued even if he doesn’t do anything is critical. It is the gift of a healthy self-esteem that will empower him for life.

That is the foundation upon which education can best thrive.

As an outgrowth of this healthy sense of self worth a clearly defined sense of values and standards should be communicated.

Not the mistaken message of being valued or validated only if the child lives up the expectations of them.

The exact opposite.

A child should feel that because of the high esteem in which they are held, it behooves them and is appropriate that they live up to a certain value system.

In our generation, the Rebbe taught us that the proper way to reach out to fellow Jews is by following the Ba’al Shem Tov’s path of highlighting and emphasizing the love that G-d has to each and every Jew.

Not by wagging fingers and criticizing.

By projecting the unconditional love of G-d to each of us.

That whether or not a Jew does a mitzvah he or she is loved unconditionally by G-d.

And because He loves us so unconditionally, He gave us the Torah with its list of do’s and don’t-do’s. Those are the standards and values He wants us to live by because of His great love for us.

The mitzvahs are essentially not for ‘Him’. They are for us. To give us the chance to be in a relationship with Him.

When we don’t live up to His expectations what happens?

Last weeks Parsha said that their are consequences.

But this weeks parsha reconfirms, that even those consequences don’t in any way indicate a lessening of His unconditional love to us.

It starts with love.

It continues with love.

It will end with love. When I say ‘end’ I mean this stage of the world referred to as the ‘galut’ ‘exile’. ‘Redemption’ means that G-d’s love with be expressed openly and in a revealed way.  

My dear friend, may G-d’s love to you be expressed by your being inscribed and sealed to the book of life, health and sweet things, culminating in our total redemption with the coming of Mashiach.

Shana Tova

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

'the smile'

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I want to tell you about the power of a smile and the importance of Judaism done joyously.

But first I want to describe the potential long term negative effect brought about when Judaism is not doing smilingly and joyously.

Nearly ten years ago, Y.G., a retired Jew living upcountry in Thailand was contemplating having a ‘second bar mitzvah’ on his 75th birthday. We were in contact about it, and he wrote me the following.

 

Dear Rebbeleh,

 

The Torah is a baffling thing to me. It is all mysterious and out of bounds as though to say. I am afraid of it. I'm afraid of doing something to make it angry at me. I have great trepidations over it. This is why I'm afraid to be bar mitzvahed again.

 

I think I told you once, when I was on the bimah at the Mount Eden Ctr. in the Bronx being bar mitzvahed, I held the end of my tallis to kiss the Torah while I was standing there in front of it, and my hand slipped out of nervousness. the tallis slipped and my finger hit the actual Torah parchment, and I nearly blacked out with fright. I remember seeing totally black, and I did not focus out of total fear.

 

Rabbi …. really scared the living hell out of me. I expected a lightning bolt to come down and just consume me on the spot. He was more orthodox than even you. When I had to recite the lines before reading, I simply was at zero voice. so, they let the kid after me go before me. there were 4 bar mitzvahs for Haftorah Baluk the same day. I managed to do it, and I did it well. you know how clear and bell-like the voice of a 13 yr old can be. I was clear, melodious, wonderful. I surpassed my greatest expectations, made my mother cry, made my father proud, made Rabbi Reiss stand there next to me like it was all his doing. I swore it all off the moment it was over.

 

I never went near a shul till Bangkok. We are talking from 1953 till I met you. you are a non-scary Rebbe. I like you. And I touched the Torah, and I'm still alive. I always attribute it to God being bored with 4 bar mitzvah bochurim the same day. He went for a nap and did not catch my transgression.

 

Y

 

We did a small ‘bar mitzvah’ service on Y’s 75th birthday. When Y read about a bar mitzvah that had taken place in Korea, he penned the following note which he shared with me.

 

I'm very heart-hardened, but reading about the South Korean bar mitzveh really got to me deeply. I actually felt tears welling up. when I hit my 75th year, I was re-barmitzved in BKK at shul by Reb Yossie Kantor, and I think I felt the same way as Logan felt. Good for you, my boy. Enjoy your life and at one point in your life be bar mitzved again. There is a private, inner joy that cannot be expressed or shared. It is so deeply individual.

 

Y.G. Thailand May 28, 2017

 

Besides for the above-described bar mitzvah rabbi in the Bronx, Y. also had a very devout and pious grandfather who had emigrated from Vilna, named Reb Alter, who seemed to have been quite an imposing stern figure. Although he passed away when Y. was a young boy, the image left in his head of Reb Alter, was one of demanding and exacting expectations. In his own eyes, Y. always felt judged as not good enough by his late very serious grandfather. Y’s relationship with G-d developed along the lines of these adult leadership figures in his life. The way he ‘pictured’ G-d was as a very strict short-tempered grandfather who was obsessively looking out for an opportunity to punish him for doing the wrong thing.

 

(Y. obviously had a very strong and deep Jewish identity as he went on to emigrate to Israel and heroically serve in the paratrooper division of the IDF from 1964 till after the six-day war. After that he became a teacher in Canada and eventually retired in Thailand passing away a few months ago).

 

In the many conversations I had with Y over the two nearly two decades that I knew him I got to know him well. It became evident that the perceived judgmentalism of his grandfather and the later his bar mitzvah rabbi (whom he referred to as a ‘killjoy’), seemed to define and color his relationship with G-d and Judaism for the rest of his life.

 

In Y’s mind it was as if G-d was looking to find a way to ‘catch him out’ for doing something wrong. It was very hard to ‘unlearn’ that kind of deeply embedded feeling.

 

It led me to really internalize that a lack of smile, and a too-strict approach may not be the best recipe for Jewish continuity.

 

(It is important to bear in mind that while Y had a certain adverse reaction, I definitely do not mean to look judgmentally at his grandfather and bar mitzvah rabbi who came from a very different background than the American born youth they were interacting with. I am sure they were good people that meant well, and many Jews were inspired by them. It never ceases to amaze me how two people can talk about the same experience with vastly different descriptions. Just like two kids with the same parents can turn out totally different…  With all of our best intentions we can never know how our actions are received by others).

 

Now I would like to tell you the story of a smile. For me it’s ‘the smile’ of my life.

 

It was thirty years ago exactly. 17th of Elul 5751 – 1991. The summer camp that I was a head counselor of, had ended. The entire camp had now come to Brooklyn for the grand finale of the camp season. Praying Mincha with the Rebbe at 770 Eastern Parkway and the children being given a special talk by the Rebbe. At the end of the talk, the Rebbe distributed packets of dimes for tzedakah to the head staff to distribute to the children. Three to each child.

 

My two colleagues and I went to the Rebbe to get the dimes for distribution.

 

The Rebbe blessed with a ‘lichtigen yohr’ (an illuminated year), l’shana tova umesuka’ (a good and and sweet year). The Rebbe then instructed us to distribute three dimes to each child and added ‘make sure to take for yourselves as well’. As the Rebbe said those words his face broke out into a broad smile. You can get a glimpse here…

 

That smile took but a split second on the clock, but became imprinted into my soul for eternity.

 

Why did I get a smile on that day?

 

Because I was a great guy? No, I didn’t for a moment think that I was a perfectly behaved Jew and deserved such a smile.

 

The smile told me that despite my imperfections I was valuable.

The smile emphasized to me that the Torah way is to try and find something good about a person and highlight that positivity.

 

Was it somehow precipitated by the fact that I had made a great effort to provide the three hundred campers with a healthy and inspirational summer experience was deserving of a smile?

 

I don’t know.

 

I mean, I don’t know what the Rebbe was thinking.

 

I do know, that thirty years later, living in lockdown, facing challenges that rabbi-school didn’t prepare me for, that smile uplifts and inspires me.

 

To try to do my best even if its not perfect.

 

That my contribution is valued and meaningful.

 

Most importantly that smile reminds me that the most important thing we can do for our own relationship with the Almighty is being joyous.

 

That the best possible path for ensuring our children’s connection to G-d, is by doing Judaism joyfully.


SIMCHA!!! JOY!!!!

 

Y was a colorful person.

 

There were only two dreams he shared with me as far as I can recall. One was very comical… and I can’t resist sharing it.

 

In 2007 just three days after his 67th birthday Y sent me the following dream:

 

Rebbeleh,

 

I had the strangest dream in the world. I dreamed you and I were in shul in New York City, located in the basement of Hunter College at 695 Park Avenue in Manhattan. The only way out was through a trapdoor in the ceiling and in order to reach it one had to stand on a piano. Then we both got up to the street level, and opened the doors to go into the street, and a man dressed like a postman came out and passed us and he looked like Bernie, and said to follow him. so we did. And as we walked, more people attached themselves to us and followed us, and soon there was a procession of thousands of New Yorkers, and we walked to Houston Street on the Lower East Side near Yud Lamid Peretz Square and potato and kasha knishes started falling from the sky and it rained sour cream. And the entire crowd ate and ate and licked their fingers. And that's where the dream ended.

 

I think, "Gott hut mir geshtroff'n" (G-d punished me).  What a strange dream. But I did wake up with a taste for real knishes….

 

Cordially,

 

Y

 

The next dream he shared was 13 years later. This was a dream that touched me deeply.

 

It was the year of his eightieth birthday. I had implored Y that I wanted to visit him on his 80th, just as I have had the great merit to visit other community members on their eightieth birthday (the Torah tells us that elderly people are to be respected for their age irrespective of any other aspect). I said that I would happily drive upcountry even for just a few minutes with him. Y forbade me to come. He wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to be visited. I had to respectfully not visit.

 

On July 13, 2020, Y wrote me the following:

 

Rebbeleh,

 

I dreamed I talked to THE Rebbe. We sat side by side and shmoo'est (chatted) a bit, and he was just a nice Zaydeh (grandfather) and I loved him for it. I told him about Reb Alter too, and how he was a misnoged (non-chassid). THE Rebbe just laughed and said it really did not matter as we are all the same Jews, no matter what.

 

Y

 

I couldn’t believe my eyes. The dream that he had was exactly on his 80th birthday in the Jewish calendar. (I had a reminder set up in my calendar for Y’s Hebrew birthday).

 

Here is what I wrote to him:

 

Y

 

You bring tears of joy to my eyes!!!!

 

I wanted to visit you on your eightieth birthday… IT IS TODAY (21 Tammuz corresponding to July 27 1940) but you got something even BETTER.

 

The Rebbe came to visit you in your dream…..

 

And indeed the Rebbe loved every Jew and made every person feel loved and special…..

 

Thanks for sharing this special dream with me!!!!!

 

In the Chassidic tradition, when one has a dream of the Rebbe the next day is a celebration…..

 

With love and blessings to you for more years of Gezunt, and everything else you wish for yourself!!!!

 

If you would call me and give me your brochess today (it’s a mazeldikeh day for you!!!) I would be delighted.

 

Zeit gebensht un zeit gezunt,

 

Yosef Chaim

 

PS if you would allow me to come out there and wave at you in person I would be even more delighted 😊

 

Y left me a note to be kept in my safe and only read after his passing. In it he said he would come to say hi from ‘there’ and would even help me write a Friday sermon. I am using this opportunity to share some of the inspiration that Y provided me with. Y was an avid reader of my weekly article.

 

Most importantly I would like to use the reminiscing that Y shared with me about his youth, as a springboard for influencing and enhancing the way we relate to the Almighty and to His Torah and Mitzvot and thus generate an 'aliya' (ascent, uplifting) of Y's neshama-soul in Gan Eden!!!!

 

This weeks Parsha speaks about serving G-d with joy.

 

I use Y’s inspiration to teach us and highlight how much the Torah’s emphasis on JOY is absolutely critical for our generation. It resonates in one’s heart for seventy years.

 

Personally, the smile that the Rebbe gave me thirty years ago continues to uplift me and inspire me to smile.

 

Clearly the smile was not meant to be held selfishly by me. I was entrusted with it, to empower me to spread the smile to others.

 

My dear friend, you too hold the keys of the transmission of Judaism in your hands.

 

Make efforts to inject your own relationship with G-d with smiling and joy!!!

 

Thus you will be contagiously spreading the joy of Judaism onward and outward.

 

We celebrated the birthday of two great luminaries earlier this week.

 

The Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the entire Chasidic movement and Rabbi Shneur Zalman the founder of Chabad.

 

The great visionary leaders of the Chassidic movement emphasized over and over again the great and immense power of using joy as the portal and mood through which to best serve G-d.

 

Rabbi Shneur Zalman taught that just before Rosh Hashana, Hashem is like a benevolent king who goes out smilingly to allow his subjects to greet him in the field. We can approach the king just as we are, without having a special appointment, or being clothed as befits appearing before royalty, and ask for what we need.

 

What a gift we have been given by the birth of those great luminaries, to be taught that that we can approach our relationship with G-d in the loving and joyous model that is provided by the masters of Kabalistic and Chasidic thought.

 

Living our lives in this way, will enable us to share effectively share our Jewishness with our loved ones, friends and any Jew we come into contact with.

 

Blessings of a successful ‘count-down’ to Rosh Hashana, a Shana Tova and a Shabbat Shalom.

 

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

struggling? striving!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I will admit. I am struggling.

But I am happy about it.

Well, let me clarify what I mean.

It’s not like I enjoy struggles just for the ‘fun’ of it.

But I have learned and observed that it is impossible to get from point A to point B without friction, movement, effort and even at times a struggle.

There is something worse than struggling.

It is called apathy.  Indifference. Listlessness. Or even worse, lifelessness.

Yes, struggling is a sign of life.

Let me reframe the concept of struggling more positively by using some of the synonyms that my computer brings up: trying, battling, fighting, striving, grappling.

Essentially all of these words convey one theme. That one is not happy with the status quo and is endeavoring to change it.

This weeks Parsha speaks about going out to do battle.

Many of us cringe at the word ‘battle’. Confrontation makes some of us uneasy.

But battles are necessary at times. The forces of good needs to fight the forces of evil to restrain them or better yet, to rehabilitate them, training and transforming the evil to become good.

Battles are not just the stuff kings and governments decide about.

Battles are fought all the time in our very own minds and hearts.

Every day we face choices.

Do we choose generosity over greediness?

Morality over immorality?

Good over evil?

We are always meant to strive to make better choices.

Click here for JLI’s short impactful video on this topic

The Torah instructs us to do battle. To TRY and overcome. In other words, when things are not as they should be, get up and go out to try and change things for the better. Don’t just go limp and lifeless G-d forbid. G-d forbid when times get tough, don’t just lie down and give up.

Battle the status quo.

Just in case the world ‘battle’ makes you feel uncomfortable, let’s not get sidetracked by using the word ‘battle’. Instead let’s replace it with the synonym ‘striving’.

We are always striving. Or at least we SHOULD always be striving.

Make sure to go into the ‘striving’ mode with a positive attitude. Think and project success.  Imagine the victory you will have over your enemies. Over your inner enemy. Over the voices within you that tell you to give up. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Try your best to do your best.

There is much to struggle about when its only two and a half weeks away from Rosh Hashana and your country is in a major lockdown. With a government limitation in most of Thailand, prohibiting gatherings of more than five people, it is only natural that a Jew would be feeling a little anxious.

How are we supposed to feel upbeat without the benefit of having in person meetings with our local Jewish community?

Every Jew waits all year for the HIGH HOLIDAYS. It’s the HIGH point of our calendar year. Seeing so many familiar faces during the High Holidays. Meeting so many new faces. And enjoying Rosh Hashana dinner with the extended ‘mishpacha’ of several hundred.

How can one not struggle with their feelings under such conditions?

I hope I don’t let you down by admitting that it is a struggle.

I wouldn’t share it if I didn’t know that I am voicing what many others are also feeling.

STOP. Enough of this kvetching and moaning. (I am speaking to myself here).

The Torah tells us to be JOYOUS. To view every situation POSITIVELY.

Yes, it’s a struggle.

But we will WIN the struggle. We are NOT giving in!!!

This is battle that we can win!!!!

Remember, the same Almighty who told us to be joyous and celebrate a meaningful Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is the same Almighty who controls every single aspect of our reality.

Since it is He who has brought this pandemic situation to the world, we can be certain that He too will give us the strength to be positive, spirited and inspired during these upcoming High Holidays. Even if we may be limited to praying and dining privately in our own – less than five people – venues.

On a practical note, regarding the upcoming High Holidays.

We are waiting to see what the governments rules will be for September. Once we know what the rules are, we will formulate plans and put forth our very best efforts to celebrate the High Holidays – Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and then Sukkot and Simchat Torah in the best way possible. Of course, safely, and responsibly, abiding by the guidelines set forth the government.

There is a crucial component when trying to draw down Hashems blessings.

One has to TRY to do something to help themselves.

It’s a story in the Midrash.

Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa observed the people in his city going up to the Jerusalem laden with animals for sacrifices.

R’ Chanina was very poor. He was not able to afford to buy animals for sacrifices

He said, ‘all are bringing gifts to Jerusalem, and I am not bringing anything’.

What did he do?

He went outside the boundaries of the city and saw a rock.

He chiseled away the parts that were jutting out. He smoothed it and polished it till it was shiny and extraordinary.

‘Now I need to take it to Yerushalayim’ he said.

He looked for workers to help him transport the heavy stone. He found five workers and asked them if they would help him transport the stone to Yerushalayim. The replied that if he would give them five selah’s they would help him. R’ Chanina looked for money to pay them but at that time did not find the money and the would-be porters left.

Hashem brought five angels who looked like humans and R’ Chanina asked them if they would help.

They responded that they would help if he would give them five selah’s (payable at the destination) but with one condition. That you, R’ Chanina, help us by placing your (hand and) finger on the stone to help us carry it.

R’ Chanina placed his (hand and) finger together with those of the five men. Suddenly R’ Chanina found they were standing in Jerusalem.

Now that the job was done, R’ Chanina went off to look for money to pay. But the five men where nowhere to be found. R’ Chanina went to ask the judges in the Sanhedrin what to do regarding the fees he owed to the porters. Upon hearing the story the sages told R’ Chanina that these must have been angels who brought up the stone to Yerushalayim. No payment was needed.

The story teaches us a very important lesson.

When things look insurmountable obviously one must pray to Hashem for help.

This story tells us that Hashem wants us to try. Even if it is only putting out forth a hand or even just a finger.

When one puts forth an effort, even a small one, one becomes a vessel for drawing forth Hashems blessings.

Actually, the lesson of the Midrash happened to me in real life a few weeks ago.

I was driving along the coast of Phuket to a meeting on another part of the island. I saw the object in the road, it must have been something sharp, as I felt the tire lose its air the moment I went over it. Thank G-d there was an extra lane at the side of the road exactly where my tire went flat. And a beautiful view of the ocean. I am not exactly proficient in changing flat tires. It took me phone calls to the rental company and google searches to even find where the jack was stored.

I was hoping someone would see me in my non-mechanic-looking white dress shirt and offer help, but nobody stopped. Moping and ‘kvetching’ at the side of the road wouldn’t help me so I rolled my sleeves up and got to work. I got the equipment out. Got out the spare tire. And started to attempt to jack up the car.

The moment I had started to jack up the car, a telephone-company car stopped, and two very nice technicians took over. In a few minutes they had my tire changed.

I was amazed. This is exactly what the Midrash story taught.

And this is what I want to share.

Struggling?

That is the first good step. It means you haven’t given up.

And DO SOMETHING about it.

What can you do?

First of all, reframe your struggle by using the synonym: striving. It sounds more positive.

And then, find something that you CAN do. Even if its like a small finger trying to pick up a boulder.

As the Rebbe once wrote to a despondent person ‘doing SOMETHING, even the smallest of things, is better than going to sleep, or even worse, falling into a deep slumber’.

What can I do right now?

Right now I can give you a heartfelt and sincere blessing:

KETIVA VECHATIMA TOVA – LESHANA TOVA UMETUKAH

May you be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year!!!

And I can share with you that it is a Jewish tradition to share blessings for the upcoming new year with all of your friends and acquaintances.

Now you have something that you can do.

You too should reach out to others wishing them all the best.

And don’t forget to share with them that they too should reach out to THEIR acquaintances to bless them with a good and sweet year.

Thus, the ripples and effects of the blessings will circle the globe and elicit Hashem’s blessings of health, beneficence, shalom for our world.

Culminating in the ultimate of all blessings, the coming of Mashiach, AMEN.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Home? Home!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I write these words from Bangkok…

Yesterday we arrived back ‘home’.

After being away from ‘home’, ‘on the road’, for a while.

Overnight, I got a chance to reflect a little bit about what the difference is between being ‘on the road’ or being ‘home’.

Two things come to mind.

Home is a place where we try and make ourselves as comfortable as possible. Whereas when we are not at home, we make peace with not having all the things we are used to having at home, at home we try and make sure we have all the things we ‘need’ and plenty of stuff we don’t ‘need’. We try to create the ambience that makes us feel comfortable.

Home is also a ‘state of mind’. Home is a place where we feel comfortable just being who we are. Especially if we are at home alone. No need for societal niceties and ‘dressing up’. At home you can just be ‘you’. The way ‘you’ truly are. It is nice to tell your guest ‘make yourself at home’ but as a guest you can’t really ‘make yourself at home’.

At home you can ‘make yourself at home’.

Based on these two points there are two meditations I would like share.

One:

 Truly, we are never really ‘home’ in this material world. This world is an antechamber for the true eternal world. When we depart this world we don’t take our material possessions with us.

Our true ‘home’ is built by the Torah and Mitzvahs we fulfil.

This makes a critical difference in the way we live our lives.

If our material life is not truly our final destination, we can learn to make do without every minute detail of our material life being perfect. The furniture in your hotel room, rented Airbnb or mothers-in-law house, is not so important to you. You don’t obsess over the details of your accommodations because ‘you are just passing through’.

If we realize that during our lives, the material ‘stuff’ is merely meant to serve us as we ‘pass through’, we will not get so caught up in accumulating and perfecting our materialistic desires.

How nice you are in the way you treat others should thus be more important to you than the quality of your furniture or the make of your car.

Making sure to light Shabbat candles before sundown on Fridays will be more meaningful to you than the details of the splendor of the chandelier in your living room.

Our true focus and investment would be in our spiritual palace that we are building. Through doing good deeds and studying Torah.

Those are the things that really count.

Those are the things we should make sure to get better and better at.

This link is to a song which I found really illuminating. *Lyrics pasted below.

Two:

G-d wants us to prepare a ‘home’ for Him in this world.

The home design and ‘décor’ G-d feels comfortable with, is outlined in the Torah. Follow the instructions in His manual, and He says (so to speak) ‘I feel so at home here in this physical world’.

Home is the place that we feel comfortable just being ourselves. Not getting dressed up, just being natural. The true being of a person is expressed in their home.

Same with G-d (so to speak).

When we make the world a ‘home for G-d’ the result is that He treats it like His home and reveals His deepest essence, just like a person who is has no need to be ‘dressed up’ while at home themselves.

Link here to article about creating a ‘Home for G-d’.

This revelation of G-d’s essence is what will happen when Mashiach comes.

This ‘home for G-d’ is what we are creating through our Torah and Mitzvahs.

We have been building it for nearly two thousand years.

The Rebbe told us that it is about to happen.

Imminently.

Then we will exclaim loudly and jubilantly

G-d, WELCOME HOME

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS: I copied from someones email to me last week in which they used the world ‘gloomy’ to describe the situation in Thailand.

I should therefore copy from an email I got after that

Dear Rabbi,

 

Since you’re sounding like everyone else in Thailand, this chart from Johns Hopkins, puts things into a better medical perspective, from the news, where things are said to be significantly more dire.

https://coronavirus.jhu.edu/embed/mortality-rates/mortality_top10_720.html

I have not researched the topic myself… but since I shared one perspective I figured it may be helpful to some of my readers to share this other perspective. Our behavior must remain the same in terms of precautions and following the governments directives, but perhaps it will help reduce the fear factor and allow for more peace of mind.

May G-d bless us with health. Through the natural means that he he empowered the doctors with, (vaccinations and medicines) and through above-natural G-dly miraculous means, whatever it takes, in whatever way He chooses… the main thing is that He should bring healing to the world. AMEN

 

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FhSG1aEvChA

*Just Like You - Lyrics:

I traveled halfway across the world to see a sage

 I heard he lived like such a poor man in this day and age

I said, where’s your leather couches where’s your golden chandelier

Where’s your walk-in closet for all that stuff you could wear

Well all you got is that suitcase my friend, ain’t that true

I said, yeah but you know that I’m just passing through

That’s when he said…

I’m just like you, just passing through just like you

My heart wants to feel something that’s real

And my mind hopes to find treasures of another kind

And if you had my eyes you’d see a palace For you and me

Although he’s been forever living in this town

People say he never really settled down

They say, where’s your leather couches where’s your golden chandelier

Where’s your walk-in closet for all that stuff you could wear

The neighbors talk but they don’t understand

The things he’s collecting you can’t hold in your hand

Like he said…

I’m just like you, just passing through just like you

My heart wants to feel something that’s real And my mind hopes to find treasures of another kind

And if you had my eyes you’d see a palace For you and me

199 Baht lifechanging

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

The optometrist told me several years ago that I need reading glasses.

I heard it, it registered in my mind, I was told that every pharmacy in the USA sells them but somehow, I never got around to buying a pair. Not sure why I didn’t, but I didn’t.

This week I finally bought a pair of reading glasses.

(It fits with the Parsha of the week which is Reeh 'SEE I (G-d) place before you blessing....')

For all of THB 199 (US$6).

My life changed.

I can now read the small words that had been blurry before. I don’t have to squint to try to decipher the small ‘Rashi’ commentary at the bottom of the Torah. I realized in retrospect that I was straining myself unnecessarily for the past years.

I couldn’t help but laugh at myself.

Why in the world had I waited so long to do something so trivial that made such a huge difference.

And then I thought to myself, who knows what other things could be made much better with just minimum of effort?

Small things can sometimes make a big difference.

In the 1950’s there was a Yeshiva bachur who was very intense ‘searcher for truth’ by the name of Reuven Dunin. One morning he came in a state of crisis to the Rebbe. Reuven explained that the ‘battle’ in his soul was raging and he was looking to the Rebbe for a soothing spiritual remedy as he was totally overwhelmed. The Rebbe asked Reuven if he had eaten breakfast yet. When Reuven responded in the negative, the Rebbe asked him to go eat something and return with an exact report of what he had eaten. Reuven got to the Yeshiva dormitory after everyone had eaten, so he collected the bits and pieces of food that he could find on the plates. Upon reentering the Rebbe’s office he proceeded to tell the Rebbe exactly what he had eaten. Apparently, his description of the ad hoc breakfast sounded quite comical and the Rebbe began to laugh and Reuven began to laugh. The crisis was over.

My dear friends, the Covid is overwhelming us all in its reappearance and with all of its strains, mutations and variants.

A member of our community in Bangkok wrote to me after I checked up to see how they are doing:

I’m ok just so overwhelmed by the situation and the gloominess of everything. 

You hear ambulances all the time now I don’t hear traffic where I am but I hear ambulances and if I get it I’m powerless I’m finished. 

I can’t go to a hospital I can’t get a vaccine it’s just overwhelming all of it. 

I’m very ill prepared for an apocalypse. 

Aside for following the medical advice of our respective Health Ministries there is not much we can really do as individuals.

But there ARE things that we can do to mitigate our own anxiety and angst and try to cope better.

Bear in mind. Sometimes it is not the untenable unchangeable situation that is pulling your mood down. Your own reactive mood may be being affected by other things as well.

Proper nutrition is key to staying upbeat. Sufficient rest. Meditative prayer. ‘Unplugging’ for the twenty-six hours of Shabbos. Exercise. All of these small investments of time and attention into your own well being can make the difference between feeling hopelessly overwhelmed or making the best of a very challenging set of circumstances.

And lets not forget the most powerful tool we have. Positive thinking. Looking at things with optimism and joy is the surest way to create a more positive future.

Sometimes its not all that difficult. It just takes a mindfulness. A conscious decision to put on a different set of glasses. The glasses need not even be prescribed by an optician. Maybe for 199 Baht you can change your future reality to be much clearer, tolerable and even enjoyable.

The uniqueness of reading glasses is that it only makes things nearest to you clearer. It doesn’t help for long sighted vision. I would venture to say that it is sometimes important not to look at the big picture which can be totally overwhelming. Rather, to focus on the things nearest to you in the here and now. Those things that are actually in your control. Small things. But they can make your state of mind a totally different one.

There is something even more powerful than putting on ‘joy glasses’. Helping someone else be joyous.

Rabbi Emannuel Schochet was a rabbi and a philosopher. He authored many books and was a prolific lecturer and deep thinker. His son told me this story which he heard from his father who passed away several years ago.

R’ Emmanuel was once attending a ‘Farbrengen’ gathering with the Rebbe and he sensed that the Rebbe was somewhat sad. This put R’ Emmanuel into a sad mood as well.

The Rebbe turned to R’ Emmanuel, out of the many hundreds in attendance, obviously reading his mind and mood and told him ‘nu, Emmanuel, perhaps say ‘Lechayim’ and be ‘besimcha’ (joyous)’. Dutifully R’ Emmanuel raised a small tumbler of wine to wish the Rebbe ‘Lechayim’.

But R’ Emmanuel was still feeling the same way. He was not happier.

The Rebbe didn’t respond with the usual nod of the head and ‘Lechayim’. Instead the Rebbe said to him ‘I  don’t want you to say Lechayim as a ‘favor’ for me. Say Lechayim and be besimcha. If I can’t impress upon you to be joyous, how can I affect myself to be joyous’.

But R’ Emmanuel was still not feeling joyous. The Rebbe looked at him but would not answer his ‘Lechayim’.

The Rebbe called out ‘where is (Rabbi) Hodakov. (Rabbi) Hodakov, maybe you can impress upon your nephew to be joyous? ‘.

R’ Emmanuel Schochet was a nephew of Rabbi Hodakov who was the Rebbe’s chief secretary. He was a very very serious and proper character. You could say maybe the least funny person on the planet. The incongruity of the Rebbe asking his somber uncle to provide him with cheer was so absurd that R’ Emmanuel burst out laughing.

The Rebbe immediately responded to R’ Emmanuel’s raised cup with the blessing of ‘Lechayim Velivracha’ TO LIFE AND BLESSING!

What I got from this story is how the Rebbe was teaching by example that the best way to become joyous yourself is to try to make others joyous.

(There is a fascinating account in the Talmud about the greatness of making people happy even by telling jokes and comedy. Click here for more. And click here to read what the Rebbe told the recently passed-away Jackie Mason Z”L when they met. And that is the basis of including humor in our weekly email 😊 ).

My point to you is:

Take a moment to think about some of the small things you can do for yourself and for others to brighten their day and gladden their life.

This week, I got the following note from an elderly man in our community who is quite challenged.

I do hope that you have all recovered from the accident, please G-d. I am relieved that tomorrow is vaccination day! I am scheduled to receive my first shot of AstraZeneca in the early afternoon. The venue of the vaccination centre is in Bangrak/Sathorn, and I am pleased to report that our friend A. Z. offered to take me there in his car - he called right out of the blue last night and, without my asking, offered to take me there. G-d bless him! I feel so much more confident that my carefully laid plans to be vaccinated are falling into place, please G-d.

This note which came as a result of last weeks email requesting mitzvahs, is a highlight of my week. A. Z. has brightened the life of someone else in an immeasurable way. By doing something quite simple but the result is so exquisite.

And it makes the point about how we can be helpful to others if we put our mind to it.

I am not talking about the big stuff.

It’s the 199 baht or 6-dollar items that I am referring to. Investing the time and small gasoline cost of taking someone who needs help to get around to get to an important appointment. Making a phone call to someone who is not expecting to hear from you. Sending a card, an email or even your best thoughts to someone else.

Those things can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

With blessings of Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov and Shana Tova,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


'Hiccup' in Phuket

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

SHANA TOVA!!!

Yes, it is getting close to Rosh Hashana which falls this year on Monday night September 6, Tuesday and Wednesday September 7-8. Yom Kippur is Wednesday evening September 15 and all day Thursday September 16. There is a tradition to begin wishing Shana Tova already this early.

If wishing shana TOVA is important every year, this year it seems critical.

Thailand Covid daily infections surpassed seventeen thousand yesterday, getting closer to eighteen thousand.

Hospitals in Bangkok are overflowing.

People are locked into their homes in the highest-level curfew ever to be enforced since the very beginning of Covid last year.

The situation is very very grim and challenging.

I am overwhelmed with requests for help due to the crippling of the local economy. I am turning to you for help. If you are able to help your brothers and sisters in Thailand please visit www.jewishthailand.com/donate

Bottom line: we NEED the blessing of Shana TOVA a GOOD year more than ever.

It is still impossible to know how to prepare for High Holiday programs and services this year. Even to mention the word ‘services’ is quite optimistic right now as the restrictions on in-person meetings are very tight. However, we should always think positive and pray that we can pray together in-person by the time Rosh Hashana comes. We will please G-d do the utmost within the context of what is medically appropriate. I will keep you posted on plans as we get closer please G-d.

The one thing that every human being in the planet now knows is that we don’t know. And that we cannot make definite plans about the future. All our plans are tentative. For we do not know what Hashem has planned for the future. This has always been the case but during this time period when so many things change from day to day, everyone in the universe is fully aware of it. And it is the same root cause that is causing all of this upheaval for all of us. A lone, errant, nonconformist, illness causing microbe.

We had a personal taste of just how radically plans can change in a split second.

Last week, on Wednesday afternoon we met with a long time Bangkok resident who relocated to Phuket last year at the beginning of the Covid outbreaks. We were happy to see each other again and then he asked me the big question.

WHY?

Why is all this pain and suffering happening.

The only response I could give is ‘I DON’T KNOW WHY’.

I continued by explaining: Unquestionably, G-d is causing every single detail of this world to happen. This is a pillar of our faith. Why ‘bad’ things happen? We don’t know. To fully understand G-d and know why He does what He does, is not possible for us mortals.  

Influenced by this discussion, a few minutes later I broadcast my ‘Facebook Live’ daily talk and continued along this theme. I titled the talk ‘Hashem runs His world’. Part 1  Part 2

A bit later in the evening we headed back from Chabad House to our hotel excited about our Thursday morning departure to Bangkok. Domestic flights had been cancelled due to Bangkok’s being a deep-red-zone, so we had a car rental organized and were planning to drive home to Bangkok and even visit some Jews we know along the way.

Everything looked fine and dandy and we were raring to go.

It was obviously not what Hashem had planned for us. For on the way to the room we had an accident that landed us up in hospital. Thank G-d we had great miracles and we are now being released, but bottom line, for medical prudence we now need to spend at least another fourteen days in Phuket.

During other time periods this may have caused me great angst, not being able to carry on with all my plans as usual. I had many things scheduled that are waiting for my attention in Bangkok. However, during these unusual times, I have learned to take things more in stride. From being denied boarding on flights due to the piles of paperwork and restrictions, to border lockdowns and curfews, there is clearly a labyrinth of trails that Hashem is leading us on. To be in Hashems hands is comforting. Even if you don’t understand everything that is happening.

Like a small baby being carried by its parent placing its trust fully in that parent. So too, we, are being carried by G-d and we put our trust fully in Him.

Click here for a wonderful resource to strengthen and fortify this feeling of trust in Hashem it is a worthwhile topic to keep on revisiting especially during these times of upheaval.

So its another unexpected for us. My family and I thought we would be in Bangkok by late last week after our two-week Phuket Sandbox quarantine. Hashem had other plans.

(It has been a hectic week navigating the effects of the incident so please forgive me if you are awaiting a response from me on something non urgent. For urgent matters please call me on my mobile phone).

I would like to go back to the question WHY?

First let me share a perspective from the Rebbe that has helped me very much for certain situations.

The following is a free translation of a letter by the Rebbe to s omeone who wrote him regarding a tragic event which occurred in his, the correspondent’s, home. This person had invited members of his community to a festive meal in his home on Shavuot, to celebrate the completion of a Torah scroll which was scheduled to be presented to the synagogue in the days following the festival. In the course of the celebration, a young woman suddenly fell ill and died. The distraught host wrote the Rebbe, posing the following three questions:

A) How can it be that a mitzvah such as the writing of a Torah scroll should be the cause of such a tragedy?

B) What should be done with the Torah scroll?

C) What lesson must he, the host, derive from the fact that something like this occurred in his home?

The Rebbe’s response (the stresses are the Rebbe’s):

... Regarding A):

(1) It is impossible for man, a finite creature, to comprehend all the reasons of the infinite Creator. Indeed, we’d have no way of knowing even some of G‑d’s reasons, were it not for the fact that G‑d Himself told us to seek them out in His holy Torah (Torah meaning "instruction").

(2) According to the Torah, it cannot be that anything negative should result from any of G‑d’s mitzvot (including your Torah scroll); on the contrary, these protect against evil and prevent it.

(3) Each and every individual has been granted a set amount of years of life on earth. (It is only in extreme cases that one’s deeds can lengthen it or shorten it (with some terrible sin, etc., G‑d forbid.))

(4) Based on (1), (2) and (3) above, one can perhaps venture to say that had the departed one (peace be to her) not been invited to the Sefer Torah celebration, she would have found herself, at the onset of her attack, in completely different surroundings: on the street, in the company of non-Jews or, in any case, of strangers; without the presence of a doctor who is both a friend and a religious Jew; without hearing, in her final moments, words of encouragement and seeing the faces of friends and fellow Jews. Can one imagine: a. the difference between the two possibilities?; b. what a person experiences in each second of her final moments, especially a young, religious woman on the festival in which we celebrate and re-experience our receiving the Torah from the Almighty?!

(5) According to the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov—that every event, and its every detail, is by divine providence—it is possible that one of the true reasons that Mr. Z. was inspired from Above to donate the Torah scroll, etc., was in order that, ultimately, the ascent of the young woman’s soul should be accompanied with an inner tranquility, occurring in a Jewish home---a home whose symbol and protection is the mezuzah, which opens with the words, "Hear O Israel, G‑d is our G‑d, G‑d is one." Click here for continuation of letter.

The existential ‘why’ is not answered. Why the person was destined to pass away at that particular time we don’t know. But the Rebbe offered a transformational perspective based on the circumstances in which the passing took place. Passing away at the height of fulfilling the joyous mitzvah, surrounded by people was to be seen as a great kindness. It was not part of the question, it was part of the special kindness of Hashem.

This letter jumped into my mind and helped me reframe our small ‘hiccup’.

But first let me share the context of our accident also had some seeming incongruity.

The day of our accident was a super special day in terms of doing good deeds. Each of us individually had opportunities to both teach Torah to others and practice acts of kindness with others. Even within our usual ‘job’ of teaching Torah and Mitzvahs, this day really stood out as a day of great Mitzvah performance. Actually, just two minutes before our accident we had been engaged in saying a heartfelt farewell to a young lady traveling by car to Bankgok providing her with a holy book of ‘Chitas’ to accompany her on the long more than ten-hour drive to Bangkok. We had just hosted her for dinner at the Chabad house and now we were saying farewell at the hotel. We were both staying at the same hotel. It’s part of the mitzvah of 'hachnasat orchim' hosting, to generate good feelings by saying a proper farewell to someone traveling. This farewell took place just meters away from where the accident occurred just minutes later.

The ‘why’ question becomes amplified. On such a good day with so many mitzvahs an accident should happen?

Let me change the perspective and what emerges is something radically different.

We don’t know why, but it is obvious that an accident was meant to happen to us. If an accident was destined to happen for whatever reason, how would we have wanted to spend our day in preparation of it? What kind of deeds would we have wanted to do to strengthen ourselves and invite G-d’s miraculous protection? We would have wanted to have a day full of powerful mitzvahs.. G-d in His infinite kindness brought us opportunities throughout the day for teaching Torah and helping others benevolently, even more than usual. Who knows, perhaps it was those mitzvahs that provided us the cushion that miraculously saved us.

(Besides for the obvious, that if we needed the use of a hospital, we were blessed to be in Phuket and not in Bangkok in which hospitals are totally overwhelmed. G-d forbid we should have been somewhere 'on-the-road' between Phuket which has world class hospitals and Bangkok. From all angles we have been blessed).

We thank the Almighty for the miracles that He performed for us.

We thank the Almighty for giving us such wonderful opportunities to fortify ourselves for the experience. For Providentially speaking about how ‘Hashem in in charge’ of every detail just a short while before needing to draw on this reservoir of faith. For the mitzvahs that Providentially came our way to buttress and strengthen us with the protection of good deeds.

Last week I wrote about ‘undeserved kindness’ (I wrote the article in the hospital) and unquestionably although I am undeserving of it, we merited Hashems infinite kindness in the most revealed way.

HODU LASHEM KI TOV KI LEOLAM CHASDO

Praise to Hashem for He is good. For His kindness is everlasting!!!

Dear Friend, because we are connected, I take the liberty to write these lines.  

Nechama and I would like to request that you join us in giving thank to the Almighty for our great miracle by doing an additional mitzvah (or two or three). Thank you so much!!! Especially a mitzvah that can bring benefit to others. Reach out with kindness to someone who is not expecting it. Surprise someone with a gift. Light Shabbat candles and bring more light to the world. Study some Torah. And GIVE THANKS TO HASHEM FOR ALL OF HIS INFINITE BLESSINGS.

With blessings for everything good, health and good spirit.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS The situation in Thailand is extremely challenging. The requests of help from people in need has never been higher.

I turn to you to ask you to help others if you are able and to reach out to me if you need help or know of someone who needs help.

www.jewishthailand.com/tzedaka

For banking details please send me an email 

[email protected]

undeserved and unlimited!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

If you are like many people I know, you don’t really feel comfortable asking someone for ‘free gift’.

Likely, you even feel uncomfortable receiving a free gift.

The Talmud goes so far as to say that if someone gave a gift to someone else, there is a resemblance to a ‘sale’ of sorts. To use the Talmudic language ‘if he (the recipient of the gift) would not have done something nice to the giver of the gift, the grantor of the gift would not have given the gift’.

It’s almost to be assumed that there are no truly ‘free’ gifts given.

This does not mean to say that gifts are always a direct ‘payment’ for something nice you did, but it does give the general context from within which giving and receiving takes place.

Allow me to clarify via example.

If someone you didn’t know at all, were to show up on your doorstep on with a bottle of orange juice on Wednesday afternoon and say ‘happy Wednesday’ and hand you the juice you would probably get suspicious and reject it. ‘What do they want?’ you would think.

If however you invited someone for a Shabbat dinner, even someone you don’t know well, and they deliver that same bottle of wine on Friday afternoon with a Shabbat Shalom note, you would accept it graciously.

The difference between the two is that what prompted the wine on Friday, is the good feeling that the host generated for the guest by inviting them. The host feels that this is a reciprocity for his future hospitality. He If one wouldn’t even feel comfortable receiving a free gift, how much more so asking for a free gift.

Again an example.

Imagine you are stuck somewhere with no option to help yourself through whatever predicament you are in. You have two options to reach out for help. A company that provides a paid service. Or a stranger whom you ask for their graciousness and undeserved assistance.

Many people I know, if they can afford it, will ask for help only from someone whom they can reimburse.

Sometimes however, we are put into situations where there is no choice but to ask for and be a recipient of a ‘free gift’. Sometimes the help we got was so major that there is no amount of money that can ever repay the kindness.

The feelings of appreciation in this case are extraordinary.

Infants ask for ‘unearned gifts’ naturally.

They cry till their parents fulfil their needs. Regardless of whether they did something cute that day or not.

Do they think about whether they ‘deserve’ it like a teenager who thinks carefully before asking for a gift? No. they simply ask, cry and cause a tumult till they get what they need.

On the side of the grantor, do the parents think about whether the infant ‘deserves’ it or not as they would when their teenagers asks for something extraordinary? No. the infant is given whatever they need. No questions asked. No deservingness measured.

With children and spouses there are a lot of other details to take into account, but in general relationships between adults in society I think we can safely say that we ask for what we think we ‘deserve’ and we give what think we ‘owe’.

We complain, sometimes vociferously, if we didn’t get service that we feel we paid for. We thank profusely for getting something that we know we didn’t pay for or deserve.

Moshe asks G-d in this weeks Parsha for a ‘free gift’. Moshe wants to go into Israel and prays numerous prayers beseeching G-d for that wish to be granted. The language used in the request ‘Vaetchanan’ denotes asking for ‘matnat chinam’ a free gift.

In other words, Moshe does not ‘call in his chips’ so to speak. He doesn’t come to G-d and say ‘I DESERVE to be allowed my most fervent wish of going into Israel…’. Why not? Why doesn’t he ‘demand’ it based on his years of impeccable service of G-d.

Who would be more deserving than Moshe? A Tzadik of the highest caliber. A ‘servant’ of G-d who did anything and everything on behalf of the Almighty in his role of shepherding the Jewish people. He suffered much indignity from the complaining and sometimes rebellious people he was tasked with leading. He had never looked for the job of leader. It was G-d who didn’t accept Moshe’s reluctance to be a leader. Hashem told Moshe that although he was trying to stay away from a leadership position, this was a mission that G-d absolutely needed him to fulfil.

After all of that sacrifice, you would think that Moshe would be able to ask for his wishes to be fulfilled based on his credentials and his forty years of uninterrupted leadership of G-d’s people.

Yet, our Sages point out, Moshe beseeches G-d for a ‘free gift’. Moshe does not feel he deserves what he is asking. He simply asks G-d as the source of all Kindness and Benevolence to grant him this deepest wish of his, notwithstanding that he doesn’t deserve it and hasn’t ‘earned’ it.

Our Sages went further and said that this is the standard template of the way our great saintly Tzadikim prayed. They didn’t come with the surety and self-assuredness of someone demanding something that is owed them.

The great people who are truly ‘deserving’, turn to Hashem with humility and ask for compassion and kindness from G-d even though in their own eyes they are underserving.

The Sages go further and tell us, regular people, that this is the way we ought to come to G-d as well. Asking for His kindness that we don’t feel deserving of.

There is a great gift in turning to G-d from this context.

If you are new to this concept, it may sound a bit limiting. Isn’t it more powerful to ask for something you deserve?

Actually, there is a great liberty when one is not limited to asking for what one deserves. The parameters are endless.

You see, when in society you ask someone for something, there are limits as to what is asked, and what is given. Usually, the limits are based on what you feel you deserve or owe.

Lets go back to children. In our society many of us are blessed to raise our children to adulthood, even putting them through an educational system until they have the skills to navigate life.

Parents feel obligated to support their children with their needs till that stage.

Children thus grow up feeling that they are entitled to be fed and educated.

 

This is why mostly we don’t give our parents or expect form our children a humungous thank you when we provide or are provided with the basic needs like room and board.

However, when a child asks for something that they want but don’t ‘need’, something that is totally unnecessary they don’t demand it in the same way that they would ask for food if it was not provided. If they are a ‘mentsch’ they will give extra special thanks for the gift they were given.

In teaching Bar Mitzvah kids I found out that most of them were in the process of negotiating for ‘play station’ computer games with their parents. I found three different versions. Some children got their parents to pay for their computer game as a bar mitzvah gift. Some parents wouldn’t but their kids a game like that, they did provide them with opportunities to earn money though, so they could pay for it themselves. One child told me that he had a deal with his parents that he would pay half and they would pay half. This was interesting to me and I asked him, a sensitive young man that I know him to be, how did he arrive at that ‘deal. He told me that some kids get it fully paid for by their parents, but he feels that it is not right for his parents to pay fully. It is not a requisite like paying for his schooling let’s say. I then asked him why did he think that his parents should chip in fifty percent in buying the play station. To this he responded that since ‘everybody has it’ he feels that he does deserve to get his parents support of at least fifty percent.

The point I gleaned from this, is that when you ask for something you are ‘entitled’ to you can only ask to the point that you feel deserving of.

This limitation does not at all exist when asking for something you don’t deserve. If you are asking for G-d’s compassion for no reason other than G-d is the ultimate of benevolence, you can ask for everything you want.

It works that way with G-d responding to our prayers as well.

When the grantor is giving only what you deserve, there is a measurement and a formula to decide how much to dole out.

When the grantor is giving a totally unearned gift, he wants to give the best gift he can. No need to be limited to the ‘deservingness’ of the recipient.

I think you hear my point.

Turning to G-d and asking for undeserved compassion and kindness from Him, means that on the one hand the prayer is made with humility for you don’t feel deserving. On the other hand, one can ask for everything one truly needs and desires if one is asking for an unearned gift.

You may be asking, how do I truly put myself into the mindset that I am undeserving. You have a good question there. You indeed have done many good deeds. By the way, I have not yet met a person, who has not done many good things. It usually doesn’t take more than a few minutes of discussion with someone, if you ask the right questions, to find out about the many good deeds they have done.

Are we then truly undeserving? We surely are not instructed to just pay lip service and pretend that we feel undeserving when really feeling entitled. The Torah is certainly not telling us to just put on a show.

Let me first explain the following verse In Tehilim (Psalms). It says ‘You, Almighty have compassion, for you pay everyone according to their deeds’.

How does make sense? If G-d ‘pays’ according to ‘deeds’ then why is that compassionate. Isn’t that simply transactional? Like a kid that gets pocket money for doing chores?. Benevolence would be to give pocket money without linking it to helping out in the household.

(If there are kids reading this, let me advise you that in some households, helping out at home is considered basic human decency and is expected, just as mommy providing dinner is a basic expectation. So don’t go telling your parents that the Rabbi said they have to get pocket money for helping out at home…).

Here is what the verse in Tehilim means.

The fact that G-d created a system whereby He asks for something to be done and considers it so valuable that he provides a reward, this very system is a product of G-d’s benevolence.

There are two parts to feeling undeserving.

Stage one.

Imagine telling your kid that you will pay him for every childish picture he makes. Pictures that have no market value, yet you will pay him handsomely.

Then the kid brings you a childish scribble and starts demanding Picasso top of the line art antique prices. Daddy meant paying handsomely he didn’t say he would pay the unusually high prices that famous rare pieces of art fetch. The kid is misguided in this case when he expects overinflated payment.

This is one level of what it means to feel undeserving. To realize that the kindness G-d has given us already exceeds the usual ‘payment’ and reward for the good deeds we did.

It would be like paying for one loaf of bread and getting one extra for free. If you were hungry the next day and didn’t have money you would not ask for a loaf of bread based on yesterday’s payment. Yesterday’s money was used. You would have to ask for the compassion of the baker to help sustain you.

In that scenario its quite simple to understand why we should be humble and non-entitled. We’ve simply ‘withdrawn’ more than we ‘deposited’.  

But wouldn’t the Tzadikim have enough merits to get them whatever they want?

A timely analogy may be the billionaires who have enough money to get themselves to outer space. For us, it’s a great enough blessing to have money for air travel. Not everybody has that luxury.  Some though, have the gift from G-d of wealth and there is nothing in this physical word in terms of objects that they cannot buy.

The truly righteous are billionaires so to speak in good deeds. Surely they would have enough merits to ask G-d for their prayers to be fulfilled based on entitlement. How and why to they ask for ‘free gifts’ in their prayers.

Get ready for a transformational perspective here.

From an objective reality way of looking, we are so infinitesimally nonexistent before the unlimited energy of G-d that anything we do is pithy and insignificant. Before the vastness and the infinite greatness of G-d we are simply not even as significant as a speck of dust compared to the entire cosmos.

Can our deeds then ever truly entitle us to His attention and kindness?

Yes they can. Because He chose to care about our deeds. If we look at things the way they are according to the ‘rules’ He set forth in the world that He created during he six days of creation, He asked us for our limited human input by doing mitzvahs. And He promised to reward us for those efforts even if they are objectively truly unremarkable human achievements compared to let’s say the celestial holiness of angelic beings.

So as we turn to G-d in prayer, It would behoove us to be soberly mindful of the fact that most of us are probably ‘running on empty’ in terms of what He ‘owes’ us. This should not cause us angst or worry though. Simply it should cause us to come to G-d with our requests with the humility of someone who is asking for something they don’t deserve.

If we take a deeper look, we truly are undeserving. For however much we did, and however well we did it, we are still truly asking G-d for something that we don’t really deserve.

Because the fact that we can talk about deserving or not deserving is as stated in the above verse in Tehilim, a product of His ‘Chessed’ compassionate benevolence and kindness.

This should not make you feel uncomfortable.

This is the way Hashem created our world. As a newborn expects that his mother will nurture him, even as a sheep knows that his shepherd with feed him, we too are dependent on G-ds benevolence. And since He is unlimited and omnipotent, we are in the only truly reliable hands.

See here my Facebook clip this week about how ‘Hashem runs His world’. Part 1  Part 2

And most importantly let us make sure that our levels of gratitude are very high!!! We thank the Almighty for His kindness and compassion of granting us ‘free gifts’ both the ‘natural’ things in life the we grow to get used to and expect, and for the amazing visible miracles that dot our way along our journey in life. Gifts that we don’t deserve, gifts for which we are blessedly and humbly eternally grateful.

With blessings of Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

timely for expats

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Parts of the world are back to some semblance of ‘old normal’.

Other parts of the world, like Thailand and Australia for example, are locked down.

It has become quite clear. At least it seems that way for now.

The countries that got their vaccination programs on target, developing, procuring and being blessed to ‘bet’ on the ‘more successful’ vaccines early on in the game, are now faring way better than those who didn’t manage to successfully navigate the vaccination field.

For mitigating the effects of a pandemic there are immediate steps that need to be taken. Limiting the spreading of the virus via various measures. Distancing, masking etc.

But there are all reactive measures. One of the stated goals is to ensure that the healthcare infrastructure is not overwhelmed. But these restrictions don’t actually shoo the plague away. They just slow down the rate of transmission through the populace.

For stamping out a pandemic, one needs to fight it at the source.

Vaccines are the weapon of choice.

Through G-d’s gift of wisdom to the medical researchers, medicine has been able to eradicate illnesses that used to terrify humanity. Polo, smallpox and many other scourges have, thank G-d, been relegated to history for the most part. Vaccines have been a great gift sent by G-d as we inch closer to the Messianic times when illness will be but a memory.

This is a very powerful lesson.

If you want to deal with a problem, try and solve it at its source.

Say for example you have a headache. Tylenol works to push away the pain. For the time being. But if you get recurring headaches you may want to check if you need glasses. Or whether you need to drink more water. Or maybe a vitamin deficiency. Or eating too much sodium. What you ought to do is try and get to the source and solve it from there.

We are now during the ‘nine-day’ period where we mourn the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash and the subsequent exiling of our people to all four corners of the earth.

Its been too long… almost two thousand years that we wait and yearn for Mashiach. It’s high time for the exile to be ended and the redemption to begin.

In trying to remove ourselves from this reprehensible state, wouldn’t it make sense to look at what caused the destruction and exile in the first place and try to reverse it?

That is exactly why our Sages told us the reason for having gone into exile in the first place. The Talmud teaches that the reason for our long exile is ‘sinat chinam’ which translates literally to ‘hatred for no reason’. The Jewish people at the time of the destruction were divided and acrimonious beyond rhyme and reason.

When two people fight because of a valid reason it too is not pretty. But at least there is a clearly defined item that led them to their quarrel. Let’s say two people are quarrelling over ownership of an object. You find a good mediator and figure out a compromise. Maybe you even split the value of the object. When there is no apparent reason for the divisiveness, when it is ‘hatred for no reason’ that is more difficult.

A parent can’t stand seeing their kids not getting along with each other.

Hatred between Jews is intolerable to G-d.

So intolerable that He allowed the Romans to vanquish the Jewish kingdom, destroy the Temple and exile the Jews.

How to fix it?

Equally straightforward.

LOVE for no reason.

For no other reason than we are both fellow Jews. Just to be friendly and nice. With no angles and hidden intentions.

When we get the right dosage of love, the reason for the destruction will have been uprooted, thus immediately bringing the cancellation of the exile. Presto. Mashiach comes.

When we enter these days of mourning, we try everything possible to stamp the exile out. By focusing on the cause of our exile and trying to rectify it.

The most effective thing we can do to cancel the mourning for ever is LOVE each other. For no reason. Just because we are all brothers and sisters.

The Rebbe proclaimed that the world is at the threshold of the Redemption.

This means that in the context of the nearly two thousand years of exile, we have already moved quite successfully through the process of fixing the problem of hatred.

Sure, we have our disagreements, and as stated above, during these days of mourning the destruction we have to get to work to totally eradicate hatred and acrimony between us. However, if you step back and look at the last two thousand years from a ‘helicopter view’, our time period is quite a peaceful one.

In the context of ‘epochs’ and era’s, if you read through our long history which included civil war and other fierce infighting, you will see that generally speaking the Jewish people of our generation are peacefully engaged with each other.

The Rebbe taught that besides for eradicating the ‘sickness’ at its source, there is also another very compelling reason to act with more love and unity during this mourning period.

To project into the future redemptive state.

Have you ever seen people travel from a wintry locale to a sundrenched holiday location. They are usually still wearing their scarves and coats as they board the plane. Once they are enroute to the warm destination their mind focuses on the sunny weather they are headed to. The winter clothes start to come off. The mindset starts to change. The summer mode sets in.

As we prepare to usher in the wondrous era of Mashiach, we already envision the Oneness of the Almighty being revealed and perceived by all.

When the unity of G-d is evident, our oneness is also palpable.

Harmonious coexistence is natural.

Good will be prevalent. No jealousy.

Unity will be the norm.

Isn’t it tempting to start living that way already now?

We are ‘on the plane’ to Mashiach’s coming

This is the time for unity.

To rid ourselves of the last vestiges of the old-world gripes and disharmonious arguments.

Time to divest ourselves of the ‘winter garments’. To change our mind sets form ‘old normal’. To prepare for a ‘new normal’.

And to prepare ourselves for the ultimate unity that will become the ‘eternal normal’ when Mashiach comes.

Actually, part of what hastens Mashiach’s coming is becoming more aware of the nature of Redemption and preparing for it.

What does that mean on a practical level?

Doing simple acts of love and kindness to others.

For one, say Hi to someone you haven’t been civil with for a while. Or just reach out to be nice to someone who is not in your usual radar. It could be family as well.

Someone shared with me, that after an email like this, they reached out to a brother with whom they had not spoken for years. The ‘broigez’ spat had started over something trivial that mushroomed out of control. Thank G-d they are now in constant contact and one brother helps out the other in a loving way.

So yes, besides being more tolerant to strangers and estranged friends, be more loving to your family members as well.

When in doubt? Act loving.

As our Sages taught:

Be of the students of Aharon. Love peace. Pursue peace. Love G-d’s created beings. Bring them close to the Torah.

With blessing,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS the Almighty gave me a great gift of seeing ‘fruits’ of our efforts, here in the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ initiative.

Sitting in the Phuket Chabad House kosher restaurant which is very quiet (the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ program is not so simple and there has been only a modest influx of tourists. The island is still very empty and relatively quiet) I got to speaking to a youthful fellow Jew from the USA. R.M. was asking me about how we are surviving and how different it must be for the Chabad Houses in Thailand without the flow of tourism.

I shared my vision and mission statement of hosting Jews for Shabbat as an act of love without requiring payment. Just reserve so we know to expect you and join in the loving Jewish family experience. This experience I posited to him is sufficient to melt the walls of separation between our people and allow for greater unity and Jewish awareness and observance.

R.M. said yes you are right. And I know about it firsthand. R.M. then shared how he had been a backpacker nearly two decades ago near Kaosarn Rd in Bangkok with barely a few dollars to his name. He had attended the Shabbat dinner at Chabad House and that had sparked his interest in connecting more deeply to his Judaism. He went on to study with the Chabad in North America and become a more educated and committed Jew.

Small acts of love melt away separateness. They then grow and mature and blossom.

Let’s keep them acts of love rolling.

YK

spilled milk. cry? Shabbat Shalom From Phuket

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

How things can change so quickly.

Not long ago, Thailand was one of the top countries in terms of the management of Covid.

Alas, now Thailand is at the bottom of the list.

What happened? And more importantly what can we learn from it.

And how, for all of us in Thailand and in other countries which are going through the throes of additional waves of Covid, are we to cope with the panic and fear around us.

Let me digress and first of all, share the blessed-for-us news that we arrived back to ‘our place of Shlichut’ ‘Amazing Thailand’ yesterday.

It wasn’t so simple.

Oy vey. At the very beginning of the week, after a weekend in LA with Nechama’s parents, we arrived to the airport in LA all hyped up and excited to have our Certificates of Entry to Phuket. When Singapore Airlines asked us for our PCR tests our faces fell. We didn’t have them.

Now before you judge us for overlooking such a rudimentary requisite, hear me out. From the Thailand side I was told we didn’t need it, ‘check with the airlines if they need it’ they told me. With all the papers that were needed we had assumed that perhaps we need the PCR test as well. But regulations don’t always seem to make sense. So instead of just wasting time and spending money, possibly unnecessarily, to get the tests, we did what we thought was smart. We called the airline to ask. The Indian accented agent was not sure, he kept us on hold for fifteen minutes as he checked with a superior. His answer was we didn’t need it.

The flight manager told us that we must have reached an outsourced ‘call center’ perhaps in India and that we were not the first to get this misinformation. (Upon arrival to Thailand they also asked us for PCR test and so clearly we were mistaken and for entry to Thailand the test is required). We immediately ran to get our PCR test right near the airport, (even though it looked hopeless, but one always has to try), but we didn’t get back in time.

What a disappointment. After midnight, instead of being on a flight to our Asian side of the world, we were shlepping our many pieces of luggage to go back to my in-laws home who were very gracious (and secretly happy) about having us there for two days more.

In my mind I knew it was all Divinely ordained. After all, I had just given a class all about this very topic.

But wait a second, was it fair to ‘blame’ G-d for this? This was OUR mistake, wasn’t it? Immediately after we were asked for the PCR tests we felt so foolish for not having realized that in todays Covid19 environment OF COURSE we needed the negative PCR test.

Is it fair to place this on G-d when really it was just our oversight?

Yes. A RESOUNDING YES.

In a class that I had taped on that very day a few hours before heading to the airport (a one-hour in depth class teaching the Rebbe’s presentation of the journey of the Jews in the desert. Click here) focused exactly on that. That all journeys are from G-d even if they are brought about by the bad choices of humans.

This week’s Parsha teaches that the Jews sojourned in the desert on their way to Israel for forty years and spells it out in detail. There were forty-two stops along the way. ‘They traveled from here… and encamped there…’.  About all of those encampments and journeys the Torah says that they were by the word of G-d.

Now, there were a number of those journeys that came about because of the sinful choices of the Jewish people. Our Sages even tell us that if the Jews would have been worthy, they would have had three journeys and then proceeded to Israel directly. Without the additional journeys. This means that most of their travels were caused by their ‘unworthiness’.

If these journeys happened because of a ‘change of plans’ based on their improper choices, were they too by the word of G-d?

The answer is no and yes.

No, Hashem didn’t tell them to do the bad thing. It was THEIR bad choice.

Yes, once that thing was done and they found themselves post-sin in a particular geographical location or in a particular state of mind, they needed to know that they were EXACTLY where G-d had intended that they be.

How do those things reconcile? If G-d gives us choice and let’s say we chose unwisely, differently than He instructed us to choose, how then can we say that we are in the exact space that He intended us to be in. If we would have followed His instructions, we wouldn’t be here.

Its really impossible as mortals to fully understand but here is the general concept.

When a person sins G-d forbid, it is by their own choice. This ‘free choice’ idea is one of the most fundamental beliefs of Judaism. For if we don’t have free choice, we can’t possibly be held accountable for our deeds.

A tiger cannot be blamed for mauling a fellow creature. A person is definitely held accountable for injuring someone else.

Yet, although there is free choice, the result that the sin caused, is not a different result than G-d intended from the very beginning. Which means to say that in a roundabout way G-d did kinda take into account that the person would ‘freely choose’ to do the sin.

Dangerous concepts if taken out of context.

But critical to internalize on some level.

Because although as I will emphasize once more, when we stand before two choices, one good and one bad, we DO absolutely have the choice to choose good.

Yet, when one wakes up ‘the morning after’ in the proverbial ‘mud’ and is tempted to fall into a depression because they are unredeemable off the course of life that G-d had intended for them, the response is that it is one million percent not the case. Even if one reached his destination through a mistake, they are exactly where G-d intended them to be.

The intention generally being the catapulting closer to G-d as a result of the fall. In relationships, the greatest closeness comes after a temporary separateness.

Waking up in the ‘spiritual muck’ that is represented by sin is intended to cause a humungous thirst for closeness to G-d. The kind of thirst and desire that would never be felt if not for the distance created by sin. It is the ultimate closeness that is G-d’s intention. Thus the seemingly ‘mistaken turn’ turns out to be not mistaken.

The Midrash refers to this as a Divine ‘set-up’. Impossible for us humans to really understand wrap our heads around.

In the words of the Kabbalistic mystic ‘if I could comprehend Him, I would be Him’.

Let me put it into a relatable application:

When we were denied boarding and found ourselves schlepping our baggage in the middle of the night to spend another two days in L.A. which we were not psychologically prepared for and initially seemed ‘off-course’, we realized that as believing Jews we were EXACTLY on the course that Hashem had set out for us, albeit unbeknownst to us. And albeit that we had caused this veering off course through our avoidable naivete.

My dear friends,

Thailand made certain choices regarding their management of the pandemic.

Arguably they may have been mistakenly short sighted. Lacking the long-term vision that is so needed by governments to bring this scourge under control. However, as I just pointed out, the outcome of mistakes is also intended that way by G-d in the enigmatic scheme of Divine Providence.

So while we need to learn a lesson (I think that I will have to leave the lesson for next week as this article is already not short…) and we need to try and CHANGE the dismal reality, by making the right changes and choices, at the same time, the situation in Thailand is exactly what G-d intended it to be.

There is no reason to panic. G-d is at the steering wheel. Act prudently and take precautions and get a reliable vaccine as soon as you possibly can. But do so with a determined spirit not with the emotion of being hopelessly overwhelmed and paralyzed like ‘a deer in the headlights’.

I say this especially to my dear friends and congregants, fellow Jews and fellow humans who live here in Thailand and are facing the incredibly fast spreading mutations and variants of Covid. As expatriates, many don’t seem eligible to be granted a vaccine in the early stages which to many seems unfair making it even harder emotionally. Thailand seemed so welcoming to expatriates, yet many feel abandoned. It is a frightful situation that is for sure.

But we need to retain our faith and optimism. It is critical to remember at this time that G-d is still in charge. He always has been, and always will be.

G-d’s instruction in the Torah are: determinedly do what you can to help yourself and G-d will bless your efforts.

If you are need of advice, help, or just a listening ear, please reach out to me or Nechama. We are now in Thailand, in the local time zone and acutely feeling the anxiety that is pervading our country right now.

With blessings for HEALTH, sustenance, nachas and everything else your heart prays for.

Shabbat Shalom

Chodesh Tov

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS could it be that if we arrived on Tuesday as initially intended, we would have been affected by the Covid positive passenger who arrived from Dubai on that same day and caused all his fellow travelers to be moved to quarantine? I don’t know if the timing is exact (we were supposed to arrive at 9:25 am while the EK flight from Dubai arrived three hours later). But I do know that on a personal note it gives an added perspective to our thanksgiving to G-d for all the little details of our homecoming that went smoothly without us even knowing the miraculousness of it.

Let me say it here in public:

Thank you Hashem for all Your kindness to us!!!

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