Printed from JewishThailand.com

Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Outnumbered but Victorious!

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

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

The sages of the Talmud debated this very issue:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This time for eternity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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

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

 

It was surreal

 By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

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

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

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

What emotion would be the dominant one.

Would he be joyous or mournful?

Joy from the wedding of his offspring.

Or anguish from the untimely death of his other offspring.

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

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

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


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

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

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

I felt like a million bucks!

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Then he sighed deeply.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

There are joyous things.

There are sad and challenging things.

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

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

What emotion should be the dominant one?

Which should we be focused on?

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

One step at a time.

One mitzvah at a time.

JOYOUSLY. OPTIMISTICALLY.

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

Let us not shy away from our mission.

Forward march!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

I was 7.80 shekel short

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

My GPS told me make a U-turn to take the fastest route to the airport.

My instinct told me that I really didn’t want to miss my flight back home from Israel. Yet, my fear of not having the seven shekel needed for the toll through the Carmel tunnels caused me to try to find an alternate route.

I may have had only one shekel in my pocket, but I was in a buoyant mood after giving an hour-long class to my daughter’s high-school dorm mates, on the importance of joy and positive thinking. It is definitely one of my favorite topics. I love sharing the ‘secret to having a good life’ which is summed up in a one-liner coined by the Jewish mystics, ‘think good, it will be good’. I wasn’t about to let the absence of a couple of shekels get me down.

Thank G-d I found a route that didn’t require a toll payment. We made it to the airport in time. I have been back in Bangkok since the beginning of the year.

You wouldn’t believe it, but here in Bangkok I had a repeat story. I was in the taxi, going to a meeting when I realized that I wouldn’t have enough cash to pay the taxi to get me to my destination. When the meter hit fifty baht, which is the amount I had in my pocket, I got out and walked the last twenty minutes to my meeting. I wouldn’t say ‘no sweat’. I did sweat a bit. This is Bangkok after all. Even in the ‘winter’ you sweat.

I am not proud to share these stories. Yet, they gave me such a clarity that I feel it may be helpful to share the lesson I learned from them, with others.

Why am I not proud about these stories?

Isn’t there something special about being austere? Doesn’t it sound quite holy to be so frugal that you have to walk part of the way to your destination?

The answer is a resounding NO.

First of all, let me hasten to clarify that I am not poor thank G-d.

Last Shabbat we served two thousand and seventy-eight Shabbat meals in our Chabad Houses around Thailand. True to our core mission of enabling every Jew to have a no-strings-attached, authentic Jewish experience, we believe in hosting as many guests as possible on Shabbat.

Chabad of Thailand hosts all who would like to join in the Shabbat experience. The two thousand plus attendees on Shabbat are our guests.

Guests don’t pay.

They say thank you meaningfully and gracefully which gives you a good feeling.

More importantly though, our guests grow Jewishly from the warmth and inspiration absorbed during the Shabbat experience.

For more than two decades we have been welcoming traveling Jews into our centers. The effect and impact on strengthening Jewish unity and identity, are well known. We have been a ‘gateway’ for so many Jews to discover their own bond with their true selves.

Some give donations. Nowhere near enough to begin covering expenses. Yet, we manage to produce Shabbat meals week in and week out!

(We are able to do this, thanks to people like you who are reading this and partner with us we are able to do this week in and week out. And we pray that you help us to be able to continue to inspire our guests, one guest at a time. One Shabbat meal at a time).

You can imagine that this costs more than seven shekel or fifty baht.

I also have a working credit card thank G-d. At the same time that I was cash strapped, I was driving a rented car. I was about to board a plane with a purchased ticket. My mobile phone was working. All these things cost far more than the small amount of cash that was hampering me.

It was simply cash that I didn’t have. I was under the impression that I needed cash for the toll in Israel (I have since learned from the internet that I could have paid with credit card at the Carmel tunnels) and I know that I needed cash for the meter taxi in Thailand that I was sitting in.

Of course I can rationalize why this had happened. My not having cash in Israel, was a result of the theft on the plane which knocked me off financial balance. My not having cash in Thailand was a result of my accounts being empty due to end of year financial crunch. Because I believe in the immeasurable value of what I do, I sometimes cut it that close, using every available dollar to pay urgent expenses leaving not enough buffer.

But it is not a correct behavior.

In one word, although I hate to admit it, my predicament had nothing to do with poverty G-d forbid. Rather it had everything to do with faulty planning.

And here is why my predicament was so wrong and should have been avoided.

I had a plane to catch. Missing the plane would cost money. Moreover, missing the plane would be a fundamental error. My life mission is in Thailand. This is where I belong every day. Unless I need to be away from Thailand for work or family reasons. What would I tell my kids who were waiting for me to come home? The people who were looking forward to the meetings set up for my return?

‘For seven shekels you risked missing your flight?’ I ask myself incredulously. I can’t believe that my mind was occupied with SEVEN SHEKELS? I need to raise more than one thousand times that amount every single day.

Imagine if you were a lawyer charging two hundred dollars an hour and during your billable hour, your mind is occupied with finding some coins for the parking meter? It would be dishonest to the client. It also doesn’t make sense. Plan correctly. Put things into perspective. Make sure to have a stash of quarters in your car, or have a secretary in charge of it.

Being distracted is not just bad financial behavior, it can be downright dangerous.

Seven years ago on January 13th the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground resulting in thirty-two deaths. During the trial, the prosecution posited that the presence of a friend of the captain on the bridge of the ship with him, “generated confusion and distraction for the captain". The story remained in my memory because of its sheer horrendousness.

I want to present this in a slightly different way which will bring this point home to most of us. You will be shocked when you realize how immune we have become to acting in this very irrational and downright dangerous way.

No, I don’t want to talk about using a phone while driving. That is certainly something that must be avoided at all costs. It is against the law and against common sense. That’s a no-brainer.

There is another correlation I wish to make here. Even more commonplace and even more shocking.

Click on this link if you have the courage to be honest. I was thinking of using this meme in the weekly comedy corner. But I decided against it. It’s not a joke! Its gravely serious.

When you choose to fiddle with your phone instead of spending quality time with your kids.

Its dreadful. Preposterous. Stupid. And downright irrational.

How can you choose to read an incoming post on WhatsApp or Facebook rather than engaging with the dearest and most beloved people in your life?

Meshugah! No other word to use.

Yet, we all fall into the trap.

It’s faulty planning and loss of perspective.

You gonna occupy your mind with pennies? When things of eternal value are what you should be involved with?

Solve your cash flow issue. Prepare in advance. Make sure you have the petty cash you need at your disposal. It’s simply about proper planning.

It’s the same with making quality time for your family.

Plan properly. Clear your mind. Shut your phone for a few hours.

It’s not easy. When you are in the ‘rat race’ it is easy to forget that you are not a rat.

But it is critical to try and change that and escape the smallmindedness that so limits us and keeps us ‘in the box’.

This week’s parsha tells us:

Moshe came to redeem the Jews who were slaving away in futility in Egypt. He told them G-d is about to take them out. Redemption is at hand. The Torah relates that they could even listen or hear what Moshe had to say. They were so enslaved that they could absorb a message of liberation.

Can you imagine how frustrating it must have been for Moshe. He comes to the Jews and says ‘the slavery is going to be over’. The Jews respond ‘we are too overworked to listen to what you have to say’.

Imagine a lawyer who makes a call to a harried housemaid and tells her to come into his office for a meeting. She doesn’t come because she is too busy and doesn’t want to have pay deducted from her paycheck. But what happens if the lawyer is waiting for her to come to a meeting so he can tell her that her previous employer passed away and left her millions in her will?

The Rebbe in our generation faced the same challenge. He told us that Mashiach is about to come and we should get ready. Many responded that they were worried about such dramatic changes such as the Mashiach coming. What would happen to the stock market gains? What about the new house they had just renovated? Would they be expected to leave it behind and go to Israel?

This is the message I wish to impart.

For me, I have to put a system in place that doesn’t allow me to be without petty cash, so that I can keep my mind focused on the more important stuff.

For all of you (who I hope never suffered from my above situation):

Don’t allow yourself to be preoccupied with pennies, when diamonds are there for your taking.

Meaningful, ‘real’ (as opposed to ‘virtual’) relationships are diamonds. ‘Likes’ and ‘followers’ on Facebook are pennies or sometimes the internet is even worse. Like an addictive drug or a poisonous snake.

In the broader perspective: Torah and Mitzvahs are diamonds. Materialistic possessions are pennies.

Study some more Torah.

Do another mitzvah.

Go for the gold and the diamonds!

Mashiach is the ultimate GRAND FINALE. It is the greatest, most unimaginably good thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe. Don’t get distracted by the pennies of life as we know it. Wait for coming of Mashiach. More importantly, do good deeds to hasten it.  

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

Plain/Plane Thievery

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

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It felt surreal to be sent to the waiting room at the immigration in Israel. The young immigration officer had asked me a number of questions. ‘I see you sometimes come to Israel for only twenty-four hours, why?’ I explained that indeed, a few weeks ago I had come for one day to attend a funeral. A while before that, I had come for a day and a half for a wedding. This didn’t allay her doubts and I was sent to wait in the side room as she did further investigation. Thank G-d it didn’t take all that long and I was handed back my passport with an immigration permit.

It was a minor annoyance. It came on the heels of a delayed flight. An inexplicable headache that was getting stronger. My fedora hat that was had been bent out of shape. It had fallen under my computer bag in the overhead compartment, although I was sure I hadn’t place it there that clumsily.

The worst part of the trip was yet to become known to me.

I had come to Israel to attend a memorial gathering and after getting settled in the hotel, I was ready to set out to the Har Hamenuchot cemetery to lead the prayers.

In my computer bag I had a considerable amount of cash that was intended to alleviate the plight of a particular needy family. Before I left the hotel room I thought it would be prudent to put the cash into the safe.

I rummaged through my bag to get the envelope with the money. I looked again. I took everything out of my bag. I searched my other bag. I turned the bags over and felt every surface. No money. Strange. I had hidden it away in my bag. It had been tucked into a place that was not easy to reach. But I couldn’t find it.

There is a tradition that when one loses something one gives money to Tzedaka and the merit of the tzedaka helps to find the lost item. I took some shekels and put them aside for charity.

The tzedaka helped. A few minutes later I found it. ‘It’ in this case refers to the envelope in which the cash had been placed. I remembered it because I had folded it a certain way before I hid it in my bag. But it was empty. It was very helpful to find that envelope because it allowed me to realize what had happened.

I had been robbed. On the plane. I had slept deeply for five hours. Sitting up straight in my economy class seat. At the time, after waking up from a deep non-interrupted five-hour sleep, I was amazed at how well I had slept. Now I wonder if I had slept too deeply. Someone obviously went into my bag and combed through its contents. That would explain why my hat which had been placed by me on top of my bag, landed up under it. Someone had obviously pilfered from my bag as I sat on that Royal Jordanian flight. Did they somehow manage to induce my sleep? Maybe my headache came from that? Too much of a conspiracy theory here. Especially when taking into account that I hadn’t drunk anything before I fell asleep. Not even a cup of water.

Bottom line. I had a lousy flight. Irksome delay from midnight to 3am. Robbed on the way. Massive headache on arrival. Inexplicable hesitation by border control to allow me into the country. Actually the waiting time in the border room was a blessing in disguise. After a few cups of water from the water cooler my headache started dissipating. But the money theft once discovered was difficult to perceive as a blessing.

I cannot say I was totally untroubled by all this. I was certainly not dancing in the streets with joy. However, I know that G-d’s Divine Providence runs every detail of our lives and thus I was not overly distressed. it was more of a feeling of ‘what is this meant to teach me’ rather than ‘why did this happen’. And I was worried about helping this family that was relying on the funds I was bringing for them.

As all of this sunk in I was able to reflect on the events and think about it more objectively. Nothing that happened was really all that unusual. A quick google search told me that theft in airplanes is not uncommon. A call to my travel agent got me confirmation of that. The airline told my agent that while they are aware that this takes place, there is nothing they can do about this phenomenon. Getting stopped at the border for a secondary check happens to many people. As a non-Israeli passport holder the immigration agent wanted to be prudent before allowing me in. Delays and headaches certainly happen all the time. Things not working out the way you anticipate is a reality for so many people. Why was I making a big deal of it?

The realization came to be with clarity.

I had become used to miraculous success. So used to it actually, that when things didn’t glide along extraordinarily it left me feeling that something was wrong. Even when arguably it could be written off as ‘that’s life’.

Hmm. This got me thinking further. Why didn’t the supernatural success accompany me this time? Was I somehow less spiritually attuned? Why hadn’t I merited to the undeserved Divine Providence that accompanied me so regularly and eased my way through the twists and turns of life?

The Jewish tradition of asking a Tzadik to pray on your behalf is well-known. My wife had asked me before I left whether I had written my customary note to be placed at the Rebbe’s Ohel. She asked me three times to be precise. Each time I answered that I had written. And that was the truth of course. But deep down I knew that it was only partially true. The note I had written about my upcoming trip was part of a blessing request written last week. Usually, just before my flight I write a separate note just for the trip. Trips require so much blessing. I had not really prepared spiritually in the same way I usually do.

I am not saying I was punished for that. Not at all. I hadn’t done anything wrong. And nothing unnaturally or extraordinarily bad had happened to me. Everything that happened is explainable by the laws of averages and plausibility’s.

Simply, I was not lifted onto the wings of obvious Divine supernatural success during the first stage of my trip. It was almost like Heaven was saying ‘you want it your way, without turning to G-d in prayer for obvious Divine accompaniment, have it your way. See how the natural order of this world doesn’t always smile’. And then a series of unpleasant - albeit purely natural - events happened.

Of course once I realized my mistake, I immediately sent a note to be read at the holy space of the Rebbe’s resting place.

The results were swift in coming. I mentioned my predicament to my philanthropic friend who was hosting the memorial event and he immediately undertook to replace those funds so that the poor family would be helped. I breathed a huge sigh of relief.

And then everything else started to return to the blessed pattern I have become accustomed to. All my appointments and meetings started falling into place with the kind of precision that is an obvious sign of revealed Divine Providence. It feels so humbling to be the recipient of this kind of unearned benevolence from the Almighty.

Thank you Hashem for allowing me to ‘wake up and smell the coffee’ as the saying goes. To be reminded of how important it is to be mindful and aware of our dependence on G-d for every single nuance of our lives!

Here is what I want to leave you with.

First of all, a practical tip. I just learned, after twenty-five years of travel, that the thievery on planes is something to be reckoned with. When traveling with valuables and cash, they need to be guarded more closely.

Another message for life that I would like to highlight. Don’t take for granted the blessings that are already part of your ‘package’. A potent analogy of this would be that you only truly appreciate the working pipes in your home, when the plumbing in the house goes awry. A problematic toilet makes you aware of what has been taken for granted for so long.

Don’t wait for something to go wrong G-d forbid, to begin to sing praises to G-d for all the things in your life that are working. There is so much that is a blessing and ‘on-track’. Appreciate it and thank G-d for it.

Furthermore, what I learned most uniquely from these events that occurred to me on my trip, is the power and importance of prayer. Perhaps even more importantly, I wish to highlight the need stay away from the pitfall of lethargy and inaction in not taking engaging fully and connecting to the power of prayer to G-d.

One of the fascinating misconception I have come across is as follows. Some people think prayer should be reserved for the ‘big things’ in life. Like health and other serious business like that. They seem to think it will be too much of a ‘burden’ to mention the ‘smaller stuff’ to G-d and that somehow they should just grin it, bear it and sweat it out.

It reminds me of this telling analogy. A fellow was trudging along the road from yehoopitz to yenehekvelt. Along came a wagon and offered him a ride. Thankfully our weary hiker climbed onto the carriage. The magnanimous host told his guest to make himself comfortable and put his heavy backpack down on the floor of the carriage. The guest responded ‘I so appreciate that you are giving me a ride, I wouldn’t want to take further advantage and make your horse shlep the extra weight of the bag as well’.

Sounds foolish. Sometimes we do the same. Sure, for the ‘big things’ of life we turn to G-d. For health and major things obviously we need to turn to Hashem. For the ‘small things’ we seem to sometimes tell him ‘G-d, I don’t want to burden you with the small things, its kind enough of you to handle the ‘big things’’. Most of us don’t say this consciously, but sometimes we do say it subconsciously.  

My dear friend.

May G-d guide you and carry you on His wings. May G-d carry the Jewish people on the ‘wings of eagles’ to the much awaited time of our Redemption with the righteous Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Are you waitlisted?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I have heard the saying ‘the most important thing in life is showing up’.

Think about it this way: ‘If you are on the waiting list for a flight, you will certainly not board the flight if you don’t even go to the airport’.

In other words, don’t give up and decide you won’t succeed without even going to where you are supposed to go.

But how does one know where to go?

Ah. About this King David said in Psalms ‘man’s footsteps are planned from Hashem’.

Or as our Sages wrote in the Talmud: ‘the feet of a person are responsible to take him to exactly where he needs to go’.

Once your feet take you to where you are supposed to be, the rest will work out too. Hashem runs His world, we have to do our bit, allow our feet to go where they need to go and not hide passively under the bed.

When I got the notice that Dan R. was recovering from a major heart surgery in Manilla, I asked my colleague Rabbi Eliezer Ashkenazi to go visit him. He showed up at the hospital and started asking for Dan. The staff were not really understanding who he was looking for.

Jesse R, Dan’s son, concluded the story. ‘I spent twelve hours at my father’s bedside and finally I was going to go home for some respite. I was getting my parking card stamped at the front desk when I heard someone asking for my father Dan R. I looked and saw it was a rabbi….’

Divine Providence. The minute that the rabbi arrived Hashem organized to have the son at the front desk to ensure that the visit was carried out. And an important visit it was. Rabbi Ashkenazi put on Tefilin and said Shma with Dan. Five days later, after Dan contracted a lung infection in the hospital, he passed away.

Jesse now knew a rabbi, so he called him immediately after Dan’s passing to discuss his father’s wishes to have a Jewish burial by Rabbi Yosef Kantor in Thailand. Instinctively, the family thought to bring ashes back to Thailand to have a burial ceremony. Gently, Rabbi Ashkenazi advised him that Jewish burial absolutely prohibited cremation. The Jewish burial took place a few days later in the traditional way.

Rabbi Ashkenazi felt uplifted to have been the right person, at the right time, in the right place, to help facilitate a fellow Jew’s final journey according to our hallowed traditions.

Last week saw me take a very brief trip to New York. One of my stops was to pray morning services at a synagogue in Manhattan to see O.T. who is a generous supporter of our work in Thailand. I rarely get to meet him as he doesn’t ever visit Thailand. But since he does business in Thailand he feels it is proper to support Jewish life there as well. Actually, all I wanted to do was give sincere thanks for his unwavering support over the year. I hadn’t coordinated an official meeting with O but figured I would see him at morning services which he attends daily.

‘My luck’, he didn’t come to that particular minyan that morning.

Hey, no such thing as ‘luck’. I mean Divine Providence.

Ok Divine Providence. But the bottom line is that I had planned to see him, and out of all days, the day that I came, he didn’t come. I was feeling mystified.

The rabbi of the congregation told me to wait a few minutes as he may come to a Brit scheduled a short while later. In the meantime I opened a book of Torah thoughts written by great Sephardic rabbis.

I couldn’t believe my eyes….

I had opened to an erudite Torah essay written by Rabbi Shalom Mashash the chief Sephardic rabbi of Jerusalem who had passed away in 2003. His essay was in honor of the fiftieth year of the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s leadership. It was written several years after the Rebbe’s passing.

One of the thoughts written there, relates to our Parsha.

Usually, the new parsha of the week starts after a break of at least a few spaces. Click here for the beginning of last weeks parsha to see an example.

This weeks portion, Vayechi, starts without any break. The text just runs on. To the extent, that it is hard for the Torah reader to see where to start. Click here to see what I mean.

A question that is addressed by several commentaries is, why is there no break at the beginning of this weeks parsha?

Rabbi Mashash shared the following explanation:

Last weeks parsha speaks about Yaakov’s life!

This weeks parsha speaks about Yaakov’s passing…

For the vast majority of people, end of life is the end of a chapter.

The end of the earthly, physical life that they lived here on earth.

It heralds the beginning of a new chapter of life.

Spiritual life.

For Yaakov, and saintly tzadikim, end of life here on earth is not the end of a chapter.  Neither is entry into the next life a new chapter.

For even when a tzadik is alive in this physical world, he is living in a sublime spiritual reality. Yes, he needs to eat and drink, but his life is not about the sensory enjoyments of life. Belief in Hashem, awe of G-d and love of G-d, these are the realities that occupy and motivate him.

That life continues even after the physical life here on earth finishes.

The Torah illustrated this by not showing a chapter break between Yaakov’s physical life and his spiritual one after passing.

The timing of the message was impeccable. It happened last week, when we were reading Veyigash, the very portion that ends without a break. This week we are reading Vayechi, the portion that starts without a break.

I didn’t get to meet the gentleman I had wanted to meet… but I got far more than that.

I got a Heavenly sign that my feet had taken me where I needed to be. From all the thousands of books in the library, I had happened upon a book that contained a scholarly tribute to my beloved Rebbe. An article that was related to the very portion of Torah read this week. The content of the article was directly related to a chasidic gathering I was going to be chairing the next day.

I felt euphoric. I left that synagogue with a bounce in my walk. Inspired to keep ‘showing up’ even if I am not always sure that I will succeed. It is up to me to do my part.

As the Rebbe once wrote to someone. When you are not sure what to do, ‘sleeping is never the right response’. Don’t run away and try to hide. Do something. Even if you don’t see how your action will solve the matter.

When a Rebbe speaks we listen.

Because while a Rebbe lives in the physical world, they are spiritual lighthouses. Their lives here in this world are all about spirituality. It’s not that they live ascetically. It is a mitzvah to eat, to marry, to handle money for benevolent purposes. Honor doesn’t tempt them. Their material lives are a ladder to the Divine. For true tzadikim, money doesn’t sway them. In a simple analogy, just like most of us will never be tempted to murder someone else G-d forbid, a true Tzadik is never tempted to do anything that is not Divinely mandated.

Most of us cannot reach that level. But we can be inspired to climb up the ladder of personal growth. To be a bit more mindful of the ‘true’ values of life. Goodness and kindness. Belief in G-d and integrity in interpersonal relationships. More mitzvah performance, less selfish indulgence.

Now that’s called a real ‘life’.

Not life ‘Coke adds life’ which was a branding slogan in the late 70’s.

‘REAL life’ is being more connected to the ‘life of life’, Almighty G-d the Creator of the Universe and all therein.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS following on the above, by Divine Providence an urgent case has reached me. And through me it is now reaching you….

M.C., who lost his wife, leaving him with four children without a mother, heroically married a young widow who was left to fend for her four children. M.C. works hard to support the large combined family as his wife provides the home environment so needed for these suffering children. They barely makes ends meet but manage to survive. Till they were hit with unexpected and unwanted expenses. Two of the children urgently need several months of emotional therapy at $120 per session. The suffering of these poor children is already so great… at least we can try to help them weather the storm and overcome their challenges so they can become upright and self-respecting young men and women.

Please help these poor orphans! Click here for our humanitarian fund and give tzedaka to pay for a therapy session and thus give hope and a brighter future to these suffering children.

Shabbat Shalom and Happy Chanuka!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It must have felt eerie. To have the most powerful man in Egypt, the power behind the Pharaoh, know your childhood secrets.

Imagine being granted an audience with the chief minister of a super power. Out of the blue they start asking you questions about pranks you pulled on your sibling’s in your early childhood. Or they show that they know about your family rivalries and secrets, the nature of which you would never share outside the four walls of your house. (Today you would assume that there was a secret camera in your house. Three and a half thousand years ago that wasn’t within the realm of the imaginable).

That’s the way the brother of Joseph felt when they stood before him asking to buy grain during the regional famine.

Unbeknownst to them Joseph was their brother. He knew them literally from the cradle. A stranger would indeed never have been privy to that level of intimate knowledge about the family. But Yosef was not a stranger. There was not even a remote thought in their mind that the governing minister of Egypt was their long lost – sold – brother. So the uncanny knowledge this minister had into the minutiae of their family life left them ‘spooked out’.

The story unfolds in this week’s Torah reading and next week’s as you can read in the clickable links.

All their questions became answered immediately once Yosef revealed his true identity. It was like turning on a light in a pitch black room after one has wandered around the room bumping into various items and not knowing what the nature of the room is. One could be groping around a room which contains a sink, metal instruments and other accouterments and not know the nature of the room. Is it an operating theater? A home kitchen? Perhaps a science lab. Without the gift of sight and light and without the benefit of other information, you would literally be ‘left in the dark’ as to the exact function of the room you are in. The moment the light goes on, in a split second, everything becomes clear. The myriads of questions you had about the odd shapes and various textures of the objects in the room, becomes self-evident immediately upon being able to see.

With our Jewish identities it is sometimes not very different.

I have heard from many a searching Jew, that he or she have gone through periods in their life feeling like something is missing. Not feeling entirely happy with their lives even though everything seems to be going well. Their mundane successful lives were lacking true depth and meaning. Some may have temporarily assuaged this feeling by experimenting with other cultures, religions or philosophies. They may have even started to believe that Judaism was merely an ethnicity or cultural context.

Till they saw a swastika paraded by anti-Semites and their blood started boiling. Or they heard about a heinous shooting in Pittsburgh or G-d forbid a missile falling in Israel and they couldn’t just go on with ‘life as usual’. Perhaps they read in the news headlines about a fellow Jew committing a crime which is grossly unethical and bad and they cringed upon reading it.

They then started to wonder. Why am I reacting so passionately? Do I really care so much about my Jewishness?

On the positive side, people have shared with me that after engaging with their Jewishness by participating in Jewish events and performing mitzvahs they had the warm feeling of having ‘come home’. The amazing thing is, that these are people who didn’t have any prior Jewish experiences in their lives until they were many decades old.

It is difficult to make sense of this. I have a friend who grew up in a traditional home and used to observe quite a few mitzvahs to the best of his ability. After the horrific terror attacks in France a few years ago, he sent me an email that was painful to read.

Here is what he wrote:

I am not writing this to disrespect you … I have lost all faith in organized religion and I believe strongly that all religions are manmade and that religion is a form of brainwashing. None of us would feel Jewish if we had not had a Jewish upbringing.…

I can’t blame him for thinking that his ‘Jewish conscience’ is a byproduct of his Jewish upbringing. He was brought up with Judaism from his early childhood on.  He does not yet realize that even those who are not brought up with Jewish observance feel a sense of inner peace and ‘homecoming’ when they respond to the needs of the Jewish soul within them.

It is an existential reality. The Jewish soul only feels satisfied when it is engaged in a purposeful relationship with G-d.

My friend who thinks that feeling Jewish is all about the way you were brought up, is in for a surprise. In my eyes, a pleasant surprise. I don’t know when it will happen. I do know that it will happen though. My prayer is that he gets back to his Jewish senses when he is young, healthy and energetic. This way there will still be time to realign himself on a more wholesomely Jewish track and contribute his share to the glorious destiny of our people.

This is a powerful inner message we take from Chanuka. The story of Chanuka is the victory over the overwhelmingly stronger enemy, finding the untainted, sealed oil and the miraculous eight days that the Menorah burned. The oil used needed to be sealed by the unbreakable seal of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest).

This flask of oil symbolizes the spark of Jewishness within us. It is a spark that cannot be contaminated. Almighty G-d has sealed it and it remains inviolable.  Come what may, the Jewish soul retains its pristine holiness and innocence. No force in the world can harm it.

This Chanuka I got to see the ‘flask of oil’ – Jewish spark in action.  This is a story that is seven-plus decades in the making.

Dan Rosenthal came to shul in Bangkok when he was seventy-five years old. For the first time. After living here for many years something pulled him to the Synagogue. We put on Tefilin for what I believe was the first time in his life and subsequently every time we met we would lay Tefilin. It was a blossoming relationship that I enjoyed with Dan whom I last saw at our son's bar mitzvah a short time ago. He loved the joy and the dancing. During our last formal meeting just before Yom Kippur the topic of burial came up. I told Dan, who has several children, none of whom are Jewish, to make sure to convey his wishes for a Jewish burial in writing. As well, he should be sure to include a percentage of his estate to Jewish charity so that his Jewish legacy should continue.

These are standard things I make sure to mention to people. Not because I think something will happen to them in the immediate future. I have simply seen too many people leave this world without having addressed the topic of burial in their final wishes.*

Little did I know that a bare two months later I would get the notice that Dan had passed away after an emergency surgery during a visit to Manila. His wishes were made clear to his son. ‘If something happens, call Rabbi Yosef Kantor and arrange for a Jewish burial in Thailand’. (On Sunday please G-d the burial will take place here in the Jewish cemetery in Bangkok at 4:00 PM).

Here is a classic case of the indomitable spirit of the Jew. A ‘flask of oil’. Untainted. A soul can never lose its G-dly qualities. But this soul was not fed with the things a Jewish soul really craves. A Tefilin laying, some Tzedaka to Jewish causes, Passover Seder, Torah study. For many decades the soul seems neglected in terms of tending to its Jewish needs. The ‘oil’ doesn’t seem enough to last for more than one day. Maybe till the bar mitzvah. Maybe not even.

Miraculously the ‘oil’ lasts for eight days.

Smack in the middle of his eighth decade his soul was obviously as inspired as ever. It started shining ever more brightly. Bright enough that in the few minutes he had before going under the surgeon’s scalpel he expressly stated his final wishes to be buried as a Jew.

Dan came into the world as a Jew. Dan will leave the world as a Jew. The ‘oil’, the ‘pintele yid’ (spark of Jewishness) remains uncontaminated till the end.

I am sharing this important information. To save time and concern. To make sure you don’t get ‘spooked out’ when all of a sudden the urge to be more Jewishly engaged wells up in your soul. Recognize that you can never run away from who you truly are. A Jew is born a Jew and remains a Jew and will never truly feel fulfilled without feeding and engaging with his or her neshama – Jewish soul.

The Torah teaches us this unequivocal truth. This is the basis of everything my colleagues and I do. This was the unwavering message of the Rebbe to our generation. Do a mitzvah because it’s the most natural and wholesome thing you can do for self-actualization. The truest expression of your inner self is recognized when you live your life in sync with your inner being. It is the only way to true tranquility and peace of mind and spirit.

Let us embrace our inner ‘oil’. Smothering it doesn’t work. Thousands of dollars spent on therapists won’t change the reality of the truth of who we are. It is our choice to consciously progress in our own self-realization and actualize our inner potential.

The message of Chanuka is:

Discover the spark of your true Jewish self. Kindle your personal menorah through engaging in Yiddishkeit by studying Torah and observing Mitzvah’s. Don’t try to do everything at once. Gradually. One day at a time. One additional mitzvah-light at a time. Until all eight branches of the candelabra of your soul are illuminated and shed the beautiful light and inspiration of G-d’s teachings to all of your family, your community and by extension to all of humanity.

Shabbat Shalom & Happy Chanuka

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

* (It is also painful when a person who wants Judaism to continue for eternity doesn’t explicitly leave a Jewish legacy gift from their estate. Next of kin and heirs may not always share the vision and views of the deceased. It was the generations before us that provided for us and we need to provide for the future so that Judaism has the wherewithal to continue to flourish in the next generation. I am happy to report that several people have shared with me that they have included The Jewish Association of Thailand and Chabad Foundation of Thailand in their planned giving. For more information feel free to contact me).

Rich and sweating?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Life is defined by movement. Heartbeat. Pulse. Air moving through the lungs. The first cry of a baby is the sweetest sound possible*.

Silence is golden? True to an extent. But not really. Deathly silence is not golden. It is a sign of absence of life.

I recall attending the bedside of a person who passed away. A family member, thought that perhaps they had detected a flutter of the eyelid of the departed. To counter the hopeful and wishful thinking of the relative, the hospital staff quickly connected a heart monitor and showed the straight line. The unmoving heart was a sure sign of no life and the very disappointed relative conceded that indeed the worst had come to pass.

Movement is a requisite for life and growth is a byproduct of life.

Here’s the thing. Just basic growth is not really enough. For some it’s actually a copout. As a living human being you don’t need to do anything to grow. Without contributing any effort your hair gets longer, your nails grow and your passport age advances.

Well, almost nothing. You do have to provide your body with nutrition in order to stay alive and thus grow. In the olden days that took a lot more effort than today. Much less time was available for other pursuits. Today, many people have leisure hours at their disposal and can afford to just ‘hang out’ or as they say today ‘chill out’.

Is ‘chilling out’ and just staying alive enough to live up to G-d’s expectations of us?

Chanukah teaches us that just sticking to the default and going the bare minimum needed to stay alive is not enough to illuminate the world.

To do what G-d expects of us in this world requires that we put forth effort.

Living in our own comfort zone is not enough to be considered putting forth a true effort. Pump up the volume and aim for new frontiers. Once those additional efforts are part of your norm and come easily, ramp up your efforts even more and exert yourself to achieve more.

This is how Chanukah works. Day one we light one candle. Day two we light two. And so it continues successively. Till we reach the special number of eight which represents the transcendence of nature represented by seven – as in the seven days of the week.

The message is crystal clear. Add. Then add again. Keep on improving. Add more lights. Expend more effort.

Ironically, by putting in effort, you are more at peace. Provided you are doing meaningful things. Slouching and evading your responsibilities does not ultimately lead to more happiness.

This is a law of nature which is counterintuitive.

There are a number of such rules, which are obvious once we point them out, but are not our natural state.

For example:

Controlling our natural desire for indulgence seems to be an imposition on our personal freedom. Say I feel like eating seven-layer cake and my wife tells me not to. A foolish husband will say ‘why are you nagging and telling me what to do’. While the truth of the matter is that refraining from those redundant calories is not to the detriment of our health. On the contrary it is one of those situations where ‘less is more’. Eating ‘more’ may actually lead to ‘less’ in terms of feeling energetic and healthy.

How about exercise. Sure, being a couch potato has its allure. Pulling yourself to the treadmill or swimming pool is not always easy. It’s a kind of slavery. Probably a person who would arrive to our generation with a time machine would think that we are a crazy society. Wealthy people congregating in a gym and running till they break out in a sweat. Lifting weights till they groan under their burden. ‘So much money and so enslaved’? thinks the man from the past.

Indeed, it’s a huge switch in our thinking. In the olden day’s rich people were defined by their ability to choose to be inactive. The poor had to work, shlep, run and lift heavy things. However today we know that for optimum health we need to exert our physical bodies.

It really boils down to allowing your head to do the thinking and deciding. The first Rebbe of Chabad authored the Tanya which contains this very fundamental message. Our minds are meant to steer our hearts and deeds. Practice doing what you know intellectually to be correct, health and right. Do not do whatever you ‘feel like’ based on your emotional urges or natural animalistic drives.

I always wonder why people don’t see the obvious correlation between exerting oneself Jewishly and enjoying enhanced spiritual well-being.

I am talking about sensible, balanced people. Who limit their food intake to be healthy. People that go to the gym and exercise regularly. They obviously know that doing what ‘you feel like’ is not a recipe for wellness.

Yet, when it comes to participating in developing their souls by enhancing their Jewish observance, a different set of values is sometimes applied.

Did you ever think to give your preteen kid a choice of whether they would like to brush their teeth? Yes, it’s a pain and a bother but you don’t wait for your kid to become a scientist and understand how plaque affects the enamel on the teeth. You tell him ‘listen here, I am your parent and you’d better go and brush your teeth’.

So why would you give your kid a choice of whether to participate in Jewish life? Yes, it’s easier not to go to a Chanukah celebration as it may take some efforts on the parent’s part. You may have to juggle your schedule. But that is the only way to gain better spiritual health.

Chanukah reminds us. Our efforts are critical. Growth, true growth can only come if we exert ourselves. If we don’t want to fool ourselves, we have to honestly admit that once our exertion level has become a norm we have to hold ourselves accountable to new levels of output. It’s comfortable to put on cruise control and stay at the same level. It behooves us though to do whatever we can to reach our full G-dly potential.

Add a mitzvah to your repertoire. It seem difficult? Great! That means you are making an effort. Making an effort means that you will truly grow in your relationship with G-d through your actions.

The G-dly way is to keep growing. Not natural growth rather effort based growth. We will never truly be happy until we go all the way.

May G-d bless you with everything good. Ever increasing good. Better health. More nachas from your loved ones. Prosperity. Peace of mind. Until we merit that final game plan – the coming of Mashiach, Amen!

Shabbat Shalom

Happy Chanuka (starting on Sunday night)

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS

* I got to think about the cry of a newborn yesterday, as we received the news from New York, that G-d blessed our son Mendel and his wife Chani with a healthy baby girl.

Overwhelming feelings of gratitude to the Almighty for His kindnesses to us fill our family’s hearts.

The Blessing of No Selfies on Shabbat

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Imagine if you didn’t have to shlep and actually travel to a tourist attraction but could get the memory of your desired trip implanted into your brain.

After all, what really remains of the touring trips we take? Isn’t it just the memories we have created through our travels?

Wouldn’t it be cool to just go to a ‘touring download clinic’ and choose what memories you want to have. Presto, a few minutes later you walk out enriched with memories of having visited your place of choice. No need to buy ticket, to sit in a seat on cramped seat in an airplane.

In a sad twist, a psychologist told me about a real scenario regarding someone who had lost their ability to remember anything.  His wife wanted to go on holiday, whereas the husband insisted it wasn’t worth his effort. He knew that unfortunately he would have no memories of his trip. He argued that while he would enjoy the holiday during the time he was actually experiencing it, the fact that he would not remember anything made it unattractive to him. The psychologist urged him to make the trip for the value it had for his wife. Even if it would not produce memories for him, he should see the value in the actual act of benevolently accompanying his wife.

The downside of being too caught up in ‘creating memories’ is the fact that it takes away our being present in the actual experience we are engaged in. In today’s world of gadgets and communications, we almost never allow a meaningful experience to be bereft of the ubiquitous ‘selfie’, tweet or Instagram. Sometimes we are not truly ‘present’ in the moment because we are too busy doing things to preserve the moment for the future.

(Thank G-d for Shabbat when we actually unplug from the external stimuli and focus inward. We spend time getting in touch with our own souls, we place emphasis on our relationship with G-d and spend quality time with our families and friends).

So how important are memories?

Well, it really depends on how you use them.

Do you use them to lean back, feel good and doze off?  

Or do the memories form a base from which you get energized and inspired to continue in your life mission.

Rabbi Yochanan ben Zakai was a great sage and a saintly man. It is puzzling that he proclaimed to his students before he passed away ‘I don’t know in which direction they will take me after I pass away’. How could he have any doubts about the fact that he would be headed straight for the Garden of Eden after his passing.

What Rabbi Yochanan was sharing with his students was the fact that he was so busy in his work in serving Hashem that he hadn’t had a chance to think about where he was in terms of his righteousness.

When you are busy enjoying a wedding of a loved one or selling merchandise at a trade show, there is no time to calculate or reminisce. While one is in the midst of doing something and progressing in their goals it is not the appropriate time to pause for nostalgic remembrances.  

‘TODAY is a time for doing – tomorrow will be the time for enjoying the reward’.

This is how the sages instruct us to lead our lives.

Our world is filled with opportunity to partner with G-d. Every time we overcome our natural instincts and choose to do what is right over what is convenient or expedient, we have made the world a bit more holy. Every good deed, every charitable and magnanimous act tilts the worlds balance to purity and saneness. There is so much to do. So little time to do it in. Taking time to dwell on memories can be a threat to doing new things.

At the same time, the Torah tells us that we must take the time and make the effort to remember.

Remember that G-d took us out of Egypt. Remember that G-d created the world in six days and rested on the seventh. That’s why we keep the day of Shabbat holy. Remember dark moments of our past history so as not to repeat past mistakes. Remember our inspirational moments. The G-dly revelation at Sinai.

These remembrances are what give us the impetus to leap forward in an energetic recommitment to following in Hashem’s path.

Feelings of gratitude are also enhanced by memories. Remembering humble beginnings makes one’s gratitude for the subsequent blessings much stronger.

Yaakov states in this week’s portion how he feels humbled by G-d’s kindnesses to him. ‘I crossed the Jordan river with just my walking stick’ said Yaakov, ‘now I have grown into two camps (one consisting of a large family and the other consisting of the great wealth I have amassed.)’.  

In conclusion: remembering the past is clearly a very important component in living an inspired life the way G-d wants us to live it.

It is not a call to rest, it is an inspiration to do more.

It was with this thought in mind - that we got together with friends and community members last night to celebrate moving into our new home in the La Maison building (opposite the Beth Elisheva Synagogue).  

We reminisced that exactly twenty-six years earlier I had first landed in Thailand on my exploratory visit that led to our arrival here several months later. This memory filled us with gratitude to Hashem for blessing us so magnanimously. More importantly it was a call to action. For together with the accumulation of years and blessings comes the opportunity to do more. To build more Jewish life. To broaden and deepen the opportunities for Jewish observance in this country.

The celebration coincided Providentially with the ninetieth wedding anniversary of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and his wife the Rebbetzen. The remembrance and celebration of this milestone is a source of great inspiration as it was this union that effectively bonded the Rebbe with us the student and chasidim. This marriage led to his subsequent acceptance of the leadership of the Chabad/Lubavitch movement after the passing of his father in law the sixth Rebbe. The remembrance of this day fuels the drive to try to live up to his ambitious expectations of his students and emissaries.

Memories: Remember that truly valuable memories are those that are real! In other words, do the right thing because it’s the right thing. Not because you think it will look good in the pictures. The memories will be created automatically as a result of your experiences.

Once you have memories, by all means use them wisely.

Use them to recognize how blessed you are.

Even more importantly, get inspired and energized by them.

Shabbat Shalom

PS It was a few minutes short of midnight last night when I received the call that Mr. Salim (Shlomo) Eubanni had passed away. As I went to the hospital to oversee the arrangements I recalled the first Torah discussion I had with Salim twenty-six years ago. He stood at the helm of the Even Chen Synagogue with dedication and determination. Salim was a talmid chacham who was meticulous in his personal observance of Torah and Mitzvot and steadfast in upholding the standards of Torah-true Judaism he so fervently believed in. Salim will be sorely missed by our community and by the beautiful family that he and his wife Sally are blessed with.

Burial will take place in Israel next week. A funeral service will likely be held here in Bangkok before the departure to Israel. As arrangements are still being finalized please send me an email if you wish to be updated.

Wedding: Rain but Shining

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

The marriage ceremony was just beginning. Menachem Wilhelm, (son of Rabbi & Mrs. Nechemya Wilhelm of Chabad House in Bangkok’s backpacker district) was already standing under the velvet chupa which was positioned under the open sky. His bride had just entered the chupa when the first drops began.

Holding the chupa under the open sky is an ancient custom. It symbolizes the blessings of G-d to Avraham our Patriarch that his children be like the stars of the sky.

True, the weather forecast did say rain. While several guests brought umbrellas thanks to the weather forecast, most didn’t. The forecast didn’t give an exact time and what are the odds of the rain starting just as the ceremony is underway. If the rain had started before the chupa, they would have waited till it passed. But it caught everyone unaware. After the ceremony had begun.

Nu, nobody is going to interrupt a marriage ceremony because of a light drizzle. Seconds later it became apparent that it was not drizzle, the drops were quite heavy. A few moments after that, the pace of the rain increased. The guests ran for cover while the immediate family continued the chupa ceremony. Rapidly, the rain increased to the level of a monsoon. Standard for Thailand, but uncharacteristic for Israel. Still, the bride continued her seven encirclements of her groom as the families bravely stood there. The chupa canopy was falling lower and lower under the weight of the accumulated rain. At some stage it became quite impossible to continue and the families conceded and moved indoors thus temporarily pausing the ceremony. Once they did that, the rain quickly tapered off and a few minutes later the ceremony continued outdoors.

Although it started off quite extraordinarily, the rest of the wedding celebration went more predictably and was extremely joyous thank G-d.

The wedding took place only two days ago (you can wish the Wilhelm’s Mazel tov by clicking here) and I haven’t had a chance to hear how the newly married couple feels about the unexpected drama at the start of their married life. However, knowing the groom’s family very well, I am absolutely sure that they will view the rain at the chupa as a blessing from G-d.

The major world events of this week are a good backdrop against which to put things in perspective.

Earlier this week missiles were falling in Israel. The fact that in our own country Jews are hounded and pounded by enemy fire is tragic and unacceptable. The loss of life at the hands of our enemies is painful beyond words.

We must also pay attention to the miracles though. The casualty count was miraculously low. Not because the missiles are ineffective. When they score a direct hit, they are tragic.

An anti-tank missile actually did hit a bus. Which went up into flames immediately. Miraculously, it was moments after the soldiers had gotten off.

In other news this week, the California wildfires are reported to be the worst in America’s recorded history. The loss of life is tragic. Myriad homes were consumed by the uncontrollable fires which even wiped out an entire city. This disaster has impacted the lives of scores of thousands. In many ways it has irreparably damaged their lives.

My friends and colleagues in the affected areas of California have galvanized to provide support and help. Click here for more info.

It would be insensitive of me not to recognize a rained out chupa is quite an inconvenience and disappointment. True, it seems like quite an insignificant issue compared to the aforementioned real life and death matters going on around us. Still, it is certainly not something I would wish for anyone. (Watch the clip and you will see how ludicrous it was).

The downsides of chupa under heavy rain? First of all, I am sure the rain damaged the new and costly fancy wedding clothes. The pictures of the chupa were affected without doubt. I am sure there are many other details that were affected by this unexpected deluge.

The only thing that was absolutely unaffected is the actual marriage of the young man and young woman standing under the chupa. They exited the chupa as a married couple. Moreover, the powerful G-dly blessings that accompany every wedded couple were in no way diminished. On the contrary, it would seem that in Jewish tradition the rain only serves to emphasize the Divine blessings that will ‘rain down’ upon this couple as they enter their married life. After all, rain is quite literally a life giving elixir that comes down from Heaven. It symbolizes that all of our material sustenance comes from G-d.

Here is the point:

Too often we miss the point. We get sidetracked and distracted. When driving a car, getting distracted is downright dangerous G-d forbid. When living life, getting distracted from our primary goals can lead to living an uninspired life. Or even worse, being mildly depressed G-d forbid.

For example, Bar Mitzvahs sometimes become more about the ‘bar’ and the party than about the ‘mitzvah’.

When preparing a family for the bar or bat mitzvah of their child I emphasize the importance of not losing sight of what the celebration is really about. It is about the privilege and responsibility of entering the age of being obligated in performing the mitzvahs of the Almighty.

Yes, the celebration is important. But it is a celebration of the primary achievement of Bar Mitzvah. And we need to keep our ‘eyes on the ball’ and not lose our way.

With weddings, it is even more common to lose sight of what a wedding is really about. Wedding preparations are sometimes focused on things that are not meaningful in the greater picture. Exaggerated amounts of time and money are spent on things that are fleeting and extremely short-lived. Clothing, makeup, pictures, menus and so on.

Certainly all these things are important ingredients for a joyous wedding celebration. And the Torah does instruct us to rightfully mark the beginning of a new Jewish family with unbridled joy. The right perspective is critical though. So that the secondary is not treated as primary which would relegate the primary to secondary.

Primary in a marriage is the commitment to honor, cherish, respect and love one another. Critical to the success of the union is entering the relationship under the G-dly canopy. Realizing that a Jewish marriage and home can only succeed if built on the foundation of Torah and Mitzvahs.

Rain can ruin clothes. It can cloud pictures. It can scare away the guests to run indoors for cover. It cannot adversely affect the real and enduring meaning of marriage.

This is a message that we can all take for our own lives.

When you face a disappointment because of something not going the way you anticipated or wanted, it may help to take a moment and think about what your primary goal in life is. Very often the primary goal is unaffected. It is merely the circumstances that have not lived up to your hopes.

Our mission and goal is as stated in the beginning of the Torah to recognize, serve and bring and awareness of G-d into our own lives and to our surroundings.

I bless you that Almighty G-d give you everything GOOD in your life, so that you can carry out your primary mission in life, from a position of health, nachat, prosperity and happiness.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Magic Wand? Yes or No?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

As a rabbi, people confide in me. The problems they share with me sometimes seem insurmountable.

In those untenable situations the only thing I can do is offer an empathetic ear.

It is at those times that I find myself saying ‘if only I had a magic wand…I would solve the problem’.

Do I really want a magic wand solution to problems?

Yes, and no.

Paradox?

Indeed!

Yet eminently livable.

Avraham did have a kind of magic wand. The Talmud speaks about a special stone the Avraham possessed that had the power to heal sickness in a miraculous way. When Avraham passed away, G-d did not leave the miraculous stone available to us mortals any more.

Now, if Avraham had a miraculously endowed healing stone, why do we find in this week’s portion that after his circumcision he was in pain.

Why didn’t Avraham use his miracle stone to heal himself?

The answer is that Avraham didn’t want to employ miraculous short-cuts when it came to fulfilling G-d’s instruction to him of circumcision.

The whole purpose of G-d’s instructing him to circumcise was to place a G-dly sign into the physical flesh. The experience was to be a fusion of two worlds.

The G-dly command of Brit Milah was to be embedded in the physical flesh of Avraham. In the physical world the result of cutting flesh is pain. To truly be a fusion of heaven and earth, that pain needed to be felt in the physical flesh of the one who was being circumcised.

Avraham was not about to circumvent that unique bringing together of the holy and the mundane by employing miraculous means.

G-d Himself did not want to interfere with Avraham’s earthly observance of the mitzvah either. Thus He did not heal him immediately after the Brit. It was only on the third day that G-d came to visit Avraham and sent Rafael the angel of healing to heal him. By day three it was already not a wholly supernatural healing. After three days’ circumcisions begin to heal naturally.

That’s a lesson right there to all of us.

Stop looking for the ‘magic wand’ to free you from the exertion and efforts that loom before you.

Don’t feel threatened or overwhelmed when doing the right thing looks hard.

On the contrary.

Embrace the challenges. Roll up your sleeves and get to work. The no-nonsense, no-shortcut path is the most meaningful.

Because it’s what G-d intended for us in the first place.

Recognize that G-d places us here on this earth, not only to arrive at a particular destination.

The very journey itself is what He wants of us.

G-d placed us in a physical world, where things don’t just happen by themselves in a miraculous way, not because he doesn’t want us to have good lives. Rather it is because he desires and cherishes our input and efforts. By working in the physical world according to spiritual ideals, we are impacting the world and elevating it.

G-d wants our physical life and all the efforts we expend in doing a mitzvah, to be imbued with a connection to G-d.

That’s why doing the right thing requires effort.

Having miraculous bypasses to obviate the need for natural and sometimes even strenuous efforts would not be the proper way to serve G-d. It would be missing the very point that we are placed here for.

Click here for a story that illustrates this point.

It also gives us a healthy perspective on spending money.

All too often, doing the right thing is not cheap.

Does it seem like living a Jewish life costs extra money?

If it seems that way, it’s probably because it is that way.

A non-Jew doesn’t need mezuzahs on their doorposts nor do they require an Etrog on Sukkot. Fulfilling the mitzvahs have an unavoidable expense.

Rather than resenting spending money on a mitzvah, rejoice in the additional expense. Recognize the beauty and holiness of it.

When you use your hard earned money to perform a mitzvah you are refining and elevating the materialism that money represents.

Getting something for free takes away that process of the elevation of your money and the efforts that earned you the money.

Do I want the ‘magic wand’?

According to what I have written above, no. For its our natural efforts which G-d wants of us.

Yet, as Jews we certainly do want miracles as well.

The birth of Yitschak described in this week’s Parsha says it loud and clear.   

Abraham was one hundred and his wife Sara was ninety when their son Yitschak was born.

A miraculous, nature-defying, conception and birth.

Yitschak was the first Jew by birth.

As the forefather of the future Jewish nation his coming into existence in such a miraculous way, was an indication of the supernatural future of the Jewish nation.

Am Yisrael has always been a miraculous nation. It started that way, and has continued that way till this very day. And so it will be forever.

Yes to miracles or ‘no thanks’ to miracles?

Sounds contradictory.

I have a simple resolution for this contradiction.

Leave it up to the Almighty.

While I definitely pray to G-d for miracles, I understand that in the absence of miraculous otherworldly assistance, it is precisely my enthusiastic and persistent efforts that G-d awaits.

G-d sometimes makes miracles.

Sometimes He doesn’t.

Not because He can’t, but because He doesn’t want to.

It may be the G-d wants you to shvitz a little as you work through things according to the natural course of the world operating according to the laws of nature.

For those who have access to the Mega Lotto, consider that if He decides to have you win the lottery, it may not be a bad idea to buy a ticket. One ticket is enough though. And don’t hang around twiddling your thumbs till you win. You may not be the winner

It’s actually really simple. A Jew wants to do what G-d wants them to do.

Which is to work naturally on the one hand. Pray for G-d’s blessing in making one’s natural efforts successful. As well as praying for G-dly miraculous intervention. Once those blessings come, its not time to rest, rather one must use those G-dly blessings as a stepping stone for even greater efforts.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Long Island and Laos!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

What do Long Island, New York and Luan Prabang, Laos, have in common?

Both start with the letter L.

I am not sure if I can think of other similarities.

What are the differences between them?

Many. But here is one that may interest you.

A global survey released two years ago by the Anti-Defamation League revealed that the least anti-Semitic country in the world is … Laos.

The reports regarding the state of anti-Semitism in New York are quite different. In a 2017 report we are told that ‘Anti-Semitic incidents in New York soared 90 percent last year compared to 2016’.

Presumably the reason for this discrepancy is quite simple. While there are millions of Jews in New York ‘ken yirbu’, Laos doesn’t have more than a few handfuls of Jews who call it home.

It was in Luan Prabang, Laos not Long Island New York that I landed last Sunday morning.

To participate in the completion of the writing of a Sefer Torah and the ensuing celebration. Literally, a mini Simchat Torah. The final letters of the Torah were written by dear friend Josh Goldhirsh -  who with his wife Robyn had commissioned the new Torah. The ink was allowed to dry and then the dancing and singing began.

We certainly made history. I think it is safe to say that it was the first Sefer Torah completed in Laos.

I got goosebumps.

But not only from the excitement and emotion of completing a Torah in such an incongruous setting.

In addition to the simple story there was a historical tapestry, woven throughout decades that was coming alive in front of my eyes.

The threads of this tapestry started on Simchat Torah of 1969 in the Rebbe’s synagogue at 770 Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn. They further developed in 1980 in the Rebbe’s private study. The opening of Chabad in Asia, and eventual opening of the Laos branch just one year ago, all feature in this story. As does a tragic car accident on the Long Island Expressway that took the lives of a very special philanthropic and community active couple at age 81. The story took a very inspirational turn in a unique Bar Mitzvah celebration on October 8, 2018 of Jews originally from Long Island but now living in Luan Prabang.

Let me start from the end and work my way to the beginning.

As we were finishing the last letter of the Torah I was told the following story by Lauren R. originally from Roslyn, Long Island.

‘The plans for the Bar Mitzvah of our only child Ari Nathan were simple. From when he was a little boy, we knew that my father – a passionate community activist and observant Jew - would conduct his grandsons Bar Mitzvah at a ceremony at the Western Wall in Jerusalem.  Two years ago, my parents, Itchy and Helen Adelson were killed in a horrific car crash as they were on their way to a friend’s wedding. With the tragedy, the Bar Mitzvah plans also came crashing down. When my work took us to Luang Prabang, Laos a year ago, I knew that organizing a Bar Mitzvah would be a real challenge. But Chabad had opened a branch in Luan Prabang, and I went to see the Rabbi to discuss Bar Mitzvah lessons. Initially I had thought to plan a Bar Mitzvah sometime in the beginning of next year. The Rabbi insisted on checking the ‘real’ date. It turned out that according to the Jewish calendar, Ari Natan was turning thirteen on Shabbat October 6. Getting a minyan during low tourist season in Laos didn’t seem possible. BUT, said the rabbi, ‘we are having an event on Sunday, with other Jews flying in to celebrate and we can read the Torah on Monday and do a Bar Mitzvah. Actually, your son who is a kohen will have the first Aliyah in the new Torah’

‘Imagine that’ said Laurent. From not having a minyan for the Bar mitzvah to inscribing a letter in a new Sefer Torah on Sunday, getting called up to that new Torah and having all the rabbis of Thailand present is like some kind of a dream’

Laurent went on to tell me a little bit about her parents who were true shining lights in the Long Island Jewish community. First in Roslyn and then in Westhampton.

‘I even visited the Lubavitcher Rebbe in his private office with my parents’ said Laurent. ‘I was inspired by his deeply penetrating and caring eyes’. The experience that took place in close to forty years ago, still remains indelibly engraved in my memory’.

Things started to make sense to me now.

The Rebbe had stated his mission many times. To spread Torah and help Jews anywhere and everywhere. Even in Luan Prabang. Had he really mentioned Luan Prabang? Well, perhaps not explicitly but certainly alluded to it. Read on and judge for yourself.

Just a week earlier I had been sitting in the Sukkah in Bangkok studying an address given by the Rebbe on Simchat Torah fifty years ago.

‘Think about it. Hashem has to worry about three billion people, and nonetheless thinks about a Jews who lives in South Africa, South America or in a remote location in Asia. He sends a special messenger to bring that Jew the most precious things that He has – the Torah’

The Rebbe went on to explain that G-d has plenty of angels who would gladly carry out His bidding. Yet He chose to send this message via individuals who move out to these locations to bring the word of G-d even there. The privilege is indescribably great. Thus the Rebbe encouraged those in attendance to embrace and implement his vision of spreading Torah to all four corners of the earth.

On the Sunday after Simchat Torah, participating in the bringing of a Torah to Laos it dawned on me that the Rebbe’s words were being recognized. Luan Prabang would certainly fit the bill of ‘remote’ at least in terms of Judaism.

Here we were. Shluchim – emissaries of the Rebbe, bringing a Torah for a Bar Mitzvah. To a boy whose mother had merited the Rebbe’s holy gaze on her face when she was a young girl. To the grandson of two unforgettable Jewish community activists. They had died tragically; the Bar Mitzvah seemed to be left hanging. Hashem detailed Providence had been set into motion.

Torah was now being brought to an even more remote location in Asia than ever before.

Ari Natan’s Bar Mitzvah – probably the first in Laos – was celebrated with much joy and tearful emotion.

Ari Natan donned his late grandfathers Tefilin and proclaimed proudly ‘Shma Yisrael, Ad-onai Elo-henu, Ad-onai ECHAD’

Long Island Jews and Luan Prabang had been brought together by a common theme. In each location, the unity of G-d was being proclaimed. By donning the Tefilin and reciting the Shma Yisrael, Ari Natan highlighted the singular mission statement of the Jew to proclaim the unity of G-d wherever he or she may be.

The message is clear.

True, G-d does not NEED to resort to us frail humans to do His bidding. He could get it done without us.

Yet, G-d CHOOSES to us to represent Him. He gives us the privilege and opportunity. To serve Him. To share our knowledge and devotion to Him with others. To inspire fellow Jews to get closer to G-d via learning Torah and doing Mitzvot. To inspire all fellow humans to commit to the G-dly moral code also known as the ‘Seven Noahide Laws’.

It’s not limited to rabbi’s or ‘official’ outreach persons. Each and every one of us is able to inspire and encourage and teach by example. Each in their own circle of influence.

Together, by studying Torah and doing more Mitzvah’s we can change the world.

To be a brighter place. A holier place. A true abode where Almighty G-d feels comfortable.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS If you are in Bangkok on Monday night, please join us for our son Efraim’s Bar Mitzvah.

Dancing for 3300 Years

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Time to rest up after the flurry of spirited Chagim during this past month?

‘No way Jose’, (as they say).

You would think that after finishing the Torah reading cycle on Simchas Torah we would get a breather. Couple of days off. Till we start again.

Right?

Wrong!

On Simchas Torah itself, we reinforce the never ending cyclical experience that defines our relationship with Torah. We immediately restart the reading of the Torah from ‘Bereishit’ – ‘In the Beginning’. After finishing the reading of Five books of Torah we bless each other by saying ‘Chazak chazak venitchazek’ (‘be strong, be strong, may we be strengthened’) The restarting of the Torah take place within minutes of that zenith.

Isn’t repetition boring? This is NOT repetition.

Isn’t it demoralizing to reach the climax of completing the Torah only to have to crouch down and make our way to the beginning again?

Here’s the beauty of the Torah. It is absolutely not going back to ‘square one’ to begin reading the Torah anew.

It’s a new beginning. A beginning that builds on top of the peak of previous study.

Last year you may have started the Torah and hopefully even completed the annual cycle.

This year you are wiser, older and more experienced.

Your more educated self takes all that knowledge and perception and learns the Torah anew.

The Torah is limitless in its depth and breadth. As much as you will know, there will be more to know. Deeper understanding. Greater clarity.

However old or young you may be. The Torah is for you! However much you may have learned till now, a new level of meaning and understanding awaits you. All it takes is the motivation to implement Torah study in your life.

And granted, it may take a bit of effort on the part of your fingers. (Unless you have voice recognition in your computer. Then your fingers don’t even have to work. Smiley face).

Type (or say) ‘daily torah study’ or a variation of that, into google and you will see what I mean. There are so many opportunities for daily Torah study.

Till here is applicable to us all as Jews wherever we may be.

In the Thailand region, Hashem has reinforced this ‘no-rest-keep-moving-advancing-dancing and REJOICING’ concept for us.

Hashem has blessed us with a Sefer Torah celebration taking place in Luan Prabang Laos this Sunday.

Less than one week away from the major dancing with the Torah on Simchas Torah we get to dance again.

A childhood friend from Australia, Josh Goldhirsh and his wife Robyn have donated a new Torah to the recently reopened Chabad House in Luan Prabang.

Please G-d I will be heading out there on Sunday to celebrate this joyous and momentous occasion with them. My voice is still quite hoarse from sermonizing and singing heartily on Simchas Torah. I pray and am confident that Hashem will restore my vocal cords to be able to fully participate in the amazing celebration of a new Sefer Torah. Details below. Sorry for the late notice… If you are in the region you still have time to join us.

A week later, on Monday October 15, Nechama and I are overjoyed to be granted the gift by Hashem of celebrating our son Ephraim’s bar mitzvah here in Bangkok. Another opportunity to dance. Details below. Please join us at the Simcha if you are able! We would be overjoyed and delighted to celebrate together with you!

During the grand finale of the ‘seventh hakafa-dance’ on Simchas Torah, I looked down at the floor.

I saw feet and shoes.

Moving in a rhythmic dance.

I then looked up and saw the feet were holding Torah’s.

I looked down again and noticed that the floor was not that clean. After hundreds of feet had gone round and round the Bima dancing joyously, it was inevitable that the floor would have some grime.

Would I rather a clean floor? On a regular day, certainly. But not if it meant that the Synagogue was like a museum and the Torah was treated like a main exhibit.

Isn’t it incredible. Sotheby’s specializes in selling things that are not used.

Torah is the most precious and priceless thing in the world.

Yet they are constantly in use.

Our grandparents danced, cherished and studied the Torah. Thank G-d our grandchildren are studying the same Torah. For all of times, Am Yisrael will USING the same Torah.

Unlike a valuable item in a museum which must be kept behind class and only looked at in sterile conditions, the Torah must be current and accessible. The moment we view it as a ‘relic’ or ‘historical artifact’, it is doomed to be lost to us.

Our Jewish identity cannot and does not exist without being defined by our attachment to the Torah. Not for any significant amount of time that is. A savvy investor knows that the wise investments are those that have a track record of stability and reliability. Fads, styles, fashions and the ‘isms of our times, they come and they go.

Our Torah is the most reliable thing on earth. It is here to stay. A constant. The Torah we dance with, is the same Torah we have danced with for 3,300 years.

Unchanging.

Do you now wonder why the floor got a little dirty? Floor tend to get a little dirty after 3,300 years of dancing.

Actually, I am overjoyed that thank G-d in our Synagogue you can tell that the floor was after Simchas Torah dancing. Hundreds of feet, large and small bounced up down off the floor in joyous abandon.

When I viewed it like that, the dirt looked so pure. Radiant. It represented ‘yiddishe nachas’ the lively Jewish spirit that our community is blessed with.

Click here for a chasidic story illustrating a similar point.

Have I convinced you that we should not be looking to take rest?

If not, read on.

Airplanes are rarely given a chance to rest. They arrive, get refueled, checked and sent out to their next destination. I used to wonder if that was safe. Till I learned that constant use of engines with proper maintenance, is safer than risking corrosion by inactivity.

Humans, unlike motors, do require rest time. Some call it ‘down time’. I would rather refer to it as ‘rest and refresh’ time. Not to power down. On the contrary to build up strength to power up even higher than before.

But the goal has to be to START AGAIN. In a new way. A more powerful way. A deeper way. Rest is not an end, it is a means to a new beginning.

This Shabbat is refered to as Shabbat Berishit – the Shabbat of Beginning. It’s a chance to still gather up the ‘Holiday energy’ and infuse that unique holy energy into the mundane ‘rest of the year’ transforming the ordinariness into holiness.

Shabbat Shalom and may you have a very meaningful, festive and enjoyable Shabbat.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Lollipops on Yom Kippur

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

In middle of Yom Kippur I realized… I had forgotten to bring something important to the Rembrandt hotel where we were holding our services.

Thank G-d I had remembered to bring the Shofar. But I realized with a sinking feeling in my stomach that I had forgotten to bring the lollipops.

Lollipops? Yom Kippur? Seems a bit incongruous doesn’t it?

Several years ago our community implemented what I consider to be a very important custom at the climax of Yom Kippur. All the children of the congregation are invited to the open Aron Kodesh (Holy Ark) as we reach the end of Neilah. I address the children briefly and they join with the adults in reciting the Shma Yisrael and other verses after the chazzan, with great emotion. We dance joyously and then just as the fast has ended we sound the shofar. After the shofar blowing I distribute lollipops to the children. It’s a special, touching and inspirational ritual.

But I forgot the lollipops…

The kids looked at me expectantly.

I realized there and then that I needed to ‘repent’ for this omission. Imagine that. Cleansed of my sins after twenty-six hours of fasting and now at the close of Yom Kippur I needed to do Teshuva for a new oversight.

I admitted to the kids that I had forgotten the candy. But I made a commitment to make it up to them.

I announced: “Kids, I apologize for not having candy for you at the close of Yom Kippur, but please G-d I will distribute a double or triple portion on Simchas Torah’

On Sunday morning, less than twelve hours before Sukkot, I made my to-do-list for the day. On top of the list was ‘organize candy for Simchas Torah’. But I had no idea how to do that. Kosher candy does not grow on the trees in Thailand like it does in America and Israel. How would I get it? Then ‘out of the blue’ Dave Grunberg texted me that he was coming from Florida and could bring me half a suitcase of stuff. ‘What do you need’ he asked me. CANDY I said. Please bring me candy. He said ‘send me a list of what to buy and I will be happy to bring it’. Dave spent much of Sunday running around Boca Raton putting together my candy order. may G-d bless him for being such a sweet guy.

It was that miraculous. I wrote on my list ‘organize candy’ and a Heavenly messenger called and asked me ‘what and how much’. This morning Dave arrived, candy in hand. Hashem obviously wants me to give out candy.

Cute story.

But why am I so enthusiastic about distributing candy?

Let me tell you a sad yet inspiring story.

Over the holiday of Sukkot we merited hosting Axel B’s mother, a true heroine.

Mrs. B. was four years old living in Belgium when the German occupation began. Her parents went into hiding from the accursed Nazis and gave her to a convent for safekeeping. They paid for three months, thinking that the insanity could not possibly last that long. Tragically, they never returned from their final journey. The convent ejected the little girl into the street. A kindly family took her in only to have to return her to the streets when harboring a Jewish child became to perilous.

Mrs. B. remembers being in the street. Hungry. Dirty. Forlorn.

Till another kindly family took her into their home in the somewhat safer countryside farmlands. Her older brother survived the Holocaust and married. He somehow found his baby sister and subsequently raised her. Mrs. B. went on to live a productive life, marrying, having two children and raising them with love. Her son needed to visit Thailand for business so he brought his elderly mother to spend the Sukkot here.

You would never guess that Mrs. B. had such a traumatic early childhood. She seems so positive and pleasant.

It seems quite wondrous. A little girl of four who was abandoned in the street, hungry, dirty and forlorn. What are the chances that she will grow up to become a loving mother?

How does one maintain their positivity through this kind of ordeal?

I am going to raise a unnerving question. I am not sure of the answer.

Is it possible that a child who was G-d forbid raised by dysfunctional parents may struggle more mightily than one whose parents were involuntary taken away?

For they did have parents who were present. But sadly, and perhaps through no fault of their own, the parents may have caused a handicap that requires work to overcome.

Is it possible that a child who was loved unconditionally by her parents till age four and then orphaned of them by no choice of their own, has an easier path in terms of growing up and nurturing children of her own? Whereas one whose parents failed in their task of nurturing and loving their offspring may have to work harder to overcome that handicap?

Our relationship with G-d is often compared to the parent child relationship.

Sukkot is referred to as G-d’s hug. The requisite three walls are like the three joints of the arm and hand that is being used for a hug. (From upper arm to elbow, from elbow to wrist and from wrist to fingers).

It is symbolic of the enveloping hug of G-d. It is G-d telling his children ‘you are my special people; I love you’.

Sukkot comes just after Yom Kippur which also represents Hashem’s unconditional love to His people Israel. His existential love is so intense that He forgives our failures.

As a grand climax at the end of Sukkot, comes Simchas Torah which is once again an expression of G-d’s love to us, His people.

Simchas Torah according to the teachings of the Kabbalists is actually the party that celebrates the climax of Yom Kippur. This time not through fasting but through feasting.

I have met many Jews who don’t feel that way about Yom Kippur. Rather than feeling loved unconditionally by G-d which is expressed in G-d’s forgiveness of our shortcomings on Yom Kippur they experience Yom Kippur feeling guilty and inadequate. They don’t look forward to the intensity of Yom Kippur’s grandeur or the enjoyment of celebrating other Jewish rituals because they have been exposed to a very rudimentary understanding of Judaism. Sometimes only ‘Sunday school’ level Judaism.

Too often, G-d was portrayed to innocent ‘Sunday schoolers’ as an angry king brandishing a ‘stick’, waiting to catch the sinners who disobeyed Him.

Rather than the loving, kind and eternally benevolent Creator who gives us life and everything therein.

The truth that was unfortunately not taught to so many of my Jewish brothers and sisters is that G-d loves us unconditionally and can never stop loving us no matter what we do.

Just a parent cannot stop loving their child.  

We can disappoint parent and we can disappoint G-d, that is true. But the love is always there. And He provides for us in the best possible way.

Just as kids raised in a healthy, well balanced family know that their parents will be there for them unconditionally. No matter what.

I cringe when I hear someone telling me that ‘G-d is waiting to ‘catch us out’ so he can punish us’.

The opposite is true.

G-d entreats us to do the right things, and waits eagerly for us to do something good. He wants to provide us with everything good.

Ironically, I find that some Jews who had a basic exposure to Jewish traditions in their youth feel more negativity to Judaism than Jews who never had any Jewish experience. It seems to that because they think that they know what Judaism is about. Albeit it may be quite a limited and childish level that they are stuck at.

A man who considered himself an atheist met with the Previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, explaining why he doesn’t believe in G-d. The Rebbe answered him: The   G-d that you don’t believe in, I don’t either believe in! The G-d that I believe in, you believe in too!

(My brother in law, rabbi of Port Washington, NY’s Chabad delivered a sermon on this topic. Click here to link to a written version of his speech).

What can we do about changing that dynamic? How can we get kids to have good, positive and inspirational interactions with their heritage? To feel excited when they hear that a holiday is coming up and the family is going to Synagogue or to a Passover Seder and the like.

I feel blessed. To me, growing up Jewish was always sweet. My parents, G-d bless them, ensured that every Jewish experience felt like a treat not a chore. Even Yom Kippur. When we got to shul on Yom Kippur morning, my father had ‘pekelach’ (little packets) for us that my mother had packed in advance. Dried fruit. Pretzels. It was a long service and my parents wanted to make sure we would be having a child friendly experience.

It is this joyous and sweet feeling that I so yearn to share with the next generation of Jews, the little children.

It is critical that we have the Jewish children of today engage in Jewish ritual and experience.

In happy, joyous, sweet and memorable Jewish rituals. Experiences that are savored and remembered for the joy and enjoyment they provided.

Oy vey and kvetch is too common. It’s not the way to encourage children to want to buy in. Try saying ‘Oh yeah’ rather than ‘oy-vay’ when talking about an upcoming Jewish observance.

To the parents of children who are reading these lines. Please make sure to bring you children to a Simchas Torah celebration this year.

Let them see that dancing and happiness is one of the key components of Judaism. Candy, sweets and other age appropriate enjoyments should be incorporated into the services for the children.

And that is why I am so happy that my candy arrived.

So I can provide a sweet background, age appropriate, to the joyous Simchas Torah celebration.

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor  

Sad Drenched Smiling

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Last week I wrote about the importance of having joy when you do Teshuva and upgrade your commitment to performing mitzvahs and good deeds. Little did I know how soon I would be called upon to ‘practice what I preach’.

Friday nights after the prayers and communal Shabbat dinner is when our family gets a chance to unwind. No phones are on. It is just us. Lounging around in casual wear and talking about what inspired us that week is part of our ‘oneg shabbat’ – pleasure of Shabbat.

At 11:00 pm the worker of the shul knocked persistently at our door. There was a man downstairs in shul who needed help. He had been a guest at our Shabbat dinner apparently.

Nechama looked at me and said ‘if someone needs help, of course you should go’. My mind told me of course that she was right and dutifully got dressed and went down.

This case caught me off balance. If my heart wasn’t sure about being joyous over this near midnight intrusion to my ‘quiet time’ when I saw who it was and heard his story, I became even less enthralled. The problem could have easily been avoided. It was a ‘hippy-style’ backpacker, who had joined for Shabbat and figured he could sleep by some Sikhs somewhere in the neighborhood.

Don’t get me wrong. We have been wakened many times in middle of the night for important reasons and my phone is always on for that very reason. I constantly urge people that they must call me regardless of the time of day or night if there is something urgent that I can help with. For this we are here!

But in this particular case my heart was telling me ‘this is not fair’; why didn’t he tell me he needed a place to sleep before Shabbat or even after the meal. We could have worked something out with one of the nearby guest houses. What was I to do now in middle of a rainy night. My mind kept telling me ‘just do what you need to do’. ‘What you know is right’. ‘Regardless of how you feel about it’. I went out into the rain with my new guest and after trying two motels, managed to get a place for the night based on my guarantee of payment after Shabbat.

My heart? It took some more coaxing. My wife put things in perspective for me. ‘Aren’t we lucky that Hashem brought this extraordinary mitzvah our way on the night of Shabbat Teshuva. What a wonderful preparation for Yom Kippur to be able to provide lodging for a wayfarer’.

And then it dawned on me.

We really start ‘serving G-d’ when we do something we really don’t feel like doing. I was being forced to leave my ‘comfort zone’. Let’s be honest, my job entails that be nice and try to help people. If someone enters the Rabbinate they must be prepared to give of their time and energy to help others. I was ok with that. Apparently though, I was used to certain types of repetitive acts of kindnesses that I was comfortable performing. Here G-d gave me something out of my usual repertoire. The timing was not convenient. The nature of the need was unusual. We don’t usually provide lodging. Also, my perception that the guest had acted irresponsibly made me a bit judgmental. Certainly it made me less joyous about the scenario.

Once my wife reframed the situation I embraced if joyously and thankfully. The ten days between Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are all about introspection and self-betterment. I was truly thankful to G-d for having provided a ‘test’ in real life. A test that allowed me to get to know myself a bit better. It became obvious that there was still plenty of work to be done in refining myself in the recesses of my mind and heart. In terms of my commitment to helping others and doing so JOYOUSLY.

(BTW after conversing with the young man on Shabbat day I found out that he was truly a hero albeit a true backpacker. He had been travelling for several years now. He had only found out a few years earlier that his mother was Jewish. Had a circumcision just a few months ago at Chabad in Kazakhstan. Mainly got from place to place by hitchhiking. He simply left life up to G-d without all that much forward thinking. Retroactively I understood him in a much more pleasing and honorable light).

The next day Hashem sent me another mission.

One that would require the team efforts of my Bangkok rabbinic colleagues as well as noble volunteers from our Jewish community.

Word reached me that Harry K (Tzvi Hersh Ben Yosef Bern ) had been found dead in a canal somewhere on the outskirts of Bangkok. No conclusive reason for death, but what was really the difference at this stage. I never knew Harry although apparently he had posted a picture of himself in one of our Thailand Chabad houses wearing Tefilin. Actually, no one in Thailand knew him well as he had only been here for a year. As a struggling addict, several people in the recovery community had tried to help him. Ultimately his anguished soul returned to its creator a few days before Yom Kippur. The day before Yom Kippur had me on the telephone to the USA helping his next of kin make the right decision to allow us to bury him. Tentative arrangements were made with the undertaker to schedule the burial for the day after Yom Kippur.

At the same time, we received word from a family in France that a wandering relative of theirs, Raymond B, had died in immigration prison in Thailand. From what I can gather, the man in his early sixties had left France and not remained in contact with his family. After being arrested for being illegally in Thailand he had obviously not made contact with anyone and was languishing in jail unbeknownst to his family or our community. Raymond fell ill, was taken to hospital, was returned to prison and died there the next day. Very sad indeed. The family stepped up to take responsibility for his burial and decided to have him buried in Bangkok. It seemed that if all went well with the embassy arrangements we could schedule burial for the day after Yom Kippur.

As an active member of Bangkok’s ‘Chevra Kadisha’ burial society, I had a ‘cloud’ of anxiety hanging over my head for the duration of Yom Kippur.

The words Chevra Kadisha literally mean ‘holy society’. This is the traditional name given for those men and women who occupy themselves with the noble task of preparing bodies for burial.

Noble and holy it is. In Jewish tradition, the body is treated with the utmost of respect. It is gently washed and dressed in ‘tachrichim’ (hand sewn white linen garments). Forgiveness is asked of the deceased by those preparing the body in case they have inadvertently not been respectful enough. It is a loving and tender process that is inspiring in its raw thoughtfulness.

It is not my intention to elaborate, but both cases that were facing our Chevra Kadisha the day after Yom Kippur were non-standard and daunting.

Again, I realized that Hashem was giving me the merit of a special mitzvah. One that would take me out of my ‘comfort zone’ and require a more conscious effort to do a supreme act of kindness. Taking care of the dead is actually called ‘kindness of truth’ (chessed shel emmet) for it is one-way kindness with no anticipation of receiving something in return.

Then Yom Kippur arrived. For the next twenty-five hours I was leading the services of Yom Kippur. Naturally, I was totally immersed in leading the services for the five hundred Jews who passed through the doors of the Beth Elisheva shul. Speeches, jokes, tweets, inspirational melodies and climactic dancing at the close of the Neila service, they all kept my mind off the impending ‘holy society’ work.

But then Yom Kippur ended. A call to the undertaker confirmed that both funerals would take place on the next day.

Indeed, the day after Yom Kippur the other Chabad rabbi’s in town and I gathered to prepare the bodies. It was a very holy duty is all I will say.

I was gratified and inspired to see that more than a minyan of local Jews had responded to our call, and were gathered to accompany our two fellow deceased Jews to their final resting place.

The first time in Bangkok that more than one funeral (levaya) was taking place at one time. Not a feat that I hope is ever repeated. We pray that the pace of passing away in our community slow down.

Perhaps because of the sadness of two burials in one day in such a small community. Or perhaps for reasons we will never know. But this is a fact. when we got to the second funeral it was as if G-d Himself was crying tears. The Heavens opened up and let down a torrential downpour the likes of which are not standard even during the monsoon period. Was it the tail end of the regional typhoon? I don’t know. What I am proud to report, is that standing there in the middle of a funeral service, about to cover the coffin with earth, we didn’t stop our work and made sure that the burial was completed before we ran for cover. We were drenched, muddy but felt a certain contentment.

There is a warm feeling inside of you when you have done the right thing that is hard to describe. If you have experienced it, you know what I am talking about. It only comes if doing the right thing took exertion and perseverance.

(I have shared a picture below of some our group huddled in the small structure at the cemetery. We were drenched but smiling, because we had done the right thing and hadn’t abandoned the funeral even during the incessant rain).

The traffic jams to get home were understandably horrendous due to the rain. After showering and changing out of the drenched clothing a telephone call came in. A Russian accented man asked in Hebrew for help. They were Jewish tourists, his daughter was in major stomach pain and they thought she needed medical attention but they don’t speak English. Nechama and I looked at each other thinking ‘another opportunity for kindness come our way’? Yet, without even stopping to think, Nechama told them she would meet them at the hospital. Thank G-d it was a case of food poisoning which was remedied by medication.

I share these stories because they helped me learn about myself.

About the real challenge of life.

Our G-dly challenge is not do that which is natural. Even if by nature you may be a generally good and nice person. It is about doing something that doesn’t come easy to you.

When you face a situation in which making the right choice takes more effort, embrace it rather than reject it.

This may likely be the real arena of ‘serving G-d’ by CHOOSING to do what is ‘life’ and ‘good’ over what is ‘decaying’ and ‘bad’. What comes naturally, is not really your choice. You may have grown up in a good environment and find that doing the right thing comes quite easily. It’s when it is not easy to do the right thing that ‘choice’ really starts. G-d begs us.

CHOOSE LIFE! CHOOSE GOOD!

Also, I want to share it with you because you have also participated in these multifaceted good deeds.

Vicariously. Through the support you give us. Financial support. Moral support.

And the blessings you send us via your prayers and good thoughts after reading these descriptions of life as emissaries of the Lubavitcher Rebbe in Thailand.

As we approach Sukkot this also emphasizes the place that each Jew has in the proverbial ‘Sukka’ of ‘Klal Yisrael’. The Talmud said ‘there is room for every Jew to sit in the same Sukka’. In the enveloping canopy of G-d’s protective cloud all of Israel can sit equally and comfortably.

Every Jew deserves a Jewish burial.

Even more importantly every Jew deserves to be provided with basic sustenance and a roof over their heads.

Every Jew deserves to be availed of a Jewish life. Of Torah study. Of Mitvza observance.

The Rebbe sent Nechama and I, alongside the thousands of others in Thailand, Asia and all over the world, to provide all of the above.

Nothing could be more joyous than being part of this incredible organism called Am Yisrael! And we feel especially privileged to be stationed in Thailand where opportunities abound to help fellow Jews physically, emotionally and spiritually.

You too are part of this club. You need but keep your eyes and ears and hearts open for opportunities to help others! They are available. One just needs to be open to them.

We must always remember that we are ONE people. One mishpacha (family). G-d has instructed us in the Torah that first we must make sure our own family and extended family until all our extended extended family aka ‘am yisrael’ is taken care of.

If I am able to inspire myself, and share that message out loud so that others can hear and be likewise inspired, I will have fulfilled my objective with this email.

Shabbat Shalom

And Chag Sameach for Sunday night Sukkot

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS if you are in Bangkok please join us for Sunday night or any of the other Sukkot meals (Monday noon, Monday night and Tuesday noon).

The Pleasure of Yom Kippur

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

If you are at all like me, you enjoy good food and drink with family and friends in an enjoyable, stress-free atmosphere.

Certainly if you contrast that with fasting and refraining from food and drink.

Shabbat is called a day of ‘oneg’ - enjoyment. It’s a mitzvah on Shabbat, not just to cease from work and the daily grind of life, but to inject pleasurable behaviors into the Shabbat schedule.

As a kid, Shabbat was a very special day. Even just the routine things like breakfast. On Shabbat the breakfast menu was ‘cake and milk’. It beat the usual requisite porridge hands down. Soft drinks and fruit juice were reserved for Shabbat only. Candies were locked in a special cabinet and only distributed on Shabbat.

As an adult Shabbat has taken on a much deeper meaning but the basic premise of savoring the Shabbat even in a material sense is still there. The Code of Jewish Law advises a later start time for morning prayer to allow for a lengthier sleep time. To be honest, in our modern over-communicated world, just turning off the phone and computer is a huge mental freedom. On Shabbat it’s not just that we are allowed to unplug, it is actually a holy ‘unplugging’ and brings joy and tranquility with it. We enjoy the free time that we have on Shabbat to study Torah and enjoy family and friends.

Contrast that with Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year.

It is a day where G-d reveals His love to us. We reciprocate by baring our souls to Him. On Yom Kippur our most existential spark of Jewishness is revealed. It’s no wonder that every Jew wherever he or she may be looks to connect more wholesomely with G-d on this sacred day.

G-d’s revealed love to us on Yom Kippur is so deep and existential that He transcends and overlooks anything we may have done or transgressed during the year. We thus become purified and unsullied.

At the climax of Yom Kippur during the Neilah service, we bask in the unadulterated pleasure of being united with G-d. The Jew and G-d secluded together in oneness. Neilah means the closing of the gates. The gates are closed and we are inside with Almighty G-d united with Him as one.

In our heightened state of G-dly awareness on Yom Kippur, we do Teshuva – we ‘Return’ (Teshuva is often translated repentance but more accurately means ‘return’).  We commit to making our best efforts not to do things that G-d finds displeasing. we aim for upgrading our observance of the things that G-d has asked us to do.

It’s wholesome. Cleansing. Holy. Purifying. Liberating. Uplifting. Inspiring.

All good words for Yom Kippur.

Enjoyable physically?

Perhaps you can be so engrossed in the prayer and atmosphere of Yom Kippur that you overlook and be distracted from the discomfort of fasting and refraining from the other specific Yom Kippur restrictions. But to actually have your body ENJOY the process of Yom Kippur?

Doesn’t seem so.

This Shabbat is the Shabbat preceding Yom Kippur.

It is called the Shabbat of Teshuva –Because this Shabbat is during the ‘Ten Days of Teshuva’.

It is a chance to do Teshuva in a Shabbat way, says the Rebbe. ‘A Shabbos’dike Teshuva’ to use the Yiddish vernacular.

Regret and repentance conjure up images and feelings of bitterness and contriteness. Disappointment with what we have done wrong is often coupled with tearful remorse. That is sometimes an integral part of the process of Teshuva. Granted, that doesn’t sound too enjoyable. Doing the right thing is not always pleasurable. Actually it can sometimes seem tedious and unenjoyable. Once you do it you feel much better, but the actual process may be taxing. But there is another mode that one can adopt in doing Teshuva.

When you graft Shabbat and Teshuva together, you get an ‘enjoyable Teshuva’.

A ‘joint venture’ between Shabbat and Teshuva would translate into joyfully turning away from morally reprehensible and sinful behavior. Enjoying the abstinence rather than resenting it.

Teshuva done pleasurably translates into investing time, energy and resources in doing Mitzvahs and reveling in it.

That’s the message of this Shabbat situated strategically a mere three days before Yom Kippur.

G-d gave us the Shabbat. Amidst the Ten Days of Teshuva, and just before Yom Kippur. This means that He gives us the ability to aim for doing the right thing while enjoying it and taking pleasure in it.

Enriched by this outlook, we can take this special approach with us as we engage in Yom Kippur proper.

If one is truly convinced that something is right and good, he is able to find pleasure in engaging in it. Take working-out in a gym for example. People that see their health and physique getting stronger and fitter through their efforts, can actually come to enjoy the physical exercise.

Let me make the point as clearly as I can.

Don’t walk around projecting a feeling of deprivation because you can’t have the luscious looking non-kosher sandwich. Take the Shabbat Teshuva way. Exude happiness at the opportunity to be personally instructed by G-d regarding your dietary behaviors.  Rejoice that you can walk away from the negative. Simply because G-d said so.

This can be applied to Mitzvot as well. Spending money for buying a lulav and Etrog for example (or any other mitzvah expense for that matter). Rather than ‘kvetch’ about ‘how expensive it is to be a practicing Jew’ one has to try to revel and take pleasure in the fact that we are given the opportunity to do a commandment of G-d.

Ultimately there is no greater joy, pleasure and exultation in this world than being in G-d’s presence. Doing a mitzvah is immeasurably significant. It is worth more than all of paradise put together.

On Shabbat of Teshuva we aim to enjoy and luxuriate in our path of getting better at staying away from things we shouldn’t be engaged with. And enhancing our positive involvement in Mitzvot.

Happy Teshuva’ing!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS I think I owe you a story. About the main miracle (there were numerous smaller ones) that allowed our ‘giving-day’ campaign to finish with success.

Just ten minutes before the deadline we were quite far away… and then things wrapped up quite amazingly. Here is the story in brief as told by my colleague Rabbi Nechemya Wilhelm:

In the final stretch of the campaign, with quite some way to go in terms of donations, I racked my brains as to who may be able to help with a more significant donation that would ‘wrap things up’. I called Y, a young modern businessman, on his Asian phone number as he often travels to this area for business and I wasn’t sure where he was. I haven’t been successful in reaching him before but this time he answered my call. To my absolute surprise he told me ‘you caught me in a good time, I am just coming out of the Rebbe’s Ohel in New York’.

I proceeded to tell him in brief about our campaign and how we are scrambling to find a donation that would bring the campaign to a successful completion. He told me ‘ok, so you can now close the campaign’. I wasn’t sure if he had comprehended that it was more than ten thousand dollars that was still needed so I asked him if he realized how much money was missing. He repeated ‘ok, so you can now close the campaign’ and indeed contributed the last missing amount. Just minutes, literally, before the deadline.

You can imagine my feeling of amazement and thanksgiving to G-d for this open show of His Divine Providence through this miraculous occurrence.

I thought you would like to hear this story. Thank G-d we made our target. Once more THANK YOU for your participation either by contributing money, by cheering us along or by sharing your heartfelt blessings for our success. Every good thought and prayerful wish on behalf of someone else is valuable and cherished. May you all be blessed with a year of revealed goodness and sweetness.

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