"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Reflections on the King of Thailand's Passing

Dear Friend,

It has been a truly unusual and sad chain of events.

HRH the King of Thailand passed away at the age of 88 barely two weeks ago.

Understandably the whole country is wearing black and in a state of mourning. The King is sorely missed. It is quite remarkable these days to have such a genuine collective mourning for an individual who died a natural death. National mourning is usually reserved for events that have multiple fatalities. This is an indication of the great love the people have for their King.

Within our own community we had three persons pass away within these past few weeks.  

I am not trying to be gloomy.

We had a fantastic Sukkot and Simchat Torah. The joy and celebration of our Judaism was energetic and joyous (albeit not as public as usual due to the situation in the Kingdom) and we are set and ready to begin our new year.

King Solomon said ‘better to go to a house of mourning than a house of feasting… and the living shall take to heart’. Rather than making me depressed G-d forbid, all of this talk about death really motivates me to think more about life and how to live it to its fullest!

There is something very disturbing that I have become very aware of during the last few months. Ironically, as contemporary society gets more and more sophisticated in some ways, in other ways we are forgetting the very basics of G-d based morality.

I find more and more talk in the society around me about the ‘quality of life’. There seems to be far less concern about the ‘sanctity of life’. Sadly, they don’t all always go together. Many people unfortunately get ailments and major sickness and their life becomes a series of painful and demeaning days and months and even years. It would be hard and sometimes almost impossible to find some angle of ‘quality of life’ in such a scenario. It is in these situations that we truly need to remember that life has a sanctity to it that is G-d given.

Where there is ‘quality of life’ there is usually no need to invoke the belief in ‘sanctity of life’. It seems quite obvious that when a young disillusioned person tries to jump from a bridge, traffic is stopped and the person is dissuaded from taking their own life. A good therapist will successfully explain how one needs to focus on the opportunities and good things in life.

However, when a person gets old or sick G-d forbid, and the quality of life is really compromised this becomes much more difficult. This is where we truly need to invoke the G-dly commandments related to the preserving life. Most people believe that the sixth of the Ten Commandments ‘you shall not kill’ is a given that hardly needs emphasis in a ‘western values’ based society.

They could not be more wrong.

Mercy killing. Assisted suicide. These are concepts that are making deeper and deeper inroads into our society.

Some erroneously think that this should be a personal decision. Every person should be given the right to decide whether they want to live or die. This is an insidiously immoral notion that sadly is becoming more and more mainstream.

It is up to us to be a ‘light unto the nations’ and remind ourselves and the society around us that life is not ours to dispose of at will. Human life is a holy thing and G-d says that He forgoes our observance of the Torah* in order to protect life. This is not a subjective statement; rather it represents an absolute moral value. These ethical standards are timeless and apply everwhere.

Mrs. Rena Lurie who passed away a few days ago, was a shining example of this belief system. Mrs. Lurie was handicapped very early on in life and faced many challenges that certainly compromised her quality of life. Yet she did not give in to her infirmities for one moment. She fought valiantly throughout the many decades of her lifetime to cling to life and make the best of whatever was given to her. I find inspiration in her iron clad value system that did not allow doubts or insecurities regarding the sanctity of life.

This week we start reading the Torah once more. Let us use it as a reminder that we need to go back to the basics.

In the beginning G-d created heaven and earth… and G-d said ‘let us make man in our image and likeness…. and G-d created man in His image, in the image of G-d He created them, male and female He created them… And He breathed into his nostrils the soul of life and man became a living soul’….

It is G-d who gives life and it is He who takes it as well.

May G-d never test us with this excruciatingly difficult test. May everyone be blessed with long life and a superb ‘quality of life’ for as long as they live.

May Hashem bring the fulfillment of the prophecy (Isaiah 25:8) ‘He has concealed death forever, and G-d shall wipe the tears off every face’ with the coming of Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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