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ב"ה

"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

too salty?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Have you ever had the experience of working hard to cook a dish, only to put too much salt in, rendering the food barely edible?

Little things, like spicing food in correct quantity, can change the entire scenario.

In life, its often not about what we do and how hard we work, rather its how we do it and what perspective we operate with.

This week we read the comforting words of Yeshayahu (Isaaiah) the Prophet. This Shabbat is called ‘Shabbat Nachamu’ referring to the opening words of the prophecy of comfort.

Our Sages asked, why did Yeshayahu merit to be the prophet of comfort?

Their explanation, because Yeshayahu accepted G-d’s mission of prophesying to the Jewish people with joy.

Joy makes all the difference in the world.

Joy is the spice that gives all our deeds an uplifted status.

You may think joy is overrated, after all isn’t the actual work more important than the frame of mind from which you operate?

But actually, this is not the case.

You can be toiling away and doing great stuff. However, if you are doing it with a sense of burden, it is second rate at best. How can that be? It would be analogous to oversalting the dish you labored over. You worked so hard to prepare the dish. You think you deserve points for effort. However, if no one can eat the dish because it is too salty, your efforts will have been in vain.

When it comes to Tzedaka the Rambam spells it out very clearly. Giving joylessly is  at the very bottom of the list.

There are eight levels of charity, each greater than the next.

[1] The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand so that he will not need to be dependent upon others . . .

[2] A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received.

…. Click here for full chart of levels

7] A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.

[8] A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.

We can readily understand why giving tzedakah unwillingly is the lowest on the list, because there is nothing more demeaning and belittling that someone giving you something begrudgingly. By making the recipient feel like you are giving out of a sense of duty rather than out of care for him, you are causing embarrassment and pain.

Of course, even if you can only bring yourself to give Tzedakah without joy, it is better to give joylessly than not to give at all.

But if you are already doing tzedakah, you may as well do it with joy. By doing so you will open yourself up to a new world. To a deeper and more blessed relationship with G-d.

It is self-understood how in relationships, without joy and excitement the relationship will be on shaky grounds.

In Judaism, weddings are celebrated with incredible joy.

The Torah says that for the first year, the husband must make it his all-consuming priority to ‘make happy the wife that he took’.

Regarding the mitzvah of Brit Milah (circumcision) which has survived throughout the millennia despite all odds, our Sages tell us that since Brit Milah was always done by the Jewish people joyously, it endured.

Any Mitzvah that is done with joy, endures.

Even from a human experiential perspective this makes sense. If you sense that your parents were doing something but didn’t really like to do it, chances are that the kids will not continue to do it. Whereas if your children see how joyously you perform a particular Mitzvah, there is a more than good chance that this is something they will seek to continue.

Amazingly, even for Prophets, the catalyst for being a prophet of comfort as opposed to a prophet prophesying about bitter consequences, is the small but mega-powerful ingredient of JOY.

Simply put, if one accepts upon himself to serve G-d, and is joyous about this commitment, they are opening themselves up to G-d’s blessings and smiles.

Last week we had to find something positive within the apparent destruction. It was difficult to keep a joyous perspective.

Not so this week. We should have no major challenge being joyous this week. We need but to open ourselves up to hearing the voice of consolation and comfort that stream forth from this weeks Haftarah portion from the book of Isaiah.

“Comfort, comfort My people, says your G-d.” 

The anticipation of the comfort that G-d promises to bring us, should be enough to get us dancing with joy!!!

May G-d indeed show us His comforting presence in a revealed and obvious way by bringing Mashiach.

Let us do our bit to enhancing and broadening the channels of blessing from the Almighty by thinking, speaking and acting in a JOYOUS manner.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS the Torah teaches that one of the things that adds joy, is ‘new faces’. Guests bring a fresh spirit and a sense of excitement.

This means that here in Thailand the Shabbat will be one of JOY as the guest list for Shabbat dinner at the Chabad Houses across Thailand has gone over the two thousand guest mark.

Click here to get a glimpse of the preps in Phuket

And here to be a tzedakah partner and sponsoring host


destroy vs demolish

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I was giving an informal talk at a Yartzeit anniversary of a community member. Being that it is the days that lead up to Tisha B’av (see schedule below), the day of national mourning for the destruction of the Bet Hamkidash that became the focus of the discussion.

I asked my listeners to consider the difference between the two words destruction and demolition.

They have very similar meanings. Whether the building was destroyed or demolished it is no longer there.

But I would like to posit that there is a nuanced difference between them.

Destruction connotes getting rid of something. As in, ‘the destruction caused by the earthquake means that it will take years for the country to rebuild and recover’.

Demolition lends itself more to planned removal. As in ‘the reason for the demolition of the bridge was to ensure a safe passage over the river’. A new bridge will be built where the old bridge stood’.

Was the Bet Hamikdash destroyed or demolished?

When I had finished presenting my question which would be the springboard for a discussion on the topic, A lex asked me ‘was the Beth Elisheva synagogue destroyed or demolished’?

And then a lightbulb went on in my head.

First some background.

Once we reached the blessed stage that our community was outgrowing the Beth Elisheva building, we looked to expand the existing building by adding an extension. This would be less complicated in many ways. Before one adds to a building it must first be evaluated. The first step thus was to engage the world class Meinhardt engineering firm to inspect the existing building that was at the time more than thirty years old.

Excerpts from Meinhardt’s report regarding the danger of adding an extension to the existing Beth Elisheva structure:

‘it is therefore recommended, that if a change of usage is required, the building should be demolished, and an appropriately designed structure is built in its place

How about just leaving the building as renovating and redecorating? This next line clinched the argument in favor of demolition.

… it should also be understood that the holding of large gatherings currently as practiced, entails some risk’

In other words, even the existing usage didn’t meet Meinhardt’s exacting standards.

Reading these lines in retrospect, they sound more ominous than they did then. For in the interim, tragically, the concept of risk in building structures has become very well known in the Jewish world. The collapse last year of the Surfside Tower in Miami affected the Jewish community in Miami in an acutely painful and personal way.

‘And when will the new Beth Elisheva building actually happen’ further asked Alex. He added, ‘it is now several years since the building was demolished and the new one has not begun to be built. Is it not a priority for you?’

Before I had a chance to answer, Alex asked me yet a more pointed question ‘the Chabad House project down at Kaosarn Rd started around the same time as Beth Elisheva and yet while the Chabad House beautiful new building is now up and operational, Beth Elisheva not yet built?’

The lightbulb started shining more brightly in my mind.

I now started to understand the dynamics of Tisha B’av in a more personal way.

The Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of our imperfections. The Jewish people had sinned (click here for more details) and thus ‘caused’ the destruction of the Temple.

But does G-d intend it to remain razed?

Or is there a plan to build a replacement?

Clearly Judaism believes in the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash. Our prophets spoke of the coming of Mashiach. This is one of the fundamentals beliefs of Judaism. Part of the ‘job description’ of Mashiach is that he builds a Bet Hamikdash in its intended spot on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.

A bigger, better and more beautiful edifice.

An eternal temple.

That cannot be destroyed.

But why is it taking so long?

Well, how long does it take for G-d to ‘finalize the plans for the Bet Hamikdash’?

Is there an ‘industry standard’ for how long building Bet Hamikdash’s take?

We actually do have a precedent to compare with.

You see, this is not the first time we have had a loss of our Bet Hamikdash. We had a ‘First Bet Hamikdash’ for 410 years and then we sinned. As a result, it was destroyed, and we were exiled to Babylon. Seventy years later we were given the Divine ‘go ahead’ to rebuild a better and more beautiful ‘Second Bet Hamkidash’.

So it seems that seventy years is sufficient to build a Bet Hamikdash.

Tragically, after 420 years, we lost that second Bet Hamikdash as well due to sin.

What sin?

My colleague Rabbi Uriel Vigler explained it well,

A couple of weeks ago I flew to Israel with my family. As we waited to check in at JFK, juggling our five young children and multiple pieces of luggage, a stranger walked over and introduced himself. Being a Chabad rabbi, and very visible in my black hat and jacket, I am accustomed to being approached by strangers. But this man had something else on his mind.

Jack* was in JFK with his 12-year-old daughter who was flying alone to spend time with her cousins in Israel. The airlines considered her an unaccompanied minor, so Jack was looking for someone he could trust to take his daughter through security, onto the plane and through Ben Gurion at the other end. Of course, we agreed to help him, and it turned out that his daughter was actually great help with our five kids. Win-win!

But we were some of the last few people to check in, so I asked Jack, "You must've waited here for a long time until you found someone you felt you could trust. Why did you pick us? Aren't we strangers just as much as the next person?"

"Yes, we arrived very early," he explained. "I've been standing here scanning passengers, trying to decide who I could trust with my precious child."

"What made you trust me?" I asked.

"Well, I see that you have five children, and I noticed the way you were holding and hugging your 2-year-old daughter. If that's how you take care of your daughter, especially in this harried situation, I know I can trust you."

      ---------

This weekend we will make the saddest day on the Jewish calendar-Tisha B'Av. On Tisha B'Av we commemorate the destruction of the first and second holy Beit Hamikdash. Although it's been almost 2,000 years since the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, we yearn for it to be rebuilt.

The Midrash tells us that G-d is waiting and yearning to build the third Beit Hamikdash for us, and on Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av, our souls get a glimpse of it. So, if we are yearning for it, and G-d is yearning to give it to us, what is He waiting for?

He needs to know that He can trust us.

The last Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam-baseless hatred. So before we can receive the third and final Beit Hamikdash, we need to prove that we can do better.

How do we show G-d that He can trust us?

Like Jack* who was watching me, G-d is waiting for us to "hug" one another. We need to demonstrate our care, concern, love and appreciation for all our fellow Jews, regardless of how well we know them, how much we have in common, or how much we agree on.

G-d is waiting and watching to see how we treat one another. When He sees us loving one another unconditionally, He will again entrust us with the holy Beit Hamikdash and the Final Redemption.

*Name changed to protect the individuals privacy.

It's more than nineteen hundred years after the destruction of the Second Bet Hamkidash. We’ve been through lot since then. We have given a lot of ‘hugs’ to each other. There is so much benevolence and so many good and loving deeds being done. Surely, we must have reached the rectification of the sin.

If seventy years was enough time to get a second Bet Hamikdash, now its about 27 X 70 years later. Surely it should be high time. Why is it taking so long?

Let me jump back to Bangkok 2022.

Why indeed is Bet Elisheva taking longer than Chabad House to build?

I can tell you that for me personally, it is of the highest priority. The delay is not because the new center is unimportant. On the contrary, it is uppermost on my mind. I ask myself those very questions ‘when will it be built’ every day.

So why IS it taking this long?

Because of its greatness and significance.

The Beth Elisheva building will be twice the size of the new Chabad House.

It’s a bigger more sophisticated and multi-faceted campus.

It will be ‘The Jewish Heart of Thailand’ for our local Jewish community.

The campus will contain a wide variety of functions so that it will be relevant to every Jew in Thailand.

A dignified and inspiring Synagogue will feature in the campus. As well as a library and study rooms.

A museum will highlight Thai Jewish history and teach the values and guiding moral light of Judaism. Locals, visitors and schools will come to visit and become educated.

JCafe & Kosher Shop will feature prominently in the building and provide a warm meeting place with a readily available variety of delectable kosher food.

Jewish continuity will be bolstered by the including of a state-of-the-art nursery school, a lounge designed specially for Jewish teens, a gym for youth activities, community offices and of course a Mikvah.

The experts all say that it is worthwhile to spend longer on getting the plan right, then starting to build and then needing to adjust.

The good news is that hopefully the ‘waiting stage’ is at its conclusion. The planning is in the final stages please G-d and hopefully the actual building will start soon.

The Bet Hamikdash we are waiting for is the ‘Wow of Wow of Wow’ buildings. One can understand that something that incredible, takes time. Unquestionable it is worth waiting for.

But its not really a good answer when it comes to the Bet Hamikdash.

For how long can we be expected to wait?

Part of the problem with waiting for something for a long time, is that people lose interest at some stage. It’s human nature. When something just keeps getting delayed and excused, disillusionment starts to seep in.

How does G-d expect us to keep waiting?

A story is told of the Maggid of Mezritch. Once, his son came running to him in tears. The Maggid comforted him and asked him why he was crying. The child began to explain that he had been playing a game of hide-and-seek with his friends.

He and all his friends were hiding. They remained in their hiding places for a long time, thinking that they had hid well, and that the person whose turn it was was unable to find them. But soon they got tired of waiting. They came out of their hiding places and discovered that they had been wrong. The one whose turn it was to search, was not even there. He had played a trick on them! After they went into their hiding places, he went home instead of searching for them. That is why the Maggid’s son was crying.

When the Maggid of Mezritch heard this story, he also began to cry. His son asked him why he was crying. The Maggid told him that G‑d has the same complaint.

What did the Maggid mean? It is written, “You are a G‑d Who hides.” G‑d says, “I hide Myself from you, but the purpose of My hiding is that you should come and search for Me. But instead of searching for Me, you go away and busy yourselves with other things.”

The Rebbe tearfully and emotionally commented on this story:

Indeed, it is true that the father must conceal himself from his son in order to awaken within him a yearning for his father… But what should the son do when the father places him in an incredible darkness? . . . And then He demands of us that we should constantly search . . . Sunday we must search . . . Monday we must search . . .

So, how can one register a complaint against a mortal of flesh and blood who is finite and limited—this is how he was created by G‑d; it is not his fault!—how can one criticize him for not constantly thinking about the redemption . . . it is not possible . . . G‑d Himself says, “I ask only commensurate to one’s capabilities,” but He has not given us the strength . . .

Therefore we must increase in light—and not just any light, but specifically the light of simchah (joyousness). Since simchah “breaks all boundaries and limitations,” it breaks through the person’s limitations, the limitations of this world, and the limitations imposed by this dreadful darkness . . .

This question of ‘how long can we wait’. And how long can G-d expect us to keep searching and waiting, is an existential question that is best to leave unanswered by us mortals. G-d alone can and will provide the answer.

As we enter the space of Shabbat, Tisha B’av gets pushed off. Tonight is ‘Tisha B’av’ i.e. the ninth of Av, but the fast is pushed off to the tenth of Av, starting Saturday night.

We wish it would be pushed off entirely. So that the fast would turn into a feast.

How can we celebrate the Shabbat as we should, when we are engrossed in this time period that focuses on the destruction?

On Shabbat we change our perspective. We are given the ‘glasses’ to see things from Hashem’s perspective.

Click here for more on the ‘vision’ of this Shabbat Chazon.

From Hashem’s perspective it was never about destruction.

It was always just about lovingly wanting to grant us a third Bet Hamikdash that will supersede and outshine anything we can imagine.

During the week, and when we see the world in our ‘standard’ earthly ‘glasses’, we see darkness and we feel the absence of the Bet Hamikdash. On Tisha B’av we don’t eat and drink or do other pleasurable things that would take our mind of the mourning. Jewish law instructs us to be fully present in our ‘homesickness’ and yearning and longing for the presence of G-d in his Temple. At least on this one day of the year we need to feel the loss acutely.

Yet, during the next twenty-four hours of Shabbat, we are instructed to see things from the Shabbat perspective.

This Shabbat is thus an intensely powerful one. For it penetrates the gloom and blazes a shaft of light to reframe the situation not as horrendous destruction, but rather as being part of the glorious rebuilding of something so grand that it took nineteen hundred years to ‘plan’ it.

Let us enter this Shabbat with our hopes up that before we can even blink our eyes, Mashiach will come and G-d’s true plan will be revealed.

And then, you and I and all of Am Yisrael will feast and party with abandon celebrating the final redemption.

AMEN

Shabbat Shalom

& if Mashiach G-d forbid doesn’t come first, an easy fast.

If as we hope, Mashiach comes first, we will change that wish to a Chag Sameach greeting. Halevai - If only….

Amen!

 

 

a tale of two pens

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Today is Rosh Chodesh – the ‘head of the month’. In this case the month of Menachem Av. The ninth of this month is the national day of mourning for our destroyed Temples – Tisha B’av.

Together with mourning for our lost Bet Hamikdash, this is a time when we become acutely aware and thus extremely motivated to do things to bring Mashiach and to learn all about the Bet Hamikdash.

It was therefore quite inspiring when a Efraim, a retired Jewish man who lives several hours drive away, came in to say hello on his visit to Bangkok earlier this week and unexpectedly talk to me about Mashiach.

He didn’t just ‘talk’ about Mashiach, Efraim actually brought me a new pen in a sheath and said I would like you to keep this pen and use it when Mashiach comes. I looked at him quizzically. Why would I need a pen when Mashiach comes? Efraim explained, when Mashiach comes we will all go to Israel. Please use this pen at that time, to sign the documents of sale for the Chabad Houses in Thailand. After all, if we are all going to Israel, we won’t be needing the properties here.

I explained to him that there is a tradition recorded in the Talmud Megilah 29a that all Synagogues will all relocate to Israel when Mashiach comes:

It is taught in a baraita: Rabbi Elazar HaKappar says: In the future, the synagogues and the study halls in Babylonia will be transported and reestablished in Eretz Yisrael

I am not sure exactly how that will be fulfilled in terms of actual buildings and ‘real estate’. There are many wondrous and above-nature phenomena that our Prophets and Sages have shared with us that will come to be when the Mashiach comes. While we look forward to those prophesies being fulfilled, it is clear that we don’t understand nor do we have to understand, exactly how those things will come to be. When Mashiach comes we will find out exactly how things unfold.

In the words of Rambam (Laws concerning Kings and the Mashiach Ch 12, 2)

All these and similar matters, however, man will not know how they will occur until they come to pass; for in the [statements of the] prophets these are undefined matters, and the sages, too, do not have a clear tradition on these subjects except for the [apparent] implications of the Scriptural verses. That is why they have differences of opinion in these matters. In any case, neither the sequence of these events nor their details are fundamental to the faith.

What we do know very clearly is as the Rambam concludes the above chapter:

In that era there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor strife, because good will emanate in abundance and all delightful things will be accessible as dust. The one preoccupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d. The Israelites, therefore, will be great sages and know the hidden matters, and they will attain knowledge of their Creator to the extent of human capacity, as it is said: “The earth shall be full with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the sea!”

Based on the above, I won’t need the pen for selling properties as the Synagogues and Chabad Houses will relocate. However, I told Efraim that I was very happy that he brought me this pen to be used when Mashiach comes. For it is a good tangible counterbalance to another pen that I was given recently as a promotional item. It is from the Asia-One’ undertaker firm that we use for burials. Khun Hiran of Asia-One brought me some promotional pens from his company. Both pens look quite similar. But what a contrast between their intentions.

One pen is from a company that deals with providing services after death.

The other pen was gifted to me to await the arrival of the coming of Mashiach.

It reminded me of the story of two clocks:

In one of his travels, chassidic master Rabbi Yisachar Dov Ber of Radoshitz occasioned to stay the night at a wayside inn. In the morning, he sought out the innkeeper.

"The clock," he asked excitedly, "the clock you have hanging in my room — where is it from? Where did you get that wonderful clock?"

"Why," said the surprised innkeeper, "it's quite an ordinary clock. There are hundreds like it hanging in homes throughout the country."

"No, no," insisted Rabbi Yisachar Dov. "This is no ordinary clock. You must find out for me where this clock comes from."

If only to humor his guest, the innkeeper made some inquiries, which yielded the information that this clock once belonged to the famed "Seer of Lublin," Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz. An heir of the "Seer" had been forced by poverty to sell all his possessions, and so the clock passed from owner to owner until it came to hang in one of the guestrooms of the inn.

"Of course!" exclaimed Rabbi Yisachar Dov upon hearing the clock's history. "This clock could only have belonged to the 'Seer of Lublin.' Only the Seer's clock could mark time in such a manner!

"Your standard clock," he explained to his host, "strikes such a mournful tone. 'Another hour of your life has passed you by,' it says. 'You are now one hour closer to the grave.' But this clock proclaims: 'Another hour of galut (exile) has gone by. You are now one hour closer to the coming of Moshiach and the Redemption...'

"All through the night," concluded Rabbi Yisachar Dov, "whenever this clock sounded the hour, I leapt from my bed and danced for joy."

I then shared with Efraim, a saying that I had heard jokingly from my dear friend Mr. Abi Kashani and his older brother and business partner, Yitschak.

‘One of two things will happen during our lifetime. Life will not just continue the way it is for ever. Either the Mashiach will come to redeem us, or the ‘malach hamavet’ the angel of death, will come to take us. The question is only, which will come first.’

I wouldn’t have recalled this exchange with Efraim if not for the following notable fact. This discussion took place on Wednesday afternoon Bangkok time in my office.

At around the same time, but 11 hours behind, in NY, in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning, Mr. Yitschak Kashani passed away afer an illness, surrounded by his loved ones. May his memory be for a blessing.

Condolences may be sent to his brother Mr. Abi Kashani by email

I realized that this verbal exchange in which I quoted the Kashani’s regarding Mashiach vs angel of death, had happened at the same time as the passing of Yitzchak. I point this out, because of the impact it made on me as it showed me so openly yet another instance of G-d’s Divine Providence.

May Mashiach come and wipe away all tears and eradicate death, before the angel of death is able to take anyone else.

As I reflect on the life of Mr. Yitshak Kashani I recall the below story about his wedding.

Rabbi Kotlarsky of Lubavitch World Headquarters was invited to attend Mr. Yitschak Kashani’s wedding that took place in Long Island a few days before Pesach. Actually, it took place on the eve of 11 Nissan 1989 which corresponded with the Rebbe’s 87th birthday. Rabbi Kotlarsky came very late to the wedding as he waited till the Rebbe addressed the crowd in his Synagogue and only then did he head out to Long Island. Rabbi Kotlarsky was sure that he has missed the Chupa. He was astonished to find that Yitzchak had insisted to wait with the Chupa till he, the Rebbe’s emissary would come. Rabbi Kotlarsky read the Rebbe’s letter of blessing that he had sent for the occasion and the Chupa proceeded. The Chupa was followed by the wedding reception. It was getting late and Rabbi Kotlarsky wanted to head back to Brooklyn but Yitzchak insisted that he stay a while longer. It was soon evident why.

After the first dance, the lights were dimmed, champagne was poured, and a birthday cake was brought out. With 88 candles. The Kashani’s had prepared this cake in honor of the Rebbe’s birthday as he entered his 88th year.

Rabbi Kotlarsky was very touched, and he explained to the assembled that the way to give a birthday gift to the Rebbe would be via undertaking to do mitzvahs in honor of the birthday. The men should undertake to lay Tefilin, the women to light candles among various other mitzvahs.

Upon his arrival back to Brooklyn very late at night, Rabbi Kotlarsky wrote a note to the Rebbe describing the beautiful and inspiring wedding and gave it to the attendant who was living in the Rebbe’s home. The next morning, before Shachrit, the attendant told Rabbi Kotlarsky that in the few hours since he had penned his note, the Rebbe had already responded to his report.

The Rebbe had made a note regarding the birthday candles, that ‘in general, care must be taken with candles placed upon food, to ensure that there are no non-kosher ingredients’. (Candles, especially in the olden times, often contained animal fats which would render it unkosher).

And regarding the report in general, the Rebbe responded, ‘may you always be able to share good news, and in a growing way’.

The above is an inspiring story that speaks of the deep respect and esteem that the Yitzchak Kashani had for the Rebbe. And it gives a glimpse at the Rebbe’s unflagging devotion to leading the Jewish community, paying attention to even the smallest details. Like the concern about checking that the candles on a birthday cake be unquestionably kosher.  

During these days leading up to the commemoration of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash we are instructed to decrease our joy and enjoyment. Click here for laws pertaining to this time period.

As well, during this time we are empowered to study about the building of the Bet Hamkidash. Through studying about its building, we are credited as if we had actually built it. Click here to study about the Bet Hamikdash

This is a time period where we ought to add in good and loving deeds, study more Torah and give more Tzedaka, so that Mashiach comes NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Chodesh Tov

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

toothbrush motivation

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

How would you feel if someone reacted to your challenging situation by telling you ‘keep plodding forward!!’

Initially I was a little disappointed to receive that blessing. Plodding forward? Plodding means moving along slowly. What kind of a blessing is that? To move along slowly?

Running, Jumping, Soaring, now that would be a blessing.

But, seeing that it was my very own brother that blessed me in this way, I knew that he had a deeper intention.

Google brings up the following for plodding: To move, progress, or develop at a slow but constant and deliberate pace.

Move. Progress. Constant. This is what he meant by plodding. In this context, my brother words ‘hit the spot’. As this was a theme I have been thinking about the entire week.

This weeks Parsha gives the instruction for the daily sacrifice in the Bet Hamikdash. One lamb in the morning. One lamb in the afternoon. Day in and day out. The same daily ritual has to be followed on a simple dreary Wednesday or on the holiest day of Yom Kippur (when multiple other sacrifices were also offered). The daily sacrifice was brought. ‘Rain or shine’.

During the lead up to the destruction of the Second Temple, this daily sacrifice was discontinued due to a siege that didn’t allow for lambs to be available in Jerusalem.

One of the reasons for fasting on the the 17th day of Tammuz, is that on that date, the daily constant sacrifice was interrupted.

(The Sages continued the tradition of ‘one in the morning’ and ‘one in the afternoon’ by instituting the morning prayers and the afternoon prayers. Shacharit and Mincha. Watch 'moment of wisdom' above to learn about Maariv the third daily (evening) prayer).

Things that are repeated daily can be viewed by some as ‘boring’. However, that would be overlooking the gift of that routine brings. For there is something very special about the constancy and consistency of never-changing repeated rituals.

Let us think about the patterns of behavior in everyday life. There are some activities we perform only when we are in a good mood. For example, when we feel buoyant, we like to be social and host guests for a meal. When we feel down-in-the-dumps we isolate ourselves preferring privacy.

Then there are things that we do regardless of what mood we are in.

Like brushing teeth or personal hygiene in general. Or a morning coffee which for many, is a daily ritual rarely to be missed. Checking for messages on email or other communication forms is for many people a consistent activity done daily.

The ‘regular’ daily things are sometimes boring. Monotonous. Even irritating at times. (Ask kids about brushing teeth. They will tell you how irksome it is).

But these habits are placeholders in our lives that keep us grounded and anchored.

When one is low-energy or in a bad mood, one may not be motivated to do exciting things. There is even a danger that a person may fall into a vortex of self-defeating behavior. Like staying in bed with your head under the covers.

The rituals that are embedded into the day will often be the savior. A person may not be in the mood to get out of bed, but the habit of checking the email may get him out of bed (hint hint: don’t take your phone to bed). Once out of bed he will muster up the strength to start his day. One may be too lethargic to go to work. The daily coffee may provide the perky spark needed to get one out of home and off to work.

For people in ‘recovery’ from addiction, setting a schedule for a phone call with their mentor is a powerful tool for ensuring that they don’t fall back into self-destructive behavior. If they get into the habit of calling their mentor, then even if they have begun to fall, they will be caught early enough.

It’s the same way with our connection to G-d via doing His mitzvahs.

One may not always wake up feeling connected to G-d like they do on Pesach or Yom Kippur. Sometimes one even feels downright disinterested in making the effort to connect to G-d.

The daily rituals that we embed into our schedule, Modeh Ani for example, laying Tefilin, saying the Shema, putting a coin into a Tzedaka box and other similar things, serve as a ‘placeholder’ and catalyst for getting ‘over the hump’ of indifference. Often all it takes, is saying ‘Thank You Hashem’ with ‘kavana’ - ‘meaningful intention’ and the energy of the connection with G-d comes rushing back into our life.

This is why the instruction on the daily sacrifice is so central to the Torah. Click here for more on this.

It's great to feel bouncy. If you are mostly a positive energy person you are blessed. But one cannot just rely on natural buoyant energy to be the only source of motivation.

Its critical to first and foremost have the consistency of ‘plodding along’.

Because if you keep taking one step after the other, you will get ‘there’ eventually.

When the consistent and daily sacrifice was discontinued, this is a reason to be sad and worried. It is one of the causes of our fast day.

(In the parallel of daily life, if one is not keeping up with the daily routine chores like taking care of their personal hygiene, this is a warning sign. If it continues for a while they may need professional help).

When you consistently ‘plod along’ you will find that G-d will bless you with special energetic moments as well. Moments of jumping and dancing.

Just as it was with the sacrifices. Besides for the daily unchanging sacrifices, there were additional much more elaborate sacrifices. For Shabbat and Chagim there were multiple special offerings. There were sacrifices for thanksgiving after lifecycle events like birth. When something extraordinary happened like being saved from a life-threatening situation there was an ‘extra-curricular’ sacrifice.

But at all times and on every day, there was the constant and consistent daily offering. One in the morning. One in the afternoon.

There is something else very special about dedicatedly sticking to G-d’s routine rituals. By faithfully maintaining the ‘boring’ and repetitious schedule just because G-d said so, one proclaims the strongest and deepest form of commitment.

Doing the exciting stuff is easy. There are many clients for that work. The unassuming but critical ongoing groundwork, which some see as drudgery, this is where true commitment becomes expressed.

(I would like to take this moment to give a shout out to all those ‘unsung heroes’ who do so much for their loved ones and friends on a consistent basis. They work tirelessly, yet often they are not properly recognized or thanked.

The following joke sums it up:

A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.

He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened.

He found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went.

He looked at her bewildered and asked, “What happened here today?”

She again smiled and answered, “You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?”

“Yes,” was his incredulous reply.

She answered, “Well, today I didn’t do it.”

Take this as a reminder to thank those in your life who do so much for you, with so little fanfare).

Thank you brother for wishing me success in ‘plodding along’. I know what you meant. You conveyed to me the great blessing that only comes from investment of time, energy and effort. You reminded and encouraged me to keep up the consistent effort to do the right thing. Because as we both know, that is the ‘long but short’ way to success.

May we all be blessed that our determined and consistent efforts be crowned with success.

And may the blessing extend to the extraordinary. May Hashem give us the ability to run, jump and even soar higher and higher.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

anger CANCELLED

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Kids are born with an intuition that borders on genius.

A kid instinctively knows that their whining is a key that can open many a door.

Kids know that crying, with the right amount of determination is like a ‘master’ key.

Making you feel like you are being unfair to them is another tool that kids employ with success. As in ‘everyone else’s mother is letting them do xyz, only you don’t let me do it’.

If your kid finds you in a good mood, they intuit that that’s a good time to ask for the ‘keys to the car’.

If you are in a bad mood, there are ways kids can use that too.

For example, many a kid knows how to identify when their parent is angry and get them to channel that anger against a teacher that may have acted unkindly to them. There is nothing like anger to beget more anger.

How to predict when their parent will be angry, that is a little more complicated. Especially, if we are talking about a perfectly keeled, emotionally balanced parent. Why would they get angry just like that?

With G-d, you would need to be a prophet to figure out when G-d is ‘short-tempered’ and in an ‘angry mood’ so to speak.

Bil’am was a non-Jewish prophet who was given prophetic powers by G-d to create a contra to the positive prophecy of Moshe. The way G-d created our world is that there should be a balance between good and bad. It is then our task to choose good over bad and make the world a holy place.

Bil’am, in his capacity of someone who had a ‘powerful mouth’, was hired by Balak the king of Moav, to curse the Jewish people.

What was Bil’am thinking when he agreed to take on the task. You don’t need to be a prophet to know that G-d loves His children. Why would Bil’am assume that G-d would agree to allow him to curse his beloved children?

Bil’am accepted the job because he had some information that he thought would allow him to succeed. Bil’am knew that G-d has a brief moment every day when He – so to speak – gets angry at the wicked. Bil’am figured that if he curses the Jews at that precise moment, he would be able to get some traction. When G-d is in a ‘judgmental mode’ its possible to point out something negative, even if ever so tiny.

Yet, he was unsuccessful. The Torah tells us that Bil’am was unable to curse the Jews. He couldn’t find that moment of anger, hard as the tried.

Not because he was not a powerful prophet. He was the most high-level non-Jewish prophet in history.

Rather it was because G-d had totally suspended the ‘moment of anger’ during the time that Bil’am was searching for it to use it in unscrupulous ways.

That is how much G-d loves His people.

When you love someone totally and unconditionally, you don’t even want to listen to anything negative about them.

Even if you know that they are not perfect.

You may be having a ‘brotherly fight’. But if a stranger mixes in, both brothers will join together to repel that intruder.

G-d has some complaints about us at times. We are not perfect.

But to let an ‘outsider’ curse us?

No way!

That is the message of this week’s portion.

Unity. Brotherhood. Love. Togetherness.

Friends, the skies have opened. The tourists are streaming into Thailand. The Jewish tourists are visiting the Chabad centers throughout Thailand in large numbers. Israelis in particular are returning to travel in Thailand.

Israelis, and Jews in general have many opinions. As the famous saying goes, ‘two Jews, three opinions’. Follow the election cycle in Israel and you will see that it’s very difficult to get a consensus.

However, as much as we like to ‘quibble’ between ourselves, we have to take our cue from G-d.

When someone from the outside tries to challenge our right to exist, when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, we have to close ranks and stand up for each other.

And we do.

We have all seen it time and time again. When there is a real threat, when danger faces us from the outside we stand together.

So lets get one step better.

When times are good. When there is no threat from the outside. Let’s up the ante, and get better at loving and appreciating each other. And at the same time leaving space for each other’s individuality.

As Bil’am said (intending to curse but it was transformed to blessing) ‘How goodly are your tents Jacob, your dwelling places Israel’. This is understood to mean the tent formation of the Jewish people in the desert. In close proximity to each other, but with entrances that didn’t face each other and allowed each family unit their privacy.

Individual. Each one is important. Important to the collective.

Our Sages tell us that the destruction of the Bet Hamkdash was a result of our inability to get along. The antidote is therefore our togetherness.

Next time you think of quibbling with someone else, consider foregoing your point for the sake of Shalom.

Together. Forever.

Am Yisrael Chai.

Our unity is our strength.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Empowering Expectations

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

With such an eventful sendoff at the Bangkok airport, as I embarked on my trip to the Rebbe on the occasion of his yahrtzeit, you can imagine that the trip itself was special.

It was indeed extraordinarily inspirational.

More than 50,000 visitors prayed at the Rebbe’s resting place during this period. Including the mayor of New York.

There was one particular theme about the Rebbe’s approach to the nurturing of others, that grabbed my attention and became the message I took home with me.

Acceptance | Empowerment | Expectations

These are the ingredients needed when nurturing children, students or anyone else in your sphere of influence.

Let me explain.

Mrs. Rishe D. was interviewed about her experiences as a young girl accompanying her parents to a private audience with the Rebbe. She told about the feeling of love and acceptance and how the Rebbe offered her a choice of lollypops (she chose red).

‘But’, Mrs D. continued, ‘a good grandmother also receives her grandchildren with love acceptance and lollypops’.

‘Visiting the Rebbe was different’ summed up Mrs. R. ‘When visiting the Rebbe, we also felt that the Rebbe had expectations of us.’

Expectations sound a bit judgmental. Many a child has complained that they have felt judged when they didn’t live up to their parents’ expectations. This has sometimes led to negative results and low self-esteem.

It is therefore important to emphasize the overarching feeling of love and acceptance that was the backdrop of all interaction with the Rebbe.

From the context of total acceptance, expectations are an indication not of judgmentalism but rather empowerment.

Expectations on their own, can be a source of feeling judged.

When the expectations for what that person can achieve, are preceded by non-judgmental acceptance, this becomes the empowerment that is so critical to personal growth.

The Rebbe totally accepted every person the way they were and saw the inherent good in them.

Yet he also saw the latent potential that was still waiting to be unpacked and fulfilled.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Z”L said ‘ You saw your reflection in the Rebbe’s eyes, and you were suddenly much bigger than you thought you were.’

I met Boruch D. in NY. While he grew up in a Chassidic home he veered off the ‘straight and narrow’ and became a bit of a ‘hippy’. Boruch was not outwardly Chassidic looking. His aunt once brought him to receive a dollar and a blessing from the Rebbe and proudly said about her nephew Boruch that ‘he has now become a good young man. He prays daily, wears Tzitzis….’

To which the Rebbe responded, ‘why do you say he has become good, he was always good’.

This was the Rebbe’s trademark acceptance.

‘Boruch, you are already good’.

But the interaction didn’t end there.

The Rebbe then gave Boruch a dollar for tzedakah and said ‘this is for an addition in all good things’.

The Rebbe was stating his expectations for Boruch to increase in doing good things.

This is a winning combination.

Acceptance plus Expectation = Empowerment.

The Rebbe taught this by example.

Take this message and apply it to your life.

First of all, recognize that you are amazing. Hashem loves you. Just as you are.

Then, recognize that there is a role Hashem is expecting you to play which only you can fulfil.

He expects you to rise to that occasion. To aim for greater heights.

If He has expectations, and of course you believe in Him, then that means that you have the means to fulfill those expectations.

You must be bigger and more endowed than you previously thought.

That should make you filled with an inner peace and self-esteem. And it should produce within you an inner drive to do even better than before.

After all, if G-d believes in you, who are you to say you don’t believe in yourself.

He – G-d the Creator of all of existence - knows better.

Treat your children in this way. Your students. Peers. And anyone else you interact with. The world will be a kinder more loving and more good-deeds-filled place.

I came home to Thailand (yes, Thailand is home…) feeling that more is expected of me.

To do more good, to more people, in a more beneficial way.

And if that is expected of me it’s not because I am being judged disparagingly.

Rather, it means that G-d has empowered me to do even more.

Feeling empowered is blessedly uplifting.

I hope you read these lines and apply this way of thinking and feel that way too. Because if we act collectively, we have so much more power. The power of community and joint effort is very great.

Let’s change the world together, deed by deed.

And bring Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

In G-d we TRUST

 

Watch a moment of wisdom for this week's Torah portion👇👇👇

By the Grace of G-d,

Dear Friend,

I would say that I experienced an anti-Semitic incident as I waited to board a Thai Airways flight this week, but to be honest, I cannot be sure that the person who accosted me was anti-Semitic. He didn’t scream any hateful epithets about me being Jewish. Yet, clearly my appearance (beard, black fedora, dark suit) agitated him.

It happened in the Bangkok airport as I was waiting to board my flight to NY with a stop in Munich. Out of nowhere, a man in what seemed to be his 70's screamed at me: "take that off, you don't trust in anything! '. I gave him a questioning look as I was not sure if he was talking to me and walked on towards the passport-check at the boarding gate. The man got up and walked over to me, pulled at my jacket and repeated in a screaming voice 'take that off! You don't trust in anything!' 

The man who had accosted me looked Western and his accent didn’t give much else away. He was not wearing a mask even though in Thailand airport it's still mandated and everyone else was wearing a mask. I had initially thought he was ticked off by my mask, but when he pulled at my jacket and continued screaming it was clear to me that it was my obviously Jewish looking garb that was sparking his outburst.

By this time all the people around noticed this unprovoked incident. He went back to his seat and sat down but I pulled out of the line and told the Thai airways staff that I would not feel safe boarding a plane with him on board. The Thai Airways staff handled the matter very professionally. A senior supervisor came and reassured me that this person would not be boarding the flight. A passenger who had been sitting next to him at the gate area told me that he was drunk. 

Obviously, my rabbinic style clothing had set something off.

Could it be that he my appearance reminded him of something or someone?

Or perhaps he was just a deranged person with prejudice and bias spilling over when he had too much alcohol. 

Regardless of who that man was and what ticked him off, I was shaken up by the experience. It was a mixture of fear and indignance. This turned to thankfulness to Hashem that the person had been denied boarding and my flight passed without incident.

Yet, as I reflected on the incident, it hit me with intense clarity that G-d had sent me a powerful message. I felt incredibly inspired and grateful to Hashem for sending me that message exactly at the time that He did.

You see, during the few days before my flight, there were some matters that were causing me stress. Yes, Rabbi’s have many duties and some of them involve stressful situations. 

Of course, I was mindful of the fact that if one has true faith and TRUST in Hashem, one has the ability to remain calm and not feel stressed. There is an entire treatise called ‘Gates of Trust’ teaching about the centrality of trust in Hashem. And how when one truly relies on Hashem, one is able to live life in a calm near blissful way. ( Click here for articles and lectures on this topic). 

In reality though, I wasn’t exercising proper ‘trust’ mindset and my feelings were not matching my mental awareness. 

I ‘knew’ in my mind that Hashem is in charge and there is absolutely nothing to worry about. It was also clear to me that I need to be proactive and do what I am supposed to do, and Hashem will take care. However, in my heart and nerves I was ‘feeling’ pressured by various challenging situations I was facing.

Standing in Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, I heard ‘a voice from Heaven’ through a drunken person. (The fact that he was drunk means he was not aware or in charge of what he was saying, merely a mouthpiece for a Higher Power) A voice reminding me to TRUST in Hashem.

And it came to me as I was about to board a flight to travel to the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit. Reminding me so clearly what the function of a Rebbe is and how critical it is for wholesome service of G-d.

I had a long flight to meditate on this.

What is the purpose of a Rebbe?

The word ‘Rebbi/Rebbe’ in Hebrew stands for an acronym of ‘Rosh Benei Yisrael’ = the Head of the Children of Israel.

Think of the great and holy foundational Jewish leaders. Moshe Rabeinu. Mordechai of the Purim story. The Baal Shem Tov who founded Chasidism. 

The Zohar calls Moshe the ‘faithful shepherd’. Just a shepherd tends to his sheep, Moshe, and subsequent Jewish leaders tend lovingly to the Jewish people. Caring for them and providing any form of help they can. In our generation it is so obvious how the Rebbe cares for all the generation. There is virtually no place in the globe where the the Rebbe’s emissaries are not standing by, willing and able to help others, in whatever way they can.

It goes far deeper than that. That same kabalistic term can also be translated as ‘shepherd of faith’. Just like shepherd makes sure that the sheep graze, Moshe makes sure that the Jewish people ‘ingest’ and internalize their faith.

You see, faith can remain dismembered from the persons behavior. How many people have professed to be believers in G-d, yet use that belief to act in a way that is not consistent with that belief. 

I know it sounds ludicrous, but it is not uncommon for someone to pray to G-d to help them succeed in a swindling endeavor. 

The Rebbe’s job is to be a nurturer and shepherd of faith. To ensure that the persons natural, deeply rooted faith, become the reality of their existence. That they breath, eat, live and act in a way that is consistent with their deeply rooted connection to the Almighty. 

Now, that unity and consistency between beliefs, feelings and actions, is not so simple. It requires help from the Moshe who is empowered and tasked by Hashem to shepherd and nurture the B’nei Yisrael so that their faith be real and implemented. 

R' Tzvi Freeman of Chabad.org summed it up nicely

In every generation, the Zohar says, the soul of Moses extends itself into the teachers and leaders of the Jewish people. 

What is the job of Moses? 

To be a shepherd of faith. To nurture his flock with faith. 

But the Jewish people are a people of innate faith, heirs to great men and women of faith all the way back to Abraham. 

So the job of Moses in every generation is not to feed them faith, but to ensure they digest the faith they already have.

To bring the wisdom of their souls into their minds, their hearts, and their everyday actions. 

Until every cell of a Jew is saturated with the deepest wisdom of the soul. 

It is this consistency that is one of the most important goals and outcomes of a trip to the Rebbe. 

How fortunate I am that Hashem sent me this ‘mission statement’ just as I was about to board my flight.

I share this you my friend, because it’s not just a story relevant to me. The day of passing of the Rebbe presents a special opportunity to Jews world over. 

Connection to the Rebbe allow for your already existent faith, to be nurtured and deepened. 

To ensure that the deepest connection to G-d that exists in your soul, becomes the way that you actually live your life.

The way to do this, to live in a way that is consistent with your deepest self, is to do deeds that are instructed by G-d our Creator. These are called Mitzvahs.

You may encounter external or internal resistance to heightening your Mitzvah observance. Voices, outer and inner, may scream out to you ‘take that off’ stop acting religious. 

Don’t listen. 

The true YOU of a Jew is his or her connection with G-d. Anything that detracts from that is ‘drunken’ irrational negative chatter.

The rest of the flight went smoothly thank G-d. I enjoyed the quiet time which I used to study, rest and study some more. I arrived in New York safely thank G-d, and headed straight over to Queens where the Rebbe’s Ohel is located. 

As I was reading the notes of blessing request, I opened a note that someone had given me just before my trip. It was from a couple I had visited in hospital who had been going through medical challenges. In this note, the wife asked for blessings for health for her husband and herself and then added a line asking for a blessing for our family. The language they used was not the usual language one would have used in Hebrew. The word ‘lehagen’ jumped out at me. She had written ‘Please beseech the Almighty to ‘protect’ the Kantor family….’. 

Providentially, she had asked for a blessing for ‘protection’. She couldn’t have known that protection was the blessing I was in immediate need of. Her prayer was indeed, thank G-d, fulfilled. The possible threat to my safety was removed just in the right time. (I don’t want to think of what may have happened if this had unfolded on the plane).

Over the next few days, I will be visiting the Rebbe’s Ohel to pray to the Almighty for myself, my family, my community and beyond. If you would like to send a note to be the read by the Ohel you may do so either by visiting www.ohelchabad.org or by clicking here and emailing me with your Hebrew name, your mothers Hebrew name (if you don’t know Hebrew names just use the names you know) and the nature of your request.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS On the anniversary of a tzadik’s passing, all the light that he planted in this world—his teachings, good deeds, and everything in which he invested his life and being—all this shines brightly, so that anyone connected to him can receive blessings of life, happiness, and wisdom.

How should we spend such a day? How do we make that connection? CLICK HERE to find out:

'You are from a place ... not called Near."

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

‘You are from a place in the East that is not called near’.

These were the words that the Lubavitcher Rebbe told Mr. Abi Kashani when he was introduced by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky as a Jewish community leader from Bangkok.

It seems clear that the Rebbe didn’t want to call a fellow Jew ‘far’.

Hence rather than saying that Mr. Kashani was from the ‘Far East’ the Rebbe reframed it.

‘A place in the East that is not called near’.

Several years after that meeting, Nechama and I had the merit and privilege to be appointed the Rebbe’s Shluchim to Thailand.

As it seems to me, the Rebbe, in that one statement ‘a place in the East that is not called near’ had encapsulated the mission statement that we were tasked to implement.

If Bangkok was ‘a place in the East that is not called near’, it was up to us to make it nearer.

The Rebbe gave us his blessings and off we went.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky said farewell to us in New York. Thirty hours and three plane changes later, Mr. Abi Kashani picked us up in Bangkok on May 5, 1993.

The mission to make Thailand ‘nearer’ had begun.

Near and far are relative.

For a Jew, everything is relative to G-d, Torah and Mitzvot.

If one is aware of G-d, one is ‘near’ to him.

Disregarding and ignoring Torah would be called ‘far’.

One of the most detrimental things one can do to a child, is label him with a demeaning description.

Its beyond pitiful when one hears a parent or teacher call a child a failure. Or telling them how unsuccessful they are. Or even worse screaming at them that they will never amount to anything in life.

Conversely, tell a child how special they are. Find something redeeming about the student and highlight the virtuous quality. Remind them that they are uniquely gifted by G-d to be who they are. The world would be incomplete without them. This creates an impetus within the child to live up to that admirable benchmark.

Healthy self esteem is so dependent on the words we use and the body language we project.

Call a Jew ‘far’ and you have painted him or her into a corner.

Rather, remind them how deeply and dearly G-d loves them.

On the other hand, misleading someone by telling them that they are close, when they are far, is dishonest and counterproductive. Glossing over the need for further growth leads to stagnation.

By acknowledging that someone is not so near, one invites growth and elicits the expending of efforts to become nearer.

There is a balance that must be met.

On the one hand, it is important to know that you are ‘not near’ for then you will make efforts to get ‘nearer’.

On the other hand, it is critical not to define yourself as being ‘far’. For then you may despair of ever getting ‘near’.

Hence the Rebbe’s definition ‘a place in the East that is not called near’.

I would like to believe that this ‘place in the East’, is becoming ‘nearer’ every day.

This week we inaugurated a new Chabad House building in the backpacker part of town.

Click here for article.

Click here for video replay of inauguration event and dinner.

This ‘backpacker’ Chabad House was founded in response to the passing of the Rebbe in June of 1994 – Tammuz 3 – and was named ‘Ohr Menachem’.

It is now twenty-eight long years later. This Chabad House that started off as a fledgling center in a ‘Chinese-shophouse’ has matured into a bustling Jewish center and moved into its new purpose-built building.

The ‘place in the East that is not called near’ is becoming ‘nearer’.

The Rebbe’s empowering words are not just meant in the context of whom they were said to.

This is a message that is relevant to all.

Nobody is ‘far’. Nothing is ‘far’.

It’s just that some people and some things are ‘not near’.

But they are not meant to stay that way.

It is up to you and I to bring ourselves closer to the Almighty and his Torah. By engaging in the world around us according to Hashems instruction we bring the world around us closer to the oneness of G-d as well.

The Rebbe gave a blueprint for doing this.

Add in acts of goodness and kindness.

Do one more Mitzvah.

Study one more word of Torah.

Don’t get overwhelmed by how ‘far’ you look. Reframe your outlook. You may not be so near, but you can change that.

One deed at a time.

Next Shabbat will be the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe. It is a time that the soul of the Rebbe has an ascent in Heaven and all of us who are connected to him, also get the benefits of this elevation.

Benefits in material sustenance as well as spiritual beneficence. We need but open ourselves to this opportunity by being mindful of the mission to make this world a holier place and adding in acts of mitzvahs, goodness and kindness.

The Rebbe’s overarching message was, that by bringing ourselves and the world around us ‘nearer’ to G-d, we are hastening the ultimate ‘nearness’ to come to fruition – the coming of Mashiach, AMEN.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS I will be traveling next week to New York to visit the Ohel, the resting place of the Rebbe in connection with his yahrtzeit. It is a very powerful time to pray for anyone who wishes to be blessed. Letters can be sent directly to the Rebbe’s Ohel where they will be printed and placed at the Ohel. Or if you wish to send me your name and mothers name and nature of request I will be happy to be your representative to pray on your behalf.

negotiable 'rules'?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

My aunt who is a psychologist shared the following observation with me.

‘I ask myself,’ said my aunt. ‘Why is it that when I ask my children to tidy up their room, they tend not to listen. Yet, when I tell my children that they can’t have dairy ice-cream as the allotted waiting time after eating meat according to Jewish law is not yet over, they listen without question?’

‘The answer is simple’ continued my aunt. ‘When I tell them that they cannot eat dairy after meat they hear the absoluteness in my voice. They recognize that there is no room for negotiation. While when I ask them to clean the toys, they sense that this is something I am not so resolute about’.

With G-d’s commandments, since they are Divine, they are absolute. You can’t ‘negotiate’ with G-d to change the rules.

Yet, this week’s Parsha describes what seems to be a successful negotiation.

The ‘second Pesach’.

It’s the chance to bring the Pesach offering in case you missed the first and main opportunity.

Here is how it unfolded. It was in the second year after Exodus. The Jewish people were instructed to bring the Pesach offering. The Pascal lamb had to be offered by every family group. One had to be ritually pure in order to be part of the ‘Korban Pesach’.

After Pesach, some people came to Moshe and Aharon and complained that they had been disqualified from partaking of the offering, as they had been ritually impure. They were the pallbearers of Yosef coffin which accompanied the Jewish people on their sojourn from Egypt to Israel. Coming into contact with a corpse had rendered them unfit to bring the offering. The pallbearers complained “why should we be left out, unable to bring the sacrifice of Pesach?”.

Moshe heard their complaint and informed them that he would ask G-d regarding this matter. G-d responded by granting a second chance. On the fourteenth day of Iyar, exactly one month from the beginning of Pesach the Jews that had not been able to participate in the Pesach sacrifice would be able to bring a replacement sacrifice. This sacrifice was called “Pesach Sheni”, “the second Pesach sacrifice”.

The lesson is simple and empowering. There is always a chance to fix what was omitted.

But let us analyze this a bit further. Was this somehow G-d changing the rules of Pesach? Was this a introduction of ‘flexibility’ in the preciseness of Divine instruction?

Absolutely not.

The people that missed out KNEW that they missed out.

They were not trying to negotiate their way into bringing the offering after the doors were closed. They were fully aware that the rule is a rule and that they were not eligible.

They did however come before G-d humbly and contritely and shared their anguish and pain at having missed out. They implored and beseeched G-d saying, ‘why should we miss out’. They passionately and determinedly appealed to Moshe to find them a way to somehow get them the Pesach offering.

To use a flight analogy, it was as if their airplane had taken off without them. They knew that their airplane had flown. They were not asking to catch that plane.

There was really nothing Moshe could do. Except present their plea to G-d. Which he did. The result was unpredictable and astounding. G-d responded by opening up a new avenue of Pesach offering. Since they were so impassioned about their missed Pesach offering, G-d created a new mitzvah for them. The ‘second Pesach’. An opportunity to make up what they had missed.

It is important to understand the way this works. Hashem didn’t say ‘The rules of Pesach are not really absolute, and you are allowed to bring the offering anytime you want’. The departed airplane had departed. It didn’t come back. Rather, it was if a new airplane was constructed, which they were invited to board.

The epic message that the Rebbe always taught from this mitzvah is that there is no ‘lost case’.

You can always fix things.

G-d gives us a chance to repair.

But before you can make efforts to fix things, it is critical to recognize that the thing is broken.

Ironically, in order to really want to repair, you have to know that what is broken is truly broken.

Because only when you know that you have no way to make up what you omitted, will you be able to dig deep into your soul and be truly contrite. When you know that you are hopelessly lost, you have no illusions of being in control.

When you turn to G-d with truth, from that deep and vulnerable place, G-d gives you the opportunity to repair and be forgiven.

This is what ‘Teshvua’ (return) really is. Returning to G-d after feeling profoundly remorseful for the distance created between yourself and G-d. That deep feeling of remorse gives birth to intensely passionate feelings towards G-d.

This highlights the extent of that unique gift that G-d gave the Jews by giving them the second Pesach chance. It was a chance to fix that which looked irreparable.

In today’s day and age, it’s such an important lesson.

It’s important that we recognize that some things are not negotiable. The word of G-d as taught in the Torah is immutable. Morality is defined by the Almighty.

We have to transmit our insistence on following G-d’s instruction by being clear to those who look to us for guidance. When we say ‘no’ to immoral things we must intimate that our ‘no’ is a hard ‘no’? Not to project that it is a ‘soft no’. Or merely a ‘suggested no’. We ought to be honest and upfront to ourselves, to our youth and to our children that there are firm rules that G-d has mandated.

And that if we break those rules we have broken something in our souls. Irreparably so.

Irreparable from the perspective of man. But not irreparable from the viewpoint of G-d.

When one turns to G-d and truly asks and beseeches G-d for help, something extraordinary happens.

G-d allows us another chance.

This is inspiring and liberating.

Try as hard as you can not to break things. Because you cannot fix what you break.

That is what we must focus on before we ‘mess up’. To stay away from mistakes with all our heart and might.

AFTER one ‘messes up’ the focus must be on what can be done now.

And there is always something that you CAN do.

The second Pesach teaches us that there is always a second chance.

Wherever you are. However, you think you may have been imperfect, you can always fix it.

Let’s go.

Upwards and onwards!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

it doesn't always (seem to) work out

 By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I usually try to share with you the amazing workings of Divine Providence. It never ceases to amaze me how the guiding Hand of Hashem is to be found in every fiber of creation.

For example, yesterday. I was debating if I should go to visit a person in hospital whom I had visited just the day before. He was doing very well, and they were talking about releasing him any day. I thought my further visit may be redundant at this stage. When I saw the number 1213 on a license plate of a car as I was walking down Sukhumvit Soi 22, and this was the exact number of the hospital room, I sensed that this was a ‘message’ to visit the patient. When I walked into room 1213, the patient’s wife started referring to the medical challenge that had just occurred. She thought that I had heard of the setback they experienced earlier that morning and that is why I came. When I told them that I hadn’t heard anything, rather it was Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence) that sent me, they were emotional and thankful to the Almighty for His kindness.

But today I want to share that things don’t always ‘work out’ so neatly. Sometimes I am left pondering why things that in my opinion ‘shouldn’t have happened’ happened. I am staying far away in this article from the big and painful questions. That’s a totally different topic and I obviously do not have an answer to why ‘bad’ things happen to good people. Allow me to focus here today on mildly irritating things. Problems that themselves are a product of great blessings.

Like missing a flight. The mere fact that we can fly by air from one part of the world to the other is a luxury that is an indication of our blessed times. But it can create a new set of problems. For example, it can be aggravating when you check in online and the boarding gate is changed without you noticing it.

This happened to me when I was flying from Toronto to New York. The day trip I had planned was proceeding with incredible success. I flew from NY to Toronto in the morning. No delays. Smooth border crossings. Picked up at the airport by a good friend. Went to say a prayer at the grave of Gerry Sugar, who had lived and worked in Thailand. Our friendship brought him back to his family and Jewish observance and upon his passing he was buried near his parents in Toronto.

Let me digress with a quick story about Gerry and how our friendship deepened. Gerry came to see in the 1990’s when he was unemployed and looking for work. It just so happened that I had just received a fax (in the pre-email days) from a food importer in the USA who I didn’t recognize. They were looking for someone to help them import kosher food from Thailand to the USA. Gerry, in telling me his work experience had mentioned that he had worked for a food exporter for a stint. I gave Gerry the fax and told him to see if he could help them. It turned out that this was one of the major kosher food distributors in the USA. Gerry proceeded to work with them and both sides were very happy. How blessed I felt to be able to help both parties by simply connecting them with each other. And through that, I was able to help Gerry reconnect to G-d and his family as well.

After leaving a stone on Gerry’s grave, I made some visits to supporters of our work – may they live and be well -  and then proceeded to the airport to head back to NY.

Everything went with such smoothness, I got to the gate early. It made sense to me that everything was gliding along. After all I was doing G-d’s work. I sat down at the gate, caught up with my daily Torah studies and then I went to see why my flight was not boarding yet. To my shock, the gate said that the flight was going to San Fransisco. I was going to NY. The gate had changed unbeknownst to me. I had missed my NY flight.

I was overwhelmed at my sheer oversight and inattentiveness. To complicate matters the next flight to NY had been cancelled. It seemed like I may be stranded in Toronto overnight while I had work to do in NY the next morning. I felt hopelessly out of control. It took me a few minutes to remind myself to have complete faith in G-d. I told myself ‘Calm down. Hashem is in charge. Everything is for the good’. I did a little song and dance (not sure what the people around me thought) to make sure that every part of my body remembered that ‘its all for the good’ because ‘G-d is in charge’. Then things started to work out. I managed to make a new ticket. Granted, my car was in La Guardia airport and my new flight was landing in Newark. Never mind that I wouldn’t get back ‘home’ till way after midnight. But at least I wasn’t stranded overnight in Canada and was able to get back to NY.

I searched for meaningful things that may have happened due to this revision in my schedule. I can’t say I have pinpointed anything in particular. I am left in the dark as to what Hashems intention was for my adventure.

Not always does Hashem give us the great gift of seeing why things happen the way they do.

One thing is for certain though. G-d is in charge both in the short term and in the long term. So, even if Hashem does want to show us the rhyme and reason in what happened, it may take a long time for things to become apparent.

(Was it perhaps to give me a chance to exercise the muscle of faith in Hashem? Or will I discover another reason one day).

This weeks Torah portion gives us a very strong clarity about this point. Hashem is in charge of things in the short term and in the long term.

G-d told Moshe to instruct Aharon and his sons in the details of giving the Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing).

The first passage of the blessing is:

יברכך השם וישמרך

‘May God bless you and watch over you’

On the words ‘bless you’ Rashi comments ‘that your possessions shall be blessed’.

On the words ‘watch over you’ Rashi comments: ‘that no thieves shall attack you and steal your money. For when one gives his servant a gift, he cannot protect it from all other people, so if robbers come and take it from him, what benefit has he [the servant] from this gift? As for the Holy One, blessed be He, however, He is the One who [both] gives and protects.

In other words, the uniqueness of G-d’s blessing is that He continues to protect and administer the blessing for the long term as well.

Humans cannot control what happens after they have given a gift.

It may be stolen. It may be abused and misappropriated.

With Hashem this is not the case.

Hashem remains in control.

Hashem sees and manages the totality of creation from the beginning of time and forever.

When Hashem gives a blessing, he can continue to ensure the viability of this blessing even when it looks tenuous.

Why we sometimes see the blessing, while other times the blessing is hidden, this is from the great mysteries of G-d’s world that we are not privy to.

One thing is for certain.

The greatest source of blessing is following the directions that G-d has instructed.

Torah and Mitzvahs these are the conduits for blessing.

And of course, the precondition for blessing is the fulfillment of the  most central mitzvah: ‘love your fellow as yourself’. Or to phrase it differently, ‘don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you’.

On some level, we all have the power to bless others.

Let us use this power of blessing to bless each other and to bless the world with SHALOM – PEACE.

With the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days NOW. AMEN!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Is G-d happy with you? Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I give thanks to Hashem for saving my life.

For bestowing His beneficence and kindness to the undeserving.

The blessing of thanksgiving is traditionally said publicly in Synagogue in the presence of a minyan. The blessings of technology allow me this forum to additionally thank Hashem even more widely.

I was driving in Israel and the left lane ended abruptly for construction while a large truck was passing me on the right. The construction cones slightly damaged my right mirror but thank G-d my passenger and I were saved.

Thank you Almighty G-d, for this miracle.

And for the many other ‘small miracles’ that happen all the time without fanfare and sometimes without us even knowing about it.

Here is what I call a ‘small miracle’.

I had one day in Israel. With a list of appointments and tasks. The last thing on my list was to visit a friend in Ashdod. But it just didn’t fit into the constraints of time. My flight was to leave at 22:45 from TLV and I would be finishing to visit our daughter in Rehovot at 7:30 PM. No time for meet my Ashdod friend. I thought perhaps I wouldn’t even call him as I had no time to meet.

A few hours before the flight, I was notified that the flight was delayed to 23:55.

I was still not sure if that was enough time to get to Ashdod but I called my friend anyway. He was very excited to hear that I was in town as he wanted to urgently consult me about something and ask for my guidance. Amazingly, he told me that he ‘happened’ to be near Kefar Chabad and we could meet there at 20:00. We met for an hour and then off I went to my flight and with the long security lines I had but a few minutes to spare.

To me this constitutes a ‘small miracle’.

Thank you Hashem, for the many opportunities to see your detailed Divine Providence.

****

A young man recently asked me a question that is very straightforward. Yet, I find that it has left me thinking and pondering.

‘Rabbi, how do you know when Hashem is happy with you’ he asked.

The Ethics of our Fathers addresses this exact topic (3, 10):

One who is pleasing to his fellow men is pleasing to G‑d. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men is not pleasing to G‑d.

So now we have to analyze how does one become ‘pleasing’ to ‘fellow men’. How do you make other people happy with you?

The hierarchy of who you should care for, begins with those closest to you. Parents. Spouse. Children. Teachers. Students. Relatives. And then circle further outwards to include friends, peers, and acquaintances.

How do you get your loved ones to be ‘happy with you’?

Let us take parents as an example.

A mother tells her child to please pick up the toys in their room.

The child can respond in one of three ways.

Say no and disregard the parent.

Whyne and ask ‘why’. And wait to see if the reason is satisfactory.

Clean up the toys without questioning.

Which of the three do you think will make the parent happy with the child?

Which of the three requires the most effort?

Both answers are the same. Cleaning the toys without questioning requires the most effort and also creates the most happiness. Because it shows that the child cares for the parent and is ready to do what they want even if don’t (yet) understand why.

Let’s move over to spousal relationships.

Has your spouse ever asked you to do something that didn’t make sense to you?

I am assuming that it has happened on occasion.

Again, there are the three choices.

Not to carry out your spouses wish.

To ask for a rational explanation as to why your spouse is asking for that particular thing. Only upon understanding the reason will you agree to fulfill the request.

Or simply fulfill what you were asked to do without questioning.

Which way makes your spouse happiest?

It’s a no brainer. Carry out your spouse’s request and you will have a happier marriage.

It also requires the most effort. As it is not easy to do something that doesn’t make sense to you.

What makes other people happy with you, is when you do things that show how you truly care about THEM.

This is amplified when you are prepared to put forth effort to do what THEY want without needing to understand why. And doing so even if you don’t ‘feel like it’.

This requires a diminishment of ego. Self-centered egoistic people don’t put forth effort for others. This spirit of sharing and caring for others is called selflessness.

There are no shortcuts. Selfless caring and sharing is what makes other people happy with you.

When a person lives that way, selflessly, and others are happy with him, the Mishna says that G-d too is happy with him.

With regard to the festival of Shavuot, our Sages related a detailed description of what makes Hashem happy with us.

The Talmud ( Shabbat 88a ) states: When they assembled at the mountain of Sinai and G-d asked them if they wanted to accept upon themselves the Torah and its commandments. The Jewish people responded, ‘We will DO (what you instruct) and we will ‘hear’ (i.e. endeavor to understand what the meaning of it is)’.

G-d was very happy with their response and said ‘who revealed to my children this ‘ secret’ that the angels employ’.

G-d was so happy with the response that He sent angels to tie two crowns on the head of every Jew at Sinai.

Why did it make G-d so happy when the Jews responded this way?

Why is this a secret?

Well, conventional wisdom dictates that before one acts, one should first understand what it is they are being asked to do, and become motivated and inspired. Only then should they act.

If so, the Jews at Sinai should have responded to G-d’s offer of the Torah, ‘we will understand and consider, and then once sufficiently convinced and motivated, we will act and do’.

However, they responded in a way that seemed impulsive and even a bit irresponsible. How do you agree to do whatever you will instructed without first hearing and studying the ‘find print’ and details of the instruction?

In Heaven they know the ‘secret’.

The ‘secret’, that the heavenly celestial beings know, is that when one wants to connect to G-d, one should fulfill first and ask about the details second.

When we do what HE – G-d - wants. Even if we don’t understand. And even when it requires effort. This is what causes Hashem to be happy with us.

Innately, our souls are privy to this secret.

But it takes effort. Because doing what is better for Him while diminishing my own sense of ‘I’ doesn’t come naturally.

A telling joke someone sent me.

Becky is having lunch with Hannah, the world’s most perfect ‘Princess.’

Becky says, "My husband David is just impossible. Absolutely nothing pleases him. Tell me, Hannah, is your Marvin hard to please?"

Hannah shrugs and replies, "I wouldn't know. I've never tried."

(This joke could be told in the exact reverse, and about all kinds of relationships).

If it were only a joke it would be ok. The unfortunate thing is that some people don’t ever really try to make their loved ones happy with them.

And sadly, many never get around to making the effort to cause Hashem to be happy with them.

So, to answer to my friend’s question.

How do you know when Hashem is happy with you?

First of all, if this is what is on your mind, then you are already in a blessed place. The greatest blessing one can have in life is knowing that we are here, created by Hashem and tasked with fulfilling His mission here on earth.

There really is only one question that determines every choice. Will my next move cause G-d pleasure?

If you are living a life, doing what HE wants and making an effort to do so, then Hashem is happy with you.

However, one must also not be lulled into a false sense of feeling accomplished. This can lead one astray and stunt growth. For only our Creator can truly gauge if our efforts lived up to our potential. To what percent did we use our abilities. Did we really give our 100% to the Almighty?

Truth be told, you don’t need to know if Hashem is happy with you.

The one thing we do need to do is put forth effort to selflessly do what He instructs.

We have to stay ‘on our toes’ and be happy with our efforts but not feel satisfied.

How do we know what to do? For that we have the Torah.

The Torah is the communication of G-d with us the Jewish people and via the Jewish people to humanity at large.

On Shavuot we celebrate and relive the great moment of the giving of the Torah.

It is the most epic gift of all times.

We rejoice, literally, at the festival of Shavout in celebration of this amazingly holy and G-dly gift.

May you receive the Torah with joy and in a way that is absorbed into your very being.

Shabbat Shalom

Chag Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Uncomplicated

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

What can you do to make sure you have a blessed and successful life?

The trillion-dollar question.

The Torah has a very simple answer.

In this weeks Parsha.

If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them,

I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit.

Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your food to satiety, and you will live in security in your land.

Quite straightforward, says G-d.

Live according to my instructions and I will provide you with all the blessings of life.

Uncomplicated.

Wholesome.

Traditional.

In today’s society that is overwhelmed by technology and speed, simplicity is quite welcome.

One of the most popular energy bars on the marked in the USA is the have trademarked the following sentence about their products.

ingredients you can see and pronounce TM

We have come around full circle in many ways.

For example. During my stint teaching Judaism in Russia in 1989, we took our own bags when went to buy things in the market. Plastic bags were a western luxury that didn’t exist in the Ukrainian farmers market that we would buy our vegetables at.

Today, while in the developing countries, there are plastic shopping bags, in western society plastic bags are not provided.

In the olden days the wealthy ate white bread. Today, those who can afford more, eat the healthier whole grain bread.

It is about time that we came to the realization that good old-fashioned tradition of following in the way of G-d, is the surest path to a happy and healthy life.

What does it mean to follow in the path of G-d?

Maimonides (Rambam), points out his book  of laws, of which we study daily

(De’ot Chapter 1, paragraph 5-6)

We are commanded to walk in these intermediate paths - and they are good and straight paths - as [Deuteronomy 28:9] states: "And you shall walk in His ways."

[Our Sages] taught [the following] explanation of this mitzvah:
Just as He is called "Gracious," you shall be gracious;
Just as He is called "Merciful," you shall be merciful;
Just as He is called "Holy," you shall be holy;

In a similar manner, the prophets called God by other titles: "Slow to anger," "Abundant in kindness," "Righteous," "Just," "Perfect," "Almighty," "Powerful," and the like. [They did so] to inform us that these are good and just paths. A person is obligated to accustom himself to these paths and [to try to] resemble Him to the extent of his ability.

To spell it out every more straightforwardly, following in the path of G-d means acting as G-d acts,

Just as He dresses the naked..., you, too, should dress the naked;
God visited the sick...; you, too, should visit the sick;
God comforted the bereaved...; you, too, should comfort the bereaved;
God buried the dead...; you, too, should bury the dead.

Jews knew this and lived (and loved) this absolute truth for thousands of years.

During the turbulent years in the aftermath of the upheavals of the world wars, it had become fashionable to reject the traditions of Judaism. So called ‘sophistication’ became something to aspire too.

It hasn’t worked.

In the olden days when the Jewish People deviated from the straight path, G-d sent prophets to remind them to come back to the ways of G-d.

These days, we see it in contemporary tales of woe described by psychologist and therapists.

Throwing off the commitment to G-d’s instructions has not brought happiness or contentment.

It has made things more complicated.

It has led to deep dissatisfaction and a sense of purposelessness that is demoralizing and dangerous.

This is a very important thing to bear in mind.

Life is too short to allow ourselves to be Guinee pigs.

The path that is G-dly mandated. The ‘manufacturers instruction’ to us, is the Torah.

For Jews we have the 613 commandments that create a dwelling for Hashem here in this lower world.

For all of humanity there are the ‘seven laws for a beautiful planet’.

By following these instructions, Hashem - the Creator of the entire universe – says, I will give you all the blessings of everything you need for a happy, healthy, secure and joyous life.

The most inspiring and uplifting part of this weeks Parsha for me, is the interpretation by our Sages that reframes the verse ‘if you follow my commandments’ to mean ‘PLEASE, I implore you, keep my commandments’.

In my mind I conjure up an image of a mother, entreating, cajoling and pleading with her child ‘ess mein kind’ ‘eat, my child’.

G-d is, so-to-speak, pleading with us. Please, I wish, I hope, that you keep my commandments.

Living according to the Divine life plan, is the happiest and most wholesome way to live. G-d beseeches us to trust Him on that and follow His instructions.

Even though we are not perfect, He looks at us with a benevolent eye. He desires to ‘catch us’ doing the RIGHT things. So that He can reward us and bless us with the things we so richly deserve.

AMEN

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

VR Glasses

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

My eyes caught a headline on a news site of kids in a Yeshiva getting a guided tour of the ‘Bet Hamkidash’ through wearing VR glasses. I had to stop a think for a moment what VR stood for. I will save you the moment (and possibly a visit to google to search for VR :-)). VR stands for ‘virtual reality’.

Today is Lag Ba’omer. Click here for more information about Lag Ba’omer

Traditionally, on Lag Ba’omer, many Jews flock to the mountain of Meron, (not far from Tzefat) in northern Israel. It is there that the author of the Zohar, the great sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is buried.

Lag Baomer is the day of this great Sage’s passing more than eighteen hundred years ago.

With VR glasses still fresh in my mind, I started to wonder what would happen if you gave those glasses to someone from more than eighteen hundred years ago. When the events of Lag Ba’omer took place?

Obviously, the technology we have now would be unimaginable to those who lived centuries ago. But on the other hand, ‘seeing’ a deeper reality starts from the mind and soul, not necessarily from what things look like from the outside. Is that not the uniqueness of VR glasses? Two people in the same room, each one seeing different things. One seeing ‘real’ reality. One seeing ‘virtual’ reality.

Lag Ba’omer, it dawned on me, is really a day that we celebrate the ‘VR’ spiritual glasses that we can and should all don.

Lag Ba’omer is a day of great rejoicing.

Isn’t it traditional to mark the day of someone’s passing as a day of mourning?

Especially when it comes to great Tzadikim. It is a day that is associated with mourning and fasting. We wanted them to live longer. They wanted to live longer. Moshe Rabeinu wanted to continue to live and take the Jewish people into Israel.

Why the extraordinary celebration for the passing of Rabbi Shimon?

The simple answer is that Rabbi Shimon asked for the day of his passing to be celebrated. Paying respect to his great piety, we fulfil his wishes. This is achieved through rejoicing, not fasting.

R’ Shimon gave the reason behind his request for joy. He described the day of his passing as being the day that his connection to Hashem would be consummate. So long as one’s soul is in its body, there is some level of separation, ever so subtle perhaps, but still not one with G-d. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon recognized that he would be bound up as one with his Creator.

This was non-standard thinking at the time and for many centuries to follow. It was not meant (yet) to be accessible to all. Passing away was meant to signify absence here on this world. And absence is mourned, not celebrated.

But not for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, as the author of the Zohar, is the main source of Kabbala.  This was a division of Torah teaching that was not taught openly and freely to all, for many centuries. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai expounded the teachings of Kabbala and taught it to his select students

Zohar and Kabalistic teachings were considered off limits to regular Torah studiers. It was taught personally by teacher to select students. Only very highly achieving students were deemed eligible to absorb such esoteric and illuminating ‘soul’ teachings.

Let us study the topic of life and absence of life. Why is life celebrated and passing away mourned?

For most people, life has various facets. Spiritual and material. The most important part of life in objective terms, is the connection we forge with G-d. We develop our connection with G-d by studying Torah and doing Mitzvahs.

But let’s face it, for most of us, there are many other facets to life that take centerstage other than our spiritual growth. Family, career, materialistic interests and pursuits.

When one passes away, the absence that is most strongly felt by those left behind, is the absence of their loved one’s physical presence.

The Torah teaches that it is proper to mourn when a loved one passes away. The relatives mourn the absence. Their loved one no longer lives with them here on earth. For sure, the soul lives on, but for the most part we don’t have the capacity to interact with souls. Thus, it’s appropriate and Torah mandated to mourn the absence.

But not just from the perspective of physical existence is mourning appropriate. Even in the spiritual sense, passing away is a reason for sadness. Sadness because of the loss of opportunity to study Torah and do Mitzvot.

The Ethics of our Fathers (Pirkei Avot 4:17) teaches that performing Torah and Mitzvahs in this world is better and more potent than the entire blissful experience of the ‘next world’. The rationale for that is straightforward. Doing Mitzvahs in this world connects us to the ‘essence of G-d’. Whereas the bliss of the next world is ‘merely’ enjoying a ‘ray’ of G-d’s shine.

Nu, whats better?

A ray of G-d’s light in the next world, or connecting to the Almighty Himself here on earth in this world?

Life here on this earth no doubt offers deeper and holier connection to G-d.

(Delight and pleasure in this world, are nothing though compared to even one moment of blissful enrapturement in the next world. So if something ‘off limits’ is ‘calling out to you’ because of its pleasurable indulgence, recognize that it doesn’t ‘pay’ at all. For the indulgence will be only short lived and nothing compared to the pleasure of listening to G-d. The reward given in the next world for listening to G-d and abstaining, is far greater than any pleasure you can imagine in this world).

Especially if we are talking about a Tzaddik who was constantly involved in learning Torah and doing Mitzvahs.

Thus, when the soul is taken to the ‘next world’ we mourn.

It’s a double mourning.

We mourn the physical absence. And we have anguish when we absorb the fact that the person can no longer fulfil G-d’s Will here on earth.

Rabbi Shimon knew that G-d’s Will was for him to pass away from his earthly existence. To him it was clear that there was nothing to mourn about in that context.

(With other Tzadikim this is not necessarily the case. They may have preferred to live longer and do more mitzvahs. Which is why their day of passing is treated with a not very joyous sense of loss. This is a topic that requires more discussion and to be honest while I have seen the Torah sources that discuss it, I don’t fully comprehend them).

As to the physical absence of the great sagely Rabbi Shimon? That is not the cause of mourning in R’ Shimons case.

For a tzaddik of the level of Rabbi Shimon, the entire essence of his being was about his connection to the Almighty.

Passing away meant becoming one with Hashem. R’ Shimon insisted that this was a reason for celebration.

It is this point that he wanted to communicate that to his students and all who would learn from him and about him. He wanted us to know about a different way of looking at life. By telling us to rejoice even when there is an absence, we need to be handed a pair of R’ Shimon’s glasses.

On Lag Ba’omer one gets a chance to put on those glasses. If one puts on those ‘VR’ glasses of Rabbi Shimon, one sees R’ Shimon’s passing as a day of great joy. As he saw it. And as he requested and encouraged us to see it.

With those Kabbalistic glasses, things look very different than they seem from the outside.

And not just on Lag Ba’omer. With all the problems in the world in many ways, we are fortunate to be living during this current era. In the spiritual sense, we are living during a period when the esoteric has been revealed in anticipation of the coming of Mashiach.

As the generations proceed, as we march steadily closer to the ultimate ‘revelation’ and ‘exposé’ of G-d’s true presence here on earth, we get more access to those VR glasses that the Zohar provides.

Kabala teachings become more accessible to us all.

(Click here for an article by Tzvi Freeman entitled   Seven Things People Get Wrong When Learning Kabbala )

And technology is unfolding and leapfrogging at an unprecedented pace. It is not unrelated to the advance of spiritual knowledge.

The Rebbe explained at length a most inspiriting phenomenon that has unfolded over the past few hundred years. There is a fast paced advance in knowledge of all kinds. Together with incredible and dizzying journey of scientific and technological advance, we have a parallel journey of deep insight into G-dly wisdom.

R’ Tzvi Freeman outlines this concept in an article titled ‘Where is Technology Taking Us’ writes:

Long before anyone ever dreamed of a steam engine or a light bulb, the Zohar predicted an era when the world would be flooded with wisdom from below and wisdom from above.

Here’s how the  Zohar  interprets that: “In the six hundredth year of the sixth millennia the gates of wisdom above and the wellsprings of wisdom below will open, and the world will prepare to enter into the seventh millennia, just as a person prepares on the eve of Shabbat to enter Shabbat.”

When was the six hundredth year of the sixth millennia? That’s the year 5,600 on the Hebrew calendar. On the secular calendar, that’s the year 1840….

I am skipping a few paragraphs here Click here for full article .

So what does technology, science and distance communications have to do with “preparing the world to enter into the seventh millennia”?

The seventh millennia is an era when the universe discovers its own oneness, a oneness that expresses exquisitely the oneness of its Creator. So we’re not talking so much about some revelation that pours down from above. We’re talking about the world opening up to its own truths.

For that to happen, yes, an inner wisdom from above must pour down—and that began with the Baal Shem Tov, a hundred years before 1840. But along with that, the wellsprings from below have to burst open. And that happens through science and technology—a new kind of science that discovers oneness wherever it looks, and a new kind of technology that ties us all together as one.

On Lag Baomer, some eighteen hundred years ago, Rabbi Shimon passed away. He requested that we join him in donning the futuristic ‘glasses’ of the Zohar and celebrate his passing as if it were a wedding. For indeed, from the perspective of those ‘glasses’, Rabbi Shimons passing was a new stage in his connection to G-d.

Truly something to celebrate.

My friends, when the great Tzadik offers you those glasses, it’s a great opportunity. It opens myriads of blessings and possibilities.

Today is thus a day of celebration in the Jewish calendar.

It is a day that we celebrate closeness to G-d. It is a day that we highlight and celebrate love between Jews. It is a day that we celebrate total dedication to Torah study and scholarship.

And it is a day that we focus on children, for they truly ‘get’ the deeper reality in an uncomplicated way. They are pristinely able to interact with love and trust toward others. They are able to focus on Torah study unimpeded by worries of ‘making a living’.

The Rebbe used to attend the “Lag Ba’omer parade’ on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and address the children personally. There is loads of wonderful footage from those parades. The Rebbe encouraged children’s outing and parades wherever possible. In Thailand too we have conducted parades (see below pictures).

The great rabbi’s have taught that rejoicing on this day opens up channels of blessing in all that we require and request. May all your requests and prayers to G-d be fulfilled in a joyous and expeditious manner!

And may we merit the final ‘opening of the curtains’ when G-d’s presence will be visible to all (without ‘glasses’) with Mashiach’s coming.

And in anticipation and preparation for getting those permanent glasses (maybe allegorically like a ‘Lasik’ surgery) take a peek at the esoteric part of the Torah and study some of the esoteric and hidden kabbalistic aspects of the Torah. Click here for more.

Happy Lag Baomer

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Doctor in House?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I always knew that our work in spreading Judaism throughout Thailand was spiritually lifesaving. The gift of connection and inspiration that Torah and Mitzvahs provide are an elixir for the soul.

It saves lives quite literally as well.

Recently, our rabbi in Chiang Mai arrived to a routine visit to a member of his local Jewish community. Upon arrival, he found that that the person he had come to visit had collapsed into unconsciousness. He succeeded in getting him the urgently needed medical help that saved his life.

Last Shabbat I got to see how by opening Jewish centers in yet additional locations we can save more lives. Spiritually, that goes without saying. Even physically.

As I have mentioned in this column before, this year is the celebration of 120 years since the Rebbe’s birth. In marking this milestone, we have joined the worldwide effort to add 1210 new centers of Jewish life and observance around the world.

One of our regional undertakings is establishing a Chabad presence to serve the growing number of Jewish people in the island of Ko Pangan. Some of them are digital nomads, some are simply taking some time off from the frenetic pace of modern-day life while others are there ‘just because’.

Click here for the articles describing the Divine Providence we encountered on our initial visit to Ko Pangan.

Miri and Dovi, a young Chabad couple (Miri is the daughter of Eliezer and Rochi Ashkenazi) went out to visit Pangan for Purim. They led Purim activities and scouted out the island to see about taking up the position of leading the Chabad House there.

While there, they met a family with several children who had spent a few months in Ko Pangan. The wife said that her religious parents were coming from Israel to tour Thailand and would be spending a Shabbat in Bangkok. They were debating in which part of town to stay to attend Shabbat prayers and meals. Miri suggested that they come to spend Shabbat at Bet Elisheva as she is currently living there in her parents’ home. The family liked the idea and the family with her parents joined Bet Elisheva for Shabbat.

Last Shabbat, at the luncheon after prayers, one of our older community members went into a state of shock and started to slide off his chair. Those sitting next to him caught him before he fell. All of us have seen him injecting insulin at various occasions and it was clear that it was a case of diabetic shock.

Immediately his pouch was located as this is where he keeps his insulin. Before anyone could find the insulin or inject it, a woman ran over from a nearby table and said that she is a doctor. She took control of the situation and kept him stable till the ambulance came and put him on a glucose drip.

Yes, it was the woman traveling with her family who Dovi and Miri had met in Ko Pangan. She is a doctor.

As a doctor of course she knows that when in diabetic shock, it is forbidden to give more insulin. Actually, the medical term for this shock is ‘insulin shock’ and it comes from too much insulin.

I shudder to think what could have happened G-d forbid if a well meaning but non medically trained person may have instinctively administered more insulin.

Thank G-d we had a traveling doctor in house.

And Miri and Dovi were there too. To share with me the amazing Divine Providence of how the doctor came to be at our Shabbat lunch that day.

A visit to Ko Pangan. A plan put into motion by G-d, to position a doctor exactly where she would be needed.

Clearly, opening more Chabad centers in more locations saves lives. Literally, physically. And spiritually.

The timing of this message is Providential as well.  This weekend, Nechama and I are celebrating twenty-nine years since our arrival in Thailand on May 15 1993.

As we enter our thirtieth year here in service of the community, we have many powerful, positive, and inspirational moments to look back on.

However, the real achievements are still in front of us. As there is so much still to be done.

This story is poignant reminder from Heaven, and it injects an urgency and encouragement to work with alacrity and zeal. Especially when it comes to helping and doing for others, delays must be avoided.

The following poignant story is recorded in the Talmud (Ta’anis 21a). It is concerning the Sage Nochum ish Gamzu, one of Rabbi Akiva’s teachers from whom he learned to thank G‑d for everything. “This too is for the good” was his favorite refrain even when it appeared that something very negative occurred.

Yet, despite his obsessive optimism and the positive spin he gave to virtually every negative phenomenon, Nochum Ish Gamzu never forgave himself for the following incident:

“I was once traveling on the road to the house of my father-in-law and I had with me three donkey-loads; one of food, one of drink, and one of various delicacies. A poor man came and stood before me on the road and said to me, ‘My teacher, sustain me!’ I said to him: ‘wait until I unload from the donkey.’ I did not have a chance to unload the donkey before his soul departed.”

Nochum ish Gamzu blamed his delay for the death of the poor man and accepted upon himself all forms of suffering as penance for what he considered to have been an egregious sin.

In truth, Nochum was not guilty of any crime or moral lapse. If the man had been more forceful and stated “I’m starving” instead of just “sustain me,” Nochum would certainly have acted with much more haste. Apparently the man did not look deathly ill nor did he convey urgency in his request.

Click here for more on this.

The message is clear.

Studying Torah, praying and observing mitzvahs are good for the body and good for the soul.

Facilitating others to be in touch with their inner selves is a doubly good. it is good for the doer and good for the facilitator.

Doing all the above, for yourself and for others, without procrastinating and without delay is the best and most G-dly way.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

 

 

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the 'secret'

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

An elderly Jew living in Prachuap Khiri Khan sent me an email a few days ago that warmed my heart.

Dear Rabbi Kantor, 

For the first time since I was a child I ate only matzah during Pesach, this was due to your provision of Matzah, also the fact that I felt unconnected. Therefore, I made a decision to eat only matzah as a way to feel connected. 

Thanks again for all that you do.

He obviously knows the ‘secret’. Probably his parents instilled it into him during his early childhood.

I met a young Jewish man earlier this week who wasn’t raised with much of a Jewish upbringing but somehow his ‘neshama’ intuitively knew the ‘secret’.

B. was in Bangkok visiting his sister who lives here. His sister has become Torah observant after she left home. Her brother had never yet put on Tefilin in his life. Now that she knows the value and preciousness of performing Mitzvah’s she really wanted to gift her brother the opportunity to put on Tefilin during his visit to Bangkok. She asked me if I would be able to facilitate this. Understandably, I was overjoyed to be handed this special mitzvah on a ‘golden plate’.

I hopped over to the house with my Tefilin just before B. was going to leave to the airport. After introducing the Tefilin and explaining that I was going to ‘wrap’ him with Tefilin, B asked me if I was in a rush or did he have a few minutes for a shower before Tefilin. I said that I needed to get back to the services in the Synagogue, but I assured him that the Tefilin prayers would take just a few minutes and he would have time for a shower before needing to head out to airport.

I was though a little puzzled why he thought about the shower only after I had introduced the Tefilin.

My question was answered when B’s sister sent me this note

‘My brother said he thought you were going to wrap him in something permanent. That’s why he was asking if he should shower first. :-)’

Wow. Now I was totally inspired. A Jewish young man, never put on Tefilin before in his life, was ready to agree to be wrapped with something permanent if that is what the Torah said should be done.

This is a Jew who intuitively knows the ‘secret’.

The ‘secret’ I am referring too, never really loses its ‘secretive’ quality.

Even once we discover it, it remains elusive. The ‘secret’ is so counterintuitive, that our ‘rational side’ resists it. We need to keep reminding ourselves about the powers of the ‘secret’.

The Jewish people discovered the ‘secret’ after leaving Egypt.

The Talmud ( Shabbat 88a ) When they assembled at the mountain of Sinai and G-d asked them if they wanted to accept upon themselves the Torah and its commandments. The Jewish people responded, ‘We will DO (what you instruct) and we will ‘hear’ (i.e. endeavor to understand what the meaning of it is)’.

G-d was very happy with their response and said ‘who revealed to my children this ‘ secret’ that the angels employ’.

Why is this a secret?

Well, conventional wisdom dictates that before one acts, one should first understand what it is they are being asked to do, and become motivated and inspired. Only then should they act.

If so, the Jews at Sinai should have responded to G-d’s offer of the Torah, ‘we will understand and consider, and then once sufficiently convinced and motivated, we will act and do’.

However, they responded in a way that seemed impulsive and even a bit irresponsible. How do you agree to do whatever you will instructed without first hearing and studying the ‘find print’ and details of the instruction?

In Heaven they know the ‘secret’.

The ‘secret’, that the heavenly celestial being know, is that when it is G-d Who is the One to instruct, one should commit and fulfill first and ask about the details second.

Following that, will come epic and immensely powerful inspiration and meaningfulness.

It is not a robotic obedience that creates mindless devotees.

Not at all.

It is a leap of faith that then elicits and ushers-in to the one who has committed, a depth and intellectual appreciation. The level of understanding that follows this commitment is one that mere human efforts could not produce, they can only be achieved through G-d’s benevolent and infinite blessings.

Innately, our souls are privy to this secret.

This is why when one sends matzah to a Jew, he eats it on Pesach and refrains from eating bread.

Another elderly Jewish friend told me that this year he kept nine days of Passover as he miscalculated when Passover ended. He refrained from bread and ate matzah for nine full days.

We know it in ever fiber of our existence that when G-d instructs we act accordingly.

One of the greatest inspirations of my life is when I meet a Jew who is not raised with mitzvah observance and yet is willing and ready to do a mitzvah when offered the opportunity.

Every time a Jewish man rolls up his sleeve to lay Tefilin with me, I sense the power of the soul and depth of its spiritual intuition.

This is a tribute to the Jewish soul – the Neshama.

Our eyes are constantly on Israel and right now it’s very tense. The antisemitic winds around the world, which we hoped were a thing of the past, are most unsettling.

I hate to sound pessimistic. And I am not advocating walking around being scared G-d forbid.

I am conveying a message, a call to action.

A reminder to myself and to those who are listening to me speak to myself, that it is up to us to ADD LIGHT with greater intensity and with more energy.

LIGHT is added by you and I doing more good deeds. Mitzvahs that proclaim our connection to G-d and Mitzvahs that show our selflessness on behalf of others.

Oseh Shalom Bimromov… Hu Yaaseh Shalom Aleinu… Ve’al Kol Yisrael Ve’imru AMEN

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS on the topic of bar mitzvah and tefillin my brother in law Rabbi Alter Korf of S. Petersburg, Florida shared a very meaningful double ‘barmitzvah’ that took place in the most unexpected of circumstances. Click here to read .


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