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Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Facebook in 'Hot Water'

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Later today I will be conducting a funeral for a world war two veteran who passed away yesterday at the ripe old age of one hundred. Chester Davis was in the United States Air Force and participated in bombing raids against the Germans. Apparently he performed quite heroically.

In a few days it will be the first Yartzeit of Mrs. Engel who lived the last years of her life with her son David in Thailand. Mrs. Engel was one of those heroes who survived the infamous Auschwitz death camp and went on to raise a Jewishly observant family. She was blessed to live to a ripe old age. 

I cannot help but reflect on the transitory nature of history. 

Lately, Mark Zuckerberg of Facebook has gotten into some ‘hot water’ over his responses to the question of whether Facebook should ban Holocaust denial.

Google can give you hours of reading on this topic. I don’t want to state my opinion so much as to draw some parallels to other areas of Jewish life.

The following quote on one of the online articles I saw, grabbed my attention. It is by Deborah Lipstadt, a noted Holocaust historian and professor at Emory University who has spent her career fighting Holocaust denial:

“what Mark and Randi Zuckerberg don’t understand, and many other people with them, is that Holocaust denial is not a mistaken point of view, it’s an overt distortion of history.”

For the late Mrs. Engel, the branded number that she received at Auschwitz was forever branded into her forearm. For Chester Davis, bombing ‘the hell out of the Germans’ was a necessary and holy act, eventually saving the world from dominion by the demonic and despotic archetype of evil that Hitler was. 

 For me, as well as for many of you, the inexplicable and indescribable tragedy of the Holocaust is an undeniable fact. Some of us are children or grandchildren of survivors. The word ‘survivor’ in the Jewish community used to mean ‘Holocaust Survivor’ with no need to use the world Holocaust. But times move on. Today the word ‘survivor’ is often used in other contexts. Those that have survived dreaded diseases are also referred to as ‘survivors’. You can’t stop the march of history. As the generations move inexorably on, the first-hand reports of those who lived through the inhumane barbarism of the Nazis become scanter. Do the math. Anyone who was fifteen at the end of the war in 1945 would now be eighty-eight. 

This is a problem that is going to get worse with time. For people of my age and older, the thought of Holocaust denial is totally preposterous. For younger people it may not be all that clear cut. Sounds crazy but that is what the polls show.

Even now, there are totally misguided people who make the case that the calamity never happened. 

Facebook is not sure if it should be banned. 

The elders of my generation would have only one word for it. A “Shanda’ (disgrace). A Jewish boy, Zuckerberg, giving a platform for avowed anti-Semitic based historical revision?

There are other opinions, I know. Free speech vs legislation that would make it a crime. Pro’s cons. Sensible stuff, outrageous opinions. Here is not the place for me to air the discussion. 

One thing is clear to me though. And I believe that it is equally as clear to you. Whether or not the Holocaust took place is not a debate. It is a painfully clear historical fact!

Now I would like to take this discussion three thousand three hundred years back. To something recorded in our weekly Torah reading of the portion called ‘Vaetchanan’.

If you lived at Moses times when he gave his final ‘sermon’ to the Jewish people before his passing you would have heard Moses say:

But beware and watch yourself very well, lest you forget the things that your eyes saw, and lest these things depart from your heart, all the days of your life, and you shall make them known to your children and to your children's children… the day you stood before the Lord your God at Horeb (Mt Sinai)… and He told you His covenant, which He commanded you to do, the Ten Commandments, and He inscribed them on two stone tablets… The Lord our God made a covenant with us… we, all of whom are here alive today… Face to face, the Lord spoke with you at the mountain out of the midst of the fire…

If you were living at that time, or you had heard personal accounts of the Sinai revelation from your parents or grandparents would there be any way you could tolerate ‘Sinai denial’?

I am asking a rhetorical question. Of course if we were only a few decades from Sinai no one would question the undeniable fact of Sinai. 

The way Judaism sees it, nothing has changed just because many many years have passed since them. Rational thinking still brings us to the conclusion that G-d’s revelation at Mount Sinai is a fact. Notwithstanding the ticking clock of history. The account of G-d’s giving us the Torah is as factual as anything else we know historically without having experienced it personally.

(My father – may he be healthy and well – wrote an article on this topic several decades ago. Click here to read it.)

It’s a telling contrast that shows very favorably on the Jewish people of today.

Seventy years after the Holocaust there is a growing distortion regarding the topic. 

Three thousand three hundred and thirty years after Sinai  there is still a consensus among Jews that G-d revealed Himself and communicated to us at Sinai.

Not just we do we believe, we actually live our lives in twenty-first century based on that communication. 

And will be living our lives that way for the foreseeable and unforeseeable future. Take if from the New York Times….

Rhona Lewis wrote an article about the meaning of lighting Shabbat candles on Friday afternoon before Shabbat comes in. I am sharing the following excerpt which I found fascinating: 

Let us see to what extent candle-lighting has become associated with our nation.  On January 1, 2000, the New York Times ran a Millennium Edition. It was a special issue that featured three front pages. One had the news from January 1, 1900. The second was the actual news of the day, January 1, 2000. And then they had a third front page—projecting envisioned future events of January 1, 2100. This fictional page included things like a welcome to the fifty-first state: Cuba; a discussion as to whether robots should be allowed to vote; and so on. And in addition to the fascinating articles, there was one more thing. Down on the bottom of the Year 2100 front page was the candle-lighting time in New York for January 1, 2100. Reportedly, the production manager of the New York Times—an Irish Catholic—was asked about it. His answer was right on the mark. It speaks to the eternity of our people, and to the power of Jewish ritual. He said, “We don’t know what will happen in the year 2100. It is impossible to predict the future. But of one thing you can be certain—that in the year 2100 Jewish women will be lighting Shabbat candles.”

I can actually vouch for that story. By Divine Providence I recently met the marketing expert who had placed the Shabbat Candle lighting times for several years during the 1990’s. They were paid for by a Jewish philanthropist who was later unable to continue the expensive space on the front page of the NY Times. He had stopped paying for those lines by year 2000 but the NY Times included it in their millennial edition as the non-Jewish editor was quite sure that the Jewish people will continue to believe in G-d and His Torah and Mitzvot for eternity!

Am Yisrael Chai!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Thai Cave Miracles

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I’m still quite inspired from the events of this week!

The kids, all twelve of them plus their coach, are out.

Why am I so inspired?

Firstly, because Hashem showed us His Divine Providence.

From beginning to end. Literally.

The NY Times story (quoted in my post of last Friday) spoke about the miraculous way that the boys were found by a British diver whose rope ended exactly where the boys were.

That’s the miraculous beginning.

What happened at the end is no less miraculous.

This Wall Street Journal headline says it all:

The Thai Cave Rescue, Before Its Triumph, Teetered on the Brink of Disaster

Her is a short excerpt from the article:

Tuesday, shortly after the group inside the deepest cavern had been pulled to safety, a piece of equipment that drained water to levels that made the escape manageable broke. Without the pump, torrential rains that night sent water levels soaring through the cave.

“It’s lucky we completed our mission yesterday, because the cave is covered by water again today,” Royal Thai Navy SEAL commander Rear Admiral Arpakorn Yookongkaew said on Wednesday.

The Thai Navy Seals Facebook page had a quote: “We are not sure if this is a miracle, a science, or what. All the thirteen Wild Boars are now out of the cave”.

Whether or not the NYT, WSJ or Thai Navy Seals prefer to use the lukewarm word ‘lucky’ or they have the temerity to actually rightfully proclaim this event a miracle of G-d, the writing is on the wall. Everything that could go right went right. Against all odds. Thank G-d.

To me, this is called a miracle. Witnessing a miracle unfold before your eyes, in an age where we have ‘virtual eyes’ that take us to the actual scene of the miracle, is hugely inspiring!

Actually, it’s not all that often that Hashem lets us get a glimpse into a world of G-dly revelation. Miraculous phenomena were commonplace in the Temple of yore. It is this revelatory G-dly state that we mourn during these Three Weeks.  

One of my colleagues just wrote a nice post on this topic.

On the Jewish calendar, this time-period is called “the three weeks”, a period of mourning the destruction of the “Beit Hamikdash”, the holy temple that stood in Jerusalem.
To say that we are mourning only the loss of a structure made out of bricks will be over simplistic. In fact, we are mourning what was “inside” of those walls, the divine presence that was revealed to anyone who stepped foot in the temple.
Take, for example, the Mishna, in ethics of our fathers, detailing the “ten miracles were performed for our forefathers in the Holy Temple”. One of the miracles was “The rains did not extinguish the wood-fire burning upon the altar”. Now that is quite a miracle. You walk into the temple in the midst of a thunderstorm and pouring rain, yet the fire continues to burn. Or the miracle of “no man ever said to his fellow "My lodging in Jerusalem is too cramped for me” – I mean, so many Jews gather together and not even one complains? That’s unheard of!
When the Mikdash was destroyed, all of it was gone. No more clear, revealed divine presence. No more undeniable G-d’s existence. We entered a period of “exile”, a period that while we might witness some unusual events, we still might question and doubt if it is, indeed, a miracle. Click here to read the full post).

The bigger surprise, and what is even more exciting is the way that humanity acted in such a noble, virtuous and moral way during this ordeal.

This rescue operation brought out the best in so many people.

Amazingly, in the common goal of saving these lives, differences were forgotten. Language barriers didn’t interfere. Religious orientation notwithstanding, everyone rallied around the primary belief in the sanctity of life.

What I hear in the ebullient outpouring of joy that has spread across the world, are the words of King David in Tehillim (Psalms) 117:

PRAISE HASHEM ALL THE NATIONS… FOR HE HAS BROUGHT POWERFUL KINDNESS UPON US. HASHEM IS TRUE FOR EVER. PRAISE HASHEM!

Let us take this inspiration and use it for the purpose it is given.

G-d shows us these glimpses of His presence to inspire us to be more conscious of our moral duties.

At Mt Sinai some three thousand three hundred years ago, G-d gave us a roadmap for life. The Torah and its 613 commandments. It hasn’t changed. Just like G-d hasn’t changed.

Living a life of Torah based morality (Mitzvahs), is the best recipe for a happy and meaningful life.

There are no shortcuts. You sometimes even have to swim against the current (as the cave divers did). But it is well worth the effort.

You will never know how wonderful it is till you try it! You may have to go a bit deeper than you’ve been till now (if they wouldn’t have gone deeper into the cave they would never have found those boys).

So what are you waiting for? For tomorrow?

You never know if tomorrow you will have the same opportunity. To paraphrase the Thai Navy Seal commander: “It’s lucky we completed our mission yesterday’, because the cave is covered by water again today,

As our sages said it ) Ethics of our fathers 2,4) ‘don’t say when I have time I will study, perhaps you will never have time’.

NOW is the time!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor 

Live from the Thai Cave Rescue

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

On a personal note, Nechama and I praise G-d for a beautiful baby girl born to our daughter Devorah Leah and son in law Shneor Brod earlier this week in Israel. She has been named Chaya Mushka. May you too be blessed with happy things in your life!

Now to something more universal…

Thailand is in the world-news headlines.

Just google Rescue Cave Boys Thailand  and you will have access to the still unfolding story of a group of boys with their coach trapped in a cave in Northern Thailand.

The good news is that the boys have been found. The gripping part is that they are stuck way down in the cave without any danger-proof way of getting out. Actually, a Navy Seal just died placing oxygen in the cave. This means that the options for rescue are as of now quite dangerous.

We offer our prayers that they get out safe and sound. The boys will please G-d go back to their parents and hopefully be none the worse for their ordeal. Some may even become sought after speakers and writers as they recount their harrowing tale. The coach, will probably get a mixed reaction from people. Some will say he did courageous things to save his boys. Others will say he did a foolish thing by entering the caves in the first place.

I will leave the up-to-date reporting to the media.

However, I cannot resist sharing some snippets from one of our very own community members who is a media cameraman. Danny is up there in the cave area right now and this is what he had shared with me yesterday when I asked him for a ‘scoop’.

Hi Rabbi!

Well as you know, it is a very difficult situation.  The boys are healthy. They most likely will not be taking be diving out as cave diving is extremely technical.  We spent the day with military climbing up the side mountain and taking pipes to divert rivers so less water goes down into the cave system.  

This is at the same time as they are continuing the pump massive amount of water that has already flooded the cave.  Navy seals are staying in there with the boys some of are also medics.  

It is quite extraordinary indeed! 

Trying to pump out the river system to bring water levels down really shows the power of nature and man trying to fight it! 

I hope this gives you a bit more of color.  

Also, I’ve begun to upload every video on a new facebook page:  https://www.facebook.com/dannybullmedia/

Danny, good on you and may you be blessed to take pictures of them coming out safe and sound.

What I would like to share are the nuggets of information that provided me food for thought from the Jewish perspective.

First of all, the connection to the weekly Parsha which among other things, tells us about the census of the Jewish People in the desert. When talking about the tribe of Levi, it mentions Korach who was swallowed up by the earth. The Torah inserts a by-the-way short verse saying that his children didn’t die. The sages explain that they were saved and continued living underground for years until the generation had changed and only then did G-d bring them out of their underground holding space to rejoin the community.

Why didn’t they die? Were they not part of their fathers mutinous rebellion? They actually were heavily involved in the fight. But at the last minute they realized that mutiny against Moshe was tantamount to rebellion against G-d. They realized that this was dead wrong and as the earth was opening up, made a mental decision to repent. G-d, who knows the thoughts of man treated this regret as sufficient and saved the children of Korach from death. They could not come out right away though. For the community had seen them heavily involved in the argument against Moshe. They could have no way of knowing that the Korach offspring had repented in their thoughts at the last possible moment. Would they have reappeared immediately; the message would be misleading. G-d therefore made them wait for the changing of the generation. This really brings home the point that its never too late to change! See here for a scholarly article from the Rebbe’s teachings regarding all of this.

It always seemed hard to visualize where the children of Korach could have disappeared to for so long. And how they were able to be alive on the one hand yet be totally out of sight on the other. This cave story unfolding in Thailand, provides a lot of audiovisual description. This allows my mind to get a more imaginable perspective on this Torah’s teaching that I have studied since I was a child. It’s incredible to me how ancient concepts become easier to visualize and comprehend in this amazing era of technology.

(There are many examples of this. An Eye that Sees. An Ear that Hears. All of your deeds are transcribed in a book. Easier to imagine with the ever-present cameras and satellites that we have today? Perhaps the topic of a future article. In the meantime, if you have any ideas on this please share them with me).

Another important teaching that becomes emphasized. The prophets foretold about the Messianic era being a peacefully transformative one. In the words of the Prophets:

They shall beat their swords into plowshares, and their spears into pruning-hooks; nation shall not lift up sword against nation, nor shall they learn war any more.”

The Rebbe explained some twenty seven years ago that as we get closer to the coming of Mashiach we see this concept coming to life. Click here for examples dating back to 1991-2.

In this cave rescue, personnel and equipment that was initially designed for war is being used for this life-saving operation. Navy SEALS are at the forefront of this rescue for starters.

There is also Israeli technology being used that is key for this cave rescue operation. The particular communication technology being used in this operation is developed by a company called Maxtech. Its technology is widely used in the area of defense and security. Here, this technology is serving a critical and worthwhile humanitarian need.

This is ‘swords being beaten into plowshares’, 2018 version.

No wars in the future? In this massive effort, nations are working together regardless of background or political affiliations.

A great ‘trailer’ for the fully united world that Mashiach will usher in.

Divine providence abounds in this dramatic story. Look at this quote someone sent me from the NY Times:

The British diver John Volanthen was placing guide lines to try to get closer to 12 missing boys and their soccer coach trapped in a flooded cave network when he ran out of line himself, forcing him to the water’s surface.

There they were, all 13, staring at him through the light of his headlamp. After 10 days of efforts racing against monsoon rains and rising water in the cave, the search for the missing soccer team had finally succeeded.

If his line had been even 15 feet shorter, he would have turned back and not reached them on that dive Monday night. The group would have spent at least another night on its own in the pitch black, not knowing if a rescue would ever come.

 

That is quite simply miraculous Divine Providence.

I cannot help but muse. G-d gave him enough rope to get to the boys. But what would have happened if he decided he was tired and had swam far enough already?

G-d gives us exactly the amount of energy and life that will get us to our ‘finish line’. We need to decide to use it.

It is up to us not to tire and not to despair. We need to KEEP GOING for as long as we can. We ought to use every faculty we were given. Every minute of the day is a gift.

Wouldn’t it be so disappointing if you stopped just a few short steps from where you could have been? In this cave rescue, it could have meant the difference between life and death.

Rambam teaches that our every deed has to viewed as being the one that tilts our own microcosm and the entire world in either the direction of merit or…

Let’s not even mention any other option. Let’s just all do what WE can. One deed at a time and may we be blessed to exit our ‘cave’ of exile to the ‘great outdoors’ of redemption.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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