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Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Spilled Milk, Cry or Don't?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

At a baby naming celebration in our Synagogue for a baby girl named Maya, I derived a lesson from her name, combining Hebrew and English.

Ya in Hebrew is a reference to G-d. My in English means ‘mine’. With a bit of poetic license, you can thus interpret the name Maya as being ‘My Ya’ - ‘My G-d’.

It’s a heady and exciting concept.

MY G-d. As in MY PERSONAL G-d.

Some erroneously think that G-d is too ‘busy’ with the ‘big things’ of the universe to be intimately involved in the small details of their lives. If G-d was bound by the typical management model, they would be right. You couldn’t expect a CEO to busy himself with the trivialities of a low level employee. It would be called micro managing and it would be impossibly overwhelming.

But G-d is totally atypical to the human management model.

G-d is not limited. He can therefore manage His world personally – micromanage -  without being overwhelmed.

Indeed, G-d is personally overseeing all the details of His world at all times. Not just the billions of humans and the myriad details of their lives. Every blade of grass as well, is supervised by Him.

This is called ‘Hashgacha Pratit’ - detailed divine supervision of every occurrence and every creature. This concept is one of the cornerstones of the Baal Shem Tov’s teachings whose birthday we celebrated on Wednesday of this week.

Often Hashem obscures His presence so as not to take away our free choice. We can thus choose to pretend that we don’t notice Him.

At other times, we get to see Hashem’s ‘fingerprints’ in ‘random occurrences’ that are too exquisitely coordinated to be callously written off as ‘coincidences’.

Some affectionately call these glimpses of G-d’s Providence, ‘small miracles’.

Immediately after I finished my speech, Effy, a visiting kosher food supervisor from Israel, came over to tell me a ‘Divine Providence’ story that showed G-d’s unmistakable presence.

On his way from Israel to Thailand he missed his connection in Istanbul. Stuck in Turkey for five hours, Effy was not a very happy man. The upgrade that the airline gave him to business class definitely helped sweeten the deal but five hours is a long time to wait and he was rather annoyed. As day broke on the flight to Thailand, Effy rose to pray the morning prayers wearing Talit and Tefilin. A middle aged man sitting near him in the flight, couldn’t seem to take his eyes off him. After finishing his prayers, Effy engaged the man in conversation. The fellow traveler shared that he too was partially Jewish. His mother’s mother was Jewish. But had never done anything related to Judaism in his life. Needless to say Effy offered his new found coreligionist the opportunity to do his first Jewish act and put on Tefilin. He agreed. They did the new ‘custom’; they took a selfie in Tefilin after saying Shma Yisrael.

Upon landing, the newly bar-mitzvahed Jew sent a copy of the picture to his elderly mother. Her response was an astonishing one. “Now I can die in peace’ she wrote. Obviously the transmission of her Judaism to her son was something of great importance for her and the fact that she had not yet done it, weighed heavily on her heart. Upon learning that her son had engaged in his Jewishness she felt a relief and a closure.

Effy concluded his story by stating the obvious. The five hours that he had spent stranded in Istanbul when viewed from the perspective of Divine Providence, made perfect sense.

After Shabbat I opened my emails and I read the below email from my sister and brother in law of Chabad of St. Petersburg, Florida.

Dear Friends,

This past Friday, we were so grateful to witness and understand the wonderful workings of Divine Providence.  A young yeshiva student named Noach was on his way to visit family locally in S. Petersburg.  Anticipating his desire to be close to the synagogue for Shabbat, he called me to arrange a place to stay over Shabbat.

 Plans were in place to host him. Things took a turn a couple of hours prior to Shabbat, when Noach called from the road. There was an accident on the highway, and the bus he was traveling on was involved. Thank G-d all the passengers were unharmed, but now he was stuck on the bus, waiting for the police to take names and reports…. And it seemed unlikely that he would make it to S. Pete before Shabbat began.

Immediately, I called our colleagues, the Chabad Rabbi closest to his location- in Venice, FL. Rabbi Shalom and Rivkah Schmerling – just moments before Shabbat -graciously offered to host Noach for Shabbat, and even offered to send a driver out to the 75 to pick him up. It turned out to be unnecessary, as two volunteer policemen were on hand at the accident site, and drove him to Rabbi Schmerling’s house. Upon arriving at the Chabad they chatted, and discovered that BOTH policemen- Adam & Larry-  were Jewish! One knew nothing about his heritage, the other only a little. One has never been to shul and Neither had ever donned tefillin in their life!

The situation was remedied quickly, as Rabbi Schmerling assisted them both with laying tefillin, and both men celebrated their Bar Mitzvah simultaneously! Required to return back to work, both volunteer policemen left Chabad with a fresh challah for Shabbat, and an address to hear the shofar and join in Rosh Hashanah services!
No doubt Hashem runs the world and even the smallest details are orchestrated from above, and is divine providence.  Sometimes we are able to glimpse the workings of His plan and understand, and other times not. There are times we only recognize the divine providence years down the track…. And sometimes we are never privy to understand His mysterious workings.

Noach had planned to spend Shabbat in S. Pete, but Hashem had other plans for him. Noach was meant to be in the right place at the right time,  to connect two Jewish souls with their heritage, and facilitate that they have a place to hear the call of the shofar this Rosh Hashanah.

There is no doubt how precious it is to Hashem to spend our “collective birthday” (Rosh Hashanah) bonding in prayer, community and most importantly, hearing the call of the Shofar. Look at all that transpired for Noach on his journey so this can happen for Larry and Adam! 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Alter Korf

It felt like an extra stroke of ‘Divine Providence’ to receive an email with such a beautiful ‘Divine Providence’ story just after I had given a talk about ‘Divine Providence’ just hours earlier.

Not to be outdone by stories overseas, we had our very own local happy occasion earlier this week. Well, it didn’t really take place locally, but the Divine Providence that brought them together under the Chupa in California took place in Bangkok. Danny and Naomi met by Divine Providence at one of the YJP (Young Jewish Professionals) events run by Rabbi Baruch and Mushka Hecht a bit more than a year ago. This week they got married under a chupa in California.

The moral of the stories:

Don’t dismiss the stop overs or detours from your original plans as being “accidental”, they too have a G-dly purpose … 

Don’t cry over spilled milk… it was meant to spill. Wipe up the mess as best as you can. Take extra precautions to avoid spilling it next time. Try and find the blessing in the spillage. Even when you can’t find any blessing or meaning in what happened, remember that it is from G-d.

With blessings for a Shana Tova umetukah. A good and sweet year!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS Rosh Hashana is around the corner!

As Nechama and I prepare to spend our 26th Rosh Hashana here with our beloved Jewish Association of Thailand – Beth Elisheva – Community, we would like to invite you join us.

This is a personal invitation to you, from Nechama and I. If you are Jewish and find yourself in Thailand, you are an integral part of our community and it’s just not the same without you.

Please do join us, for a meal, a prayer service, Tashlich at the park or all of the above. Full Details here.

Also, please be our ambassadors to invite other Jewish people you may know whom we are not in touch with. Tell them about the warmth, the inclusivity and the authenticity of our High Holiday celebrations.

We look forward to having wonderful and meaningful Jewish High Holiday experiences together. With camaraderie, joy, optimism and the special feeling of knowing that we continue an unbroken chain of three thousand three hundred plus years of Jewish tradition.

PPS Sadly, Chabad of Thailand staff have been busy during the last 24 hours in dealing with the tragic death of 25-year-old Yedidya Kellerman who was here on a honeymoon with his wife Kesem. The couple is from Israel had both served as officers in the IDF, and were hit by a passing vehicle in Pai. Yedidya of blessed memory was pronounced dead shortly thereafter. Burial will be in Israel. As will all tragedies we find ourselves wishing for the fulfillment of the prophecy that the day will come soon when ‘Hashem will wipe the tears away from the face of man’ with the coming of Mashiach.

This underscores another aspect of our preparations for the High Holidays. Preparing food for the soul and food for the body for the thousands of guests – mostly young Jewish men and women recently discharged from active duty in the IDF -  that will participate in Chabad of Thailand’s holiday programs.

You can be a host of one of these brothers or sisters of ours by clicking here.

'It's all good!' Is it really?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It was hard to believe, but he is a man of integrity and I have no doubt that his age is as he states it to be, even though I didn’t see his passport. I am talking about a nice Jewish man who I met recently. I thought he was younger than me. Turns out he is sixty-seven. Eighteen years my senior. Granted, his beard is died black and his head is shaven. But you can’t hide your age merely by coloring your hair. His overall physique and demeanor are youthful and vigorous as is his youthful spirit. It really had me intrigued.

We had a long discussion about the legacy he would leave for the continuity of Judaism in his city. Not an unusual discussion for someone who is in their late sixties. But a bit incongruent for someone who looks like they are in their forties.

Which is why I couldn’t help but ask him: ‘How do you do it’? ‘How do you keep yourself looking so young?’.   

He told me this in his forties he had been overweight, overworked, stressed etc etc etc. At that point he realized that if he wanted to live longer and have a better quality of life, he had better do whatever he could do to preserve his own health.

He started exercising. Eating healthier. Meditating. Maybe he also mentioned some other things but nothing earth-shattering.

No quick fixes.

He confronted his situation.

He worked at fixing it bit by bit.

He ‘battled the bulge’.

He went to ‘war’ against his workaholic tendencies.

War? Battle? Confrontation? These are words many of us try to stay away from.

Do we really need the unpleasantness of confrontation in our lives?

This week’s Parsha starts with the words ‘when you go to war against your enemies’.

War? Oy vey! We shudder when we hear the words. Can’t both sides just get along?

Here’s the thing. As much as we detest fighting, pacifism is simply not an option.

All of us must fight a war.

I refer to the war that needs to fought first and foremost from within. Against our own tendencies.

A newfangled idiom which riles many of the older generation is:

‘it’s all good’!

Now I like to think I am an optimist. And there was a famous sage in the Talmud who was venerated for saying ‘all that happens is for the good’.

But in the context that it is used I sometimes feel like saying ‘it’s not all good’. There are some things we have to work mighty hard at changing.

But it’s often not the outside we have to engage in confrontation. It’s our own inner selves.

Let me give some examples:

Marriages today barely stand a chance for survival. It’s out there in the statistics. Egos and natural selfishness are the erosive components of what should be a blissful relationship. Ironically, marriage only has a chance when you put up a fight. Not between the couple. A fight that each one of the partners in the marriage has to fight, again their own self-defeating tendencies.

Many struggle with keeping a healthy balance in their material lives. In an era of abundant resources, one has to battle the natural urge to indulge. Be it sugar, white flour or other substances. Not to mention the mother of all struggles, EXERCISE! Fitness clubs build into their projections the fact that only a certain percentage of paying members will actually show up to carry through their ambitious resolutions in this field.

There is a new battle that we all face. It is the struggle against the deluge of communication and information that is available to us. Many are still scrambling to establish clear boundaries of how to use technology as a tool for a meaningful life rather than being swallowed by it.

Gossip is a tough one. To keep away from non-positive chatter, is a huge fight.

There is a common thread to all these. The real war taking place in our lives during many of our waking moments, is about choosing what is right as opposed to what is tempting.

There’s no way out of this battle.

Actually, if you don’t feel that you are in a struggle, chances are that you are not doing enough.

How well balanced are your character traits? Kindness. Honesty. Integrity. Gratitude. Non-begrudging attitude. Tolerance.

These are things we need to constantly improve on.

Comfortable in your charitable activities? Hmm… maybe you are not giving enough. The saying ‘give till it hurts’ is the rule of thumb. Not till you become impoverished G-d forbid. The sages advised against that. But if its effortless, it’s probably not enough.

Are the mitzvahs you are doing well within your comfort zone? Time to ‘work up a sweat’. Do more.

It is this battle that we come down to earth for.

Why do we need to have this burden?

Because of G-d’s love to us, He wants to give us a special gift. The gift of being real participants and partners in the quest to make this world a better place.

We all know that something we earn is far more dear to us than something we get for free. People cherish things that they have labored over. G-d made our natures that way.

This is the reason that G-d created a world where to be true to His mission, effort, serious effort, even a battle-like effort, is needed.

For G-d wants to give us the greatest gift of all. The gift of partnering with Him in creation. By setting things up in a way that requires effort, man becomes vested in the overarching mission of ‘creating a comfortable space for G-d in this seemingly unholy world’.

It sounds like an oxymoron. ‘The battle for peace’. Battle and peace are polar opposites. True. But peace can only be achieved when one is ready to battle one’s own narcissistic and sometimes evil urges.

To truly make peace with those around you, there is a battle to be fought.

To bring holiness to an otherwise decadent atmosphere requires self-restraint and a commitment to higher values.

The good news is that G-d creates the battles. It is reassuring to realize that He chose our individual struggles and battles.

The even better news is that He also guarantees our success.

The Rebbe paraphrased the above-quoted verse to read ‘when you go out to do battle, OVER your enemy’. Not WITH your enemy which may indicate a balanced fight. ‘OVER your enemy’ means an imbalanced fight. For Hashem is backing us up and assuring our success.

We are standing at the threshold of a collective victory. Mashiach is about to usher in the final redemption. It is up to us to be victorious in our individual struggles. Every personal achievement helps tip the cosmic scales leading to the world redemption that we yearn for. We want Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Nuisance vs Exquisite

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

‘Was it as you expected?’ you are asking, referring to my Shabbat experience at Ko Samui last week.

‘No’ is my response.

It was better than expected. Different.

Perhaps I could use an  even stronger word, transformative.

On the one hand, my visit to Ko Samui and leading the Shabbat dinner for two shifts totaling over a thousand guests, provided confirmation of what I had known all along. That utilizing the travel-stimulated-openness to absorbing and learning, our programs deliver a powerful experience. They inspire and proactively promote Jewish continuity.

But there was another important message that came my way.

I asked a few affluent families why they had chosen to join the public meal rather than order Shabbat food to be eaten leisurely and comfortably in their luxury hotel.

‘We came to the Chabad House Shabbat meal because we wanted the experience of ‘be’yachad ’ – togetherness’.

‘Even though it’s cramped and public’ I asked?

Yes ’ they responded. We came to have the experience of the inspiration-filled, energetic and lively communal Shabbat that Chabad is known for.

In other words, what had seemed to me to be a point of inconvenience, was actually the draw card.

This short exchange left me astounded. It pointed out to me once again the incredible relevance and power of ‘reframing’.

Is being squashed in a noisy room with hundreds of other people a nuisance?

Or is it a wonderful feeling of inspirational unity?

Depends how you frame it.

Later in the week I had my own little experience that allowed me to see once again the huge difference that ‘framing’ makes.

Our son Efraim will become Bar-Mitzva in two months please G-d (save the date for the celebration on Monday October 15th in Bangkok). In anticipation of his becoming a man, Efraim began to put on Tefilin this week as a ‘practice period’ to become fully familiar with the ritual by the time he reaches full obligation.

Efraim’s Tefilin were going to arrive with a relative who was transiting through Bangkok at 2am Monday night/Tuesday morning. The unearthly hour was a bit daunting for me. It’s a shlep to the airport, waiting for the long lines at immigration, meeting the traveler, traveling back home. And all at the hours between 12-3 am which are usually the deepest sleep hours.

Before 5am on that same Monday morning my phone rang. My phone is on even during the night in case of emergency.  Not sure if this phone call fits the emergency criteria. It seems like it was simply a mistake in calculating the time difference. The woman from Canada who called me wanted to know how her friend from South Africa could send money to her son who was stranded at Bangkok airport. Without hesitation I said I could go to the airport if needed. Lucky for me that my wife gave me the wonderful idea of advising the young man to come by taxi and I would pay the taxi at this end. The young man came, I paid the taxi, gave him the money that his mother sent me via PayPal, fed him some breakfast and helped him find his way to his hostel.

All in a day’s work. Nothing unusual. Except that it changed my frame of reference. I realized that I had no qualms about going to the airport for a total stranger at an inconvenient hour. While my midnight jaunt for family reasons was somehow less tempting.

It all has to do with ‘framing’. The way I was viewing going to help a strange was from the prism of doing something ‘altruistic’. My having been woken up from a deep sleep an hour before my alarm was written off as ‘public service’. Whereas my disturbed night of sleep for preparing my son for his Bar Mitzva was being viewed from the prism of a burdensome chore.

It’s a trap that is so easy to fall into.

Rabbi Friedman was once speaking to a group of high school kids. He put on a biker’s jacket to shatter the stereotype of him being a regular long bearded fedora wearing rabbi. They asked him what his wife did. He said ‘she runs a home for a bunch of unwanted children’. After they oohed and aahed about that altruistic description of his wife’s work, the Rabbi added ‘they are actually our kids – we have quite a few - nobody else wants them’. The look of disappointment on the teenagers face after finding out that they were not homeless street-kids was telling.

That ‘almost-trip’ to the airport at 5am for a stranger, helped me reframe my midnight trip that awaited me later that evening. Traveling to the airport at 2am for picking up my sons Tefilin became a special event that I now looked forward to! Standing in the arrivals area waiting for my niece to find me and deliver the Tefilin did some seem like a nuisance. It was exquisite. What could be more joyous? We are blessed to have been chosen by G-d to be Jewish. Thank G-d our son is about to become Bar Mitzvah and I have been gifted the sheer nachas of introducing him to an eternal mitzvah that binds us with the Almighty. Can there be anything more meaningful than continuing the unbroken chain of thousands of years of fathers transmitting this important mitzvah to their sons? Every step of the process, when viewed from that overall perspective, becomes meaningful.

A chore was transformed into an act of faith, devotion and love. Through a simple ‘reframing’.

‘Reframing’ is a potent way of changing your perspective on things in a way that reduces stress levels and allows for more happiness.

Many people have expressed their difficulty in understanding the following verse in Psalms. (In many versions ( nusschaot ) of the Birkat Hamazon (Grace after Meals) it is included at the very end of the prayer)

‘I was a young lad. I have become old. I have never seen a righteous person who was abandoned. Even while his children asked for bread’.

Question mark. Have you really never seen a righteous person whose life is not a pleasant one? Who didn’t seem abandoned and punished unjustly. Bad things happening to good people is unfortunately not an anomaly.

Ask the Tzadik about his life. Unpleasant things yes. Discomfort and unfortunately even pain sometimes is the lot of righteous people.

Abandonment?

By G-d?

A Tzadik knows he is always in G-d’s presence.

It may feel bad. Even worse, he may suffer the greatest agony of having to watch his children struggle which is even more difficult for dedicated parents than undergoing that same struggle themselves.

He prays for a change in his plight. For a blessed life. G-d wants us all to pray for a blessed life. A physically comfortable life. After all, spiritual service is hindered by physical handicap. More money means more charity. Better health, means more power to help others. Better emotional mood means more energized

Yet he does not feel abandoned.

A remarkable story is told about Rabbi Zushe. CLICK HERE to read

It’s not easy to be a Tzadik. To reach that level of ‘reframing’ things so that absolutely nothing fazes you, because you are with G-d takes quite some ‘exercise’. Daily ‘faith workouts’ and reflective meditation.

But it is quite easy to do a simple ‘reframing’. It just takes some paying attention.

I want to humbly suggest that you take a peek into the things that irritate you. The small nuisance things. Like a husband who forgets to put his socks in the laundry basket. Or a wife that forgot to buy your favorite condiment when she went shopping. Or toddlers that jump over you at the crack of dawn. You get it. the things that so often cause us to sigh, grimace and ‘oy vey’ our way around. Or the ubiquitous ‘getting stuck in traffic’ problem that seems to be growing in so many locations around the world. Not to mention ‘slow download speeds’ that frustrate us as we get more used to snapping our fingers and getting instantaneous results.

Try reframing them. Put a positive spin on them. You may well find yourself humming a lively tune with a smile on your face!

When you smile, it’s contagious. As the saying goes ‘smile, and the world will smile with you’.

Actually, during these special days of the month of Elul, G-d is smiling at us. Encouraging us to get ready for the High Holidays.

Hey, let me be bold here. How about reframing the High Holidays experience? Think about the privilege you have of belonging to a group of people who have an unbroken tradition linking us to the G-dly revelation at Sinai. About spending time with friends and family in worship and dining.

Use the Synagogue time for meaningful reflection. At the very least it is ‘time-out’ from the ‘rat race’ of life. It is sacred time carved into the cosmic schedule of otherwise unbroken bouts of frenetic activity. Utilize it for rediscovering the meaningful things of life.

More importantly, bring your inspiration home and make Torah study and Mitzvah performance a more central part of your life.

Best wishes to be written and inscribed for a good and sweet year.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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