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Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Lollipops on Yom Kippur

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

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

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

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

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

But I forgot the lollipops…

The kids looked at me expectantly.

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

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

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

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

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

Cute story.

But why am I so enthusiastic about distributing candy?

Let me tell you a sad yet inspiring story.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Just a parent cannot stop loving their child.  

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

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

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

The opposite is true.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor  

Sad Drenched Smiling

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

And then it dawned on me.

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

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

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

The next day Hashem sent me another mission.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

About the real challenge of life.

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

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

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

CHOOSE LIFE! CHOOSE GOOD!

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

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

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

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

Every Jew deserves a Jewish burial.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Shabbat Shalom

And Chag Sameach for Sunday night Sukkot

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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

The Pleasure of Yom Kippur

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

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

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

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

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

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

Contrast that with Yom Kippur.

Yom Kippur is the holiest day of the year.

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

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

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

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

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

All good words for Yom Kippur.

Enjoyable physically?

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

Doesn’t seem so.

This Shabbat is the Shabbat preceding Yom Kippur.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

Let me make the point as clearly as I can.

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

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

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

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

Happy Teshuva’ing!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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

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

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

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

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

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

Wife. Listen? Or..

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

On the first day of Rosh Hashana we read that G-d told Avraham ‘everything that Sarah tell you, listen to her voice’. That would seem to imply that you should always listen to your wife.

Rosh Hashana is also the day of creation of Adam the first man. It is therefore also the day that Chava (Eve) the first woman was created. Listening to Chava to eat of the forbidden fruit was not the best plan of action for Adam. It really changed the course of mankind.

To listen to one’s wife or not to listen this is the question.

Simple answer. It depends for what. If she is urging you to do something you know is wrong, like in Adams case, don’t listen. If she is telling you to do something that is correct but difficult, definitely listen.

When my brother Yehuda, rabbi of Chabad of Westport CT, told me that the date of his first daughter’s wedding was on September 3rd, I took a deep breath. It was less than a week before Rosh Hashana. I knew that I would make every effort to be at the wedding in CT but the timing was a little tight.

Once I was going to travel to the USA though, I had lots of work to do there. I figured I would squeeze the week as hard as I could to maximize my time in USA. I found a 3:35 am flight on Sunday morning via Hong Kong. This meant I could attend the Saturday night pre-Rosh Hashana midnight selichot in Bangkok, and arrive in NY on Sunday early afternoon. And I could push the week as far as possible if I took the EVA air Wednesday midnight flight. It gets to Bangkok on Friday mid-morning. Plenty of time till Shabbat. It made perfect sense to me.

Oops. I forgot to check with my wife. Not about the trip in general. That she was fine with. The arriving home on Friday did not sit well with her. Not with Rosh Hashana starting on Sunday night. If anything went wrong with the Wednesday night flight, you wouldn’t be home for Rosh Hashana, she said. I thought that perhaps she was being a bit too cautious. Later that day I was studying a Talmudic discussion that made me realize my wife was spot on.

The Torah says that the High Priest (Kohen Gadol) would atone on Yom Kippur for ‘himself and his house’. ‘His house’ refers to his wife. From this we know that the Kohen Gadol needed to be married to be eligible to carry out the Yom Kippur services in the Temple. The Talmud (Sukkah 24a) mentions the opinion of Rabbi Yehuda who said that the High Priest even needed to have a ‘standby wife’ whom he could marry in the unexpected scenario that his own wife died before Yom Kippur. The Talmud goes on to explain that usually it would be outlandish and far-fetched to go to such precautions. The wife of the High Priest is hopefully healthy and there should be no reason to suspect that G-d forbid something will happen to her. The question is why does Rabbi Yehuda say that in temple times they should prepare for that remote possibility? It sounds excessive.

The answer given by the Talmud is that because of the great holiness of Yom Kippur, extraordinary precautions were taken. Even if they seemed a bit far-fetched.

Hmmm. I got the point. If something is very important and holy, you go out of your way to make sure you won’t miss it. The Talmud may have mentioned Yom Kippur specifically, but Rosh Hashana is also a very holy day. Usually I wouldn’t hesitate to take that flight as long as it lands before midday on Friday. But it would seem from the Talmud that for a day like Rosh Hashana it is prudent to take extra precautions.

I am sure I would have changed the flight anyway just because my wife said so. After all, ‘shalom bayit’ (peace in the home) is a very important value in Torah life. But the Talmudic ‘sign’ from Heaven made me feel the Providence of it.

Nechama got on the phone and made all the arrangements to change my flights and for me to arrive home late Thursday night rather than Friday morning. As to my work? I reassured myself that since Hashem runs his world, whatever I needed to get done in NY, Hashem would certainly see to it that I would finish by Wed afternoon in time for my 3:15pm flight out of Newark.

At 2 am on Wednesday morning as I was trying to get a few hours of shut eye in NY, I got the call that Sam Cohen had passed away at age 92. I had known Sam ever since I arrived here and we were very fond of each other. There was no question in my mind that I would be officiating at the funeral. The funeral was scheduled for Friday 11am. A quick note about the funeral. It was very well attended. A minyan of Jews from our community. As well as many friends from USA, Canada, UK and Australia who were in attendance. The ambassador of Canada attended. I spoke about Sam’s exemplary character, his gratitude-filled attitude and the good deeds that he selflessly performed. I urged all those in attendance that they add in acts of morality and kindness as instructed by G-d to all of humanity. It was obviously very important that I was back to officiate at this funeral.

Sometimes G-d shows us that our decisions were correct. They fit so beautifully into what obviously only Hashem with his immaculate Providence could orchestrate.

Now I saw for sure that my wife’s intuition was directed by Heaven. Of course I had to be back on Thursday night.

And how did my New York schedule work out? Also very obviously overseen by Divine Providence. After seeing to it that the arrangements for burial at our Jewish cemetery were put into place it was already after 3am and I started my day. I went to the Rebbe’s Ohel to pray for the upcoming new year, and then to the morning prayers in shul. My subsequent meetings were wonderful and they were so good that they actually took longer than planned. I finished my appointments in Long Island at noon. My flight from Newark was at 3:15pm. I needed to pick up my stuff and finish packing in Brooklyn. A google maps search for Newark with a stop in Crown Heights had me arriving at Newark 70 minutes before the flight. I realized that I still had a chance to make the flight, albeit a slim one. What to do? I decided that I would do my bit and would place my trust in Hashem that He would get me on the flight.

I set off on my journey on the NY streets.  G-d controlled the traffic flow in such a way that I arrived at the airport an hour before departure time. Thank G-d I had (uncharacteristically) checked in online the night before. But the automated system didn’t want to issue my luggage tags. It was 58 minutes before departure. One hour before departure is the cutoff time for issuing luggage tags. The man at the counter didn’t look happy with me, but then he did me a huge favor and issued baggage tags. He gave me a warning that next time I should come earlier. I certainly agree. Thank G-d I made it. And so did my bags.

As I was transiting through Hong Kong on Thursday night, my wife left me a voice note.

Jan Polatchek had called. In the spirit of my weekly email of last week, where I mentioned two stories of Jewish men who hadn’t had a Bar Mitzvah and had a belated one thanks to Providential meetings with inspired Jews who had offered them the opportunity to lay Tefilin. Jan had a new friend of a friend who was visiting Thailand and had never had a Bar Mitzvah. Nechama arranged that Jan would bring his friend on Friday morning to morning services and we would put on Tefilin and ‘Bar Mitzvah’ him. I go the privilege of doing that inspiring Mitzvah too.

Wow! Another important reason to be home on Thursday night.

Why do I share this personal anecdote in these days preceding Rosh Hashana?

First of all, to impress upon myself and my readers the importance and sanctity of Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur. I will never forget my dismay when a good friend told me that he had forgotten it was Yom Kippur and would not be at Synagogue. Rather he would be at an activity that was not at all appropriate for Yom Kippur. Today, with internet, there is no excuse not to know when Yom Kippur is. It would be prudent and highly appropriate to mark down those days in your calendar months and even years in advance.

The High Holidays deserve our utmost attention, respect and observance. Consider upgrading and adding something to your usual observance of these special days.

I cannot urge you more about the main mitzvah of Rosh Hashana. Hearing the SHOFAR blown on both days of Rosh Hashana. It is by far the most important component of Rosh Hashana. On Tuesday & Wednesday we have the Shofar blowing at 11:15 am in Rembrandt Hotel.  We also have a Tashlich and afternoon Shofar blowing on Tuesday 5:30 PM at the Benjasiri park lake (behind Imperial Queens Park hotel the further side from Emporium).

Wherever you are in the world you can find Shofar blowing’s.

Here is what I want to say about Shofar, Tefilin and mitzvah observance in general.

The only way to ‘be more Jewish’ is to do more mitzvahs. It is quite simple. G-d came down at Sinai and instructed the Jewish people in a host of rituals. We know from the anal of history that observance of mitzvahs is the only way to ensure Jewish continuity.

But much more importantly.

MITZVAHS ARE WHAT YOU REALLY DEEP DOWN WANT TO DO. It is not something foreign to you. Rather your soul become alive and inspired when you engage in doing a mitzvah in this physical world.

Try it!

In the New York Times, they once ran a full page ad for encouraging the lighting of Shabbat candles. The tag line was: They look like ordinary candles. Till you light them! (on Friday afternoon before sunset).

It’s easy to try. Take two candles and light them today before 6:07 PM. Here is a manual to DYI.

The same can be said about money. It looks like money till you give some to charity. Designate a tzedaka pushka (‘charity box’) in a prominent place in your home and start putting small amounts into it on at least a daily basis. (or before and after Shabbat and holidays). Take the ‘maaser’ (tithing) concept seriously and separate a full ten percent of your income to tzedaka. The really pious try and work their way up to giving twenty percent.

For men, Tefilin is a very important mitzvah. Visit us at the shul once in a while to lay Tefilin or consider buying your own (or loaning one from us) and committing to daily Tefilin wrapping.

Mitzvah’s will change your life for the good. It will make you more wholesome and inject meaning into your life.

Choose an additional mitzvah observance or upgrade an existing observance in honor of the upcoming new year!

Best wishes for a Shana Tova

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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