Printed from JewishThailand.com

Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Cashless society. Are you ready?

******Receive "Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok" directly to your inbox with links and pictures, www.jewishthailand.com/4080692***** 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Gifts are wonderful and heartwarming things to receive.

To give an appropriate gift can be a challenge.

A philanthropic friend of mine once came home to his apartment at the end of Purim and he was not able to enter his home. Bags, packages, boxes and parcels of ‘mishloach manot’ (Purim food gifts) lined the hallway leading to his home. The senders of these gifts meant well of course. They wanted to send their benefactor a physical sign of their deep appreciation for his help. The philanthropist on the other hand, was dismayed by the fact that so much would go to waste. He penned a note to all of his beneficiaries and friends, thanking them for their good intentions, but informing them that he would no longer accept Purim food gifts. Instead, they could send him a note about a needy person they had hosted at the festive Purim meal in their respective communities. This, said the philanthropist, would be the best possible Purim gift.

I have received my share of gifts over the years. Some spot on and some really off target. The most hilarious gift I ever got at a birthday party was after-shave lotion.

Ties, wallets, belts and other accoutrements were the more typical gifts.  

This year I got the most atypical, but most precious gifts of all. The gift of Torah and Mitzvahs that were done on my behalf by so many of you, in honor of my fiftieth birthday.

My dear wife Nechama put together a mitzvah registry that provided a smorgasbord of mitzvah suggestions and so many took the time and made the effort to choose something. I was elated to receive the notes detailing the Torah that would be studied and the Mitzvahs that would be done. The gift of the G-dly, spiritual energy generated by the good deeds are an eternal gift which gave me much joy. And will continue to give me, and you, so much joy.

However, some of those who attended my party in Bangkok told Nechama that didn’t feel entirely comfortable with only gifting a mitzvah. They said that they didn’t want to come with ‘empty hands’.

I know what they mean.

Giving a spiritual gift seems a bit ‘virtual’ and intangible. We are earthly beings who live in a tangible world. Not all of us are able to really sense and feel spirituality. We thus do not easily relate to it as being something ‘real’. It may feel a bit awkward to give a gift that is so ethereal.

(Mind you, we all enjoyed their objection to coming with empty hands, as they brought along some bottles of ‘lechayim’. A joyous toast with friends is always a good thing, and I don’t see how that can be done virtually or vicariously :-) ).

The Rebbe, in an address fifty years ago, urged people to consider giving gifts of Torah and Mitzvahs in lieu of physical gifts. The Rebbe explained that it would take away the peer pressure to give gifts by those who can ill afford it. It would certainly do away with the societal competitivity that causes people to try to outdo their peers, reaching beyond their means.

If one is able to afford a material gift and can bring joy to the recipient, by all means give a gift. There is value to material gifts.

But, the Rebbe taught, one should also consider adding a gift of studying Torah on that person’s behalf, or giving Tzedaka for them. This kind of gift is infinitely more valuable than merely giving a gift.

I have heard this concept since I am a child. To tell you the truth, giving spiritual gifts to the Rebbe for his birthday or other milestone occasions seemed to make sense. It’s a no-brainer. To a spiritually attuned Tzadik you are not going bring a new tie. To the Rebbe it was obvious that the most valuable gift would be the gift of doing more Mitzvahs in his honor.

But the Rebbe was advocating that the Jewish community at large, people like me and you, should adopt these kinds of intangible gifts.

I am not sure how us ‘regular’ people could have really related and understood it fifty years ago. Back then money was ‘hard cash’. Letters were physical pieces of paper that traveled with postmen and ships across countries and continents. Radio waves, satellites and other invisible things were relatively recent innovations.

We seem light years away from those times.

In today’s day and age, I think it is just so easy to understand the beauty and deep meaning of giving a spiritual gift and the joy it engenders in the recipient.

We live in a world where intangible virtual reality is almost tangible. When it comes to money, cold cash may soon be a relic of the past. Having a cashless society may not be that far off. When I recently rented a car in NY and declined to take the E-ZPass option for toll paying (I have my own pass) I was asked if I knew that that the NY bridges and highways are now cashless.

When it comes to our moods we are certainly affected by the virtual world. People post things onto social media and then wait expectantly for the ‘likes’ and ‘shares’. It used to take tangible substances like caffeine or alcohol to get people high and energized. Today the same can be achieved through virtual cheering and acknowledgment. (Unfortunately, this also applies to the addictive qualities as well).

In today’s reality, if you send someone a ‘cash’ gift through PayPal is it any less valuable?

Do you follow my train of thought?

Because of the changes in the world around us, thanks to the advances in technology, we have the ability, to relate to spiritual concepts with more clarity. Fifty years ago it may have been a challenge to conceptualize the joy you could give someone by giving them an ‘empty hands’ virtual gift. Today, we interact with invisible and intangible realities with the same ease as with tangible and visible objects. Granted, your level of comfort with virtual reality is going to be commensurate to your age. But like it or not, the changes around us affect us all. No matter how old your passport says you are.

Gifting things that are intangible is so 2019!

The Rebbe’s suggestion seems so plausible these days. He saw it half a century ago through the lens of the Torah. Today we can even see it through our mundane technology savvy eyes.

And yes, I did feel elated and overjoyed to read through the beautiful and meaningful mitzvahs accompanied by good wishes. I thank you so much for taking the time and making the effort to wish me well and give me the gift of a mitzvah.

There is another benefit to Mitzvah gifts.

You can feel comfortable soliciting them.

When someone gives you the gift of doing something good on your behalf, to be ‘credited to your account’, they too are blessed. The blessing and spiritual energy enriches both the doer, as well as the intended recipient.

Which is why I am going to do something that is considered really impolite when it comes to material gifts.

I am going to ask you for a gift.

You and I are connected. Simply speaking, if you have read all the way down to this point in my article, you have given me the privilege, honor and pleasure to take up some of your precious time and share ideas and inspiration.

We are having a dialogue of sorts.

So I feel comfortable asking something from you.

Please pick a mitzvah from the registry. Or be innovative and pick another mitzvah. It’s as simple and inexpensive as giving a few extra pennies to a needy person. Or study a few extra minutes of Torah.

And consider a ‘Torah/mitzvah gift’ as an option in your future gifting to your loved ones and friends!

It is a gift that gives the recipient so much. And gives the giver just as much.

Above all, it is a gift that gives G-d so much nachas  and satisfaction.

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Outnumbered but Victorious!

******Receive "Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok" directly to your inbox with links and pictures, www.jewishthailand.com/4080692***** 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

On the desk of the hotel, in one of the fanciest in Jerusalem, was a little plastic adaptor that allows for the straight prongs of plugs to be inserted into the round holes of the Israeli electrical outlets.

It’s a very simple piece of plastic. Quite cheap. I don’t think it could cost more than one dollar. Which is why I was surprised that this gadget was covered by a note that read:

Dear Guest, It is our pleasure to supply you with this adaptor. We kindly request that you leave it the room upon departure’

There is an assumption implicit in this note that is confrontational. It is almost like there is an expectation that I would want to take this gadget and therefore the management of the hotel needs to take the pains to print a card asking me not to take it. I felt offended for guests who pay top dollar to stay in this hotel. (I was merely a guest of someone who was hosting me there). Why would the hotel assume that they would want to take this ninety-nine cent piece of plastic?

(Ironically, this is totally out of character for this particular hotel. They provide a full refrigerator of complimentary soft drinks, have a personal espresso machine in each room and overall give their guests a wonderful feeling. In my opinion this note and it’s out of character language was an oversight. I took the time to write a note to the hotel manager and he concurred with me that the note was incongruous with the super hospitable culture of their hotel).

I share this story because it speaks volumes about how the underlying attitude one has towards others affects the tone of the interactions between them.

There are studies that show that teachers who assume that their students are intelligent will teach more effectively.

If you believe when interacting with kids that they are ‘vildeh chayess’ (wild animals) you are likely to have a harder time. Believe that they are ‘gutteh neshomos’ (good souls) and you will have an easier time.

As a rabbi, I see it time and time again. If you assume that your fellow Jew really wants to be more observant of Judaism, but just doesn’t understand its importance you have a better chance to interest them in performing more mitzvah. Whereas if you approach them with the attitude that they are essentially disenfranchised from Judaism and a totally new interest has to be created, you are likely to have a much harder time creating that interest.

The Torah’s perspective regarding every Jews intrinsically positive connection with their Judasim, is very clear. The Torah states unequivocally that deep down, every Jew WANTS to do all the mitzvahs. It’s just that there are sometimes external mitigating factors that keep him from actualizing this subconscious desire. Knowing this about my fellow Jews is a game changer. I am not trying to change something in them when encouraging them to do a mitzvah, I am simply uncovering their true and most essential desire. A Jew doing a mitzvah is the truest self-expression possible.

There is a similar underlying choice of perspective to be made, when engaging in the mundane activities of life. Eating, drinking, sleeping, commerce and all the other big and small things that comprise our lives. You can look at the world and at the mundanities of life as being inherently negative or even evil. Interaction with the world should therefore be kept to an absolute minimum. Or you can believe that the world and all the complexities of life are essentially good so long as they are permissible according to the Torah.

Life is so much more difficult when you look at things with the assumption that they are all negative and out to attack you. But isn’t looking at things as being good at their core, overly naïve. Perhaps even simply untrue?  

The sages of the Talmud debated this very issue:

The following argument recorded in the Midrash, pertains to the revelation of G-d that came down to this world after Exodus, through the giving of the Torah at Sinai and the building of the Mishkan (traveling Temple).

Through the building of the Mishkan, G-d came down to this world, says Rav.

G-d came BACK down to this world through the building of the Mishkan, says Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai.

The Rabbi’s argument is about whether this was the first time such a revelation had been present in this world. In other words, they are arguing about what the state of the world was like at the time of creation.

Rav says that the revelation precipitated by building the Mishkan some 2448 years after creation, was one that was never before experienced. It was a new phenomenon for this world.

Whereas Rabbi Shimon says that the post Exodus revelation wasn’t a new revelation. That same high level, revealed presence of G-d had been there at the beginning of creation.

By all accounts, G-d’s revealed presence hadn’t stayed down in here in the world. It had been driven away from earth. The sin of Adam and Eve, Cain and other subsequent sins, pushed G-d’s revealed presence away from earth.

It was the great saints, Abraham, Isaac, Jacob and ultimately Moshe, who brought G-d’s revealed presence back to the world.

That is why Rabbi Shimon says that G-d came BACK to this world in a revealed way at the building of the Mishkan. Because he had been there before. It wasn’t a totally new revelation.

At the core of their argument is the debate whether the world was totally holy, pure and G-dly at the outset of creation, or whether that was a change that came later.

It sounds like a slight nuance, did G-d come (for the first time), or come back (returning the world to a state it had already experienced). It is far more than a subtle or pedantic debate. It actually makes a world of practical difference.

In a poignant public address, held exactly fifty years ago, the Rebbe addressed this point.

(The Rebbe quoted as he did every year, from the discourse written by his predecessor for the very day of his passing. The previous Rebbe had prepared a written Chasidic Maamar (essay) to be studied on Shabbat the tenth of Shevat in 1950. As G-d willed it, he passed away on that very day. That essay then became the theme that our Rebbe discussed on every Yartzeit anniversary. This was also the day that our Rebbe subsequently accepted the mantle of leadership).

The discourse begins ‘Bati legani achoti kalla…’ ‘I have come to me garden, my sister my bride’ (from King Solomon’s ‘Song of Songs’). The Midrash explains it to mean that at the post exodus Sinai revelation G-d said ‘I have come BACK to this world where I initially was’.

The Rebbe taught that this essay clearly follows the opinion that at the very outset of creation G-d’s presence was in this physical world in a revealed state.

In other words, the perspective we need to adopt in our lives is the that the world in its original state, in its very essence, is good and G-dly.

‘So what’? you may ask. Who cares what the state of the world was at the dawn of creation?

It may have been pure and G-dly at the beginning of creation but now it is clearly impure and unG-dly. It’s downright bad and ugly. Look at the overflowing jails. At the myriads of people suffering from all kinds of pain and suffering.

It would not be easy to disagree about the current pitiful state of the world. Immorality is rampant. Injustice abounds. You would have to be an ostrich with your head in the sand not to see that the world needs major repairs.

Granted, the unrepaired state of our world must not get us down. On the contrary. It highlights what we need to do. Our work is cut out for us.

The world is dark. We can make it lighter. Simple enough

For it is up to us to try and change the status quo. To bring more light into the world by doing Mitvahs. By being sensitive to the pain and hurt of those around us. By trying to alleviate peoples suffering. We are meant to be a moral beacon of light by standing firm to our values. Just because everyone around us is acting immorally does not give us a license to do the same.

But is it actually possible? Or is it an exercise in futility?

While it is simple to understand what our mission is, it is also seemingly impossible to ever achieve it.

Look around. The ‘good guys’ seem hopelessly outnumbered.

The world looks like a jungle. The mission seems be out of our reach.

The questions about the difficulty and elusiveness of making the world good, would be true if we needed to create a new reality. If the world was inherently bad and we were trying to coax it and bend it into new positions.

The Rebbe taught us that we must adopt the opinion of Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai. G-d’s revealed presence was there at the inception of our world. Thus the world is naturally good. We don’t need to create something from scratch. Yes, it’s currently covered with bad. We don’t need to change its essence. We need but to peel away the layers of grime and darkness to expose the inherent goodness and G-dliness within this lower world.

I feel especially attracted to this teaching. The public address in which the Rebbe taught this, was on the tenth of Shevat fifty years ago. I was born a few hours earlier on that very day just a few miles away from the venue that the Rebbe held this address.

It is this message of optimism, hope and belief in the inherent goodness of our world that I would like to share with you in connection with my soul coming to this earth. Join me in adopting the Rebbe’s approach to the world, to our fellow Jews and to humanity as a whole.

Allow the message to sink in. G-d’s creation is GOOD. Granted, it is currently overtaken with bad. But because at its core it is good, the task at hand to revert the world back to its inherently good state through doing mitzvahs, is eminently achievable.

We need to take on this mission armed with joy and optimism. Our joy will be fueled by the belief and knowledge that at their core the world we are trying to change is good. If we but try, we can positively influence those around us and expose the true goodness inherent in them and in the world at large. We will reveal that this is G-d’s world. The continued efforts in this direction will bring Mashiach who will once again open the curtains and expose the truth of G-d’s revealed presence down here in this world once more.

This time for eternity.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS Thanks so much for all those who attended the Bangkok birthday celebration. Thanks to those who sent blessings. Special thanks to those who visited the gift registry and undertook mitzvahs as a gift for my milestone birthday. Mega thanks for being a reader of this column. I learn so much from writing these articles as I dig into my heart and mind to share Torah lessons with you.

PPS If you are in the New York area please join me at 11:00 for prayers at the Ohel followed by brunch. Details below.

 

It was surreal

 By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It was surreal. I was standing at the chupa wedding ceremony in Israel of a cousin in his twenties. Everyone around me was joyous. At the same time my smart phone was buzzing with WhatsApp updates about a funeral procession. Tragically, a funeral that was taking place at the same time in New York, of another cousin who had just died prematurely in his forties.

Same family name of Hecht (my mother’s maiden name). All of us descendants of the same great grandfather. One – may he and his bride be blessed with a long happy healthy life - was about to begin his life in a joyous ceremony, the other was on his final journey in an anguish filled funeral.

Rather than dealing with the feelings that were flowing through my heart, it was easier to retreat into my imagination. I tried to imagine what our common great grandfather would feel like if he was alive.

What emotion would be the dominant one.

Would he be joyous or mournful?

Joy from the wedding of his offspring.

Or anguish from the untimely death of his other offspring.

Births, bar mitzvahs, wedding and birthdays are all cause for celebration. Death is marked by mourning. They are for the most time not happening simultaneously. Usually these different events happen at different times and the emotional responses are thus separated chronologically.

Sometimes, like the scene I just described, these conflicting events coincide incongruously. In such an instance, the mutual exclusivity of the nature of the events stands out starkly.

It’s an emotionally laden scenario that I just shared. Weddings are intensely joyous. Deaths, particularly premature and unexpected ones, are excruciatingly painful. I would like to lower the intensity a bit and move away from the life and death topic, moving into the more amenable highs and lows of regular life.


I shared with you last week that during my Israel trip I didn’t even have 7 shekels in my pocket. Many wrote to me, that in reading my article they empathized with my feelings of frustration and inadequacy.

I don’t like kvetching, certainly not out loud to all of my readers. What I like even less than kvetching is sharing things that could be misconstrued as boasting. So why don’t I just steer clear of relating such personal incidences? Because from the feedback I get from my readers I know that the messages strike a responsive chord in many. I am therefore prepared to overcome my reticence for airing these personal feelings. As others are inspired and motivated by the lessons extracted thereby.

So if I kvetched last week, it is only fair that I tell you how I felt when I arrived at the Chabad House in Phuket to run the Shabbat services there.

I felt like a million bucks!

(Actually I felt like much more than a million bucks.

It used to be a compliment when you told someone ‘you look like a million bucks’!

I am not so sure if that is still the case.

You may actually offend someone by saying that. A million is not what it used to be…. Actually, the value of a million dollars in say 1950 is about ten times that amount in 2019).

To see the Phuket Chabad House – a six storied, purpose built, modern building - was inspiring and uplifting. To realize that although the building cost around one hundred million Thai baht to build, somehow we got it up, was empowering.

More importantly it was reassuring and soothing. It injected meaning and purpose into not having 7 shekels in my pocket. It put a positive and joyous spin on the monthly anxiousness and worry about covering the substantial building loan payments.

Ironically, at the same time that the building gave me a sense of delight and cheerfulness, it also reminded me of the formidable challenge of covering the substantial building loan payments to make sure that the Chabad House remained current in its financial obligations.

Context is so important in life. That is why it is critical to remain focused and not lose sight of the context.

Last night my friend was telling me that he is going to a Shabbat retreat which would be attended by a few hundred others, many of whom are his friends.

Then he sighed deeply.

I asked him what are you sighing about? You are going to have a great time at the event.

He said, ‘I am going to be called on to lecture and mentor some of the younger attendees. It’s going to require some exertion on my part’.

‘Why is that a sighing matter’ I asked him. ‘I know that you love doing that kind of work’.

He didn’t have a good answer. Because he knows better than me how thoroughly he will indeed enjoy himself. He had sighed instinctively, thinking about his exertion. He had not focused on the general context of the enjoying weekend he is about to embark on.

Here is another great example. Arranging a wedding for yourself or a child, is a big headache and quite tiring. But it is exertion and hard work that must be viewed from within a context of joy.

My wife tells me that one of the favorite topics for discussion among women is complaining about their maids. We call it ‘rich people tzorris’. The context is one of a luxury lifestyle. Within that luxury there are also downsides and difficulties.

It seems easy to forget the overall context and focus on the negative and hardships.

One of the great Chasidic Masters was known to carry two notes in his respective pockets. One note quoted the Talmudic passage ‘the world was created for me’, while the other note contained Avraham’s biblical statement ‘I am but dust and ashes’.

A person must always be cognizant of two fundamental principles. One the one hand man is the center and raison d’etre of the universe while on the other hand he is a mere speck of dust.

When he has but a few kopeks in his pocket he must realize that he is nonetheless significant to G-d and the world was created just for him to contribute his unique contribution to the world.

I used money as an analogy, but it goes far deeper. How about when a person feels that they have nothing to contribute to those around them. Perhaps they have aged and their families or society no longer depends on them for the things they used to be needed for. The feelings of irrelevance that often come with the advanced years of life are one of the very significant challenges of ageing. It is at this time that they must remember that G-d created them and ‘needs’ their unique contribution.

(Yitzy Horowitz who has ALS bravely shared this post that provides deep and evocative thoughts on the topic of relevance).

On the other hand, if one feels conceited, smug or entitled, that is the time to remember ‘I am but dust and ashes’. You and everything you have come from G-d. There is nothing that you can truly take credit for. Boasting is quite silly and downright untruthful. On the contrary, if you take into account how much potential G-d has entrusted you with, your achievements may be quite a disappointment in His eyes.

A perfectly balanced personality should have a healthy dose of self-esteem coupled with a corresponding level of humility.

It is when things are not evenly keeled that dysfunction comes into the picture. Low self-esteem can lead to depression which can lead to addiction and other self-destructive behavior. Exaggerated levels of self-confidence can lead to the noxious atmosphere that exists around arrogant people.

Life is full of things that are LIGHT. There is however, an almost commensurate level of DARK.

There are joyous things.

There are sad and challenging things.

Often, the lifecycle mutually exclusive events come at different times.

This is not the case with the ‘mundane’ ups and down of life. They are usually lumped together as one.

What emotion should be the dominant one?

Which should we be focused on?

This weeks parsha speaks about the near to final plague that G-d smote the Egyptians with. The plague of darkness. There is a telling verse that describes the scenario as it unfolded in Egypt. The Jews had light in their dwellings. In stark contrast to the darkness that reigned outside in the Egyptian quarters.

Perhaps there is a lesson here to us. The ‘Jewish’ way, the path that leads to ‘exodus’ and liberation is to reveal and find the light within every situation. Even when the darkness on the outside is undebatable.

The holy sage Rabbi Dovber was explaining the Talmudic teaching of joyously accepting whatever G-d brings upon you. The sages taught that one must praise G-d when negative things happen, just as one blesses G-d when good things happen. For they too, are from G-d. A student said he found it difficult to understand how one could truly be joyous and accepting of the bad things that come onto a person. ‘Go pay a visit to your colleague Reb Zushe’, said Rabbi Dovber. Upon visiting Reb Zushe he saw the abject poverty and obvious suffering that he lived in and understood why his teacher had sent him here. He asked Reb Zushe to explain the perplexing concept of thanking G-d for the bad with as much joy as one thanks Him for the good. To which the ever-joyous and radiant Reb Zushe answered ‘how would I know? Nothing bad has ever happened to me’!

There is light. There is darkness. Both are there.

In front of a mortal king sadness is banished. The court jesters job was to create happiness in the king’s presence. The Kabbalists taught that joy and cheerfulness are always to be found in proximity to G-d. Surrounding Him there is always radiance.

Our challenge is to recognize that we are always in G-d’s presence. We are in His embrace.

Sometimes we get trapped in our own personal ‘Egyptian enslavement’. That is when we feel like we are engulfed in a paralyzing darkness.

G-d gives us the opportunity to lift ourselves out of our morass. The Exodus from Egypt that we read about is not just a historical event. It is a G-dly gift and opportunity that we can and must avail ourselves of every single day and at every single state of life.

The Rebbe, whose ascent to leadership we mark on the Tenth of Shevat, exuded this message of positivity and light. He exhorted and inspired Jews world over to recognize their unlimited potential. He cajoled and motivated the gamut of the Jewish people. From the greatest sages to the least observant. To take the leap and free themselves from their personal self-imposed ‘Egypt’-limitations.

One step at a time.

One mitzvah at a time.

JOYOUSLY. OPTIMISTICALLY.

Armed with the knowledge that we are at the threshold of a new world. A world of everlasting peace and tranquility that will be ushered in by our additional acts of goodness and kindness.

Let us not shy away from our mission.

Forward march!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

I was 7.80 shekel short

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

My GPS told me make a U-turn to take the fastest route to the airport.

My instinct told me that I really didn’t want to miss my flight back home from Israel. Yet, my fear of not having the seven shekel needed for the toll through the Carmel tunnels caused me to try to find an alternate route.

I may have had only one shekel in my pocket, but I was in a buoyant mood after giving an hour-long class to my daughter’s high-school dorm mates, on the importance of joy and positive thinking. It is definitely one of my favorite topics. I love sharing the ‘secret to having a good life’ which is summed up in a one-liner coined by the Jewish mystics, ‘think good, it will be good’. I wasn’t about to let the absence of a couple of shekels get me down.

Thank G-d I found a route that didn’t require a toll payment. We made it to the airport in time. I have been back in Bangkok since the beginning of the year.

You wouldn’t believe it, but here in Bangkok I had a repeat story. I was in the taxi, going to a meeting when I realized that I wouldn’t have enough cash to pay the taxi to get me to my destination. When the meter hit fifty baht, which is the amount I had in my pocket, I got out and walked the last twenty minutes to my meeting. I wouldn’t say ‘no sweat’. I did sweat a bit. This is Bangkok after all. Even in the ‘winter’ you sweat.

I am not proud to share these stories. Yet, they gave me such a clarity that I feel it may be helpful to share the lesson I learned from them, with others.

Why am I not proud about these stories?

Isn’t there something special about being austere? Doesn’t it sound quite holy to be so frugal that you have to walk part of the way to your destination?

The answer is a resounding NO.

First of all, let me hasten to clarify that I am not poor thank G-d.

Last Shabbat we served two thousand and seventy-eight Shabbat meals in our Chabad Houses around Thailand. True to our core mission of enabling every Jew to have a no-strings-attached, authentic Jewish experience, we believe in hosting as many guests as possible on Shabbat.

Chabad of Thailand hosts all who would like to join in the Shabbat experience. The two thousand plus attendees on Shabbat are our guests.

Guests don’t pay.

They say thank you meaningfully and gracefully which gives you a good feeling.

More importantly though, our guests grow Jewishly from the warmth and inspiration absorbed during the Shabbat experience.

For more than two decades we have been welcoming traveling Jews into our centers. The effect and impact on strengthening Jewish unity and identity, are well known. We have been a ‘gateway’ for so many Jews to discover their own bond with their true selves.

Some give donations. Nowhere near enough to begin covering expenses. Yet, we manage to produce Shabbat meals week in and week out!

(We are able to do this, thanks to people like you who are reading this and partner with us we are able to do this week in and week out. And we pray that you help us to be able to continue to inspire our guests, one guest at a time. One Shabbat meal at a time).

You can imagine that this costs more than seven shekel or fifty baht.

I also have a working credit card thank G-d. At the same time that I was cash strapped, I was driving a rented car. I was about to board a plane with a purchased ticket. My mobile phone was working. All these things cost far more than the small amount of cash that was hampering me.

It was simply cash that I didn’t have. I was under the impression that I needed cash for the toll in Israel (I have since learned from the internet that I could have paid with credit card at the Carmel tunnels) and I know that I needed cash for the meter taxi in Thailand that I was sitting in.

Of course I can rationalize why this had happened. My not having cash in Israel, was a result of the theft on the plane which knocked me off financial balance. My not having cash in Thailand was a result of my accounts being empty due to end of year financial crunch. Because I believe in the immeasurable value of what I do, I sometimes cut it that close, using every available dollar to pay urgent expenses leaving not enough buffer.

But it is not a correct behavior.

In one word, although I hate to admit it, my predicament had nothing to do with poverty G-d forbid. Rather it had everything to do with faulty planning.

And here is why my predicament was so wrong and should have been avoided.

I had a plane to catch. Missing the plane would cost money. Moreover, missing the plane would be a fundamental error. My life mission is in Thailand. This is where I belong every day. Unless I need to be away from Thailand for work or family reasons. What would I tell my kids who were waiting for me to come home? The people who were looking forward to the meetings set up for my return?

‘For seven shekels you risked missing your flight?’ I ask myself incredulously. I can’t believe that my mind was occupied with SEVEN SHEKELS? I need to raise more than one thousand times that amount every single day.

Imagine if you were a lawyer charging two hundred dollars an hour and during your billable hour, your mind is occupied with finding some coins for the parking meter? It would be dishonest to the client. It also doesn’t make sense. Plan correctly. Put things into perspective. Make sure to have a stash of quarters in your car, or have a secretary in charge of it.

Being distracted is not just bad financial behavior, it can be downright dangerous.

Seven years ago on January 13th the Italian cruise ship Costa Concordia ran aground resulting in thirty-two deaths. During the trial, the prosecution posited that the presence of a friend of the captain on the bridge of the ship with him, “generated confusion and distraction for the captain". The story remained in my memory because of its sheer horrendousness.

I want to present this in a slightly different way which will bring this point home to most of us. You will be shocked when you realize how immune we have become to acting in this very irrational and downright dangerous way.

No, I don’t want to talk about using a phone while driving. That is certainly something that must be avoided at all costs. It is against the law and against common sense. That’s a no-brainer.

There is another correlation I wish to make here. Even more commonplace and even more shocking.

Click on this link if you have the courage to be honest. I was thinking of using this meme in the weekly comedy corner. But I decided against it. It’s not a joke! Its gravely serious.

When you choose to fiddle with your phone instead of spending quality time with your kids.

Its dreadful. Preposterous. Stupid. And downright irrational.

How can you choose to read an incoming post on WhatsApp or Facebook rather than engaging with the dearest and most beloved people in your life?

Meshugah! No other word to use.

Yet, we all fall into the trap.

It’s faulty planning and loss of perspective.

You gonna occupy your mind with pennies? When things of eternal value are what you should be involved with?

Solve your cash flow issue. Prepare in advance. Make sure you have the petty cash you need at your disposal. It’s simply about proper planning.

It’s the same with making quality time for your family.

Plan properly. Clear your mind. Shut your phone for a few hours.

It’s not easy. When you are in the ‘rat race’ it is easy to forget that you are not a rat.

But it is critical to try and change that and escape the smallmindedness that so limits us and keeps us ‘in the box’.

This week’s parsha tells us:

Moshe came to redeem the Jews who were slaving away in futility in Egypt. He told them G-d is about to take them out. Redemption is at hand. The Torah relates that they could even listen or hear what Moshe had to say. They were so enslaved that they could absorb a message of liberation.

Can you imagine how frustrating it must have been for Moshe. He comes to the Jews and says ‘the slavery is going to be over’. The Jews respond ‘we are too overworked to listen to what you have to say’.

Imagine a lawyer who makes a call to a harried housemaid and tells her to come into his office for a meeting. She doesn’t come because she is too busy and doesn’t want to have pay deducted from her paycheck. But what happens if the lawyer is waiting for her to come to a meeting so he can tell her that her previous employer passed away and left her millions in her will?

The Rebbe in our generation faced the same challenge. He told us that Mashiach is about to come and we should get ready. Many responded that they were worried about such dramatic changes such as the Mashiach coming. What would happen to the stock market gains? What about the new house they had just renovated? Would they be expected to leave it behind and go to Israel?

This is the message I wish to impart.

For me, I have to put a system in place that doesn’t allow me to be without petty cash, so that I can keep my mind focused on the more important stuff.

For all of you (who I hope never suffered from my above situation):

Don’t allow yourself to be preoccupied with pennies, when diamonds are there for your taking.

Meaningful, ‘real’ (as opposed to ‘virtual’) relationships are diamonds. ‘Likes’ and ‘followers’ on Facebook are pennies or sometimes the internet is even worse. Like an addictive drug or a poisonous snake.

In the broader perspective: Torah and Mitzvahs are diamonds. Materialistic possessions are pennies.

Study some more Torah.

Do another mitzvah.

Go for the gold and the diamonds!

Mashiach is the ultimate GRAND FINALE. It is the greatest, most unimaginably good thing that has ever happened in the history of the universe. Don’t get distracted by the pennies of life as we know it. Wait for coming of Mashiach. More importantly, do good deeds to hasten it.  

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.