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Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Divine Hug

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

We didn’t time it consciously that way…

Is it not clearly the hand of Hashem’s Divine Providence?

Let me tell you the background. And then you can decide for yourself.

After weeks, actually years, of dreaming and planning, the J Café and kosher shopin Sukhumvit area finally opens on Sunday this week.

Just as we begin the week of the weekly Torah portion of Parshat Shemini.

What am I so excited about?

It is in the portion of Shemini that G-d gives the laws of what is kosher and what is not.

Until this morning, when I sat down facing my computer screen meditating on what I would like to share with you this week, I didn’t realize that there was this major and obvious connection between the weekly Parsha and the opening of our new kosher food establishment.

It is so heartwarming to get this ‘Divine-Hug’ so to speak. When G-d shows you how your efforts from down below are in sync with His Torah reading schedule it is truly inspiring and heartwarming.

You may be wondering, what do I find so exciting about a new kosher eating establishment? Why would Chabad rabbi’s expend efforts and resources to establishing a food eatery? Something that seems to be in the realm of body building and revenue generating rather than soul tending and altruistically flavored.

You would be right if we were talking about opening a new kosher food venue in New York, Jerusalem or even Melbourne. In those bastions of Jewish life, kosher venues are business enterprises and hardly a reason to make a rabbi’s weekly Torah column.

Not so in Thailand.

Two and a half decades ago, just after we opened the backpacker Chabad House in Kaosarn Rd it was clear that we needed a kosher food solution. Young people were visiting the Chabad House, becoming inspired to connect more to Judaism but left unable to feed their bodies in a kosher way. It was difficult to encourage travelers to commit to eating kosher when there was virtually nothing available for them to eat.

Opening a restaurant at the Chabad House twenty-five years ago was a mitzvah. It was founded as an outgrowth and result of the Jewish outreach mandate of Chabad. Rather than being a revenue source, it was another significant expenditure. It didn’t seem to have a future as a commercial enterprise but that didn’t matter. It was nurturing Jewish souls and guaranteeing Jewish continuity. These are critical values that you cannot put a price tag on.

The value of a kosher eating establishment where there are none, is immeasurable.

The obvious benefit is that enables more people to keep kosher. G-d instructed Jews in a detailed dietary code and without proper resources it can be quite difficult to adhere to the kosher laws.

Providing a kosher eatery is thus a great mitzvah. It’s as simple as that. Which is why the kosher restaurants at the Chabad Houses are still open, notwithstanding their inherent non-profitability. They have become an expected feature at each of our Thailand Chabad Houses and thousands merit to keep kosher because of the availability of kosher food that they provide.

Not to mention the incredible Jewish unity opportunities it enables. The kosher restaurants at Chabad of Thailand’s four locations, provide more than two thousand Shabbat meals every single week. These meals are inspirational celebrations that foster and cultivate Jewish unity.

The kosher establishment in a remote location goes beyond just providing kosher food.

A kosher eatery in a place that is off the traditional ‘Jewish grid’ becomes a Jewish meeting point of sorts and provides a vital community service.

The new J Café and Kosher Shoppe is a cause to celebrate for any Jew living in Thailand. It’s a ‘one stop shop’ for Yiddishkeit and Jewish accessories. It may be a Yartzeit candle one is looking for. Chanuka candles. A half kilo of rugelach. Challa bread on Friday. Hamantaschen on Purim. Israeli soup croutons. Tahini or Humus or Matzah & kosher wine for Pesach.

Not to mention the Israeli style café menu that is mouthwatering (don’t take my word for it, check it out for yourself).

All of this and more is now readily accessible and centrally located at Mille Malle Mall on Sukhumvit Soi 20.

Going to a community focused kosher shop can do wonders in fanning the flames of Yiddishkeit and Jewish identification in one’s soul. Especially if you bump into other community members and have a good schmooze. Or you may even meet me or one of my colleagues and get to put on Tefilin or hear a Torah thought.

For all these reasons and more, I am excited about the new venture.

Will it be sustainable. I am hardly worried. Because it’s a community service at its core, I am not fazed by the possible or (as the pessimists say probable) lack of profitability. The benefits to the community far outweigh the possible deficit.

But I challenge you and invite you to prove the naysayers wrong.

Support the new endeavor. Invite your business associates and friend to dine with you. Order deliveries to your home or office. Help build it up till it becomes financially self-sufficient and then continue to support it till it even turns a profit.

As indicated on the signage, J Café is a project of Chabad. This means that any profits go back to the community chest. So if you succeed in making this new project viable, the community benefits further by having more resources to provide ever increasing Jewish and social services.

It’s a win-win proposition.

Eat kosher. Support the community. Nourish your body. Nourish your soul.

And check out the wonderful selection of kosher wines.

LECHAYIM!!!!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS to those of you who live in established Jewish communities I hope you too can relate to the game-changing nature of providing kosher where it was scarce. And perhaps I can suggest that you be more mindful about the need to support the kosher establishments in your cities and towns. This would be done by shopping and eating at kosher stores and eateries wherever the option exists.

Did Volvo time it for Purim?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Purim in Thailand was AMAZING thank G-d!

For me personally, the grand finale was the WhatsApp messages that kept coming all night.

I don’t mean the thank-you’s for the party and that kind of stuff.

The community Purim party at the Rembrandt Hotel was fantastic! Hundreds of people may G-d bless us all, joyous atmosphere, fantastic food (see below notice about new café/bakery/kosher-shop opening in Sukhumvit) and inspiring Torah thoughts. Indeed, there were plenty of gratitude notes, and I send a special thank you to those who said thank you.

The flurry of messages was in reaction to a selfie I had sent out.

At the end of our community Purim party I saw one of the young men who was helping with the security arrangements. Wanting to give the young man’s father some nachas, I took a selfie and sent it to him.

And what I discovered the next morning, is that I had also sent it to 256 other people. Apparently without realizing it, I sent it to a WhatsApp list I had compiled some time back when we were doing a crowdfund ‘giving day’.

Two hundred and fifty-six people got this random picture from me. Each of them sure that I had sent it personally to them.

Most responded with ‘am I supposed to know the guy?’.

Some were sure they knew the guy and had just forgotten who he was. They wrote ‘please remind me who that is standing next to you’. Some even tried guessing the name, they were that sure that they had the person before.

Others just sent a question mark (or two or three ???,s).

My favorite response was from one of my friends. He wrote, ‘Send regards! And please don't tell him I have no idea who he is’.

An interesting social experiment.

But it wasn’t at all planned from my side as an experiment.

It could have been a major mess-up.

I thanked G-d from the depth of my soul that the message I had inadvertently sent out was simply a selfie. It was not some private correspondence that went unintentionally public.

It gave me a very clear message though.

How absolutely careful we have to be during this exciting information age.

In the olden days it was a bit simpler. We had to watch what we said with our mouths.

Our Sages taught that our mouths are formed in a way that reminds us to be cautious about what we say. The teeth and lips can be viewed as two gates that control one’s speech. The Torah places much emphasis on what comes out of our mouth. Words are very powerful. They can build and they can demolish.

I am going to digress here. Take it as a Purim meandering…

Parents, must pay particular attention to the power of their words. It is so sad to see when a parent verbally pushes down their child. ‘You are such a klotz’ may seem like a statement made in exasperation. It slipped out of your mouth without you even noticing. You didn’t mean it to be a clinical assessment of your child’s motor skills. But too often this kind of speech turns into a self-fulfilling prophecy and shapes the kind of adult our children turn into.

On the other hand, you wouldn’t want to lie to your child and tell him he is a Yehudi Menuhin if he is really an amateur beginner violin player.

You should though, find uplifting and empowering things to say to your child. Find something that you can give your child a compliment about. It will make a world of difference. It is a major factor in whether a person will grow up with low self-esteem or healthy self-esteem.

I cringe and cry when someone confides to me that their parents said they were ‘a mistake’. What kind of emotional strength are you giving a child by essentially telling them that they were unwanted.

One of the most critical parts of my work is to tell people how absolutely essential they are. How much they are irreplaceable. As humans. G-d doesn’t create ‘spare parts’. It’s not like there are just a couple of extra billion people kicking around. If G-d put a soul down here on this world, it is for a reason. Whether your parents consciously thought about the reason for bringing another child into this world or not, is immaterial. If you are here, it means that Hashem wants you and ‘needs’ you here.

You need to have patience though. Sometimes it takes time till one gets to see what their contribution to the community is.

This is one of the powerful lessons of the Megillah which we just read.

Esther was in the court of Achashverosh for five years. Long painful years. For a virtuous Jewish maiden who was forced to be the Queen to a Persian king of dubious character it must have been excruciating.

Five years later, Mordechai asks Esther to intervene on behalf of her people. She sends back a message that Achashverosh may be her husband but he is unpredictable and she would be endangering her very life by trying to approach him without being invited.

Mordechai told her the fateful words that ring so loud till today (Esther 4, 14) For if you will remain silent at this time, relief and salvation will come to the Jews from another source, and you and the house of your father will be lost. And who knows if it is not for just such a time that you reached this royal position."

One of the sometimes overlooked details of this story is the fact that Mordechai went every single day to the palace gates to enquire about Esther and see to her welfare. Mordechai’s persistent support gave Esther the needed strength. Can you fathom the depth of that commitment? Mordechai came every single day for 5 years to check up on Esther, an orphan who was taken against her will to the palace. By doing this, Mordechai showed that there is someone who cares for her, loves her, and that she is never alone

This is what a true Jewish leader does. A true leader imbues and inspires those around them with the knowledge that they are essentially good and that they have a unique contribution to make.

Albeit it may not always be obvious. It may take many years. But G-d does not create anything redundant. Not even a blade of grass. Certainly not a human being.  

The Rebbe, in our generation, reinforced this critical message and made it central to the mission of the Shluchim he sent around the world. Tell every Jew that G-d is waiting for their mitzvah. The community is not complete without their unique persona. No Jew is too ‘small’ to be a critical member of Am Yisrael.

For the Jewish nation in its entirety, is like a Torah scroll. Every Jew is like one letter in that one Sefer Torah. If even one letter is missing from the Torah, it renders it invalid.

My dear friend, take the opportunity to be one of those who builds people and strengthens them. You don’t to have a degree, no money needed either. All you need is a sincere desire to help someone else. Your uplifting words can make a person. Just as negative words can G-d forbid break a person.

You can do it! Your words can make a difference!  

End of digression. Back to my WhatsApp mistake….

The mouth used to be the main thing we had to look out for. To use it for good. not for negativity.

Today it’s our index finders as well. With the flick of a finger a lot of emotional damage can be wreaked. By the same token, self-esteem can be built by that same smart phone. ‘Likes’, empowering emoticons, inspiring pictures and videos all of these are amazing tools to build people up.

You really have to be careful with this. I learned this lesson. Thank G-d not the ‘hard way’. Rather the ‘fun way’. My apologies for the infringement on the time and attention of those two hundred and fifty six recipients. Most of them were in Purim mode and more open to being laid back and ‘chilled out’.

Actually, part of me is happy that it happened. It gave me a chance to touch base with a few hundred people I wouldn’t have made contact with.

Okay, I am going to go clean here and be unabashedly honest. Probably this unintentional message was sent because I was operating my smartphone ‘under the influence’. I was under the joyous influence of Purim. Enhanced by the lechayim’s I had toasted at the Purim party & farbrengen. That is probably what made this mistake much more prone to happening.

I haven’t searched for studies on this topic, but I think it would be common sense that one should be extra careful about operating their smart phone when ‘under the influence’. When one’s judgement is impaired, it is easy to post pictures and write texts that may prove embarrassing afterwards.

Look at this fascinating headline from the day before Purim about Volvo’s safety feature to prevent drunk driving.

I thought it was amazing that one day before Purim when we drink wine and spirits this very significant breakthrough was announced.

Do you think Volvo executives timed the announcement for Purim?

The saying ‘don’t drink and drive’ has become an ironclad rule in society.

It is clear beyond clear, that when one drinks one is forbidden to drive.

There used to be a huge billboard on a building in Bangkok that read DRINK DON’T DRIVE. I don’t care much for that messaging as it is clearly promoting drinking alcohol which is not a positive message. However, on Purim that saying makes some sense. The Talmud says one should celebrate with ‘drink’ on Purim. Click here for some important clarifications about this. The Torah strict instructions about protecting one’s life, automatically leads to the next part of the statement. ‘Don’t drive’!

Technically, the smartphones could implement such a feature as well. There could be a feature where the phone would shut down its broadcasting if the operator was under the influence of a mood altering substance. It could probably also figure out if you are angry based on certain criteria and limit some functionality on your phone if you so desired.

(Is this an idea for a new app? Or is it perhaps out there already?).

For the meantime though, till those features are added, we gotta rely on the ‘old-fashioned’ way. Which is to think before we speak. And before we tweet. And before we post pictures or send WhatsApp’s.

This ‘mishap’ also reminded me of another very exciting possibility that technology provides.

The Chasidic Masters said that when Mashiach will come, it will be broadcast in the newspapers.

Today, our virtual newspapers and transmission of news is yet swifter and further reaching than the newspapers of yore.

May we merit to get tweets, WhatsApp’s. Facebook posts and Instagram’s (and all the other platforms I haven’t mentioned) that MASHIACH IS HERE!!!

AMEN

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Hollywood Shmollywood

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

One of the earliest conscious memories I have from my childhood, is of Purim.

It’s a scary one.

Perhaps that is why I still have the memory.

My parents hosted a Purim celebration for adults that started in the evening. I was in bed, but of course there was no way a curious kid would go to sleep when guests are arriving and there is action going on in the dining room.

A gorilla walked down the hall, passing my bedroom and throwing me into a hysteria. Gorillas seem quite scary, especially if they are not in the zoo but have invaded the safe environment of your home.

It didn’t help much that my parents invited the ‘gorilla’ into my bedroom and had him take off his ‘head’ so that I could see the nice human being underneath. The vision of that gorilla still terrified me. It obviously made a deep impression on me as it is one of the earliest childhood memories I have.

It certainly allowed me to relate to the hysterical crying of some of our kids upon meeting clowns and other forms of masqueraders in various settings.

Purim is the day of Jewish masquerading. It is a custom to ‘dress-up’ on Purim. Queen Esther is one of the favorites for girls, as Mordechai is for boys. Firemen, policemen, elderly persons, cooks, superheroes, and all kinds of other creative get ups fill the streets of Jewish communities around the world on Purim.

Why?

Years ago, I took the ‘world-famous studio tour’ at Universal Studios in Hollywood.

I remember walking away feeling confused.

On the one hand I was wowed by how creative the movie producers were. They didn’t need to go to a suburban neighborhood to film a show about housewives, they simply created a facade of suburbia. They even created a crashed airplane for one of their scenes. Sets could be created for almost any scene Hollywood was interested in creating. Artistic, resourceful, ingenious and a host of other words could all be used about these backdrop producers. In one word, it is ‘amazing’ to see what they have developed.

On the other hand, I was disillusioned and disappointed to see how fake the entertainment industry was. It was all merely a facade. People acting. Production sets that were built and customized to portray a certain image. There was nothing real about it.

Millions upon millions of people spend millions upon millions of dollars to watch something that is not real. Not to mention the untold number of hours spent watching these productions.

Is society so bored that we can’t figure out real and meaningful things to spend our time and money on?

Ultimately, in the long term, I walked away enlightened.

I had been shown in a tangible way that things are not always the way they look.

Granted, it looks so authentic. Which is why it takes so many millions to produce. If it didn’t look real, it wouldn’t sell.

But it’s not real. It a ‘dress-up’. A masquerade.

Should one get heartbroken over a tragic divorce in a movie? Should a gun-toting terrorist engender fear while one is merely watching a film?

Not more than a kid should get terrified of a man dressed up as a gorilla.

Yet, there is no question that people do grip their chairs during thrillers and gasp during horrors. The illusion is strong enough to almost forget that it is not real. It takes an effort to distinguish the real from the illusion.

Just like a man dressed as a gorilla is scary. If you don’t realize that it is not real.

Purim is coming. On this Wednesday night and Thursday.

In the Megilla that is read on the eve of Purim and then again on Purim day, the ancient story is retold.

How the Persian King Achashverosh killed his queen Vashti in a drunken rage. Esther was chosen as the new queen and did not disclose her Jewishness. Mordechai through his government position learned of a plot to kill the king. Through Esther, Mordechai relayed the message to the king. This life-saving favor was recorded in the royal chronicles. Haman wanted to kill the Jews. Esther invited the king to a private banquet with chief minister Haman. Esther revealed her Jewish identity to her husband the king. Haman’s plot of annihilating all the Jews would include Esther as well. Achashverosh had a royal change of mind. Haman was deposed and killed. The Jews were allowed to bear arms and successfully repelled those who wanted to kill them. From disaster and sadness, we went to gladness and joy!

Sounds amazing and miraculous when you read it in one paragraph. Everything came together spectacularly.  

Actually the full story spanned a decade. It didn’t seem all that miraculous as it was unfolding. It’s not like the dramatic splitting of the sea or the raining down of Manna from heaven.

The scenarios seemed quite ordinary and coincidental.

The hand of G-d was not evident. Actually, the name of G-d is not mentioned during the entire story of the Megilla.

It is precisely that ‘invisible’ hand of G-d that wrought the Purim miracle, that we celebrate on Purim.

Purim reminds us that things are not the way they seem.

What looks like nature bereft of G-d’s direct and detailed input, is actually the well concealed hand of G-d.

If movie directors can make things look realistic even when they are merely facades, I don’t need to explain to my mature audience of readers, that G-d can make ‘nature’ look self-navigating.

On Purim we masquerade.

We celebrate the invisible hand of G-d in the day to day natural progression of life.

Even though we don’t witness many ‘open-miracles’ we do get to see many ‘small-miracles’. When we look back, we can often see the guiding hand of G-d.

The Rebbe would sometimes advise people who were complaining about their lousy lot in life, to look back. See what you were complaining about and praying for five or ten years ago. Have you really not had any blessings in your life? Invariably, when one looks back, they see patterns. An invisible coordinating force seems to be at work.

G-d masquerades.

On Purim we celebrate the ability to see beyond the masks.

For a young Yosef Chaim Kantor the challenge was to assuage his fears of that masked gorilla. My mother and father tried their best to sooth my fears by showing me the kind person who was in the mask. (I still remember who he was as well. A kind and benevolent man)

To a now grown Yosef Chaim, the challenge is still the same.

To see the benevolent Hand of G-d in everything that takes place to me and around me.

I pray and plead to G-d to be blessed with the awareness and ability to discern G-d’s presence in every aspect of my life.

May you too be likewise blessed!

What we can do to help reveal G-d’s presence is study Torah and do Mitzvahs.

There is nothing as powerfully revelatory of G-d than saying ‘no’ to something G-d has instructed us to refrain from, and saying ‘yes’ to something G-d has requested us to do.

Ultimately, humanity in its totality will be exposed to this reality with Mashiach’s arrival, AMEN!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


No Excuses

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Today is the first day of the month of Adar the second. About Adar our sages tell us that we should increase in joy.

‘Joy about what?’ some may ask.

Life can quite rough at times.

The Talmud tells the story about Hillel. He was very poor. So poor that all he earned every day was one coin. He needed half a coin for feeding his family. And a half a coin to pay the entrance fee into the house of study of the famed master Talmudists of his time.

One day he didn’t earn enough money to pay the entrance fee. Not wanting to miss the lecture at the Yeshiva he climbed onto the roof and lay near the skylight to be able to hear the class. It started to snow, on top of him. The Rabbi looked up and noticed something amiss. A person was on the roof covered in snow. They brought Hillel down, warmed him up thus saving his life. Following that incident they removed the mandatory entrance fee to the hall of study.

Our sages tell us that Hillel’s behavior ‘obligates’ even the poor to make every effort to study Torah. If Hillel who was so poor, found a way to study, anyone can find a way to study. If they but put their mind to it.

Rabbi Elazar ben Charsum had the opposite problem. Rabbi Elazar is described in the Talmud as being very rich. Wealth often brings distractions. Managing wealth is not as easy as it looks from the outside. It has its own set of headaches. Yet, Rabbi Elazar’s Torah study was impeccable. He studied Torah day and night. This ‘obligates’ and takes away the excuses from the wealthy. They too can study Torah if they truly make an effort. Just like Rabbi Elazar.

There is a special young man having his birthday on Shabbat. Rabbi Yitzi Horowitz.

Rabbi Yitzi was diagnosed with ALS six years ago. He was an active Chabad rabbi till then in Temucala, California. Witty, personable, cheerful and single-minded about his mission.

The diagnosis of ALS came like a thunderbolt on a clear day.

Yitzi’s life changed unrecognizably.

His heroic wife and family have been by his side for the duration. His friends have rallied to his support. Eventually he lost all abilities except for the communication device that allows him to type via eye movements.

Rabbi Yitzi writes a weekly blog.

Almost always he is upbeat and positive. Acutely aware of his situation. Yet accepting that this is where Hashem has placed him. He knows that even in his limited physical capacity, he is an irreplaceable soldier in the ‘army of Hashem’.

Take a few moments to see Yitzy ‘say’ it in his own words.

Yitzi’s positive attitude against all odds, ‘obligates’ everyone to adopt a positive attitude about life. By his living a joyous life even under those circumstances he takes away any excuse one could come up with for not being happy.

There is a Yom Kippur war veteran who spends some time in our shul. When I ask him how he is he says that as he was taken to hospital after being wounded during the fighting he said ‘Baruch Hashem ani noshem’, ‘Thank G-d, I am breathing. (In Hebrew it rhymes). And he has continued to say it ever since. Giving thanks to G-d and recognizing that our mere breathing is something we should give praise and thanks to the Almighty for.

This is indeed a healthy attitude to life.

To count your blessings.

Starting from the fact that you can breathe.

And then continue noticing all the blessings you were granted from the moment you opened your eyes this morning and onward.

The morning blessings are exquisite in the way they point attention to all of the gifts we have, most of which we take for granted.

Take a moment to learn about the morning blessings in contemporary language.

The month of Adar 2 has started. Time to be happy!

And we have so much to be thankful and happy about.

Hey, if you try the happiness experiment you will see that happiness is contagious.

Smile at someone tomorrow morning. Hum a joyous tune. If you have the guts, do a little dance.

You will start a ‘simcha’ ‘joy’ revolution that will create a ripple effect with unimaginable results.

Shabbat Shalom and a very joyous month of Adar!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS. In honor of Yitzi’s birthday an ambitious project has been launched, to gift Yitzi a mitzvah done in his honor. Click here for more info.

Billionaires & Half Shekel’niks

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

When I heard about it I was proud.

Proud, that it is the individual human being that occupies center-stage in the hearts and mind of the Shluchim. Notwithstanding the thousands of people Chabad of Thailand hosts on an ongoing basis,

And the fact that the ones who did this magnanimous act didn’t make a big deal about, actually, I almost didn’t even hear about it, made me even more pleased.

Last Saturday night, at our traditional post Shabbat ‘Melaveh Malka’ gathering, we were schmoozing. Rabbi Nechemya Wilhelm made reference to an elderly man they had helped that week. This was the first I had heard of it. I asked him for some more details.

It started on a Wednesday night with a call from Arkia Airlines. The Tel Aviv bound airplane had already taxied from the gate on the way to takeoff. At the last minute the captain decided not to take chances with an elderly man on board who did not seem very stable.

Turns out that this elderly Jew from Israel, had been living alone in Cambodia and slowly his mind became unclear. Rabbi Butman from Cambodia arranged to have him return to Israel. He even flew with him from Phnom Penh and accompanied him to the gate at the Bangkok airport. Rabbi Butman didn’t want to bother the staff at Chabad of Thailand as everything looked like it would be simple. He figured we are busy enough and thought all would be fine and dandy.

Once the plane left the gate, Rabbi Butman figured that all was ok and caught a flight back to Cambodia.

Till Rabbi Wilhelm got a phone call saying all was not ok.

The airline, not knowing what to do with a frail confused man who didn’t seem to have any family contacts, called Chabad for help.

Rabbi Wilhelm asked to speak to the elderly Jew by phone to try to understand the situation.  When he asked him how he had arrived in Thailand, the elderly man responded ‘I am not in Thailand I am in Cambodia’. It was clear that this person was totally disoriented.

Rabbi Wilhelm sprang into action. Simcha, one of the volunteer yeshiva bachurim, was dispatched to the airport and brought the elderly Jew to Chabad House.

The Thai Tourist Police were looking after the confused man till Simcha would get there. The police very kindly helped out and gave them a ride from the airport to the Chabad House.

A hotel room was organized. A volunteer from Chabad House was found to accompany him on the next day’s flight to Israel.

All this is standard. We have done this many times. The man traveled to Israel the following night and was taken to an assisted living facility in Northern Israel.

Nothing very unusual. We are blessed to be able to help people in a wide variety of ways. Repatriations are quite common. Till I heard some more details.

Casually, as if it were part of his every day routine, Rabbi Wilhelm mentioned that that this elderly person was incontinent. They had provided him with adult diapers and personally cleaned him several times during his twenty-four stay in the hotel across the street from Chabad House.

Hosting, helping, accompanying, this is what most nice people would do. Cleaning someone up when they are unable to tend to themselves, is quite a different story. Nurses, medical aides and live-ins for the elderly, for them it’s a part of their life. As almost anything in life, you get used to things. Even if they are not so pleasant.

For the average person, cleaning someone in that situation is something quite out of the ordinary.

I was deeply touched by the raw kindness and wanted to share.

This is something special. Caring in this way for a total stranger takes kindness to a different level. Moreover, his advanced state of confusion means that he is not even capable of ever thanking his benefactors.

This is an act of TRUE (as in no personal gain) charitable kindness.

Straight from the heart.

End of story. But not end of my article.

For my point is not to simply laud my colleagues, or share my admiration for their good deed.

I want to use this opportunity to stimulate more acts of kindness

In our Torah reading this week of ‘Shekalim’ we will talk about the giving of the half shekel.

The annual half shekel collection was incumbent upon every Jew equally. The rich man could give no more and the poor man no less.

The half shekel was not a substantial amount by any means. But every Jew was required to give it annually to participate in the buying of the public Temple offerings.

It reminded the wealthy that they needed others to participate with them. As high and mighty as they may be, they cannot do it on their own.

And it empowered the poor with the knowledge that their half shekel was a critically required part of the communal collection.

Obviously when it comes to giving money to the various other charity coffers, we can’t all give the same amounts. Let’s face it. Some people have more material possessions than others. G-d has entrusted them with additional resources so that they help those who are in need.

Ironically, this week when we talk about the equality of the half shekel contribution, AP published an article naming Bangkok at 8th place in the world for the highest number of resident billionaires.

Billionaires should voluntarily contribute to charity commensurate with their wealth.

(I don’t think I have bumped into a billionaire yet in Bangkok. I guess they are not coming to shul…..:-)).

But for the annual half shekel appeal there was a requirement for everyone to give equally.

On the most basic level this mitzvah of giving a half shekel reminds us that we are all capable of giving.

There is no one who does not have something to give.

After hearing the above story from my colleague about the help they had given the old man, I realized that this was a perfect example of a ‘giving opportunity’ that did not cost money.  It required something altogether different than money. It required REALLY caring about someone else, and focusing on ‘doing what needed to be done’. With no ‘if’s and but’s’ or other excuses.

This kind of giving contains the kind of ‘raw kindness’ that in some ways is even more impactful than giving money.

We all have the capability of accessing and activating the attribute of kindness that is within our souls.

And there are no shortage of kindnesses waiting to be done.

On the contrary. Opportunities for doing acts of charitable kindness abound.

I am talking about the kind of charity that is affordable for every budget.

The gift of the half shekel reminds that no one is ever too poor to give.  

A half shekel.

A smile.

A positively reinforcing compliment.

Even cleaning up a mess for someone. Remember to smile and have a caring attitude when you do.

Just say YES to giving!

You will not just have done a mitzvah.

You will also have done yourself a favor.

Giving causes happiness.

Actually, you will have done two mitzvahs.

It’s a great mitzvah to be happy.

Especially during the months of Adar in anticipation of the upcoming Purim!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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