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Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

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 By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Wow!

Nearly six thousand guests were hosted at the first night Seder by Chabad of Thailand.

That news made the headlines in Jewish websites around the world.

The mere breadth and scope is exciting. The Seders pulsated with a G-dly inspiration. (scroll below for a video recap of the multifaceted preparations leading to Seder).

Though, if I have to choose, what particular moment inspired me this Pesach, it comes from an unlikely incident that took place just before Pesach.

On the morning of Erev Pesach one of the Shluchim in Thailand called me to guide him on how to deal with the following sad situation. A traveling couple had lost their child during the sixth month of pregnancy. There was now a fetus to be buried. Parents to be guided through their loss.

At the same time it was less than ten hours away from the Seder night. There were hundreds of guests expected at the Seder and the rabbi had a whole list of preparations that still needed to be carried out.

The details are not important for this discussion. Let me suffice by saying that the Jewish traditions pertaining to burial of the fetus were carried out exactly as they should be.

As well, the Seder for many hundreds of guests at that location went off without a hitch thank G-d.

The delicate balance between hosting the crowds while not overlooking the needs of the individual were achieved in this situation. While the collective of the community of hundreds was tended to and inspired by the well-organized Pesach Seder, the individual needs of a couple going through a traumatic event were equally filled.

I am inspired by my younger colleague.

It must have been a challenge to get this curveball of an unexpected sad issue to deal with on the morning before Pesach. He rose to the task and did what was the right thing.

And somehow it all came together.

He did the right thing, and G-d blessed him to have time both to deal with the individual and to go on to successfully implement his large communal Seder.

As with any inspiration, it’s all about the better life choices and actions that it spurs in the behavior of the one who was inspired. G-d willing it will influence my actions as well as those who choose to be likewise inspired by my recounting of the event.

Not to lose focus on individuals even while catering to the masses.

And to do what is right even if it looks overwhelming. Just focus on doing the next right thing. G-d Almighty is the Master of the universe. He can and does make the unthinkable become a reality.

Interesting that the topic of fetuses has dominated my thinking as I write this column. It is actually quite relevant to the second part of Pesach that begins tonight.

On the Seventh day of Pesach (beginning tonight April 25) we commemorate the splitting of the sea and the crossing of the Jewish people on dry land. A dry sea bed where the enormous amounts of seawater usually was.

This was one of the greatest miracles of all times. The Jewish people were overwhelmed with gratitude to G-d for this unimaginable miracle of epic proportion.

They sang a song of thanksgiving. It is called the ‘song of the sea’. (We sing it every day in our morning prayers).

Who sang?

Better ask, who didn’t sing!

Everyone sang. From young to old. The men sang. The women sang. Suckling babes sang.

The Talmud tells us something quite startling:

The fetuses in their mother’s wombs sang!

Thus, truly the entire body of the People of Israel sang out to G-d.

The adults gave conscious thanks to G-d for the mighty and awesome miracle. The children followed the example of the adults.

The fetal singing represented something even deeper that the song of those who had already been born.

The singing of the fetuses to G-d emanated from the very deepest space in the human experience. From the primordial stages of life. Even while safely ensconced in the womb of the mother, as the developing body and soul were fusing and preparing to become a new life, they already sang out in thanksgiving to G-d.

Tonight, thirty-three hundred and one years ago, G-d split the sea for our ancestors.

As we enter the day of the splitting of the sea, the Kabbalists tell us that these events are once again spiritually reenacted.

Both the miracle of the sea splitting. Represented by the ability to achieve the previously unimaginable. (see below article by Aaron Moss).

As well as singing the song of praise to G-d.

A song that emanates from the deepest place in our souls.

The song of thanksgiving to G-d that resonates in every fiber of our being. From our earliest embryonic subconscious state, to the highest peaks of our intellectual prowess.

We are saved and thus we sing.

We sing and thus we are saved.

Join in tonight and tomorrow as we celebrate our complete escape from Egypt via the splitting of the sea.

Sing because we have been saved!

And then Sing to be saved!

On Shabbat – the grand finale of Pesach – sing the song of anticipation. We do this by celebrating the Seudat Mashiach (meal symbolizing our longing for the coming of Mashiach).

Click here for ‘what why and how’ about the Mashiach meal.

May Hashem grant us all the gift of liberation from our personal vices and constraints.

May Hashem bring Mashiach and liberate the world from the pain and insecurity of un-G-dly living, ushering in the everlasting peace we all yearn for.

Chag Sameach,

Shabbat Shalom,

We Want Mashiach NOW!!!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Shabbat Shalom & Chag Sameach From Bangkok!

 

By the Grace of G-d

 

Dear Friend,

Pai, in the hills of Northern Thailand

An unfolding story: (I shared part one back in May).

Part One, May 2018

I thought I was going to NY on Saturday night for Chabad-work-related matters. The check-in agent noticed that my Thai passport was expired and my visit to Suvarnabhumi airport turned out to be for naught.

A day later a friend called me from USA and asked me to help out with a Jewish man who needed possibly life-saving counseling in Chiang Mai. I said ‘sure, I will help and if need be fly down there’. I figured maybe this is the reason I didn’t fly to NY. Maybe G-d had kept me here in Thailand to help one of His children. When I called the person in distress, he said he was in Pai, not Chiang Mai. To my American friend no big difference, Pai, Chiang Mai or Chiang Rai it all the sounds the same to him. But of course there is a huge difference. Chiang Mai is easy and inexpensive to reach. Pai is tedious and time-consuming as there are no flights and the two lane highway is scenic but dizzying. It was a three-hour drive from Chiang Mai on the windiest mountain roads I have ever experienced. The trip left me dizzy for twenty-four hours.

The person I wanted to see indicated that he may not be prepared to see me. I decided to go nonetheless. The way it seems to me sometimes you have to go even when you are not sure of the outcome.

My thinking goes like this: If you are on the waiting-list for a flight and you don’t go to the airport, you certainly won’t board the flight. If you go, you have a chance.

‘Showing up’ is the first step, without which, nothing starts.

I got to Pai at 1pm and wandered around for two hours.  . Met at least a dozen young Jewish travelers (and one motorcycle-riding Northern Californian ‘hippy’ (her words) with her ten-year-old son).

The guy I came to see didn’t respond to my calls, WhatsApp’s or SMS’s.

No regrets about going there. For some years now I had wanted to see the Israeli backpacker scene in Pai to assess the viability of setting up a Chabad House there. This was a prodding from Above to get me there. Knowing that someone may be in need of help NOW, made this trip actually happen…

The fellow I went to meet? He knew I had traveled far to get there and that showed that I really cared.   The next day we spoke by phone and thank G-d things are on the mend. Hopefully I can help him in his quest for a brighter future.

Part Two April 2019

The person I had gone to visit has since ‘wandered’ around Thailand and more recently made his way back to Pai. His friend from the USA called me a few days ago and reminded me to reach out to him for Passover.  I was very happy to be reminded. For if he was in Pai I had a Seder to invite him to.

Yes. This year Chabad of Thailand is hosting a Seder in Pai. For Jews that were planning not to be at a Seder. They were planning to be in Pai over Passover. We dispatched a young rabbi and his wife from Israel and they are literally ‘walking the streets’ looking for Jews. They already have a guest list of more than one hundred.

I wrote a note to my ‘wandering’ friend, the Jew who I went to see in Pai but who had not come out to meet me. I asked him ‘are you still in Pai’. No response for a few hours.

Then I got a call that filled my heart with joy.

It was the young shliach we had dispatched to Pai. He told me excitedly that he had met a Jew in the street who said he knows me and had confirmed that he would join the Seder.

A classic ‘fifth son’ who would now join the Seder table as one of the ‘four sons’.

Yes, you guessed it. It was that Jew I have been trying to interact with since last May. The rabbi put him on the line and we got to speak for a few minutes. He apologized for not answering my note yet. He confirmed that he would join the Seder. And he sounded like he was doing surprisingly well coping with life thank G-d. I pray that his ‘liberation’ continue and that life goes well for him going forward.

This story brought home to me what I already know but the more reminders the better. G-d runs His world in a way that is full of miracles and divinely orchestrated ‘coincidences’. It is just that most of those miracles are not evident. Like the fact that our body functions day after day. When G-d forbid something small goes awry in the body a person feels it. Very small mishaps in the vital organs can be fatal. Do we know when things almost went wrong and G-d saved us at the fateful moment. These are things we take for granted. We call them nature. The miracle inherent in so many uneventful events are not evident even to the one who experiences them.

Pessach is a time for remembering the miracles of going out of Egypt. The ten plagues. The splitting of the sea. The raining down of the Manna.

It is also a time to remember that G-d is always ‘liberating’ us. G-d is performing miracles for us on an ongoing basis. Usually, we don’t notice them. But sometimes we do get a peek into G-d’s interaction with us. Either by experiencing something that is incredible enough to be called a miracle. Or by experiencing an intersection of events, where the pieces of the puzzle come together in a way that is too immaculate be written off as happening by chance.

Through this sequence of events I was gifted a sensory reminder of G-d’s Divine Providence at work in this mundane world.

It is liberating to realize that there is a ‘Boss’ to this universe.

When you look at the world as being run directly by G-d, the world becomes a kinder and less stressful place.

It is also obligating.

Some people mistakenly think that liberation and obligation are mutually exclusive.

Ironically, it is liberating to be obligated.

Rabbi Gurkow summed it up well in an article about the liberation of Passover. He was explaining how leaving Egypt and becoming obligated to serve G-d at Sinai was liberating.

In our own lives we also experience these two pulls. On the one hand we resent the obligation to wake each morning and go to work; we aspire to freedom and leisure. On the other hand, as soon as we retire or vacation for several days we feel the emptiness of life and yearn for structure and commitment.

Both desires are real. The first is a desire to be free of others so that we can serve ourselves. The second is much deeper. It is a desire to be needed. We cannot be needed without serving another’s needs and we cannot serve another’s needs without sacrificing some of our leisure in order to help others.

The desire to be needed is fundamental to the human experience. Without it the soul feels empty; drained of all significance. If I serve no one, I am important to no one. Gripped by the imprisoning vise of isolation, I am left utterly and completely alone. Ironically, true freedom comes with commitment. CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE

This unfolding story also drove home to me the importance of giving attention to each and every individual. It comes at a pivotal time. This is a time when at Chabad of Thailand we are involved in providing Seders for some six thousand guests spread throughout Thailand. It is critical to remember that each one of those thousands is an individual and requires personal attention and inspiration.

This was the theme of my motivational talk to the staff of thirty ‘roving rabbi’s’who had been dispatched from Chabad world headquarters to help run the Seder for thousands in Ko Samui (see pictures below).

While hosting more than two thousand guest at an epic Seder event, I urged them to notice each individual and ensure that they have an enjoyable and meaningful Passover evening.

As budding emissaries of the Rebbe, I urged them to look at the Rebbe’s leadership as one to emulate.

Rabbi Shmotkin summed it up well in an article:

 Rebbe was a global leader whose towering personality, innovative methods, organizational skills and vision impacted the entire world. At the same time, to hundreds of thousands who came in direct contact with him, he was their personal Rebbe.

The pain of every individual was his pain, and the joys of every individual were his joy. No one was dispensable. Everyone belonged and everyone counted.

 Moses, who with loving tenderness fed the right type of grass to each type of sheep and chased a single lost sheep in order to return it to the flock.

 Midrash says, is why Moses was chosen to be the shepherd of the Jewish people. CLICK HERE FOR FULL ARTICLE

May this Pesach be a truly liberating one for you.

May you be blessed with liberation from worries. This includes material worries like health, nachas and money. Namely you should be blessed with an abundance of all those blessings. You should also be liberated from spiritual angst. Finding purpose in life. Knowing that you are an integral part of G-d’s plan for His creation and connecting more deeply to the spark of G-d within you.

May we be collectively blessed with the liberation from this exile, with the coming of Mashiach.

L’shana Habaah Beyerushalayim!

Shabbat Shalom, Chag Sameach – Kosher and Happy Passover.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS ALL WHO ARE HUNGRY COME AND EAT – the traditional Pesach invitation to all those who don’t yet have a place for the Seder, is extended to anyone reading this note! rabbi@jewishthailand.com

So many of you have helped us prepare to host the six thousand guests we anticipate at our Seders around Thailand. We still need more help… if you are able to host some guests at our seder please click here.

Wicked? Perhaps. But needed!

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Which of the ‘four sons’ (or daughters) are you?

Truth be told I kinda always believed my momma who said I was the ‘wise son’.

This year will be different though.

No, my mother hasn’t stopped calling me a good child and I still try not to let her down. But I have recently given a lot of more thought to the ‘wicked son’ character who is mentioned at the Seder night.

Let me explain why.

A recent encounter with Ron, a Jew from the Hollywood in his seventies, opened up new vistas in my empathizing with others.

It wasn’t the first time I had put on Tefilin with a man in his seventies for the very first time in his life. Thank G-d, I have had the inimitable pleasure of introducing many a fellow Jew to this awesomely inspiring mitzvah.  

Roneleh (as I endearingly refer to my new seventy-one-year-old friend) didn’t just put on the Tefilin. He bared his soul. He emotionally told me what had changed his feelings toward his relationship with G-d and his Jewish birth religion.

In anticipation of our meeting he had watched a video on our website in which I shared the teaching that every Jew is comparable to a letter in the Torah. We all know that every letter of the Torah is critical to the validity of the Torah. If one letter is missing the entire scroll is invalid. Similarly, every single Jew is an integral part of the Jewish people. From the greatest saint, down to the most wicked. Every single one of us is an irreplaceable ‘member of the tribe’.

Ron told me emotionally, ‘I never knew how important I, the non-observant Jew, am to the Jewish people. To realize my critical importance to the nation of Israel, to the extent that the entire nation of Israel is incomplete without my contribution, is a game-changer’.

It was a game-changer for him. Ron, aka Reuven, put on Tefilin and gave me an appreciative hug.

I hugged him back. It was no less game-changing for me. Ron gave me a glimpse into the feelings of a Jew who did not at all feel like a ‘wise son’ in terms of his relationship with his Jewishness.

I have not been the same since that meeting.

My world has changed.

It’s like a lightbulb went on in my head!

I’ve attended Pesach Seders for as long as I can remember.

At every Seder we have spoken about the ‘four sons’ who attend the Seder.

The four kinds of children that comprise out Seder tables. Wise, wicked, simple and the ones who do not know how to ask.

I will be unabashedly honest. While I try to be an empathetic person, I now realize that I had never put myself in the shoes of the ‘wicked son’.

What would it feel like to attend a Seder if you viewed yourself as a ‘wicked son’?

Actually, why would you even bother attending the Seder if you felt so wicked?

Wouldn’t you feel really out of place?

This is precisely the point of the Seder declaration highlighting the different kinds of children.

Every single Jew has a place at the Seder table.

The Seder is not only for the wise, good, full of mitzvahs kids. Or for kids who are simple but at least don’t create waves by their rambunctiousness and questioning of their heritage.

The Seder is held for the ‘wicked’ child as much as it is for the other less provocative ones.

A JEW IS A JEW IS A JEW.

We need the wicked son to know that he is NOT merely a tolerated ‘outside guest’ at the family table. He is an integral member of the family. He may need to be tamed, he may be asked to tone down his rhetoric, certainly he is expected to be respectful, but he will not be asked to leave.

For if he leaves, the family is not complete.

Hey, it’s pretty amazing that the kid showed up at the Seder. He couldn’t be all that wicked you say. Well, the Haggada does call him wicked. So I believe that he may indeed be wicked.

But wicked as he may be, he has been blessed that he is not alienated. Obviously, his Jewish self-esteem is intact. He may feel that his actions are aggravating to his family and his G-d but he just can’t control himself.

Not for one moment though does he think he is redundant. Not for a second does he think he is now an outsider. He knows and feels that he is a Jew as much as any other Jew at the Seder table.

This is what we proclaim at the Seder. It doesn’t matter how you view yourself. It may even be the truth that you are quite a wicked Jew. But you are a Jew and therefore you belong. And if you don’t show up, something is missing.

But here is the catch. Only the Jews who actually show up to the Seder get to hear about this.

I shudder when I think of how many Jews may not be showing up at Seders simply because they are feeling a low Jewish self-esteem.

It could be that the reason so many Jews stray so far is because they don’t really think their absence will be noticed?

What I learned from Ron is just how critical it is for a Jew to realize that he is absolutely critical to the community.

It’s a vicious cycle. If they don’t come to the Seder, they don’t get to hear the Seder leader explain how important every single Jew is to the entire people.

This Tuesday, the world celebrates the birth of the Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory 117 years ago.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe called upon all Jews who are planning to attend Passover Seders to think about those who are not planning to attend.

Four sons come to the Seder. Even the wicked ones.

There is a ‘fifth son’.

The one who wasn’t planning to come.

Get him or her to come to the Seder. Explain to them that the table is not complete without their presence.

Once they get to the Seder they will get the point. That they matter. That the table is not complete without them. Next year they won’t be the fifth son. They will join the other four. And they too need to reach out to those who are not yet planning to be at the Seder table.

The Rebbe constantly taught that it is not at all difficult to connect Jews to their Yiddishkeit.

All it takes is to impresses upon our fellow Jews that they belong.

That they matter.

That G-d loves them and waits for their Mitzvahs longingly.

That the Jewish People NEEDS them to be whole and complete.

Once they know and feel that they are needed, there is no doubt that they will connect more to their Judaism.

So, my dear friend, G-d loves YOU. Am Yisrael needs YOU. And YOU can best express your love to G-d and strengthen our people, by doing another mitzvah.

Shabbat Shalom and happy Passover preparations.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS. Please email me if you need help with a place at a Seder or if you can’t make it to a Seder we will be happy to send Matzah to you!

Tradition Transmission

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

It is always special to visit my parents in New York and spend time with them.

During my current visit I got a special treat. My father shared a deeply personal story with me. One that took place more than six decades ago, at the celebration of his Bar Mitzvah. The celebration took place in the fledgling Chabad community of Melbourne, Australia.

At the Bar-Mitzvah celebration Mr. Zalman Yankelevitch (Ben-Yaakov), a visiting politician from Israel, was honored to address the crowd.

Mr. Zalman Yankelevitch, a religious Jew born near Lodz in Poland, was a powerful orator. In his passionate address delivered in Yiddish, he spoke as if he was the mouthpiece of the myriads of children who had not survived the recent Holocaust.

In descriptive language he painted an imaginative throng of children who were pleading not merely to be memorialized but to vicariously carry on living. ‘The children whose lives were cut tragically and brutally short, are standing here, imploring you to live your life on their behalf.  To carry on the Jewish traditions and create the meaningful Jewish future that was cruelly denied them ….’.

‘Mr. Yankelevitch’s passionate words to me as a young Bar-Mitzvah boy, placed an overwhelming weight on my young shoulders’. ‘'I was sobbing so heavily and was so overcome by emotion that I was unable to deliver my ‘pilpul’ (Talmudic discourse) that my father had prepared for me to recite’ recalled my father.

My father concluded his reminiscence with the following statement that left me with a lot of food for thought. ‘This message delivered at my Bar-Mitzvah and its highly demanding call to action, remained embedded deeply in my subconscious.  It was likely what created that insatiable, unfulfillable desire within me to achieve. It was that mission that was thrust upon me to achieve the goals of those saintly souls whose lives were cut short unnaturally’.

This story touched me deeply, because while I had never heard the story before, I felt as if I knew it from the inside. It was no doubt an event that shaped my life too. My father’s constant drive to achieve, and rebuild the post-Holocaust battered Jewish world, impacted my siblings and I. It affected us in a very positive way as far as it seems to me. The effect of that immemorial speech impacted the way I raised my children.  

I asked my father for permission to share this story with you.

For this is truly the story of our people. The story of Am Yisrael.

The Jewish people is no stranger to the colossal influence of transmission of tradition.

On Pesach the Torah instructs fathers to answer their children as to ‘why is this night different that all other nights’. The message of indebtedness and thankfulness to G-d for the Exodus from Egypt has been passed down through the generations in an unbroken chain, for more than three thousand years!

Pesach is without question that most celebrated Jewish holiday.

It is the basis of the entire Judaism. For it is only once we were freed from Egypt that we became an independent nation. Forty-nine days after we left Egypt, G-d gave us the Torah.

Eating matzah on the night of Pesach, particularly the handmade shmurah matzah which is called ‘the bread of faith’, is a mitzvah that strengthens our faith in Al-mighty G-d.

It is for this reason that the Rebbe urged and encouraged us to be proactive about reaching out and providing Pesach to all whom we can reach. To do all that is within our power to ensure that every Jew has a Seder on the eve of Pesach. So that not just the ‘four-sons’ come to the Seder. To make sure that the ‘fifth-son’, the one who wasn’t planning on coming to the seder, also comes!

For the unbroken and uninterrupted chain of Jewish tradition must continue. It is we, who need to transmit to our children and it will be they who will transmit to their children in an lengthening chain of generations.

Chabad of Thailand has ambitiously taken up the challenge to host in excess of fifty-five hundred guests at a dozen locations around Thailand. Many of them young heroes who have just given three years of their life defending our people in our homeland.

It is a challenge to pay the bills for the Seder.

This is what brings me to New York during this hectic time before Pesach. To knock on the doors of offices of generous Jewish donors. Asking them to add their link in the chain of Jewish continuity by hosting guests at our Seders.

You too can participate in providing this essential Jewish experience by clicking here.

Please consider this a personal invitation to our communal Seders in Thailand.

Reservations can be made here, or if its easier, just email me back that you will be coming. Please invite any other Jewish people that you know. We will be most happy to have them.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS (a long and special PS) Last Friday, Chabad of Thailand had the indescribable merit to save a life. Literally.

Hear the story in Rabbi Wilhelm's words, (translated into English)-

"This past Friday, I received a call from a concerned man in Toronto. He told me that his elderly parents had arrived in Bangkok to visit on Thursday afternoon. On Thursday evening, his mother left their hotel room and had not been seen since. She had simply disappeared.

I immediately went to the hotel, with the Chabad Houses’ security team. We met with the missing woman's husband and tried to get as much information as to where she may have wandered off to. By this time, we had reached out to the police and they conducted an intensive search operation in the area of the hotel.

After an extensive search, the woman was found, thank G-d.

She had become disoriented due to the long and arduous trip to Thailand and had left her hotel room and wandered around areas of the hotel which were not usually accessed by guests. She had landed up falling into a deep three-meter shaft near the hotel's pool and refrigerator rooms. Lifting her from the shaft was not an easy process. In order to reach the woman, the hotel had to break open the walls of the refrigerator rooms which they graciously agreed to do. When she was brought up from the pit, she was unconscious and very weak. BUT ALIVE thank G-d.

We brought her by ambulance to the hospital where she was checked. Thank G-d, there were no significant injuries and a little later, she regained consciousness. As of now, she is feeling good and should be released very soon.

We are grateful to YOU, our friends, who through your support, create happy endings to dramatic stories like this one.

Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov

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