"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Shofar Exposed

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

 ‘They come down from the mountains, out of the jungles, from remote rivers and hedonistic beaches. It is a remarkable scene that takes place every year at this time, at seven Chabad locations across Thailand. 

 Thousands of Jews – many with little or no connection to meaningful Jewish life; many who are escaping from anything or everything – suddenly respond to the call of the shofar and reconnect to what that truly matters. 

 Most are young men and women who have given their prime years protecting our people in our Holy Land of Israel….

A friend of mine who is a veteran and extremely creative copyrighter, wrote the above words as the opening lines of Chabad of Thailand’s High Holidays fundraising letter. It is an intro into asking for donations to help with funding the Holiday meals at our Chabad Houses across Thailand.

When I first read his descriptively poetic words, I thought to myself that perhaps he had overstepped the boundaries between fact and fancy.

Yes, it’s true that thousands of young travelers from Israel attend our Chabad Houses over Rosh Hashana and the Chagim. But the part about ‘responding to the call of the Shofar’ seemed to be a bit of a stretch, as we have many more guests that come for dinner than those who come during the day of Rosh Hashana to hear the sounding of the Shofar. 

Which is a tad ironic. Wouldn’t it make sense that the huge overflow crowds be there for shofar as well as dinner?

I mean, if you do the ‘calculating’ it’s a no brainer, on the side of shofar.

The main mitzva of Rosh Hashana as taught in the Torah is to hear the sound the Shofar – a rudimentary instrument fashioned from a ram’s horn - anytime from sunrise to sunset on the Rosh Hashana days. 

The festive dinner on the eve of Rosh Hashana is important of course. It is replete with traditional sweet dishes as that signifies our optimism about the new year to come. I am planning to point out the power of optimistic behavior that is reinforced by our Rosh Hashana dinner sweet food customs. That is if my voice will be heard above the lively celebratory noise of the communal Rosh Hashana dinner at Rembrandt Hotel 😊 

But if you were faced before a situation where you had to choose one of the two, the festive dinner, or the hearing of the Shofar, Jewish law would unequivocally direct you to the Shofar.

Which made me think that my friend the writer was really being a bit fanciful and not tethered to reality.

If our guests were responding to the call of the Shofar wouldn’t they all be coming to hear the Shofar? Not just attending the dinner as some do.

As I mulled over this, it came to me with clarity.

They are responding to the call of the shofar!!!

Let me explain what I mean.

First, let’s acquaint ourselves with the mitzva of blowing the shofar. 

Why do we blow the shofar?

Like all mitzvah’s it is first and foremost the will of G-d. Doesn’t need any reason. Beyond human rationale. Supra-rational. 

Yet, our sages taught us to search for meaning within the mitzvahs. G-d wants us to have an appreciation and gain insight into why He asked us to do the particular mitzvahs that He instructed. The mitzvahs, through being understood, will inspire us just as they allow us to express our obedience to Him. 

There are ten basic reasons given for the blowing of shofar on Rosh Hashana. Click here for the full list. 

I would like to focus on the symbolism of the shofar as taught by the Ba’al Shem Tov founder of Chasidism. He taught it via a parable.

A King had an only son, the apple of his eye. The King wanted his son to master different fields of knowledge and to experience various cultures, so he sent him to a far-off country, supplied with a generous quantity of silver and gold. Far away from home, the son squandered all the money until he was left completely destitute. In his distress he resolved to return to his father's house and after much difficulty, he managed to arrive at the gate of the courtyard to his father's palace.

In the passage of time, he had actually forgotten the language of his native country, and he was unable to identify himself to the guards. In utter despair he began to cry out in a loud voice, and the King, who recognized the voice of his son, went out to him and brought him into the house, kissing him and hugging him.

The meaning of the parable: The King is G-d. The prince is the Jewish people, who are called "Children of G-d" (Deuteronomy 14:1). The King sends a soul down to this world in order to fulfill the Torah and mitzvot. However, the soul becomes very distant and forgets everything to which it was accustomed to above, and in the long exile it forgets even its own "language." So it utters a simple cry to its Father in Heaven. This is the blowing of the shofar, a cry from deep within, expressing regret for the past and determination for the future. This cry elicits G-d’s mercies, and He demonstrates His abiding affection for His child and forgives him.

The call of the shofar on Rosh Hashanah thus reminds us of the primordial scream, the eternal voiceless call of the soul expressing its desire to return to its Creator.

The call of the Shofar awakens and arouses the souls and hearts of Jews to search for G-d. Wherever they may be and however observant they consider themselves; something stirs in ever Jew’s consciousness around the High Holidays and inspires us to reach closer to our true identities as Jews. 

I don’t buy the cynical ‘Jewish guilt’ theory as the reason Jews flock to shul on the High Holidays. 

This Kabbalistic insight reveals something way deeper. Deeper than our conscious identity. That it’s about our core being, our essence.

It’s a soul thing. The G-dly soul feels the energies of the season and doesn’t let us just enter the High Holidays with indifference.

The feeling is ignited within every Jew. Commensurately, Jewish observance swells during these few weeks. A Jew can’t just remain indifferent during this highly charged Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur period. 

That’s why Shuls are filled to capacity.

This is the true reason that Jewish homes the world over fill up with family and friends coming together to mark, celebrate and find meaning on the night of Rosh Hashana. 

They are hearing something. They are responding to the stirrings of their soul. And they are looking to connect to G-d.

They are hearing the inaudible plaintive sound of the spiritual Shofar within their own soul as it cries out ‘FATHER… FATHER… ’.

What is appropriate expression of this plaintive existential cry? It is the Torah’s commandment to observe the mitzva of sounding the physical shofar on the days of Rosh Hashana. 

By listening to the blowing of the Shofar we are communicating our deepest soulful cry to G-d. We are joining the myriads of Jews who are collectively crying out to our Father in Heaven to have mercy and bless us with a good year. 

There is something about a wordless cry that reaches deeper than anything that you could possibly say.  If you are a parent, you know how your heart melts when your baby cries wordlessly. Even before they learn to say Mama, Papa, Aba or Imma. Our shofar blowing has that kind of depth and potency.

Nu, if so, who wouldn’t make every effort to attend the shofar blowing on Rosh Hashana day?

Why then are our Rosh Hashanah dinners more full than our Shofar services?

I would like to offer my own explanation. Based on a joke.

A man was down on his hands and knees looking for something under a spotlight on a dark city street. A well-intentioned passer-by asked the man what he was looking for, intending to help in the search. The man responded that he was looking for his wife wedding ring. ‘Do you remember exactly where it fell off your wife’s finger’ asked the would-be helper. ‘Yes’, responded the man, ‘it was in that dark corner just a few meters away from here’. So why are you looking here if it fell off a few meters away? ‘Because its dark over there in the corner while here there is a light’.

Perhaps it’s just like in the joke (except this is absolutely not a joking matter). Sometimes when we are inspired to reach out to G-d we choose to observe in a way that is easier even if in all honesty we should be aiming a few notches higher. 

Here is my point. We want to see overflowing Rosh Hashana dinner! No question about it, the festive dinner of Rosh Hashana is a mitzvah!

So make sure to attend or host a Rosh Hashana dinner replete with sweet things and symbolic ‘head of the year’ foods.

But don’t stop there. Go from one mitzva to another. Not just to any other ‘random’ mitzvah. Proceed to THE main mitzvah of Rosh Hashana.

Start the year on the right note. Seize the opportunity to observe the most important mitzvah of Rosh Hashana – try to hear the Shofar wherever you are!

Shana Tova!!!

PS the shofar needs to be sounded during the daylight hours.

In Bangkok we will be blowing it at the Rembrandt Hotel Ballroom (where all of our High Holiday services and meals will take place) on Monday September 30 and Tuesday October 1, at around 11:15 am. 

We will also be blowing the Shofar on Monday at 5:15 pm at the Tashlich service by the Lake at Benjasiri Park (on the side of Marriot Marquis Queens Park Hotel).

PPS Please help us host the thousands of guests who will join the holiday meals at Chabad of Thailand



Don't Leave Home Without ...

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

If I would have traveled to Mumbai just to meet and wrap Tefilin on Eban Hyams for the very first time in his life, it would have been worth my trip

These words were told to be this morning by D.H., a young Jewish man living in Thailand who just came back from a business trip to Mumbai.

D.H. grew up in Long Island but has really developed his observance of Judaism in Bangkok, Thailand of all places. 

I knew that one of the mitzvas that D.H. has zealously embraced is the mitzvah of wrapping tefillin daily (except for Shabbat and Chagim). 

But what I wasn’t so much aware of, and this is what D.H. shared with me today, was the fact that he has since put on tefillin on several ‘first timers’ which is an incredible mitzvah!!!

When D.H. went back for a visit to NY he took his dad to say hi to my brother in law Rabbi Paltiel of Chabad of Port Washington in Long Island. As Providence would have it, the Chabad House is just across the street from D.H’s dad’s office and they stopped in to say hi to the rabbi and give regards from our family. Mazel Tov! At that meeting, D.H.’s father put on tefillin for the very first time in his life! And that is a cause for celebration – a bar-mitzvah of sorts. 

Oh, the business part of the trip to Mumbai worked out fantastically for D.H. as well.

Hearing this story this morning, I realize that this is exactly the message of the opening verses of this weeks Parsha. 

The Torah instructs us to take from the first fruits that have grown in our field and to take them to the Temple in Jerusalem to express our thanks to G-d for all the good that He has given us. (And although we don’t have that mitzvah right now for lack of Temple, we certainly must fulfil the gratitude aspect of thanking Hashem for all the good that He gives us constantly!).

The actual language the Torah uses goes like this: ‘go to the place on which God, your God, will choose to rest His Name’

The Ba’al Shem tov elucidated this verse, exposing within it a message that is compelling, particularly to those who travel. 

The place that you go to, wherever it may be, even though it seems you are going for your own reasons and purposes, really this is the place that Hashem your G-d has chosen for you. Hashem has chosen it for you to go and ‘rest’ His name there. 

This is exactly what happened  in a very open way for D.H. He went to Mumbai on behalf of a client who invited him to come. As Providence would have it, there was a young Jewish man staying with that same Indian host that was hosting D.H. 

D.H. did his business. His material business. Marketing, invoicing, buying and selling. No question that it was a beneficial trip businesswise. 

But he discovered that there was a deeper reason for his trip as well. 

To cause the name of G-d to become more revealed there. 

By doing the mitzva of Tefilin with a Jew who had never had the opportunity for tefillin before in his life.

The challenge is merely to look beyond the surface and recognize that alongside the obvious reasons for why we go where we go, there is also a G-dly reason. 

When we act scrupulously honest, we are causing an awareness that G-d fearing people are meticulous about interpersonal morality. 

When circumstances take us to a particular place, it is for a higher purpose than just carrying out our mundane tasks. We are also there to do a mitzvah, say a prayer, help someone out of a predicament. 

This should not be looked at as a burden. We are happiest and most fulfilled when we engage in both aspects of our respective ‘promised land’. The material, and the spiritual. 

So next time you head out on a trip, pack those tefillin in your carry on. Shabbat candles if you will be away for Shabbat. A prayer book just in case you get the urge to pray, or you meet someone else who wants to pray.

‘Don’t leave home without it’.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


Irritated? UPLIFTED!!!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

The ‘Grab’ (the regional ‘Uber’) car came to pick me up. I was just finishing up an appointment in the office and came down seven minutes late. As I ran towards the pick-up spot, I saw three cars in the designated pick-up spot. One car was helping a second car start up its engine with jumper cables. The third was standing ready. 

I was a bit uptight as I was running late to a meeting. I muttered, perhaps even grumbled, to myself ‘I hope that it’s not my driver who is helping out with igniting the other car. That’s all I need, to be even later for my appointment’.

And then thank G-d I got the epiphany. 

An inner voice called out: Slow down and smell the roses. Wake up and smell the coffee. The Torah is summed up as a Torah of pleasantness and peace. Acting kindly to others is the cornerstone of our religion. 

It dawned on me, that I ought to reframe this experience to reflect the benevolent chessed-values of Torah Judaism.

Erase the original reaction. Reframe. 

Once I moved over to my revised perspective of what was transpiring I felt uplifted rather than irritated. 

I now thought to myself I hope it IS my driver who is providing the benevolent service of helping a fellow person whose car battery failed him.

(Besides the obvious that I hope that the car transporting me is in good condition and not in danger of stalling :-)).

I mused to myself. I thought I was running late and was inconveniencing the ‘Grab’ driver to wait for me for seven minutes. Whereas really Hashem was providing for an opportunity for one person to help the other. The hapless driver who needed a battery boost was stuck outside my office not knowing how he would boost his battery. Out of nowhere, Hashem sent him a driver who happened to have jumper cables in his car. And Hashem matched that up with a rabbi who was running late. Presto! The scenario was all set for this random act of kindness.

Wondrous are the ways of Hashem.

Indeed G-d provided the set opportunity. But my driver gets special credit for utilizing the opportunity to help his fellow. 

Uplifting oh how uplifting it is when people step out of their selfish zone to help others.

After the stalled car roared to life, the cables were wrapped and restored in my ‘Grab’ car, we were on our way. Now I would be even later to my meeting. But I was not concerned. 

I thought about the irony of our lives. Why am I running to this appointment? It was not for my own enrichment. Rather, I needed to meet some philanthropic supporters to further my ability to do acts of kindness. Nu, so I should be overjoyed that even before I sent out on my journey to search for more resources to do kindness in the future, I was already an ‘accidental’ partner in a random act of kindness. The driver who I had called helped his fellow driver with a boost.

I thank Hashem for bringing me to my senses. And pray that He continue to shower me with His open guidance.

It gets better….

When I arrived back home, my wife showed me a bird nest she had discovered just outside our window earlier this afternoon. Click to see pictures. She was showing the air-conditioning technician where a drain pipe was and she discovered a nest. With eggs. And with a little chick that had just emerged from a broken egg. Any other time I would just say ‘how cute’ and move on. But not this week. 

Finding this nest, replete with eggs and a newly hatched chick, this week of all weeks, was an amazing Divine Providence.

This week we read the Torah portion that speaks about what to do when you see a bird sitting on eggs or chicks. That you may not take the eggs while the mother is there. Rather you need to send away the mother. This Mitzvah is quite intricate. Generally, it teaches us how Hashem is merciful to all His creatures. Click here for more thorough discussion on this enigmatic mitzvah.  

I want to focus on the first words of this Mitzvah ‘If a bird’s nest chances before you on the road’. These words teach us that this mitzvah only applies to an ‘unplanned’ finding of a nest. It does not apply for example if you are a bird grower and anticipate having nests. It only applies if you ‘happen’ to find a nest.

If you ‘happen’ to find a nest, the Torah instructs you how to react in a compassionate fashion.

I find that it is a greater challenge to react generously and kindly to scenarios that just ‘happen’ to fall on us when we are unprepared.

Even genuinely nice people, who would be hospitable and amicable if they were forewarned about a guest coming over to their home, may act quite curtly when someone turns up at their door unannounced.

It is not that they are inhospitable. It is simply that they were caught off guard.

The great sage Hillel was a paradigm of kindness. In whatever circumstance you caught him, he instinctively reacted with patient kindness. The Talmud relates the following story:

Hillel’s tolerance and understanding personality were renowned. One Friday afternoon, as Hillel the Elder was busily preparing for Shabbat, a man came to his door and demanded to speak with him. Hillel calmly dressed himself in proper attire and went to speak with his visitor to find out what was so urgent. The man related a question: Why were Babylonians’ heads unusually round? This was a dig at the Babylonian-born Hillel. Without missing a beat, Hillel answered that the unusual shape of their heads was due to improper care by midwives.

The man left, seemingly satisfied. A few minutes later, though, he was back, once again with an all-important query. This time he wanted to know about the squinted eyes of the residents of Tadmur. Hillel answered him and he left. This cycle repeated itself again, with the man asking about the wide feet ascribed to the people of Africa.

After the third question and another even-keeled response from Hillel, the man became very upset. He told Hillel that he had bet his friend four hundred zuz that he could get Hillel the Elder upset. Now, he would lose four hundred zuz! Hillel smiled and said, “Better you lose four hundred zuz than I get upset.

This week the Torah teaches that even if you just ‘happen’ onto a situation without having been forewarned, make sure your response is one of kindness and benevolence. 

For you never truly ‘happen’ to find yourself in a situation as a fluke. This is G-d’s preordained path for you. The purpose for throwing a curveball? To see how you will respond.

Your Torah-guided benevolent response even to an unanticipated situation is the goal. May Almighty G-d have compassion on us and carry us on the wings of eagles to the Messianic Redemption.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS Much success in the lead-up to Rosh Hashana. Click here for a wealth of information on this special Elul month of introspection and preparation for the upcoming High Holidays.


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