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"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Hair in the parsha + Divine Providence stories from US trip

This week’s parsha of Tazria, references hair.

The Midrash tells the following story.

There was a man who was not able to support his family and he was planning to leave Israel to search for ‘parnassa’, avenues of support.

This man was a Torah scholar and in one of his Torah lessons, he was expounding on the greatness of Hashem. He taught that even from our hair, we can learn about Hashem’s greatness.

With all of the myriads of hairs on our body, every hair has its own ‘hole’ in the skin (today we call it a hair follicle) from which it grows and is sustained. This means that two hairs are not being nurtured by the same energy source. They each have their own follicle from where they grow.

His wife was listening to his speech, and she commented ‘you perceive the greatness of Hashem and His immaculate design even of a hair, and yet you are planning to leave the holy land of Israel to find ‘parnassa’ a livelihood for our family’?

If Hashem provides an energy source for every individual hair, certainly He can provide you with the support you need for our family without having to leave the holy land of Israel.

The Midrash concludes, the man listened to his wife’s inspirational insight and stayed home. Hashem indeed provided a source of sustenance for their family.

The Talmud states something very similar:

No person may touch that which is prepared for another by G-d; everyone receives what is designated for him. 

If every hair has its own follicle, this means that there are no two hairs that are competing for the same source of nurturing.

This inspired way of thinking and believing in G-d’s Providence is a way to living more calmly and being more scrupulously honest.

A lot of angst comes from being uncertain about where one’s livelihood and subsistence will come from.

Dishonesty is making the mistake to think that you can deceitfully take that which rightfully belongs to someone else.

Fear of competition is the mistaken notion that someone can take something from you that is rightfully yours.

By reflecting on how G-d is running of every single aspect of the universe, down to every hair having its own ‘source’, one can live a more inspired and balanced life.

One could ask the question, according to the teaching I quoted above, why are there so many devout people who travel to support themselves and their families?

(The topic of travel for earning one’s livelihood is discussed in ‘Gates of Trust’ – ‘Sha’ar Habitachon, click here for further discussion ).

The simple understanding is that Hashem wants us to do what is needed according to the laws of nature and then He blesses our efforts with success. Which means that since in today’s global environment it is quite common that one needs to travel for work, this is then the way Hashem chooses to send you the blessings of parnassa and support.

The Baal Shem Tov added a deeper dimension.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that it is Divine Providence that leads a person to a certain place. G‑d orchestrates that you end up in a specific place. The person may think that he has traveled there in order to generate his livelihood but really the Divine plan has him travel there in order to spread the light of G‑d in that very place

He explains the verse ‘And you will go to the place that the L-rd, your G‑d, will choose to make His name dwell there; ( Deuteronomy 26:2)  as follows: You must know that you go from one place to another because G‑d has chosen this path, so that His name will dwell there. ( Hayom Yom 18 Elul ).

Sometimes we can see the deeper mission inherent in our travels, sometimes it may remain more obscured. It is a blessing when Hashem gives you glimpses of deeper meaning at play during one’s travels.

I have just landed back in Bangkok after a trip to the USA to raise funds for our extensive Pesach Seder hosting. We are preparing for the upward of ten thousand Pesach meals being served at our Chabad Houses throughout Thailand.

Let me share a few stories from my trip which showed me so poignantly the inner purpose of the journey ‘to spread the light of G-d in that very place’.

My dear friend Abtin (Yitschak ben Aharon) Etessami passed away a day before Purim. Abtin who was a jeweler and precious-stone merchant visited Thailand many times and we became close friends. As one of the most popular men in his community (the Mashadi community of Great Neck NY), Abtin introduced me to many philanthropic members of his community who became supporters of the work of Chabad of Thailand. Every year before Pesach, Abtin would dedicate a few days to take me around and raise funds for our Pesach hospitality and Seders.

Sadly, after battling illness for a few years, Abtin passed away. I arrived in NY on my scheduled trip just in time to speak at the last Shiva gathering in the main community synagogue. The family and friends were inspired by my words in which I shared some of the unique qualities that Abtin possessed in terms of his unyielding devotion to G-d coupled with his incredible love and acts of kindness to others.

A group of friends made an evening in Abtins memory and invited me to share stories from Thailand. In one of the stories, I shared a ‘chance’ meeting with a Jew, on Charoenkrung Rd who I was able to bring to the Even Chen synagogue to complete the minyan on the Shabbat before Yom Kippur in the late 1990’s. I mentioned that I had lost contact with this person and mused that it would be nice to perhaps send him some shmura matzah for Pesach. Someone at the small gathering said that he recognizes the name of this person as he works in the same area. I asked him to follow up and deliver some shmura matzah. A few days later he sent me a note that the mission was accomplished, the matzah was delivered.

Telling this story, had seemed so coincidental, yet clearly it turned out to be part of the Divine mission of my journey.

Fast forward to the end of my trip. I attended a wedding in Dallas, Texas on my way home and found that the most convenient flight back to Thailand was on the following day from Houston. I decided to use the opportunity to visit very dear friends that I have there and we made a lunch appointment.

While I was there I also planned to pay a spontaneous visit Mr. S whom I had ‘randomly’ met in NY the year before.

Last year, while I was in one of the NY gem dealers’ offices on 47th St. before Pesach, I met a Jew Mr. S. from Houston who is a jeweler. I offered him the opportunity to put on tefillin which he gladly did. Afterwards he gave me a modest donation for tzedakah.

This year when I visited the same office in NY, I mentioned that I am going home through Houston and remembered that last year I had met Mr. S. from Houston. The NY gem dealer gladly gave me the address of the Houston Jew.

After having lunch with my dear Houston friends, I set off to find the jeweler and provide him with some shmura matza for the seder. I pulled up to the address given and asked for Mr. S. When they asked me which Mr. S. I was stymied. I really didn’t know the person that well and didn’t remember his first name. Apparently, there were a few Mr. S's at that business. I said I think he is in his sixties. To which the staff responded, look outside the store, the Mr. S. you are looking for just pulled up in his car in front of the store. Mr. S. walked in and remembered who I was. I presented him with matzah, we put on tefillin, and he once again kindly gave me a modest donation.

It was a meaningful encounter, spreading the light of Yiddishkeit, albeit one that was definitely not part of my conscious reason for traveling to Houston.

Earlier that day as I was driving from Dallas to Houston, I was talking to my wife and she suggested that I should consider visiting G and his wife, a couple who had lived in Thailand for two years about twenty years ago. An hour later I received a voice note from one of the Chabad rabbis in Houston who knew of my friendship with G. ‘I heard that you were in Dallas for a wedding, I think if you had the opportunity to visit G it would be very meaningful as his disease has come back…’. I reached out to G and he told me he was leaving the next day to NY to participate in an exploratory treatment regimen but could see me that afternoon. I visited G and his wife, brought them shmura matza and had a very meaningful conversation in which I both shared and received inspiration.

With the few hours available between my meetings and my flight I was invited to give a class for the Israeli Chabad House in Houston and share Torah inspiration flavored with ‘Jewish Life in Thailand’ stories. How gratifying it was to be greeted be S. who I had helped repatriate back to Israel twenty some years ago after he had a mind-altering substance experience that went awry. Thank G-d he is recovered and is fully functional.

Similarly, I had the opportunity in NY to share inspiration with college students when my brother who is Chabad at Temple University brought a group to visit the Chabad neighborhood of Crown Heights.

These ‘side’ activities were not the ‘main’ conscious reasons for my travels, but certainly they are part of Hashem’s plan and who knows, perhaps they were the ‘real’ reason, and the fundraising was just a ‘cover’.

There were so many other stories, connections and incredible ‘Divine Providence’ encounters during my trip, but for now I will simply say Thank You Hashem for showing me Your Guidance in every single detail.

We are a bit more than a week away from Pesach the festival of our liberation. Pesach is the holiday of our personal liberation. It is not just a historical liberation of our ancestors, rather it is Hashems gift of personal freedom for each one of us.

Faith and trust in the Almighty are the surest way to freedom and liberation from angst, worry, anxiety and fear.

May Hashem bless each and every one of us with liberation from all worries and anxieties. May we be blessed with all that we need.

May Hashem bless us with the release of our captives, success of our soldiers, healing of our wounded, secure peace in our holy land of Israel and security for Jews world over.

And most importantly ‘Leshana Habaah BeYerushalayim’ may we celebrate Pesach with Mashiach in Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Two Kinds of Miracles: Nature Defying and Nature Friendly

Some miracles are nature defying.

While other miracles are quite natural. The miracle is that the natural components have lined up and are working with exact balance and precision.

A friend of mine told me about his brother who was cheated out of a million dollars’ worth of merchandise. When he tried to recoup his losses, he was threatened by some bad people. He didn’t take the threat seriously. A few days later when he pulled up to a meeting with a customer, he noticed a box-like contraption attached to the bottom of his car. Naively, he removed it from the car chassis and took it into his customer’s office. The customer took one look, noticed some wires protruding and called for an evacuation of the entire office while the bomb squad was called. The bomb squad confirmed that this was an explosive device, intended to detonate when he turned the ignition.

For no obvious reason, one of the wires came loose and the bomb never went off.

A nature altering miracle.

The young man was shaken to the core and consulted his rabbi about how to gives thanksgiving to Hashem. He suggested that he start to keep Shabbat properly and distribute Tzedaka money to the needy. The young man took his rabbi’s advice seriously. The keeping of Shabbat was such a blessing in his life that many of his relatives also followed his example and became fully engaged in Torah and Mitzvot.

Someone else told me a story about the dollar he had received from the Lubavitcher Rebbe when he was a young man. He described the incredible feeling of being in the presence of a Tzadik whose gentle eyes seemed to read him like an x-ray. He took the dollar and kept it under the cash in the cash register for mazal and blessing.

One day a robber came in and pointed a gun at his head. ‘Give me all the money in the till’ said the thief. My friend handed over the contents of the cash register.

Once the thief had the money, my friend asked him if he would mind giving him back the bottom dollar which was a ‘lucky’ dollar. Much to his surprise the thief agreed immediately and handed him back the dollar of blessing that he had received from the Rebbe.

Miraculous outcome. In the fact that he wasn’t shot at close range. And in the fact that the criminal agreed to give him back the dollar of blessing. Not necessarily nature defying but rather a ‘nature friendly’ miracle.

This Shabbat represents an incredible fusion of miraculous energy.

On the one hand Purim is still ‘in the air’. We are about to celebrate the ninth and ‘grand finale’ shabbat of the sixty days of the two joyous months of Adar.

And Pesach is also around the corner. On this Shabbat we announce and bless the Head of the month of Nissan that begins on Tuesday.

Thus, the Shabbat combines the highest level of Purim energy with the ‘head’ and ‘nerve-center’ of Pesach energy.

Miracles are the common theme of Purim and Pesach.

Pesach represents nature shattering miracles. Wearing down Pharoh’s resistance by bringing the ten plagues and forcing him to release the Israelites. Splitting the sea. Raining down the miracle food called ‘manna’.

While Purim represents gradual miracles disguised as coincidences. It took ten years for the Purim miracle to unfold. It seemed much like a political intrigue. With Queen Vashti being deposed, Queen Esther the Jewess becoming the new queen. Mordechai saving the king’s life. Haman overstepping his boundaries of arrogance. The Jewish people being given permission to bear arms and fight their intended killers. The Jews being victorious in battle.

We need both kinds of miracles in Israel. On the battlefield. For the hostages. To heal the wounded.

We need all kinds of miracles for the protection and success of the Jewish Nation world over.

And of course we need the ultimate miracle of PEACE IN THE WORLD with the coming of Mashiach.

This is a Shabbat where both kinds of miracles are ‘in the air’.

Let us begin to usher in this miraculous atmosphere by resolving to leave our usual and habitual ‘nature’.

Let us kick start the flow of supernatural energy by jumping a bit higher than usual and exiting our comfort zone.

Study a bit more Torah. Help out your fellow a bit more generously than you usually would. Be a bit more patient and forgiving with things that usually irritate you and set you off.

And resolve to celebrate Passover the holiday of liberation by eating matzah and ridding your home from chametz.

And watch how Hashem provides you the energy and wherewithal to fulfil your holy desire to better yourself, your society, and the entire world.

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom and a Chodesh Tov (Tuesday is Rosh Chodesh).

And early wishes of Chag Hapesach Kasher Vesameach – Happy and Kosher Passover!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS below are links for seder reservations in Thailand.

And here is a link to help sponsor the thousands of visitors expected a the thirteen seders spread throughout Thailand.

Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Purim is not yet ‘over’.

For six days a week we work, and on the seventh day we rest. This means that the food that we eat on Shabbat is paid for by the efforts of our ‘six-day’ work week.  

As the six days of the week prepare for the physical needs of Shabbat, so too are the spiritual ‘energies’ of the Shabbat generated by the ‘energies’ that are prevalent during the week.

Purim was celebrated on Sunday, and Its ‘energy’ and ‘power’ continue all the way to Shabbat and becomes ‘uplifted’ and infused with the special holiness of Shabbat.

So let us continue the incredibly empowering, JOYOUS and energetic spirit of Purim for as long as we can. Enjoy the super-elevated-holy version of Purim that the Shabbat after Purim provides.

What would have happened if not for the miracle of Purim?

A young, intelligent Polish born Jew joined us for the Purim feast. In hearing his story on Purim day, I was giving a vivid insight into the epic nature of the Purim miracle.

P. told me that his mother was Jewish, born in Poland to parents who were Holocaust survivors.

P’s grandmother joined the partisans during the war and was one of those who smuggled weapons to her brethren in the Warsaw Ghetto to be used in the ‘Warsaw Ghetto uprising’.  His grandfather spent almost the entire war in the concentration camp Dachau and had an identification number tattooed on his arm.

P was raised totally secular, not even having a Bar Mitzvah yet something stirred within his Jewish soul and when studying in the USA he searched out Jewish community and visited Israel on a birthright trip. On Purim I had the merit to lay Tefilin with P for the second time in his life. The first time had been at the Kotel – Western Wall – in Jerusalem.

P’s grandparents were anomalies. They were of the ten percent who survived the holocaust.

According to Yad Vashem, ‘Jews lived in Poland for 800 years before the Nazi occupation. On the eve of the occupation 3.3 million Jews lived in Poland… At the end of the war, approximately 380,000 Polish Jews were still alive in Poland, the Soviet Union, or in the concentration camps in Germany, Austria and the Czech territories.

In the story of Purim, if the miracle would not have happened, the result would have been a more complete Holocaust than the German one of recent history may Hashem protect us.

Haman had permission from Achashverosh to kill every single Jew in his dominion, which covered the entire civilized world at the time. This international pogrom was slated to take place on one day.

On Purm we celebrate the miraculous turnaround that Hashem made.

Instead of our enemies killing us, there was a reversal and we the Yehudim (Jews) ruled over our enemies.

Our lives were miraculously saved, and the intended Holocaust of Persia never happened.

For this miracle we give celebratory thanks and praise to G-d. We rejoice and bring happiness to every single fellow Jew by the gifts of food (Mishloach Manot) and money (Matanot La’evyonim) that we are instructed to give on Purim.

My dear friend, Hashem made miracles at the time of Purim, Hashem makes miracles now too.

The soldiers who are visiting the Chabad Houses throughout Thailand are sharing stories of heroism. Tragically, there are too many soldiers who have sacrificed their lives on behalf of Am Yisrael. We hear about those in the news reports and they are excruciatingly painful.

The chayalim are sharing countless stories of G-d’s Divine Providence. They tell of their experiences where the ‘near misses’ ended miraculously. Most of these stories are not reported in the press, as thank G-d they ended in a non-newsworthy story as far as the reporters are concerned. As far as you and I are concerned these incidences are precious and attest to Hashems individual Divine Providence..

This is why I want to stretch the Purim ‘energy’ for as long as I can. For in our challenging times, we too need a reversal.

Our hostages must come home. Our enemy must be vanquished. Peace must be restored to Israel ina secure and sustainable way. By extension, we pray and hope for peace and stability in the entire world.  

Purim miracles are sorely in demand in this year of 2024.

At the same time that we draw inspiration from the Purim we just celebrated we begin to prepare for the upcoming Pesach.

Around elegantly bedecked tables, with cups brimming with wine we declare:

This is what has stood by our fathers and us! For not just one alone has risen against us to destroy us, but in every generation they rise against us to destroy us; and the Holy One, blessed be He, saves us from their hand!

We beseech the Almighty for miracles. Both overt and hidden.

This year, as we feel the ‘bondage’ and ‘exile’ more acutely, we ought to put forth more effort in feeling the ‘freedom’ and ‘liberation’ more fully.

Eating Matzah on the first night of Pesach (this year Monday night April 22) is the most important component of the Pesach Seder. It invites G-dliness into one’s material self.

My dear fellow Jew.

The Matza reminds us of our faith in following G-d ‘blindly’ into the desert at very short notice, not even allowing our bread to rise.

By eating the matza, we are recreating that experience of ingesting ‘bread of faith’. This is why we make a point to eat the ‘old fashioned authentic’ handmade matzas (made of wheat that has been guarded from moisture from the time of harvest) at the Seder.

(We will be serving handmade shmura matzah at all of our communal seders across Thailand and will be happy to provide this matzah anywhere in Thailand, to those making their own seder, or unable to attend a seder. Please contact me with your mailing/delivery info to send you the matza – food of faith and healing).

The message of Purim and Pesach is one of liberty.

Stand tall, proud and free.

Embrace the role that Hashem has given our people to be his treasured nation. Spread light, morality and clarity in the world around you with healthy self-esteem about who you are as a Jew.

May we merit the liberation from this exile that we so yearn for. Just like it happened during the miracle of Pesach.

May the darkness be transformed into light just as Hashem transformed the darkness into light in the times of Purim.

May you have a Shabbat Shalom,

Injected with the joy of the Purim culmination and the taste of liberation from the approaching Pesach.

With blessing,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Mounds and pits

Bob and his wife were the architects for the Chabad House Synagogue that my brother built in Westport. They were visiting Thailand two weeks ago and came to meet me.

Bob told me about one of the challenges. The land that had been purchased for the parking lot needed to be raised to conform with local requirements. Getting the ‘fill-in’ earth was a costly undertaking. It just ‘so happened’ (i.e. Divine Providence) that a builder friend was doing a redevelopment and needed to dump earth and other materials to clear his site. The developer was happy to offer his earth for free, so long as the Chabad House sent the trucks to pick it up.

It reminded me of the story in the Megillah of Esther that we will be reading on Purim.

Haman said to King Achashverosh, "There is one nation, scattered and dispersed among the nations throughout the provinces of your kingdom, whose laws are unlike those of any other nation and who do not obey the laws of the King. It is not in the King's interest to tolerate them.

"If it please the King, let [an edict] be issued for their destruction, and I will pay ten thousand silver talents to the functionaries, to be deposited in the King's treasuries."

The king removed his signet ring from his hand and gave it to Haman, son of Hamdata, the Agagite, persecutor of the Jews.

The king said to Haman, "The money is yours to keep, and the nation is yours to do with as you please."

It seems that Achashverosh turned out the offer of a large sum of money being offered to him by Haman.

Why?

The Talmud tractate Megillah provides more details to this part of the story of Purim.

The actions of Ahasuerus and Haman can be understood with a parable; to what may they be compared? To two individuals, one of whom had a mound in the middle of his field and the other of whom had a ditch in the middle of his field, each one suffering from his own predicament. The owner of the ditch, noticing the other’s mound of dirt, said to himself: Who will give me this mound of dirt suitable for filling in my ditch; I would even be willing to pay for it with money, and the owner of the mound, noticing the other’s ditch, said to himself: Who will give me this ditch for money, so that I may use it to remove the mound of earth from my property?

At a later point, one day, they happened to have met one another. The owner of the ditch said to the owner of the mound: Sell me your mound so I can fill in my ditch. The mound’s owner, anxious to rid himself of the excess dirt on his property, said to him: Take it for free; if only you had done so sooner. Similarly, Ahasuerus himself wanted to destroy the Jews. As he was delighted that Haman had similar aspirations and was willing to do the job for him, he demanded no money from him…

Much has been said about this and how it relates to anti-semitism throughout the ages. For example an article by Aron Moss or Rabbi Josh Gordon.

When I heard this exact story being told by Bob the architect as something that had transpired in real life, with my own brother’s shul, a mere few years ago, it prompted me to look into some of the commentaries on this story.

Chacham Yosef Chaim of Baghdad (1832-1909) commented on this story.

From the way the Talmud depicts Achashverosh, he too, was a hater of the Jews and was pleased to have Haman dispose of them. Why then, does Achashverosh not meet an ignominious end just like Haman? Haman was killed for scheming to kill the Jews; shouldn’t Achashverosh have been at least demoted for his role in enabling this diabolical plan? Yet the Megillah ends off with Achashverosh firmly ensconced on this royal throne.

The matter can be understood by the following analogy.

There was a king who had a son that was captured by two people who were sworn enemies of the king. They planned to kill the prince, but the actual killing was delayed.

The motivation for the delay was not the same by each of the enemies. One of them recognized the innate dignity of the royal family and wanted to procure a poison that could be inserted into a drink and kill the prince in a ‘gentler’ and more ‘refined’ way.

The other enemy was delaying the killing as he wanted to create a big fire and cause the prince a more agonizing and ‘dehumanizing’ death.  

The king swooped in just in time to save his son the prince.

He treated the two captors very differently.

The cruel captor he puts to death for his role in planning his son’s murder.

The other captor, who also wanted to kill his son, but was more respectful of the king’s stature and wanted to preserve some of the royal dignity even while killing the prince, was allowed off without being punished by the king. It was this delay that allowed the prince to live. Although admittedly, had the king not come in time, the more ‘genteel’ opponent would have murdered the prince.

Similarly says R’ Yosef Chaim of Baghdad, Achashverosh respected the stature of the Jewish people. To be sure, he hated them and was going to facilitate the extermination plans against them. But at the same time, he didn’t want to do it in a demeaning way. Which is why he rejected the money offer.

You see, Haman wanted to pay money for the right to kill the Jews as part of his plan to demean the Jews. He wanted them to feel like human chattel and mere assets and thus dehumanize the Jewish people.

Whereas Achashverosh did not agree to take the money as he wanted to avoid demeaning the Jewish people in that way.

This also fits the ‘mound’ and ‘pit’ in the Talmud’s analogy.

Achashverosh saw the Jews as a mound, something elevated above the flat earth. Whereas Haman saw the Jews as a ‘hole in the ground’ as something totally worthless and disgusting.

When Hashem brought about a salvation for the Jews on Purim, He treated Haman and Achashverosh differently. For Achashverosh, although he was innately antisemitic, he at least treated the Jewish people with a modicum of respect.

Do you see any parallels in the patterns of anti-semitism as they play out in 20th and 21st centuries?

I find the Haman figures very identifiable. We can quite easily identify our enemies who want to kill us and treat us like dirt.

It is the Achashverosh kind of antisemite that to me seems more difficult to identify. On the outside they may be quite genteel, but a deeply rooted intolerance of the Jews may be lurking in the background, only waiting for a ‘cover story’.

The Talmudic story with its various commentaries is like dots. Applying the story to the contemporary geopolitical situation is like drawing the lines to connect the dots.

I have provided the dots. The drawing of the lines and the lessons for the world news headlines of today, I leave to you. No two people think alike. I am curious how you understand this topic.

Some Torah scholars share Torah thoughts with each other (in addition to food items) as a form of ‘Purim gifts’ Mishlach Manot.

Perhaps you have a thought to share with me in honor of Purim about this story. I would love to hear feedback from you.

To draw two quick lessons from this story that are applicable in our personal lives.

Sometimes a person may have a ‘mound’ in their life. Perhaps they have gone through a very difficult challenge that they would have preferred to avoid. They have layers of experience that others who have not gone through those circumstances don’t have.

The way to move forward in a positive way is to understand that there must be purpose in gaining the wisdom that could only be gained by going through this difficulty. And to pray to Hashem that He guide you to find the person with a ‘hole’ that can be benefited by the experience gained.

I have seen people who have gone through very difficult things take that experience and use it to counsel, console and bring positivity to others. I am in awe of such giants.

For the second positive message garnered by this story, let me end with another story.

The Alter Rebbe once sent a messenger to a chassid of his to ask him to participate in a very urgent life-saving cause. It was a significantly large amount of money that the Rebbe was requesting. The messenger, himself a very devout chassid was sure that it would take a few days for the benefactor to put together such a respectable sum of cash. To his surprise, the moment he arrived at the persons house, he was greeted warmly, and asked by his host ‘how much money does the Rebbe need to alleviate the crisis’. The messenger named the amount, and the host went to the next room and brought the full amount.

The messenger asked incredulously, ‘how did you know to prepare such a generous sum and have it on hand’?

To which the benefactor replied ‘yesterday I transacted a very successful business deal, and I said to myself ‘if Hashem sent me such a tidy profit it must be that the Rebbe has a larger than usual need and I have been sent this amount to be able to provide Tzedaka for this need’.

My dear friend, if you have a ‘mound’, understand that your excess is for a higher purpose. The extra money you have found in your budget can be used to help someone. Find someone who has a hole and help him or her fill it.

There are a number of people I know, who are ‘baalei tzedaka’ philanthropists that look at their financial success in exactly this way.

As well as people that are blessed with other blessings, who give freely of themselves and their gifts to fill the needs of others.

This is a truly inspirational way to live life.

So relevant to Purim, as two of the four mitzvahs of Purim are about helping others.

These are the four mitzvahs:

Hear the Megilah by night and then by day

Send food gifts to at least one other person.

Send monetary gifts to at least two other needy people.

Eat a Purim feast.

May Hashem bless us with salvation from our enemies just like he did in the time of Purim.

In closing:

Let my talk about antisemitism not G-d forbid be taken in the wrong way.

The celebration of Purim is all about the reality that has been borne out over the millennia of world history of the eternity of the Jew.

We are Hashems people, his precious children and He has promised that we will always be here.

As we say in the Haggadah on Pesach:

For not just one enemy has risen against us to destroy us. But in every generation they rise against us to destroy us. And the Holy One Blessed Be He saves us from their hands.

Nations and superpowers have come and gone. Am Yisrael is still here, proud, strong, positive, and passionate.

In just a few short moments the history of the world will take a giant leap, to welcome Mashiach and usher in the world of peace that we yearn and wait for.

So let us now cower and hide and pretend that if we act invisible and try to ‘blend in among the nations’ we will be better off. The opposite is true. Let us stand up with determination and pride and engage with Torah and Mitzvahs with joy and enthusiasm.

During those few short moments before Mashiach comes let us have ‘light’ אורה ושמחה וששון ויקר , may Hashem bless our soldiers, return our hostages, heal our wounded and banish antisemitism to the annals of history while we the Jewish people spread the message of G-d and His universal laws of morality to the entire world.

Shabbat Shalom

Purim Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


Call for action! Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

For the joyous month of Adar, let me start off with a joke.

A young man asked an old rich man how he made his money.

The old guy fingered his wool vest and said, “Well, son, it was 1932, the depth of the Great Depression. I was down to my last nickel.

I invested that nickel in an apple. I spent the entire day polishing the apple and, at the end of the day, I sold the apple for ten cents.

The next morning, I invested those ten cents in two apples. I spent the entire day polishing them and sold them at 5:00 pm for 20 cents. I continued this system for a week, by the end of which I’d accumulated a fortune of $6.40.

Then my wife’s lost long great uncle died and left us two million dollars.”

The ‘moral’ of the joke?

Sometimes it’s not really our efforts that are at the source of our wealth, rather it’s someone else’s hard work that we were gifted with.

I used this in my Shabbat speech at Synagogue last week in connection with the special reading about the half shekel that was given by every Jew as a donation to the construction of the Temple. 

Fast forward from the story of Pesach (Exodus from Egypt) to the story of Purim which took place almost a thousand years later in Persia. 

When Haman offered Achashverosh ten thousand talents of silver to the royal coffers for permission to kill all the Jews in his kingdom, Hashem said ‘you wicked person, their silver shekels already preceded and preempted your silver shekels’.

In other words, the instruction of giving a half shekel in the year 2448 from creation was the mitzvah that averted the Haman scheme of annihilation of the Jews some 950 years later.

Think about the incredibleness of it. A half shekel was a modest amount and was required to be given by poor and rich alike. Who would have imagined that a mitzvah done so many years back would be the spiritual power needed to generate the miracle of Purim.

Makes you stop to wonder about how powerful our actions are. Not just in our lifetime but for our future progeny.

I spoke about this at the Friday night Shabbat meal last week. At Shabbat lunch, one of our overseas visitors shared how proud she was of the fact that she has three sons who are rabbis. Indeed it is quite something to be proud of, a source of Jewish ‘naches’ (nachat).

As we were chatting over lunch she also shared the following story:

My father was a soldier in the British army during WWII. As he was about to be sent to the Far East, his commanding officer suggested that he remake his army issued identity disc that bore a J indicating that he was Jewish. His officer explained that the Japanese were allies of the Germans and it would be prudent to take off the J. My father responded, ‘The J represents that I am one of G-d’s children. He has protected me till now, and when I head off to battle, I am even more eager to have His protection. I will keep my disc with the J’.

As the lunch progressed, our London guests shared another story from the war years. This time she shared a story from her mother’s childhood during The Blitz (the German bombing campaign against London in 1940-1).

My mother was a young girl and was part of the evacuation of children to rural areas of England. My grandmother accompanied my mother to settle her in. On Sunday morning they awoke to a smell that was unfamiliar. Upon going downstairs to the kitchen, the mother saw that the smell came from frying bacon. She decided then and there that she was not going to leave her daughter in an environment that could have very wide-reaching consequences and they returned home to London.

While the stories were told without connection to each other, I see a pattern in these stories. They both speak of determination and unyielding commitment to the point of sacrifice. 

All of a sudden it dawned on me that maybe this connected to the theme I had conveyed in my speech on Friday night about the impact of the shekel many generations later.

Could it possibly be that these acts of valor by the grandparents and great grandparents are the spiritual ‘wealth’ that came to this family by inheritance?

To think this way is quite humbling. It means acknowledging that it may not be to my credit that I am the way I am. The power and blessings for what we do may be sourced in the holy and brave deeds of our grandparents and ancestors.

It is also quite inspiring and empowering to think that our deeds have the potential to reverberate and impact future generations even without knowing it.

It’s a call to action.

Next time you think about being too lazy to do a good deed, try to evaluate how much worth it may have to your grandchildren’s grandchildren. 

The next major holiday coming up is Chag Purim (evening of 23 and entire day of 24 of March).

The story of the Megilah is read every single year. To remind us to be grateful to Hashem for saving us then. And we must read it as a contemporary story as well. Hashem is making miracles for us now as well. 

We exchange food gifts so that the joy is shared with everyone in the community.

Monetary gifts are given to the poor so that they too should be able to full partake of the festivities.

And of course, a festive meal. A Purim feast.

These are the four Purim Mitzvahs.

Click here for more information and for instructions on how to fulfil the mitzvahs the way they were instructed. 

In the meantime, Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Saving lives

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Two people shared similar stories with me this week.

Is this a sign from Heaven to share the stories and find how the parsha or date relate to the stories?

Perhaps I can ask you for your help.

Here are the stories. Please share with me if you see the connection with the Parsha of the week – Vayakhel. Or with the time of the year, Shabbat when we read about the Shekalim (half shekel) or Rosh Chodesh Adar the first day of the month of Purim.

S.Y., a community member who was eating lunch at JCafe, told me that he had merited to save a life this week.

A business client was visiting him from the USA and started experiencing pain in his chest. The visitor brushed it off and said he would check it out in the USA when he went back the next day. S.Y. insisted on taking him to the doctor to check it out. It was a 95% blockage in one of the main arteries. Who knows what could have happened G-d forbid on the plane. An angioplasty cleared the blockage and now he is free to travel back home safely.

A life was saved thank G-d through S.Y.’s caring and responsible intervention.

As S.Y. told me his story, I remembered that I had heard a similar story just a few days earlier from a visitor to Beth Elisheva’s daily afternoon service.

It was related to Tefillin.

Dr. H. told me that he was in the airport in NY checking in to a flight to Israel. He needed to use the bathroom and didn’t want to take his Tefillin which he was carrying by hand, into the bathroom. He saw a Jewish couple nearby and asked them if they could hold his Tefillin for the few minutes. After retrieving his Tefilin he conversed for a few minutes with the couple and noticed that the woman didn’t seem right. Being a doctor, he asked a few questions and came to the conclusion that she has a delicate medical condition and shouldn’t be flying. They indeed went straight to a medical clinic, and it was confirmed that she needed medical treatment. Again, a life was saved because of a concerned person who acted to intervene responsibly. In this instance it was a doctor who through his commitment to honoring Hashem’s mitzvahs, was granted the gift of saving another life.

The common denominator of both stories is the great mitzvah of saving another person’s life.

Another thing that stood out was the uplifting way the protagonists of the story related this to me. Their voices reflected joy and feelings of gratitude to Hashem for being able to have the merit of saving someone else's life.

There are so many things that we can be grateful for in our lives.

Every morning when we wake up, we make twenty blessings of thanksgiving.

Click here for more information and guidance to incorporate these blessings of gratitude to your life).

Before we eat, we make a blessing and recognize the gift G-d gives us of food. After eating we thank G-d for the food. These are parts of our life that we are aware that we ought to be thankful for.

For the most part we recognize the great gift of helping someone else. Often helping someone else is not so easy. Effort, sometimes great effort, is required. Some people refer to it as a ‘pain in the neck’ when they get requests of help from people.

However, at the end of the day, they recognize that this is the greatest form of joy.

When looking back at your day, your week, your month, your year or your entire life, there is so much precious joy in the knowledge that you were able to contribute beneficence and goodness to someone else.

How much more so the gift of literally saving someone’s life.

What we sometimes don’t realize is that we need to be grateful to G-d even when He places us in a position of neediness. When we need to be recipients of favors from others, we must also thank G-d for that role in life.

If you are like many people I know, when you need to ask someone else for a favor, you cringe. You would rather be the provider, rather than the receiver.

Let me present a reframing of asking for favors.

(Care must be taken that this information doesn’t fall into the ‘wrong hands’).

Have you ever considered that when Hashem puts you in the position of needing kindness from someone else, He has given you a ‘giving’ role as well?

How so?

Hashem has designated you as His messenger to deliver a gift to the person you are asking for help.

The gift of the mitzvah opportunity of being kind to a fellow.

(I say it must be saved from ‘wrong hands’ as it is possible for someone to use this way of thinking in a dysfunctional way becoming an ingrate and taking advantage of the kind persons benevolence).

To sum it up.

Hashem has created His world with giving and receiving built into the very rubric and rhythm of creation.

Sun and moon. Male and female. Givers and receivers.

In each of these roles, the receiver is also a giver.

A group of wealthy people were once complaining to their Rebbe that he was asking them to help the poor too much. To which the Rebbe responded that Hashem created two groups. Receivers and givers. Hashem intended for the wealth he entrusted to the rich people, to be His way of supporting the poor people from whom He had withheld abundance. If you – the wealthy ones – are not happy with your role as being the Givers on Hashems behalf, the other group – the poor ones – are standing by and quite happy to take on that role. “Would you like to flip roles”, asked the Rebbe?

You can imagine the answer. Nobody volunteered to give up their role of being on the side of the wealthy ‘givers’ to be on the side of the needy ‘receivers’.

Today I want to speak to those in the role of receivers.

Fortify your faith and trust in G-d.

He has not withheld from you the gift of wealth.

Rather, He has GIFTED you the individual financial status that you are currently struggling with.

It is valid to ask Him and pray to Hashem for a change in that gift, for a few more zeros in your bank account, but from a place of inner serenity and peacefulness knowing that Hashem is your loving Creator and is directing and overseeing every single aspect of your life.

While you are still in the receiving mode for the most part, meditate on the fact that as well as receiving, you are also giving.

You are giving your benefactors the gift of giving.

Sometimes, allowing someone else to help you through a touch patch, may be lifesaving – literally – for the giver.

A social worker once told me that a woman she was counseling through suicidal depression would ‘come to life’ whenever talking about the help she was providing to others.

Conventional thinking is ‘woe to me that I need to ask someone else for help’.

Counterintuitive thinking is, ‘I will embrace my role in the world of giving and receiving and right now I need to receive graciously’.

As I have said, and it bears emphasizing, this way of thought, requires caution not to be misused. But it’s the truth.

Do you see the connection with the Parsha of Vayakhel?

Hint: every Jew contributed to building the Mishkan sanctuary for G-d in his or her own way. (Click here to see it spelled out).

Do you notice the connection with the second Torah we are going to read from on this Shabbat speaking about the half Shekel?

Hint: by giving a non-complete shekel, we are reminded that each of us is in need of the other to become complete. (Click here for more on this theme).

How about the connection with Rosh Chodesh Adar II (Sunday and Monday)?

Hint: the fact that we have two Adar months – i.e. a leap year – is to realign the moon and the sun. Giver (sun) reflector (moon). The leap year represents their alignment. (Click here for more on this).

May Hashem give us the gift to give to others graciously. If we need to receive, may Hashem give us the healthy mindset of seeing the blessing in receiving.

And most importantly, may we recognize that each and every one of us is an indispensable part of the community.

In the spirit of Adar, here is a joke that Rabbi Gordon told: (click here for full article).

I am reminded of an adorable story about a mechanic that was called in to try to fix a gigantic cruise ship that suddenly stopped working. Surveying the situation, and after making an elaborate show of taking out all his tools, he proceeded to tighten one single screw, and then announced that the ship was repaired. The mechanic’s bill arrived a few days later, for $10,000! Unwilling to pay such a hefty sum for seemingly minimal work, the cruise operator requested an itemized invoice. The revised invoice arrived: $1.00 for turning the screw; $9,999 for knowing which screw to turn.

My dear friends, what we know from the stories regarding space shuttles (tragic Challenger explosion) and airliners (Boeing door blown off) is that every rubber seal and every bolt a small as it may be is critical to the functioning of the huge and powerful aircraft.

Each and every Jew is even more critically needed for the community to be wholesome.

Every person must look at themselves in the mirror and say, ‘I was created to serve my Master’. I am needed. I am not a spare part. Without me Hashem’s world is incomplete.

The proof? He created me. He doesn’t create ‘junk’.

Engage in your mission. G-d will bless you and bless the collective.

May Hashem bless us with secure peace, health, and the safe return of all who are in captivity and let us ask for the real ‘gold’ – the ushering in of world peace and harmony, the coming of Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Chodesh Tov (for Sunday).

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Inspired to be a hero?

By the Grace of G-d Dear Friend, In this week’s Torah Parsha we read about the Jews worshipping the golden calf and G-d’s suggestion to Moses that He wipe out the current people of Israel and make a fresh start. Hashem proposed that He would rebuild a new Jewish nation from Moses’ offspring. Moshe’s reaction was unequivocally decisive. Moses told G-d ‘And now if You would forgive their sin (all is well) — but if not, erase me now from this book that You have written.' This constituted the ultimate sacrifice by a leader who’s entire being was about Torah. Nothing was more important to Moshe than the Torah. Nevertheless, when his flock was facing a serious danger, he put himself and his own wellbeing on the side, in order to save his people. A truly selfless act! Indeed, Moshe is described as being the humblest man on the face of the earth. We are living in times when heroism is tragically very prevalent. So many of brothers and sisters in Israel, army, first responders, medics and civilians have given their lives as heroes. A friend has shared a fund he is involved in to help the families of the heroes and when you watch the video it’s heartbreaking. Every hero that has fallen affects all of those loved ones around them. At the same time, it is deeply inspiring and empowering to recognize that selfless sacrifice is not embedded in history and books, but it is alive and well within people of flesh and blood like us. Often it leads to the feeling that if one’s time on earth is up one would hope to pass on in a selfless heroic way in the service of others. This kind of death is called ‘Kiddush Hashem’ sanctification of G-d’s name. Those who pass away for being Jewish, for standing up for G-d and His people are called ‘kedoshim’ ‘holy’. We are privileged to be hosting scores of living ‘holy’ heroes at our Chabad Houses throughout Thailand. The stories that these chayalim of the IDF are sharing depict valiantly heroic bravery and unlimited commitment to protecting and saving our people. Meeting heroes brings one to contemplate their own life from that prism. How can I be a hero is what comes to mind. I would like to address a different form of selflessness. One that it is within reach of each of us. A few years ago, I busy working in my office at Chabad House near Kaosarn Rd when one of the rabbinic interns called me to tell me that there was a young lady who was in tears and asking to see the Rabbi. I interrupted what I was doing and met with the distraught young lady. Rebecca told me that she had just gotten tragic news via her email. One of her friends from college in the USA had been found dead, apparently it was suicide. For the better of an hour Rebecca poured out her heart and expressed emotions that ranged from pity for the loneliness her friend Joe must have felt to do such a terrible thing, to anger at the selfishness of inflicting this kind of pain to the circle of family and friends who will grieve him. Rebecca was no stranger to the tragedy of self-inflicted death as her grandfather had done the same thing. Rebecca’s very own mother had not known her father who had taken his own life when she was but a young girl of three. There was not all that much I could add to the conversation through words. Most of my contribution was my empathetic silence which I find to be the most important in these kinds of conversations. The strong message that I heard from this young lady was the fact that taking one’s life was simply something that was selfish. She was well positioned to make that observation. Her mother had grown up fatherless as a result of such an act. ‘Didn’t Joe know how much I and all of his other friends cared for him’ Rebecca kept asking in anguish. I tried to steer Rebecca more towards feelings of pity for the young man. He was obviously in great pain, and we should view his act as a moment of ‘temporary insanity’ (indeed Rebecca confirmed that he did have a history of emotional illness). Here is the ‘counterintuitive’ message I would like to share. Inspired to be a hero? Sometimes the most humble, selfless and noble thing you can do is simply to be the best ‘you’ that you can possibly be. It may not seem glorious or heroic to fulfil the responsibilities you have to those around you and to G-d, but that is exactly why it is so honorable and holy. You may be the only person who can fulfill the role, even if you feel like escaping from it. Don’t run away from yourself. Embrace your mission. Believe it or not, we are happiest when we do what we are meant to do. Our lives become most fulfilled not when we spend inordinate amounts of time figuring out what makes us happy but rather when we step up to doing that which we are needed for. And each and every one is needed. Every single creation of G-d has a task. Here is the basic meditation to battle feelings of worthlessness if they come to bother you.. It is quite simple. Tell yourself: ‘G-d created me, and He doesn’t create anything in vain. He doesn’t create ‘spare parts’. My job is to concentrate on doing the next right thing that deep down I know I should be doing. Sometimes it’s not exciting to fill the roles G-d has given you in life. Sadly, it may sometimes even be excruciating. But ultimately, doing what is right (absolute right is defined according to the instructions of G-d in his Torah) is the only way to be truly and authentically living up to G-d’s intention for you in His world. And there is a great benefit to following this path. Fulfilling your life-tasks is the ‘long short path’ that brings with it the most happiness both for the person himself as well as for all his loved ones. The heroes who have fallen in the line of defending and caring for the Jewish people in our times and throughout our long and event-laden history, deserve our admiration and gratitude. They also implore us, that we turn this inspiration into positive action. As King Solomon taught (Kohelet 7, 2) ‘the living shall take to heart’. Our lives should be lived more ‘heroically’ and ‘selflessly’ one deed at a time. For some people, going to work and faithfully bringing home a paycheck to care for their family is tedious and uninspiring. But it is selfless because their loved ones are fed, clothed, and housed. Doing a mitzvah even when you don’t feel like it. Helping a person in need when they irk you. For a person who feels G-d forbid like they are not interested in being alive, their heroism is even more basic. Simply by not doing anything self-destructive and by breathing, eating and drinking they are heroes in their selfless determination to keep going. Choosing life is a G-dly choice. Staying true to your values even when severely challenged, is selfless and heroic. On the other hand, surrendering ones moral values in the face of confrontation is cowardly. Let us be inspired by Moshe, the Macabbees, our soldiers and all of our glorious heroes throughout our history who have stood up for truth, faith, community and all of the moral values taught to us by Hashem in His Torah. This period of adversity, is our moment to be a golden link in the chain of Jewish history. Let us recognize the opportunity we have. Let us stand together, proud of our role to be ambassadors of light, moral clarity and holiness to the world. Click here to see thousands of Jewish teens in NY’s Times Square last week in show of positive and optimistic Jewish pride. And here for their ‘count on me’ event. Minute by minute, mitzvah by mitzvah, choice by choice, keep choosing right over wrong, light over darkness, good over evil LIFE OVER the opposite of life. These steps are not earth shattering, they are eminently achievable, and if we do them consistently they will break through the darkness and pain of our current state and usher in a world of peace, holiness, goodness and kindness. MASHIACH NOW! Shabbat Shalom Rabbi Yosef Kantor

missed flight

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Last week I shared an incredulous story of Divine Providence where a young mans life was saved in three miraculous ways.

Where can I go from that?

Something more stupendous?

Counterintuitively, I want to tell a story of Divine Providence at the opposite spectrum, in the most mundane details of life.

You see, many see the hand of G-d in the big items of life. I recall a person who missed the Silk Air flight that crashed in 1997.

I dug up the letter I wrote back then to the person who miraculously was saved.

December 1997

Dear G,

I thank you so much for sharing with me the story of your personal miracle last week in which you missed the ill-fated flight on Silk Air (because of being stuck in the traffic) and thereby saved your life. THANK G-D.

As we discussed briefly no one walks away from such an experience unchanged and certainly being presented by G-d with a special gift of life begs at least a revaluation.

While giving charity is certainly appropriate at this time, I think that this is not yet sufficient to put the feelings of gratitude into their proper perspective. My humble suggestion is that you add in some of G-d’s commandments as in the Shabbat (the night the event occurred) first of all to try avoiding travelling on the Shabbat at all costs (certainly not by plane) and to light candles (before the Shabbat comes in – Friday before sunset) and make Kidush. I also suggested the putting on of Tefillin (if not every morning, then) at least once a week and preferably on a day when the kids are home and can see you doing this (i.e. Sunday).

While this may seem somewhat difficult at first I am sure you will agree that the tremendous tragedy that was averted deserves some kind of focus on the “real things of life” those that don’t get affected by currency devaluation's recessions  etc. the doing of good deeds - Mitzvot

I hope you accept this letter in the good spirit it was written as a friend who is genuinely happy for you all and wishes for your physical and spiritual well-being. May we merit speedily the coming of Mashiach when disasters will be a thing of the past, Amen.

Sincerely,

 

YK

 

Ever since that event, when someone tells me that they missed a flight, I ask them the rhetorical question ‘if you were to hear that the flight had an accident, would you still be upset that you missed your flight?

After they say ‘no, of course not. If I knew there would be trouble with the plane, I would be happy that I missed the flight’. I then continue ‘so please have mercy and pity on the other passengers who did make it on the flight and pray that they arrive at their destination safely, and still be happy that you missed the flight’.

The really ‘big moments’ of life are few and far between. Many people are open to seeing the Divine input in those seminal events.

It is the daily ‘grind’ and ‘routine’ of life in which we would do well to infuse and inject with meaning.

Finding Divine Providence in the mundane and ordinary is transformational. It is a recipe for injecting meaning and joy into every aspect of our daily lives.

This week I had a wonderful Divine Providence that involved something as mundane as the timing of hearing a joke.

Yep, you heard it, a joke. A good friend in our local community supplies me with (kosher) jokes and on Monday morning just as I was preparing to give a short class via Zoom, a new joke came to my inbox. One of them grabbed my attention and in honor of the month of Adar in which we are instructed to be joyous, I decided to open my class with this joke. Albeit feeling a little bit strange to start a Torah class with an unrelated joke, cute as it may be.

Here is the joke I shared.

Sarah was recently married and called her mother one evening in tears. "Mom, I tried to make Bubbie’s brisket for dinner tonight, and it's just awful! I followed the recipe exactly, and I know I have the recipe right because it's the one you gave me. But it just didn't come out right, and I'm so upset. I wanted this to be so special for Chaim because he loves brisket. What could have gone wrong?"

Sarah’s mother replied soothingly, "Well, Sarah, let's go through the recipe. You read it out loud and tell me exactly what you did at each step, and together we'll figure it out."

"OK," Sarah sniffled. "Well, it starts out, 'Take two dollars’ worth of brisket' ..."

(In the grandmother’s era, two dollars of brisket was a sizeable chunk, today it is a thimbleful if even that).

As I was telling the joke, wondering why I had this urge to share this joke at this class, I realized that it was perfectly aligned with the lesson I was giving (a repetition of the post shacharit daily Chumash class at Synagogue which I had given just moments earlier).

The topic of the lesson was the diminishment of prophecy and ‘holy spirit’ (ruach hakodesh) after the first Bet Hamikdash times.

The Parsha relates as follows (Kehot interpolated translation)

Into the  fold of the Breastplate of Judgment you shall place  a parchment inscribed with God’s Name. This parchment shall be known as ‘the urim and tumim,’  since it makes the Breastplate into a shining [or ] and precise [ tamim ] oracle: it will cause the letters of the tribal names inscribed on the stones set in the Breastplate to light up in sequence, spelling out the answer to questions of national importance posed by the king or leader. Placed inside the fold of the Breastplate, the urim  and tumim shall be over Aaron’s heart whenever he comes before God , i.e.,into the Sanctuary.  Thus attired, Aaron shall carry the instrument of judgment for the Israelites over his heart at all times  he enters the Sanctuary and stands before God.  The Breastplate serves as an oracle only by virtue of the urim  and tumim . Nonetheless, they are not an integral component of the Breastplate; if they are missing, the high priest is still considered fully and properly attired despite the fact that the Breastplate cannot function as an oracle.

Click here for more on this topic.

In talking about the diminishment of the levels of holiness as the world gets spiritually darker the joke about the diminishing value of money fits right in.

This theme of increasing darkness is mentioned in the Talmud Sota 49a ‘Rava says, each and every day is more cursed than the previous one’.

On the surface it sounds very negative.

The Torah is a book of ‘life’ and ‘light’, Why would the Talmud, a book of the Torah, proclaim something that seems so bleak?

The Rebbe explained this as being a call to action. Not G-d forbid a just ‘for your information’ morbid statement of fact. When there is a purpose in sharing ‘bad news’ to do something practical to rectify it, then the ‘kid gloves are taken off’ and the facts, as unpleasant as they may seem, are shared in the clearest way possible.

There is a tendency for us humans to be comfortable in a particular zone and with a particular level of energy output. Comes the Talmud and tells us in vivid language that our energetic efforts of doing goodness and kindness and shedding light that were enough for yesterday, are no longer enough for today.

The world today is darker than yesterday.

And since the world is getting even darker, the efforts of today will not suffice to brighten the world tomorrow.

We can not rest. We need to constantly advance, even if just to keep the status quo.

When trying to climb up an escalator going the wrong way, energy is needed merely not to fall lower.

This is an urgent call to action. A wake-up call for those who may be tempted to slumber or stagnate or just coast along on ‘cruise control’.

Forward march.

Upward climb.

More good deeds.

More Torah.

More shining altruistic behaviors.

No, we cannot just look at what worked in the past and continue the status quo saying all the while that ‘I am doing enough already’.

The Talmud gives us the clarity to know that today the world is more challenging and requires more positive input than ever before.

Two dollars’ worth of brisket was a small meal in the earlier parts of the 1900’s. In the 2000’s it is hardly a smidgen.

The Talmud tells us that in the spiritual world too, there is a decline. We need to do better to get the same results.

And we are blessed by modernity with all its amenities to have more time at our disposal.

) The huge entertainment industries of Hollywood and it’s like are testimony to the ‘disposable’ time available to a large swath of the population).

We also have more access to knowledge and information.

This means that we are able to do deepen our knowledge, and dedicate more time to do much more good activity and thus light up the world with G-d’s light of deeds of goodness and kindness – mitzvot.

Prayers for our brethren all over the world and especially for security and peace in Israel, for the safe return of the hostages, healing of the wounded and for the safety of our soldiers and most importantly for Mashiach to come and usher in Shalom speedily in our days.

With blessings for a joyous and happy ‘Purim Katan’ - ‘minor’ Purim.

Today would be Purim if not for the extra month of the Jewish leap year this year. click here for more info.

Save the date for ‘major’ Purim on Saturday night/Sunday March 23/24.

Shabbat Shalom with much joy.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

incredulous Divine Providence

In this week’s parsha the reason for our creation is spelled out. G-d’s mission statement for us.

‘Make for me a ‘Mikdash’ sanctuary and I will dwell in them (in the people)’.

G-d wants us to create a space for Him in this physical world.

The ultimate fulfillment of Hashem’s plan is that Hashem seeks to ‘reside within us’.

When our minds are acutely aware of Him. When our hearts are filled with longing and reverence for Him. And most importantly when our deeds align symmetrically with His wishes. All of this invites the presence of G-d to reside here on earth, the fulfillment of His ‘desire’.

This week I received an email that expressed the way Hashem dwells in the heart of the young Jew who wrote to me.

It started off as a simple email.

A young man who lives part time in Israel and part time in Thailand who wanted to say hi to me and to thank me and tell me how meaningful our connection is.

‘I was a typical Israeli living in Thailand, without awareness about Hashem and His Torah’.

‘A family member pressured me to go to Synagogue for Yom Kippur. I joined your services at Beth Elisheva and was inspired and uplifted. Your passionate explanations of the prayers touched me deeply in my heart. Particularly, the high-spirited singing and dancing at the climax of Yom Kippur just at the end of Neilah elated me.

It was on that Yom Kippur that I connected to Hashem, to my Jewish soul and started becoming more Torah & Mitzva observant’.

Then the email took a leap upwards to a different dimension and filled my heart and mind with thanksgiving to Hashem for the incredulous Divine Providence that was shared with me.

Here is the story that he told me.

‘The inspiration of Yom Kippur eight years ago gradually caused changes in my life. A year ago, I began to keep Shabbat, wear a kipah, tzitzit, keep kosher etc.,

During the year prior to this commitment, out of nowhere, I would find myself humming the song ‘for I keep the Shabbat, Hashem will guard me’.

It was as if an inner voice was telling me ‘You are aware of your relationship with Hashem for seven years now, you have no excuses for continuing to live in a secular way without the sanctity of Shabbat’.

I had this deep and urgent feeling that my life is now dependent on keeping Shabbat.

On October 7th of this year, the truth of that inner voice was validated.

I grew up in ‘Otef Aza’ the ‘Gaza envelope’ and my parents and family still live there.

Hashem wanted to show me his kindness and truth and I was there in ‘Otef Aza’ on October 7th.

Here is where the chain of three and a half miracles begins to unfold. There is no other way to explain what happened to me other than an display of ‘Divine Providence’ in full view.

The first ‘half miracle’ is that I wasn’t at ‘THE party’. All my friends were there. Many are tragically no longer with us. If I had not yet changed my lifestyle to one of Torah observance, I would have very likely have been there with them.

The other threesome of miracles are as follows:

Because I didn’t grow up Mitzvah observant, I know that there are many details that I am not aware of. Every Friday morning I study some laws of Shabbat observance and thus I steadily advance in my knowledge and implementation.

On Friday morning October 6th, I studied the laws of Shabbat. By ‘coincidence’ the laws I studied were about the limitation of how far one may walk outside of the city limits on Shabbat.

In the moshav that I grew up in, there is no minyan. Once I started observing Shabbat, I would walk 8 kilometers to the nearby moshav that does have a Synagogue and minyan. After seeing the law that prohibits walking more than (approx) 1 km outside the city, I resolved that I would sleep over in a moshav with a minyan rather than walk to synagogue from my home on Shabbat morning which is prohibited due do the distance.

I asked a childhood friend in a moshav that has a Synagogue if I could stay with him. He said yes. I packed up my shabbat hotplate, kosher food, and anything else I would need for Shabbat and drove over to my friend. On the way my friend called me and apologized. From the tone of his voice I understood that he had a girlfriend coming over for the weekend and it wouldn’t be convenient to have me there as well. Although I always provide him with hospitality when he visits Thailand, I overcame my disappointment and cheerfully told him that he should enjoy his weekend and I would easily find another place.

I then pulled over at the side of the road and searched the internet for ‘tzimmerim’ (literally ‘rooms’ for rent) in moshavim that have a Synagogue. I located a motel in Kibbutz Beeri, but they didn’t answer their phones, perhaps it was too late in the afternoon.

I finally found a motel in a different moshav with a synagogue and went there to settle in. I called a friend I know in that moshav and he picked me up to take me to his home for coffee. After we finished our chat he took me back to my motel. A short while later I realized that I had left the keys to my car at my friend’s home. I called him and he said he would bring them right over. Looking at the time, I realized that my friend had no time to bring me the keys and arrive back home before Shabbat. My friend said, ‘I don’t keep shabbat so there is no problem for me to come over’. I explained to my friend that I could not take a favor from him if he was going to violate Shabbat on my behalf. My friend suggested that he would bring the keys to me by foot at the Synagogue that evening. I explained to him that this too wouldn’t fit the laws of Shabbat. He told me ‘You have gone crazy’ and burst out laughing, I laughed together with him and that is how we ended our phone call, laughing hysterically.

At 6:30 am on October 7th I was in the motel and heard the barrage of missiles flying over the area on the way to central Israel. As someone who grew up in Otef Aza, I knew that this was a very unusual barrage of rockets, quite unlike the ‘usual’ ones. I left my motel to go outside, thinking of climbing up on the roof to see what is happening. The former leader of the commandos lives across the street from the motel, and he too came out of his house at that same time. I know him from my childhood. I asked him what is going on. The commander told me that he suspects there is going to be a massive incursion of terrorists from the Gaza border. He did not yet know that the main roads of the region had already been captured by the terrorists.

At that moment I thought to myself, if there will be a terrorist attack on the villages in this region, it is a true case of ‘pickuach nefesh’ danger to life which pushes aside the prohibitions of Shabbat, and I had best be near my parents to protect them.

I realized that my keys were not with me. I couldn’t go to my parents. The biggest contribution I could give to my people right now was to join the ‘security response team’ of the moshav I was in, which I did.

Here are the three open miracles that saved my life.

If I would not have discovered the laws of Shabbat prohibiting walking more than a kilometer outside my village, I would have been walking along the roads at 6:30 am, and would have met the terrorist filled pick-up trucks as they made their murderous way through the area.

My friend in the moshav I wanted to stay in, heard about the incursion into his moshav in the early hours of the morning. He and his girlfriend jumped into their car and tried to escape. They were shot at. My friend escaped miraculously unscathed, while his friend was shot and critically wounded. I shudder when I think that I would have likely been in the passenger seat if I would have been there with him.

I wanted to go to my parents but didn’t have my keys. What we didn’t know at that time was that the roads were being manned by the terrorists. People who tried to drive from place to place were shot at and killed. This would have happened to me if I had tried to get to my parents.

The note now moves into a reflective tone.

‘When I hummed to myself for a year before starting to keep Shabbat ‘when I keep Shabbat, Hashem protects me’ I had a deep feeling that for me this would not just be a song, but it was a message that I must take seriously.

Thank you Almighty G-d the Creator of the world.

And thank you rabbi for being one of the messengers of Hashem in my journey that saved my physical life and spiritual life.

I share this story with you to express my loving gratitude to you… and share with you how unbeknownst to you, through your passionate leading of prayers and teaching Torah you are sometimes saving souls not just spiritually, but even physically….’

Dear Friend, I felt compelled to share this inspiring story of Divine Providence exactly as it was shared with me by the person who experienced it firsthand.

During the current month of Adar, we are instructed to increase in joy.

It takes effort, especially during this very trying times, to focus on the rays of light and of goodness and to fill our consciousness with positivity, joy and optimism.

May Hashem bring an abundance of light and joy to the world.

May Hashem bless and protect our soldiers, bring home our hostages, heal our wounded, and bless Israel and the world with secure and stable peace.

We want Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

A joyous Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Tomer must be in his early thirties. Long braids of hair piled up in layers on the top of his head. A few years ago, after packing up his trade school in central Israel he deposited the tools and workbenches in his parents’ home at Kibutz Re’im and headed off to backpack in South America.

He was homesick and arrived home in Israel for a month or two with his girlfriend who had never visited Israel before as she isn’t Jewish. After some time in Tel Aviv, they decided it was too noisy for them, so they went off to spend the holiday of Sukkot with his parents in the serene rural environment of Kibbutz Re’im near Gaza.

On the morning of Simchat Torah – October 7th 2023 – the Hamas terrorists attacked the kibbutz. Tomer and his family locked themselves in their safe room and piled heavy furniture against the door.

After waiting many terrifying hours and hearing the ominous sounds of gunshots and grenades they were finally able to leave their safe room. Miraculously his whole family was saved as were most of the residents of the kibbutz. The six members of the security team fought valiantly and held off the attackers till the army and police could come.

After surviving that ordeal, praying to Hashem all the time, Tomer went to a Judaica store and bought all the religious ritual items needed to observe Mitzvot. Candles for Shabbat. A goblet for making kidush on wine for Shabbat, a cover for the ‘challah breads’ of Friday night and a shofar. He already had Tefillin and Tzizit from his Bar mitzvah.

Tomer went off to New Zealand to calm down.

The awakening in his soul led him to learning how to put on his Tefillin and feeling deeply connected to G-d and Am Yisrael. As the days went by, Tomer felt an irresistible desire to head back to Israel to help rebuild the kibbutz. His girlfriend said that the experience she had endured during those excruciating hours and the continued aftermath, ruled out ever living in Israel. They realized their incompatibility and separated.

I heard all of this from Tomer as he makes his way back to Israel. He told his story in Chabad House of Phuket after the Friday night meal.

As an afterthought, Tomer shared an additional detail.

‘For the last few years, I had this deep gnawing feeling of guilt for having filled the entry hallway/porch of my parents’ home with bulky and heavy workbenches and boxes of equipment from my previous trade school. I had planned to clean it up and deal with it many times but had always procrastinated. As it turns out, the windows that were blocked by this paraphernalia were the first line of defense against the terrorists. Our home is one of the closest to the entrance of the kibbutz. Who knows what would have happened if that window had been accessible and the hallway ‘junk free’.’

I thought to myself how significant a message this is. Sometimes the very thing that you consider to be the opposite of blessing, is a catalyst and a vehicle for your blessing.

Rabbi Sholom G. who does a wonderful job running the Chabad House in Phuket asks people to share with him after Shabbat what memory they take with them from the Phuket Shabbat experience.

If you ask me, Tomer’s story was the highlight of my Shabbat in Phuket. Hearing firsthand how the Divine Providence had weaved itself through the life experience of Tomer.

Here is a response from one of the other guests about their memorable experience.

‘Rabbi, the memory I take with me is a half-undressed young man bursting excitedly in to the full hall at Shabbat dinner, wearing pink ‘wings’ on his shoulders and receiving a warm embrace from you’.

Here is the background. There was a young Jewish man visiting from overseas who was suffering from a mental episode and had his money stolen. Rabbi Sholom had been busy trying to help him and was in touch with the distraught parents who were overseas and quite helpless. He had taken a drink in the bar on Friday night and left without paying. The police wanted to detain him, and he convinced them to follow him to the Chabad House. This is when he entered, the packed dining hall and ran over to the Rabbi.

The rabbi hugged him, calmed him down and sent down a staff member to sort things out.

This was the memory that stood out most in the eyes of the shabbat meal attendee who responded to the rabbi about his impressions from Shabbat.

A humane gesture by the rabbi to someone who was mentally unable to cope with life at that moment.

This week’s parsha of Mishaptim, is the first one after the Ten Commandments related in last week’s parsha of Yitro.

In this weeks parsha we have the basic laws of society.

Here is a sample of one of the mitzvahs in this week’s parsha.

When you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its load, you must disregard your hatred and help the person unload his donkey. 

After all the high power of the Sinai experience of the giving of the Torah, with the lighting, thunder and fire that symbolized Hashem’s epic revelation, the Torah goes on, in the very next parsha, to speak about such mundane earthly things.

Hate is usually not a holy feeling; it is an emotion that expresses our human ego when left unchecked.

Donkeys carrying loads are so mundane and uninspiring.

Is that the first thing to teach after the intense communication of the Ten Commandments?

Really? The most inspiring mitzvahs to be taught after Revelation at Sinai are such unheavenly and even earthly extremes? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to speak about more lofty things when emerging from the revelation at Sinai?

The Torah is teaching us that after all said and done, with all of the supreme G-dly holiness available through Torah study, the most holy thing of all is to fulfil G-d’s instructions for acting and conducting one selves in the physical world according to the dictates of His divine wisdom.

Rabbi Sholom gave some amazing Torah speeches during the Shabbat. That wasn’t what remained embedded in the visitor’s memory.

It was the implementation of the mitzvah of ‘loving your fellow as yourself’, that made the deepest impression.

For the Torah itself teaches us that it is not the inspiring study that is the main thing of the Torah, it is the deed, the action of kindness that the Torah instructs.

One of the most mundane items of life, perhaps even more than a donkey, is money.

This week’s parsha instructs us in a not so well-known mitzvah regarding money.

The mitzvah of tzedakah, giving monetary help to others is well known. However, what is a bit less known but every bit as important – even more important  - (see the eight levels of tzedakah), is the mitzvah of lending money to others without interest. Simply as help and kindness to someone who may be cash strapped at the moment.

The Torah sees money as a tool for serving Hashem. That is the true purpose of it.

The following story involves the giving of a ‘gemach’ an interest free loan, which leads the giver to a very deep level of revelation.

As this story illustrates:

Although his grandfather, the saintly Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, had passed away many years earlier, the Tzemach Tzedek merited to envision his grandfather often. At times he saw him at night, other times by day. This afforded him the unique opportunity to present his Torah difficulties before his grandfather for resolution. After becoming accustomed to these visions, the Tzemach Tzedek prepared for them by accumulating his questions in advance.

The Tzemach Tzedek was therefore quite distressed when the visitations suddenly ceased. It was 5575 (1815); he was twenty-five years old, and his father-in-law, Rabbi DovBer, was the rebbe in Lubavitch. The Tzemach Tzedek had gathered many complex Torah questions for which he could find no solutions. He had always relied on his grandfather for answers, and felt greatly anguished at this sudden change.

One morning, as the Tzemach Tzedek was walking to synagogue, he passed through the village marketplace, where he was approached by one of the merchants, a chassid by the name of Reb Mordechai Eliyahu. “Could you lend me five or six rubles just until tonight?” he asked the young scholar. “I expect to make a profit during market hours today.”

“Certainly,” replied the Tzemach Tzedek. “Come to my house after I return from the synagogue, and I will lend you whatever you need.”

When the Tzemach Tzedek arrived at the synagogue, he prepared himself for prayer. He had already taken out his tallit and put it over his shoulder in readiness to wrap himself in it, when a sudden thought occurred to him. “Doesn’t the Talmud (Bava Batra 10a) say that Rabbi Elazar would give a coin to the poor, and pray only afterwards? And doesn’t the Talmud (Sukkah 49b) also say that lending money is greater than giving charity?”

The Tzemach Tzedek immediately regretted his actions. Rather than delaying the good deed, he should have offered Reb Mordechai Eliyahu the loan immediately. In the meantime, the chassid could possibly have earned something. He laid down his tallit at once, returned home, and took out the amount of money the merchant needed.

The Tzemach Tzedek could hear a loud commotion as he retraced his steps to the marketplace. Dozens of merchants had descended on the marketplace, each offering various kinds of wares. The hundreds of customers haggled loudly, animals brayed and clucked and mooed, and merchants fought with each other over prospective customers. Finding Mordechai Eliyahu now would be no easy task.

The Tzemach Tzedek walked slowly through the bustling marketplace, looking intently at every face. The minutes ticked away as he sought out the needy merchant. Finally, after much effort, he located Reb Mordechai Eliyahu, and gave the grateful merchant the funds he so desperately needed.

Leaving the busy market behind, the Tzemach Tzedek returned to the synagogue to resume his prayers. A pleasant surprise awaited him; no sooner had he donned his tallit and tefillin when his grandfather suddenly appeared to him, his face radiating spiritual joy. “Lending money to a fellow Jew in a wholehearted fashion has great merit,” said R. Schneur Zalman. “Doing a selfless favor for a fellow Jew without imposing restrictions, in accordance with the great precept to love your fellow as yourself, throws the portals of heaven wide open.”

The Tzemach Tzedek realized that he had merited this divine revelation with the act of lending charity before even starting his own prayers. He then advanced his complex questions, receiving his grandfather’s replies to all his queries.

Decades later, when he related this incident to his youngest son and successor, Rabbi Shmuel, the Tzemach Tzedek added the following: “Helping another Jew earn his livelihood—even just to earn a small amount on a calf—opens the doors of all the heavenly chambers.”

Less words. More action.

Because the world is holistic, and Hashem created the material as well as the spiritual and holy, doing a physical act mandated by Hashem can engender the most sublime feeling of G-d’s presence.

Forward march to adding in good deeds, kind deeds, G-dly deeds.

They will bring healing, peace and Mashiach to the world ever sooner.

Shabbat Shalom

And Chodesh Tov – today is the ‘head of the month’ of the first Adar as is tomorrow Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh together.

This year is a leap year with two Adars.

Purim will be on the 14th of Adar 2. Saturday night and Sunday March 23/24.

Our local Jewish Community party will be held on Sunday afternoon please G-d.

About the months of Adar we are told to increase in joy.

משנכס אדר מרבים בשמחה

Have a Joyous Shabbat,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

 

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By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I always get excited when I see the number 770.

Since I was a little boy growing up in Australia, when someone said ‘I’m going to seven seventy’ it meant not an address somewhere in Australia, but ‘770’ in Brooklyn NY, many thousands of kilometers away.

The address of the main synagogue/study hall/office of the Rebbe’s of Lubavitch since arriving in the USA in 1940, is 770 Eastern Parkway.

Therefore, seeing that my flight number to Phuket yesterday was flight number 770 was heartwarming to me. I don’t recall ever being on a flight that was numbered 770 before.

It was especially meaningful to me, as yesterday was the 36th yahrtzeit of the Rebbetzen Chaya Mushka Schneersohn the wife of the Rebbe and the daughter of the previous Rebbe who escaped war torn Europe and established the Chabad movement at 770 Eastern Parkway.

Click her to learn more about the Rebbetzens inspiring legacy.

The Rebbe pointed out that by Divine Providence the number 770 is the numerical value of ‘Paratzta’ as in ‘spread out’ and ‘burst forth’. These became the marching orders and mission statement of Chabad. It spawned the growth of thousands of Chabad Houses, centers of Jewish outreach and social services.

Over this weekend the Rebbetzen’s of Chabad, the Shluchos are having their international annual convention at… 770 Eastern Parkway. Click here for link to their banquet that will stream live early Monday morning (5am Bangkok time)

And my day in Phuket was indeed a ‘770’ day. A day that highlighted and expressed this borderless outreach that the Rebbe taught. The Rebbe’s paradigm of leadership was fashioned after Moshe who the Torah describes as a shepherd who tended to every one of the sheep according to their individual needs and I witnessed so many people from such varied backgrounds at the Chabad House.

On my way from the airport to the Chabad house I stopped to pay a visit to dear friends and supporters who have a holiday home in Phuket. They help fund the activities and it is a pleasure to be able to express my gratitude to them in person.

Upon my arrival at Chabad house, I assisted the Chabad of Phuket rabbi in providing urgent intervention and life-saving help to a youth who had gotten into an entanglement. The kind of which, there are no shortages of in this colorful country.

Later in the day a couple visiting from Moscow ambled into the Synagogue. They are not very observant they say, but they make it their point to visit a Synagogue in whatever country they visit. They had driven an hour from the other side of Phuket, just to visit the Synagogue. The Jewish visitor happily performed the mitzvah of Tefillin with me.

Dinner at Chabad house restaurant was with some old-time friends from Australia.

For after dinner activities, I was invited to give a Torah class at our new location in southern Phuket.

(For those who have settled down in Phuket for longer term, Rabbi Avraham Greenberg and his family run a Chabad House location in Rawai beach as well as organizing communal activities in the Laguna beach area).

The topic of my class was about seizing the ‘here and now’. Recognizing that wherever you are is exactly where Hashem wants you to be. And endeavoring to carrying out the mitzvah opportunities – between man and G-d and between man and man - that are available to you at the unique intersection of time and place in which Hashem has placed you.

It is not smart living, to think wistfully ‘if only I was there’ or ‘if I only had the chance to go back in time’ while finding excuses why you can’t do what is available and appropriate for you to do in your exact location and time.

More importantly, neither is it the holy way of living,

In this week’s parsha Yitro we read the Ten Commandments.

The Torah describes the giving of the Torah as follows:

In the third month of the children of Israel's departure from Egypt, on this day they arrived in the desert of Sinai.

Rashi comments on the choice of the use of the word ‘on this day’ and explains:

On this day: … It could have said only, “on that day.” What is the meaning of "on this day"? That the words of the Torah shall be new to you, as if they were given just today.

Here lies one of the most important life lessons.

To truly receive the Torah in the way Hashem gives it, is to know that the Torah is not a book of antiquity that was given three thousand and some years ago, rather it is a current and vibrant Torah that is contemporary as if it were given today.

The Torah is a book of life that has a directive for you in this exact point of time that you live in.

Where was the Torah given? Not in a dazzling, developed and bustling metropolis. Not in a holy location. Rather the Torah is given in a desert. A neutral place.

This teaches us that the Torah is relevant and accessible everywhere an anywhere. And to be sure, it is applicable in the exact geographical location that you find yourself in.

From Paraguay to Phuket and every place in between.

And as it turns out Phuket (and Thailand in general) seems to be a crossroads of the world.

In the space of just a few hours, I met a Jew from Canada who prays with my nephew from Florida. A group of young Jews from South Africa are on a company trip and come in to eat a kosher dinner and reserve for Shabbat.

(When I meet these young Johannesburg Jews, they ‘name drop’ and tell me that they are friends with S. from South Africa/Australia. I tell them, S. is in town as well and just happens to be sponsoring the Shabbat meals this week. They had no idea, a Divine rendezvous).

A while later, a young honeymooning couple from Panama brings me regards from the Chabad house there.

And then we have the VIPs I have been blessed to meet.

The VIPs for this Shabbat are the heroic soldiers who are visiting from Israel. They are coming to get the well-deserved respite and rejuvenation that will restore their inner selves.

We thank them for their selflessness and sacrifice in doing their holy duties of protecting our people in our land.

Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.

The chayalim thank us for being here to host them so warmly. Expressing how meaningful it is for them that Chabad House provides them with inspiration and light on their furlough.  

One of the visitors to Chabad House last week, sent a beautiful note, expressing his feelings after Shabbat. I share it here:

Aside from weddings and bar mitzvahs, it was the biggest reunion of Jews I have ever seen in my life—so much spirit, togetherness, and life in the room. So special to have seen everybody singing together and strong during these times. Best of all, it was in Phuket, Thailand, which seems so random to me. It shows how unbelievable the Jewish community is—to have this many Jews in the middle of nowhere and a massive Chabad and organization there. From start to end, there was never a dull moment. I ate amazing Kosher food with people all over the world, and sang songs and prayers mid meal. After dinner finished, there was an amazing transition to the Rabbi’s house. It was an intimate setting filled with people who, one hour ago, had never seen each other before. At one point, we went around the room introducing ourselves. There was a group of 10 boys from the same unit who had just fought the war in Gaza. It was unbelievable to see such comradery, happiness, and joking around from these boys who were around the same age as me. Then, a guy who sat in the corner smiling all dinner introduced himself. He was present on October 7th. Everybody from his Kibbutz got killed other than him. After 30 hours of hiding, he said, “I was not religious before, but the first thing I did when I was free was go to the Kotel and buy myself a Kiddush cup.” Amazing. What an experience. Absolutely honoured to have been part of it and welcomed undoubtably with open arms. 

Am Israel Chai,

I thank Hashem for the honor and pleasure to be spending Shabbat this week in Phuket and to join with Jews of varied backgrounds and from multiple locations.

This is especially exciting for me on this Shabbat.

One of the highlights for me of this week’s Parsha  is the verse describing the perfect unity of the people as they anticipated the receiving of the Torah:

The people of Israel camped at Sinai ‘As one person with one heart’

Wherever we are in the planet, may we absorb the special blessings of unity that are shining through on this Shabbat.

And may we take those opportunities given from Heaven and ‘run with them’, develop them further, accentuate them, commit to them and never every forget that we are all parts of one singular united entity.

YISRAEL – AM ECHAD – ONE UNIFIED NATION

Our prayers go up to Heaven to protect our soldiers, to bring home our hostages, to heal our wounded, and to bless Israel and the world with secure and stable peace. And of course we pray for Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

AI & birthday story

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Artificial intelligence has been chasing me this week.

At an event I attended, one of the speakers shared how she prepared for the speech. She fed the main points into Chat GPT and out came a speech.

In case you, like me until a few minutes ago, were not aware what the acronym GPT means, here it is:

Generative Pre-trained Transformer

The GPT stands for "Generative Pre-trained Transformer," which refers to how ChatGPT processes requests and formulates responses.

From a community member I received a suggestion on how to better respond to tourist enquiries. He offered to donate and implement that software that his company had developed. He showed me some samples of how this technology could respond efficiently to many of the standard enquiries. The results are incredible.

Just this week, it came even closer to home. A young man in his twenties that I was studying Torah with, suggested that I ought to be using AI for writing my articles.

To prove his point, he typed in a few words on the topic that we had been discussing about the Parsha‘the deeper spiritual significance of the splitting of the reed sea upon Exodus from Egypt, in rabbi yosef kantor style’. To my amazement a coherent and somewhat decent article appeared.

And then I got a sinking feeling in my stomach.

Do my readers think that I write my weekly article via artificial intelligence?

My mind rewinds some three decades when after hosting some of the oldtimers of the Thailand Jewish community for dinner, one of them complimented the taste of the food. But then innocently asked if the ‘cook’ had made the meal. I remember the look on my wifes face. She had worked so hard on preparing the meal, and it was assumed that a hired maid in the kitchen had been the cook?

How can I prove to you that I actually compose this article myself?

An even more existential question. What contribution and point is there to my efforts in painstakingly composing a weekly torah inspirational thought?

This question became more acute this week as my younger friend showed me firsthand the incredible power of artifical intelligence.

(There was an aspect that was even scary. He showed me a video of him speaking, marketing a service online. It was his face, his voice, his style of words, but he told me that he had not actually spoken those words or made that video. ‘Look closely at the mouth’ he told me. I saw his mouth annunciating the words. The same words that I was hearing in his voice. He told me if you look closely you will see that those teeth are not my teeth. In todays advancing world, there are now computer simulator programs that can have you ‘say’ things that you never said, in your voice and with your face. You need to be a technology whiz to figure out what is authentic and what is fabricated.

I share this, as I think it is imporant to recognize that thes days even if you ‘see’ and ‘hear’ someone say something online, you cannot be sure that it is not doctored and altered to look and sound like they have said those words. It may be a simulated and artifical statement).

After seeing what AI can do, why would I be motivated to be writing these lines?

Blessed be Hashem, for providing me the answer even before I knew that I had the question.

Last Shabbat morning, before I went to Synagogue to give my Torah class and pray, I was reading through some responsa with the Rebbe. This is one of my standard early Shabbat morning rituals. It is fascinating and inspiring to see the questions about daily life that were presented to the Rebbe, and the light and Divine Torah wisdom that the Rebbe shared in his responses.

Out of the tens of volumes of correspondence, I was in middle of reading the ones from 1984 and on Shabbat morning I arrived at the following letter:

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky of Chabad head office in NY, had written to the Rebbe that he was invited to officiate at a wedding on the 14 of Kislev and asked for a blessing for the young couple and their families.

Rabbi Kotlarksy also shared some background about the families of the couple he was going to marry. The chattan-groom was a relative of a famous rabbi in prewar Warsaw, Rabbi Tzvi Yechezkel Michelson who was subsequently deported to Auschwitz and murdered by the Nazis.

The Rebbe responded to the part of the note about the family connection to Rabbi Tzvi Yechezkel Michelson:

‘I think that he (Rabbi Michelson) attended my wedding, and also gave me the book that he had authored, as a gift.

(The book is in the bookshelf in my office, near the Midrash Tanchuma close to the electric)

I will lend the book to you to hold it under the chupah while you officiate at the wedding and say the blessings.

The Divine providence of this now becomes apparent - 55 years later’

The Rebbe’s wedding to his wife had taken place on the exact same Hebrew date, 14 Kislev, in 1929. Fifty-five years later exactly, on 14 Kislev 1984, the Rebbe’s representative would be officiating at the wedding of the relative of the great rabbi who had attended the Rebbe’s wedding in Warsaw.

It is a fascinating bird’s eye view of Hashem’s Divine Providence as it weaves through history, sometimes only becoming apparent after fifty-five years.

I was reading a story from 1984, or so I thought initially.

Suddenly, the story jumped out from the annals of history and became a contemporary 2024 story. The Divine Providence continued, unfolding in front of my eyes.

You see, last Shabbat morning – Shevat 10 – was my 55th birthday.

I was stunned, excited beyond words.

I had received a message about turning 55 from the Rebbe’s teachings that had Providentially reached me on the exact day of my birthday.

I am sharing this with you as one of the customs related to celebrating a birthday, is sharing with others the inspiration that the birthday celebrant is imbued with on that special day.

To me the message was so pertinent. Especially in a generation where the speed of life has become so accelerated.

Each one of us is an irreplaceable part in Hashems world. Every one of us has a role to play. Something that we are uniquely positioned to carry out.

You and I, all of humanity, are playing a role in the master plan of G-d that may span decades or even millennia.

Usually when we talk about seeing Divine Providence at work, we refer to events that ‘line up’ in a shorter time span.

But sometimes, Hashem gives us a glimpse into the multi decade mosaic of life and the way that Hashem orchestrates every single detail.

To me it was a powerful reminder that even though I am not the young man I was in my twenties, I have unique possibilities open to me specifically now as I am older. There are things that are waiting for me to do and interact with, that have been ‘cooking’ for fifty-five years. It is my privilege and duty to be the one to fulfil Hashem’s plan that has been scheduled on my individualized Divine calendar for today.

You and I are part of the greatest mission imaginable. You may be in your eighties or even nineties (I am blessed to have many in my readership who have passed the eighty and even ninety year mark thank G-d, may Hashem bless them with long healthy life) yet, you are still on active duty, ‘soldiers’ in Hashems army. Indispensable links in Hashems master plan.

There are things that are waiting for you to interact with and bring to their cosmic Divine purpose, since you were born.

Oh, I was talking about replacing my personally written article with Chat GPT?

Could I have written this article with artificial intelligence?

Impossible.

This required authentic Divine Intelligence. To bring everything together.

The Rebbe and Rabbi Michelson in 14th of Kislev Warsaw wedding in 1929.

Rabbi Kotlarsky of the Rebbe’s office, with the relative of Rabbi Michelson in New York at a chuppah 55 years later in 1984.

Myself in Bangkok reading this letter exactly on my 55th birthday in 2024.

Certainly, artificial intelligence can help us fulfil our Divine mission. It is a tool sent to us by Hashem, much like a sewing machine that alleviated the hard-working tailor from hand stitching clothing.

For the meantime I write my own articles 😊 .

In one of my meetings this week, when I brought up the AI concept, a woman shared with me that she had received a birthday card from her adult son. It started off with ‘Dearest mother, the sweetest thing in my life, I cannot imagine living life without you…’ and other kind of talk that her son was not wont to use in their interactions. A mother knows right away if her son wrote the note, or he used an artificial service. She called her son and told him that if he sends an artificially written note, she would rather not get the note…’

It is important to remember. In relationships, authenticity and heartfulness still counts.

In our relationship with Hashem, it is the passion and lovingness that we express to Him that he really desires.

Our deepest feeling of appreciation and yearning for G-d are expressed in our physical fulfillment of His commandments. You cannot claim to truly love G-d and refrain from fulfilling his requests of you.

Yet, it is really that ‘hitlahavut’ and fieriness in the relationship that He seeks.

Artificiality, doing things out of rote and habit, needs to be replaced with genuineness and excited devotedness.

Sometimes Hashem even chooses to hide His face from us, to allow us the gift of being thirsty for Him. It is critical not to mistake this ‘hide and seek’ as a rejection by Him, G-d forbid.

It is an invitation to long for Him, to yearn, with an insatiable and heartfelt thirst.

Let us aim at keeping our relationship with G-d passionate and heartfelt even while He is revealed and available to us, and may we generate a thirst for Him without the ‘hiding of face’ that is so painful.

Till we merit the ultimate blessing we await the coming of Mashiach which will bring peace, healing and eternal authenticity in our relationship with the Almighty.

With fervent prayers for Israel, freedom for our hostages, successful and safe homecoming to our holy soldiers, healing to our wounded and security and SHALOM for the entire region and the world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

cost price

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

A Jewish man was in a supermarket in Thornhill, Ontario.

He saw a seemingly non-Jewish woman trying to get her young child to put down a candy bar he had picked off the shelf.

'Latrell, you put that down! It's not kosher!'

Intrigued, the young man decided to investigate.

'Excuse me, ma'am, are you Jewish? 'No.'

'So why did you say that?'

'Why? I'll tell you why.

'Cuz I see all the Jewish mothers saying that to their kids — and it works, so I decided to try it.'

My aunt, who is a psychologist once shared with me her epiphany she had while raising her young children.

‘Why is it, I asked myself, that when I tell the kids to clean their room, they whine, procrastinate, and may not even do it. While when I tell my children that they can’t eat ice cream as they had recently eaten meat, they obey without question’?

‘It became crystal clear to me that the difference was entirely in the way I, the parent, was projecting. Cleaning the room was something I preferred, but I could live without it. A clean house is not an absolute inviolable requirement for life.

Following the instructions of G-d is something that is non-negotiable. My insistence that they do not eat milk in proximity to eating meat is a part of my relationship with G-d as it’s a commandment in the Torah.

Regarding my connection to G-d, I have no room for negotiation. The kids pick up on it.’

As it turns out, children are expert negotiators from a very young age.

They sense what things they can negotiate, and at the same time they are acutely aware that there are some things that are not negotiable.

At a very early stage in life a child learns when their parents ‘no’ is not negotiable and when ‘no’ is just an invitation to whine enough till the no turns into a yes.

Have you ever thought deeply and hard about the following question?

What do you consider sacrosanct and non-negotiable?

What are your unyielding principles?

For what values and actions will you be obstinately uncompromising.

As a Jew writing to fellow Jews, I know that your connection to Hashem is absolute. Your connection to your neshama is a fact. Your commitment to your core Jewish identity, is ironclad.

When we translate that into the actual nuts and bolts of living life how does that express itself?

It can seem quite complex.

You first need to establish your bottom line. You must define your inner convictions regarding which you have no room for flexibility.

Let me give an example from one of the popular industries in Thailand, the precious stone industry. Over the years while visiting community members who deal in stones, I have learned a little bit about how it works. 

The stone dealer will be sitting with a client showing him a stone, or he will get a call from his salesman who is out in the ‘field’ trying to sell a stone. The potential buyer hears the asking price and starts to bargain, giving a lower counteroffer.  The salesman needs to call the stone owner to see if he agrees to the reduced price being offered.

Many a time I have watched what happens next. The stone dealer will pull out his records to see how much he paid for the stone, punch in some numbers to a calculator and announce a price that he says is ‘my cost’.

What he is saying is that ‘I cannot go lower than this price as that would leave me with no profit and perhaps even incurs me a loss.’

In business, if you know your cost price and you figure in your overheads, you know that if you sell below that price you will find yourself out of business. This becomes the ‘final and lowest price’. At that stage the seller projects in words and in body language that he is prepared to walk away from the sale if he doesn’t get that price.

This week’s Parsha relates the negotiation between Pharaoh and  Moshe who has been sent by Hashem to redeem the Jews.

Pharaoh called for Moses and said, "Go, serve God—only your flocks and cattle shall remain behind to ensure your return. Even your children may go with you."

Moses replied, "Not only will our flocks and cattle go with us, you will even provide us with some of your animals for sacrifices and ascent-offerings so that we may offer them up to God, our God.

Our livestock must also go along with us, not a hoof shall remain, for some of them we must take for the service of God, our God, and we will not know with what we will serve God until—i.e, how many sacrifices He will require—we arrive there. Maybe He will require more than just our own animals."

After the tenth plague Pharaoh agreed to send the Jewish People free.

Pharaoh searched all the entrances of the city and called out for Moses and Aaron in the night. When he found them, he said, "Get up and get out from among my people, you adults and the young children of Israel, too, and go and serve God as you said!

Take both your flocks and your cattle, just as you said, and go!

Moshe could not negotiate with Pharaoh and agree that the Jews would leave their animals in Egypt, as he knew ‘his cost’ may be all the animals that the Jews possessed. It may even be that Hashem will require more than they have. There is no ‘fat in the budget’ that they can ‘trim’. It is therefore impossible for Moshe to agree to Pharaoh to have the people leave Egypt minus their animals.

In business, knowing your bottom line is critical. In simple terms, if you buy merchandise for 100 and sell it for 90 you are going to bankrupt your business.

It’s hardly ever so simple though. There are so many factors involved in figuring out the real cost of an item. There is the actual purchase price, the delivery charge, the storage cost, the wastage if it’s something with an expiry date, the rent and utilities on the office or store etc etc. To really know your cost requires careful calculation and experience.

It is quite common for people to question the selling price of an item as being too expensive. Only if you know all the myriad of details and have experience in running a similar business can you really know the true cost. There are often associated costs that you would not know about and take into account.

When it comes to our life values, we also need to clarify our ‘final price’ – the red lines from which we have no room to negotiate downwards.

It is critical you know what you cannot compromise on.

It’s not just about you. It is a multi-generational message. Remember your children and those influenced by you, will learn from your body language what your true inner values are.

Not so much from what you say. Much more impact will be had from how you live.

One may say, ‘to maintain my connection with Hashem I need to do the very basic things like fast on Yom Kippur, eat Matzah on Pesach and stay away from eating pork and seafood’.

And I must instill those rudimentary values into my children. As well as impress upon them the critical importance of marrying Jewish. So that they too keep their relationship with Hashem strong and vibrant and transmit it to their children.

In the business analogy, if one didn’t consider wastage and spoilage, and incorporate it into the cost price, the business may go bankrupt.

Similarly, when one builds a ‘bottom line’ of a ‘minimum’ requirement to stay connected to G-d and their Jewish identity, they ought to factor in all the challenges and social pressures pulling away from Jewish identity so that they don’t sell themselves short.

When it comes to transmitting Jewish traditions, observance and identity it is quite clear that one cannot expect the next generation to automatically adopt all of the values of their parents.

It is fanciful and unrealistic to think that one can practice the bare minimum of a commitment to Hashem and Torah and expect to convey a deep and inspiring message of Jewish steadfastness to their child.

We need to fortify our ‘bottom line’ and bring it up a few notches.

It is not too late. Even if the milk is spilled. It is never too late to take the next step in the right direction and begin to enhance our connection to Hashem.

The more connection points to Hashem we initiate, the more commitment we show, the stronger the message will resonate and be transmitted.

This response that Moshe gave to the ‘negotiation’ that Pharaoh tried to initiate speaks to me so poignantly and practically.

‘…we will not know how many sacrifices He will require until we arrive there. Maybe He will require more than just our own animals."

This is a powerful argument against procrastinating. When one pushes off an important thing he was intending to do today, for another day and ‘wastes’ the original time allocation, he is making a serious misjudgment. The alternate date may have already been scheduled by Hashem for a new mission. There is no ‘spare time’ that we can pull out of our hidden reserves to make up for what we didn’t do when we were meant to do it.

Along the lines of what Moshe was saying, we don’t know what Hashem has planned for us to accomplish in our lives and it’s possible that every single day/hour/minute is already figured in to Hashems expectation of our work output during our journey of life.

Since Hashem created our world, everything in it and time itself, there is no room to delude oneself into thinking that something is redundant.

Rather, one should think to themselves, that if I have been given another day of life, I have also been given a mission to achieve on that day. Hour by hour, minute by minute etc.

If I have been given certain wherewithal, abilities and resources, they are all precisely allocated to me for me to do what I have been privileged by Hashem to be tasked with.

To shirk todays, work and put it off for next week is not a possibility. Next week’s calendar is full with next week’s tasks.

It is unG-dly to leave opportunities on the table without utilizing them. If He gave an opportunity, He expects us and empowers us to actualize it.

Part of leaving Egypt is knowing your true inner self and actualizing it.

For a Jew, this means opening the Torah, the code of Jewish law, and living according to one’s true self.

It is not ‘all or nothing’ and one must take steps that are sustainable, the main thing is that one must not stagnate.

Liberation from Egypt is the theme of this week’s Parsha, and it reminds us to never yield to the inner Pharaoh who would like to keep us enslaved.

G-d liberated us from Egypt back then and He gives us the opportunity to be liberated from Egypt every single day.

It is up to us to take up his offer and ‘run with it’.

May Hashem bless us with the collective liberation that we all await, the true redemption, with the coming of Mashiach, who will bring peace to Israel and usher in an eternal era of abundant good, Amen.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

compassion

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friends,

He was very unassuming.

An elderly French Jew living in rural Thailand who had to come to Bangkok for medical treatment that is available only in Bangkok.

J. came to meet me to discuss Jewish burial when the time comes.

Naturally, we prayed together with Tefillin as well and had a chat about his background and family.

He mentioned something about his ‘babies’. I raised an eyebrow as it didn’t seem to me that he had babies. It turns out that he was meaning to say children, as he was talking about kids in their teens. (I have had that experience with other French speakers as well, referring to their children as babies even when they are fully adult).

J. told me about his daughter.

She was a dirty and smelly baby lying apathetically under a tree somewhere in Pattaya. J. saw the baby, felt pity and asked his maid to look into it. The mother was located not far away from baby, high on drugs. J. gave his maid money to give to the mother to take care of the baby. Several days later the baby did not look any less neglected. Obviously, the money had gone to support the mother’s habits and had not benefited the baby.

J. and his wife took the baby home. After a short while the baby was clean and had learned to eat. Initially the baby was so undernourished that she didn’t even have the energy to eat. She had also become used to not eating. Bit by bit they taught her to eat. Once the baby was brought to a stable condition, J. went to a lawyer to ask what to do with the baby.

The lawyer said, you can put her back where you found her. Near her mother in the streets of Pattaya.

J. said, ‘no way’! ‘If this abandoned child has come to my care I will continue to raise her’. He located the grandmother of the baby in a district not far from Bangkok. This is where the mother gave birth to this abandoned child.  J. went there and paid for the baby to be issued papers and legally adopted her.

She is now sixteen. She doesn’t like going to school. She hates farangs and curses her French adoptive father. Not an ounce of appreciation.

I was waiting to hear a word of complaint from J., about the ungratefulness of this girl to whom he had provided with a life, a home and a future. There was not one word of complaint.

J. said I am happy that I saved her life, raised her, educated her and hopefully she will have a happy future.

It was inspiring to meet someone so giving and selfless.

J. did an act of kindness without thinking of ‘what is in it for me’ and as of yet, there indeed has not been anything in it for him. And he knows that there may never be an angle of benefit to him.

He is happy to have done the right thing in the circumstances.

(I was secretly relieved that J. didn’t have any feelings of rejecting his ingrate daughter as I ponder how we possibly act similarly in our relationship with Hashem. He provides us with everything, and nonetheless we find ‘bones to pick’ about things we perceive as imperfections in our life.

Just as J demonstrated, a good parent continues to love and provide for their child even when they kick and scream and act inappropriately and ungratefully.

Hashem in His infinite mercy certainly tolerates us and continues to pour His benevolence on us regardless of our inadequacies.

Yet, it behooves us to make efforts to be even more mindful of the infinite gifts we receive from Him and be gratitude-filled and reflect the happiness in our dispositions).

J’s compassionate act in reaction to something he could have ignored, sets a tone of how moral human beings ought to live their lives.

This week’s Parsha, the first portion of the book of Shemot, starts with a narrative about the bondage in Egypt. Very quickly we are told about the birth and early childhood of Moshe Rabenu (Moses our teacher):

In those days,  the precocious Moses was elevated  by Pharaoh to be the overseer of his personal household... Some years later, when he was 18, he went out to his brethren and observed their suffering , for he felt for them. He saw an Egyptian  taskmaster striking one of  Moses' fellow Hebrews… Moses investigated what was happening:  He turned this way and that and saw that there was no one  observing him, so he struck down the Egyptian  by pronouncing God's Name, and hid him in the sand.

Moshe saw a grave injustice being perpetrated by the Egyptian taskmaster. He could have pretended he didn’t see, he could have ‘minded his own business’, ignored it and kept going on with his life. But he didn’t. Moshe evaluated the situation and reacted in a way that would save his fellow Israelite from certain death.

A few pages later, Moshe once again demonstrates his care, empathy and willingness to act to alleviate the suffering of others. This next verse describes Moshe as a shepherd of his father-in-law’s sheep.

…G-d examined the behavior of Moses , who was tending the sheep of his father-in-law  Jether, who would later be known as Jethro, priest of Midian , and concluded that he would be suitable. For example, a kid once ran away from the flock and reached a shady place near a pool of water where it stopped to drink. Moses ran after it and, when he caught up with it, said: "I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty. You must be tired." So he carried the kid back to the flock. God said: "Because you showed such mercy to a mortal man's flock, you will tend My flock, Israel."

Click here for interpolated translation by Kehot

Clearly, one of the undisputed requirements to be a Jewish leader is the sensitivity to the suffering of others. And the absolute commitment of time, energy, and effort to come to the aid of those in need.

This is a lesson for all of us.

We are all leaders in our own way.

Here is another example:

In response to my end of year fundraiser (click here if you are those who like giving at beginning of the fiscal year your support at any time is impactful and appreciated by those to whom you provide) I got the following response from D. a Jew living in a rural village in South East Asia

Dear Rabbi,

I hope you will understand that I have adopted and provide all necessities for 3 orphans who live with me. I wish I was able to donate something, but my available funds are already stretched to the limit.

It sounded most inspiring to me, and I followed up with D. to hear more. As it turns out three village-children who lost their father to mental illness when they were mere children, have come to stay in D’s home to study in the local college. He is providing them with a chance to have a career beyond being a salesclerk in a convenience story.

I remarked to D that the Heavenly reward for taking care of needy orphans is already being awarded to him here in this world.

You see, D is a North American retiree in this particular SE Asian town and would be living all on his own if not for those boarders whom he supports.

D’s mitzvah of helping provide a better future to orphaned children is an ongoing series of acts of kindness and giving. The feeling of wholesomeness and deep satisfaction that giving causes, translates into better health, mental and physical. It saves one from being self-centered and dispirited with nothing to think about besides himself.

Giving is a gift that benefits the giver even more than the recipient.

Taking care of others is a remedy to the disconsolate and empty spirit that creates an unhappy void in the lives of those who have no one to care for.

How sad it is when society sees having children as a burden and sacrifice that is not worth the effort.

The greatest path to maturity, selflessness, and happiness, is the commitment of taking care of others that comes with parenthood.

Yes, parents ‘kvetch’ about how hard it is to raise kids. And it can be challenging. But don’t buy in to this shallow conversational piece that parents love engaging in.

Being a parent is the most rewarding and meaningful thing a person can do in life.  If G-d bestows upon one the circumstances and blessing of being able to have children, one gets the immeasurable privilege to partner with G-d in bringing the next generation into the world.

It’s hard to change oneself. At the beginning of the new calendar year many people are making good resolutions about self-betterment. The problem is, that a few days into the year the resolutions often slide away. The best way to solidify a good resolution is by cementing it into your schedule without needing to constantly rethink and recommit.

Dare I say that the best way to transform oneself into a giving person, is by ‘burdening’ oneself with the commitment of raising children. Not more than a few hours (or minutes for infants) can go by without your needing to give your child something. Food, drink, a diaper change or a smile and hug. And once the children get older, a whole new and more sophisticated series of obligations, negotiations and opportunities come your way.

I would like to digress here.

Our generation asks many more existential questions than the generations of decades and centuries ago.

Questions like ‘why should I get married’, ‘why should I have children’, ‘why should I live’ are more prevalent these days than ever before.

Not to mention the big ‘are you happy’ discussion.

It seems clear to me that these questions are a sign of our privileged lifestyle. In the days where survival required all of our energy, there was no brain space left to ponder these questions. Because the basics of life require less energy (think washing machine vs handwashing laundry near the river) we have available time to contemplate the meaning of life and our own happiness and satisfaction.

It is not by chance that the deep Chassidic philosophy taught by Rabbi Shneur Zalman (whose day of passing is today) has proliferated among the general Jewish community over the past two centuries.

Click here for insight into his pivotal work the ‘Tanya’

More than ever before we need to be engaging our minds in the deep Torah teachings that speak to our intellect and heart in creating a meaningful Jewish experience by contemplation and comprehension.

So much of our life centers around our minds and moods. We need to invest into framing life from the perspective that G-d has provided in the Torah.

Rare is it for a person these days to always be so tied up in work and chores that they go unthinkingly through life. It may be that during busy periods you have no time to think, but usually there are occasional quieter periods.

It is a burden to live in a time that we are able to think so freely.

Our society grapples with it.

The Torah gives us the best recipe for life by giving us instructions and mitzvahs that we are to perform regardless of whether we feel like doing them or not.

Those deeds lead us to proper and positive thinking.

I want to focus on the incredible positivity latent in our modern lifestyle.

The Torah tells us that being exhausted by hard labor quashes the spirit and doesn’t even allow one to dream of a better future.

Moses related  God's message to the Israelites, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their anguish of spirit  evinced by their shortness of breath, which had made them despair of being redeemed, and  because of the harsh labor , which had made them skeptical of Moses' promises.

We now have the gift of time to think and with it comes the ability to dream and set the scene for a transformed future, the coming of Mashiach who will usher the world into a place of peace and Shalom.

Let us try to take the message of this Parsha and remind ourselves to ‘do something’ if you ‘see something’.

Have you noticed someone in need? Did a charity that helps others in need reach out to you for help? Is there a person who is down in the dumps that needs a pick-me-up?

Don’t just walk by, or ‘scroll down’ stop for a moment and think whether there is something that you can do to help.

Hashem wants us to do our bit in making this world a more G-dly space by doing mitzvahs between us and G-d and increasing in our acts of kindness to others.

The good deed that you do, will bring you blessing in your personal life, will tip the scales of the world for the good and will bring salvation and saving to the whole of mankind.

AMEN.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

the Singapore story | Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

There are some very poignant messages that jump out at me from the Parsha of Vayechi.

One of them is gratitude.

Let us see how gratitude brought success. And how subsequent ingratitude led to downfall.

When Yaakov passed away in Egypt a very large and dignified contingent of Egyptian notables went to the funeral in the land of Canann (Israel). 

Why did they go?

Because they felt a deep debt of gratitude to Yaakov.

When Yaakov came to Egypt at the invitation of Pharaoh, and his son Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt, the seven years of famine came to an immediate end.

Based on G-d’s communication to Pharaoh via his dream that was interpreted by Yosef, there was supposed to be seven years of plenty followed by seven lean years. Yaakov’s arrival stopped the famine. Lest one not be sure that this was due to Yaakov, the Nile River miraculously rose when Yaacov walked near the river. 

It was an undisputed fact. Yaakov and his family were a source of blessing for Egypt.

At this stage of history, the Egyptians had not yet enslaved us. They treated the Jewish people as a blessing and were appreciative of their contribution to their country. They showed their gratitude by attending the funeral of Yaakov ‘shlepping’ all the way to the land of Canaan.

Gratitude is central to inviting blessing into every aspect of humanity.

The troubles of Egypt start in next weeks Parsha of Shemot when the Torah relates that a new king arose who ‘did not know Yosef’. He threw away the feeling of gratitude and acted to Yaakov’s family as if they were interlopers and usurping the resources of Yosef. 

This led to their subsequent enslavement of the Jewish people.

The Jewish people, worked to the bone and exhausted in body and spirit, had all but given up on their relationship with Hashem.

This all led to G-d bringing the ten plagues and the death of many of the Egyptian people.

What a disaster.

Imagine the following scenario that could have been. 

If the Egyptians would have continued to respect the Jews for their blessed contribution. If the Jews would have continued their commitment to the observance of G-d’s mission. 

This partnership would have brought prosperity to all of Egypt. The Egyptian kingdom could have continued to flourish and still be the superpower that it once was.

Lack of gratitude turned everything upside down.

We can’t change the past. But we can learn from the past for the future.

If only society and leadership would practice gratitude to those who do them good and bring them blessing, society would be the better off for it.

As Jews we need to remind ourselves to be more grateful to G-d. 

Gratitude is central to Judaism. We start off every morning with the Modeh Ani, thanking Hashem for giving us back our life.

If only we Jewish people would be even more mindful and practice even more gratitude to G-d by observing His wishes conveyed in the Torah.

Hashem would undoubtedly bless the Jewish people for their commitment.

And in turn Hashem would bless the governments who assist and host the Jewish people. Every country would compete in how well they treat their Jewish population and hold them in respect. 

That would be a sustainable model.

It would be a win-win situation.

The Prophets tell us that this is the Messianic utopian model. The Jews serve G-d with their 613 Mitzvahs as the nations that surround them give them the support and back up that they need while keeping their seven ‘laws of Noah’ – Universal G-dly morality. 

The blessings spread forth to everyone in a peaceful and prosperous way. 

No more war, no more strife, no more unhealthy jealousy. 

We may not be able to change the geopolitical situation top down, as we are not heads of state. But we can and must start by making a a difference in our own lives, and this will have a ripple effect outward.

I am reminded of an incident in which Hashem, in His kindness to me, sent me a vivid reminder to place great emphasis on gratitude.

It was fifteen years ago. We had procured mileage tickets to NY to have a family bar mitzvah celebration for our eldest son Mendel. They were very good tickets. Bangkok to Singapore and a short time later Singapore to New York nonstop. 

We set off, the entire family, checked in our multiple pieces of luggage and proceeded to immigration. We needed to make ‘reentry permits’ to come back into Thailand. There was a backlog at the airports immigration office and it took longer than anticipated. 

We finally got the paperwork done and started running to the plane.

On the way we met Mark, a friend and supporter, stopped for a very hurried hi and continued running to the gate. 

Upon arrival at the gate, we were witness to the many pieces of the Kantor family luggage being offloaded from the Singapore airlines flight.

We were shocked. Devastated. And unsure what to do.

Was this a sign from Heaven that we should just abandon our carefully planned trip? 

We decided to go.

The airline told us that they could rebook us for no extra charge, but not on the nonstop flight. With a longer stop in Singapore, a stop in Frankfurt and then on to New York. Quite a shlep with a bunch of little kids.

We now had a stop in Singapore. Exactly at the time that there was an opening dedication ceremony for the new Jewish Community Center named the “Jacob Ballas Center’.

Jacob of blessed memory was a very successful businessman who lived in Singapore and supported many worthy causes in Singapore and Israel. After his passing a new center was built with funds that he left for that purpose. 

I had visited the late Mr. Ballas many times and he had contributed generously to helping set up the kindergarten. I felt a deep sense of gratitude to him. It was only after I had made the tickets to NY that I realized I would not be able to attend the opening as I would be heading to our son’s bar mitzvah with tickets that were not changeable.

I didn’t think it was that important to change our well-laid plans to attend that dedication ceremony.

Hashem taught me otherwise.

Hashem in His unlimited kindness gave me the merit of doing what is right. He orchestrated that I find myself in Singapore for exactly four hours between flights, enabling me to attend the evening of tribute to the late Jacob to whom I needed to give gratitude. 

(A cute addition to the story is that since I hadn’t been planning on doing anything ‘official’ on my trip to NY, I hadn’t taken a tie with me in my carry-on luggage. Now that I was going to attend a fancy event, I wanted to be dressed appropriately and needed a tie. The Jim Thompson store sells ties, and I bought one. Which I still have and wear occasionally. Every time I wear it I think of the warm embrace of Divine Providence).

Here is a story I just read yesterday. Written by the brother of an Israeli solder who is in the front lines.

The observant soldier utilized the few minutes of relaxation his unit was allotted, to pray the Mincha afternoon prayers. It was a ‘clean’ area which means that the terrorists were assumed to no longer be operating in that area. The troops were sitting and relaxing. The soldier who got up to pray turned to face Jerusalem. In the middle of his prayer, he noticed something moving. Apparently, there was a tunnel opening that had not been cleared. A terrorist came out, with an RPG missile. The soldier screamed out for help as he started to engage the terrorist in battle. Together with his friends they were successful in neutralizing their would-be killer.

The entire group of soldiers was so inspired by this miracle that had come as a result of praying Mincha that they decided they would all pray the Mincha service the next day in thanksgiving to G-d.

A small story in a large and complicated labyrinth of multifaceted military operations. 

One of those rays of light in the very tense situation that has engulfed us since Simchas Torah – October 7.

One of the ways we generate light is by finding the kindnesses of Hashem in every aspect of our lives. 

Moreover, many people feel Hashems presence even more strongly during these challenging times.

It is really up to us, how much we choose to see Hashem in our lives.

If we pay attention, we will begin to notice the small miracles and signs that He is here. 

The Baal Shemtov taught that since nothing is random, we should search to find a lesson in everything we see.

For example. Even in the number of the new secular year we can find a lesson.

(I had this thought when I was meeting earlier this week with Elon from Brooklyn (now living here). He came to learn how to put on Tefilin daily in honor of the protection of our soldiers and our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel and all around the world. We got to talk about the numerology of this year, and he pointed out the number eight in the sum of the year. 

Please follow Elon’s example and transform your deep feelings of ‘am yisrael chai’ into tangible mitzvahs. Hashem gives us the mitzvot in order to illuminate ourselves, our immediate environment and the entire world. Click here to see how your mitzvah helps the soldiers and the collective Jewish people).

2+0+2+4 = 8.

Eight is a number that symbolizes ‘beyond nature’.

Seven are the days of the week.

Eight are the days of the ‘bris’ G-d’s covenant with Jewish males. G-d supersedes nature.

Seven are the number of strands in the harp in the temple of yore.

Eight are the number of strands in the harp that will be used when Mashiach comes.  

We need and anticipate Mashiach now more then ever.

It’s the year of 5784 in the count from creation. The ‘eighth decade’ of this century.

It’s 8 if you add up 2024.

May G-d shine His supernatural presence here on earth and may we merit the coming of Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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