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Weekly Emails "Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

ZOOM Marathon

Kinus Hashluchim Zoom.jpeg 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friends,

Here I am in Bangkok. Been in the same country since March.

Leaving Thailand is quite easy. It’s coming back that presents the problem.

Quarantining seems quite challenging, not to mention costly.

I did however attend the annual international conference. And I don’t need any quarantine to resume my work here in Thailand.

How is that?

Simple… The Shluchim conference was a ‘virtual’ one.

This year it was held via Zoom. And it just finished a few hours ago. Eight days later. With a break for Shabbat according to the times of Shabbat in each time zone. (I tried to figure it out and it seems like this is the deal. Four and a half hours after Shabbat starts in Honolulu, it ends in New Zealand). I believe that this is the world’s longest ‘Zoom’ meeting so far.

There were many many remarkable stories.

Rabbi Butman of Phnom Penh penned some nice thoughts about it.

Many of my colleagues shared miraculous stories involving the blessings of our dear Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneersohn of righteous memory.

Click here for a story told firsthand by Dr. Bob Richter on the marathon Zoom.

It fits neatly into this week’s Torah portion Toldot, which describes the power of the blessing of a Tzadik. When  Yitschak is about to bless his son  Esav , his wife  Rivka goes to great lengths to ensure that their worthier son,  Yaakov, receive the blessings instead. The risk she takes to accomplish this gives us some insight into the importance and desirability of a tzaddik’s  blessing.

During the hundred plus hours of stories that had been shared by my colleagues this week there were many kinds of miracles.

Miracles that had brought about unbelievable reversals and overriding of nature. For G-d is the owner and creator of nature. He can easily override nature and its unyielding limitations.

Impossible situations that somehow worked out. Jewish institutions being built when it didn’t seem that the resources were there.

There were other hugely inspiring forms of miracles shared as well.

The miracle of remaining faithful to G-d even during challenging times.

May we never be tested in this way, but when something painful happens to someone good, it creates a ‘stress test’ on our belief and faith.

It takes a miracle of sorts during those painful times to remain faithful and believing in G-d who is a benevolent Creator.

In the previous generation, we saw this firsthand. The fact that so many people emerged from the Holocaust with their faith in G-d intact, was a miracle of epic proportion. The vibrancy of our Jewish world today is a direct product of that miracle.

It made me realize that sometimes the miracle is not that the reality changes and becomes rosy.

Rather, the miracle is the towering strength and resilience that emerges in those going through the difficulty.

The heroism that seems to spring out of nowhere.

Simple people who become examples of triumph in the face of adversity.

This is a miracle. A huge miracle. The miracle of the Jewish ‘neshomo’ that never gets extinguished.

Out there in the frontlines of Jewish outreach, my colleagues and I experience many interactions that are miracles of Jewish ‘akshnonus’ (obstinateness in a positive way). Jews sticking defiantly to their ideals and faith even when they thought they no longer cared. The Jewish soul that looked like it was flickering out fanned into a roaring flame of inspiration.

I too shared a story on the Zoom.

Here is the story I shared.

A few months ago, my friend YG who lives a few hours’ drive from Bangkok, sent me this email.

Rebbeleh, 

I dreamed I talked to THE Rebbe. We sat side by side and shmoo'est (talked) a bit, and he was just a nice zaydeh and I loved him for it. I told him about my grandfather too, and how he was a misnoged (someone not a fan of Chasidism). THE Rebbe just laughed and said it really did not matter as we are all the same Jews, no matter what. 

YF

When I got this note, I was excited. How nice that he had a dream of the Rebbe. But then when a ‘reminder’ popped up in my computer that today is YG’s eightieth birthday in the Hebrew calendar, I couldn’t believe my eyes. And I knew that YG didn’t know it was Hebrew birthday as there were a full two week left till his Gregorian calendar birthday.

I have shared on this forum before that I have a special fondness for celebrating eightieth birthdays with my local Jewish community members (if you are turning eighty please let me know 😊 ) and I had really wanted to be with YG on that special day, which it why it was marked in my calender. But YG didn’t let me come… and I don’t know his address so I couldn’t surprise him….

 Here is my response:

Y,

 

You bring tears of joy to my eyes!!!!

 

I wanted to visit you on your eightieth birthday… IT IS TODAY (in the Hebrew calendar) but you got something even BETTER.

 

The Rebbe came to visit you in your dream…..

 

And indeed the Rebbe loved every Jew and made every person feel loved and special…..

 

Thanks for sharing this special dream with me!!!!!

 

In the Chassidic tradition, when one has a dream of the Rebbe the next day is a celebration…..

 

With love and blessings to you for more years of Gezunt, and everything else you wish for yourself!!!!

 

If you would call me and give me your brochess today (it’s a mazeldikeh day for you!!!) I would be delighted.

 

Zeit gebensht un zeit gezunt,

 

Yosef Chaim

 

PS if you would allow me to come out there and wave at you in person I would be even more delighted 😊

 

I remember how inspired I was by this story.

I was happy for YG. (When I called him today to ask if I can use the story he said ‘I wish I had more warm and special dreams like that’). Dreams of a Tzadik don’t just ‘happen’. They are a special privilege.

And it was confirmation to me of my role as an emissary/Shliach of the Rebbe, the great Tzadik who reached out to every Jew in love. If I could not personally get to YG to visit, then the ‘Meshaleach’ the one who sent me, paid YG a visit in a ‘spiritual’ way. Today I can perhaps call it a ‘virtual visit’.

May we merit good health in the world,  the resumption of ‘in-person’ living,  and the ultimate blessings of the ingathering of the exiles (we were told that we have a one way ticket to our place of ‘mission’ and we need to earn our return ticket home by finishing the exile and returning with Mashiach) and the building of the Bet Hamikdash through Mashiach, NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Shabbat shalom from Bangkok!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I was standing at the Don Muang Bangkok airport on a Thursday morning seventeen and a half years ago. The counselors for our summer day camp were arriving from the USA and I was waiting to greet them.

There was an important matter on my mind which required legal assistance. Being that I am friends with several lawyers in town I was engrossed in thought about which lawyer would be best for this particular matter.

As I was standing there at the airport waiting for my guests to arrive, this dilemma was swirling in my mind. I was unable to come to a firm decision about which one to use.

Unexpectedly, one of the lawyers I had been thinking about, came walking out of the arrival doors.

I could not believe my eyes. Just like that, out of the clear blue sky. Of the thousands of people arriving in Thailand during those few minutes that I was standing there, this lawyer was one of them.

He walked over to me and asked me if he could use my phone to call the person who had come to pick him up.

I gladly gave him my phone.

And then, seeing this as a sign from Heaven, I asked him if he would please undertake the legal work that I needed.

The rest is history. Looking back from the perspective of almost two decades it was a pivotal decision. He did a great job on the legal work and it turned out to be more important than I realized at the time.

The most significant and inspiring part of the story for me, is the incredible blessing from G-d that I received on that day. Hashem had literally showed me in a revealed way that He was guiding and blessing my steps.

I thought of this story for two reasons.

First of all because in the Parsha of the week, Eliezer finds a wife for Yitzchak via a miracle similar to the one I experienced in my above story.

Eliezer was sent by Avraham to find a suitable wife for his son Yitzchak. Eliezer, not knowing how he would find the right one, makes the following prayer.

 “O Lord, the God of my master Abraham, please cause to happen to me today, and perform loving kindness with my master, Abraham. Behold, I am standing by the water fountain, and the daughters of the people of the city are coming out to draw water. And it will be, [that] the maiden to whom I will say, 'Lower your pitcher and I will drink,' and she will say, 'Drink, and I will also water your camels,' her have You designated for Your servant, for Isaac, and through her may I know that You have performed loving kindness with my master.”

Hardly had Eliezer concluded his prayer, when he saw Rebecca, the daughter of Abraham’s nephew Bethuel, approaching. She was beautiful, and Eliezer was impressed by her gracious behavior. She carried a pitcher on her shoulder, stepped down to the well, and filled it. When she came up again, Eliezer asked to be permitted to drink from her pitcher. Rebecca answered, “Drink my master.” When he had quenched his thirst, she said: “For your camels I will also draw water until they have had enough.” With these words she emptied her pitcher into the trough, and filled it time and again until all the camels were satisfied. Eliezer felt sure that this was the girl he was looking for. Without even asking her name, he gave her a golden ring and two bracelets, and only then asked her who she was. When Rebecca answered that she was the granddaughter of Nahor, Abraham’s brother, Eliezer bowed before G‑d and thanked Him for having helped him find the woman Abraham was looking for to be Isaac’s wife.

I can’t help but think that I was blessed with a similarly Divine message.

The second reason that this story came to my mind, is because this weekend is the annual conference of Chabad emissaries in New York. Well, its usually held in person and in New York. This year it is being held virtually and the attendees are at their rabbinic posts all around the world.

The story I have shared with the G-dly blessing of a lawyer emerging from the arrivals gate, is a miraculous one. But it is not unique.

Every year, when I go to the conference, I discover that these kinds of miracles are the ‘bread and butter’ of my colleagues the world over.

This is the best way I can explain it.

Eliezer, the trusted servant of Avraham was blessed by his saintly master to be successful in his holy mission of continuing the Jewish people by finding the future Matriarch of our nation, and this elicited supernatural assistance.

Quite clearly, the Rebbe who dispatched us around the world, each to their respective post, blessed us in a similar way.

We are instructed to forge ahead in the building and developing of Torah and Mitzvahs and Jewish communities.

The mission comes with the blessings needed. To get the job done. Even if G-dly intervention of ‘higher-than-nature’ is required.

Difficulties?

Challenges?

Invariably there are some. This is the way Hashem made His world.

Man is born to toil’.

For the most part though, the challenges are surmountable. One has to put forth effort and try. Sometimes one has to try harder. Sometimes even harder.

Miracles often appear even if we don’t always recognize them right away. The Torah teaches us that G-d blesses the efforts of those who try.

I have been blessed to see it time and time again.

So have my colleagues.

I am sharing this teaching to share the blessing and opportunity with you.

You too can take up the challenge and mission of spreading more Torah and Mitzvahs in your environment. And you too will please G-d be blessed with Divine assistance.

You may even have the merit to witness a few MIRACLES small or large, that enable you to carry out your mission with joy and success.

However, it is critical to put forth our best effort. Hashem blesses our efforts.

It’s like teamwork. Hashems blessing is critical. Our efforts are indispensable.

The synergy created by the marriage of both human effort and G-dly blessing, yields a more uplifted and spiritually refined world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Holy Coffee Camaraderie

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Earlier this week a simple encounter helped me comprehend a deep truth.

Here is the teaching from the Talmud that I am referring to.

‘Hosting guests is greater than receiving the Divine presence’.

This is the ordinary commonplace encounter that got me thinking.

I walked into the synagogue for morning services and saw that EM had already arrived and was sipping a coffee in the Synagogue waiting for the prayers to begin.

AM walked in and greeted EM with a jovial good morning. AM called out to EM ‘if were here early why didn’t you stop by my home for coffee?’.

I wanted to understand the context of the question. Why would he expect EM to join him for coffee, so I interjected and asked AM, ‘do you regularly host people for coffee in the morning before prayers’?

AM told me that indeed every morning he has other fellow Jewish guests who comes by to drink coffee and have a chat. (Most of them, including the host, come to the Synagogue to pray the morning prayers. One of them almost never join the prayers but after drinking coffee heads off to his nearby place of employment).

I was exhilarated when I heard about this routine.

This is fantastic. Not just do we have prayers in the morning which is an encounter with the Divine, we also have hospitality and camaraderie between the community members which the Torah teaches us is even greater.

I was especially inspired by the timing of this encounter. It was Divine Providence that I overheard this conversation this week out of all weeks.

Amazingly, the above-mentioned teaching about the greatness of hospitality even when compared to a Divine Encounter is from this week’s Parsha.

Avraham was visited by G-d and noticed three strangers in the distances. He excused himself from his meeting with G-d and ran to welcome the guests and give them hospitality.

From this our sages derived that ‘hospitality of guests is greater even than communion with G-d’.

Tzedakah is always good. Especially before praying. King David said in Psalms, ‘I come to see G-d with tzedakah’ which teaches us the great power of giving tzedakah before praying. Click here for more on this.

Based on this Talmudic passage, I told AM that his prayers after hosting guests for coffee must be very powerful. The Torah emphasizes the great importance and holiness of the mitzvah of hospitality. Turning to G-d in prayer after doing hospitality is powerful.

Hospitality is different than ‘standard’ tzedakah. Giving someone coffee if he can afford to buy his own, is not ‘tzedakah’ in the sense of helping someone destitute. Yet, hosting someone for coffee is certainly an act of benevolent kindness that is G-dly.

Hospitality is a form of kindness that is very deep. Bringing someone into the safe space of your own home is a great gift to the guest. Giving a monetary gift is important if someone is in need. But giving the warmth and ‘heimish’ (‘homey’ in Yiddish) feeling is priceless.

Click here for more on this specialness of ‘hachnasat orchim’.

 

That is why hospitality is the mitzvah that is emphasized as being even greater than engaging in a communion with G-d.

You see, an encounter with the Divine is the most exquisite spiritual pleasure imaginable. But it is centered on ‘me’. It is a self-centered delight, albeit pristine and holy.

Hashem wants us to look beyond ourselves, even beyond our spiritual enrapturement and act benevolently with each other.

What point is it to be speaking to G-d and ignoring G-d’s children?

The outcome of speaking to G-d should be to do what G-d wants.

What does he want?

Let’s start by saying what he DOESN’T want.

Almighty G-d does not want us to fight and be divisive.

And deep down we all know what He DOES want.

Hashem wants us to be kind to each other.

Ah, I realized that AM has the best of both worlds!!!

He hosts for coffee and then goes to speak to G-d.

Here is a link to a beautiful Chassidic story… The Inhospitable Leaseholder.

Do you need any more convincing?

I do not. I got the point. And it caused me a sense of nostalgic yearning. For the things we once had and perhaps took for granted.

You see, one of the things that have been curtailed during this past time period is hospitality.

Between all of our locations in Thailand we hosted well over a thousand guests every Friday night.

Now, our borders are closed.

Hospitality always gave me a special and inspired feeling. But now I think, that when please G-d it comes back I will appreciate it even more.

I realize that this limitation is not just here. All over the world, hospitality has been greatly limited during the last many months.

Perhaps by sharing this message, we will all yearn more for the great mitzvah. And subsequently embrace hospitality with a renewed sense of vigor and enjoyment once we can restart.

As well, it reminded me that we have to cherish every opportunity that we do have. For every single hosting interaction even to one solitary guest, is a holy and special interaction.

Even greater than having a Divine Encounter.

Here is the thing though.

You really have to start with a relationship with the Divine. Otherwise you will be totally stuck into self-centeredness or even worse descend into hedonistic and self-indulgent behavior

To get this virtuous way of thinking, where you put benevolence to others before yourself, you can’t rely on ‘conventional wisdom’.

You first need to have a meaningful encounter with the  Divine source of wisdom, the Torah.

Study some Torah.

When you learn Torah your eyes will be opened to G-dly values.

You will become educated and aware about the centrality and importance of being kind to others and loving your fellow as yourself.

If we get better at that, Moshiach comes right away. AMEN!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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