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Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

I slept in my bed

By the Grace of G-d

I SLEPT IN MY BED THIS WEEK (not sitting up on an airplane seat... I was scheduled to go to Israel for annual fundraising dinner of Chabad of Thailand but with that not being impossible due to the quarantine restrictions, we improvised and attended our dinner via teleconference … see pictures below). 

MY FRIENDS IN CHINA DIDN’T (sleep in their own beds)!!! 

If I was feeling sorry for Chabad of Thailand at the beginning of the week when I did the urgent ‘don’t let Chabad be a victim of the Coronavirus’ appeal, by the middle of the week when I got the appeal for HELP from my friends of Chabad of China, I was feeling lucky about being in Thailand. Yes, it has gotten worse for us in Thailand. El Al has announced the ‘pausing’ of their flights to Thailand for the month of March and there are other challenging news headlines… BUT thank G-d we are all still able to be at our posts in Thailand. The community members are mostly here, and local Jewish life is continuing and thriving joyfully. We even had a bris earlier this week (see below), and I am still sleeping in my own bed thank G-d!!!! The dire China situation means that most of my colleagues are stranded outside the country of their mission, their communities have evacuated to all corners of the globe, and they are overwhelmed trying to keep their families, communities and institutions alive. I want to turn to you to ask you to help them survive. To help Judaism in China not collapse, so that when things turn around Jewish life can resume. 

Click here to HELP CHABAD OF CHINA

Dear Friend,

What do you do when you are ‘high’?

You know, a little tipsy from a good cup or few cups of wine. Or even a little tipsier than tipsy. 

On Purim it’s a mitzvah to rejoice with wine. To the point of extreme joy.

Ever heard of a ‘drunken brawl’? Too often people who are inebriated end up acting wildly and even fighting.

That kind of behavior is prohibited in the most extreme of terms by the Torah.

What is a Jew meant to do when he gets high on Purim?

The mitzvah we are supposed to embellish on the most, on the day of Purim (there are four mitzvahs, hearing the megillah at evening and day of Purim, feasting, sending gifts of food to friends. The one we need to be most attentive to is) giving GIFTS TO THE POOR. 

Giving gifts to the poor should actually be a part of daily life. The word tzedakah is very well known to us Jews. Most Jewish homes have a tzedakah box (the polar opposite of a piggy bank). 

Fascinatingly thought, the language used for giving help to the poor on Purim is not Tzedaka, rather ‘Matana’, (‘Mishloach Manot’ and ‘Matanot Laevyonim’).

What’s the difference between them? A world of difference.

The word ‘matana’ means gift. The word tzedakah has the connotation of ‘charity’. 

Its not just a play on words. 

If you came home on your wedding anniversary with a gift envelope for your wife that says ‘tzedaka’ (charity), you had better duck for cover, no matter how generous the amount in the envelope was. I wouldn’t advise you to try the experiment, rather suffice with imagining it…..

If however the envelope was labeled ‘matana’ (gift), and the amount fit her expectations, you will achieve the desired results. Try it – the gift one – you will no doubt be happy wit the results.

Why the difference?

Charity has a connotation of helping an unfortunate person. There is a certain implicit message that I, the giver, am the gracious savior of the luckless poor person who is receiving my largesse. A hint of condescension. That’s not the feeling that should exist between friends, certainly not spouses.

Gifts are entirely different. Gifts are also given between equals. Spouses give gifts to each other. Parents give children gifts and vice versa. Business associates give gifts. 

The Talmud has a saying ‘if someone gave you a gift, it must be that you did something that made the giver feel good’. Gifts are not usually given in a vacuum. There is a give and take that exists between the giver and the recipient. A ‘matana’ gift is not a ‘handout’ or a charitable allocation. That is referred to as tzedakah, charity. 

How should one feel when they give a destitute person a gift of money?

Ever heard of the concept ‘Giving is receiving’. 

The greatest gift that you can receive from someone, is the merit and benefit of giving to them. Their availability and agreeability to receive from you, is their gift to you of the highest degree.  

On Purim, when you are ‘high’, you should feel that by giving tzedakah to the poor, you are giving a gift, a matana to an equal.

How is the destitute person an equal to me? Moreover, how is the needy person in some way a provider to me?

Here is how. The poor person is presenting me with a priceless opportunity. He is allowing me to have the mitzvah and merit of giving.

This is why even poor people have to give gifts to the poor on Purim and are instructed to give tzedakah once in a while. Click here for further elaboration. 

This weeks Parsha speaks about the collection taken from the Jewish people to build the G-dly abode, the Mishkan.

G-d doesn’t need our money. He is the creator of Heaven and Earth. If he wants a ‘Bet Hamikdash’ Holy Temple, here on earth, He can do it without our help. 

The appeal for contributions to build a house for G-d is G-d’s gift to His people. The gift of letting us, mere mortals, be partners in building His abode here on earth.

The ability we have to give to others is the greatest gift that we have been given.

The word ‘natan’ ‘נתן’ is read left to write or write to left. This reinforces the lesson that the giver and the receiver are both giving and both receiving.

Purim induced tipsiness, should lead one to this higher perspective on live. Where giving to a destitute person is called a MATANA a GIFT to an equal, and in some way one view the recipient as a superior.

The Talmud summed up this concept and says, ‘more than the wealthy contributor does for the poor person, the poor person does for the wealthy giver’.

Isn’t it just wonderful that in this week when the Torah speaks about the giving of giving, we had a brit in our synagogue and the baby’s name is ‘Nathan Shalom’. 

Indeed, GIVING is the greatest way to have PEACE.

Peace in your own mind, peace between the different socioeconomic levels within society and PEACE in the world.

May the entire world be blessed with health. May the medical situation be remedied by the only One who can turn it around. 

Almighty G-d, the Healer of all flesh, who does wondrous wonders, bless all of our people, among all the people of the world with health, peace and the gift of knowing and serving You.

May we merit the coming of Mashiach NOW, AMEN

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS do you have time for a story? 

It’s the story that is on my mind every time I see a new Coronavirus headline. In some sense, the situation looks grimmer and grimmer. Nobody knows how long this could last. I insist though, on staying as optimistic as possible. But that requires tools. In particular it requires faith in G-d. Chassidic story about our great Tzadikim can be of major help. Here is the story that helps shape my perspective.

There was a wealth and learned Jewish man. Let’s call him Avremaleh. Avremaleh was blessed with epic success in his business, was blessed with a loving family and was one of the most prominent members of his community. 

A nagging thought came into his head.

He was so disturbed by it that he paid a trip to the great Ba’al Shem Tov who lived in a nearby town. 

He asked the great rabbi:

In our daily prayers when we refer to G-d as the ‘One who brings down the mighty’ ‘mashpil ge’im adei aretz’, I question to myself how could that be true. After all, I, Avremaleh, have such varied business investments and I am so well-respected in my circles, how could I possibly be brought down in an instant? 

The holy Ba’al Shem Tov didn’t respond but gave him a blessing for a safe trip home.

Upon arriving in his hometown Avremaleh felt an overwhelming urge to convert to another faith. The local bishop was very wary of this dignified Jew’s request. He was suspicious that this was a ruse and didn’t want to hear of it. After he saw that Avremaleh was insistent, he finally relented but told him that if he wanted to convert he had to gift his entire wealth to the church. Avremaleh signed a document giving his entire wealth away.

The next morning Avremaleh woke up. He remembered… 

It seemed like a bad dream but he knew it wasn’t. Overnight he was a pauper. On top of that, once his family and community would hear to whom he had gifted his entire estate, he would be an outcast and shunned for the rest of his life.

Avremaleh ran to the holy Tzadik and poured out his heart. I now see how conceited I was. Of course it is G-d who is the source of all my blessing and of course he is the mighty One who can take it all away in an instant.

Please pray for me, Avremaleh implored.

The Ba’al Shem Tov responded, there is a continuation to that aforementioned verse. The verse continues that ‘He can raise the downtrodden to the heights’ ‘umagbiha shfalim ad marom’. Go home, G-d will help, all will be fine.

Avremaleh arrived home to the news that there had been a fire in the church. The bishop had been heard moaning about a very valuable document that had been burned to the crisp. 

Avremaleh realized that he had been given the greatest gift.  Instantly he been returned to his former wealth. The whole matter would never be known. He would not lose his families love and his standing in his community would remain intact. 

If I am may add. In this story, Avremaleh is not just returned to his former state. He now has the gift of appreciating the gifts that G-d had given him. Gifts that he may have previously taken for granted.

My dear friends, this story is a beacon of light for me. When I look at so many things that we have taken for granted for so long, suddenly evaporating in front of my eyes.

I know that Hashem can rebuild and reinstate everything so that the whole matter will seem like a bad dream. 

Then, when things heal and get transformed, we will be wiser and richer. We will have the gift of appreciating G-d’s kindnesses to us. 

May the turnabout happen very soon. After all this is a month of turnabouts. The month of Adar which was transformed to joy by the story and miracle of Purim.












02/20/2020

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

2/20/2020

Yesterday, when I looked at the digital date on my computer it jumped out at me.

What do you notice when you look at the date?

The number 2 of course.

Tomorrow 2/22/2020 will contain even more 2’s than yesterday’s date.

In general, with the year being 2020 there is a lot of the number 2 around.

As the Ba’al Shem Tov taught, everyone we see or hear is a lesson for life.

What does the number 2 teach us?

Let us go back to the very beginning of humanity. 

5780 years ago.

Man was created alone, single. 

Adam.

Have you ever said to anyone, ‘leave me alone’?

That could mean anything from ‘don’t disturb, irritate, fight or G-d forbid harm me’. 

Adam didn’t have to say, ‘leave me alone’. To be more precise he couldn’t say ‘leave me alone’. 

He was alone.

It is be lonely to be alone.

But it is also peaceful. 

By default. You cannot argue with yourself. 

A little while later, Chava (Eve) was created.

There are now two humans on earth.

Male and female. Husband and wife.

Two. 

The fun and games begin.

Different. Not the same. Opposites. 

It’s gives an opportunity for arguments. Disharmony. Fractiousness. Divisiveness.

Oy vey!

Yesterday’s date was full of 2’s. tomorrow has even more 2’s. 

Quick, I thought to myself, instead of thinking of the 2’s as negative let me discover the positive aspects of 2!!!

I mean, if the date yesterday and the date tomorrow and the entire year is going to have me looking at number 2, I had better find the positivity in it.

Thank G-d, I did. I discovered that the number 2 is a fantastically empowering number.

Here goes.

Let me use marriage as an example. 

Humanity was not created in a married state. There is a reason that G-d created man single. To teach us the importance of every individual person. Each life matters. YOU count!

(Click here, here and here for more on this).

But Hashem doesn’t leave the world in its one-man state for long. Once that lesson, the indispensability of every person, has been embedded within humanity, G-d no longer leaves Adam alone. G-d upgrades creation to make Adam’s life even better.

G-d gives Adam a helpmate. A female counterpart. A companion of the opposite gender. 

In simple English we call it a wife.

Now there are two people living together.

That is much better than before. The Torah tells us that for that brief period before Chava was created, Adam was extremely lonely. He felt incomplete. Adam knew the great gift of marriage that G-d had given him.

As for Chava? She was literally not able to conceive of life without Adam. He was there from the moment she came into existence. She didn’t ever experience life as a single. (Click here for Kabbala’s teachings on the topic of differences between male and female).

Marriage should be and can be phenomenal.

Yet, we all know the statistic out there about marriage. Obviously as good as marriage is, they are not easy to hold together.

Because meeting your number 2 is a challenge. It requires moving away from the unchallenged peacefulness of the independent ‘I’ as the self-absorbed number 1 who stands uncontested. 

Two is a challenging number by its very definition. It creates a struggle over previously assumed supremacy. At the very least it contests the singularity and monopoly of the One.

Is challenge bad?

In a sense that is like asking Is marriage bad.

Of course not!

It depends on how you perceive it and what you do to make the best of it.

Ask the caterpillar if challenge and struggle is bad. The struggle is the catalyst that enables him to grow wings and become a butterfly.

Same with marriage.

The Talmud says that if ‘you merit’, the husband and wife dynamic can be one of immense benefit and support. G-d gives us the recipes in the Torah for a wholesome and beneficial marriage relationship. The laws of Family Purity and Mikva are G-d’s roadmap for making a marriage the truly wholesome and enchanting experience that it is meant to be.

(Yes, as we all know, a marriage gone awry is the greatest source of fractiousness. Divorce lawyers have their hands full. Its not just a fight between two people, it’s a struggle between two people who were two parts of one whole. The greatest opportunities also have the flip side of great disappointment when they don’t work out).

However, even an enthralling marriage is not a straight line without ups and downs. It is after all a union between two people with differences. The Talmud says it succinctly about people in general ‘just as their faces are not identical, so are their opinions not the same’.  

The Chasidic masters provided a reinterpretation of the verse in the Torah describing the creation of Eve as a partner to Adam: ‘I will make for him a helpmate against him’ as being the great secret of life. 

Her being against him is the greatest help!

This deeply insightful reading of the verse is a gamechanger.

The differences and the ensuing friction that the 2 brings to the 1 is a gift. The very resistance and challenges that it offers, that itself is the gift. 

It is up to us to look at the ups and down of life in this way. To reframe the challenge and the struggle not as a source of angst, rather as a source of opportunity for greater growth.

If you utilize the 2 opportunity correctly, you get to the great gift of 3.

In a marriage, that refers to the G-dly blessing of a third entity that emerges from the union of the two marriage partners. 

A child. A fusion of mother and father in a independent third entity. 

You cannot get to that infinitely valuable gift of a child without going through the challenge of relinquishing your uncontested one’ness. 

Two is thus the greatest source of blessing.

It may not seem obvious while you are engaging the 2. The friction may overshadow the latent gift. 

By the time you see the results, the 3, you look back and realize how good the 2 was.

 (Rabbi Eliezer Posner explains this thought masterfully in relation to the days of creation. Day two vs Day three).

This week’s portion is Mishaptim. Rule of judgment. What to do when people have disagreements. The Torah doesn’t say never disagree. We are humans. We see things differently than each other and we think differently. The Torah teaches how to reconcile disagreement. What is right and what is wrong. The Torah instructs us to overcome our differences via going to an unbiased judge schooled in Torah’s moral code.

How would one implement this kind of reframing?

The date 2/20/2020 contains more than just 2’s. It contains 0’s too.

The key to having productive 2’s is 0 = ZERO = humility.

Think back to an argument you have had with a relative, a spouse or a friend. 

Was the actual difference of opinion the problem? Usually not.

Diversity is helpful and colorful. We don’t like eating bland foods. We like variety. Sweet, then sour. Or sometimes we like sweet and sour together.  

The negativity that is associated with difference of opinion is the ego that is mixed in. It is the arrogance and ego that leads differences of opinions to become personal power struggles and contentious squabbling. 

Take away the ego and you can have a healthy exchange of ideas and come to a happy medium. 

If you can focus on trying to focus on the goal of raising a well-balanced happy and healthy family you will be more successful in navigating the challenges of marriage and discovering the gift of two different identities merging as one.

If you can look beyond personal gain and think about serving Hashem and making this world a better place, you arrive at a better place, a greater depth, a more wholesome conclusion, because of the diversity and challenge of the number 2 who may disagree with you. 

May Hashem bless us to be able to be humble, empowered and inspired to learn more Torah, do more Mitzvahs and be exemplary in our caring conduct to our loved ones and friends.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

PS The world is facing a time of uncertainty.

Our region, China and its neighbors are not sure of the status of the Coronavirus.

For us in Thailand, the Israeli restrictions on travel from Thailand to Israel and the quarantine upon arrival in Israel, have brought Israeli tourist traffic to a trickle.

Chabad of Thailand is used to having thousands of guests every day at the Chabad Houses and Kosher Restaurants. Even after taking emergency measures and slashing costs, the remaining overheads are still substantial. 

Expenses without the usual revenue’s spells HELP. 

Threatened with ruin because of Corona Virus, El Al will receive an emergency $50 million government infusion.  

But who will come to the rescue of Chabad of Thailand?

Hopefully YOU!

It’s a challenge.

No question that it will lead to something great.

It always does.

Shabbat Shalom

Absence has its Benefits

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

At the beginning of the world, G-d told Adam, the first man, what to do and what not to do. 

From all the trees you may eat. From the Tree of Knowledge you may not eat. 

Adam told his wife Chava (Eve).

Without getting into the ‘why’s’ of it, things went awry within a very short time. 

Chava, and subsequently Adam her husband, ate from the forbidden fruit. 

They were banished from the Garden of Eden, death became a natural phenomenon and the world became a place where G-d’s presence is concealed.

Two thousand five hundred’ish years later, G-d gave the Torah to the Jewish people. 

This time G-d gave reversed the order. He instructed Moshe Rabeinu to speak to the women first. And only then to the men. 

(Rabbi Ari Raskin posits that this is the source of ‘Ladies first’. And for the societal norm of saying Ladies and Gentlemen – in that order. Yanki Tauber goes even deeper into the Kabalastic underpinnings of this concept. Mrs. Chana Weisberg presents a fascinating insight explaining how Abraham our Patriarch may have been the first feminist as he called his wife Sarah which means ‘Princess’).

However you want to look at it, it worked.

We are more than three thousand years later, and Judaism is alive, well and thriving. 

The centrality of the woman in Judaism is well known. 

Any child born of a Jewish mother is Jewish. 

The ‘Yiddishe Mama’ is a well-known colloquialism that denotes the doting care, exaggerated concern and tender love that mothers have for their children, all mixed in one. 

The saying goes ‘more Jews come to Shul for the Rebbetzen’s cholent, than for the Rabbi’s speech’. As a rabbi I am not supposed to like that comment but I must begrudgingly concede that there may be some truth to it (smiley face 😊).

So this Parsha is a great time to appreciate the Jewish Women of the world. 

To really appreciate something, you must experience its absence. 

The joke is told of a wife who left her husband at home for a day to care for their brood of children. By the time she got home the husband was exhausted and listed the enormous amounts of child-rearing and home-related tasks he had gallantly carried out. ‘Now you know what I do every day before you come home and ask why are you tired if you stayed at home all day’.

Not such a joke.

In the Chabad world, this weekend many of the Rebbetzins are at the international conference in New York. 

We, the guys like to call it ‘wife appreciation weekend’. All of a sudden, we realize more clearly than ever before how central and pivotal the Jewish woman is to her family, her community and the Jewish people at large. 

This is why it’s so special and powerful when they get together to plan their next year of ‘changing the world for the good’.

We know that that when the women set their minds to something, they get it done.

G-d taught us that when He gave the Torah, by having Moshe speak to the women first.

Our Sages predicted that the coming of Mashiach will be in the merit of ‘righteous women’ in the final generation of exile.

There are thousands of ‘righteous women’ congregating this weekend in NY for the annual conference of Shluchot – Chabad Women Emissaries. (The timing is to coincide with the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe’s wife, Rebbetzin Chaya Mushka Schneersohn this Monday).

Let us pray that their conference meet with success. The ultimate success will be the coming of Mashiach.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS if you would like to get a glimpse of the energy and a snippet of the inspiration, there will be a live broadcast of the culminating banquet details here

PPS if you are a woman and reading this, recognize your immense power and influence and unleash it for changing the world for the good.

If you are a man, appreciate the women in your life. Your mother, wife, sister, daughter and make sure to tell them how special they are to you. More importantly, take the cue from them on upgrading and bettering yourself. 

PPS if you detect that I am missing Nechama who went to the conference in NY, you are one thousand percent right. May she have a successful conference and a safe trip home. 


Virus Lessons

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

The hot topics dominating the news headlines this week are not necessarily ones that I can or wish to comment on.

Coronavirus? It’s a medical issue and I am not a professional in the field of physical healing.

USA politics? I stay away from that topic as far as possible. 

The focus of my week was actually neither of those topics. My head was occupied with a more existentially significant item. One that reverberates and will continue to do so with ever increasing intensity.

It was the day and a half I spent at the resting place of the Rebbe marking the seventy-year anniversary of the Rebbe’s leadership of the Chabad-Lubavitch movement. 

A long journey!

Worth it?

Yes, for sure. 

In focusing on the Rebbe’s leadership and impact, especially from the perspective of seventy years I was inspired and motivated. 

What started in a small room with a group of not more than several hundred, when the Rebbe reluctantly accepted to lead Chabad has evolved into an ‘army of goodness and kindness’ that man the thousands of Chabad outposts around the world.

The theme of the anniversary was not about accomplishment as much as it was about using the inspiration as a springboard to greater and more impactful growth.

In the speech that I was privileged to give at the central anniversary celebration I used the following analogy. 

When someone makes their first million, do they stop to rest?

No. On the contrary. A businessman who makes his first million says ‘now I can really start doing business’!

When he gets to ten million, he doesn’t stop either. For then he can start doing REALLY SERIOUS business. And so it goes, onwards and upwards.

This is the way we have look at spiritual achievements as well. As being steppingstones and catalysts for leaping to even greater, loftier and grandiose goals.

The consensus of the thousands who attended the celebration was very clear. The clarion call issuing forth from the gathering is that ‘now it is time to reach for even higher and more ambitious goals’. 

To transform the entire world into one of goodness and kindness. To spread Torah and Mitzvahs to every nook and cranny of the world.

Most importantly to deputize and inspire every single Jew in the world to view themselves as a ‘lamplighter’. A full partner in the process of changing the world for the good. To think not just about their own morality and holiness but to share that wealth and inspiration with their friends as well. Each and every one of us can be a teacher and a guide to someone who knows even less than them.

Click here for seven lessons from the Rebbe’s inaugural mission statement. 


But I cannot remain totally silent on the topic of the virus. For I have received email enquiries from various people around the world regarding the coronavirus. People who had plans to visit Thailand wanted to know my opinion. Should they cancel their Thailand travel plans or not?

What shall I say?

I am not a doctor. 

My suggestion is that one should ask the experts of their country. The USA currently doesn’t seem to have any travel advisory alert pertaining to Thailand.

We all form opinions from things we read and feelings we have. From everything I can gather, the common flu is a greater enemy and poses a more realistic threat than its newer recently born cousin.

That doesn’t mean to say that the coronavirus should be of no concern to us. It just raises the question whether the extreme disruption of lives and economies is really warranted.

Why is everyone so anxious about this virus vs the more common flu?

Psychologists say that unknown dangers cause more fear and anxiety than familiar ones. This would be the simplest explanation as to why the very same people who engage in unhealthy lifestyle habits that are known to be dangerous, will take overreactive precautions to dangers that are more obscure. 

If you look for optimistic news you will notice the reports that the fatalities from the coronavirus were mostly from people suffering from medical preconditions. This would mean that for most people life could have continued as usual if not for the panicky response by governments and airline carriers. 

If you search for grim and dire analyses, I am sure it can be found as well. 

Google has something for everyone from the OCD to the negligently happy-go-lucky-everything-goes kind of person. You can usually back up any theory with a thorough enough search.

Thank G-d I am happy to go along with the optimistic outlook and pray that Hashem indeed blesses to have a positive outcome.

Ultimately it is G-d operating the world. He brings viruses into being. He also directs which ones will become ‘popular’ and wreak havoc on the economies and social life of entire countries and billions of people. Not necessarily through huge numbers getting sick G-d forbid but simply from the shockwaves of the kneejerk reactions. 

I pray to the Almighty that He heal the sick and cause the virus to go away. May people be able to resume their lives, productively and healthily. 

Should people still come to Thailand?

It depends on your personal level of angst. 

What sense would it make to come to ‘holiday’ in a place and then be nervous all day about getting ill? It wouldn’t be much of a holiday. 

If you are not bothered by these fears? Then there is an angle for you to still come. Whatever motivated you to come to Thailand in the first place is probably still here. 

This is not a medical statement I am making. It’s a psychological one. 

Now I would like to find a spiritual lesson to be gleaned from this topic. For one of the first axioms of Chasidic teaching is that we must learn a lesson from the happenings in the world around us. Nothing is by chance. 

The lesson that strikes me when seeing the huge attention given to face masks, is the importance of keeping certain things out of our bodies.

People are wearing mask to keep droplets from someone who is infected from entering their nostrils or mouths. 

If we want to keep viruses out our bodies, how much more so should we try to keep negative and foreign thoughts and impulses from our minds and hearts.

The following story teaches this quite poignantly. 

A chassid once came to Rabbi DovBer, the 'Maggid' of Mezeritch. "Rebbe," he said, "there is something I do not comprehend. When the Almighty commands us to do something or forbids a certain act, I understand. No matter how difficult it may be, no matter how my strongly heart craves the forbidden course, I can do what G-d desires or refrain from doing what is against His will. After all, man has free choice and by force of will he can decide on a course of action and stick to it, no matter what. The same is true with speech. Though somewhat more difficult to control, I accept that it is within my power to decide which words will leave my mouth and which will not.

"But what I fail to understand are those precepts which govern matters of the heart; for example, when the Torah forbids us to even entertain a thought that is destructive and wrong. What is one to do when such thoughts enter his mind of their own accord? Can a person control his thoughts?"

Instead of answering the chassid's question, Rabbi DovBer dispatched him to the hamlet of Zhitomir. "Go visit my disciple, Rabbi Zev" he said. "Only he can answer your question."

The trip was made in the dead of winter. For weeks the chassid made his way along the roads which wound their way through the snow-laden forests of White Russia.

Midnight had long come and gone when the weary traveller arrived at Rabbi Zev's doorstep. Much to his pleasant surprise, the windows of the scholar's study where alight. Indeed, Rabbi Zev's was the only lighted window in the village. Through a chink in the shutters the visitor could see Rabbi Zev bent over his books.

But his knock brought no response. He waited awhile, then tried once more, harder. Still, he was completely ignored. The cold was beginning to infiltrate his bones. As the night wore on, the scene which unfolded was as incredible as it was true: the visitor, with nowhere else to turn, kept pounding upon the frozen planks of Rabbi Zev's door; the rabbi, a scant few steps away, continued to study by his fireside, seemingly oblivious to the pleas which echoed through the sub-zero night.

It was almost morning when Rabbi Zev rose from his seat, opened the door, and warmly greeted his visitor. He sat him by the fire, prepared for him a hot glass of tea, and asked after the health of their Rebbe. He then led his guest - still speechless with cold and incredulity - to the best room in the house to rest his weary bones.

The warm welcome did not abate the next morning, nor the one after. Rabbi Zev was the most solicitous of hosts, attending to the needs of his guest in a most exemplary manner. The visitor, too, was a model guest, considerate and respectful of the elder scholar. If any misgivings about the midnight 'welcome' accorded him still lingered in his heart, he kept them to himself.

After enjoying the superb hospitality of Rabbi Zev for several days, the visitor had sufficiently recovered from his journey and apprehension to put forth his query. "The purpose of my visit," he said to his host one evening, "is to ask you a question. Actually, our Rebbe sent me to you, saying that only you could answer me to my satisfaction."

The visitor proceeded to outline his problem as he had expressed it earlier to the Maggid. When he had finished, Reb Zev said: "Tell me, my friend, is a man any less a master of his own self than he is of his home?

"You see, I gave you my answer on the very night you arrived. In in my home, I am the boss. Whomever I wish to admit - I allow in; whomever I do not wish to admit - I do not."

How dangerous the coronavirus is I don’t know.

The dangers of letting all kinds of bad influences into our consciousness, I do know.

Perversion, immorality and many other forms of psychologically unhealthy influences are to be found all around us and certainly on the world wide web. These disturbing and even sinister forces are insidious. They burrow their way into one’s inner psyche. Once they penetrate the consciousness, they cause a great danger. They can be fatal in the spiritual sense. They rob people of meaningful relationships. They engender addiction. 

It’s not just an isolated problem. It is an epidemic. Perhaps a pandemic.

The Torah says ‘don’t get led astray after our hearts and eyes’. 

The way these negative things enter is through our eyes. The eyes see and the heart desires and sometimes even lusts.

A mask may not block everything out, neither does a filter on your computer. 

But at least it’s a start. It makes you aware that you need to have control over what enters your being. It may be difficult or close to impossible to keep everything out, but you have to do your bit by making an effort. 

Being aware is critical. By being aware you wash your hands more often. By being aware that you need to make an effort to protect the sanctity of your heart and mind you make sure not to get lured into visiting the wrong destinations in the virtual world of the web or falling into other social ills.

May Hashem bless us all to be healthy, free of flu’s viruses and other forms of unhealthiness and may we merit the liberation from our modern day Egypt. Then we will once more sing a song, even more powerful than the song described in this weeks Parsha at the splitting of the Reed Sea.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS because of the virus and the fear surrounding it, we encourage you to visit the shul if you are healthy. If you are a ‘mask-wearer’ it will be perfectly acceptable to pray with a mask under the circumstances. Also, if someone doesn’t want to shake your hand to say Shabbat Shalom, accept it with understanding. Lastly, if G-d forbid you are not feeling well, please take the needed precautions. If coming to Synagogue causes you to be really anxious, remember that G-d hears our prayers from anywhere and everywhere. If you need wine and Shabbat food please let me know.

 

 

 






 

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