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Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

What's the future of travel industry?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Will be people resume traveling after the virus is brought under control like they did before the virus?

The entire travel industry worldwide is wondering the same thing.

I don’t think anyone really knows the answer.

How about working in offices. Will people continue working remotely or will they resume commuting to offices. 

Lots of opinions about this.

Real estate values in cities like New York is very dependent on office rentals. Nobody knows whether that will come back or not.

How about parties and celebrations?

Now that many weddings have taken place in backyards under very basic and modest conditions, will big, large-attendance weddings come back?

There are many similar uncertainties about what our lives will look like after this big disruption. 

Here is another one. A more spiritual one, but perhaps it will help shed light on the subject.

From times yore, it has been a tradition to seek out wisdom by journeying to the great Jewish sages and leaders. Just like Moses was sought out for advice by the Jewish people as they journeyed for forty years through the desert. 

In a nutshell, the Jewish people is analogous to one body, each of us representing and different part of the body. The Tzadik is the ‘head’ of this collective Jewish ‘body’. In recent centuries it became a well-entrenched Chasidic tradition to visit the Rebbe, the ‘collective head’ (also known as the ‘collective soul’) to get spiritually reinvigorated and to realign and fortify their connection with Almighty G-d.

Besides for the wisdom and Torah knowledge that is gained by visiting one’s Rebbe, there is also a vital ‘accountability’ and ‘realignment’ that visiting the Rebbe engenders.  

It is so easy to lose sight of our spiritual goals and missions. We all have egos. Our impulses are vulnerable to the pulls and attractions of materialism and indulgence. It need not even be a vast divergence from the course. It takes but a slight deviation from ones intended route, to eventually become an (almost) irreparable great gap. 

The function of a Moses-like Jewish leader, is to remain steadfast and unwavering in their commitment to G-d and Torah. Thus, the leader serves as an inspiration and lighthouse empowering and enabling the people to stay committed and inspired to the best of their ability. 

Since the Rebbe lives in the same contemporary physical world as his students and is aware of the contemporary challenges posed by material life and its myriad temptations, the student knows that his masters hopes for him are achievable. They are not unrealistic and beyond the scope of reality. 

True connections are built around love. It’s a two-way street.

You become attached and connected to those you love. 

You love those to whom you are attached and connected.

When there is no connection and love, when you don’t care about that other person, living up to their expectations of you is quite unimportant.

It’s the reverse when you respect and love someone. You don’t want to let them down. Even if it means working hard and putting your own self-interest somewhat to the side.

This, says Rabbi Dovber of Lubavitch in a Chasidic text on the subject, is one of the reasons for traveling to a Rebbe. Seeing one’s spiritual master awakens the love. It fosters a recommitment by the visitor to employ the means needed to live up to the lofty expectations of his teacher from him. 

When the teacher passes away, this is achieved by visiting the physical resting space.

Continues the text, ‘what if the person is unsure whether he truly feels that love for his Rebbe any more’? 

The answer to that is ‘since he had a desire to travel to the resting place of the Tzadik and he acted on that desire, this is a sign that the love is still there, at last in a minimal way’. If he no longer cared, he wouldn’t inconvenience himself to make the journey.

It is a custom to visit the resting place of a Tzadik and pray there on the auspicious day of passing.

For twenty-five years I have been blessed to be able to fulfil that tradition and it has always been a very special, meaningful and spiritual journey. 

In reflecting on what visiting the Ohel usually means to me, I realized that indeed coming to the Rebbe’s Ohel on his yahrtzeit was always an opportunity to fortify my connection and reassess how well I was living up to the Rebbe’s expectations of me in terms of my commitment to Hashem and His Torah. 

Every year I ask myself the following question. 

Am I still sensitive to the relationship of love with the soul of my Rebbe? Has the passage of time diminished my connection? 

Perhaps...

However, one thing is for certain. The feeling of love and connection is still there. The Chasidic treatise says it clearly. If you cared enough to travel to your Rebbe, you obviously still have a connection.

Yesterday was the Yartzeit, the 26th anniversary of passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe of righteous memory. As the ‘Shepherd’ of the Jewish people, the great ascent that his righteous soul enjoys at this anniversary, translates to great blessings for all of the beloved flock, the People of Israel.

This year I couldn’t go to NY to visit his Ohel.

Of course I was disappointed that I could not physically travel but I was also forced to give the matter deep thought.

It was not at all an indication of whether my connection was still strong. The disruption of this virus has changed life for everyone. I wanted to go. I just couldn’t go. Thank G-d, I still had a very meaningful observance of the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit this year.

In a certain way, because of the inability to participate in the usual way, I felt the yearning and connection even more.

In our age of technology, I can even have my notes printed out and placed on the Rebbe’s resting place. Indeed, so can you via www.ohelchabad.org (there are guidelines in several languages on this site).

But if next year the borders are open and I am able to travel, what will I do?

I don’t know. Hopefully Mashiach will have come long before and the question will be irrelevant.

Clearly though, making an effort to travel and be present at an important destination or event is a sign that you care.

Will people really tell their relatives and friends, ‘I won’t be attending the wedding of your child because I learned from the Corona that the world won’t fall apart even if I stay home’?

Will the human desire to escape normal life and travel to exotic vacations really change because of these few months that it was not possible to travel?

Will we really not do in-person meetings because we have learned about zoom?

Only time will tell.

However, if expending effort for something shows the endearment and cultivates it will we really do away with making efforts in building interpersonal relationships?

This is a deeper look at challenges in general. When things something go awry and Hashem seems more distant from us, it is that Hashem intends to push us away. G-d forbid. Rather, it is in order for us to be even more thirsty for Him and thus generate even greater efforts by us to overcome the apparent distance.

Is it not entirely possible, that the great thirst being built up for human interaction because of the extended lockdowns will cause to an even greater rebound after the full reopening?

I for one, hope to cherish and relish the in-person interactions with people once they are returned to me.

A handshake. A communal meal. Brotherly backslapping. And yes, the ability to get onto a plane to travel for something that is very meaningful to me.

All of the above are not just things I like. Or you like. 

G-d Almighty likes us to do them. He has told us in His Torah that He cherishes the efforts we make for togetherness. 

The Torah is all about Shalom, peace. There is nothing more peace enhancing than camaraderie. Zoom helps when there is no choice. But once we are able to safely fully reopen, I think the Torah mandates us to resume social NEARNESS!!!!

I cannot wait!!!!! 

And once we are talking about not being able to wait… I can’t wait to have G-d’s nearness. We can’t wait for Mashiach to come. Then we will finally be totally at one with G-d. 

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor




Grasshopper Prognosis

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Today they have a fancy name for it.

Emotional intelligence.

In the language of our Sages it is called to ‘recognize your place’.

The spies who were dispatched by Moshe in this week’s Parsha erred gravely.

Perhaps they were emotionally unintelligent.

They started off as reputable people says the Torah. Perhaps even mentally super intelligent.

But they were incorrect in their thinking.

In two ways.

The famous mistake we all know about is that they came back from spying the land of Israel with a negative report.

It was not untrue. 

They had been asked to report on the state of the population in the land of Canaan and they had done that faithfully. 

They worked hard and shlepped back samples of the fruit, doing even more than they had been asked.

Where did they go wrong?

They gave a prognosis.

‘We cannot go up against the people for they are stronger than us’ they said. Thus, instigating a mass rumbling and complaining amongst the people. 

This was their mistake.

Moshe had never asked them for their opinion about whether or not it was a viable conquest.

G-d had said He is taking the Jewish people to Israel, that was not up for discussion.

The job of the ‘spies’ was to bring back information. 

It seems that they felt an exaggerated sense of worth and thus felt compelled to share their viewpoint with the people. 

They then added another line. In describing the hair-raising nature of their difficult mission, they said

We appeared like grasshoppers in our eyes, and that's how we were in their eyes." (Numbers 13:31-33)

This statement screams out about their pitiful state of self-esteem. 

They saw themselves as small and insignificant as grasshoppers. No wonder that this is the way they were viewed by the giant inhabitants of the land they were gathering intelligence on.

Again, a total lack of emotional intelligence. Click here for more.  

Here is what we should learn from their double mistakes.

Feeling too unimportant when facing challenge and conversely feeling too pompous when back home in their comfort zone.

We would do well to flip that around. 

Feel empowered to overcome the adversarial situation we may be in.

Be humble when reporting back to the more spiritually endowed leader.

In plain language:

If you are asked to carry out a mission, do what you are asked. 

If it a request for information, provide the information.

A doctor for example, should give a diagnosis. But not make a statement like ‘you have ….. amount of time to live’. Only G-d knows that.

Prognoses are often not in the purview of the medical professional, yet professionals sometimes feel compelled to try and act prophetic.

There is even a well know joke about the person who sued his physician. His doctor had told him he has one year to live so he went ahead and spent his savings on an opulent yearlong vacation. When he went back to his doctor feeling as ‘fit as a fiddle’ his doctor said ‘oy, I made a mistake’ you look like you are healthy again. The patient, having depleted his pension fund wanted to sue the doctor.

Could this perhaps be a lesson for our current situation?

In the cacophony of opinions about the virus there are so many prognoses. 

I think that the message of the Parsha is that we should listen to the experts when they share with us what they think we should do to protect ourselves. We should also pay careful attention to the what the immediate future holds so that we plan accordingly. It wouldn’t be wise to buy an airline now, I think.

But beyond that? 

We need to pray, trust and place our hope in Hashem that He bless our world with healing.

And not stop believing for a second that He and only He is in charge.

The situation can be changed by Him in a split second. How? He doesn’t need my help or suggestions. If He wants, it happens!

What about feeling like grasshoppers?

The Lubavitcher Rebbe whose 26th yahrtzeit comes out this Thursday, Tamuz 3, taught us how to view ourselves and how to project that to others.

In Rabbi Jonathan Sacks words, “You saw your reflection in the Rebbe’s eyes, and you were suddenly much bigger than you thought you were.” Click here for his full remarks

We need to feel like giants. Not because of who we are or what we have achieved. Rather because of the greatness of the mission that has been entrusted to us. 

Almighty G-d created me and you. He created us in His image and blew a soul into us.  Thus, He has clearly stated that you and I are each able to contribute something respectively unique to His world.

There is nothing more ‘non-grasshopper-mentality’ than absorbing the above lesson. If you but meditate on this for a few moments you will be a turbo-charged, pumped-up, ready to go warrior of light in ‘Hashem’s army’ of darkness-dispellers and energy and light providers. 

We can, and must continue this legacy.

By viewing not just ourselves, but our fellows from that same light, we will be mirroring the Rebbe’s everlasting legacy of empowering others. We have the mandate, we have been deputized, to inspire anyone we meet. To live up to their full capacity of serving Hashem and thus contributing their irreplaceable portion to the beautiful and intricate mosaic of G-d’s creation. 

Indeed, the Rebbe taught this by example. Way into his late eighties the Rebbe made it a custom to spend hours on this feet greeting people in blessing and forging a partnership with them by giving them tzedaka to distribute. To use his idiom ‘when two people meet, they should be be looking for ways to help a third person’. Click here for more explanation and video footage.

Let us keep up the chain of goodness and kindness. 

Let us cumulatively, mitzvah by mitzvah usher in the change we are all waiting for, the coming of Mashiach.

If we all do our bit, WE WILL GET THERE!!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS for more information on how to mark the auspicious day of the Rebbe’s anniversary of passing, click here. Here in Bangkok we will mark the anniversary virtually, via hosting a ‘Zoom’ program with guest speakers. More details to follow during the week.

Escaping this world?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

In observing the events that have recently unfolded in my birth country the United States of America I was filled with dismay and horror.

Much has been written and said about the tragic events. Chabad.org posted R’ Tzvi Freemans article which I am linking to here. I am sure you have read and heard much about this and are equally appalled. 

I would like to use this forum to think out loud about how to channel my rage into practical contributions to the betterment of society. There is much to say, way beyond the scope of one article, but let me begin at least.

There is a famous motivational story told, of two salesmen from competing companies who are sent to a foreign country to assess the market for shoes. 

 

Salesman One scouts around for a few days and then heads for the telegraph office to contact company headquarters.  He writes:  "Research complete.  Unmitigated disaster.  Nobody here wears shoes."


Likewise, Salesman Two does his research and heads for the same telegraph office.  Once there, he composes the following: "Research complete.  Glorious opportunity!  Nobody here wears shoes!"  


On the one hand, the world is a mess. 

A real jungle. 

There was a WhatsApp meme going around after the launch of the spaceship last week.

‘Congratulations to the astronauts who left earth today. Good choice!’

If I had the option, would I want to run away from the world because of its degradation? 

Nope. That would be running away from the purpose of creation. 

The junglelike behavior that we are seeing in the world, is the very reason we have been sent down here on earth. 

Not so that we should be giving-in to our animalistic urges and self-centered temptations.  Rather, we have been sent here by G-d to do our job of transforming this junglelike world where G-d’s presence is obscured, into a luscious garden for G-d to be recognized and revered.

How? 

It is precisely for this reason that we have been given the Torah which is G-d’s communication to humanity on how to live. When we follow the ‘user manual’ that the ‘manufacturer’ (G-d) has provided to us, we are able to transform this world into the sweet-smelling garden that it truly is. 

The Torah is the transformative Divine key that unlocks the hidden potential within humanity and within the universe. 

Note. The Torah is not a book for angels in heaven. The Torah is given by G-d to us physical beings of flesh and blood in THIS MATERIAL WORLD .  Not despite the fact that we are imperfect. Rather, precisely because of our natural unsaintliness. Because we have challenges in being moral. Because murder, theft, and infidelity are possibilities in this world. This is why Hashem gave us the Torah.

The Talmud (Shabbos 88b) relates that when Moses ascended Mount Sinai to receive the Torah, the angels challenged him saying, “What is this mortal doing amongst us?” Moses replied, “I have come to take the Torah to the Jewish people.” Whereupon the angels, addressing G-d, petitioned, "leave the Torah with us and we will honor and cherish it.” G-d turns to Moses and says “go ahead, answer them” and Moses responds, "My dear angels, just take a look at what the Torah commands – 'I am the Lord your G-d who has taken you out of the land of Egypt,' 'Honor your parents.' Do you have a father and mother? Have you been enslaved in Egypt? Have you a selfish and evil inclination?” clearly demonstrating that the Torah was intended for souls vested in physical bodies confronted with the realities of our material world.  

To come back to the shoe salesman analogy, humanity can definitely not send a message to Heaven that there is no ‘market’ or no need for a Divine code of morality here in this world. 

On the contrary. The recent events have shown that there is a huge gaping hole in our world that needs Divine guidance more urgently than ever before.

My friends, this is not a time to give up on the world and run away from contributing to healing our fractured society. This is a time to roll up our sleeves and get to work! 

It seems overwhelming. What can I, as an individual possibly do? Who will my reinforcement of morality and mindful living make a difference in the world?

Rabbi David Lapin, from South Africa, once shared this experience.

As soon as I entered the rabbinate of South Africa, I became concerned about retaining my intellectual independence – something I am fiercely protective of – while serving as a community rabbi at the will of a synagogue’s board of directors. Therefore, I believed that I also needed to secure an independent source of income. And so I first went to work for an international commodities trading company, and later I founded the leadership consulting firm which I currently lead.

At about that time, an opportunity arose to join a company of commodity traders in Johannesburg, and this is what I did. But I was not sure I was on the right track. Was I right to divide my time between my business and my rabbinic duties? It seemed as if I had two full-time jobs and my family was paying a heavy price as a result.

There came a time when I felt I needed the opinion of someone much wiser than me, someone who had a global perspective that embraced modernity, history and the future. I decided to seek the advice of the Lubavitcher Rebbe.

In 1976 I came to New York, but I had not realized that to see the Rebbe one had to make an appointment many months in advance, and at first I was turned away. Only when I wrote a letter to the Rebbe in which I made the argument that my questions impacted the larger Jewish community – and which I insisted be presented to him – did he invite me to wait until he finished his appointments for the night when he would make time to see me.

I will never forget meeting the Rebbe. I recall that he got up from his chair as my wife and I came in, greeted us and insisted that we sit down. At that moment, I realized that we were going to have a real conversation – this was not going to be just a symbolic encounter.

Indeed, the meeting lasted about fifteen minutes, during which time I felt that he was looking right inside me and communicating with me on a level that transcends the mind, getting straight to the heart and the essence of being. In addition, I sensed a kindness and warmth – all at once I was in the presence of a great man, an intellectual genius, a leader of the Jewish people, but also a grandfather who cared about me. In short, it was an amazing experience.

I asked him about the responsibilities that I faced and the limitations that I felt, which seemed overwhelming. How could I manage it all? What should I give up – my business or my Torah teaching? Where should I direct my energies?

His answer to me was that I should give up nothing and continue working in business while still teaching Torah. I do not remember his exact words, but the gist of it was that my being in business increased my ability to bring people closer to Judaism; my profession increased my influence and was a vehicle of kiddush Hashem, of sanctifying the name of G-d. He stressed that I would have greater impact if I was involved with both business and Torah.

I was still very young, and I couldn’t imagine how I could continue to do both. So, I burst out with: “I don’t think that this is realistic. I’m already up to here… I feel very humbled and very honored that you would even talk to me this way, but it just isn’t realistic!”

I remember clearly his response to my outburst. He said: “I’ll tell you what your difficulty is. You think that human interaction is like a chemical reaction. But it isn’t. In a chemical reaction, there are two elements which interact with each other, and they result in a third compound. But people aren’t chemicals. When people interact, the result is a nuclear reaction. A nuclear reaction occurs at the core and then it radiates in a spherical, rather than a linear, way. As the outer rings of your sphere get bigger and bigger, the number of people you are touching gets bigger and bigger – indeed, there is no limit.

“When you touch the heart of one person, there is a nuclear reaction because that person in turn touches so many other people. So, each person you touch – even if it is a moment’s interaction – represents a nuclear reaction in terms of impact. That’s what it really is.”

He was right of course, and way ahead of the research that, since then, has proven his words to be true. For example, the Framingham Heart Study showed that people’s mood affects others three times removed – that is, one’s friend’s friend’s friends. We impact people not just with our words but with our moods and our energy.

Rabbi Lapin concluded:

“I remembered this whenever I stood in front of a class of fifty people. I contemplated that these fifty could in turn be impacting at least one hundred and fifty others. This meant that, both in my work as a rabbi and as a business person, week after week I was affecting tens of thousands of people without realizing it. That’s what the Rebbe tried to get across to me. He was talking about the huge amount of holiness that I had the potential to bring into the world.

“I got it. Indeed, he changed my entire mindset when he said, “Don’t underestimate what each person is capable of doing. Just remember that when you touch one person you are causing a nuclear reaction.” And that’s something that I’ve never forgotten.”


These above words were penned by Rabbi Y.Y. Jacobson in an article he wrote on his TheYeshiva.net website and I shared them because they resonated deeply within me.

The words we use. The actions we engage in. They all create ripples of change. 

We need to all be spreading belief in G-d as the Eye that Sees and the Ear that Hears, emphasizing that G-d’s will is the absolute moral compass that decides what constitutes good and what is evil. 

We need to study about this. Learn the words to use. Get comfortable in sharing moral ‘elevator speeches’ as we often don’t get much time to impart lessons to others. Most importantly we need to reframe the way we view ourselves and our universe to embrace an overarching G-d’ly moral outlook. 

Click here for an article outlining G-d’s rules of Universal Morality. And here for a collections of articles on Jewish Universal Ethics. And here for the Rebbe’s words to Mayor David Dinkins about the ‘melting pot’. 

And most importantly we need to ‘walk the talk’ and make sure that we make every effort to live our lives in the most moral way possible.

Acts of goodness and kindness will make the world a better place. Words of kindness, of dialogue and of peace will lead the discourse of society to a more peaceful place.

And it will propel the world forward ever closer to its utopian next phase. As more mitzvahs will hasten the coming of Mashiach!!!! We need Mashiach more than ever, it will bring HEALING and PEACE to a plagued and fractured world. May he come NOW!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS below find links to my three ‘Facebook Live’ posts about Torah and its pertinence to our times shared this week on Chabad.org facebook page.

Torah: A Beacon of Light for our times

Torah: Oseh SHALOM – the path to Peace

Torah: EMMET – Eternal Truth

PPS I am still not so adept at Facebook, so telephone, WhatsApp and email are still the best way to reach me.


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