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Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Enjoy 'Kvetching'? Don't read this!!!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

On his first morning in Auschwitz extermination camp, Milan Bierenkrant, a young Jewish Slovakian, watched a hapless fellow Jew being given twenty-five lashes which he didn’t survive. That was his introduction to the barbaric regime of the concentration camps. A person would be beaten to death for the ‘crime’ of sleeping during the time of the ‘Appell’ roll-call. 

A while later, Milan was given the job to supervise the kitchen staff inmates. The German supervisor asked for a certain trough to be cleaned. Milan assigned a worker, but the fellow Jewish worker didn’t do the job. An hour later the German supervisor came back and saw the job unfinished. He asked Milan who he had assigned. Milan said he forgot. The German said I give you half an hour to remember or else you will be lashed. Milan knew what awaited him if he did not ‘remember’ to whom he had assigned the job. He had witnessed the brutality of lashes and the probably fatal outcome. Yet, a half hour later when the German came back Milan still ‘didn’t remember’. As the German started to administer the lashes, Milan thought about his brother and parents and about how they would cope with his death. 

Providentially, I bumped into Mr. Milan Bierenkrant on my last trip before lockdown. I was in Melbourne, Australia, I went to pray the Mincha afternoon service and we were entering the Synagogue at the same time. Mr. Bierenkrant remembered me from my childhood in Melbourne and we had a nice chat. At that time I didn't realize that I was speaking to a hero of epic proportion. That beneath his very happy looking congenial persona, there was a trove of memories that no human being should ever be exposed to. 

Mr. Bierenkrant shared his experiences a few days ago and you can see the full talk here. It is a tale of tragedy and resilience. A nightmare recounted, and a plea for the new dawn that we all pray for.

He, as all of those survivors who emerged from the crucible of destruction and death and went on to rebuild their lives as best as they could, are Tzadikim, holy and righteous people. 

That a Jew could emerge from such an experience and continue to cleave to G-d and live an observant Jewish life is unfathomable. To meet him at an ‘ordinary’ mid-week afternoon service says volumes about the depth and invincibility of the connection a Jew has with G-d.

****

The lover says to his beloved. 

I love you.

I really love you.

I really really love you.

I really really REALLY love you!

The beloved asks:

Why do you love me?

The lover answers:

Because you are my LIFE!!!!

Everything I have is only because of you.

Anything I have achieved is thanks to you.

You are the reason I get up in the morning.

Thinking about you is the way I fall asleep at night.

I adore you.

Being close to you is the most enjoyable delight I can imagine.

I can never get enough of you.

When I think about you enough, I feel lovesick for you.

The beloved asks:

To what extent are you prepared to go because of your love for me?

Are you prepared to forego your favorite food because the odor irritates me?

Are you prepared to allocate a few minutes each day to spend time with me?

Will you stick with me even in duress circumstances?

Can I ask you to not engage in deep and meaningful relationships with anyone beside me?

Is there a limit to how much money you are ready to spend to save our relationship?

Do you love me enough to even endanger your life to remain with me?

The lover responds.

YES. 

I love you. 

Unequivocally. 

With no limits.

****

SHMA YISRAEL AD margin-top:0pt;margin-bottom:8pt;">Twice daily, every morning and every evening we call out our ‘pledge of allegiance’ to G-d. G-d is ONE. There are no other forces or energies that exist outside of His Oneness.

Then we continue with the second verses.

‘V’ahavta et Hashem’. 

‘You shall love G-d, with all your heart, with all your soul and with all your might’.

Reread the previous sentences with you as the lover and G-d as the beloved One.

Yep, LOVE means being prepared to really go out of your way and focus solely on your beloved. 

When you think about it, our beloved Hashem only asks us to give Him from what He has given us in the first place.

I saw a cute and inspiring story about honesty and integrity that happened last week in USA.

A western Wisconsin man will share his millions in lottery winnings with a longtime friend because of a promise they made to each other nearly three decades ago.

Friends Tom Cook and Joseph Feeney shook hands in 1992 and promised that if either one of them ever won the Powerball jackpot, they would split the money.

That promise came to fruition last month when Cook bought the winning ticket for a $22 million jackpot at Synergy Coop in Menomonie.

The men chose the cash option of about $16.7 million, leaving each with nearly $5.7 million after taxes are paid.

What Mr. Cook did was the correct and ethical thing. Good on him.

Imagine if Mr. Feeney said, I appreciate your sentiment, but I don’t want 50%, all I would like is for you to show your appreciation by giving 10% to a charitable cause. I am sure Mr. Cook would be quite happy.

That is what Hashem is asking of us.

The Almighty asks us to give 10% of our earnings to do acts of Tzedaka and kindness. But FIRST he gives us the 100% and then He asks for us to give some back for Tzedaka.

(During this very challenging period of time, I know many who need help, if you would welcome a call or email from me with more details on how you could help alleviate suffering, hunger and homelessness please let me know. Or simply visit our ‘humanitarian fund’ www.jewishthailand.com/tzedaka and share your blessings with others).

Yes, we are instructed to put up a Mezuzah on our doors.

But first G-d gives us the abode in which to put up the Mezuzah. 

And He doesn’t ask for much ‘space’ in your abode. The space that a Mezuzah takes up is tiny and inconsequential compared to the total space of a room. Only a room bigger than 39.6 sq Feet – 3.67 requires a Mezuzah. Mezuzahs are not very big. A non-negligibly small percentage of an average room. 

The awareness of G-d when we walk in and walk out, and the protection that G-d provides us with as a result of the Mezuzah is immeasurable. 

Click here for more info on Mezuzah and contact me to arrange a Mezuzah for your door. 

Same goes with prayers. Out of the 1440 minutes of life that G-d gives us every day, saying the basic prayers of thanks and Shma need not take more than 2% of your day. 

The point here is the same. FIRST he gives us 1440 minutes without conditions. Only then does He ask us to acknowledge Him.

I would like to share a not so well known fact. 

One of the greatest things you can do for G-d as a Jew, is love your fellow Jew as yourself. Treat your fellow as you would like to be treated.

This is the greatest way to express your love of G-d.

Here is how that works.

The Torah commands us to "Love your fellow as yourself." The Torah also tells us to "Love the L-rd your G-d." This prompted the disciples of Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi (1745-1812) to ask their master: "Which is the greater virtue, love of G-d or love of one's fellow?"

Rabbi Schneur Zalman replied: The two are one and the same. He then explained: G-d loves every one of His children. So ultimately, love of one's fellow is a greater show of love for G-d than simply loving G-d. Because true love means that you love what your loved one loves.

When you love someone, you want to do things that make them happy. Things that they really care about!

What does G-d love? What does He care about most?

That we should love EACH OTHER.

‘Love your fellow like yourself’, this is what HE loves most.

If we would each focus a little more on loving each other, and thus expressing our love of G-d, because He loves when we love each other, we would have a world of love and peace. 

Let’s not think ‘who can I forward this article to’…. Someone who really needs to learn to practice love…. Don’t wait for someone else to start the process, start it yourself. 

Find it in your heart to put away the gripes and hatred, start by acting loving. 

Action is a great way to start!!!!

Do acts of kindness to others. You will find that your heart follows your deeds. 

This is the surest way to bring Mashiach and usher in a world of Peace.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Last Shabbat a beloved and special person Dr. Carmel Goldwater passed away in London. Dr. Carmel Goldwater had been part of our community for decades. She was a do-gooder par excellence. A paradigm of ‘love your fellow as yourself’. (Actually, ‘love your fellow more than yourself’). She didn’t need anything for herself. She lived a very modest life in terms of materialism and used any and all resources at her disposal, to help others in the kindest and most gentle way. Dr. Carmel was a friend and mentor to countless people all over the region. It was quite common to get a handwritten note with words of poetry, wisdom, gentle rebuke and uplifting encouragement all in one. 

Dr. Carmel was brought to her eternal rest in the Jewish burial grounds in London at a ceremony that was attended from all sides of the ocean via Zoom. 

May her memory be for a blessing!


New ✔️ Normal ❌

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Yesterday, Avraham Dov, our (nearly) five-year-old grandson, complained to his mother (our daughter Mushka) that he didn’t approve of her dairy dinner menu and wanted to eat his usual chicken for dinner. 

(This week in observance of the laws of pre-Tisha B’av, we don’t eat meat/chicken or drink wine (besides on Shabbat)). 

His younger brother Levi responded, ‘if we build the Bet Hamikdash we will be able to eat meat’. 

They came to the joint conclusion that by doing mitzvahs they would be providing ‘bricks’ for the rebuilding the Bet Hamikdash (Temple). In their thinking, if not eating chicken is because there is no Bet Hamikdash, then all the need to do is rebuild the Bet Hamikdash. Problem solved. 

They are spot on! Once the rebuilding takes place, the 9th of Av will be overturned and transformed to become a HUGE FESTIVAL.

Kids… 

They are refreshingly futuristic and idealistic… to the point of actually believing they can get rid of the destruction. 

Hey, they have it right.

The Torah definition of standard Judaism is a complete belief in the coming of Mashiach. 

It is for this kind of belief that I want to stay a kid at heart. In order to trust with such simplicity that we CAN make this kind of a radical change without the inner voices of skepticism intruding disturbingly.

We don’t stay cherubic and cute for long. When we grow into adulthood we are exposed to the realities of life. The vast chasm that seems to divide between a utopian world of Messianic peace, and the harsh staccato of gunfire at too many flashpoints around the world. 

It becomes difficult to even dare to imagine that a different reality is possible. 

Let me try to provide a perspective that will not just allow you to dream, but even inspire you to act on your innate optimistic outlook.

It’s all about what you consider ‘normal’. 

The first time I heard the term ‘new normal’ was a few years ago when a family member, advancing in age, was trying to come to terms with their limited mobility. 

Psychologically it is important that an ageing person come to terms with the limitations of their body in its aged state. It is downright depressing when someone aims at running a marathon as if they were in their thirties when in reality, they are nearing one hundred and twenty and shuffling across the room takes herculean effort. 

‘New normal’ doesn’t mean ‘giving up’. ‘New normal’ means coming to terms with your new reality and realizing what the new parameters of your struggle should be. 

For example, if G-d forbid a professional athlete lost the use of their legs, they would be very wrong to feel a sense of failure for not being able to run the marathon. They would also be losing out so much if they did not try to work with the physiotherapist in trying to regain as much use of their limbs as possible. 

Either extreme would not be correct. Rather, the new situation requires a reassessment of the current possibilities and a galvanizing of the strength and determination necessary to achieve the most with the resources at hand.

The term ‘new normal’ is used a lot lately in conjunction with the current state of an errant microbe that is disrupting the world.

Coronavirus. 

Lockdown.

Economic woes.

Unemployment.

Social discontent.

Severely curtailed community events.

Etc.

New normal?

New! For sure. We never experienced anything nearly as disruptive as this.

Normal?

For sure NOT!!!

Should we get used to it? Accept it as normal? 

Not if we can find a way to curb and eradicate it.

Let us proclaim loudly and emphatically. Its not normal! Thank G-d, indeed the civilized world is not just sitting back and adapting. 

There are more than ONE HUNDRED AND FIFTY vaccine projects underway. Several of the vaccines have made it to the final stage of trials. Initial results from those trials are expected in ninety days please G-d. (I pray that G-d send a healing to the world much sooner than that!!).

Obviously we all agree that when something is fixable, we should try our very hardest to rectify it. Adapting to limitations without even trying to change the situation is called resigning oneself prematurely and passively to one’s fate. 

G-d doesn’t want us to fail. G-d also doesn’t want us to succeed without effort. G-d wants us to put forth effort, and then to crown those efforts with success. A partnership between Heaven and Earth.

It is the human spirit that G-d has endowed us with, that causes people to not just lie down and die when faced with a threat. We get up and fight valiantly to defend ourselves and change outcomes.

G-d based morality teaches us which things we should consider significant. And for those things we should really put in an effort. Not just accept the status quo.

It is embedded within our human psyche that if a change is possible, even though it may look improbable, it should not be accepted as ‘normal’. 

If it is sickness, we should try to figure out a medial cure. If it is a social ill, we should advocate for better moral education and responsible governance. If it is unfairness in how society treats minorities, we should address the issue at its core to rectify it.

How much can be changed?

Famine, war, envy or competition

Can we get rid of those?

Good in abundance and all the delights freely available as dust.

Does this sound achievable?

‘Nation shall not lift a sword against nation, neither shall they learn war anymore’

Hello? Is this hallucinatory thinking? No. these are quotes from the words our Prophets and Sages.

It gets better. Read the next line from the Rambam about what awaits us when Mashiach comes. 

The occupation of the entire world will be solely to know God.

Does all the above sound like that is an implementable vision or a pipe dream?

It does seem farfetched. I agree. But it is the endgame that Judaism has been aiming for since our Temple’s destruction nearly 2000 years ago.

This is spoken about in the Torah, in the Prophets and in all our subsequent holy books. It is at the core of the ‘thirteen principles of faith’ of Judaism. 

The skeptic may ask, hadn’t we better adapt our expectations to the reality?

In reality, our world is full of hunger, war, envy and competition.

Good is not in abundance. And the delights are not freely available as dust.

The sole of the occupation of the entire world is not about knowing G-d. Not even a negligible percentage of the world is involved in spiritual pursuits.

The believer replies. That is not the way it needs to be. Or it is going to remain. It’s not a ‘new normal’ for us to resign ourselves to.

Normal is a world of peace. With a G-dly revealed presence in the Bet Hamikdash in Jerusalem.

Submitting to the ‘reality’ of a non-Messianic world, is like telling all the medical research companies to stop searching for a vaccine.

I know this may sound radical, but it’s quite straightforward if you think about it. Its mainstream Judaism.

We need to keep aiming for it. Chipping away bit by bit at it. Doing one more good deed and one more good deed. 

The stakes are higher than anything else imaginable, as it means the beginning of a utopia that only gets better and better. That is why it is also the most challenging task to succeed in. We all know that the more valuable something is, the more perseverance we need. In this case we have been at it for nearly two thousand years and our generation is the grand finale. We are at the tipping point. A tiny push and Mashiach comes.

While the coming of Mashiach is always on our mind, we don’t always engage in actively mourning the loss of our Temple. 

But once a year we do just that. Our Sages instituted a three-week mourning period to remind ourselves that our situation is not tolerable. We need to find a solution. A cure. We need to usher in a utopian era.  

During the days leading up to the climatic reminder of the Bet Hamikdash’s destruction on Tisha B’av (9th of Av, corresponding this year to Thursday July 30th), we observe various levels of joy-reduction to be mindful of the intolerable state of being we find ourselves in.

Its two-thousand-year mind you.

Pretty mind-blowing that we still haven’t given up.

If G-d forbid this virus situation lasted a few years, do you think there would be 150 companies trying to make a vaccine? Or do you think there would be a headline in every newspaper in the world about the daily sickness and death count? 

We, the Jewish people still remember that our two-thousand-year detour is NOT NORMAL.

We need to fight against it. 

The fight is done by doing more mitzvahs. By learning more about what a G-dly inspired world would look like. By living life in a state of spiritual mindfulness and G-d consciousness. 

The Rebbe made it clear that it is our generation that has to put the finishing touches on the grand master plan of G-d to send Mashiach NOW.

Even little kids know that it is doable!

In some ways, its better to be a kid at heart….

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor





PC or PC?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Do you remember when PC was an abbreviation for ‘personal computer’?

I don’t think it was that long ago. Perhaps before smartphones became so ubiquitous. 

Lately I find that the letters PC usually stand for the term ‘politically correct’.

I am not sure if it is politically correct to comment about politically correctness. 

The last thing I would like to do is to come across having a stand, positive or negative on political correctness.

Perhaps this too is a sign of the pervasiveness of political correctness?

It is pervasive. 

I met a Jew recently for coffee. 

We had been chatting via email for a few months ever since he had a craving for ‘fried matzah’. (This is one of the miracles of Judaism. Culinary memories are more than just about eating. They help keep us connected to our heritage. Matzah, Latkes, Gefilte fish and Chrein have brought many Jews back to their Jewish roots). His quest for this childhood food, took him the Synagogue on Soi 22. He saw that it is under construction and headed off down Soi 22 back to Sukhumvit.

Draped on the side of Marriot Marquis hotel was a huge sign advertising JCafe and Kosher Shoppe as being just one block away. He got to JCafe only to find it closed. That is when he found me the internet. I assured him that while we are closed on Shabbat and Jewish Holidays, after the first days of Pesach the JCafe would reopen. To his credit he came again, but this time it was the last days of Pesach and once again we were closed. Finally, on the third try he got his matzah.

He wrote me a thank you and I asked him if he was Jewish. His response was not clear. That was a pretty good sign that he was Jewish. We met up for coffee. Yes, he was born to both Jewish parents, even had a Bar Mitzvah but was not very much in touch with his Judaism. 

As two fellow Jewish Americans we somehow got onto the topic of the future of America. As usual, I sidestepped any issues that could be interpreted as political.

I focused on the theme of unity and the commonality between all humans which should lead us to building a better society for everyone. 

The Lubavitcher Rebbe once shared the following wish with New York City mayor David Dinkins:

“In the near future, the ‘melting pot’ [of America] will be so active that it will not be necessary to underline every time [when speaking of others] ‘They are Black,’ ‘They are White,’ ‘They are Hispanic,’ etc., because they are no different. All of them are created by the same G-d, and created for the same purpose, to add to all good things around them.”

We had a great meeting. He paid for the coffee this time. (I only agreed to that after he accepted that I would l pay next time 😊).

But I was left wondering about our discussion and the fact that I had really stayed unopinionated about the political discussion.  

Was I avoiding something I shouldn’t be avoiding?

It seemed to me that there is a certain wisdom in not being pulled into non-essential discussions and arguments that have the potential of creating a sense of alienation.

Fascinatingly just this week I got my answer. I stumbled on this interview with Dr. Velvl Greene (a former Fullbright scholar and a pioneer in exobiology. There are many fascinating articles by this Professor who was part of Nasa’s study regarding ‘life on Mars’).

Dr. Greene describes how he had written a letter to the Rebbe in which he challenged certain aspects of the Rebbe’s position on the Torah – Science debate. 

The Rebbe didn’t answer. Dr. Greene assumed that the Rebbe had conceded to his position. 

Dr. Greene continued his growth in personal observance of Torah and Mitzvot and the Rebbe continued his letter correspondence without mentioning the scientific debate. 

Only after a year and a half did the Rebbe refer back to his question and provide answers to back up his position. 

When Dr. Greene asked the Rebbe why he had held off on answering till now, the Rebbe responded: 

‘It is not my job to win arguments. 

My job is to present the Jewish point of view. 

To win adherents to the Jewish cause. 

If I were to take issue with you about that letter, I may have pushed you away’.

My dear friends,

It is within my mission statement to comment or debate every issue that exists. As important as they may be.

My job, as stated so succinctly by the Rebbe, is to be a spiritual leader and beacon of light. It is not to win arguments. It is to present the Jewish point of view and win adherents to the Jewish cause!

The Jewish point of view is:

To act morally and encourage all of humanity to act with moral uprightness and benevolence. 

This applies to all sides of the political aisle.

To encourage my fellow Jews to do more mitzvahs and benevolent acts.

Practice unconditional love of your fellow Jew.

Learn more Torah.

On the one hand I need to be unequivocal when it comes to Torah adherence.

Yet on the other hand, the other issues, I choose to remain silent on them. 

Not sure if that is PC or non-PC.

For me PC means ‘personal computer’.

And TM means Torah and Mitzvahs.

My job is to urge you all to practice TM

(Not transcendental meditation of course). 

I mean TORAH and MITZVOS!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS click here to watch R’ Doron Kornbluth’s presentation on the topic of Burial (vs Cremation). Some of his points included. Jewish Burial is the way to make the ‘final Jewish statement’. It is a more ‘green’ and ‘environmentally friendly’ choice in disposing of human final remains. R’ Doron mentioned an interesting statistic that ‘if every American citizen would be buried, it would take 10,000 years to use up 1% of the land mass of America’. The cost issue of burial seemed to be a great handicap. Here in Thailand we are blessed with a wonderful community of locals and visitors who have always benevolently provided burial for any Jew who dies here.

Click here for an inspiring story about a Jew who died alone in Suzhou, China and Chabad’s international efforts headed by Rabbi Greenberg of Shanghai to bring him to burial in Israel.



No private jet? Pitiful!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Are you a compassionate person?

I believe that you are.

There are circumstances and predicaments that you observe that arouse your compassion.

Compassion is defined in the dictionary as ‘sympathetic pity and concern for the sufferings or misfortunes of others’.

(I am interjecting here with an opportunity for compassion. There are several community members who could benefit greatly from a ‘used but still-in-good-functioning-condition’ computer. If you live in Thailand and have a laptop that good still be of use to someone, please let me know rabbi@jewishthailand.com We will take care of pickup and have our computer tech support make sure your data is wiped etc. In general this time period has created a lot more stress for people financially, if you are able to give tzedakah to help those who need it click www.jewishthailand.com/tzedaka).

Allow me to make the following generalizations.

If you were to go and visit people living in a slum in a third world country, you would be aroused with feelings of compassion and pity. 

Let me give you a visual example without having to actually leave your chair. The charity organization ‘Water’, has a video which highlights the fact that 758 million people don’t have access to clean water. I don’t know anything about the charity and how it is run, but I do know that you cannot remain indifferent or uncompassionate when you see images of a little girl scooping up water to drink from a greenish/brown algae filled pond. Their video presentation arouses compassion. 

Pantry Packers in Israel, (who I am very familiar with firsthand, they are an efficient well managed charity), provides food to those who don’t have enough to eat. Not having food to eat is something that arouses our compassion.

Water, clean drinking water is a basic need. Staving off hunger is a basic human need. 

Any of us, when confronted with a person in need of water or in need of food, would be aroused with feelings of compassion and we would be moved to help alleviate the dire need. 

Because we usually don’t interact personally with people who need that kind of help the tzedakah and charity organizations play a critical ‘matchmaking’ role in bringing together those who are in need and those who can alleviate that need. 

If you are an upper-class worker, you may feel compassion for a lower income person who is struggling.

Someone who lives in airconditioned quarters, drives a mediocre car, and can even afford a decent vacation if they cut down on other non-essentials. They are not ‘pity cases’ like those who lack water, but they are juggling and struggling to maintain their lifestyle. Especially when an unanticipated expense comes their way. The higher earner feels pity for the difficulty inherent in that struggle. 

If you are even higher on the financial totem pole, let’s say a millionaire, you may have pity on the upper-class employee for needing to take instructions from their superior.

And so it goes on and up.

Till now I have talked about the easiest thing to draw comparisons about. Money and material quality of life.

Let me move to the field of knowledge.

No doubt you feel sorry for somebody who is totally illiterate. I assume that if you meet someone who doesn’t know how to read or write any language and has no basic grasp of simple arithmetic, you will feel pity and compassion for that person.

If you are a mathematician, you may have pity on someone who struggles with algebra. If you are a dietician, you feel compassion and pity for a person who eats in an unhealthy way.

If you are an expert in epidemiology (how germs spread) you likely felt pity, compassion and dread when you saw how clueless people were (even EMS workers didn’t grasp the enormity of the problem at the beginning) about the super-contagion levels of the new virus. People were carrying on their lives as if all was as usual while you, the epidemiologist was screaming ‘DANGER, DANGER’ and no one listened.

King Solomon said: more knowledge and perception causes more pain.

For example, the advent of TV allowed more people to see what they didn’t even know that they didn’t have. And thus, ironically, become unhappier.

The person without drinking water (who hasn’t seen TV) may not even feel compassion for themselves. They don’t know better. Walking a few miles to obtain drinking water with great difficulty, is their reality.

The struggling middle-class worker should not walk around feeling pitiful. Better would be to lower their expectations and be happy with the very acceptable lifestyle that they have.

The millionaire doesn’t feel sorry for his financial state. Although the billionaire may well think of it as being pitiful to need to make choices based on economic limitations (say like flying first class instead of by private jet). 

Likewise, the person who is clueless about germs and microbes doesn’t feel compassion for himself for congregating in a crown without precautions. He doesn’t see the problem to begin with.

How about if I shared with you, that there is a spiritual reality that we are clueless about. A reality so distant from us, that it puts the chasm of division between the leading world epidemiologist and the most medically uneducated person in the world to shame.

Put on Moses’ glasses for a moment. Moshe Rabeinu who ascended the mountain of Sinai and spoke face to face with G-d.

Imagine him coming down from the mountain after conversing with G-d, the two tablets in hand, and seeing the frenzied dancing around the idolatrous symbol of the ‘golden-calf’. 

Can you imagine how Moshe felt? You can almost hear Moshe’s saying:

DON’T YOU SEE THE REALITY OF G-D? HOW CAN YOU BE SO MISGUIDED AS TO PRANCE AROUND AN IDOL?????

If you can imagine the epidemiologists pain, frustration anger and pity mixed in as one when they see a crowded event without precautions, you can multiply it many times to get a glimpse into what Moshe must have been feeling when he saw that sinful spectacle.

(That event, the worshiping of the calf and subsequent breaking of the ‘Two Tablets’ is marked by a Jewish fast day (it was yesterday) which heralds the beginning of the ‘Three Weeks’ mourning period remembering the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash. Click here for more info)

My dear friends, I have something to share with you. 

We live our lives in a TRULY EXISTENTIALLY pitiful state.

We don’t ‘get it’. We don’t ‘see’ the reality. We live in the ‘dark’. We make life choices from a state of illiteracy of sorts. Our lifestyles are often at odds with true reality and the source of the energy of the universe. G-d.

The reality of G-dly energy is the most real thing in the world. 

Real, but even less visible than a microbe. It is a totally different plane of existence. Spiritual existence may be ethereal. But it is certainly REAL. And the vast majority of us don’t see it. Perhaps we don’t even regularly sense it. 

It is here though. Our SOULS know it and feel it because they are IT. We have within each of us a ‘part of G-d’ literally. But our human consciousness is immersed in the physical dimension of life, thus we don’t ‘see’ G-dliness like our soul does.

Can you imagine how much compassion we should have for ourselves? That we don’t ‘get it’.

I know you will be thinking that we are doing pretty okay in life, materially and spiritually and we really don’t have a problem that should cause us to consider ourselves as a ‘compassion’ case.

True. The way we limited physical beings see things we are okay.

From G-d’s perspective though, he looks at us scurrying around, amassing materialism while trampling on our spiritual values on the way and He feels ‘pity’ and ‘compassion’ for our cluelessness. 

We, like the slum dwellers who don’t even realize how pitiful and miserable it is not to have access to safe drinking water, don’t have any idea, how incongruous our behavior is with the G-dly reality that pervades us.

There is no way we as mortals can really see this G-dly reality.

But we can pray. That G-d have compassion on us and grant us the gift of perspective. That we should make our life choices based on the TRUTH of G-d.  

In simple English, we pray for G-d to inspire us to think and live as if we can see the reality of His presence.

So that we will do what is RIGHT and stay away from what is WRONG.

G-d commanded the Jewish people in this week’s Parsha to bring a daily offering in the morning and one in the afternoon.

A lamb in the morning. A lamb in the afternoon. 

The Torah masters point out that a lamb bleats with such a plaintive and wistful tone that it is reminiscent of compassion and pity. 

Compassion/pity in the morning. Compassion/pity in the afternoon.

The deeper meaning of that daily sacrifice is the daily meditation that we implore G-d to have pity on us. 

And that we should have pity on others. 

And ACT on that pity and compassion.

Try it.

Before you pray, says the Torah, give some help to someone in need. 

Then, realize that you should have pity on yourself. Focus on the pitifulness of your state of being. How pathetic it is that your own self-advancement is more important to you than the needs of a fellow. Pity that eating and sleeping come effortlessly, while praying and studying require immense sacrifice. Pity on the colors we are not seeing because of our spiritual color-blindness. 

Not to get depressed G-d forbid, but to realize that we need to take actions to offset what we don’t automatically see. To work harder at making the right life choices and not remain clueless about reality. 

To finish on a practical note:

Having a Tzedaka box in your home, office, car and anywhere else you spend time, and regularly putting money in it for others, is a wonderful way to exercise and build up the muscle of compassion. 

And pray regularly. Prayer is the most effective way of obtaining G-d’s Divine mercy and being granted the gift of a deeper more sublime, more G-dly perspective. This in turn leads you to better choices and more mitzvahs, which leads you to more prayer, more mitzvahs etc etc till Mashiach comes and beyond.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

'Sacrifice’ the ‘easy’ way!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

A congregant and I were commiserating about the difficult times we are living in.

Herman is a leader in the hospitality industry and understandably the current downturn in tourism and the ‘social distancing’ restrictions have created huge challenges in operating the hotel he manages. 

I am in the spiritual leadership field yet for me too it is a difficult time as the restrictions have handicapped many of the standard aspects of Jewish communal life. 

‘But we really shouldn’t complain said Herman’. ‘When my father and cousin were in hiding from the Nazis during WWII there was no ‘FoodPanda’ or ‘Zoom’. ‘Not to mention that my grandparents who were taken to Auschwitz and Sobibor were never heard from again’.

He has a good point. Indeed, it is important to put things in perspective. The previous generations faced threats of mortal danger that we cannot even imagine. For a large percentage of us, the current situation is more about the disruption and the havoc than the actual danger to life. (G-d forbid I am not trying to minimize the toll this has taken in terms of loss of life and health, but for a great majority it has thank G-d been more about major disruption than actual danger).

Jobs are in jeopardy for many. Incomes are less. Uncertainty is rampant. These are not easy times, but they are for the most part manageable. Not life and death. Even our religious life need not be diminished.

Truth be told, we can maintain a great Jewish life even under these conditions. It takes readjusting and learning to do things a bit differently,

Some things have even received an unexpected upgrade during this crisis. For example, I have seen more attendance at my Torah classes than ever before. They are via Zoom, and I can’t serve coffee or shake hands, but the transmission of Torah knowledge, which is at core of what a ‘shiur Torah’ is, takes place fully. G-d has even granted me the opportunity to teach Torah on an international level. Because of this situation I have been invited to do a daily post on Facebook Live via Chabad.org Facebook page. I am not sure how to figure out how many people watch, but it is certainly more than I have ever had before at a class. What a merit this is, to be able to be a Torah teacher in this kind of forum.

The Synagogue was closed for some time. Prayer however, never stopped. You don’t need anything, other than your warm heart to pray to Hashem. You can do it in your own words, at your own pace, in your own place and all by yourself. The prayers I did in solitude over the last few months have been meaningful and inspiring. Many people have shared with me that their prayers have been heartfelt even when done in their own homes.

The Synagogue is now open for prayers on Shabbat. 

(We are phasing our reopening. 

For now, we are open for tefilot/prayer services only.

Communal meals have not yet resumed. 

Sermons and classes are via Zoom only.

Masks required. Social distancing rules followed. 

For those in a higher risk bracket, this is not to be viewed as a professional opinion about the situation here in Bangkok. Please make sure to get professional medical advice as to whether its safe for you to attend.

If you plan to attend, please email me or WhatsApp me in advance so that we can ensure we keep to the limits and requirements.

We hope that things continue to progress here in the miraculously positive way they seem to be going, thank G-d).

Things have not always been so religiously liberated and rosy for our people.

A hundred years ago in Russia things were vastly different. The Bolshevik revolution aimed to replace religion with atheism. The observance of Judaism was seen as being an obstacle in the way to achieving the utopian communist dream.

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitschak Schneerson, defied them and courageously led the battle for the preservation of Judaism in Russia. He did this via his clandestine network of students who founded underground ‘cheders’ where Jewish children would study Torah. Often they were discovered and the teachers sent to Siberia or simply killed by the firing squad. Mikvahs and synagogues, bris and chupa, all of these Jewish rituals were considered anti-state activities and were carried out in hiding by these heroic Jews. 

Eventually the communists arrested the Rebbe and after a summary show trial they intended to end his life as they had done to so many other brave religious functionaries. 

Friends and followers got to work around the world raising an outcry in halls of governments that may have some influence, including the USA. Miraculously, although Russia didn’t usually yield to outside pressure, the Soviet commuted the Rebbe’s sentence to a ten-year exile in Siberia. After more pressure was exerted it was commuted to a three-year exile in a less remote locale. After ten days in exile, the order to free the Rebbe was received. 

Shortly thereafter he left Russia and after ten years in Poland the Rebbe moved to America, arriving in NY in 1940. All the while, till his passing ten years later, he fought the Soviet atheistic designs. The ranks of his devoted followers, who were ready to follow his lead and exert supreme self-sacrifice to continue to ensure that the flame of the Torah would stay alight for the millions of Jews trapped behind the Iron curtain, was thinned by the war and by the small waves of emigration that followed the war. Only a miniscule group of devout, non-yielding observant Jews remained behind, expending every effort to keep the underground Yiddishkeit alive.

The embers remained but the flame was not evident. Jewish life had gone so deeply underground that it seemed truly endangered.

More details about the imprisonment/release here.

Seventy years later in the late 1980’s with Glasnost and Perestroika, those embers were fanned back to life and they became a roaring flame of Jewishness. Today all across Russia, Synagogues, religious schools, mikvah’s, bris, chupa and kosher food are all readily available. Jews proudly and prominently serve G-d with joy and enthusiasm. 

In 1927 when the Rebbe almost faced the firing squad, it looked like the atheistic enemies of G-d had scored a victory. Today we know that nothing could be further from the truth. Hashem and His Torah are the winners.

The Rebbe was released from the mortal threat of imprisonment on the 12th of Tamuz, corresponding this year to Shabbat July 4th. 

It is a day to be celebrated.

It is a reminder that holiness ultimately prevails over unholiness. Good is ultimately triumphant over evil.

The Rebbe said upon his release that since the battle he had fought was for the essence of Judaism, his release represented a victory for every single Jew. Even for those Jews for whom being Jewish is more of a label than an actual conviction. 

More importantly it’s a day to be mindful that when things are not easy, it is not mean we should give up. It means we simply have to try harder!!!!

We are not being asked for the supreme self-sacrifice of endangering our lives.

For most of us, we have religious freedom. 

With that freedom comes the choice to choose to be more spiritually connected or not.

The ‘sacrifice’ of our times is not risking being shot for upholding our Judaism.

Our ‘sacrifice’ is about giving up some of our self-centeredness and desire for self-gratification and think about what is it that G-d wants me to do.

In the supermarket aisles, the choice of buying something inappropriate for a Jew or keeping the shopping cart ‘kosher’, this is where we are being asked to make a sacrifice.

On Shabbat, to be more mindful of the honor and respect we should accord the Shabbat this is the ‘wrestling-match’ taking place in our consciousness.

Our challenges are about trying to be more G-d conscious. 

To study more of G-d’s Torah.

To pray more to G-d. In your own environment in whatever language works for you. 

And by doing more Mitzvahs. Those that connect us to G-d like Tefilin, Mezuzah and Shabbat candles. 

And those that teach us to how to live more wholesomely with others. By being more honest, benevolent, forgiving and gracious. 

If you are a complainer, lets resolve to stop complaining. Complainer can always find something to complain about. This weeks double-parsha speaks about complainers even after being fed G-dly manna from heaven and being treated to a ‘club-med’ kind of experience. Let’s try to adapt to situations we are not used to and reframe things to try and see how things are good

If you are an optimist by nature, good on you. But there is one place you should tone down your natural optimism. When it comes to your own self-growth you should step up your expectations and demand more from yourself. Find something that’s a bit harder than what you are comfortable with, and practice ‘self-sacrifice’ by undertaking that good deed or character trait development.

May we all be blessed with a life of liberty, happiness and great living conditions, and may we use all of that not to be G-d forbid complacent and pampered, rather to use those blessings to springboard and catapault to ever rising heights by adjusting our goals as we advance.

May your ‘sacrifices’ all be about getting better and better from withing a framework of a blessedly trouble free life.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor




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