"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

forward (march) JUMP!!!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Get out your dancing shoes. Sing with gusto and joy.

This Shabbat is a JOYOUS one. Every Shabbat is joyous. This Shabbat doubly so.

This Shabbat is called ‘Shabbat Shira’, the Shabbat of SONG.

This week’s Parsha relates how Moshe led the Jewish men in song after the miraculous redemption from Egypt.

Miriam, Moshe’s sister led the women in song and dance utilizing the instruments that the optimistic Jewish women had saved for their eventual redemption.

It was seven days after their initial exodus from Egypt. They were still not fully liberated. As they were being pursued by Pharaoh and the Egyptians and were in danger of being recaptured. The sea was in front of them, the Egyptian pursuers behind them. They were stuck.

When it looked like things were not going to end well, G-d miraculously split the sea for the Jewish people. The entire nation of Israel, numbering several million souls at the time, crossed the sea, walking along a perfectly dry seabed. The heavily armed Egyptian commandos were hot in pursuit. When the last of the Israelites stepped out of the sea, the sea came roaring back and drowned every single one of the predatory bloodthirsty Egyptians pursuers.

What had looked like sure disaster had turned into complete freedom.

Now, once the Jewish people knew that their captors had been wiped out, they were able to give complete thanks to G-d for having redeemed them. The joy and gratitude that welled up in their hearts was expressed via joyous singing of praise to G-d.

I missed out one small detail about this story.

Small but majorly consequential.

Let me call it the story of the ‘Nachshon leap/jump’.

Here is the background.

When the Jewish people were terrified, with the Egyptians behind them and the sea in front of them, they received an instruction from G-d.


The problem was that the sea was in front of them.

Nobody knew what to do. How could they go forward if the sea was there?

For Nachshon, the leader of the tribe of Yehuda, there was no question. The sea could not and did not create an obstacle in fulfilling the Divine instruction of ‘travel forward’.

Nachshon entered the sea.

It seems that he didn’t just wade, stride or even march into the sea.

Our Sages described his entry into the seas with the word ‘kafatz’. This translates as ‘jumped/leaped’ into the sea.  Moving steadily forward until the water was at his nostrils.

At this point, something had to yield. Either Nachshon had to stop advancing, or the sea had to retreat.

Nachshon didn’t plan on stopping. G-d had clearly said TRAVEL FORWARD. His single-minded agenda was to carry out the will of Hashem.

What happened in the end?

Nachshon didn’t stop. He was so focused on reaching the ultimate destination as G-d had instructed, that he was literally unstoppable.

Moshe prayed for salvation. Hashem said, ‘raise your stick, and stretch out your hand over the sea and split it’.

The sea yielded. G-d split the sea and kept it split for as long as needed for the entire nation with their livestock and belongings to cross the sea.

What an inspiring, uplifting story!

This is a story we need to be constantly mindful of. We recall the miracles of the splitting of the sea daily as we recite this song called ‘Az Yashir’ every single day in our prayers.

We all enjoy hearing the ‘they lived happily ever after’ part of the saga.

It’s important not to overlook the ‘small detail’ of the ‘Nachshon leap’.

By the way, talking about small details, do you think you may the winner of yesterday’s twenty-million-dollar Powerball lottery?

Oh, you didn’t even hear about it.

Sorry, that means you did not win. How do I know?

Simply, there is no chance to win a lottery without buying a ticket.

Buying a ticket may not seem like such a big deal to you. It doesn’t cost much or require much effort.

It does however provide the needed ‘buy-in’ in order to be eligible to win. Without it, you are not even eligible to win.

(In the ‘olden days’, when traveling on airplanes was a common occurrence, I would have said it a bit differently.

‘If you don’t go to the airport, you certainly won’t get on the flight that you are waitlisted for’.)

Back to the miracle of the splitting of the sea. The sea didn’t just split out of nowhere. Someone did a courageous act before G-d split the sea. That act was not an inconsequential or coincidental detail.

Nachshon’s leap precipitated the major miracle of the splitting of the sea.


Because it symbolizes the ‘leap of faith’ that that Hashem awaits from us. The putting aside of fears, even purely rational ones, in favor of doing what is right in the eyes of Hashem.

But one second, you ask. Nachshon had G-d’s instruction to TRAVEL FORWARD. He knew where that FORWARD was. The destination was Mount Sinai, to get the Torah.

In applying this lesson to our lives, how are we to know what our destination should be?

Simple. Just as in the original story. The destination is ‘Sinai’, the word of G-d as given in the Torah at the mountain of Sinai.

Mt. Sinai and the giving of the Torah was the destination in Nachshon’s times. In todays time as well. The eternity of G-d’s Torah means that in 2021 the destination of a Jew is still Sinai.

Most of the time we know deep down in our hearts what G-d wants us to do. To help others and be less selfish. To put forth more effort in studying Torah and doing Mitzvahs.

But there seems to be a ‘sea’ of obstruction in our ‘travel forward’ trail.

When one truly makes and effort to do all that they can in their ‘forward march’ to their ‘Sinai destination’, reaching deep into themselves, leaving their comfort zones in quest of G-d’, unanticipated and previously unimaginable results may appear.

So what are we waiting for?

Taking the Nachshon leap of faith is not so easy.

The fear of moving forward is crippling. Sometimes its fear of rejection. For others it is fear of failure. Even without being an official life coach or therapist, I have encountered myriads of excuses for not moving forward in the direction that you know you should.

Not easy at all. That is why its called a leap. Jumping means having both feet off the earth at the same time. Daunting and a bit scary. To put aside your fears and follow G-d fearlessly.

Not easy. But liberating.

The only way to vanquish your inner and outer foes, is to take the Nachshon leap!

The result will no doubt be a joyous ‘songful’ one.

The upcoming ‘Shabbat of Song’ is to be enjoyed and celebrated.

Celebrate what?

We celebrate all the blessings Hashem has given us. Starting from the fact that we are liberated and emancipated people. If not for these miracles we may still have been a ‘slave nation’ without our freedoms and without our aspirations.

Let me suggest a special ‘exercise’ for this Shabbat Shira.

Thank Hashem for at three things in your life that you are pleased and thankful about. Do it verbally.  If you are with others, say it out loud. If you are on your own, say it with your lips, annunciate it.

‘I would like to thank Hashem for a) b) and c)…..’

We pray to Hashem for many ‘happy endings’ so that we continue to have reasons to rejoice and sing.

But we shouldn’t wait till everything works out in a blessed way to begin our singing. 

We ought to sing in advance.

In anticipation of the ‘happy endings’.

Joy is powerful tool. Besides for being a vehicle for showing our gratitude to G-d for past blessings, it also powers us up with the G-dly energy needed to take a ‘Nachshon leap’ in the otherwise stonewalled areas of our lives. The ‘Nachshon Jump’ is the way we do our little bit, to invite G-d’s incommensurate blessings into our lives.

May G-d bless our world with the ‘happy ending’ that takes care of all problems, the COMING OF MASHIACH, AMEN!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS See the below picture of the building of the new Campus for Jewish Life in Thailand. Could this be called a Nachshon leap of sorts? Please G-d once the building is completed, we will have a big SONG of gratitude to the Almighty. But in order to achieve the final vision, we must start singing now as well, for only through joy, will we invite the needed miraculous energy to build this magnificent center for Jewish life.


Coffee Connoisseur?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I met someone a few weeks ago at JCafe over coffee.

He was a Jew in his eighties. I cherish my elderly friends, they are repertoires of the experience of life, if you but take the time to listen to them.  Besides for the meaningful topics we discussed, he told me that he will introduce me to a finer coffee than I have drank before. Two days later he delivered on his promise. I tasted the coffee. It tasted good to me. But I cannot honestly say that I appreciated the difference between the ‘superior’ (more expensive) brand and the one I was drinking before.

I am not really the guy to judge coffee. I haven’t developed a discerning taste in coffee. It probably takes a lot of coffee over a number of years to be a connoisseur.

A few days ago, I had another realization about the subtle tastes of life.

I met two ‘serious’ cigar smokers when I was visiting someone in a luxury hotel. Sitting outside in the hotel yard, I told them that cigar smoking always seemed enigmatic to me. Maybe they could finally answer the question I had.

Cigar smoke is so smelly. What did they see pleasurable about it?

The gentlemen I met gave me a short lecture about cigar smoking.

What I gleaned from one of the cigar aficionado’s was eye-opening.

They explained that it’s an ‘acquired taste’.

Everyone starts off getting nauseous after their first cigar smoking experience, they said. But then you get used to it. It becomes tolerable. And at some stage you develop a liking to it. Then you can get an expertise.

I asked him how long it takes to acquire a taste for cigar smoking?

He responded that to develop a serious palate for cigars would take about five years.

I was astonished by this piece of information about how hard you had to work to acquire a taste for something.

And I was inspired. Here is why.

The previous Rebbe of Lubavitch, Rabbi Yosef Yitschak, related the conversation he had with his father, the Rebbe before him, while he was recuperating in a seaside village.

The topic was about the life changing virtuous effects that are achieved through deep daily meditation on the greatness of G-d.

The description there is described in exquisitely uplifting and picturesque terms.

I cannot do justice to its masterful presentation, but in order to make my point I will sum it up in one inadequate paragraph.

Consistent reflection on G-d’s presence leads to a deep refinement of one’s coarseness. With the mindfulness comes the ability for total self-control. Through a program of serious reflection on the presence of G-d,  a great spiritual light is brought down through the meditator into the otherwise material world.

All this pales in comparison said the Rebbe, to the greatest gift of all:

It is a magnificent gift of G‑d to merit an innate sense - a "feel" - for doing kindness to another, to derive deep pleasure from it.

This can develop to the point that one cherishes the other more than oneself.

[What would be the rationale for cherishing someone else more than yourself, YK]

He may find many explanations as to why he deserves his own tribulations, G‑d forbid, but to do so with regard to another's suffering - is absolutely impossible.

The Rebbe continued:

It is worthwhile to toil for five days, five hours a day, exerting yourself, both physically as well as mentally in contemplating G-dliness, in order to arrive at this realization and ‘conclusion’, to truly desire to do a favor for a fellow Jews of a material nature, and especially of a spiritual nature.

My dear friends.

I never understood these above lines better than I did after being educated about coffee and cigars.

Namely, that acquiring a ‘taste’ for something doesn’t come overnight.

Even if it is a ‘self-indulgent’ form of ‘pleasure’.

Can you imagine therefore how hard it must be to develop a ‘taste’ for ‘selfless’ behavior in the service of helping others?

It’s not automatic. It takes investment and work. Reflection and reframing.

It takes effort to develop a feeling for helping others. To acquire a taste and truly savor it, takes even more mindfulness. To really reach the mindset where you feel that others are more deserving of you and thus you help others with relish, may take even longer.

Ultimately to really reach the elusive heights of loving others as yourself you have to be gifted from G-d.

You try your best, and G-d fills in the rest. It is well worth the effort and prayers. It is the pinnacle of Jewish observance.

Love your fellow as yourself is the great rule of the Torah.

Seventy-one years ago, upon the passing of his predecessor the Rebbe made this concept, love of others, the cornerstone of his flagship and unwavering message for our generation. His statement conveyed that this mission was super-applicable and necessary for our generation.

At his inaugural Chasidic gathering in January of 1951 the Rebbe quoted a pivotal teaching of his great great grandfather the first Rebbe of Chabad as his ‘mission statement’.

Elevator pitch summation : If you want to love G-d you need to love people.

More complete quote : Love of G‑d, love of the Torah, and Love of the Jewish people are bound up with one another, so much so that they are all one. Only when you love your fellow as yourself are you able to love G‑d, who transcends the world and is the master of all things. For this reason, the Rebbe relinquished his own physical and even spiritual interests out of love for the Jewish people. If you have love of G‑d but not love of the Torah and love of people, you are actually lacking in love of G‑d. On the other hand, if you love people you will ultimately come to love the Torah and love G‑d as well.

The Rebbe spent his entire life in developing and intensifying this crucial mission of love and care, goodness and kindness.

Click here for a portal about the day of ‘Yud Shvat’ (tomorrows Hebrew date) highlighting the leadership and impact of the Rebbe in connection with the anniversary of assuming the position of Rebbe.

In conclusion: we all do ‘irrational’ things.

Choose wisely what you want to be irrational about.

Supra rational commitment to G-d.

Wanton acts of kindness to others.

Now, that is worth spending five years on acquiring a taste for.

If you put forth effort, Hashem will give you the gift of acquiring a taste for it. For Ahavat Yisrael. You too will be blessed as a result.

May Hashem bless us with Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Unity of Beasts w/ Boundaries

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Multiculturalism or melting pot?

What do you prefer?

The arguments for promoting a society to become a melting pot are many. Let us start with the universally accepted virtue of unity. With a melting pot comes the gift of equal rights for all. Commonality of goals and shared destination makes for a cohesive society.

The multiculturalists will point out no less emphatically, that the uniqueness of the individual cultures is lost when different peoples assimilate into one new identity. The beauty of the mosaic is only to be had when one maintains their distinctiveness and brings it with them to society. Let us thus encourage people to maintain their distinctiveness.

The Torah portion this week sparked my thoughts about this topic.

The fourth plague brought by G-d against the Egyptian as part of the process of liberating the Jewish people, was the plague termed named by the Torah ‘inciting a mixture’.

It’s a name that gives room for some pondering. The name of the other plagues are more easily identifiable. ‘Blood’, meant that the Nile’s waters turned to blood. ‘Frogs’ meant that hordes of frogs swarmed the land of Egypt. And so with the balance of the ‘ten plagues’. They are all self-explanatory. This fourth plague has a name which seems a bit more vague.

The name of the plague is ‘orov’ as in ‘mixture’. A ‘mixture’ that is ‘incited’ against the Egyptians. A mixture of what?

The answer to that is pretty straightforward. It refers to a mixture of creatures that are easily provoked and get even more ferocious and downright destructive when incited.

The details of which kind of beasts they were, are obviously not all that important. This is why the Torah doesn’t give the exact details of what beasts were part of the plague. Just that it was a ‘mixture’. Rashi and the Midrash give some more details. Like snakes and scorpions that came up from the ground. Also other wild beasts. Beasts that we like to see from the windows of a car in safaris. Lions, tigers, bears and other such easily provokable animals.

The name of the plague though, is not ‘wild beasts’ but rather ‘orov’ which means ‘mixture’. The Torah is thus emphasizing that it was the mixture, the combined concoction of many species, that defined the punitive aspect of this particular plague.

Its scary enough when a bear comes to a city and seems bent on going on a rampage. Imagine lions, panthers, snakes and scorpions and a few other lethal creatures added to the mix? It was enough to create a panic and pandemonium that was intended to pressure Pharaoh into releasing the Jewish people.

There is something very unsettling when troubles come from many directions. Even people who usually cope well with stress, when the difficulty is multifaceted, they lose their calm and start to hyperventilate and panic.

Think about our past year and you will recognize that much of the panic is because of the ‘multi-facetedness’ of this attack on our ‘normalcy’. Health, economic, social and various other disruptions. Each problem on its own would be more manageable. Together, they form a greater source of panic and fear.

Plagues are not positive or nice in and of themselves. G-d brought the plagues to bring about a brighter future. To lead to Exodus and the Giving of the Torah at Sinai. This brought a liberation to the Jewish people and a purposefulness to the world at large.

Yet, the details of every plague contain a message for us. Something that we can inculcate and incorporate into our lives, making our way of living more moral and G-dly.

With this fourth plague, it’s a no-brainer. The G-dly message in this plague of ‘mixture’, would be to recognize the amazing undefeatable power of unity.

If ‘mixtures of wild beasts’ are so powerful, imagine how powerful ‘mixtures’ of good peace-loving people must be.

This would point toward the supreme virtue of the melting pot model.

Tearing down boundaries that divide us. Uniting as one. If even beasts can unite as one for G-d, how much more so humans can. And thus, create an unstoppable force of good.

Mixing is unity, unity is what G-d likes.

Hang on a second though.

There is a second part to this. If you don’t stop to hear the second part, it would be like getting a powerful medicine but not paying attention to the dosage. Medicine can be life saving. Too much of a powerful medicine can be lethal.

So, read on please.

This plague also speaks about non-mixing. Boundaries.

This is the first plague that the Torah explicitly describes as being ‘exclusive’ and affecting the Egyptian captors only and not the captive Jews.


Hashem said: I will set apart the land of Goshen, where My people dwell, so that there will not be any mixed horde there. Thus, you will realize that I am God  not only in heaven but also on earth, in the midst of the land.

Now, to get wild beasts to stay out of Goshen would take a G-dly force of curtailing and preventing the wild beasts. Wild beasts don’t usually like to be told where to go and where to stay away.

The lesson from the containment of the wild beasts projects a G-dly instruction to create borders and boundaries.

Quite the opposite of the melting pot. Non assimilatory behavior is the message from this detail of the plague.

Some things need to be contained and defined by borders and fences.

G-d made a very strong two-pronged statement in this plague.

Mixtures are good.

Boundaries are critical.

The two above derived lessons from the one plague of ‘mixture of wild beasts that didn’t trespass the boundaries of the area of their free reign’, is that we need both attitudes.

We need to recognize the incredible blessing of unifying ourselves.

All the while not forgetting the inviolable borders that protect our identities.

I will use a radical example although it is horrific, but it expresses the message powerfully.

Being cordial and friendly to children, even not your own children, is good. Smiling at any young child when you see them usually comes naturally and so it should.

When you see someone being too friendly, ‘overfriendly’, to children it is possibly a warning sign. It should not be whitewashed or ignored. G-d forbid that a pedophile should fall through the cracks and prey on defenseless victims because proper boundaries were not in place.

Friendly is good.

Boundaries are critical.

The message is clear.

There are vast areas of life in which G-d expects us to be unite with others.

Not to be disastrously mistaken as being license to tear down all borders.

There are critical and key aspects of our identities which must remain ironclad in their individuality.

To apply this lesson to ‘Jewish continuity’.

A Jew can and must contribute to the surrounding society. Many have pointed out with pride, the places of prominence that Jews occupy in the world of medicine (Pfizer and Moderna’s Jewish upper management, are trending topics now because of their success with the vaccine), science, business and government.

At the same time, a Jew must always robustly maintain his or her integrity and be unapologetically Jewish. Hashem created various differences between human beings. One of them is that a Jew is a Jew and a non-Jew is a non-Jew. To fudge or blur the boundaries would herald the end of Am Yisrael G-d forbid.

The fact that we are Jewish today is because of our ancestors unyielding commitment to the Torah.

Our commitment to the Torah today, is the only guarantee that there will be a Jewish people tomorrow.

Unite with others yes. Assimilate NO.

Being proudly Jewish is also the best formula to fight anti-Semitism.

To quote Rabbi Jonathan Sacks of blessed memory


Non-Jews respect Jews who respect Judaism, and they are embarrassed by Jews who are embarrassed by Judaism.

Getting the perfect balance is a ‘balancing act’ but at least we need to identify our goals and work towards them without taking our eyes off the destination.

And think about this. The best thing you can do to help your neighbor, Jewish or non, and actually the best way to help the entire world, is by doing one more mitzvah and bringing more goodness into the world.

You and I doing more uniquely Jewish mitzvahs will be good for us and is also the most effective way of bringing good for everyone in the world.

Thank G-d we live in this golden age of history where we have the freedom to observe our religion without limitations.

Let us appreciate our blessings.

My dear friends, grab every opportunity to do something good for humanity.

Do another mitzvah.

Mashiach will come sooner and bring peace to the entire world!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

as Father of Bride what would U do?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Listen to this story. It touched me to the core.

Two brothers had a disagreement. That sometimes happens even in loving families. The disagreement turned into a quarrel. The quarrel started cordially but took a wrong turn and sadly developed into a real hostility. The brothers wouldn’t talk to each other. To the extent that when one of the brothers made a wedding for his daughter, he didn’t even invite his brother to attend.

The wedding was scheduled to begin, but the radiant father of the bride insisted that they delay the ceremony till his father who was obviously running late, arrived. After it got really late the father of the bride was perturbed that his father has not yet come. He called his father in consternation. ‘Father, is everything ok? we are waiting for you to arrive in order to go to the Chupa’.

His father responded, I am really sorry, but I won’t be able to attend, ‘if a brother is not a brother, a father is not a father’.

This puts into story form, the mission statement issued by the Rebbe at his inaugural Chasidic gathering in January of 1951.

The Rebbe quoted a pivotal teaching of his great great grandfather the first Rebbe of Chabad (whose day of passing is today, the 24th of Tevet, click here for more):

Elevator pitch summation : If you want to love G-d you need to love people.

More complete quote : Love of G‑d, love of the Torah, and Love of the Jewish people are bound up with one another, so much so that they are all one. Only when you love your fellow as yourself are you able to love G‑d, who transcends the world and is the master of all things. For this reason, the Rebbe relinquished his own physical and even spiritual interests out of love for the Jewish people. If you have love of G‑d but not love of the Torah and love of people, you are actually lacking in love of G‑d. On the other hand, if you love people you will ultimately come to love the Torah and love G‑d as well.

This is why before we pray every morning, we make a declaration.

“I hereby take upon myself to fulfill the mitzvah, ‘Love your fellow as yourself.’“

It makes perfect sense.

If you come to your Father in Heaven to ask for His benevolence and kindness but you are not treating your brother like a brother… the reaction can hardly be favorable.

So first you ought to love your brother. The first step in that direction is being mindful that this is your intention. Hence the morning declaration of brotherly love.

Then you come to your father. The pleasure and nachas that he has from seeing the filial love between the siblings, is the best recipe for eliciting blessing. Even if you are less than deserving, if you are amicable and peaceful to your sibling, your parent will treat you with the parental love you seek.

Physical parents have limitations to what they can provide.

In this case we are talking about going to our Father in Heaven. He has no limits. Even the formidable impenetrable borders of Egypt stood no chance before G-d.

Thus, this weeks Parsha relates how Moshe is sent to Pharaoh by G-d and instructed to tell him ‘Israel is my preeminent son…. Send forth my son so that he may serve me… you will refuse to let him to leave… I will kill your firstborn son’.

No slave had ever successfully run away from Egypt before. They were that strong and their borders ironclad.

With G-d on our side, our nation numbering six hundred thousand males over twenty, plus women and children, exited Egypt miraculously. In broad daylight. With G-d on your side, anything can happen.

Let us all get a bit better (or even a lot better) at loving each other.

Our Father will be delighted.

The ‘side effects’ will be loads of blessing raining down on our heads.

And the world could use gazillions of blessings.

Health, peace, direction, SHALOM.

And the one blessing that takes care of everything, the coming of Mashiach!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS Rabbi Shneor Zalman the founder of Chabad is the author of the book titled ‘Tanya’. It is usually referred to as being a book of Chabad ‘philosophy’. Don’t let the word philosophy throw you off. Tanya is incredibly practical and still amazingly fresh and relevant. Click here for a nice article about Tanya’s ability to speak even to the ‘uninspired’. For the next five Sundays, please G-d, from 10:45 am – 12:15 PM (BKK time) I am giving the ‘Soul Maps’ course,  subtitled: ‘Kabbalah to Navigate Your Inner World’ course, which is based on the Tanya. It is via zoom at below link. (I am also recording the classes. Contact me if you would like a link).

PPS Will the Chupa finally take place with the Fathers presence? I hope so. If you were the father of the bride what would you do?

Jibress or Bordeaux?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

When G-d gives you lemons….

You ought to make lemonade…

But when He gives you grapes, anything less than wine would be a lost opportunity.

Which is easier to make?

Lemonade or wine?

I can tell you.

Lemonade is easier.

How do I know you ask? Did I ever make wine?

Yep, back there in Melbourne Australia. My grandfather of blessed memory made wine and my father may he live and be well made wine.

They made VERY different styles of wine.

My Zaydeh (Grandfather) made wine that tasted like Manischewitz or King David wine. In Israel it is known as ‘yayn patishim’ literally ‘hammer wine’. Because it clobbers you over the head when you drink it. He got the grapes after his Feiglin brothers-in-law had squeezed them for their first round of juice to be used for their commercial wine production. My Zaydeh didn’t call the leftover grape mix something boring and unappealing like ‘grape pulp’, he called them ‘jibress’ (pronouncing the ‘i’ as in the word ‘give’). Zaydeh, the resourceful man that he was, threw the ‘jibress’ into a wooden vat. Added sugar. Waited a few months. Out came deliciously sweet and high-alcohol wine. We kids loved it. A few sips and you were joyous.

My father’s wine was a totally different story. My father made high-end dry sauterne wines. From the finest grapes. In modern casks. With various gauges to ensure that the yeasts were doing their job. No sugar was added to my fathers wines.

The result was a sophisticated wine. The kind of wine that kids make a face at. Not at all the generic ‘hammer wine’. Hints of various flavors based on the choice grapes were discussed by the wine connoisseurs who sometimes joined us for Shabbat meals.

But it is somewhat of a high-risk game with wine. Especially with my father’s kind of wine. Sometimes the ‘bad yeasts’ came and turned the whole vat into vinegar.

But when you got it right, and the ‘good yeasts’ did their job and turned the grape juice into wine, it was a high-class wine. A delight on the palate. Easy on the head. And a real pleasure to drink.

Much better than lemonade.

That may explain why lemonade is cheaper than wine.

It would also explain why lemonade stands can be made by little children.

Many have used the term ‘when G-d gives you lemons, make lemonade’ as being an apt description for 2020. I used that term in a former article.

In hindsight, and I think 2020 fares much better when viewed in hindsight… I don’t think this year we were given lemons at all.

We were given grapes.

Unfortunately, some people’s grapes turned to vinegar. Sickness. Death. Financial woes. Societal upheaval.

Unpleasant vinegar. (Or at least that’s the way it seems through our mortal eyes). May G-d give them the strength to soldier on.

Thankfully, many were blessed to have their grapes turn into wine not vinegar. May G-d open their eyes to appreciate the wine.

(Even if it’s a more sophisticated dry Bordeaux and not a ‘jibress’ based sugary wine. My wine tip is, try mixing the ‘hammer wine’ with the dry wine, you get a great blend 😊 . The wine connoisseurs will be horrified at the thought).

This week’s Parsha describes the beginning of our Egypt journey. Yaakov is depicted as having spent his absolutely best years of his life in Egypt.

Its rather incongruous. It would be like a saintly Jew coming from Jerusalem to Thailand and saying that he spent the most spiritually elevated Yom Kippur of his life in the shul in Thailand. Even better than Yom Kippur at the Western Wall. That would seem bizarre bordering on impossible.

Yet that is what happened.

When Yaakov went to Egypt he knew he was going to an immoral environment.

But G-d told him to go. And he therefore knew that he was being handed not just a challenge, but an opportunity.

Yaakov fortified his spiritual fortress. He sent his son Yehuda to open a Yeshiva for Torah study. This enabled the extended family of Yaakov to relocate to Egypt and still maintain their integrity and wholesome embrace of G-d’s mission. The G-dly and saintly mission of Yaakov didn’t diminish in Egypt at all.

On the contrary. The commentaries explain that Yaakov didn’t just survive in Egypt, he THRIVED in Egypt.

SPIRITUALLY as well as materially. His children, grandchildren and great grandchildren continued in his path. In Egypt. In the capital of decadence and immorality of the world Yaakov and his family maintained and developed an island of holiness outshining even the one he had left behind in the land of his ancestors.

As it turns out things are not the way they seem. The G-dly energy derived from transforming the assumed spiritual decline into a spiritual elevation actually provided a deeper and more intense spirituality than living in the holy environment of Israel would have provided.

Thus, the best years of his life, in all aspects including spiritual, were in Egypt.

(This was a temporary journey though. Ultimately, after Exodus, the ascent to the holy land of Israel was the goal).

Which means that yes, a person may indeed have a more profoundly spiritual experience in a place that seems most incongruous. This is not a permission slip to seek incongruity. Rather it removes the excuse that so many use for not developing their spirituality because of surrounding inappropriate environments.

(Click here for a variety of scholarly classes expounding on this thought as taught by the Rebbe in a printed essay on this weeks Parsha).

The one-liner lesson from all this is, that even when it looks like you have been handed the ingredients for vinegar, if you look closer you will see that vinegar is made of grapes. It may actually be wine in disguise.

Even if it no longer looks salvageable. The grapes seem to have turned to vinegar already. Nonetheless with G-d’s omnipotence, even situations that look, feel and actually are detrimental can be transformed to reveal their latent powerful good. A good that like in Yaakov our Patriarchs case, is even stronger than easy-to-come-by good.

Let me not beat around the bush.

Everyone has something to say about 2020.

I used to think the best way to describe it was a year of lemons. And tried to encourage myself and those around me to make lemonade.

Nope. I now think it’s a year that we were handed grapes.

Grapes have huge potential.

For some, those grapes turned sour to vinegar. May G-d comfort them and strengthen them.

For the blessed ones, they were grapes that turned to wine. For many, the wine is still maturing.

For high quality wine, you have to work hard and be patient. The maturing process is very important. If you are one of those who are still waiting for the grapes to turn to wine may G-d bless you to have good quality wine. May the effect of this challenging year turn to a source of unimaginable BLESSING.

Talking about wine. Let’s talk about sweetness. Sugar is critical to wine. The natural sugars that are contained in the grapes are the most natural, high quality and health pleasing way of making wine. But as I learned from my Zaydeh you can even turn ‘jibress’ to wine by adding sugar and water.

King David says in Psalms ‘wine gladdens the heart of man’.


I have never felt or understood the importance of faith, joy and optimism in life as much as I have felt it in 2020.

(If you have time for hearing more about joy and positivity as taught from a Torah perspective here are links to the three part Positivity-Bias Zoom Classes Class 1Class 2Class 3)

Caring for others is an identifying feature of this year.

I have never witnessed as much genuine camaraderie, charity, benevolence and empathy as I have during this past year.

One of the stories that touched me very deeply, I would call it my ‘story of the year’ is as follows:

Mrs. L, an elderly woman who had recently lost her husband, was dreading Pesach this year. Pesach without her husband would be devastating enough. The lockdown of COVID-19 and the fear of infecting their elderly grandmother and mother, meant that not one of her children or grandchildren could host her or come to her for the Seder. Never in her life had Mrs. L. had a solo Seder. She was dreading it.

Thankfully she lived in a Jewish neighborhood and had neighbors, the K family, who lived across the yard in a nearby building. They arranged to position their Seder table near the door to their porch. When they opened the door to their porch and Mrs. L. opened her door, she was able to hear the goings-on in this neighboring family’s home.

After Pesach Mrs L. received calls from her anxious children who wanted to know how she had survived the emotionally excruciating ordeal of the Seder nights.

To their surprise she was buoyant and elated. Mrs. L. couldn’t stop exclaiming her absolute amazement at the beautiful Seder she had experienced as an ‘across the yard guest’ at the K family seder. ‘The kids asked the Ma Nishtanah four-questions, the singing was joyous and I really had a full Seder’ said Mrs. L. to her kids.

‘The most miraculous thing of all, was that the K family have the same exact tunes for the Passover prayers as my late husband, your late father. All those traditional melodies that I so enjoy and cherish and that we sang at our family Seders for the last fifty years, were sung. Its totally wondrous that they happen to have those exact traditions’.

Now it was the turn of the kids to reveal a secret to their mother.

‘The K family called us several weeks before Pesach, once it became clear that you would be all alone, and suggested that they invite you as guest from across the yard. They wanted to make your experience complete and meaningful and asked us to record all of our family traditions and melodies’.

This my dear friends is the ‘story of the year’ for me.

It is the way we should live our lives. Not just helping people who need our help. But investing heart, time, thought, energy and creativity in finding the best and most effective and most soothing way of being loving and kind to others.

Click here for a quick but deep thought on this from the Hayom Yom.

Our Jewish year changed at Rosh Hashana. It is now year 5781 since G-d created the world.  

5781 in Hebrew can spell out the following optimistic wish:

ת הא שנת פלאות אראנו

May it be a year of ‘wonders I show you’. i.e. may G-d shower upon us VISIBLE wonders. Visible and comprehensible to all of us. Even from our physical vantage point.

The most awaited for wonder and miracle is the imminent arrival of Mashiach. May he come speedily in our days, AMEN!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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