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"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Joy w/o excuses

By the Grace of G-d

Last week I was blessed to have the privilege to share with you what the Torah teaches about the power of giving blessings. 

It was wonderful to get blessed feedback. Many people sent me their blessings. Even better, many told me that they became more aware of the ability to bless others and gave blessings to whomever they came into contact. And these days we ‘come into contact’, virtually, with myriads of people. Think about it. If you wanted to send blessings to your friends or relatives across the globe you used to write a letter and wait many days till it arrived. With today’s ease of communication blessings that used to be possible only in person or via mail that took much time to get to its destination, can now crisscross the globe in nano seconds.

I am sure if you tried it you are already encouraging others to distribute blessings. If you haven’t become a ‘blessing giver’ yet, try it. You will be spreading light and kindness and be blessed yourself as one of the blessed side-effects of giving blessings to others. 

I had an amusing interaction after giving a blessing and realizing that I had unintentionally almost offended the recipient. 

A friend told me that he was going to Switzerland. I wished him much success ‘mit gezunt un menucha’. It’s a Yiddish and Hebrew mix of words. It translates literally ‘with health and rest’. My friend who is in his sixties and extremely active, understood me to be intimating that I thought his trip to Switzerland was for relaxation purposes. He hastened to point out that my blessing seemed misplaced as he was going to catch up on work in Switzerland where he has a business. And he was actually going to work very hard. 

This is a person who is industrious and very successful at what he does, and he seemed almost offended that I though he was just lounging around.

I was glad he pointed it out. As it allowed me to clarify what this blessing of ‘health and rest’ means. The ‘gezunt’ health component is self-understood. Good health is one of the most important blessings we can with for ourselves and others. 

Menucha literally translates as ‘rest’. Shabbat is called a ‘yom menucha’ a ‘day of rest’.

Yet, even when one is not in a ‘day of rest’ and it’s one of the six working days, ‘menucha’ is still an applicable blessing. 

For example. while driving a car is generally not considered rest, getting all the green lights and having open roads could be termed ‘restful’ driving. As opposed to tediously tiring gridlock or traffic jams.

Trying to reach customer service and being put on hold for hours is tedious. ‘Menucha’ in that context would mean getting straight through to a human who can rectify the issue. 

Every mode of activity can involve anxiety, or it could be flowing and restful.

This, I told my friend was my intention. Whatever you are doing in Switzerland (or anywhere else in the world for that matter) may it be with health and in a restful, tranquil, flowing and easy way.

My friend gladly accepted my blessing once I explained my intention. 

He did better than just accept my blessing. He blessed me that all that I had blessed him with, should be fulfilled by me as well.

AMEN.

So, hopefully your blessings worked, and the recipients are seeing blessings in their life that bring them joy.

This week I heard an inspiring teaching about joy. from an acquaintance who I ‘happened’ to meet as I was preparing to participate in a joyous occasion.

He told me that his relative who is not a Chabad chassid was once visiting New York and took the opportunity to ask the Rebbe for a private audience to request his blessings. During that meeting the Rebbe shared that Rabbi Yisrael of Rhuzin (a great Chasidic master who lived around 200 years ago), had taught the following:

Just as the Mishna teaches us that ‘mitzvah goreret mitzvah’ one mitzvah pulls and elicits and causes another mitzvah, so too ‘simcha goreret simcha’ joy causes and pulls with it more joy. 

In other words, joy is not just a great state of mind and spirit for the duration of time that you are absorbed in it. Joy is also actively at work to bring further joy to your life. It contributes to a more joyous future as well.

The power of being joyous is not just that its beneficial at that time that you are joyous, but it also brings with it a chain reaction. 

This seemingly simple concept may be the missing key for many people’s lives.

For while it may seem obvious that one would take every opportunity to attend joyous occasions, that is not necessarily the case in real life.

Attending joyous events, like weddings, bar/bat mitzvahs, bris, or even birthday parties, is not always easy. It usually requires some level of investment of time and energy and perhaps even money. It is tempting to take the ‘easy way out’ and cook up a reason for not attending.

(Even where ‘in person’ attendance is not currently possible as in Thailand for example, even attending the zoom version is an investment of time and energy especially if there is a different time zone involved. It is far easier not to attend than to attend, even when we are talking about a virtual event). 

If you recognize however that this joyous event, will be the catalyst to lead you to more joyous events, you may be more motivated to muster up the energy and make the effort to get yourself to the ‘simcha’ joyous event, as this has far reaching consequences for your future.

My dear friends, I want to make this practical and actionable.

In many places in the world life is resuming its rhythm as it was before Covid came. The CDC has been quite clear that because of the successful vaccination program, vaccinated people need not wear masks in many settings and in the USA this is being embraced joyously. 

In Israel, life has come back to its vibrant self with the Israeli govt set to declare even more ‘back to normal’ relaxing of rules at the beginning of June. In Asia we are still battling the spread of the virus but the news from the healing countries is reason to be optimistic and hopeful that please G-d in Thailand and its environs things will come back to ‘normal’ soon. 

Gathering, celebrations, parties and other ‘in person’ events are being resumed thank G-d.

Now it is up to us to participate. 

One of the things that Corona has brought with it, is the ability to shrug off attending joyous occasions without creating ill-feeling. In the pre-Covid days if one was invited to a wedding of a relative or a friend, there was a certain ‘obligation’ that was felt. Sometimes it even created a hiccup in peoples friendships if they didn’t participate in their friends joyous occasion. 

Covid precautions took that pressure away. Even as the virus started receding, it was still not ‘back to normal’ and everybody understood that each person’s medical situation may be different. So that even when gatherings were finally allowed, one didn’t question why someone didn’t attend their celebration gathering.

But we need to be honest with ourselves. 

Because inactivity is easier than activity, there is a pitfall we should be aware of. We may continue to rely on ‘excuses’ not to attend happy occasions rather then expend the effort to attend. It’s easier to stay at home in many instances. If its for health reasons, good on you. But if it is just because during Corona you discovered that ‘you can’ stay away without fallout, then I urge you to reconsider.  

This is why I personally found this teaching by the Rebbe so pertinent for these times. It helps us choose what Covid habits we should try to adopt (that is the topic for its own article) and steer us away from habits we should work on shedding.

Attending joyous events of relatives and friends for example is something that we should resume as soon as safely possible.

It is quite simple once you recognize the value of putting yourself into the mode of joy as a part of a chain reaction that will keep generating more joy in your life. Armed with that knowledge it becomes a no-brainer that when you have a chance to be joyous by attending a joyous occasion, you should invest effort and energy in attending (obviously only when it is safe and healthy for your individual situation).

Joy can be generated from within, no doubt. 

Yet, placing yourself in an environment where others are rejoicing and happy, makes it almost impossible not to be drawn into the feelings of joy and happiness.

May the Almighty bless all of us with health and many happy joyous occasions. And may we be healthy in body and spirit and make the effort to participate and host at those happy and healthy occasions with ‘gezunt and menucha’. In good health and in a tranquil, restful and ‘free-flowing’ state of mind. 

Of course, the one major happy occasion that will solve all problems and usher in the eternal state of joy and blissful life is the coming of Mashiach, we pray and hope that it be now! AMEN

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Bless!!! Bless!!!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

The power of blessing is amazing!

We hear stories of great Tzadikim, saintly people who blessed people who were in situations that seemed unsolvable, and the blessing brought down G-d’s miraculous turnaround.

Click here for a story where the blessing the Rebbe gave led to four miraculous births.

Stories of great people giving blessings abound.

But today I would like to talk about the blessings of regular people.

We all have the ability to bless others.

Have you blessed someone yet today?

Try it.

It may just work. Your blessing may come into actuality.

Giving blessings is a win-win. Here’s why.

But first a short word of explanation what prompts me to speak about blessings just now.

It started when someone blessed me yesterday. I unexpectedly saw an acquaintance, and when we parted, he said very energetically, ‘may you have a very successful day’!

As the day came to a close, I realized that indeed his blessing had come to fruition. I had an extraordinarily successful day. In varying things. Material as well as spiritual.

Then I realized that the reading of the Torah on THAT VERY DAY, (it was a Wednesday) was the fourth portion of this week’s portion of Nasso.

It’s the portion of the Torah in which Hashem instructs Moshe to tell Aharon and his Cohen children to bless the children of Israel daily.

Click here for info about this special mitzvah.

Afterwards I also realized that the guy who blessed me is a Cohen.

While only the Cohen can do the ‘Birkat Cohanim’ in the formal sense, one doesn’t need to be a Cohen to bless others in a general sense. And you don’t need to be in a Synagogue setting praying with a minyan to give blessings.

Anyone can give blessings. And blessings can be given in every setting.

If everyone can give blessings, then it seems plausible that everyone should give blessings. We need more blessing in our world.

What happens to the blesser who blesses others?

Hashem said to Avraham our Patriarch that ‘I will bless those who bless you’.

Anyone who blesses one of Avraham’s family will be blessed by the Almighty Himself.

This means that if you bless your fellow Jew, Almighty G-d makes sure to bless you too.

As I said, its win-win.

Give blessings and you receive blessings at the same time.

For some reason, this power and potential that we have, to give each other blessings is underused.

Perhaps some think that you need to be a holy person to give blessings.

Definitely it helps to be holy. The blessings are more powerful and effective. Click here for more on this.

However, the truth is that everyone has the power to give blessings.

You and I too.

Let’s use it!

May you have a blessed Shabbat.

A HEALTHY Shabbat, especially in Thailand and nearby countries which are facing outbreaks of Covid like never before.

A PEACEFUL Shabbat, especially for our brothers and sisters in Israel who have been under the barrage of missiles for almost two weeks now.

May you have a stress-free Shabbat.

May you give loads of blessings and may you be blessed as well.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

ACT for Israel!!!!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

We know how it will end.

‘The wolf will lie with the lamb’.

That is G-d’s promise as prophesied by the Prophet Isaiah.

It’s the way the world will look when Mashiach will come.

Sadly, until we get there, things are not so simple.

And this week they got horrific.

When I asked our daughter who lives in Rechovot, ‘how are you coping’? she responded ‘I hope I don’t have to wake my babies up yet again tonight to run to the shelters’.

Anyone who has not experienced this cannot truly fathom it.

Children, in the safety of their home, in the most comforting space a child knows, their bed, being shaken out of a deep sleep to shelter from murderous missile attacks.

In the holy land of Israel. The one place in the world that every Jew can call a homeland.

First of all make sure not to get confused by our enemies who are using all kinds of marketing and social media to distort the reality.

I don’t know of any Jew in the world who isn’t horrified when they see the ugly swastika or other Nazi memorabilia surface in their environs.

That outrage, amplified many times over, is what we must all be feeling at this time.

What we are witnessing in our beloved Holy Land is the brutal attack on our brothers and sisters, our children and grandchildren, our parents and grandparents. On our fellow Jews.

Our beloved and heroic IDF is doing everything in their power to self-defend.

We must join in the effort. We cannot stand by idly.

But, you rightfully ask what can we do?

First of all, be vocal about your support for your own brothers and sisters.

For those who are fighting for the defense of the people of Israel. They are heroically putting their life on the line for the sake of reaching sustainable and enduring peace.

As well, give moral and any other needed form of support to those living in Israel. They are representing all of us.

We must all pray for Israel.

The Torah promises that Israel is ‘a land that the eyes of Hashem are upon it, from the beginning of the year to the end of the year’.

We pray for that supervision by the Almighty to be revealed in a benevolent and beneficent way.

We need to act on behalf of Israel.

To do mitzvahs. Good deeds that show our attachment to G-d and good deeds that show our oneness with others.

An emphasis should be placed on Tzedaka and acts of goodness and kindness.

For Jewish men, a special emphasis should be placed on putting on Tefilin. The Rebbe explained in preparation to the six-day-war that Tefilin is a mitzvah that has special significance in regard to instilling a fear on our enemies. As well as having the blessing of preserving life. We need to focus on life.

For Jewish women and girls, kindling Shabbat and Holiday candles is mitzvah that should be strengthened and emphasized at this time. Kindling Shabbat candles usher peace and light into the world.

We need peace and light!!!!

This is relevant to each and every one of us.

CLICK HERE for more on what you can do for Israel.

We, the Jewish people are like one body. We stood together at the mountain of Sinai and G-d gave us the Torah. All of us together. If one of us would have been missing the Torah could not have been given.

Here is a little story that happened to me today.

I was going to meet up with Noah, young man whose interest in Judaism was reignited while he was working in Bangkok. We were going to meet in my brother Yehuda’s Chabad house in Westport as Noah lives not far and this way I could visit my brother and meet Noah on the same Connecticut trip.

But first I had a meeting with someone at the Rebbe’s Ohel. My brother Zalman a Chabad rabbi on the west coast, had asked me to accompany his friend who was visiting the Rebbe’s Ohel for the first time. I was eager to pray at the Ohel as I had two pressing matters. The plight of my family and people in Israel and the health situation that my community is weathering in Thailand.

While at the Rebbe’s resting place praying, I had the thought that it would be appropriate to loan a pair of Tefilin for Noah as I had no doubt he would pray in them daily. That would be a good contribution to the efforts for Israel. In my customary note in which I had jotted down the things I was praying for, I included my prayer to be successful in organizing a pair of Tefilin for Noah.

I went to the Ohel with my brothers friend, prayed side by side and then I walked out to the street with him as he waited for transportation. He handed me a donation. I counted it and saw that it was the exact amount of money that a new pair of Tefillin would cost. I told the donor of my intention to spend this money on getting the Tefillin that I had just prayed for. The timing and exact money amount made it obvious to me that this is what I should do. My brothers friend was in agreement and he was elated to be part of this special mitzvah. My brother in Westport happened to have a new pair which I purchased and loaned to Noah. Below I have attached a picture of Noah in his new Tefillin.

It inspired me to see the fulfillment of my prayers with such immediacy.

May all our collective and individual prayers be fulfilled with speed and in their entirety.

May there be peace and tranquility in the holy land of Israel and in the entire world.

Shabbat Shalom and (one day later) Chag Sameach!!!

May you receive the Torah with joy and in a way that it resonates within you.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


What? not Why?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

This note by my colleague Mendy Kaminker summed up my instinctive feelings last week upon hearing about the tragic disaster in Meron on Lag Baomer.

I want someone to blame.

Someone that I can look at
Scream at until I am blue in my face
It's all because of you
That little children do not have a father to kiss
And loving mothers will have to kiss their child one last goodbye.

Or maybe, I don't want anyone to blame.
But give me a link.
A link to donate
To do something
To try to ease the pain of those families
It's just so unbearable
I want to do something.

Or a name of a Rabbi.
A great  Torah scholar.
I want to ask him:
“How can that be? On the holy day of  Lag BaOmer!?”
I want him to give me a beautiful quote from the  Talmud
To make sense of it all.

But no.
I don't want anyone to blame.
And don't give me the name of the rabbi.
And please send me the link to donate soon.
Not now.

Now, I just want to lift my eyes to the sky
And let them fill with tears.
The raw pain
The acceptance that all is in His hands.

For now
We are just one family
One nation
In mourning.

18  Iyar 5781
Mendy Kaminker
Chabad.org

Now it’s already one week later…. it is still very hard to write.

So let me be silent.

Together with you.

Does it make sense for me to write to you that I want to be silent?

If I want to be silent, perhaps I should just not write.

When we were growing up in Australia our mother insisted that we periodically write letters to our grandparents in America.

I remember, on more than one occasion, sitting with pen and paper and whining ‘Mommy, I don’t know what to write’.

My mother would respond ‘write to Zaidy and Bobby that you don’t know what to write’.

In my childish eyes this seemed quite unreasonable. To share with them the non-news that I had nothing to write didn’t seem newsworthy enough to warrant sending a letter.

Of course, as all you adults reading this article understand, it was the connection with our grandparents that my mother was seeking to instill. For the purpose of building the relationship with our grandparents it was definitely ok to write that we didn’t have what to write. As long as we communicated with them.

I don’t know what to write regarding the tragic deaths of forty-five of our fellow Jews at the celebration of Lag Baomer in Meron.

But it is a catastrophic event that cannot be ignored.

(Clearly, the government agencies responsible for events like these as well as civilian professionals in crowd control and event planning need to study what went wrong and fix it IMMEDIATLEY. Something went tragically wrong, and lessons need to be learned and implemented swiftly and decisively. This is the job of government and civil servants).

No words can ever describe the inconsolable pain of the loss of loved ones.

But I want to go join with you. To huddle together during this painful period. So I am writing to you. A letter of ‘silence’.

In a way, by being silent, I am following a precedent set 3,333 years ago in the Torah.

The Jewish people were gathered for the grand finale of the first stage of the inauguration of the Temple (Mishkan) in the desert. In the height of the dazzling joy, as the entire people was rejoicing, the two older sons of Aharon offered a too rapturous sacrifice and G-d took their lives. They passed away.

‘Aharon was silent’ says the Torah.

The reaction of ‘Aharon was silent’ has forever after been a model that is followed when something as unexplainable as the death of his two sons in the height of their holy celebration occurs.

Silence in the face of tragedy is an acknowledgment that the pain and inexplicableness of the disaster are so overwhelming that it cannot be soothed by words. Nor can it be rationalized by logical explanations.

The silence is accompanied by a deep unshakeable faith in G-d.

Aharon knew in the very depth of his soul that it was G-d who had taken his sons.

Yet his relationship with G-d was intact. Aharon knew that he could in no way expect to understand why G-d had done what He had done.

‘Aharon was silent’.

And at the same time Aharon continued his holy work.

Notwithstanding his terrible and painful loss, Aharon continued in his role as the High Priest in the Mishkan.

This too, the continuing of the holy mission of living a productive life after tragedy, has been the template of the Jewish people ever since.

With all the pain and anguish, Jewish observance and productivity continue even when we don’t have the answers as to ‘why bad things happen to good people’.

For while we don’t know ‘why’ G-d allows painful things to happen, we do know ‘what’ we must do in their wake.

What we must do in the aftermath of such a tragedy, where so many precious ‘lights’ have been snuffed out, is create more ‘light’. The pent-up emotions of frustration and feelings of unfairness should be harnessed and redirected towards creating a change for the better in the world.

The souls of the deceased will have no benefit from our falling into immobilizing depression. On the contrary. They beg us to carry on what they can no longer do. Imbue this world with more holiness by doing acts of goodness and kindness.

On a practical note: Here is a link to a website that is collecting ‘Mitzvot’ ‘points of light’ being committed in memory of the deceased.

Take on a mitzvah in memory of the victims and turn your emotion into tangible acts of goodness thus transforming the world.

*****

To my dear Jewish community members in Thailand.

During these days and weeks things are challenging.

There is a sense of hopelessness.

Vaccination program is very behind.

Hospital availability is an issue.

Many citizens of countries like Israel, USA and Europe, that have vaccinations readily available have traveled abroad to be vaccinated.

This is definitely something to be considered as in many home countries it is quite simple for citizens to get vaccines.

Yet, at the same time I know that there are many who are unable to travel to their home countries where they would be eligible to be vaccinated.

It is scary. For older people in particular. May G-d protect them.

To enhance the G-dly protection we seek, let us remember that Hashem is at the helm of this ship. He and only He is in charge of every microbe. Yes, He instructs us to take every precaution that we can to protect ourselves from being infected. But there is nothing to gain from panicking. And the absolute truth remains, that it is solely the Almighty who directs every single germ and microbe.

This is a time to strengthen our belief and faith and trust in the Almighty. The joy and tranquility that comes with faith, is helpful medically as well.

I would like to suggest that you take a look at this website called www.gateoftrust.org whose stated objective is:

Helping people live more tranquil and meaningful lives by learning and experiencing authentic trust in G-d.

There are wonderful lectures and resources for studying about trust in Hashem.

May we all be blessed with good health, and may the Almighty bring us the ultimate good, the coming of Mashiach speedily, AMEN.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 

PS  If there is any way I can help, please let me know.


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