"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

'Hiccup' in Phuket

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,


Yes, it is getting close to Rosh Hashana which falls this year on Monday night September 6, Tuesday and Wednesday September 7-8. Yom Kippur is Wednesday evening September 15 and all day Thursday September 16. There is a tradition to begin wishing Shana Tova already this early.

If wishing shana TOVA is important every year, this year it seems critical.

Thailand Covid daily infections surpassed seventeen thousand yesterday, getting closer to eighteen thousand.

Hospitals in Bangkok are overflowing.

People are locked into their homes in the highest-level curfew ever to be enforced since the very beginning of Covid last year.

The situation is very very grim and challenging.

I am overwhelmed with requests for help due to the crippling of the local economy. I am turning to you for help. If you are able to help your brothers and sisters in Thailand please visit

Bottom line: we NEED the blessing of Shana TOVA a GOOD year more than ever.

It is still impossible to know how to prepare for High Holiday programs and services this year. Even to mention the word ‘services’ is quite optimistic right now as the restrictions on in-person meetings are very tight. However, we should always think positive and pray that we can pray together in-person by the time Rosh Hashana comes. We will please G-d do the utmost within the context of what is medically appropriate. I will keep you posted on plans as we get closer please G-d.

The one thing that every human being in the planet now knows is that we don’t know. And that we cannot make definite plans about the future. All our plans are tentative. For we do not know what Hashem has planned for the future. This has always been the case but during this time period when so many things change from day to day, everyone in the universe is fully aware of it. And it is the same root cause that is causing all of this upheaval for all of us. A lone, errant, nonconformist, illness causing microbe.

We had a personal taste of just how radically plans can change in a split second.

Last week, on Wednesday afternoon we met with a long time Bangkok resident who relocated to Phuket last year at the beginning of the Covid outbreaks. We were happy to see each other again and then he asked me the big question.


Why is all this pain and suffering happening.

The only response I could give is ‘I DON’T KNOW WHY’.

I continued by explaining: Unquestionably, G-d is causing every single detail of this world to happen. This is a pillar of our faith. Why ‘bad’ things happen? We don’t know. To fully understand G-d and know why He does what He does, is not possible for us mortals.  

Influenced by this discussion, a few minutes later I broadcast my ‘Facebook Live’ daily talk and continued along this theme. I titled the talk ‘Hashem runs His world’. Part 1  Part 2

A bit later in the evening we headed back from Chabad House to our hotel excited about our Thursday morning departure to Bangkok. Domestic flights had been cancelled due to Bangkok’s being a deep-red-zone, so we had a car rental organized and were planning to drive home to Bangkok and even visit some Jews we know along the way.

Everything looked fine and dandy and we were raring to go.

It was obviously not what Hashem had planned for us. For on the way to the room we had an accident that landed us up in hospital. Thank G-d we had great miracles and we are now being released, but bottom line, for medical prudence we now need to spend at least another fourteen days in Phuket.

During other time periods this may have caused me great angst, not being able to carry on with all my plans as usual. I had many things scheduled that are waiting for my attention in Bangkok. However, during these unusual times, I have learned to take things more in stride. From being denied boarding on flights due to the piles of paperwork and restrictions, to border lockdowns and curfews, there is clearly a labyrinth of trails that Hashem is leading us on. To be in Hashems hands is comforting. Even if you don’t understand everything that is happening.

Like a small baby being carried by its parent placing its trust fully in that parent. So too, we, are being carried by G-d and we put our trust fully in Him.

Click here for a wonderful resource to strengthen and fortify this feeling of trust in Hashem it is a worthwhile topic to keep on revisiting especially during these times of upheaval.

So its another unexpected for us. My family and I thought we would be in Bangkok by late last week after our two-week Phuket Sandbox quarantine. Hashem had other plans.

(It has been a hectic week navigating the effects of the incident so please forgive me if you are awaiting a response from me on something non urgent. For urgent matters please call me on my mobile phone).

I would like to go back to the question WHY?

First let me share a perspective from the Rebbe that has helped me very much for certain situations.

The following is a free translation of a letter by the Rebbe to s omeone who wrote him regarding a tragic event which occurred in his, the correspondent’s, home. This person had invited members of his community to a festive meal in his home on Shavuot, to celebrate the completion of a Torah scroll which was scheduled to be presented to the synagogue in the days following the festival. In the course of the celebration, a young woman suddenly fell ill and died. The distraught host wrote the Rebbe, posing the following three questions:

A) How can it be that a mitzvah such as the writing of a Torah scroll should be the cause of such a tragedy?

B) What should be done with the Torah scroll?

C) What lesson must he, the host, derive from the fact that something like this occurred in his home?

The Rebbe’s response (the stresses are the Rebbe’s):

... Regarding A):

(1) It is impossible for man, a finite creature, to comprehend all the reasons of the infinite Creator. Indeed, we’d have no way of knowing even some of G‑d’s reasons, were it not for the fact that G‑d Himself told us to seek them out in His holy Torah (Torah meaning "instruction").

(2) According to the Torah, it cannot be that anything negative should result from any of G‑d’s mitzvot (including your Torah scroll); on the contrary, these protect against evil and prevent it.

(3) Each and every individual has been granted a set amount of years of life on earth. (It is only in extreme cases that one’s deeds can lengthen it or shorten it (with some terrible sin, etc., G‑d forbid.))

(4) Based on (1), (2) and (3) above, one can perhaps venture to say that had the departed one (peace be to her) not been invited to the Sefer Torah celebration, she would have found herself, at the onset of her attack, in completely different surroundings: on the street, in the company of non-Jews or, in any case, of strangers; without the presence of a doctor who is both a friend and a religious Jew; without hearing, in her final moments, words of encouragement and seeing the faces of friends and fellow Jews. Can one imagine: a. the difference between the two possibilities?; b. what a person experiences in each second of her final moments, especially a young, religious woman on the festival in which we celebrate and re-experience our receiving the Torah from the Almighty?!

(5) According to the teaching of the Baal Shem Tov—that every event, and its every detail, is by divine providence—it is possible that one of the true reasons that Mr. Z. was inspired from Above to donate the Torah scroll, etc., was in order that, ultimately, the ascent of the young woman’s soul should be accompanied with an inner tranquility, occurring in a Jewish home---a home whose symbol and protection is the mezuzah, which opens with the words, "Hear O Israel, G‑d is our G‑d, G‑d is one." Click here for continuation of letter.

The existential ‘why’ is not answered. Why the person was destined to pass away at that particular time we don’t know. But the Rebbe offered a transformational perspective based on the circumstances in which the passing took place. Passing away at the height of fulfilling the joyous mitzvah, surrounded by people was to be seen as a great kindness. It was not part of the question, it was part of the special kindness of Hashem.

This letter jumped into my mind and helped me reframe our small ‘hiccup’.

But first let me share the context of our accident also had some seeming incongruity.

The day of our accident was a super special day in terms of doing good deeds. Each of us individually had opportunities to both teach Torah to others and practice acts of kindness with others. Even within our usual ‘job’ of teaching Torah and Mitzvahs, this day really stood out as a day of great Mitzvah performance. Actually, just two minutes before our accident we had been engaged in saying a heartfelt farewell to a young lady traveling by car to Bankgok providing her with a holy book of ‘Chitas’ to accompany her on the long more than ten-hour drive to Bangkok. We had just hosted her for dinner at the Chabad house and now we were saying farewell at the hotel. We were both staying at the same hotel. It’s part of the mitzvah of 'hachnasat orchim' hosting, to generate good feelings by saying a proper farewell to someone traveling. This farewell took place just meters away from where the accident occurred just minutes later.

The ‘why’ question becomes amplified. On such a good day with so many mitzvahs an accident should happen?

Let me change the perspective and what emerges is something radically different.

We don’t know why, but it is obvious that an accident was meant to happen to us. If an accident was destined to happen for whatever reason, how would we have wanted to spend our day in preparation of it? What kind of deeds would we have wanted to do to strengthen ourselves and invite G-d’s miraculous protection? We would have wanted to have a day full of powerful mitzvahs.. G-d in His infinite kindness brought us opportunities throughout the day for teaching Torah and helping others benevolently, even more than usual. Who knows, perhaps it was those mitzvahs that provided us the cushion that miraculously saved us.

(Besides for the obvious, that if we needed the use of a hospital, we were blessed to be in Phuket and not in Bangkok in which hospitals are totally overwhelmed. G-d forbid we should have been somewhere 'on-the-road' between Phuket which has world class hospitals and Bangkok. From all angles we have been blessed).

We thank the Almighty for the miracles that He performed for us.

We thank the Almighty for giving us such wonderful opportunities to fortify ourselves for the experience. For Providentially speaking about how ‘Hashem in in charge’ of every detail just a short while before needing to draw on this reservoir of faith. For the mitzvahs that Providentially came our way to buttress and strengthen us with the protection of good deeds.

Last week I wrote about ‘undeserved kindness’ (I wrote the article in the hospital) and unquestionably although I am undeserving of it, we merited Hashems infinite kindness in the most revealed way.


Praise to Hashem for He is good. For His kindness is everlasting!!!

Dear Friend, because we are connected, I take the liberty to write these lines.  

Nechama and I would like to request that you join us in giving thank to the Almighty for our great miracle by doing an additional mitzvah (or two or three). Thank you so much!!! Especially a mitzvah that can bring benefit to others. Reach out with kindness to someone who is not expecting it. Surprise someone with a gift. Light Shabbat candles and bring more light to the world. Study some Torah. And GIVE THANKS TO HASHEM FOR ALL OF HIS INFINITE BLESSINGS.

With blessings for everything good, health and good spirit.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS The situation in Thailand is extremely challenging. The requests of help from people in need has never been higher.

I turn to you to ask you to help others if you are able and to reach out to me if you need help or know of someone who needs help.

For banking details please send me an email 

[email protected]

undeserved and unlimited!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

If you are like many people I know, you don’t really feel comfortable asking someone for ‘free gift’.

Likely, you even feel uncomfortable receiving a free gift.

The Talmud goes so far as to say that if someone gave a gift to someone else, there is a resemblance to a ‘sale’ of sorts. To use the Talmudic language ‘if he (the recipient of the gift) would not have done something nice to the giver of the gift, the grantor of the gift would not have given the gift’.

It’s almost to be assumed that there are no truly ‘free’ gifts given.

This does not mean to say that gifts are always a direct ‘payment’ for something nice you did, but it does give the general context from within which giving and receiving takes place.

Allow me to clarify via example.

If someone you didn’t know at all, were to show up on your doorstep on with a bottle of orange juice on Wednesday afternoon and say ‘happy Wednesday’ and hand you the juice you would probably get suspicious and reject it. ‘What do they want?’ you would think.

If however you invited someone for a Shabbat dinner, even someone you don’t know well, and they deliver that same bottle of wine on Friday afternoon with a Shabbat Shalom note, you would accept it graciously.

The difference between the two is that what prompted the wine on Friday, is the good feeling that the host generated for the guest by inviting them. The host feels that this is a reciprocity for his future hospitality. He If one wouldn’t even feel comfortable receiving a free gift, how much more so asking for a free gift.

Again an example.

Imagine you are stuck somewhere with no option to help yourself through whatever predicament you are in. You have two options to reach out for help. A company that provides a paid service. Or a stranger whom you ask for their graciousness and undeserved assistance.

Many people I know, if they can afford it, will ask for help only from someone whom they can reimburse.

Sometimes however, we are put into situations where there is no choice but to ask for and be a recipient of a ‘free gift’. Sometimes the help we got was so major that there is no amount of money that can ever repay the kindness.

The feelings of appreciation in this case are extraordinary.

Infants ask for ‘unearned gifts’ naturally.

They cry till their parents fulfil their needs. Regardless of whether they did something cute that day or not.

Do they think about whether they ‘deserve’ it like a teenager who thinks carefully before asking for a gift? No. they simply ask, cry and cause a tumult till they get what they need.

On the side of the grantor, do the parents think about whether the infant ‘deserves’ it or not as they would when their teenagers asks for something extraordinary? No. the infant is given whatever they need. No questions asked. No deservingness measured.

With children and spouses there are a lot of other details to take into account, but in general relationships between adults in society I think we can safely say that we ask for what we think we ‘deserve’ and we give what think we ‘owe’.

We complain, sometimes vociferously, if we didn’t get service that we feel we paid for. We thank profusely for getting something that we know we didn’t pay for or deserve.

Moshe asks G-d in this weeks Parsha for a ‘free gift’. Moshe wants to go into Israel and prays numerous prayers beseeching G-d for that wish to be granted. The language used in the request ‘Vaetchanan’ denotes asking for ‘matnat chinam’ a free gift.

In other words, Moshe does not ‘call in his chips’ so to speak. He doesn’t come to G-d and say ‘I DESERVE to be allowed my most fervent wish of going into Israel…’. Why not? Why doesn’t he ‘demand’ it based on his years of impeccable service of G-d.

Who would be more deserving than Moshe? A Tzadik of the highest caliber. A ‘servant’ of G-d who did anything and everything on behalf of the Almighty in his role of shepherding the Jewish people. He suffered much indignity from the complaining and sometimes rebellious people he was tasked with leading. He had never looked for the job of leader. It was G-d who didn’t accept Moshe’s reluctance to be a leader. Hashem told Moshe that although he was trying to stay away from a leadership position, this was a mission that G-d absolutely needed him to fulfil.

After all of that sacrifice, you would think that Moshe would be able to ask for his wishes to be fulfilled based on his credentials and his forty years of uninterrupted leadership of G-d’s people.

Yet, our Sages point out, Moshe beseeches G-d for a ‘free gift’. Moshe does not feel he deserves what he is asking. He simply asks G-d as the source of all Kindness and Benevolence to grant him this deepest wish of his, notwithstanding that he doesn’t deserve it and hasn’t ‘earned’ it.

Our Sages went further and said that this is the standard template of the way our great saintly Tzadikim prayed. They didn’t come with the surety and self-assuredness of someone demanding something that is owed them.

The great people who are truly ‘deserving’, turn to Hashem with humility and ask for compassion and kindness from G-d even though in their own eyes they are underserving.

The Sages go further and tell us, regular people, that this is the way we ought to come to G-d as well. Asking for His kindness that we don’t feel deserving of.

There is a great gift in turning to G-d from this context.

If you are new to this concept, it may sound a bit limiting. Isn’t it more powerful to ask for something you deserve?

Actually, there is a great liberty when one is not limited to asking for what one deserves. The parameters are endless.

You see, when in society you ask someone for something, there are limits as to what is asked, and what is given. Usually, the limits are based on what you feel you deserve or owe.

Lets go back to children. In our society many of us are blessed to raise our children to adulthood, even putting them through an educational system until they have the skills to navigate life.

Parents feel obligated to support their children with their needs till that stage.

Children thus grow up feeling that they are entitled to be fed and educated.


This is why mostly we don’t give our parents or expect form our children a humungous thank you when we provide or are provided with the basic needs like room and board.

However, when a child asks for something that they want but don’t ‘need’, something that is totally unnecessary they don’t demand it in the same way that they would ask for food if it was not provided. If they are a ‘mentsch’ they will give extra special thanks for the gift they were given.

In teaching Bar Mitzvah kids I found out that most of them were in the process of negotiating for ‘play station’ computer games with their parents. I found three different versions. Some children got their parents to pay for their computer game as a bar mitzvah gift. Some parents wouldn’t but their kids a game like that, they did provide them with opportunities to earn money though, so they could pay for it themselves. One child told me that he had a deal with his parents that he would pay half and they would pay half. This was interesting to me and I asked him, a sensitive young man that I know him to be, how did he arrive at that ‘deal. He told me that some kids get it fully paid for by their parents, but he feels that it is not right for his parents to pay fully. It is not a requisite like paying for his schooling let’s say. I then asked him why did he think that his parents should chip in fifty percent in buying the play station. To this he responded that since ‘everybody has it’ he feels that he does deserve to get his parents support of at least fifty percent.

The point I gleaned from this, is that when you ask for something you are ‘entitled’ to you can only ask to the point that you feel deserving of.

This limitation does not at all exist when asking for something you don’t deserve. If you are asking for G-d’s compassion for no reason other than G-d is the ultimate of benevolence, you can ask for everything you want.

It works that way with G-d responding to our prayers as well.

When the grantor is giving only what you deserve, there is a measurement and a formula to decide how much to dole out.

When the grantor is giving a totally unearned gift, he wants to give the best gift he can. No need to be limited to the ‘deservingness’ of the recipient.

I think you hear my point.

Turning to G-d and asking for undeserved compassion and kindness from Him, means that on the one hand the prayer is made with humility for you don’t feel deserving. On the other hand, one can ask for everything one truly needs and desires if one is asking for an unearned gift.

You may be asking, how do I truly put myself into the mindset that I am undeserving. You have a good question there. You indeed have done many good deeds. By the way, I have not yet met a person, who has not done many good things. It usually doesn’t take more than a few minutes of discussion with someone, if you ask the right questions, to find out about the many good deeds they have done.

Are we then truly undeserving? We surely are not instructed to just pay lip service and pretend that we feel undeserving when really feeling entitled. The Torah is certainly not telling us to just put on a show.

Let me first explain the following verse In Tehilim (Psalms). It says ‘You, Almighty have compassion, for you pay everyone according to their deeds’.

How does make sense? If G-d ‘pays’ according to ‘deeds’ then why is that compassionate. Isn’t that simply transactional? Like a kid that gets pocket money for doing chores?. Benevolence would be to give pocket money without linking it to helping out in the household.

(If there are kids reading this, let me advise you that in some households, helping out at home is considered basic human decency and is expected, just as mommy providing dinner is a basic expectation. So don’t go telling your parents that the Rabbi said they have to get pocket money for helping out at home…).

Here is what the verse in Tehilim means.

The fact that G-d created a system whereby He asks for something to be done and considers it so valuable that he provides a reward, this very system is a product of G-d’s benevolence.

There are two parts to feeling undeserving.

Stage one.

Imagine telling your kid that you will pay him for every childish picture he makes. Pictures that have no market value, yet you will pay him handsomely.

Then the kid brings you a childish scribble and starts demanding Picasso top of the line art antique prices. Daddy meant paying handsomely he didn’t say he would pay the unusually high prices that famous rare pieces of art fetch. The kid is misguided in this case when he expects overinflated payment.

This is one level of what it means to feel undeserving. To realize that the kindness G-d has given us already exceeds the usual ‘payment’ and reward for the good deeds we did.

It would be like paying for one loaf of bread and getting one extra for free. If you were hungry the next day and didn’t have money you would not ask for a loaf of bread based on yesterday’s payment. Yesterday’s money was used. You would have to ask for the compassion of the baker to help sustain you.

In that scenario its quite simple to understand why we should be humble and non-entitled. We’ve simply ‘withdrawn’ more than we ‘deposited’.  

But wouldn’t the Tzadikim have enough merits to get them whatever they want?

A timely analogy may be the billionaires who have enough money to get themselves to outer space. For us, it’s a great enough blessing to have money for air travel. Not everybody has that luxury.  Some though, have the gift from G-d of wealth and there is nothing in this physical word in terms of objects that they cannot buy.

The truly righteous are billionaires so to speak in good deeds. Surely they would have enough merits to ask G-d for their prayers to be fulfilled based on entitlement. How and why to they ask for ‘free gifts’ in their prayers.

Get ready for a transformational perspective here.

From an objective reality way of looking, we are so infinitesimally nonexistent before the unlimited energy of G-d that anything we do is pithy and insignificant. Before the vastness and the infinite greatness of G-d we are simply not even as significant as a speck of dust compared to the entire cosmos.

Can our deeds then ever truly entitle us to His attention and kindness?

Yes they can. Because He chose to care about our deeds. If we look at things the way they are according to the ‘rules’ He set forth in the world that He created during he six days of creation, He asked us for our limited human input by doing mitzvahs. And He promised to reward us for those efforts even if they are objectively truly unremarkable human achievements compared to let’s say the celestial holiness of angelic beings.

So as we turn to G-d in prayer, It would behoove us to be soberly mindful of the fact that most of us are probably ‘running on empty’ in terms of what He ‘owes’ us. This should not cause us angst or worry though. Simply it should cause us to come to G-d with our requests with the humility of someone who is asking for something they don’t deserve.

If we take a deeper look, we truly are undeserving. For however much we did, and however well we did it, we are still truly asking G-d for something that we don’t really deserve.

Because the fact that we can talk about deserving or not deserving is as stated in the above verse in Tehilim, a product of His ‘Chessed’ compassionate benevolence and kindness.

This should not make you feel uncomfortable.

This is the way Hashem created our world. As a newborn expects that his mother will nurture him, even as a sheep knows that his shepherd with feed him, we too are dependent on G-ds benevolence. And since He is unlimited and omnipotent, we are in the only truly reliable hands.

See here my Facebook clip this week about how ‘Hashem runs His world’. Part 1  Part 2

And most importantly let us make sure that our levels of gratitude are very high!!! We thank the Almighty for His kindness and compassion of granting us ‘free gifts’ both the ‘natural’ things in life the we grow to get used to and expect, and for the amazing visible miracles that dot our way along our journey in life. Gifts that we don’t deserve, gifts for which we are blessedly and humbly eternally grateful.

With blessings of Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

timely for expats

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Parts of the world are back to some semblance of ‘old normal’.

Other parts of the world, like Thailand and Australia for example, are locked down.

It has become quite clear. At least it seems that way for now.

The countries that got their vaccination programs on target, developing, procuring and being blessed to ‘bet’ on the ‘more successful’ vaccines early on in the game, are now faring way better than those who didn’t manage to successfully navigate the vaccination field.

For mitigating the effects of a pandemic there are immediate steps that need to be taken. Limiting the spreading of the virus via various measures. Distancing, masking etc.

But there are all reactive measures. One of the stated goals is to ensure that the healthcare infrastructure is not overwhelmed. But these restrictions don’t actually shoo the plague away. They just slow down the rate of transmission through the populace.

For stamping out a pandemic, one needs to fight it at the source.

Vaccines are the weapon of choice.

Through G-d’s gift of wisdom to the medical researchers, medicine has been able to eradicate illnesses that used to terrify humanity. Polo, smallpox and many other scourges have, thank G-d, been relegated to history for the most part. Vaccines have been a great gift sent by G-d as we inch closer to the Messianic times when illness will be but a memory.

This is a very powerful lesson.

If you want to deal with a problem, try and solve it at its source.

Say for example you have a headache. Tylenol works to push away the pain. For the time being. But if you get recurring headaches you may want to check if you need glasses. Or whether you need to drink more water. Or maybe a vitamin deficiency. Or eating too much sodium. What you ought to do is try and get to the source and solve it from there.

We are now during the ‘nine-day’ period where we mourn the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash and the subsequent exiling of our people to all four corners of the earth.

Its been too long… almost two thousand years that we wait and yearn for Mashiach. It’s high time for the exile to be ended and the redemption to begin.

In trying to remove ourselves from this reprehensible state, wouldn’t it make sense to look at what caused the destruction and exile in the first place and try to reverse it?

That is exactly why our Sages told us the reason for having gone into exile in the first place. The Talmud teaches that the reason for our long exile is ‘sinat chinam’ which translates literally to ‘hatred for no reason’. The Jewish people at the time of the destruction were divided and acrimonious beyond rhyme and reason.

When two people fight because of a valid reason it too is not pretty. But at least there is a clearly defined item that led them to their quarrel. Let’s say two people are quarrelling over ownership of an object. You find a good mediator and figure out a compromise. Maybe you even split the value of the object. When there is no apparent reason for the divisiveness, when it is ‘hatred for no reason’ that is more difficult.

A parent can’t stand seeing their kids not getting along with each other.

Hatred between Jews is intolerable to G-d.

So intolerable that He allowed the Romans to vanquish the Jewish kingdom, destroy the Temple and exile the Jews.

How to fix it?

Equally straightforward.

LOVE for no reason.

For no other reason than we are both fellow Jews. Just to be friendly and nice. With no angles and hidden intentions.

When we get the right dosage of love, the reason for the destruction will have been uprooted, thus immediately bringing the cancellation of the exile. Presto. Mashiach comes.

When we enter these days of mourning, we try everything possible to stamp the exile out. By focusing on the cause of our exile and trying to rectify it.

The most effective thing we can do to cancel the mourning for ever is LOVE each other. For no reason. Just because we are all brothers and sisters.

The Rebbe proclaimed that the world is at the threshold of the Redemption.

This means that in the context of the nearly two thousand years of exile, we have already moved quite successfully through the process of fixing the problem of hatred.

Sure, we have our disagreements, and as stated above, during these days of mourning the destruction we have to get to work to totally eradicate hatred and acrimony between us. However, if you step back and look at the last two thousand years from a ‘helicopter view’, our time period is quite a peaceful one.

In the context of ‘epochs’ and era’s, if you read through our long history which included civil war and other fierce infighting, you will see that generally speaking the Jewish people of our generation are peacefully engaged with each other.

The Rebbe taught that besides for eradicating the ‘sickness’ at its source, there is also another very compelling reason to act with more love and unity during this mourning period.

To project into the future redemptive state.

Have you ever seen people travel from a wintry locale to a sundrenched holiday location. They are usually still wearing their scarves and coats as they board the plane. Once they are enroute to the warm destination their mind focuses on the sunny weather they are headed to. The winter clothes start to come off. The mindset starts to change. The summer mode sets in.

As we prepare to usher in the wondrous era of Mashiach, we already envision the Oneness of the Almighty being revealed and perceived by all.

When the unity of G-d is evident, our oneness is also palpable.

Harmonious coexistence is natural.

Good will be prevalent. No jealousy.

Unity will be the norm.

Isn’t it tempting to start living that way already now?

We are ‘on the plane’ to Mashiach’s coming

This is the time for unity.

To rid ourselves of the last vestiges of the old-world gripes and disharmonious arguments.

Time to divest ourselves of the ‘winter garments’. To change our mind sets form ‘old normal’. To prepare for a ‘new normal’.

And to prepare ourselves for the ultimate unity that will become the ‘eternal normal’ when Mashiach comes.

Actually, part of what hastens Mashiach’s coming is becoming more aware of the nature of Redemption and preparing for it.

What does that mean on a practical level?

Doing simple acts of love and kindness to others.

For one, say Hi to someone you haven’t been civil with for a while. Or just reach out to be nice to someone who is not in your usual radar. It could be family as well.

Someone shared with me, that after an email like this, they reached out to a brother with whom they had not spoken for years. The ‘broigez’ spat had started over something trivial that mushroomed out of control. Thank G-d they are now in constant contact and one brother helps out the other in a loving way.

So yes, besides being more tolerant to strangers and estranged friends, be more loving to your family members as well.

When in doubt? Act loving.

As our Sages taught:

Be of the students of Aharon. Love peace. Pursue peace. Love G-d’s created beings. Bring them close to the Torah.

With blessing,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS the Almighty gave me a great gift of seeing ‘fruits’ of our efforts, here in the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ initiative.

Sitting in the Phuket Chabad House kosher restaurant which is very quiet (the ‘Phuket Sandbox’ program is not so simple and there has been only a modest influx of tourists. The island is still very empty and relatively quiet) I got to speaking to a youthful fellow Jew from the USA. R.M. was asking me about how we are surviving and how different it must be for the Chabad Houses in Thailand without the flow of tourism.

I shared my vision and mission statement of hosting Jews for Shabbat as an act of love without requiring payment. Just reserve so we know to expect you and join in the loving Jewish family experience. This experience I posited to him is sufficient to melt the walls of separation between our people and allow for greater unity and Jewish awareness and observance.

R.M. said yes you are right. And I know about it firsthand. R.M. then shared how he had been a backpacker nearly two decades ago near Kaosarn Rd in Bangkok with barely a few dollars to his name. He had attended the Shabbat dinner at Chabad House and that had sparked his interest in connecting more deeply to his Judaism. He went on to study with the Chabad in North America and become a more educated and committed Jew.

Small acts of love melt away separateness. They then grow and mature and blossom.

Let’s keep them acts of love rolling.


spilled milk. cry? Shabbat Shalom From Phuket

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

How things can change so quickly.

Not long ago, Thailand was one of the top countries in terms of the management of Covid.

Alas, now Thailand is at the bottom of the list.

What happened? And more importantly what can we learn from it.

And how, for all of us in Thailand and in other countries which are going through the throes of additional waves of Covid, are we to cope with the panic and fear around us.

Let me digress and first of all, share the blessed-for-us news that we arrived back to ‘our place of Shlichut’ ‘Amazing Thailand’ yesterday.

It wasn’t so simple.

Oy vey. At the very beginning of the week, after a weekend in LA with Nechama’s parents, we arrived to the airport in LA all hyped up and excited to have our Certificates of Entry to Phuket. When Singapore Airlines asked us for our PCR tests our faces fell. We didn’t have them.

Now before you judge us for overlooking such a rudimentary requisite, hear me out. From the Thailand side I was told we didn’t need it, ‘check with the airlines if they need it’ they told me. With all the papers that were needed we had assumed that perhaps we need the PCR test as well. But regulations don’t always seem to make sense. So instead of just wasting time and spending money, possibly unnecessarily, to get the tests, we did what we thought was smart. We called the airline to ask. The Indian accented agent was not sure, he kept us on hold for fifteen minutes as he checked with a superior. His answer was we didn’t need it.

The flight manager told us that we must have reached an outsourced ‘call center’ perhaps in India and that we were not the first to get this misinformation. (Upon arrival to Thailand they also asked us for PCR test and so clearly we were mistaken and for entry to Thailand the test is required). We immediately ran to get our PCR test right near the airport, (even though it looked hopeless, but one always has to try), but we didn’t get back in time.

What a disappointment. After midnight, instead of being on a flight to our Asian side of the world, we were shlepping our many pieces of luggage to go back to my in-laws home who were very gracious (and secretly happy) about having us there for two days more.

In my mind I knew it was all Divinely ordained. After all, I had just given a class all about this very topic.

But wait a second, was it fair to ‘blame’ G-d for this? This was OUR mistake, wasn’t it? Immediately after we were asked for the PCR tests we felt so foolish for not having realized that in todays Covid19 environment OF COURSE we needed the negative PCR test.

Is it fair to place this on G-d when really it was just our oversight?


In a class that I had taped on that very day a few hours before heading to the airport (a one-hour in depth class teaching the Rebbe’s presentation of the journey of the Jews in the desert. Click here) focused exactly on that. That all journeys are from G-d even if they are brought about by the bad choices of humans.

This week’s Parsha teaches that the Jews sojourned in the desert on their way to Israel for forty years and spells it out in detail. There were forty-two stops along the way. ‘They traveled from here… and encamped there…’.  About all of those encampments and journeys the Torah says that they were by the word of G-d.

Now, there were a number of those journeys that came about because of the sinful choices of the Jewish people. Our Sages even tell us that if the Jews would have been worthy, they would have had three journeys and then proceeded to Israel directly. Without the additional journeys. This means that most of their travels were caused by their ‘unworthiness’.

If these journeys happened because of a ‘change of plans’ based on their improper choices, were they too by the word of G-d?

The answer is no and yes.

No, Hashem didn’t tell them to do the bad thing. It was THEIR bad choice.

Yes, once that thing was done and they found themselves post-sin in a particular geographical location or in a particular state of mind, they needed to know that they were EXACTLY where G-d had intended that they be.

How do those things reconcile? If G-d gives us choice and let’s say we chose unwisely, differently than He instructed us to choose, how then can we say that we are in the exact space that He intended us to be in. If we would have followed His instructions, we wouldn’t be here.

Its really impossible as mortals to fully understand but here is the general concept.

When a person sins G-d forbid, it is by their own choice. This ‘free choice’ idea is one of the most fundamental beliefs of Judaism. For if we don’t have free choice, we can’t possibly be held accountable for our deeds.

A tiger cannot be blamed for mauling a fellow creature. A person is definitely held accountable for injuring someone else.

Yet, although there is free choice, the result that the sin caused, is not a different result than G-d intended from the very beginning. Which means to say that in a roundabout way G-d did kinda take into account that the person would ‘freely choose’ to do the sin.

Dangerous concepts if taken out of context.

But critical to internalize on some level.

Because although as I will emphasize once more, when we stand before two choices, one good and one bad, we DO absolutely have the choice to choose good.

Yet, when one wakes up ‘the morning after’ in the proverbial ‘mud’ and is tempted to fall into a depression because they are unredeemable off the course of life that G-d had intended for them, the response is that it is one million percent not the case. Even if one reached his destination through a mistake, they are exactly where G-d intended them to be.

The intention generally being the catapulting closer to G-d as a result of the fall. In relationships, the greatest closeness comes after a temporary separateness.

Waking up in the ‘spiritual muck’ that is represented by sin is intended to cause a humungous thirst for closeness to G-d. The kind of thirst and desire that would never be felt if not for the distance created by sin. It is the ultimate closeness that is G-d’s intention. Thus the seemingly ‘mistaken turn’ turns out to be not mistaken.

The Midrash refers to this as a Divine ‘set-up’. Impossible for us humans to really understand wrap our heads around.

In the words of the Kabbalistic mystic ‘if I could comprehend Him, I would be Him’.

Let me put it into a relatable application:

When we were denied boarding and found ourselves schlepping our baggage in the middle of the night to spend another two days in L.A. which we were not psychologically prepared for and initially seemed ‘off-course’, we realized that as believing Jews we were EXACTLY on the course that Hashem had set out for us, albeit unbeknownst to us. And albeit that we had caused this veering off course through our avoidable naivete.

My dear friends,

Thailand made certain choices regarding their management of the pandemic.

Arguably they may have been mistakenly short sighted. Lacking the long-term vision that is so needed by governments to bring this scourge under control. However, as I just pointed out, the outcome of mistakes is also intended that way by G-d in the enigmatic scheme of Divine Providence.

So while we need to learn a lesson (I think that I will have to leave the lesson for next week as this article is already not short…) and we need to try and CHANGE the dismal reality, by making the right changes and choices, at the same time, the situation in Thailand is exactly what G-d intended it to be.

There is no reason to panic. G-d is at the steering wheel. Act prudently and take precautions and get a reliable vaccine as soon as you possibly can. But do so with a determined spirit not with the emotion of being hopelessly overwhelmed and paralyzed like ‘a deer in the headlights’.

I say this especially to my dear friends and congregants, fellow Jews and fellow humans who live here in Thailand and are facing the incredibly fast spreading mutations and variants of Covid. As expatriates, many don’t seem eligible to be granted a vaccine in the early stages which to many seems unfair making it even harder emotionally. Thailand seemed so welcoming to expatriates, yet many feel abandoned. It is a frightful situation that is for sure.

But we need to retain our faith and optimism. It is critical to remember at this time that G-d is still in charge. He always has been, and always will be.

G-d’s instruction in the Torah are: determinedly do what you can to help yourself and G-d will bless your efforts.

If you are need of advice, help, or just a listening ear, please reach out to me or Nechama. We are now in Thailand, in the local time zone and acutely feeling the anxiety that is pervading our country right now.

With blessings for HEALTH, sustenance, nachas and everything else your heart prays for.

Shabbat Shalom

Chodesh Tov

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS could it be that if we arrived on Tuesday as initially intended, we would have been affected by the Covid positive passenger who arrived from Dubai on that same day and caused all his fellow travelers to be moved to quarantine? I don’t know if the timing is exact (we were supposed to arrive at 9:25 am while the EK flight from Dubai arrived three hours later). But I do know that on a personal note it gives an added perspective to our thanksgiving to G-d for all the little details of our homecoming that went smoothly without us even knowing the miraculousness of it.

Let me say it here in public:

Thank you Hashem for all Your kindness to us!!!

as if there is no tomorrow

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I wouldn’t remember the incident so clearly if not for the horrifying event that took place a mere six weeks later.

We make myriads of choices every day. Figure that there are 1,080 minutes of every sixteen-hour day that we have at our disposal to fill with our actions.

Often there are several things competing for our time and for out attention. Say for example you are running out for a meeting at work and your elderly mother calls you to have a chat. Or your child asks you if you can drop them off at school because they woke up late. Or your spouse wants you to take out the garbage on your way out. But you are thinking about that meeting that you don’t want to be late for. Should you take a deep breath, change your plans slightly, or be brusque and stick to your schedule rigidly.

There is a choice to be made in this case and many others like this that we face often.

Sometimes it is not so easy to clearly define what to choose.

Some choices are easy. When one needs to choose between good and bad, like to steal or not to steal, it is pretty straightforward. Or if one is feeling lazy and needs to choose between staying in bed or getting up and going to work, it is really a no brainer.

(There is a handwritten note the Rebbe wrote to someone that I call upon when I encounter someone unmotivated to take action who chooses to ‘vegetate’. The Rebbe wrote ‘any actions that you take to rectify your situation, is better than sleeping. How much more so it is better than falling into a deep slumber’).

Staying in bed to avoid life is not a productive choice. It’s pretty easy to know what to choose in that instance. Get up and start your day. Even if you are not sure how successful your actions will be, it is the right thing to at least make an effort.

However, when you are up and running and being industrious, doing good stuff, and then you are faced with the dilemmas I mentioned above, it gets a little more complicated.

Work is important but so is family and friends. The balancing of the two is not always so easy.

I had one of those moments.

It was a few days before the holiday of Shavuot, I was in New York, busily running from meeting to meeting. It was after more than fifteen months that I had been in Bangkok during the Covid-19 lockdowns. I had scores of New York supporters who usually visit Thailand for business, to catch up with. My schedule was already ambitious, and I wasn’t sure how I would fit everything in.

Just then, a friend from my year in Yeshiva in Florida sent me a message and asked me to do him a small favor. To go into the bookstore in Crown Heights and send him a newly printed Shavuot Siddur and ‘Tikkun’ for the all-night Torah study that is customary on Shavuot. (The youth of today would automatically order this book online. My friend is in his late sixties though, and the way to get a new book in an expedited way, is to have someone go into the shop and buy it). Usually I wouldn’t hesitate, the problem was that that it would add at least twenty minutes to my already hectic schedule.

I decided that it’s not often that I get to do a favor for this friend, let me just go ahead and do it. Once I got to the store I found out that to get the book there in time for Shavuot I would have to send it extra special delivery at an additional hefty cost. I decided to go all-out for my friend and send it as a gift with a nice card.

My friend got the Shavuot prayer book in time, was touched by the note and thanked me from the depth of his heart. I was happy to be able to something nice for a friend of more than three decades.

I don’t know if I would remember this story, except that last Thursday morning I learned that this same friend and his wife were in the building in Surfside that had collapsed.

As of the writing of this article they are still missing.

The situation is horrific. Think about it. People doing what is usually the least dangerous thing in the world. Sleeping in their own homes, in their own beds, in the middle of the night. As babies we learn that our bed is a safe place. To make it feel even more safe as we grow up, we sometimes pull the covers over our face as if to keep out the dangerous world out there. To think that all of this can come crashing down in just a few moments is terrifying.

The families of those who are missing are going through excruciating pain that is beyond description.

We can only pray...

And pray we do. First and foremost for those missing and for their families and loved ones whose lives have been torn apart. We also pray for all the rest of us, that our lives be healthy and safe. Successful and blessed.

However, when something tragic happens we dare not just relegate it to wanton coincidence and not recognize that this too, like everything that happens in this world, is from G-d.

Why does G-d bring these things we don’t know. And we know that we cannot know. We are created beings. G-d is the Creator. We are not light years away from him, we are infinitely distant from being able to fathom Him.

Rabbi Tzvi Freeman penned these words in connection with the Surfside disaster

When something like this happens we need to get shaken up.

When a person gets ‘shaken up’ the facade of human invincibility is torn asunder. This recognition of the impermanence of our material ‘castles’ must then be utilized as an opportunity to turn to G-d, the only truly permanent entity and endeavor to try and live our lives in a more meaningful and positive way according to the Torah.

Here is one lesson I learned.

I looked back at the WhatsApp conversations with my friend, and I found a picture of the prayer book that had arrived in time for the festival, alongside the accompanying note ‘compliments of Yosef C. Kantor’.

It dawned on me that I could have easily not have taken those minutes to send the book. I could easily have made the calculation that the expedited mail was too expensive and not worth it to get a prayer book to a friend in time. I almost didn’t go to the shop and once I was there I almost thought ‘it wasn’t worth it’ to pay that amount to get the book there in time.

From my current perspective, with the horrible situation that has befallen my friends, things look so different. I thank the Almighty that I was blessed to make the decisions that I had made.

Imagine how I would have felt if I wouldn’t have made those choices?

My dear friends, we need to make our choices based on a context that is larger than the immediacy of the narrow window of time we live in. Our decisions about how to spend our time should be less about the bottom financial line and more about the ‘real’ bottom line, doing the ‘right’ thing in the eyes of G-d.

Our Sages told us ‘return to G-d one hour before you pass away’. The thing is that nobody knows the hour of their passing. This means that technically every hour could be the last one.

Indeed this is what the Sages are saying, live every hour of your life the way you would want to live the last hour of your life.

Or to frame it from the context of Mashiach’s coming - as the Rebbe taught our generation that we should be anticipating to be the ‘first generation of Redemption’ - make your choices as if this is the last hour before Mashiach will come.

The coming of Mashiach is going to usher in a revelation of G-d of transformational proportion. What would you like to be doing when that epic moment happens? Would you like Mashiach to come when you are halfway through the ice cream container on the couch with your shoes off. Or would you like Mashiach to come when you are doing something mindful and meaningful

Our entire life should be lived from the perspective of ‘how can I best utilize my time do fulfil G-d’s will for me here on earth’.

To go back to my initial quandary. Sometimes it may mean not letting anything distract you from getting to the meeting in time. Especially if let’s say you are an emergency care responder. In that instance, stopping to chat with your mother when responding to an emergency call would be wrong.

Sometimes it may mean not letting the appeal of achieving more material success lure you away from spending quality moments with your child when they need your attention. If you come a few minutes late to the meeting maybe your profit will be less, but the love you showed your child will stay with him for a lifetime.

When you need to make a decision, think about how you would feel if this was one of the last days of your life. Do the most objectively meaningful thing. The holiest thing. The thing that brings the most comradery, peace, kindness and benevolence to the world.

And think also, how would you respond if you knew that the person asking you for your time would not have much time left here on earth. I am not advocating G-d forbid for dwelling on morbidity, but rather realizing that some of the opportunities you may have now, may not always be here. Cherish and take advantage of those special moments to spend with loved ones without telling yourself that you will get to it later….

May the Almighty have mercy on all those missing in this horrendous Surfside tragedy. And may the Almighty protect us all from further tragedies and bless us all with everything safe, healthy, happy and good.

Especially, as we are know during the ‘Three Weeks’ of mourning the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash – the Holy Temple in Jerusalem, may our deeds of Torah and Tzedaka bring about the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Bet Hamkidash speedily in our days, AMEN.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS with the Almighty’s blessings, and with the help of so many of you dedicated friends and supporters, the land for the new cemetery has been transferred to our hands and we will soon do the traditional rituals for ‘hallowing the ground’ of the new Jewish cemetery just outside Bangkok (Chachensao).

Much of the funds have been raised, but there is still a way to go and in order to conclude the purchase a very short term bridge loan – GEMACH – was given by a generous individual. This needs to be repaid within a very short time.

Any help is much appreciated.

For more information or further discussion please reach out to me.

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