"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

'the smile'

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I want to tell you about the power of a smile and the importance of Judaism done joyously.

But first I want to describe the potential long term negative effect brought about when Judaism is not doing smilingly and joyously.

Nearly ten years ago, Y.G., a retired Jew living upcountry in Thailand was contemplating having a ‘second bar mitzvah’ on his 75th birthday. We were in contact about it, and he wrote me the following.


Dear Rebbeleh,


The Torah is a baffling thing to me. It is all mysterious and out of bounds as though to say. I am afraid of it. I'm afraid of doing something to make it angry at me. I have great trepidations over it. This is why I'm afraid to be bar mitzvahed again.


I think I told you once, when I was on the bimah at the Mount Eden Ctr. in the Bronx being bar mitzvahed, I held the end of my tallis to kiss the Torah while I was standing there in front of it, and my hand slipped out of nervousness. the tallis slipped and my finger hit the actual Torah parchment, and I nearly blacked out with fright. I remember seeing totally black, and I did not focus out of total fear.


Rabbi …. really scared the living hell out of me. I expected a lightning bolt to come down and just consume me on the spot. He was more orthodox than even you. When I had to recite the lines before reading, I simply was at zero voice. so, they let the kid after me go before me. there were 4 bar mitzvahs for Haftorah Baluk the same day. I managed to do it, and I did it well. you know how clear and bell-like the voice of a 13 yr old can be. I was clear, melodious, wonderful. I surpassed my greatest expectations, made my mother cry, made my father proud, made Rabbi Reiss stand there next to me like it was all his doing. I swore it all off the moment it was over.


I never went near a shul till Bangkok. We are talking from 1953 till I met you. you are a non-scary Rebbe. I like you. And I touched the Torah, and I'm still alive. I always attribute it to God being bored with 4 bar mitzvah bochurim the same day. He went for a nap and did not catch my transgression.




We did a small ‘bar mitzvah’ service on Y’s 75th birthday. When Y read about a bar mitzvah that had taken place in Korea, he penned the following note which he shared with me.


I'm very heart-hardened, but reading about the South Korean bar mitzveh really got to me deeply. I actually felt tears welling up. when I hit my 75th year, I was re-barmitzved in BKK at shul by Reb Yossie Kantor, and I think I felt the same way as Logan felt. Good for you, my boy. Enjoy your life and at one point in your life be bar mitzved again. There is a private, inner joy that cannot be expressed or shared. It is so deeply individual.


Y.G. Thailand May 28, 2017


Besides for the above-described bar mitzvah rabbi in the Bronx, Y. also had a very devout and pious grandfather who had emigrated from Vilna, named Reb Alter, who seemed to have been quite an imposing stern figure. Although he passed away when Y. was a young boy, the image left in his head of Reb Alter, was one of demanding and exacting expectations. In his own eyes, Y. always felt judged as not good enough by his late very serious grandfather. Y’s relationship with G-d developed along the lines of these adult leadership figures in his life. The way he ‘pictured’ G-d was as a very strict short-tempered grandfather who was obsessively looking out for an opportunity to punish him for doing the wrong thing.


(Y. obviously had a very strong and deep Jewish identity as he went on to emigrate to Israel and heroically serve in the paratrooper division of the IDF from 1964 till after the six-day war. After that he became a teacher in Canada and eventually retired in Thailand passing away a few months ago).


In the many conversations I had with Y over the two nearly two decades that I knew him I got to know him well. It became evident that the perceived judgmentalism of his grandfather and the later his bar mitzvah rabbi (whom he referred to as a ‘killjoy’), seemed to define and color his relationship with G-d and Judaism for the rest of his life.


In Y’s mind it was as if G-d was looking to find a way to ‘catch him out’ for doing something wrong. It was very hard to ‘unlearn’ that kind of deeply embedded feeling.


It led me to really internalize that a lack of smile, and a too-strict approach may not be the best recipe for Jewish continuity.


(It is important to bear in mind that while Y had a certain adverse reaction, I definitely do not mean to look judgmentally at his grandfather and bar mitzvah rabbi who came from a very different background than the American born youth they were interacting with. I am sure they were good people that meant well, and many Jews were inspired by them. It never ceases to amaze me how two people can talk about the same experience with vastly different descriptions. Just like two kids with the same parents can turn out totally different…  With all of our best intentions we can never know how our actions are received by others).


Now I would like to tell you the story of a smile. For me it’s ‘the smile’ of my life.


It was thirty years ago exactly. 17th of Elul 5751 – 1991. The summer camp that I was a head counselor of, had ended. The entire camp had now come to Brooklyn for the grand finale of the camp season. Praying Mincha with the Rebbe at 770 Eastern Parkway and the children being given a special talk by the Rebbe. At the end of the talk, the Rebbe distributed packets of dimes for tzedakah to the head staff to distribute to the children. Three to each child.


My two colleagues and I went to the Rebbe to get the dimes for distribution.


The Rebbe blessed with a ‘lichtigen yohr’ (an illuminated year), l’shana tova umesuka’ (a good and and sweet year). The Rebbe then instructed us to distribute three dimes to each child and added ‘make sure to take for yourselves as well’. As the Rebbe said those words his face broke out into a broad smile. You can get a glimpse here…


That smile took but a split second on the clock, but became imprinted into my soul for eternity.


Why did I get a smile on that day?


Because I was a great guy? No, I didn’t for a moment think that I was a perfectly behaved Jew and deserved such a smile.


The smile told me that despite my imperfections I was valuable.

The smile emphasized to me that the Torah way is to try and find something good about a person and highlight that positivity.


Was it somehow precipitated by the fact that I had made a great effort to provide the three hundred campers with a healthy and inspirational summer experience was deserving of a smile?


I don’t know.


I mean, I don’t know what the Rebbe was thinking.


I do know, that thirty years later, living in lockdown, facing challenges that rabbi-school didn’t prepare me for, that smile uplifts and inspires me.


To try to do my best even if its not perfect.


That my contribution is valued and meaningful.


Most importantly that smile reminds me that the most important thing we can do for our own relationship with the Almighty is being joyous.


That the best possible path for ensuring our children’s connection to G-d, is by doing Judaism joyfully.



Y was a colorful person.


There were only two dreams he shared with me as far as I can recall. One was very comical… and I can’t resist sharing it.


In 2007 just three days after his 67th birthday Y sent me the following dream:




I had the strangest dream in the world. I dreamed you and I were in shul in New York City, located in the basement of Hunter College at 695 Park Avenue in Manhattan. The only way out was through a trapdoor in the ceiling and in order to reach it one had to stand on a piano. Then we both got up to the street level, and opened the doors to go into the street, and a man dressed like a postman came out and passed us and he looked like Bernie, and said to follow him. so we did. And as we walked, more people attached themselves to us and followed us, and soon there was a procession of thousands of New Yorkers, and we walked to Houston Street on the Lower East Side near Yud Lamid Peretz Square and potato and kasha knishes started falling from the sky and it rained sour cream. And the entire crowd ate and ate and licked their fingers. And that's where the dream ended.


I think, "Gott hut mir geshtroff'n" (G-d punished me).  What a strange dream. But I did wake up with a taste for real knishes….






The next dream he shared was 13 years later. This was a dream that touched me deeply.


It was the year of his eightieth birthday. I had implored Y that I wanted to visit him on his 80th, just as I have had the great merit to visit other community members on their eightieth birthday (the Torah tells us that elderly people are to be respected for their age irrespective of any other aspect). I said that I would happily drive upcountry even for just a few minutes with him. Y forbade me to come. He wasn’t feeling well and didn’t want to be visited. I had to respectfully not visit.


On July 13, 2020, Y wrote me the following:




I dreamed I talked to THE Rebbe. We sat side by side and shmoo'est (chatted) a bit, and he was just a nice Zaydeh (grandfather) and I loved him for it. I told him about Reb Alter too, and how he was a misnoged (non-chassid). THE Rebbe just laughed and said it really did not matter as we are all the same Jews, no matter what.




I couldn’t believe my eyes. The dream that he had was exactly on his 80th birthday in the Jewish calendar. (I had a reminder set up in my calendar for Y’s Hebrew birthday).


Here is what I wrote to him:




You bring tears of joy to my eyes!!!!


I wanted to visit you on your eightieth birthday… IT IS TODAY (21 Tammuz corresponding to July 27 1940) but you got something even BETTER.


The Rebbe came to visit you in your dream…..


And indeed the Rebbe loved every Jew and made every person feel loved and special…..


Thanks for sharing this special dream with me!!!!!


In the Chassidic tradition, when one has a dream of the Rebbe the next day is a celebration…..


With love and blessings to you for more years of Gezunt, and everything else you wish for yourself!!!!


If you would call me and give me your brochess today (it’s a mazeldikeh day for you!!!) I would be delighted.


Zeit gebensht un zeit gezunt,


Yosef Chaim


PS if you would allow me to come out there and wave at you in person I would be even more delighted 😊


Y left me a note to be kept in my safe and only read after his passing. In it he said he would come to say hi from ‘there’ and would even help me write a Friday sermon. I am using this opportunity to share some of the inspiration that Y provided me with. Y was an avid reader of my weekly article.


Most importantly I would like to use the reminiscing that Y shared with me about his youth, as a springboard for influencing and enhancing the way we relate to the Almighty and to His Torah and Mitzvot and thus generate an 'aliya' (ascent, uplifting) of Y's neshama-soul in Gan Eden!!!!


This weeks Parsha speaks about serving G-d with joy.


I use Y’s inspiration to teach us and highlight how much the Torah’s emphasis on JOY is absolutely critical for our generation. It resonates in one’s heart for seventy years.


Personally, the smile that the Rebbe gave me thirty years ago continues to uplift me and inspire me to smile.


Clearly the smile was not meant to be held selfishly by me. I was entrusted with it, to empower me to spread the smile to others.


My dear friend, you too hold the keys of the transmission of Judaism in your hands.


Make efforts to inject your own relationship with G-d with smiling and joy!!!


Thus you will be contagiously spreading the joy of Judaism onward and outward.


We celebrated the birthday of two great luminaries earlier this week.


The Ba’al Shem Tov, founder of the entire Chasidic movement and Rabbi Shneur Zalman the founder of Chabad.


The great visionary leaders of the Chassidic movement emphasized over and over again the great and immense power of using joy as the portal and mood through which to best serve G-d.


Rabbi Shneur Zalman taught that just before Rosh Hashana, Hashem is like a benevolent king who goes out smilingly to allow his subjects to greet him in the field. We can approach the king just as we are, without having a special appointment, or being clothed as befits appearing before royalty, and ask for what we need.


What a gift we have been given by the birth of those great luminaries, to be taught that that we can approach our relationship with G-d in the loving and joyous model that is provided by the masters of Kabalistic and Chasidic thought.


Living our lives in this way, will enable us to share effectively share our Jewishness with our loved ones, friends and any Jew we come into contact with.


Blessings of a successful ‘count-down’ to Rosh Hashana, a Shana Tova and a Shabbat Shalom.


Rabbi Yosef Kantor

struggling? striving!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I will admit. I am struggling.

But I am happy about it.

Well, let me clarify what I mean.

It’s not like I enjoy struggles just for the ‘fun’ of it.

But I have learned and observed that it is impossible to get from point A to point B without friction, movement, effort and even at times a struggle.

There is something worse than struggling.

It is called apathy.  Indifference. Listlessness. Or even worse, lifelessness.

Yes, struggling is a sign of life.

Let me reframe the concept of struggling more positively by using some of the synonyms that my computer brings up: trying, battling, fighting, striving, grappling.

Essentially all of these words convey one theme. That one is not happy with the status quo and is endeavoring to change it.

This weeks Parsha speaks about going out to do battle.

Many of us cringe at the word ‘battle’. Confrontation makes some of us uneasy.

But battles are necessary at times. The forces of good needs to fight the forces of evil to restrain them or better yet, to rehabilitate them, training and transforming the evil to become good.

Battles are not just the stuff kings and governments decide about.

Battles are fought all the time in our very own minds and hearts.

Every day we face choices.

Do we choose generosity over greediness?

Morality over immorality?

Good over evil?

We are always meant to strive to make better choices.

Click here for JLI’s short impactful video on this topic

The Torah instructs us to do battle. To TRY and overcome. In other words, when things are not as they should be, get up and go out to try and change things for the better. Don’t just go limp and lifeless G-d forbid. G-d forbid when times get tough, don’t just lie down and give up.

Battle the status quo.

Just in case the world ‘battle’ makes you feel uncomfortable, let’s not get sidetracked by using the word ‘battle’. Instead let’s replace it with the synonym ‘striving’.

We are always striving. Or at least we SHOULD always be striving.

Make sure to go into the ‘striving’ mode with a positive attitude. Think and project success.  Imagine the victory you will have over your enemies. Over your inner enemy. Over the voices within you that tell you to give up. Don’t listen to the naysayers. Try your best to do your best.

There is much to struggle about when its only two and a half weeks away from Rosh Hashana and your country is in a major lockdown. With a government limitation in most of Thailand, prohibiting gatherings of more than five people, it is only natural that a Jew would be feeling a little anxious.

How are we supposed to feel upbeat without the benefit of having in person meetings with our local Jewish community?

Every Jew waits all year for the HIGH HOLIDAYS. It’s the HIGH point of our calendar year. Seeing so many familiar faces during the High Holidays. Meeting so many new faces. And enjoying Rosh Hashana dinner with the extended ‘mishpacha’ of several hundred.

How can one not struggle with their feelings under such conditions?

I hope I don’t let you down by admitting that it is a struggle.

I wouldn’t share it if I didn’t know that I am voicing what many others are also feeling.

STOP. Enough of this kvetching and moaning. (I am speaking to myself here).

The Torah tells us to be JOYOUS. To view every situation POSITIVELY.

Yes, it’s a struggle.

But we will WIN the struggle. We are NOT giving in!!!

This is battle that we can win!!!!

Remember, the same Almighty who told us to be joyous and celebrate a meaningful Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, is the same Almighty who controls every single aspect of our reality.

Since it is He who has brought this pandemic situation to the world, we can be certain that He too will give us the strength to be positive, spirited and inspired during these upcoming High Holidays. Even if we may be limited to praying and dining privately in our own – less than five people – venues.

On a practical note, regarding the upcoming High Holidays.

We are waiting to see what the governments rules will be for September. Once we know what the rules are, we will formulate plans and put forth our very best efforts to celebrate the High Holidays – Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, and then Sukkot and Simchat Torah in the best way possible. Of course, safely, and responsibly, abiding by the guidelines set forth the government.

There is a crucial component when trying to draw down Hashems blessings.

One has to TRY to do something to help themselves.

It’s a story in the Midrash.

Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa observed the people in his city going up to the Jerusalem laden with animals for sacrifices.

R’ Chanina was very poor. He was not able to afford to buy animals for sacrifices

He said, ‘all are bringing gifts to Jerusalem, and I am not bringing anything’.

What did he do?

He went outside the boundaries of the city and saw a rock.

He chiseled away the parts that were jutting out. He smoothed it and polished it till it was shiny and extraordinary.

‘Now I need to take it to Yerushalayim’ he said.

He looked for workers to help him transport the heavy stone. He found five workers and asked them if they would help him transport the stone to Yerushalayim. The replied that if he would give them five selah’s they would help him. R’ Chanina looked for money to pay them but at that time did not find the money and the would-be porters left.

Hashem brought five angels who looked like humans and R’ Chanina asked them if they would help.

They responded that they would help if he would give them five selah’s (payable at the destination) but with one condition. That you, R’ Chanina, help us by placing your (hand and) finger on the stone to help us carry it.

R’ Chanina placed his (hand and) finger together with those of the five men. Suddenly R’ Chanina found they were standing in Jerusalem.

Now that the job was done, R’ Chanina went off to look for money to pay. But the five men where nowhere to be found. R’ Chanina went to ask the judges in the Sanhedrin what to do regarding the fees he owed to the porters. Upon hearing the story the sages told R’ Chanina that these must have been angels who brought up the stone to Yerushalayim. No payment was needed.

The story teaches us a very important lesson.

When things look insurmountable obviously one must pray to Hashem for help.

This story tells us that Hashem wants us to try. Even if it is only putting out forth a hand or even just a finger.

When one puts forth an effort, even a small one, one becomes a vessel for drawing forth Hashems blessings.

Actually, the lesson of the Midrash happened to me in real life a few weeks ago.

I was driving along the coast of Phuket to a meeting on another part of the island. I saw the object in the road, it must have been something sharp, as I felt the tire lose its air the moment I went over it. Thank G-d there was an extra lane at the side of the road exactly where my tire went flat. And a beautiful view of the ocean. I am not exactly proficient in changing flat tires. It took me phone calls to the rental company and google searches to even find where the jack was stored.

I was hoping someone would see me in my non-mechanic-looking white dress shirt and offer help, but nobody stopped. Moping and ‘kvetching’ at the side of the road wouldn’t help me so I rolled my sleeves up and got to work. I got the equipment out. Got out the spare tire. And started to attempt to jack up the car.

The moment I had started to jack up the car, a telephone-company car stopped, and two very nice technicians took over. In a few minutes they had my tire changed.

I was amazed. This is exactly what the Midrash story taught.

And this is what I want to share.


That is the first good step. It means you haven’t given up.

And DO SOMETHING about it.

What can you do?

First of all, reframe your struggle by using the synonym: striving. It sounds more positive.

And then, find something that you CAN do. Even if its like a small finger trying to pick up a boulder.

As the Rebbe once wrote to a despondent person ‘doing SOMETHING, even the smallest of things, is better than going to sleep, or even worse, falling into a deep slumber’.

What can I do right now?

Right now I can give you a heartfelt and sincere blessing:


May you be inscribed and sealed for a good and sweet year!!!

And I can share with you that it is a Jewish tradition to share blessings for the upcoming new year with all of your friends and acquaintances.

Now you have something that you can do.

You too should reach out to others wishing them all the best.

And don’t forget to share with them that they too should reach out to THEIR acquaintances to bless them with a good and sweet year.

Thus, the ripples and effects of the blessings will circle the globe and elicit Hashem’s blessings of health, beneficence, shalom for our world.

Culminating in the ultimate of all blessings, the coming of Mashiach, AMEN.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Home? Home!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I write these words from Bangkok…

Yesterday we arrived back ‘home’.

After being away from ‘home’, ‘on the road’, for a while.

Overnight, I got a chance to reflect a little bit about what the difference is between being ‘on the road’ or being ‘home’.

Two things come to mind.

Home is a place where we try and make ourselves as comfortable as possible. Whereas when we are not at home, we make peace with not having all the things we are used to having at home, at home we try and make sure we have all the things we ‘need’ and plenty of stuff we don’t ‘need’. We try to create the ambience that makes us feel comfortable.

Home is also a ‘state of mind’. Home is a place where we feel comfortable just being who we are. Especially if we are at home alone. No need for societal niceties and ‘dressing up’. At home you can just be ‘you’. The way ‘you’ truly are. It is nice to tell your guest ‘make yourself at home’ but as a guest you can’t really ‘make yourself at home’.

At home you can ‘make yourself at home’.

Based on these two points there are two meditations I would like share.


 Truly, we are never really ‘home’ in this material world. This world is an antechamber for the true eternal world. When we depart this world we don’t take our material possessions with us.

Our true ‘home’ is built by the Torah and Mitzvahs we fulfil.

This makes a critical difference in the way we live our lives.

If our material life is not truly our final destination, we can learn to make do without every minute detail of our material life being perfect. The furniture in your hotel room, rented Airbnb or mothers-in-law house, is not so important to you. You don’t obsess over the details of your accommodations because ‘you are just passing through’.

If we realize that during our lives, the material ‘stuff’ is merely meant to serve us as we ‘pass through’, we will not get so caught up in accumulating and perfecting our materialistic desires.

How nice you are in the way you treat others should thus be more important to you than the quality of your furniture or the make of your car.

Making sure to light Shabbat candles before sundown on Fridays will be more meaningful to you than the details of the splendor of the chandelier in your living room.

Our true focus and investment would be in our spiritual palace that we are building. Through doing good deeds and studying Torah.

Those are the things that really count.

Those are the things we should make sure to get better and better at.

This link is to a song which I found really illuminating. *Lyrics pasted below.


G-d wants us to prepare a ‘home’ for Him in this world.

The home design and ‘décor’ G-d feels comfortable with, is outlined in the Torah. Follow the instructions in His manual, and He says (so to speak) ‘I feel so at home here in this physical world’.

Home is the place that we feel comfortable just being ourselves. Not getting dressed up, just being natural. The true being of a person is expressed in their home.

Same with G-d (so to speak).

When we make the world a ‘home for G-d’ the result is that He treats it like His home and reveals His deepest essence, just like a person who is has no need to be ‘dressed up’ while at home themselves.

Link here to article about creating a ‘Home for G-d’.

This revelation of G-d’s essence is what will happen when Mashiach comes.

This ‘home for G-d’ is what we are creating through our Torah and Mitzvahs.

We have been building it for nearly two thousand years.

The Rebbe told us that it is about to happen.


Then we will exclaim loudly and jubilantly


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS: I copied from someones email to me last week in which they used the world ‘gloomy’ to describe the situation in Thailand.

I should therefore copy from an email I got after that

Dear Rabbi,


Since you’re sounding like everyone else in Thailand, this chart from Johns Hopkins, puts things into a better medical perspective, from the news, where things are said to be significantly more dire.

I have not researched the topic myself… but since I shared one perspective I figured it may be helpful to some of my readers to share this other perspective. Our behavior must remain the same in terms of precautions and following the governments directives, but perhaps it will help reduce the fear factor and allow for more peace of mind.

May G-d bless us with health. Through the natural means that he he empowered the doctors with, (vaccinations and medicines) and through above-natural G-dly miraculous means, whatever it takes, in whatever way He chooses… the main thing is that He should bring healing to the world. AMEN

*Just Like You - Lyrics:

I traveled halfway across the world to see a sage

 I heard he lived like such a poor man in this day and age

I said, where’s your leather couches where’s your golden chandelier

Where’s your walk-in closet for all that stuff you could wear

Well all you got is that suitcase my friend, ain’t that true

I said, yeah but you know that I’m just passing through

That’s when he said…

I’m just like you, just passing through just like you

My heart wants to feel something that’s real

And my mind hopes to find treasures of another kind

And if you had my eyes you’d see a palace For you and me

Although he’s been forever living in this town

People say he never really settled down

They say, where’s your leather couches where’s your golden chandelier

Where’s your walk-in closet for all that stuff you could wear

The neighbors talk but they don’t understand

The things he’s collecting you can’t hold in your hand

Like he said…

I’m just like you, just passing through just like you

My heart wants to feel something that’s real And my mind hopes to find treasures of another kind

And if you had my eyes you’d see a palace For you and me

199 Baht lifechanging

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

The optometrist told me several years ago that I need reading glasses.

I heard it, it registered in my mind, I was told that every pharmacy in the USA sells them but somehow, I never got around to buying a pair. Not sure why I didn’t, but I didn’t.

This week I finally bought a pair of reading glasses.

(It fits with the Parsha of the week which is Reeh 'SEE I (G-d) place before you blessing....')

For all of THB 199 (US$6).

My life changed.

I can now read the small words that had been blurry before. I don’t have to squint to try to decipher the small ‘Rashi’ commentary at the bottom of the Torah. I realized in retrospect that I was straining myself unnecessarily for the past years.

I couldn’t help but laugh at myself.

Why in the world had I waited so long to do something so trivial that made such a huge difference.

And then I thought to myself, who knows what other things could be made much better with just minimum of effort?

Small things can sometimes make a big difference.

In the 1950’s there was a Yeshiva bachur who was very intense ‘searcher for truth’ by the name of Reuven Dunin. One morning he came in a state of crisis to the Rebbe. Reuven explained that the ‘battle’ in his soul was raging and he was looking to the Rebbe for a soothing spiritual remedy as he was totally overwhelmed. The Rebbe asked Reuven if he had eaten breakfast yet. When Reuven responded in the negative, the Rebbe asked him to go eat something and return with an exact report of what he had eaten. Reuven got to the Yeshiva dormitory after everyone had eaten, so he collected the bits and pieces of food that he could find on the plates. Upon reentering the Rebbe’s office he proceeded to tell the Rebbe exactly what he had eaten. Apparently, his description of the ad hoc breakfast sounded quite comical and the Rebbe began to laugh and Reuven began to laugh. The crisis was over.

My dear friends, the Covid is overwhelming us all in its reappearance and with all of its strains, mutations and variants.

A member of our community in Bangkok wrote to me after I checked up to see how they are doing:

I’m ok just so overwhelmed by the situation and the gloominess of everything. 

You hear ambulances all the time now I don’t hear traffic where I am but I hear ambulances and if I get it I’m powerless I’m finished. 

I can’t go to a hospital I can’t get a vaccine it’s just overwhelming all of it. 

I’m very ill prepared for an apocalypse. 

Aside for following the medical advice of our respective Health Ministries there is not much we can really do as individuals.

But there ARE things that we can do to mitigate our own anxiety and angst and try to cope better.

Bear in mind. Sometimes it is not the untenable unchangeable situation that is pulling your mood down. Your own reactive mood may be being affected by other things as well.

Proper nutrition is key to staying upbeat. Sufficient rest. Meditative prayer. ‘Unplugging’ for the twenty-six hours of Shabbos. Exercise. All of these small investments of time and attention into your own well being can make the difference between feeling hopelessly overwhelmed or making the best of a very challenging set of circumstances.

And lets not forget the most powerful tool we have. Positive thinking. Looking at things with optimism and joy is the surest way to create a more positive future.

Sometimes its not all that difficult. It just takes a mindfulness. A conscious decision to put on a different set of glasses. The glasses need not even be prescribed by an optician. Maybe for 199 Baht you can change your future reality to be much clearer, tolerable and even enjoyable.

The uniqueness of reading glasses is that it only makes things nearest to you clearer. It doesn’t help for long sighted vision. I would venture to say that it is sometimes important not to look at the big picture which can be totally overwhelming. Rather, to focus on the things nearest to you in the here and now. Those things that are actually in your control. Small things. But they can make your state of mind a totally different one.

There is something even more powerful than putting on ‘joy glasses’. Helping someone else be joyous.

Rabbi Emannuel Schochet was a rabbi and a philosopher. He authored many books and was a prolific lecturer and deep thinker. His son told me this story which he heard from his father who passed away several years ago.

R’ Emmanuel was once attending a ‘Farbrengen’ gathering with the Rebbe and he sensed that the Rebbe was somewhat sad. This put R’ Emmanuel into a sad mood as well.

The Rebbe turned to R’ Emmanuel, out of the many hundreds in attendance, obviously reading his mind and mood and told him ‘nu, Emmanuel, perhaps say ‘Lechayim’ and be ‘besimcha’ (joyous)’. Dutifully R’ Emmanuel raised a small tumbler of wine to wish the Rebbe ‘Lechayim’.

But R’ Emmanuel was still feeling the same way. He was not happier.

The Rebbe didn’t respond with the usual nod of the head and ‘Lechayim’. Instead the Rebbe said to him ‘I  don’t want you to say Lechayim as a ‘favor’ for me. Say Lechayim and be besimcha. If I can’t impress upon you to be joyous, how can I affect myself to be joyous’.

But R’ Emmanuel was still not feeling joyous. The Rebbe looked at him but would not answer his ‘Lechayim’.

The Rebbe called out ‘where is (Rabbi) Hodakov. (Rabbi) Hodakov, maybe you can impress upon your nephew to be joyous? ‘.

R’ Emmanuel Schochet was a nephew of Rabbi Hodakov who was the Rebbe’s chief secretary. He was a very very serious and proper character. You could say maybe the least funny person on the planet. The incongruity of the Rebbe asking his somber uncle to provide him with cheer was so absurd that R’ Emmanuel burst out laughing.

The Rebbe immediately responded to R’ Emmanuel’s raised cup with the blessing of ‘Lechayim Velivracha’ TO LIFE AND BLESSING!

What I got from this story is how the Rebbe was teaching by example that the best way to become joyous yourself is to try to make others joyous.

(There is a fascinating account in the Talmud about the greatness of making people happy even by telling jokes and comedy. Click here for more. And click here to read what the Rebbe told the recently passed-away Jackie Mason Z”L when they met. And that is the basis of including humor in our weekly email 😊 ).

My point to you is:

Take a moment to think about some of the small things you can do for yourself and for others to brighten their day and gladden their life.

This week, I got the following note from an elderly man in our community who is quite challenged.

I do hope that you have all recovered from the accident, please G-d. I am relieved that tomorrow is vaccination day! I am scheduled to receive my first shot of AstraZeneca in the early afternoon. The venue of the vaccination centre is in Bangrak/Sathorn, and I am pleased to report that our friend A. Z. offered to take me there in his car - he called right out of the blue last night and, without my asking, offered to take me there. G-d bless him! I feel so much more confident that my carefully laid plans to be vaccinated are falling into place, please G-d.

This note which came as a result of last weeks email requesting mitzvahs, is a highlight of my week. A. Z. has brightened the life of someone else in an immeasurable way. By doing something quite simple but the result is so exquisite.

And it makes the point about how we can be helpful to others if we put our mind to it.

I am not talking about the big stuff.

It’s the 199 baht or 6-dollar items that I am referring to. Investing the time and small gasoline cost of taking someone who needs help to get around to get to an important appointment. Making a phone call to someone who is not expecting to hear from you. Sending a card, an email or even your best thoughts to someone else.

Those things can sometimes make all the difference in the world.

With blessings of Shabbat Shalom, Chodesh Tov and Shana Tova,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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