"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Happiness in difficulty

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

As a parent, when I heard the aphorism ‘you are only as happy as your least happy child’ I found myself nodding in agreement.

A person can be blessed with many children and all of them may be happy and doing well. Except that one of them is not doing so well. The mood of the parent will most likely reflect not the happiness of the majority, but the angst of that one single child who is going through difficulty.

This is the way human nature instinctively works.

The Torah teaches, that G-d is like a father to us.

Let us take a peek into the Divine and reflect on G-d’s relationship with us as a parent.

How does He handle, so to speak, our joys and disappointments?

In this weeks Parsha, Yosef reveals to his brothers that ‘I am Yosef’.

Instantaneously, the brothers go from their fear of Yosef whom they thought was a hostile despotic Egyptian ruler, to deep shame and embarrassment from their younger brother whom they had sold into slavery.

Yosef’s saintliness comes to the fore in his reaction.

Not just does Yosef not take revenge on this brothers, he treats them with extraordinary benevolence.

These are the same brothers who caused him the untold grief and pain that he endured during his twenty-two years away from his beloved father.

Yosef now invites them to come and live comfortably in Egypt at his expense.

The Zohar says, we need to try and learn from Yosef’s magnanimous approach to those who had wronged him.  

As Tzvi Freeman puts it:

“Even when your heart burns with fury at those you envy or despise, or have wronged you, even at the time that your mind is assaulted with thoughts of spite and revenge—

—even then, you have the power to do the polar opposite of what the beast within you demands you do, to refuse to entertain those nasty thoughts or to express any anger, and instead to deal with these people with respect and even greater kindness to the opposite extreme.

 Click here for the full article

Yosef then sends a message to his father Yaakov to come down to Egypt.

Yaakov is fearful to leave his ancestral land of Israel and relocate to Egypt. Hashem appeared to him and reassured him that He would be with them.

"I am God, the God of your father. Do not be afraid of going down to Egypt, for there I will make you into a great nation. I will go down with you to Egypt, and I will also bring you up.

G-d promises the He will be present with the Jewish people in Egypt.

But not just in Egypt.

In the book of Isaiah (63:9) there is a verse ‘In all their troubles, He was troubled’.

Our Sages explain the meaning of this. In every journey that the Jewish nation make, even when they are in troubled spots, in exiles such as Egypt, Babylon and the current exile, Hashem is right there with them.

Moreover, this also pertains to each of us individually, continues the Midrash. Whenever someone is in trouble, Hashem is with them. As it says in Psalms (91:15) ‘When he calls on Me I will answer him, I will be with him in distress’.

This knowledge, that we are never alone, even during troubled and difficult times, is uplifting. It may not erase the challenge but it takes away the aloneness that so often accompanies suffering.

It is that way with joy as well. Hashem is right there rejoicing with us when we have times of joy.

The Midrashic work Mechilta tells us that the verse (I Samuel 2:1) ‘I rejoice in Your deliverance’ means that when there is joy to the people of Israel, there is joy to Him.

שמחה לישראל, כאלו שמחה לפניו

But this seems to pose a bit of a quandary.

At any given time, there are people who are in deep trouble and G-d is with them in their trouble.

And at that very time there are joyous things going on in Am Yisrael which cause joy to the Almighty.

How does Hashems empathy with two opposing situations like this work?

Obviously with Hashem, who is unlimited, non-definable and omnipotent, this is not a question. The talk of joy and trouble in Heaven is allegoric and poses no real question.

However, with us humans, who may be empathizing with a child who is going through a challenging time, and at the same time rejoicing with a child who is celebrating a happy time, it is truly challenging.

It is beyond the scope of this article to explain how to balance these emotions.

For now, I wanted to suggest that we try to be more mindful of the good things that are happening to those we love and care about. not just have angst from the challenges they face.

I must be honest and admit. I was more aware of the words of empowerment and solace of Isaiah regarding Hashem being with us even during our exile and suffering, than I was regarding Hashem rejoicing with us when we rejoice.

Sure, it made perfect sense, but it took me time to find the actual source in the words of our Sages. The quotes about Hashem being with us in troubled times are in my experience, more universally known.

(It was so exciting for me to see the quote about Hashem rejoicing with us that I shared the Hebrew text, just in case there are others like me who are not so familiar with that quote).

This may be telling. It may indicate more than a gap in my knowledge. Perhaps it reflects a certain bias in terms of when we most feel Hashems presence. It may be that we feel that special presence of G-d more during challenging times than during good times.

This week’s Parsha tells us about the emotionally charged reunion between Yaakov and his favorite son Yosef after twenty years of separation. Our Sages tell us that Yaakov recited the Shema at that encounter. The simple explanation is that Yaakov wanted to take those overwhelming emotions of love and gratitude and focus them toward G-d who was with him at that time.

Click here and here for further thoughts on this inspiring topic.

This teaches us that in our lives as well, we should aim and practice to be more mindful of Hashems presence in our lives when we enjoy good times.

I suspect that sometimes in our lives we have a form of selective empathy with others. The sad events that happen to others get our attention more quickly and affect us more deeply.

The celebratory and joyous events amongst our loved ones sometimes require more effort for us to really feel and identify with.

When there are two emotions competing for the upper hand in our minds and hearts, it seems quite common for the anxious feelings to be the winner. Hence the saying ‘you are only as happy as your least happy child’.

What can we do about it?

Well, first of all we need to be aware of it. As then we can work on changing it.

It doesn’t have to be or remain that way. We can work on balancing our feelings and even tilting them towards joy.

Without minimizing or being indifferent to the plight of others, we can choose to also reflect on the good and joyous things that are happening to us.

Perhaps we can even coin a new phrase.

‘Allow yourself to be as happy as your happiest child’.

I can see the unhappy child not being so happy that his or her parent is happy even when they are unhappy.

What the unhappy child may not realize is that this is for their good as well. For a happy parent is always more effective.

(Not to be confused with ‘toxic positivity’ which means that you don’t at all acknowledge someone else’s pain and suffering. Definitely one needs to validate the difficulty that a child or a fellow is going through. I am advocating for not getting stuck in a despondent mood, or going into a funk for the rest of the day. It doesn’t help the one you are trying to help either).

 The Zohar has told us that it works that way in our relationship with Hashem. If we are joyous down here, Hashem beams down joyousness and blessing from Above commensurate with our joy.

Which means that if you want to change the ‘Divine energies’ coming down to you from Heaven, you should try to put some joy into your life.

If I had but a few seconds to explain to someone how to change their reality for the better, an elevator pitch, it would be this Kabalistic teaching about the great power of being joyous.

Try it.

It will lead to a lot of good things. Better physical health. Better spiritual health as you will be energized to doing more mitzvahs and studying more Torah.

If you don’t naturally feel happy, try ‘jumpstarting’ your system. ‘Fake it till you make it’. Even force yourself to smile if you need to. Studies have shown that even fake smiles are positive and often lead to genuine smiles.

May G-d bless you with multiple genuine reasons to be joyous so that you can easily and truthfully be happy. And the Almighty ‘gains’ as well as He is there with us during our joyous times.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS I don’t know about you, but I have been receiving multiple emails with tzedakah opportunities as we end the fiscal year.

I think it is wonderful.

And I am certain that buzz of activity around tzedakah and philanthropy that takes place during these final days of the calendar year, certainly cause Hashem much joy.

There is no greater way to emulate G-d than by acting like Him with benevolence and kindness.

Giving takes many forms.

One way is through giving money.

Money is a very powerful way to express your feelings of benevolence and kindness. Sometimes it’s important to stretch yourself a bit beyond your comfort zone and give more than you feel comfortable with (not G-d forbid endangering your financial situation). Like with a physical workout. It’s good for your health to put forth exertion.

Tzedakah is good. Period. Give, and give more, to the chartibable causes that speak to you.

One of my responsibilities is raising the funds for providing Yiddishkeit in Thailand.

Please consider giving a ‘Chanuka - fiscal end of year’ tzedakah gift to building Yiddishkeit in Thailand as per below

Are you a saver or spender?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

We celebrate the miracle of Chanuka for eight days.

The reason being, that after the Maccabees victoriously entered the Bet Hamikdash they immediately set out to reinstate the kindling of the Menorah in the Temple. They searched for pure ritually uncontaminated oil. They found one flask that was sealed by the High Priest.

The oil that was enough for one day, burned for eight.

There is a classic question regarding this.

If there was enough oil for one day and it lasted for eight, doesn’t that mean that the miracle was only for seven days?

Think about it. For the first day of kindling the Menorah there was enough oil. Naturally, without a miracle there was oil enough for one day. It was only from the second day onward that it started becoming miraculous.

Why do we then celebrate Chanukah for eight days?

There is a lot of discussion around this question.

Click here for a detailed essay on this topic .

One of the answers is, that finding the oil was itself a miracle. On the first day of Chanukah, we celebrate the miracle of finding the oil.

Another angle is that on the first day of Chanuka we celebrate the military victory where the weaker Maccabean fighters prevailed over the larger and mightier Greek legions.

I would like to focus on two other answers provided by great Rabbinic Sages more than three hundred years ago.

When the Jews found that one flask of oil that was enough for only one day, they had a dilemma.

They knew from experience that the time needed for producing new ritual olive oil was eight days.

There are two possibilities.

Either they filled up the Menorah with the full quantity of oil to kindle for that first day in the proper way. Disregarding the fact that this would leave them totally without oil for the following seven days.

Or, knowing that they needed to stretch this oil for eight days, they only filled the Menorah with one eighth of the oil. Thus allowing for at least a partial fulfillment of the kindling of the Menorah.

The miracle in the first scenario was the fact the oil level only went down one eighth every night. Thus on the first day of Chanukah there was already a miracle. The flames were alight, while the oil was not consumed as usual. Only one eighth.

In the second approach, the Menorah was only one eighth filled but burned as if it was totally full. This miracle started on the first day and continued every single day of the following seven days.

In both accounts the Jews of that time were witnesses to a miraculous slowdown of the rate of combustion of oil. This miracle started from the very first day of Chanuka and lasted for eight days.

Every single day was a miracle.

Which is why we celebrate Chanuka and light the Menorah for eight full days.

What jumps to my mind when thinking about the two scenarios regarding the usage of that one insufficient flask of oil, are the real live accounts I have read regarding the concentration camp inmates during the Holocaust.

Reading those Holocaust diaries is heartrending.

What took place only eight decades ago is already unimaginable to us, as it should be. The bestial inhumanness of the Nazis is a scourge on human history.

Those painful and detailed accounts of the indescribable conditions in the death camps expose some of the deepest aspects of human behavior.

In various personal diaries of Holocaust survivors there is mention of the two different kinds of approaches to the daily bread ration.

Some would eat it immediately. While it did not satiate them as the amount was too paltry, it did relieve them of the intense hunger pangs for at least a while. It also guaranteed that it could not be stolen from them. But it left them without any bread till the next days distribution.

Others would carefully divide their bread ration into several portions. They would allow themselves to eat only a small portion of the bread. They knew that they would be in need of the nutrition later on, as meager as it may be.

What caused some inmates to finish their bread at once and others to divide it up?

It would appear that different people have different approaches to dealing with these kinds of scenarios.

During the most desperate times, whilst suffering from acute malnutrition and hunger, there were two approaches to consuming the meager bread ration.

At the other end of the spectrum, during the heady victorious time of the Maccabees, when faced with the holy and inspiring task of kindling the Menorah there were also those same two options.

Fill in the Menorah fully, to at least do the mitzvah properly on the first day.

Or divide the oil up into eight portions, so that at least every day they could do some of the Mitzvah.

What would you and I have done if you had to make the decision on how to use the limited oil when you knew it would not be enough for your needs?

Perhaps we too as ‘different folks’ with ‘different strokes’ would have had those same differences of opinion.

But there is no need to get too concerned or even panicky about our possible varying reactions.

The great miracle of Chanuka assures us, that whatever way the oil was divided, the miraculous outcome was the same.

The Menorah burned for eight days. Uninterruptedly.

Perhaps we can learn an important lesson from this regarding reducing our stress levels.

Let me use driving a car as an example.

Some people drive ‘on edge’. They are always changing lanes. Zipping in and out. Trying to catch green lights even as they are turning yellow. Never driving under the speed limit. (I am not talking about reckless driving which is wrong and forbidden).

Others are more laid-back drivers. They take their time. Catching a red light doesn’t bother them very much.

Each style is unique.

And each style is valid.

And it is not just about driving behaviors where people differ.

In all aspects of life different people have different approaches.

Some people are stressed out about their retirement account.

Others spend their finances happily and wholesomely, without always thinking about their old age. (Within reason. I am not talking about irresponsibly frittering away needed funds).

Some of us get really uptight and constantly try to fight our natural disposition.

Perhaps, the story of Chanuka, and particularly the Sagely discussion about how to allocate the oil, can reassure us that both approaches are valid.

And here is the punch line and the most important part of this discussion.

In both instances, the Almighty intervened and miraculously caused the Menorah to burn for the full eight days.

Many have seen that in reality; the uptight driver does not necessarily arrive at his destination before the laid-back driver.

For those who are blessed enough to be well into their years of retirement they know that there are those who always lived excessively frugally yet do not necessarily have a better quality of life when they actually arrive at retirement.

I am not advocating for either side.

Rather, I am suggesting that one can feel comfortable with embracing whatever nature it is they have regarding the ‘how to divide up the oil’ kind of dilemmas.

Provided that they recognize that the outcome is ultimately up to G-d.

If G-d is your Provider, then all you need to do is act responsibly. And there are various approaches to what responsible behavior may be. They are all fine, provided you leave space for Hashem.

Reducing stress levels is a mitzvah.

Trust in Hashem in the full and proper way, reduces stress.

Its good for our material health. And vital for our spiritual growth.

In this weeks Parsha we are told that Yosef was delayed in prison because he ever so slightly put too much emphasis on his own efforts to get out of prison, thus delaying G-d’s miraculous intervention by two years. Click here for an enlightening article regarding the balance between faith and human efforts as it pertained to Yosef.

Let us kindle our personal Menorahs by adding in acts of goodness and kindness and holiness.

And once we do our bit, the way we should, each according to their personal and distinctive nature, may G-d bless our efforts with MIRACULOUS SUCCESS.

Shabbat Shalom

Chodesh Tov

Chanukah Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

are you a gold miner?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

While I as growing up in Melbourne, we once had a school trip to visit one of the oldest Synagogues in Australia. It was about a two-hour drive from Melbourne in the town of Ballarat.

Why was a Synagogue built in Ballarat in the 1860’s?

The ‘Gold Rush’.

Significant gold deposits were discovered in the Ballarat area in the 1950’s which sparked a flurry of immigration to Australia. Many Jewish people came from around the world to participate in this blessed windfall.

Would you travel half way around the world to participate in a ‘gold rush’?

It’s hard to relate to the question as we are not miners.

Let me ask it differently.

If you heard of an opportunity to buy an expensive house for 20% of its value but only if you personally showed up to sign the title deed. The problem is that it is in a location that is many thousands of miles away from where you live.

Would you make the effort to get on the plane and show up at that location?

I think there is a good chance you would.

Moreover, while you may not be a miner, I think that if you knew that you had gold in your backyard, you would figure out how to hire a professional mining company to mine that gold.

I would like to hope that barring health challenges, none of us are silly or lazy enough to turn away a blessing that G-d has provided for us.

Even if it requires some effort.

Let me steer this conversation to something more meaningful than gold.

Let us talk about self-worth as human beings.

And in the context of Judaism, let us take a look at our intrinsic and existential Jewish identity.

These are the equivalent of ‘gold’ in terms of the human and Jewish experience.

Do we each have ‘gold’ in our own ‘backyards’?

Welcome to the story of CHANUKAH!

The holidays of the Torah are immemorial and age-old, yet acutely relevant and pertinent.

The Maccabees were victorious.

Bet Hamikdash was in disarray.

The Menorah couldn’t be lit because there was no pure uncontaminated olive oil.

The Jews searched for oil.

Their efforts yielded the finding of one flask of pure, holy, olive oil. Sealed with the seal of the Kohen Gadol (High Priest).

My friends, this is a message to us all.

The oil is there. But it must be found.

One must sometimes search and dig and even mine.

Deep down, there is an untainted, uncontaminated spark of humanity, of intrinsic worth and value. A place within us that is aware of our irreplaceability in the eyes of G-d.

As Jews we know that our souls have a place where nothing can sully it. It remains purely faithful and committed to G-d.

Our souls yearn for one thing. To be more at one with G-d.

The Jewish spark within us can never be extinguished.

This is the reason why there is no ‘exit’ from being Jewish. No matter how much a Jew observes or lapses, he or she remain Jewish forever. It is a part of our existential identity. You cannot change something that is part of our core identity.

Albeit it can sometimes be hidden.

Sometimes you need to pull out the shovels.

Even the excavators. The mining tools.

Chanukah assures us that if we search, we will find the untainted oil.

Within our own ‘temple’ deep inside of ourselves.

How timely, that the book of ‘Tanya’ that teaches exhaustively about the Jewish soul inherent within us, was printed just before Chanuka some two hundred years ago.

(There is an annual cycle of Tanya study that begins today. Click here for many different types of study options and lectures.)

This is all good for people who are open to reframing their thought process to one of positivity.

But some people are not so sure if they should buy in to this optimism.

Some people are full of self-doubt.

They insist on homing in on their negativity spots.

What is the correct way?

Consider the following teaching from (today’s) Rambam lesson. (Today’s lesson according to the 3 chapter annual cycle).

When a blemish appears in a house, even a sage who knows that it is definitely a blemish should not definitively say: "A blemish appeared in my house." Instead, he should tell the priest, "It appears that a blemish appeared in my house…. Afterwards, the priest will come and inspect the blemish.

The Torah tells us that when we are inspecting our home and see something that may be a ‘blemish’, don’t label it as being a blemish. Call an expert Kohen for an assessment. Until the expert has ascertained that it is indeed a ritual blemish, view it as a possible blemish. Don’t decide that it is a ‘blemish’.

The lesson here is, when it comes to negative self-evaluation, be super cautious. Don’t jump to conclusions. Definitely don’t view yourself as being blemished by default.

If you are a pessimist and really like beating yourself up, stop doing that.

It’s not the way advocated by the Torah.

Rather, be a Macabee.

Believe in, and look for, the ‘gold’, the ‘oil’, the untainted spark of Divinity that is embedded in your soul.

And if this is how you should view yourself, how much more so, you need to view your fellow person as a veritable gold mine. As a full flask of untainted oil.

Only if you are a ‘doctor’ and it can be of benefit to notice someone else’s shortcoming in order to help them, should you concentrate on someone else’s flaws. Otherwise, see the good in them and concentrate on that.

And they, just like you, do have good intrinsically embedded within them.

The story of Chanuka reassures us that if you search, you will find.

Try looking at yourself, your spouse, your parents, your kids, and your colleagues from this perspective. I am convinced that you will be uplifted and astounded by the positive energies that this will unleash.

If you think that small spark of soul within you is not enough to sustain you? Lest you be concerned that the inspiration of that spark of light is not enough to sustain you?

Think again.

The oil that was enough for one day, lasted for eight.

The inspiration that comes welling up from deep within your soul will be enough to sustain you till you get to the proper space and environment to obtain fresh inspiration.

On a practical note:

Do you get attracted by ‘too good to refuse’ offers?

Are you savvy enough to act, before an opportunity passes and you are left with regrets?

Then now (starting this Sunday night) is the time to act.

For the next eight days there is an opportunity that is infinitely valuable.

Avail yourself of the miraculous energies in the air.

Light up a physical Menorah.

By doing this physically you be will simultaneously kindling the spiritual Menorah within you. G-d’s light will shine in your soul.

All it takes is lighting that first light.

A bit of light dispels a lot of darkness.

Take the courageous act of kindling that first light.

Your world will be brighter for it.

The world at large will be brighter.

Once you start, you will be propelled to continue.

It will be ‘addictive’ in a good way.

One light won’t be enough for you anymore.

Two lights for the second night will satisfy you.

But not for long.

For the third night, two lights won’t ‘do it’ for you anymore.

Indulge in your increased spiritual appetite. Go ahead and light three lights.

Till you get to the full eight lights of Chanuka.

Once you reach eight you are in the groove.

Eight is symbolic of leaping to a spiritual gravity-free plane. Beyond the seven-day cycle of the natural world.

Shabbat Shalom

Chanuka Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS (We will be happy to send you a menorah anywhere in Thailand. Either email me [email protected] or call/WhatsApp Yossi Goldberg at +66817535071 or create your own by lining up ‘tea lights’).

PPS Our end of year Chanuka Campaign is up and running.

Would you consider an end of year Tzedaka gift to provide ‘oil’ and wherewithal to light up the lives of others, by providing humanitarian help, emotional support and spiritual inspiration?

humility Google flavor

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

This week I learned a deeply inspiring Torah concept from L., a businessman who has been blessed with financial success.

(We were going together to inspect the progress on the landscaping and building of a ‘Tahara preparation and facilities house’ at our new cemetery grounds. L is one of the significant donors to this vital project).

L was sharing some stories with me about his business activities. I always find it fascinating to hear the ins and outs of people’s life-experiences.

Then he dropped this one-liner, which once I heard it, I couldn’t have imagined how I never knew it till now.

L said, ‘I believe that all my business success is a ‘ness’ a ‘miracle’.

He continued with something he learned from a Torah lecture on the internet: ‘the Hebrew word for ‘livelihood’ as in ‘income’ is פרנסה   .

Embedded in that very word, is the word נס which means ‘miracle’.

My friend, I couldn’t wait to share this with you.

Do you remember the craze in the 90’s over ‘auto-stereograms’?

I remember gazing at the auto-stereogram of ‘Lady Liberty’ hanging at the lobby of the hotel (which was at the time the home of the Even Chen Synagogue) and getting very excited when the 3D image of the Statue of Liberty finally jumped out at me.

As one writer described it:

The world, it seems, is divided into two kinds of people: Those who can see the 3-D illusions in computer-generated cards, prints and calendars that are turning up in malls and bookstores. And those who can't. Every day, the first group grows a bit. Skeptical shoppers view the "auto-stereograms" on display racks or gallery walls. They gaze into them, try to relax and, if they've got the knack -- POP! The image blossoms out and in to produce disarmingly realistic depth.

I felt a similar rush of energy when in my mind’s eye I saw the two letter word ‘ness’ jump out of the five letter Hebrew word of ‘parnassa’.

It’s a great time to talk about miracles.

This Hebrew month of Kislev is universally known as a month of miracles.

Chanukah is during this month. Chanuka is about celebrating both the miracle of the military victory and the nature-defying oil that burned for eight days instead of one.

(Chanukah begins on Sunday night December 18th. JCafe is fully stocked with all your Chanuka needs. Menorahs, Dreidels, Latkes, Donuts (five kinds of toppings) and of course ‘Gelt’).

Two hundred years the Chassidic community added the 19th of Kislev to the calendar of miracles. The newly founded Chassidic movement promoting the inner wisdom of Torah to all, regardless of background, was here to stay. It required that the founder of Chabad, Rabbi Shneur Zalman have a miraculous liberation from Czarist prison.

These are noteworthy miracles. They come quite infrequently. When they do come, we ensure that they are commemorated and celebrated.

We recognize that the miracle days of yore, are not just relegated to being a historical bygone, rather they continue to pump miraculous energies into our contemporary lives when the annual cycle reaches the same calendar dates.

By marking and celebrating these dates we are able to ‘tap-in’ to the energies of the day. Miracles. Liberation and ‘unstuckness’. (See below for details regarding ‘men’s farbrengen’ on Tuesday evening at Bet Elisheva).

But what some of us don’t realize, is how ubiquitous ‘small’ ‘everyday’ miracles are.

We think that the splitting of the sea didn’t happen to me, so that means that I have never experienced a miracle.

Not true.

The word ‘ נס  is in the very word ‘ פרנסה  . Albeit a bit hidden. Waiting to be discovered though.

In the very process of providing a livelihood for yourself and your loved ones, there are embedded miracles

You haven’t seen them?

I beg to differ. You have encountered ‘small miracles’ but you may not have noticed them.

Let us start by talking about ‘income’ and ‘livelihood’.

Why is that topic so central?

Let’s face it.

Making a living is something that drives an overwhelming majority of a person’s decisions.

People spend many years in school and college aiming to have skills that will help them ‘make a living’.

People often choose in which location to live, based on where they can ‘make a living’.

A lot of the stress people experience in life, is centered around ‘making a living’.

This simple nugget of Torah wisdom, that ‘making a living’ has a hidden chip that drives it called ‘miracle’, is transformational.

In two diametrically opposed ways.

To the ones who micromanage life and overstress their financial situation there is a clear message.

Let go. G-d is in charge.

And there is a corresponding albeit opposite message to the apathetic fatalist who lies on the couch waiting to win the lottery.

Stop ‘kevetching’. Get up and do something. Anything. This will serve as a catalyst for drawing down Hashems blessing.

This G-dly truth, about miracle and livelihood and their symbiotic relationship, negates the extremes at either end of the spectrum.

On the one hand, it tells us that no matter how hard we try to micromanage and ‘stress’ about making a living, we are reliant on the ‘miracle’ of G-d to actualize our ‘making a living’.

On the other side of the spectrum, and just as important for the balance of life, this teaches us that if you want to access that ‘miracle’ that is inherent in ‘livelihood’ you have to engaged in ‘parnassah’ in actively trying to earn your living. Only then will you access the ‘ness’, the miracle hidden within the pursuit of ‘livelihood’ as the miracle doesn’t (usually) come without the ‘vehicle’ of the efforts to make a livelihood.

As the Torah sums it up:

 G-d will bless you, in all that you do’.

The proper way is both human efforts, coupled with G-d’s blessing.

One needs to ‘do’, to be proactive in helping themselves. G-d’s blessing will rest on that ‘doing’.

One of the things that gets me a bit irritated is when people boast about ‘how they did it’. For example, if they were successful financially it sometimes happens, that rather than seeing the blessings from G-d, they become self-consumed with arrogance.

Here is an example of what I mean when I talk about the miracle in the making of a livelihood.

Sergey Brin and Larry Page, the founders of Google, are both mega billionaires. How did they get there? The below quote (from a Google search) gives some little-known background.

The story goes that after Excite CEO George Bell rejected Page and Brin’s $1 million price for Google, the duo agreed to reduce down to $750,000. But Bell still rejected that.

Whoops. As of today, Google’s market cap stands at $167 billion.

How did they become billionaires?

By not selling.

They were eager to sell, even to the point of taking less than a million dollars.

Why didn’t they sell?

Because G-d made a miracle and put it into the mind of the potential buyer that the company was not even worth $750,000.

That ‘small miracle’ resulted in some major wealth for them.

My ‘livelihood’ is building Jewish life in Thailand.

The miracles that I see in this work never cease to amaze me.

They are often ‘small miracles’ which means that they are hidden within efforts. But there are frequent ‘big miracles’ as well. When things just happen in an obviously miraculous way.

How should we react to Hashems miracles for us.

What should success breed within you?

Arrogance or humility?

Should the parent who is blessed with a child who excels, become vain?

How about a professional who brings extraordinary achievements to his field of expertise. Should he become pompous.

Does someone who looks beautiful have the right to have their nose in the air.

How about a computer geek who is turned to as a savior when things go wrong on the computer. Is it correct for that genius to be haughty?

And the rich guy, the financially successful entrepreneur. Is becoming an arrogant person the proper outcome of wealth?

Yaakov, in this weeks Parsha comes home to Israel from twenty years of toil at his uncle Lavan’s house. He arrives back home as a rich man. Rich with children, eleven of the twelve tribes have been born. Rich with possessions.

Exceedingly rich, as a matter of fact.

The transformation in Yaakov’s financial status could not have been starker. He left home with ‘but a walking stick’. He came back fantabulously blessed with an amazing family and incredible wealth.

Yet, Yaakov says ‘I feel small’.

Rebbe Shneor Zalman understands this to mean that he felt humble.

Why does Yaakov feel humble after achieving so much success – children who excel in their piety and qualities, and wealth that is remarkable?

Yaakov recognized, explains the Rebbe, that his blessings all came from G-d.

Marrying well, being blessed with exceptional children, extraordinary wealth, all of this was an indication to Yaakov of Hashems Benevolence and Kindness to him.

Yaakov saw in all of this an expression of Hashems relationship with him. He felt how Hashem was holding him near, dear, and close.

When you recognize that you are close to Hashem, that the Great and Awesome Almighty is shining His beneficence on you, the reaction ought to be one of great thankfulness and deep humility.

It takes an oblivious person to remain an ingrate in the face of blessing.

It means that they do not recognize the ‘miracle’ within the ‘livelihood’.

Even more tragically, some people whom G-d blesses with success, rise to greatness and proceed to act G-dlessly arrogant. As in the acronym, EGO = Edging G-d Out.

My goal with this article is to make us more appreciative and humble. Thus, we will be more sensitive to the needs of those around us.

My friends, take a moment to think about your life. In particular think about the things you are proud of.

Everyone has something that they have achieved. And those achievements come as a result of tools and wherewithal provided by G-d. There is not a person in the world who doesn’t have gifts from G-d that they should acknowledge.

Is success in your life really your OWN doing? Or can you now discern the ‘miracles’ that G-d has delivered to you throughout your life that have enabled you to reach where you are.

And now take a second moment to reflect on how you should be feeling now that you are aware of G-d’s closeness to you.

Yes. Humility and gratitude should be the resultant emotion.

By being grateful to Hashem for His bountiful blessings, you are inspired to emulate him and share your beneficence with others.

Being humble means that you don’t think ‘I deserve everything for myself’, rather you say ‘doesn’t my friend deserve to also share in my blessings’.

Let us focus on G-d’s kindness to us.

Let us channel the humility and gratitude into a renewed commitment to Hashem and to follow in His ways of compassion and benevolence.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

1.5 million. Would you?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,


Is it a good business model?

It is definitely not the moral way.

Are we ‘hardwired’ to be selfish or selfless?

Yaakov our patriarch, was a shepherd for his devious uncle Lavan.

Notwithstanding his uncle’s unscrupulousness, the Torah (in this week’s Parsha) describes Yaakov’s impeccable dedication to his job. He fulfilled his commitment to his uncle of tending to his sheep with integrity and industriousness. His commitment was legendary.

The dedicated behavior towards his employer, learned from Yaakov, has become enshrined in Halacha. Jewish law quotes Yaakov’s behavior, as being the benchmark for an employee’s ethical behavior.

Lets look at the other side of the coin. At employers. How are ‘bosses’ meant to act?

Yaakov’s boss Lavan, was blatantly unethical.

From him we can only learn what not to do.

However in multiple places, the Torah instructs employers how one must treat their workers with humane and even generously benevolent treatment.

It is not always so easy. And sometimes truly challenging.

There is a story that is told about Zeideh Moshe Feiglin (my father’s maternal grandfather) of Shepperton and later Melbourne, Australia.   

R’ Moshe Feiglin had successful fruit orchards in rural Shepparton. In those days, fruit was transported in wooden cases. This led Moshe to eventually purchase a timber mill where he could make his own fruit cases. The bigger business was selling wood to the housing industry. The business was a successful one and the Feiglin family was well to do thank G-d.

During the great depression, in 1932, the housing industry in Australia came to a virtual standstill. The Feiglin timber mill didn’t have enough work to keep the thirty-two workers at full employment. The Feiglin sons asked their father what they should do. Their father Moshe said that while the single workers could be given reduced hours, the married workers should be kept at full salary.

They calculated the cost of this undertaking. A year’s wages for all the workers amounted to fifteen thousand pounds.

Zeide Moshe went to the bank and asked for an overdraft loan in the amount of one year of wages amounting to fifteen thousand pounds. The bank said that this was not possible as their overdraft maximum was only 200 pounds.

Moshe explained to the bank manager in Shepparton why he needed the very large loan. The manager was duly impressed, and he said, ‘I know your object and I know you’ but I cannot approve such large amounts. Let me send you to the head office in Melbourne to meet Mr. Hemingway, the head of the bank. Moshe went to the head office of the bank accompanied by his two sons. Although his English was limited Moshe did most of the talking.

After hearing his request, Mr. Hemingway clapped Moshe on the shoulder and said ‘Mr. Feiglin don’t ask me why, but I am going to give you the fifteen thousand pound overdraft’.

Moshe responded thankfully and then made a commitment that reflected his trademark optimism. He told the bank manager ‘within three years I will (not just pay back the loan) but also put 500 pounds in your bank as fixed deposit’.  He made good on his commitment.

The story is recorded as part of a documentary about the early beginnings of Chabad in Australia. (this story is at around 25 minutes)

I heard this story many years ago and was greatly impressed by the ‘beyond-the-letter-of-the-law’ benevolence. Quite clearly, my great grandfather, a devout Chassidic Jew, took the Torah’s instructions of emulating G-d’s benevolent ways quite literally.

During the depression years when unemployment was rampant, being laid off from work meant falling into poverty.

Zeideh Moshe undertook major debt so as to protect the livelihood of his workers.

But I never actually took the time to translate the loan amount into 2021 figures.

Today, I decided to figure out how much money this would amount to in our times.

Google says that fifteen thousand Australian pounds in 1932 would be the equivalent of $1,539,674 in 2021.

That is serious money by all accounts. I now have a much deeper appreciation of what Zeideh Moshe committed to, in order to stand true to his Divine based morals and values.

I can only bless myself and wish that I emulate him in my own dealings with others.

It should be possible. Albeit challenging.

After all, I do have his genes.

Are you nodding? Thanks for agreeing. And for inviting me to share the implications of genes.

For you too, have the best genes possible.

You and I, as part of the Jewish People, are the descendants of Avraham, Yitschak, Yaakov, Sara, Rivka, Rachel and Leah.

Our souls contain the spiritual ‘genes’ of our ‘forefathers’ and ‘foremothers’.

It therefore behooves us, and more importantly it is ‘genetically’ possible and accessible to us, to behave similarly to them.

This is why we look so closely at the behavior of our Patriarchs and Matriarchs as described in the Torah. The stories of the Torah are not just a historical account of what took place. They are our ‘fathers’ and ‘mothers’ and we are their ‘children’. Thus, their actions are a lesson to us, of how we should and CAN act.

My dear friends, someone sent me a link to a story of a modern day hero who put his concern for his employees over the benefit of his own pocket. To the tune of millions and millions of dollars.

Click there for a ten-minute film entitled ‘The $300 million dollar Kiddush Hashem’. I enjoyed it and I think you will too. Most importantly I think you will be inspired by it.

What happens when you act unselfishly?

Do you fall behind or get ahead?

In other words, does being benevolent, altruistic and unselfish destine one to a life of deprivation and hardship?

Counterintuitively, the opposite is true.

The Torah promises that this is how life works. Do good and you will be blessed. Be altruistic and your own interests will be protected without your even intending it.

The Torah relates how Yaakov, who acted unselfishly to the extreme, by giving his all to his devious employer, was not just moderately successful.

Yaakov was WILDLY successful.

In the Torah’s narrative, acting honestly and benevolently is not a recipe for suffering.

It is a catalyst for blessing.

That is not why we are to do the right thing. But it is comforting to know that good begets good.

Fascinatingly, there are contemporary university studies that show linkage between unselfishness and happiness. And that even higher financial returns come to those who are more prone to charitable giving and helping others.

It makes perfect sense.

Success comes from Hashem. He is the source of everything.

Follow in Hashems path. He will provide you with success. Not just spiritual reward, but material wherewithal as well.

It sounds counterintuitive but it works. Admittedly, sometimes it takes some time to see. The dishonest people often get temporarily ahead. If you, like me, have been blessed by G-d to be alive for more than a few decades here on earth, you have no doubt observed that in the long term, happiness and success goes to those who emulate G-d and live a life of moral virtue.

Selfishness may bring short term gain but it is a very unfulfilling, and ultimately unsuccessful, way to live.

Today we are into ‘natural’ and ‘non-GMO’ foods. Acting like a ‘mentsch’, with values and integrity like G-d wants us to, is the most natural thing we can do. It is consistent with non-GMO, as we live according to the unmodified genes that we have inherited from our very own ancestors.

Be more like yourself. Be unselfish. Others will benefit from your largesse. You won’t lose out.

Its called WIN WIN

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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