"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"


By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

What can you do to make sure you have a blessed and successful life?

The trillion-dollar question.

The Torah has a very simple answer.

In this weeks Parsha.

If you follow My statutes and observe My commandments and perform them,

I will give your rains in their time, the Land will yield its produce, and the tree of the field will give forth its fruit.

Your threshing will last until the vintage, and the vintage will last until the sowing; you will eat your food to satiety, and you will live in security in your land.

Quite straightforward, says G-d.

Live according to my instructions and I will provide you with all the blessings of life.




In today’s society that is overwhelmed by technology and speed, simplicity is quite welcome.

One of the most popular energy bars on the marked in the USA is the have trademarked the following sentence about their products.

ingredients you can see and pronounce TM

We have come around full circle in many ways.

For example. During my stint teaching Judaism in Russia in 1989, we took our own bags when went to buy things in the market. Plastic bags were a western luxury that didn’t exist in the Ukrainian farmers market that we would buy our vegetables at.

Today, while in the developing countries, there are plastic shopping bags, in western society plastic bags are not provided.

In the olden days the wealthy ate white bread. Today, those who can afford more, eat the healthier whole grain bread.

It is about time that we came to the realization that good old-fashioned tradition of following in the way of G-d, is the surest path to a happy and healthy life.

What does it mean to follow in the path of G-d?

Maimonides (Rambam), points out his book  of laws, of which we study daily

(De’ot Chapter 1, paragraph 5-6)

We are commanded to walk in these intermediate paths - and they are good and straight paths - as [Deuteronomy 28:9] states: "And you shall walk in His ways."

[Our Sages] taught [the following] explanation of this mitzvah:
Just as He is called "Gracious," you shall be gracious;
Just as He is called "Merciful," you shall be merciful;
Just as He is called "Holy," you shall be holy;

In a similar manner, the prophets called God by other titles: "Slow to anger," "Abundant in kindness," "Righteous," "Just," "Perfect," "Almighty," "Powerful," and the like. [They did so] to inform us that these are good and just paths. A person is obligated to accustom himself to these paths and [to try to] resemble Him to the extent of his ability.

To spell it out every more straightforwardly, following in the path of G-d means acting as G-d acts,

Just as He dresses the naked..., you, too, should dress the naked;
God visited the sick...; you, too, should visit the sick;
God comforted the bereaved...; you, too, should comfort the bereaved;
God buried the dead...; you, too, should bury the dead.

Jews knew this and lived (and loved) this absolute truth for thousands of years.

During the turbulent years in the aftermath of the upheavals of the world wars, it had become fashionable to reject the traditions of Judaism. So called ‘sophistication’ became something to aspire too.

It hasn’t worked.

In the olden days when the Jewish People deviated from the straight path, G-d sent prophets to remind them to come back to the ways of G-d.

These days, we see it in contemporary tales of woe described by psychologist and therapists.

Throwing off the commitment to G-d’s instructions has not brought happiness or contentment.

It has made things more complicated.

It has led to deep dissatisfaction and a sense of purposelessness that is demoralizing and dangerous.

This is a very important thing to bear in mind.

Life is too short to allow ourselves to be Guinee pigs.

The path that is G-dly mandated. The ‘manufacturers instruction’ to us, is the Torah.

For Jews we have the 613 commandments that create a dwelling for Hashem here in this lower world.

For all of humanity there are the ‘seven laws for a beautiful planet’.

By following these instructions, Hashem - the Creator of the entire universe – says, I will give you all the blessings of everything you need for a happy, healthy, secure and joyous life.

The most inspiring and uplifting part of this weeks Parsha for me, is the interpretation by our Sages that reframes the verse ‘if you follow my commandments’ to mean ‘PLEASE, I implore you, keep my commandments’.

In my mind I conjure up an image of a mother, entreating, cajoling and pleading with her child ‘ess mein kind’ ‘eat, my child’.

G-d is, so-to-speak, pleading with us. Please, I wish, I hope, that you keep my commandments.

Living according to the Divine life plan, is the happiest and most wholesome way to live. G-d beseeches us to trust Him on that and follow His instructions.

Even though we are not perfect, He looks at us with a benevolent eye. He desires to ‘catch us’ doing the RIGHT things. So that He can reward us and bless us with the things we so richly deserve.


Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

VR Glasses

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

My eyes caught a headline on a news site of kids in a Yeshiva getting a guided tour of the ‘Bet Hamkidash’ through wearing VR glasses. I had to stop a think for a moment what VR stood for. I will save you the moment (and possibly a visit to google to search for VR :-)). VR stands for ‘virtual reality’.

Today is Lag Ba’omer. Click here for more information about Lag Ba’omer

Traditionally, on Lag Ba’omer, many Jews flock to the mountain of Meron, (not far from Tzefat) in northern Israel. It is there that the author of the Zohar, the great sage Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai is buried.

Lag Baomer is the day of this great Sage’s passing more than eighteen hundred years ago.

With VR glasses still fresh in my mind, I started to wonder what would happen if you gave those glasses to someone from more than eighteen hundred years ago. When the events of Lag Ba’omer took place?

Obviously, the technology we have now would be unimaginable to those who lived centuries ago. But on the other hand, ‘seeing’ a deeper reality starts from the mind and soul, not necessarily from what things look like from the outside. Is that not the uniqueness of VR glasses? Two people in the same room, each one seeing different things. One seeing ‘real’ reality. One seeing ‘virtual’ reality.

Lag Ba’omer, it dawned on me, is really a day that we celebrate the ‘VR’ spiritual glasses that we can and should all don.

Lag Ba’omer is a day of great rejoicing.

Isn’t it traditional to mark the day of someone’s passing as a day of mourning?

Especially when it comes to great Tzadikim. It is a day that is associated with mourning and fasting. We wanted them to live longer. They wanted to live longer. Moshe Rabeinu wanted to continue to live and take the Jewish people into Israel.

Why the extraordinary celebration for the passing of Rabbi Shimon?

The simple answer is that Rabbi Shimon asked for the day of his passing to be celebrated. Paying respect to his great piety, we fulfil his wishes. This is achieved through rejoicing, not fasting.

R’ Shimon gave the reason behind his request for joy. He described the day of his passing as being the day that his connection to Hashem would be consummate. So long as one’s soul is in its body, there is some level of separation, ever so subtle perhaps, but still not one with G-d. On the day of his passing, Rabbi Shimon recognized that he would be bound up as one with his Creator.

This was non-standard thinking at the time and for many centuries to follow. It was not meant (yet) to be accessible to all. Passing away was meant to signify absence here on this world. And absence is mourned, not celebrated.

But not for Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai.

Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai, as the author of the Zohar, is the main source of Kabbala.  This was a division of Torah teaching that was not taught openly and freely to all, for many centuries. Rabbi Shimon bar Yochai expounded the teachings of Kabbala and taught it to his select students

Zohar and Kabalistic teachings were considered off limits to regular Torah studiers. It was taught personally by teacher to select students. Only very highly achieving students were deemed eligible to absorb such esoteric and illuminating ‘soul’ teachings.

Let us study the topic of life and absence of life. Why is life celebrated and passing away mourned?

For most people, life has various facets. Spiritual and material. The most important part of life in objective terms, is the connection we forge with G-d. We develop our connection with G-d by studying Torah and doing Mitzvahs.

But let’s face it, for most of us, there are many other facets to life that take centerstage other than our spiritual growth. Family, career, materialistic interests and pursuits.

When one passes away, the absence that is most strongly felt by those left behind, is the absence of their loved one’s physical presence.

The Torah teaches that it is proper to mourn when a loved one passes away. The relatives mourn the absence. Their loved one no longer lives with them here on earth. For sure, the soul lives on, but for the most part we don’t have the capacity to interact with souls. Thus, it’s appropriate and Torah mandated to mourn the absence.

But not just from the perspective of physical existence is mourning appropriate. Even in the spiritual sense, passing away is a reason for sadness. Sadness because of the loss of opportunity to study Torah and do Mitzvot.

The Ethics of our Fathers (Pirkei Avot 4:17) teaches that performing Torah and Mitzvahs in this world is better and more potent than the entire blissful experience of the ‘next world’. The rationale for that is straightforward. Doing Mitzvahs in this world connects us to the ‘essence of G-d’. Whereas the bliss of the next world is ‘merely’ enjoying a ‘ray’ of G-d’s shine.

Nu, whats better?

A ray of G-d’s light in the next world, or connecting to the Almighty Himself here on earth in this world?

Life here on this earth no doubt offers deeper and holier connection to G-d.

(Delight and pleasure in this world, are nothing though compared to even one moment of blissful enrapturement in the next world. So if something ‘off limits’ is ‘calling out to you’ because of its pleasurable indulgence, recognize that it doesn’t ‘pay’ at all. For the indulgence will be only short lived and nothing compared to the pleasure of listening to G-d. The reward given in the next world for listening to G-d and abstaining, is far greater than any pleasure you can imagine in this world).

Especially if we are talking about a Tzaddik who was constantly involved in learning Torah and doing Mitzvahs.

Thus, when the soul is taken to the ‘next world’ we mourn.

It’s a double mourning.

We mourn the physical absence. And we have anguish when we absorb the fact that the person can no longer fulfil G-d’s Will here on earth.

Rabbi Shimon knew that G-d’s Will was for him to pass away from his earthly existence. To him it was clear that there was nothing to mourn about in that context.

(With other Tzadikim this is not necessarily the case. They may have preferred to live longer and do more mitzvahs. Which is why their day of passing is treated with a not very joyous sense of loss. This is a topic that requires more discussion and to be honest while I have seen the Torah sources that discuss it, I don’t fully comprehend them).

As to the physical absence of the great sagely Rabbi Shimon? That is not the cause of mourning in R’ Shimons case.

For a tzaddik of the level of Rabbi Shimon, the entire essence of his being was about his connection to the Almighty.

Passing away meant becoming one with Hashem. R’ Shimon insisted that this was a reason for celebration.

It is this point that he wanted to communicate that to his students and all who would learn from him and about him. He wanted us to know about a different way of looking at life. By telling us to rejoice even when there is an absence, we need to be handed a pair of R’ Shimon’s glasses.

On Lag Ba’omer one gets a chance to put on those glasses. If one puts on those ‘VR’ glasses of Rabbi Shimon, one sees R’ Shimon’s passing as a day of great joy. As he saw it. And as he requested and encouraged us to see it.

With those Kabbalistic glasses, things look very different than they seem from the outside.

And not just on Lag Ba’omer. With all the problems in the world in many ways, we are fortunate to be living during this current era. In the spiritual sense, we are living during a period when the esoteric has been revealed in anticipation of the coming of Mashiach.

As the generations proceed, as we march steadily closer to the ultimate ‘revelation’ and ‘exposé’ of G-d’s true presence here on earth, we get more access to those VR glasses that the Zohar provides.

Kabala teachings become more accessible to us all.

(Click here for an article by Tzvi Freeman entitled   Seven Things People Get Wrong When Learning Kabbala )

And technology is unfolding and leapfrogging at an unprecedented pace. It is not unrelated to the advance of spiritual knowledge.

The Rebbe explained at length a most inspiriting phenomenon that has unfolded over the past few hundred years. There is a fast paced advance in knowledge of all kinds. Together with incredible and dizzying journey of scientific and technological advance, we have a parallel journey of deep insight into G-dly wisdom.

R’ Tzvi Freeman outlines this concept in an article titled ‘Where is Technology Taking Us’ writes:

Long before anyone ever dreamed of a steam engine or a light bulb, the Zohar predicted an era when the world would be flooded with wisdom from below and wisdom from above.

Here’s how the  Zohar  interprets that: “In the six hundredth year of the sixth millennia the gates of wisdom above and the wellsprings of wisdom below will open, and the world will prepare to enter into the seventh millennia, just as a person prepares on the eve of Shabbat to enter Shabbat.”

When was the six hundredth year of the sixth millennia? That’s the year 5,600 on the Hebrew calendar. On the secular calendar, that’s the year 1840….

I am skipping a few paragraphs here Click here for full article .

So what does technology, science and distance communications have to do with “preparing the world to enter into the seventh millennia”?

The seventh millennia is an era when the universe discovers its own oneness, a oneness that expresses exquisitely the oneness of its Creator. So we’re not talking so much about some revelation that pours down from above. We’re talking about the world opening up to its own truths.

For that to happen, yes, an inner wisdom from above must pour down—and that began with the Baal Shem Tov, a hundred years before 1840. But along with that, the wellsprings from below have to burst open. And that happens through science and technology—a new kind of science that discovers oneness wherever it looks, and a new kind of technology that ties us all together as one.

On Lag Baomer, some eighteen hundred years ago, Rabbi Shimon passed away. He requested that we join him in donning the futuristic ‘glasses’ of the Zohar and celebrate his passing as if it were a wedding. For indeed, from the perspective of those ‘glasses’, Rabbi Shimons passing was a new stage in his connection to G-d.

Truly something to celebrate.

My friends, when the great Tzadik offers you those glasses, it’s a great opportunity. It opens myriads of blessings and possibilities.

Today is thus a day of celebration in the Jewish calendar.

It is a day that we celebrate closeness to G-d. It is a day that we highlight and celebrate love between Jews. It is a day that we celebrate total dedication to Torah study and scholarship.

And it is a day that we focus on children, for they truly ‘get’ the deeper reality in an uncomplicated way. They are pristinely able to interact with love and trust toward others. They are able to focus on Torah study unimpeded by worries of ‘making a living’.

The Rebbe used to attend the “Lag Ba’omer parade’ on Eastern Parkway in Brooklyn and address the children personally. There is loads of wonderful footage from those parades. The Rebbe encouraged children’s outing and parades wherever possible. In Thailand too we have conducted parades (see below pictures).

The great rabbi’s have taught that rejoicing on this day opens up channels of blessing in all that we require and request. May all your requests and prayers to G-d be fulfilled in a joyous and expeditious manner!

And may we merit the final ‘opening of the curtains’ when G-d’s presence will be visible to all (without ‘glasses’) with Mashiach’s coming.

And in anticipation and preparation for getting those permanent glasses (maybe allegorically like a ‘Lasik’ surgery) take a peek at the esoteric part of the Torah and study some of the esoteric and hidden kabbalistic aspects of the Torah. Click here for more.

Happy Lag Baomer

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Doctor in House?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I always knew that our work in spreading Judaism throughout Thailand was spiritually lifesaving. The gift of connection and inspiration that Torah and Mitzvahs provide are an elixir for the soul.

It saves lives quite literally as well.

Recently, our rabbi in Chiang Mai arrived to a routine visit to a member of his local Jewish community. Upon arrival, he found that that the person he had come to visit had collapsed into unconsciousness. He succeeded in getting him the urgently needed medical help that saved his life.

Last Shabbat I got to see how by opening Jewish centers in yet additional locations we can save more lives. Spiritually, that goes without saying. Even physically.

As I have mentioned in this column before, this year is the celebration of 120 years since the Rebbe’s birth. In marking this milestone, we have joined the worldwide effort to add 1210 new centers of Jewish life and observance around the world.

One of our regional undertakings is establishing a Chabad presence to serve the growing number of Jewish people in the island of Ko Pangan. Some of them are digital nomads, some are simply taking some time off from the frenetic pace of modern-day life while others are there ‘just because’.

Click here for the articles describing the Divine Providence we encountered on our initial visit to Ko Pangan.

Miri and Dovi, a young Chabad couple (Miri is the daughter of Eliezer and Rochi Ashkenazi) went out to visit Pangan for Purim. They led Purim activities and scouted out the island to see about taking up the position of leading the Chabad House there.

While there, they met a family with several children who had spent a few months in Ko Pangan. The wife said that her religious parents were coming from Israel to tour Thailand and would be spending a Shabbat in Bangkok. They were debating in which part of town to stay to attend Shabbat prayers and meals. Miri suggested that they come to spend Shabbat at Bet Elisheva as she is currently living there in her parents’ home. The family liked the idea and the family with her parents joined Bet Elisheva for Shabbat.

Last Shabbat, at the luncheon after prayers, one of our older community members went into a state of shock and started to slide off his chair. Those sitting next to him caught him before he fell. All of us have seen him injecting insulin at various occasions and it was clear that it was a case of diabetic shock.

Immediately his pouch was located as this is where he keeps his insulin. Before anyone could find the insulin or inject it, a woman ran over from a nearby table and said that she is a doctor. She took control of the situation and kept him stable till the ambulance came and put him on a glucose drip.

Yes, it was the woman traveling with her family who Dovi and Miri had met in Ko Pangan. She is a doctor.

As a doctor of course she knows that when in diabetic shock, it is forbidden to give more insulin. Actually, the medical term for this shock is ‘insulin shock’ and it comes from too much insulin.

I shudder to think what could have happened G-d forbid if a well meaning but non medically trained person may have instinctively administered more insulin.

Thank G-d we had a traveling doctor in house.

And Miri and Dovi were there too. To share with me the amazing Divine Providence of how the doctor came to be at our Shabbat lunch that day.

A visit to Ko Pangan. A plan put into motion by G-d, to position a doctor exactly where she would be needed.

Clearly, opening more Chabad centers in more locations saves lives. Literally, physically. And spiritually.

The timing of this message is Providential as well.  This weekend, Nechama and I are celebrating twenty-nine years since our arrival in Thailand on May 15 1993.

As we enter our thirtieth year here in service of the community, we have many powerful, positive, and inspirational moments to look back on.

However, the real achievements are still in front of us. As there is so much still to be done.

This story is poignant reminder from Heaven, and it injects an urgency and encouragement to work with alacrity and zeal. Especially when it comes to helping and doing for others, delays must be avoided.

The following poignant story is recorded in the Talmud (Ta’anis 21a). It is concerning the Sage Nochum ish Gamzu, one of Rabbi Akiva’s teachers from whom he learned to thank G‑d for everything. “This too is for the good” was his favorite refrain even when it appeared that something very negative occurred.

Yet, despite his obsessive optimism and the positive spin he gave to virtually every negative phenomenon, Nochum Ish Gamzu never forgave himself for the following incident:

“I was once traveling on the road to the house of my father-in-law and I had with me three donkey-loads; one of food, one of drink, and one of various delicacies. A poor man came and stood before me on the road and said to me, ‘My teacher, sustain me!’ I said to him: ‘wait until I unload from the donkey.’ I did not have a chance to unload the donkey before his soul departed.”

Nochum ish Gamzu blamed his delay for the death of the poor man and accepted upon himself all forms of suffering as penance for what he considered to have been an egregious sin.

In truth, Nochum was not guilty of any crime or moral lapse. If the man had been more forceful and stated “I’m starving” instead of just “sustain me,” Nochum would certainly have acted with much more haste. Apparently the man did not look deathly ill nor did he convey urgency in his request.

Click here for more on this.

The message is clear.

Studying Torah, praying and observing mitzvahs are good for the body and good for the soul.

Facilitating others to be in touch with their inner selves is a doubly good. it is good for the doer and good for the facilitator.

Doing all the above, for yourself and for others, without procrastinating and without delay is the best and most G-dly way.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor




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the 'secret'

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

An elderly Jew living in Prachuap Khiri Khan sent me an email a few days ago that warmed my heart.

Dear Rabbi Kantor, 

For the first time since I was a child I ate only matzah during Pesach, this was due to your provision of Matzah, also the fact that I felt unconnected. Therefore, I made a decision to eat only matzah as a way to feel connected. 

Thanks again for all that you do.

He obviously knows the ‘secret’. Probably his parents instilled it into him during his early childhood.

I met a young Jewish man earlier this week who wasn’t raised with much of a Jewish upbringing but somehow his ‘neshama’ intuitively knew the ‘secret’.

B. was in Bangkok visiting his sister who lives here. His sister has become Torah observant after she left home. Her brother had never yet put on Tefilin in his life. Now that she knows the value and preciousness of performing Mitzvah’s she really wanted to gift her brother the opportunity to put on Tefilin during his visit to Bangkok. She asked me if I would be able to facilitate this. Understandably, I was overjoyed to be handed this special mitzvah on a ‘golden plate’.

I hopped over to the house with my Tefilin just before B. was going to leave to the airport. After introducing the Tefilin and explaining that I was going to ‘wrap’ him with Tefilin, B asked me if I was in a rush or did he have a few minutes for a shower before Tefilin. I said that I needed to get back to the services in the Synagogue, but I assured him that the Tefilin prayers would take just a few minutes and he would have time for a shower before needing to head out to airport.

I was though a little puzzled why he thought about the shower only after I had introduced the Tefilin.

My question was answered when B’s sister sent me this note

‘My brother said he thought you were going to wrap him in something permanent. That’s why he was asking if he should shower first. :-)’

Wow. Now I was totally inspired. A Jewish young man, never put on Tefilin before in his life, was ready to agree to be wrapped with something permanent if that is what the Torah said should be done.

This is a Jew who intuitively knows the ‘secret’.

The ‘secret’ I am referring too, never really loses its ‘secretive’ quality.

Even once we discover it, it remains elusive. The ‘secret’ is so counterintuitive, that our ‘rational side’ resists it. We need to keep reminding ourselves about the powers of the ‘secret’.

The Jewish people discovered the ‘secret’ after leaving Egypt.

The Talmud ( Shabbat 88a ) When they assembled at the mountain of Sinai and G-d asked them if they wanted to accept upon themselves the Torah and its commandments. The Jewish people responded, ‘We will DO (what you instruct) and we will ‘hear’ (i.e. endeavor to understand what the meaning of it is)’.

G-d was very happy with their response and said ‘who revealed to my children this ‘ secret’ that the angels employ’.

Why is this a secret?

Well, conventional wisdom dictates that before one acts, one should first understand what it is they are being asked to do, and become motivated and inspired. Only then should they act.

If so, the Jews at Sinai should have responded to G-d’s offer of the Torah, ‘we will understand and consider, and then once sufficiently convinced and motivated, we will act and do’.

However, they responded in a way that seemed impulsive and even a bit irresponsible. How do you agree to do whatever you will instructed without first hearing and studying the ‘find print’ and details of the instruction?

In Heaven they know the ‘secret’.

The ‘secret’, that the heavenly celestial being know, is that when it is G-d Who is the One to instruct, one should commit and fulfill first and ask about the details second.

Following that, will come epic and immensely powerful inspiration and meaningfulness.

It is not a robotic obedience that creates mindless devotees.

Not at all.

It is a leap of faith that then elicits and ushers-in to the one who has committed, a depth and intellectual appreciation. The level of understanding that follows this commitment is one that mere human efforts could not produce, they can only be achieved through G-d’s benevolent and infinite blessings.

Innately, our souls are privy to this secret.

This is why when one sends matzah to a Jew, he eats it on Pesach and refrains from eating bread.

Another elderly Jewish friend told me that this year he kept nine days of Passover as he miscalculated when Passover ended. He refrained from bread and ate matzah for nine full days.

We know it in ever fiber of our existence that when G-d instructs we act accordingly.

One of the greatest inspirations of my life is when I meet a Jew who is not raised with mitzvah observance and yet is willing and ready to do a mitzvah when offered the opportunity.

Every time a Jewish man rolls up his sleeve to lay Tefilin with me, I sense the power of the soul and depth of its spiritual intuition.

This is a tribute to the Jewish soul – the Neshama.

Our eyes are constantly on Israel and right now it’s very tense. The antisemitic winds around the world, which we hoped were a thing of the past, are most unsettling.

I hate to sound pessimistic. And I am not advocating walking around being scared G-d forbid.

I am conveying a message, a call to action.

A reminder to myself and to those who are listening to me speak to myself, that it is up to us to ADD LIGHT with greater intensity and with more energy.

LIGHT is added by you and I doing more good deeds. Mitzvahs that proclaim our connection to G-d and Mitzvahs that show our selflessness on behalf of others.

Oseh Shalom Bimromov… Hu Yaaseh Shalom Aleinu… Ve’al Kol Yisrael Ve’imru AMEN

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS on the topic of bar mitzvah and tefillin my brother in law Rabbi Alter Korf of S. Petersburg, Florida shared a very meaningful double ‘barmitzvah’ that took place in the most unexpected of circumstances. Click here to read .

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