"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

'You are from a place ... not called Near."

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

‘You are from a place in the East that is not called near’.

These were the words that the Lubavitcher Rebbe told Mr. Abi Kashani when he was introduced by Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky as a Jewish community leader from Bangkok.

It seems clear that the Rebbe didn’t want to call a fellow Jew ‘far’.

Hence rather than saying that Mr. Kashani was from the ‘Far East’ the Rebbe reframed it.

‘A place in the East that is not called near’.

Several years after that meeting, Nechama and I had the merit and privilege to be appointed the Rebbe’s Shluchim to Thailand.

As it seems to me, the Rebbe, in that one statement ‘a place in the East that is not called near’ had encapsulated the mission statement that we were tasked to implement.

If Bangkok was ‘a place in the East that is not called near’, it was up to us to make it nearer.

The Rebbe gave us his blessings and off we went.

Rabbi Moshe Kotlarsky said farewell to us in New York. Thirty hours and three plane changes later, Mr. Abi Kashani picked us up in Bangkok on May 5, 1993.

The mission to make Thailand ‘nearer’ had begun.

Near and far are relative.

For a Jew, everything is relative to G-d, Torah and Mitzvot.

If one is aware of G-d, one is ‘near’ to him.

Disregarding and ignoring Torah would be called ‘far’.

One of the most detrimental things one can do to a child, is label him with a demeaning description.

Its beyond pitiful when one hears a parent or teacher call a child a failure. Or telling them how unsuccessful they are. Or even worse screaming at them that they will never amount to anything in life.

Conversely, tell a child how special they are. Find something redeeming about the student and highlight the virtuous quality. Remind them that they are uniquely gifted by G-d to be who they are. The world would be incomplete without them. This creates an impetus within the child to live up to that admirable benchmark.

Healthy self esteem is so dependent on the words we use and the body language we project.

Call a Jew ‘far’ and you have painted him or her into a corner.

Rather, remind them how deeply and dearly G-d loves them.

On the other hand, misleading someone by telling them that they are close, when they are far, is dishonest and counterproductive. Glossing over the need for further growth leads to stagnation.

By acknowledging that someone is not so near, one invites growth and elicits the expending of efforts to become nearer.

There is a balance that must be met.

On the one hand, it is important to know that you are ‘not near’ for then you will make efforts to get ‘nearer’.

On the other hand, it is critical not to define yourself as being ‘far’. For then you may despair of ever getting ‘near’.

Hence the Rebbe’s definition ‘a place in the East that is not called near’.

I would like to believe that this ‘place in the East’, is becoming ‘nearer’ every day.

This week we inaugurated a new Chabad House building in the backpacker part of town.

Click here for article.

Click here for video replay of inauguration event and dinner.

This ‘backpacker’ Chabad House was founded in response to the passing of the Rebbe in June of 1994 – Tammuz 3 – and was named ‘Ohr Menachem’.

It is now twenty-eight long years later. This Chabad House that started off as a fledgling center in a ‘Chinese-shophouse’ has matured into a bustling Jewish center and moved into its new purpose-built building.

The ‘place in the East that is not called near’ is becoming ‘nearer’.

The Rebbe’s empowering words are not just meant in the context of whom they were said to.

This is a message that is relevant to all.

Nobody is ‘far’. Nothing is ‘far’.

It’s just that some people and some things are ‘not near’.

But they are not meant to stay that way.

It is up to you and I to bring ourselves closer to the Almighty and his Torah. By engaging in the world around us according to Hashems instruction we bring the world around us closer to the oneness of G-d as well.

The Rebbe gave a blueprint for doing this.

Add in acts of goodness and kindness.

Do one more Mitzvah.

Study one more word of Torah.

Don’t get overwhelmed by how ‘far’ you look. Reframe your outlook. You may not be so near, but you can change that.

One deed at a time.

Next Shabbat will be the yahrtzeit of the Rebbe. It is a time that the soul of the Rebbe has an ascent in Heaven and all of us who are connected to him, also get the benefits of this elevation.

Benefits in material sustenance as well as spiritual beneficence. We need but open ourselves to this opportunity by being mindful of the mission to make this world a holier place and adding in acts of mitzvahs, goodness and kindness.

The Rebbe’s overarching message was, that by bringing ourselves and the world around us ‘nearer’ to G-d, we are hastening the ultimate ‘nearness’ to come to fruition – the coming of Mashiach, AMEN.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS I will be traveling next week to New York to visit the Ohel, the resting place of the Rebbe in connection with his yahrtzeit. It is a very powerful time to pray for anyone who wishes to be blessed. Letters can be sent directly to the Rebbe’s Ohel where they will be printed and placed at the Ohel. Or if you wish to send me your name and mothers name and nature of request I will be happy to be your representative to pray on your behalf.

negotiable 'rules'?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

My aunt who is a psychologist shared the following observation with me.

‘I ask myself,’ said my aunt. ‘Why is it that when I ask my children to tidy up their room, they tend not to listen. Yet, when I tell my children that they can’t have dairy ice-cream as the allotted waiting time after eating meat according to Jewish law is not yet over, they listen without question?’

‘The answer is simple’ continued my aunt. ‘When I tell them that they cannot eat dairy after meat they hear the absoluteness in my voice. They recognize that there is no room for negotiation. While when I ask them to clean the toys, they sense that this is something I am not so resolute about’.

With G-d’s commandments, since they are Divine, they are absolute. You can’t ‘negotiate’ with G-d to change the rules.

Yet, this week’s Parsha describes what seems to be a successful negotiation.

The ‘second Pesach’.

It’s the chance to bring the Pesach offering in case you missed the first and main opportunity.

Here is how it unfolded. It was in the second year after Exodus. The Jewish people were instructed to bring the Pesach offering. The Pascal lamb had to be offered by every family group. One had to be ritually pure in order to be part of the ‘Korban Pesach’.

After Pesach, some people came to Moshe and Aharon and complained that they had been disqualified from partaking of the offering, as they had been ritually impure. They were the pallbearers of Yosef coffin which accompanied the Jewish people on their sojourn from Egypt to Israel. Coming into contact with a corpse had rendered them unfit to bring the offering. The pallbearers complained “why should we be left out, unable to bring the sacrifice of Pesach?”.

Moshe heard their complaint and informed them that he would ask G-d regarding this matter. G-d responded by granting a second chance. On the fourteenth day of Iyar, exactly one month from the beginning of Pesach the Jews that had not been able to participate in the Pesach sacrifice would be able to bring a replacement sacrifice. This sacrifice was called “Pesach Sheni”, “the second Pesach sacrifice”.

The lesson is simple and empowering. There is always a chance to fix what was omitted.

But let us analyze this a bit further. Was this somehow G-d changing the rules of Pesach? Was this a introduction of ‘flexibility’ in the preciseness of Divine instruction?

Absolutely not.

The people that missed out KNEW that they missed out.

They were not trying to negotiate their way into bringing the offering after the doors were closed. They were fully aware that the rule is a rule and that they were not eligible.

They did however come before G-d humbly and contritely and shared their anguish and pain at having missed out. They implored and beseeched G-d saying, ‘why should we miss out’. They passionately and determinedly appealed to Moshe to find them a way to somehow get them the Pesach offering.

To use a flight analogy, it was as if their airplane had taken off without them. They knew that their airplane had flown. They were not asking to catch that plane.

There was really nothing Moshe could do. Except present their plea to G-d. Which he did. The result was unpredictable and astounding. G-d responded by opening up a new avenue of Pesach offering. Since they were so impassioned about their missed Pesach offering, G-d created a new mitzvah for them. The ‘second Pesach’. An opportunity to make up what they had missed.

It is important to understand the way this works. Hashem didn’t say ‘The rules of Pesach are not really absolute, and you are allowed to bring the offering anytime you want’. The departed airplane had departed. It didn’t come back. Rather, it was if a new airplane was constructed, which they were invited to board.

The epic message that the Rebbe always taught from this mitzvah is that there is no ‘lost case’.

You can always fix things.

G-d gives us a chance to repair.

But before you can make efforts to fix things, it is critical to recognize that the thing is broken.

Ironically, in order to really want to repair, you have to know that what is broken is truly broken.

Because only when you know that you have no way to make up what you omitted, will you be able to dig deep into your soul and be truly contrite. When you know that you are hopelessly lost, you have no illusions of being in control.

When you turn to G-d with truth, from that deep and vulnerable place, G-d gives you the opportunity to repair and be forgiven.

This is what ‘Teshvua’ (return) really is. Returning to G-d after feeling profoundly remorseful for the distance created between yourself and G-d. That deep feeling of remorse gives birth to intensely passionate feelings towards G-d.

This highlights the extent of that unique gift that G-d gave the Jews by giving them the second Pesach chance. It was a chance to fix that which looked irreparable.

In today’s day and age, it’s such an important lesson.

It’s important that we recognize that some things are not negotiable. The word of G-d as taught in the Torah is immutable. Morality is defined by the Almighty.

We have to transmit our insistence on following G-d’s instruction by being clear to those who look to us for guidance. When we say ‘no’ to immoral things we must intimate that our ‘no’ is a hard ‘no’? Not to project that it is a ‘soft no’. Or merely a ‘suggested no’. We ought to be honest and upfront to ourselves, to our youth and to our children that there are firm rules that G-d has mandated.

And that if we break those rules we have broken something in our souls. Irreparably so.

Irreparable from the perspective of man. But not irreparable from the viewpoint of G-d.

When one turns to G-d and truly asks and beseeches G-d for help, something extraordinary happens.

G-d allows us another chance.

This is inspiring and liberating.

Try as hard as you can not to break things. Because you cannot fix what you break.

That is what we must focus on before we ‘mess up’. To stay away from mistakes with all our heart and might.

AFTER one ‘messes up’ the focus must be on what can be done now.

And there is always something that you CAN do.

The second Pesach teaches us that there is always a second chance.

Wherever you are. However, you think you may have been imperfect, you can always fix it.

Let’s go.

Upwards and onwards!

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

it doesn't always (seem to) work out

 By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I usually try to share with you the amazing workings of Divine Providence. It never ceases to amaze me how the guiding Hand of Hashem is to be found in every fiber of creation.

For example, yesterday. I was debating if I should go to visit a person in hospital whom I had visited just the day before. He was doing very well, and they were talking about releasing him any day. I thought my further visit may be redundant at this stage. When I saw the number 1213 on a license plate of a car as I was walking down Sukhumvit Soi 22, and this was the exact number of the hospital room, I sensed that this was a ‘message’ to visit the patient. When I walked into room 1213, the patient’s wife started referring to the medical challenge that had just occurred. She thought that I had heard of the setback they experienced earlier that morning and that is why I came. When I told them that I hadn’t heard anything, rather it was Hashgacha Pratit (Divine Providence) that sent me, they were emotional and thankful to the Almighty for His kindness.

But today I want to share that things don’t always ‘work out’ so neatly. Sometimes I am left pondering why things that in my opinion ‘shouldn’t have happened’ happened. I am staying far away in this article from the big and painful questions. That’s a totally different topic and I obviously do not have an answer to why ‘bad’ things happen to good people. Allow me to focus here today on mildly irritating things. Problems that themselves are a product of great blessings.

Like missing a flight. The mere fact that we can fly by air from one part of the world to the other is a luxury that is an indication of our blessed times. But it can create a new set of problems. For example, it can be aggravating when you check in online and the boarding gate is changed without you noticing it.

This happened to me when I was flying from Toronto to New York. The day trip I had planned was proceeding with incredible success. I flew from NY to Toronto in the morning. No delays. Smooth border crossings. Picked up at the airport by a good friend. Went to say a prayer at the grave of Gerry Sugar, who had lived and worked in Thailand. Our friendship brought him back to his family and Jewish observance and upon his passing he was buried near his parents in Toronto.

Let me digress with a quick story about Gerry and how our friendship deepened. Gerry came to see in the 1990’s when he was unemployed and looking for work. It just so happened that I had just received a fax (in the pre-email days) from a food importer in the USA who I didn’t recognize. They were looking for someone to help them import kosher food from Thailand to the USA. Gerry, in telling me his work experience had mentioned that he had worked for a food exporter for a stint. I gave Gerry the fax and told him to see if he could help them. It turned out that this was one of the major kosher food distributors in the USA. Gerry proceeded to work with them and both sides were very happy. How blessed I felt to be able to help both parties by simply connecting them with each other. And through that, I was able to help Gerry reconnect to G-d and his family as well.

After leaving a stone on Gerry’s grave, I made some visits to supporters of our work – may they live and be well -  and then proceeded to the airport to head back to NY.

Everything went with such smoothness, I got to the gate early. It made sense to me that everything was gliding along. After all I was doing G-d’s work. I sat down at the gate, caught up with my daily Torah studies and then I went to see why my flight was not boarding yet. To my shock, the gate said that the flight was going to San Fransisco. I was going to NY. The gate had changed unbeknownst to me. I had missed my NY flight.

I was overwhelmed at my sheer oversight and inattentiveness. To complicate matters the next flight to NY had been cancelled. It seemed like I may be stranded in Toronto overnight while I had work to do in NY the next morning. I felt hopelessly out of control. It took me a few minutes to remind myself to have complete faith in G-d. I told myself ‘Calm down. Hashem is in charge. Everything is for the good’. I did a little song and dance (not sure what the people around me thought) to make sure that every part of my body remembered that ‘its all for the good’ because ‘G-d is in charge’. Then things started to work out. I managed to make a new ticket. Granted, my car was in La Guardia airport and my new flight was landing in Newark. Never mind that I wouldn’t get back ‘home’ till way after midnight. But at least I wasn’t stranded overnight in Canada and was able to get back to NY.

I searched for meaningful things that may have happened due to this revision in my schedule. I can’t say I have pinpointed anything in particular. I am left in the dark as to what Hashems intention was for my adventure.

Not always does Hashem give us the great gift of seeing why things happen the way they do.

One thing is for certain though. G-d is in charge both in the short term and in the long term. So, even if Hashem does want to show us the rhyme and reason in what happened, it may take a long time for things to become apparent.

(Was it perhaps to give me a chance to exercise the muscle of faith in Hashem? Or will I discover another reason one day).

This weeks Torah portion gives us a very strong clarity about this point. Hashem is in charge of things in the short term and in the long term.

G-d told Moshe to instruct Aharon and his sons in the details of giving the Birkat Kohanim (Priestly Blessing).

The first passage of the blessing is:

יברכך השם וישמרך

‘May God bless you and watch over you’

On the words ‘bless you’ Rashi comments ‘that your possessions shall be blessed’.

On the words ‘watch over you’ Rashi comments: ‘that no thieves shall attack you and steal your money. For when one gives his servant a gift, he cannot protect it from all other people, so if robbers come and take it from him, what benefit has he [the servant] from this gift? As for the Holy One, blessed be He, however, He is the One who [both] gives and protects.

In other words, the uniqueness of G-d’s blessing is that He continues to protect and administer the blessing for the long term as well.

Humans cannot control what happens after they have given a gift.

It may be stolen. It may be abused and misappropriated.

With Hashem this is not the case.

Hashem remains in control.

Hashem sees and manages the totality of creation from the beginning of time and forever.

When Hashem gives a blessing, he can continue to ensure the viability of this blessing even when it looks tenuous.

Why we sometimes see the blessing, while other times the blessing is hidden, this is from the great mysteries of G-d’s world that we are not privy to.

One thing is for certain.

The greatest source of blessing is following the directions that G-d has instructed.

Torah and Mitzvahs these are the conduits for blessing.

And of course, the precondition for blessing is the fulfillment of the  most central mitzvah: ‘love your fellow as yourself’. Or to phrase it differently, ‘don’t do to others what you wouldn’t want done to you’.

On some level, we all have the power to bless others.

Let us use this power of blessing to bless each other and to bless the world with SHALOM – PEACE.

With the coming of Mashiach speedily in our days NOW. AMEN!!!

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Is G-d happy with you? Shabbat Shalom and Chag Samayach

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I give thanks to Hashem for saving my life.

For bestowing His beneficence and kindness to the undeserving.

The blessing of thanksgiving is traditionally said publicly in Synagogue in the presence of a minyan. The blessings of technology allow me this forum to additionally thank Hashem even more widely.

I was driving in Israel and the left lane ended abruptly for construction while a large truck was passing me on the right. The construction cones slightly damaged my right mirror but thank G-d my passenger and I were saved.

Thank you Almighty G-d, for this miracle.

And for the many other ‘small miracles’ that happen all the time without fanfare and sometimes without us even knowing about it.

Here is what I call a ‘small miracle’.

I had one day in Israel. With a list of appointments and tasks. The last thing on my list was to visit a friend in Ashdod. But it just didn’t fit into the constraints of time. My flight was to leave at 22:45 from TLV and I would be finishing to visit our daughter in Rehovot at 7:30 PM. No time for meet my Ashdod friend. I thought perhaps I wouldn’t even call him as I had no time to meet.

A few hours before the flight, I was notified that the flight was delayed to 23:55.

I was still not sure if that was enough time to get to Ashdod but I called my friend anyway. He was very excited to hear that I was in town as he wanted to urgently consult me about something and ask for my guidance. Amazingly, he told me that he ‘happened’ to be near Kefar Chabad and we could meet there at 20:00. We met for an hour and then off I went to my flight and with the long security lines I had but a few minutes to spare.

To me this constitutes a ‘small miracle’.

Thank you Hashem, for the many opportunities to see your detailed Divine Providence.


A young man recently asked me a question that is very straightforward. Yet, I find that it has left me thinking and pondering.

‘Rabbi, how do you know when Hashem is happy with you’ he asked.

The Ethics of our Fathers addresses this exact topic (3, 10):

One who is pleasing to his fellow men is pleasing to G‑d. But one who is not pleasing to his fellow men is not pleasing to G‑d.

So now we have to analyze how does one become ‘pleasing’ to ‘fellow men’. How do you make other people happy with you?

The hierarchy of who you should care for, begins with those closest to you. Parents. Spouse. Children. Teachers. Students. Relatives. And then circle further outwards to include friends, peers, and acquaintances.

How do you get your loved ones to be ‘happy with you’?

Let us take parents as an example.

A mother tells her child to please pick up the toys in their room.

The child can respond in one of three ways.

Say no and disregard the parent.

Whyne and ask ‘why’. And wait to see if the reason is satisfactory.

Clean up the toys without questioning.

Which of the three do you think will make the parent happy with the child?

Which of the three requires the most effort?

Both answers are the same. Cleaning the toys without questioning requires the most effort and also creates the most happiness. Because it shows that the child cares for the parent and is ready to do what they want even if don’t (yet) understand why.

Let’s move over to spousal relationships.

Has your spouse ever asked you to do something that didn’t make sense to you?

I am assuming that it has happened on occasion.

Again, there are the three choices.

Not to carry out your spouses wish.

To ask for a rational explanation as to why your spouse is asking for that particular thing. Only upon understanding the reason will you agree to fulfill the request.

Or simply fulfill what you were asked to do without questioning.

Which way makes your spouse happiest?

It’s a no brainer. Carry out your spouse’s request and you will have a happier marriage.

It also requires the most effort. As it is not easy to do something that doesn’t make sense to you.

What makes other people happy with you, is when you do things that show how you truly care about THEM.

This is amplified when you are prepared to put forth effort to do what THEY want without needing to understand why. And doing so even if you don’t ‘feel like it’.

This requires a diminishment of ego. Self-centered egoistic people don’t put forth effort for others. This spirit of sharing and caring for others is called selflessness.

There are no shortcuts. Selfless caring and sharing is what makes other people happy with you.

When a person lives that way, selflessly, and others are happy with him, the Mishna says that G-d too is happy with him.

With regard to the festival of Shavuot, our Sages related a detailed description of what makes Hashem happy with us.

The Talmud ( Shabbat 88a ) states: 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’.

G-d was so happy with the response that He sent angels to tie two crowns on the head of every Jew at Sinai.

Why did it make G-d so happy when the Jews responded this way?

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 beings know, is that when one wants to connect to G-d, one should fulfill first and ask about the details second.

When we do what HE – G-d - wants. Even if we don’t understand. And even when it requires effort. This is what causes Hashem to be happy with us.

Innately, our souls are privy to this secret.

But it takes effort. Because doing what is better for Him while diminishing my own sense of ‘I’ doesn’t come naturally.

A telling joke someone sent me.

Becky is having lunch with Hannah, the world’s most perfect ‘Princess.’

Becky says, "My husband David is just impossible. Absolutely nothing pleases him. Tell me, Hannah, is your Marvin hard to please?"

Hannah shrugs and replies, "I wouldn't know. I've never tried."

(This joke could be told in the exact reverse, and about all kinds of relationships).

If it were only a joke it would be ok. The unfortunate thing is that some people don’t ever really try to make their loved ones happy with them.

And sadly, many never get around to making the effort to cause Hashem to be happy with them.

So, to answer to my friend’s question.

How do you know when Hashem is happy with you?

First of all, if this is what is on your mind, then you are already in a blessed place. The greatest blessing one can have in life is knowing that we are here, created by Hashem and tasked with fulfilling His mission here on earth.

There really is only one question that determines every choice. Will my next move cause G-d pleasure?

If you are living a life, doing what HE wants and making an effort to do so, then Hashem is happy with you.

However, one must also not be lulled into a false sense of feeling accomplished. This can lead one astray and stunt growth. For only our Creator can truly gauge if our efforts lived up to our potential. To what percent did we use our abilities. Did we really give our 100% to the Almighty?

Truth be told, you don’t need to know if Hashem is happy with you.

The one thing we do need to do is put forth effort to selflessly do what He instructs.

We have to stay ‘on our toes’ and be happy with our efforts but not feel satisfied.

How do we know what to do? For that we have the Torah.

The Torah is the communication of G-d with us the Jewish people and via the Jewish people to humanity at large.

On Shavuot we celebrate and relive the great moment of the giving of the Torah.

It is the most epic gift of all times.

We rejoice, literally, at the festival of Shavout in celebration of this amazingly holy and G-dly gift.

May you receive the Torah with joy and in a way that is absorbed into your very being.

Shabbat Shalom

Chag Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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