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ב"ה

"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

tears? in phuket

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Rosh Hashana was exhilarating.

That is not a word I would usually associate with Rosh Hashana.

But then again, I would never have associated Rosh Hashana with ‘tent’ and ‘outdoor’ minyans. But that was the reality for many people during the past two years. We have just experienced two years of disruptive Rosh Hashana’s. The likes of which none of us have seen before.

The excitement that I felt in the crowd of three hundred local Jews who gathered to celebrate the first night of Rosh Hashana at Beth Elisheva, was palpable.

With visible smiles as we are no longer masked. With seating in proximity to each other for enhanced camaraderie.

Trillions of microbes coexisting freely between people sitting within inches of each other.

After two years of ‘aloneness’ the congregational togetherness of Rosh Hashana was indeed liberating.

I feel comfortable using the word exhilarating regarding this Rosh Hashana.

And once I opened my phone after the holiday went out, I started getting the reports from our branches throughout Thailand. Our biggest Rosh Hashana dinner location was in Phuket with 1400 guests.

That’s a lot of people.

But I want to focus on an individual encounter that took place in Phuket. It touched me deeply.

Rabbi Glitzenshtayn the new Chabad shliach in Phuket related the following:  We went out into the streets of Phuket to blow Shofar for those who were not in the Synagogue. W e met 2 girls who agreed to hear the shofar. One used to be mitzvah observant and understandably when she heard the Shofar she was emotionally moved.

The other girl defined herself as 'secular' and didn't really understand what the shofar was all about... she vaguely remembered blowing a shofar at the end of Yom Kippur

They made a blessing and I blew the Shofar. When I finished, the 'secular' girl was sobbing...

Tearfully she asked her friend in tears:

Why am I crying?!

Aren’t I secular?!

It was an amazing and moving moment. We explained to her that it was her Jewish soul, her neshama that had been aroused from its slumber by the Shofar.

My wife hugged her and invited her to the Chabad house .

The story speaks volumes about the Rebbe’s clarion call to engage with Jews and help them perform mitzvahs. It is the performance of authentic Judaism that touches and awakens the neshama of a Jew.

Ko Samui, Chiang Mai, Kaosarn Rd were also all full to the rafters. Even in pastoral and somewhat more sleepy Pai, we hosted 380 guests.

Collectively nearly 9,000 Rosh Hashana meals were served by Chabad of Thailand.

I realized that people are hungrily embracing their freedom to travel after two years of restrictions. People are traveling now, more than ever.

The biggest no-no during Covid times was public gathering. As the pandemic ebbed and rose, the amount of people allowed to congregate got adjusted upwards and downwards.

Now, events that were unthinkable during the last two years are once again permissible.

I would like to point out something about the cosmic timing of this opening up of the world.

This week’s Parsha talks about a special mitzvah that took place once every seven years. On the Sukkot festival, the year following the Sabbatical (Shmita) there was a ceremony that took place in the Bet Hamikdash called ‘Hakhel’.

“Hakhel’ means to gather. The entire Jewish nation, men, women and children were instructed to gather in the courtyard of the Bet Hamikdash. The king would read select readings from the fifth book of the Torah. This was a form of reenactment of the Sinai experience where G-d gave the Torah to the entire Jewish people.

The Torah says that this gathering was in order that they learn and revere G-d and observe all the words of the Torah.

 Click here for a comprehensive article on Hakhel.

Would you believe it. This year of 5783 (September 2022) is that very once-in-seven Hakhel year. On Monday night after next week (October 10th) if there was a Bet Hamikdash in Jerusalem, we would all be there.

Men women and children. Even very small children.

Hearing the reading from the king.

Sadly, we don’t yet have a rebuilt Bet Hamikdash.

We pray fervently that Mashiach come speedily and that we can hear the reading of the Torah from the king Mashiach.

However, in the meantime, even while in the ‘exile’ we can fulfil the spirit of the Hakhel mitzvah.

We can get together in groups, learn words of Torah and get inspired to draw nearer to G-d and observance of His mitzvahs.

The Rebbe taught that during a Hakhel year, one should try to make as many gatherings as possible. Large and small. Family size and community size and even mega size. All forms of gathering are encouraged during this year so that we fully utilize the special ‘opportunities’ that are available in the ‘air’ during this year.

When I realized the preciseness of the timing of this Hakhel, I get goosebumps.

Imagine if the Hakhel year would have been last year?

It would have been impossible to utilize this opportunity in the literal sense.

Gathering were totally forbidden in many places.

How about if the Hakhel year would be in three years from now?

Please G-d there won’t be any more pandemics and we will be fully used to living unrestricted lifestyles and it won’t be so exciting to us anymore.

In a few years lockdowns will hopefully be something studied in the history books.

Communal gatherings will be totally taken for granted.

Having Hakhel come now, just after emerging from two years of restrictions on gatherings, seems like perfect timing.

Here is the Rebbe’s call to action. Click here to sign up for the Hakhel campaign.

Anytime we make a gathering this year and inject a dose of Torah and connectivity to G-d to the meeting, it is a microcosmic fulfillment of the Hakhel that took place in Jerusalem on this post-seventh year.

Right now, after emerging from two years of Covid, gatherings are more exciting than ever before.

I get goosebumps thinking about the timing of this all.

***

It makes me even more excited about the ‘virtual Hakhel’ gathering that I am currently involved with.

Engaging with fellow Jews about the mitzvah of Tzedaka.

JewishThailand’s crowdfunding days is made up of two components. Smaller amounts of larger gifts and larger amounts of smaller gifts.

A varied group of 866 donors have already participated to cover 30% of the campaign goal.

There is one tzedakah gift that sadly, I will be missing this year.

I would like to share the following story in memory of Rivka Mazal Yaffa bat Simcha a special woman who passed away ten days ago at a tragically young age.

Around three months ago Rivka wrote to me as follows.

Dear Rabbi Kantor,

Thank you very much for your uplifting messages …

Thank you for praying for me….

I also would like to tell you very quickly that in Pesach when I made a small donation- real small, it was a bit difficult at that exact time and you will not believe it just after I pushed the paypal button- 5 min did not pass that I received a generous financial order. Not 5 min passed.

Thank you very much,

May Hashem bless you and your family!

Rivka had given a very small donation. Even that, was more than she could easily afford.

She dearly wanted to be part of supporting Jewish life in Thailand and during the many years that she lived here and even after she moved elsewhere, she made sure to participate in every campaign in the small way that she was able.

And from my part, I always cherished seeing her name and heartfelt tzedakah participation. There was always a blessing note that accompanied her tzedakah.

How tragic that she lost her life so young.

By Divine Providence she shared with me this little miracle that she had with after giving Tzedakah, just three months before she passed.

I share this story with you as I was moved deeply from the sincerity and deep faith in G-d that exude from her words.

No doubt, this Tzedakah is one of the many mitzvahs that provide eternal spiritual bliss to her soul on high.

And I pray that the inspiration from this story will lead to more acts of Tzedakah.

May the Tzedakah that is given due to Rivkah’s inspiration be a merit for the ascent of her soul.

I hope, pray and trust that all of us have been written into the book of Life.

May this year be a year of sweet blessings to you and your loved ones.

And may this be the year that Mashiach comes and then we can fully fulfil the mitzvah of Hakhel, in the Bet Hamikdash, hearing the Torah from the King Mashiach. AMEN.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS to participate in JewishThailand giving days, please click here.

Every person’s contribution is valued and every amount is meaningful.

Shabbat Shalom and Shanah Tovah!

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I just noticed a half-full bag of KN95 protective masks at the edge of my desk.

They are taking up space.

I ask myself, ‘do I still need to keep them handy… just in case… or can I give them away to people in the medical field’?

What would you do?

For starters my dear friend, let us celebrate the question.

It was not so long ago that the hottest item you could trade, was masks and gloves.

For the last two Rosh Hashana’s we have been masked and limited in our traditional holiday observances.

Some geographical locales didn’t have any Rosh Hashana services, some had socially distanced ones. Mostly everywhere there was a mask mandate.

Thank G-d, this year we are able to have full Rosh Hashana services. Minyanim and communal meals. Even if you are still cautious about very large crowds, and the first night of Rosh Hashana is usually a large crowd, joining a minyan of people for Tefilah Betzibur (communal prayer) on Monday or Tuesday day services, is definitely appropriate. It will also enable you to hear the Shofar and thus fulfil the main mitzvah of Rosh Hashana.

While I am not sure if to give away the masks or not - they may come in useful against the pollution - what I don’t want to give away, is the gifts that I received during Covid.’

What gifts?

I have a bit of a list.

Let me start with the gift of appreciating community togetherness.

For the last two Rosh Hashana’s I had the painful task of looking at the list of would-be attendees and trying to balance how many people we could accommodate. How many small groups to split and divide into.

During those trying times, when I heard that someone of advanced age was throwing ‘caution to the winds’ and planning to attend a communal event, I felt concern and even a sense of panic as to how I could convince them to be more prudent.

It was the most confusing moments of my thirty years of communal leadership.

For decades I had constantly urged people to come and participate. All of a sudden, I was telling people to practice restraint and not attend.

I was blessed to be schooled in the Chabad model of community-building, focusing on non-judgmental, open-door policy. A synagogue experience should be uplifting and inviting. It should contain the components of hearty handshakes, friendly hugs, communal dining, toasting lechayims and of course spirited dancing.

These were all things that were curtailed and forbidden during the height of the pandemic.

Covid brought with it an enforced isolation. Loneliness and fear of catching infection caused us to withdraw into our own private cocoons of perceived safety.

But that, is thank G-d over.

Even on airplanes, most airlines have dropped the mask mandate.

Many people are of the opinion that the masks can be discarded.

But I don’t want to divest myself of some of the other gifts that Covid brought.

I now have a deepened appreciation of being able to congregate with people.

Absence makes the heart grow fonder.

Feelings of exhilaration still grip me when I sit and ‘farbreng’ with my community. Rubbing shoulders, clinking glasses, shaking hands and signing spiritedly with the inevitable mixing of microbes is really exciting after lockdown.

I don’t want to lose that excitement that communal togetherness now brings me.

The next thing on my list is ‘humility’.

Someone told me that just before Covid, his college educated son told him ‘Dad, there is almost nothing left that science hasn’t conquered’.

Well, a few weeks later, he was reminded of just how intricate G-d’s world is. And how humbled we all became when we grasped how our most sophisticated scientific achievements are infinitesimal before G-d’s might and majesty.

There is a vulnerability and humility that I have noticed in people’s demeanor and behavior.

Gone is the look of arrogant pompousness from so many faces.

How comforting it is to bask in the softness that now radiates from people’s faces.

Sensitivity is definitely on my list as well.

The time people now invest in listening to others. The sensitivity that people have for each other and the attention they now place on engaging in meaningful dialogue. The slowing down ‘to smell the roses’ that has coaxed people out of religiously going to their offices. The conscious choice that so many have made to spend quality time with their loved ones.

The sensitivity that people have developed in tending to the needs of the less fortunate.

I can personally attest to the fact that people have become more open to giving tzedakah to help righteous and compassionate causes.

(Please G-d the morning after Rosh Hashana we will be launching our annual JewishThailand giving days. Details to follow).

Those are some of the things I wouldn’t want to throw out.

However, Covid also exacted a heavy price on the world. A much too painful payment was made by humanity.

For no money in the world would any of us have agreed to willingly consent to such an unspeakable epoch.

People’s lives were tragically cut short by the pandemic. The medical suffering that people went through was acutely painful. Even now, after the pandemic has subsided, ‘Long Covid’ still has people dealing with aftereffects of the virus.

Kids had to contend with ‘virtual learning’ which is really challenging to say the least.

People lost their businesses, their jobs, their financial stability.

A sense of social restlessness fueled many demonstrations and created a lawlessness in many urban settings.

The above is just a sampling of the terrible upheaval that the pandemic brought in its wake.

I pray, that this year of 5783 bring with it the best of both worlds.

The gifts of good health, sustenance and peace.

The gifts of societal collaboration and acts of lovingkindness one to each other.

The gifts of authenticity and humility.

And a continued appreciation of the inherent value of community which will lead to enhanced attendance and Synagogues and ‘simchas’ - lifecycle celebrations.

Another thing that many Jewish people learned, is what it the central mitzvah of Rosh Hashana.

Hearing the sound of the Shofar.

This is THE mitzvah of Rosh Hashana.

While we were not able to host a large community dinner during the pandemic, we were able to fulfill the main mitzvah of Rosh Hashana. For even during Covid, we were able to fully observe the Mitzvah of Shofar by blowing Shofar outdoors.

Here in Bangkok, we blew Shofar at the lake in Benjasiri Park (behind Marriot Marquis hotel) and we will do so as well this year on Monday September 26thIn other places there was a schedule drawn up in advance detailing at which street corner one could hear Shofar at designated times.

As we stand on the threshold of a new HEALTHY year, it seems like the appropriate time to take a moment to consider what good things you can take with you from the past two pandemic-influenced years, into the coming healthy year.

Make a good resolution for this coming year. Add a mitzvah. Change yourself and change the world around you, good deed by good deed.

And if you really want to be nice, please drop me a note with your insight and resolution. I would love to hear from you.

May I take this opportunity on behalf of Nechama and myself, to wish you and your loved ones a SHANA TOVA – GOOD and SWEET YEAR.

May this be the year in which Mashiach comes and peace reigns supreme, AMEN

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


spirituality in the 'air'(plane)

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

The Torah teaches us about gratitude in this week’s Parsha.

Once the Jewish people had entered into Israel and settled in the land, they were to bring ‘first fruits’ up to the Bet Hamikdash and proclaim their gratefulness to G-d for the gift of the land and its yield.

(That produce were then given to the Kohanim and their families).

The technical fulfillment of this precept requires the coming of Mashiach, and the building of a Bet Hamikdash in Jerusalem.

The soul of the mitzvah applies now more than ever.

Gratitude is a cornerstone of the Torah’s teachings. As a matter of fact the first thing we do in the morning upon awakening is giving thanks to G-d for returning our souls.

The mitzvah of ‘honor your father and mother’ is another mitzvah that emphasizes the lifelong gratitude we must have for those who have given us the gift of life.

Living your life in the ‘gratitude lane’ is transformational.

Thing of things that you can be grateful to G-d for and verbalize your thanks.

Try it. Say: Thank you Hashem for…..

And pay attention to the opportunities that present themselves to be appreciative of those around you.

(It should go without saying that spouses, parents, children and cousins are also included. Ironically, we all know that it is sometimes the people closest to us that never hear how deeply we appreciate them. Seize the opportunities while they are available. Don’t wait till it’s too late. It’s a mitzvah, its being a ‘mentsch’ and it will make your life more pleasant. Guaranteed).

To quote the actual verse regarding the first fruit offering:

You must place   "> go to the place on which God, your God, will choose to rest His Name

The Baal Shem Tov – founder of the Chassidic movement three hundred years ago – gave a powerful and practical interpretation on these words.

"You shall go to the place the Eternal your G‑d will choose"  - a Jew must know that when he goes from one place to another, he is not going on his own, but is being directed from Above. And the intention and purpose in this is...

"...to cause His Name to dwell there"  - that is, to make G‑d known in his (that Jew's) locale.

How does one "make G‑d known"? With a b'racha and a verse of Tehillim.

This teaching is saying that wherever you are however you got there and for whatever reason you think you chose to go there, it was Hashem who chose for you to go there.

Therefore, where you are, is exactly where G-d wants you to be.

Period.

For what reason?

To make G-d known there.

How does on do that? Do I need to carry around a megaphone and scream in the streets G-d is here?

Not exactly. The Ba’al Shem Tov told us how to make G-d known in your place.

How does one "make G‑d known"? With a b'racha and a verse of Tehillim.

In other words, when you eat in that place and you make a blessing before eating thus recognizing that the world and all that is therein belongs to Him, this is making G-d known.

By saying a verse of Psalms – i.e. praying. In this way you proclaim G-d as being present.

Enjoy the two following stories that I think illustrate the above point.

My brother-in-law recently met a Jew at 2:00 am who had come to visit the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel (resting place) to pray. It is not unusual for people to be there at any hours of day or night, but this individual did not look like he was familiar with the Ohel. My brother-in-law asked him if he would like some help.

The visitor related the following.

I was on the plane a few months ago from NY to LAX and there was a rabbi sitting next to me on the plane. We chatted for a long time. The Rabbi spoke to me about G-d about Yiddishkeit, and the rabbi asked me several times if I would be interested to put on Tefilin with him. I didn’t really know what Tefilin were or how important they are to Judaism. I resisted and politely declined. Before getting off the plane I asked the rabbi for his name and he told me it was Shlomo Cunin. I found myself curious as to who this rabbi was and why he was so keen and eager to the point of repetitively asking regarding tefillin.

After searching it on Google I found out that Tefilin is a very important and meaningful mitzvah. It is actually one of most fundamental mitzvahs. I also found out that Rabbi Shlomo Cunin was sent to LA by the Lubavitcher Rebbe in the 1960’s and is the head of Chabad of the West Coast.

I went to a Judaica store to buy tefillin and learned how to put them on. I now wear Tefillin daily.

Now I came, for my very first time, to visit and pray at the Ohel as I have witnessed firsthand the effect that the Rebbe is still having in this world. I wanted to come and pray at the resting place of this great leader-Tzaddik.

In hearing this story what comes to my mind is that Rabbi Cunin had no idea of these developments. He thought that he tried to do a mitzvah with and fellow Jew and didn’t succeed.

Little does he know (by know my brother-in-law has certainly told him), that his efforts gave birth not just to a one-time mitzvah of Tefillin but to a daily Tefilin mitzvah.

I have another story that happened to me recently that is even more incredible.

Someone told me that there is an elderly Jew visiting Thailand, a Holocaust survivor, who needs to supplement his diet with calorie laden foods. In particular he wanted potato latkes. Nechama made him latkes, and I went to deliver them. I offered him the mitzvah of putting on Tefilin to which he readily agreed and told me that he had never done this mitzvah before in his life. I felt so blessed to be able to provide someone who had gone through so much, with this exquisite opportunity of putting on Tefillin at least once during his life.

The next time, my wife brought him the latkes and our son went along to offer him the Tefillin laying to which he again agreed.

He asked, ‘do you know why I feel comfortable putting on Tefilin?’ and he responded to his own question.

Because I have seen people laying Tefillin on the airplane!

Imagine that. A Jewish person was on a flight. He donned his Tefillin and prayed with them.

Unbeknownst to him, a fellow Jew saw his putting on Tefillin. They were not in a Synagogue; they were on a plane. But now, this not-yet-practicing Jew became familiar with the concept of Teffilin. Having seen it performed before his eyes.  

Years later, as an elderly person, he agrees to perform this mitzvah for the first time. Because someone else had performed the mitzvah in a public setting.

I found this so touching and inspiring.

Truly, wherever and whenever you are in a place you are creating an environment of G-dliness around you.

Whether you know it or not.

By making a blessing. By saying a prayer. You are creating awareness of the Divine Creator of the Universe.

Once the world recognizes the Omnipresence of G-d and commits to His system of moral values, the world becomes more peaceful.

And then, sooner than we anticipate, Mashiach comes to usher in the epoch of Shalom, world-peace and an unfiltered revelation of G-d in the universe.

Shabbat Shalom

Shana Tova

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Only One 'Like'

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Can you imagine a world where people base their moral choices on how many ‘likes’ they will get for their social media post?

I get it if people base their fashion choices on the feedback they get from people around them. Clothing and fashion are after all have very much to do with making an impression on those around us.

But moral choices? To decide whether I will feel good about being charitable or not, do I really need to hear from some stranger giving me a thumbs up?

You don’t have to imagine a world that looks to ‘likes’ for moral guidance.

It is here already.

At this juncture I can go two ways.

I can start raining down ‘brimstone and fire’, using rhetoric that will make us wish we were born in the pre-industrial-revolution days.

Or I can be true to the core values of Judaism through the enlightening prism of Chassidic thought.

And that indeed is what I will share.

The Rebbe taught that the way to look at technological advances is not that it’s something to bemoan or wish that it goes away.

Hashem made His world and guides the world. Inventions are G-d allowing humans to innovate. That innovation has a purpose. It is to be used for holy, moral, blessed and benevolent things.

We live in the reality of 5782-2022. It is this exact world that Hashem has created for us at this moment of time. We must be mindful in what kind of a unique moment of history we are blessed to be living. And we have but one question to ask ourselves.

How should we be conducting ourselves in our contemporary environment.

The answer has never changed. From the very first communication of the Torah at Mount Sinai the message has remained eternal and unchanging.

We have a mission from G-d.

The ‘playing field’ of this mission is our current world. If you were born in the Middle Ages, that would be your reality. But you weren’t born then. You were born in this generation. If you are born in our current age, then this is a G-dly sign that this is your set of circumstances. Tailored immaculately for your mission.

That mission is to do what is right in G-d’s eyes. Even if it may be at the price of ‘going with the flow’.

Even at the cost of ZERO LIKES from those around you.

Avraham our Father went against the entire pervading culture when he declared his belief in One G-d.  The idol industry didn’t give him any ‘likes’. They even had him thrown into a fiery furnace when he wouldn’t change his monotheistic ‘tweets’.

The days leading up to Rosh Hashana are an appropriate time to do a little introspection.

Taking into account and recognizing that we currently live in a world that is so clued in to what every single person is thinking at the other side of the globe, we need to solidify and strengthen our internal GPS system.

Try to do what is RIGHT regardless of what is POPULAR.

Is social media our enemy?

Granted, it can be very destructive.

On the other hand, social media can be an amazing tool. It can help create a vibe. The goal is to make it popular and ‘cool’ to do what is right.

Technology and scientific advance is not a curse G-d forbid. It is a blessed tool from the Almighty which is intended to allow us to get closer to him and promote Divine values.

Humans who are grounded in moral values choose to use technological tools in a productive and wholesome, holy manner.

To give us credit for fulfilling our mission, Hashem also provides a challenge in the form of choice. Technology can also be used or bad and even horrible things.

As the Torah clearly states: G-d says that ‘I have set before you life and death, blessing and curse. And you shall choose life, so that you and your children may live’.

It is up to us to make the right choice and channel the commodities and tools at our disposal to holy and good things.

It seems to me that the Torah speaks directly to the point of not being dependent on ‘likes’ in this week’s portion.

How so? The Torah was transmitted by G-d thousands of years ago. Where does it talk about ‘likes’?

Towards the end of this week’s Parsha the law of collateral and securities for loans is taught. (Interpolated translation by Kehos Publications)

‘As you have been taught, when a loan comes due and the borrower does not have the means to repay it, the lender may take him to court and demand collateral against the unpaid loan. Similarly, when you demand back something that you loaned your fellow Jew—even something other than money—and he cannot return it to you immediately, you may demand collateral. However, you must not enter his home to take his collateral.

Rather, you must stand outside, and the person from whom you are demanding the return of what you loaned him must bring the collateral to you outside.

Also, as you have been taught, if he is a poor man, and the only thing in his possession that he can give you as collateral is his night clothing, you must not lie down to sleep with his collateral still in your possession.

Rather, you must return the collateral to him by sunset, so that he may lie down to sleep in his garment. Similarly, if he is a night-worker and gives you his daytime clothing as a security, you must return it to him by morning. 

He will bless you for your consideration, and even if he does not, it will be counted for you as a merit before God, your God.

(Emphasis is mine, the Torah text doesn’t have emphases or highlights per se).

Imagine the scenario. You have given a poor man a loan. He has given you his silk pajamas that remind him of better days as a security. He doesn’t have another pair of pajamas. The Torah thus instructs you to return his pajamas every night so that he can sleep properly.

You find yourself majorly inconvenienced every evening in returning those pajamas to the man who owes you money.

And because you expend so much effort in tending to this poor person, you feel like a saint. For lending him money in the first place. For returning his collateral every night.

You expect the beneficiary to appreciate your efforts.

Indeed, the Torah points out, that ‘he will bless you for your consideration’.

But then, he happened to send you an email intended for his friend. He sent it to you by accident. Before you realized it wasn’t meant for you and stopped reading it, you noticed that in his mail that he is complaining about you in the context of the loan that he owes you.

Let me ask you to take this self-assessment test.

Stop to ask yourself how would you feel?

You thought till now that he feels so blessed by your efforts. Now you find out HE DOESN’T EVEN APPRECIATE YOUR EFFORTS!!!

I am guessing you may not be feeling so positive about what has happened. You may feel like you have been taken advantage of.

You may be screaming WHAT CHUTZPAH. WHAT NERVE that fellow has after all I do for him he doesn’t even appreciate it???

You may consider reacting negatively and even do nasty things in trying to reclaim your loan. Not because anything has changed in terms of dollars and cents. And deep down you know that you did the right thing. But the ungratefulness of the recipient gets you indignant and very upset.

The Torah continues:

it will be counted for you as a merit before God, your God.

Cool down.

Stop relying on others to make you feel validated.

Ask yourself, what does G-d want me to do?

How does Hashem look at my deed.

Hashem tells us in His Torah LOUD AND CLEAR. Even if the recipient doesn’t bless you as he should, in the eyes of G-d it will be considered a merit.

Stop looking at how many ‘likes’ you are getting from the people ‘out there’.

Start living your life based on what He, the Almighty in Heaven, and the ‘piece of G-d’ within ourselves ‘likes’.

That is all that counts.

And I have some good news for you. When you do what HE says is right, ultimately the society around you will also appreciate you. Maybe not instantly but ultimately.

Leaders, parents, educators, this is especially important for you.

It’s time to ween ourselves off ‘likes’.

Its time to provide to those who look to us for leadership and guidance the moral clarity and guidance that they are looking for. Albeit they may protest outwardly. They may not bless you.

But if G-d has put you in the position of leadership/parenthood/teacher-hood, then He has given you the responsibility and mission of acting and doing what Almighty G-d wants you to do. Lead the way forward in moral G-dly behavior by personal example of keeping Mitzvahs and by teaching the truth of Torah.

 ‘It will be counted for you as a merit before God, your God’

Shabbat Shalom

Shana Tova

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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Watch a moment of wisdom for this week's Torah portion👇👇👇

 

 

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Something I learned last Shabbat has me ‘jumping for joy’ or even flying with euphoria the whole week and I would like to share it with you.

But first some background.

Sometimes to see the guiding ‘Hand of Hashem’ takes a long time. Like decades long.

Our daughter D evorah Leah got married to Shneor, a young man from Israel, several years ago. At the wedding, my father-in-law shared an interesting piece of information. He recounted that his mother, had nursed this young man’s grandfather back to health. He was recalling something that had taken place in the early 1940’s when they still lived in the Soviet Union.

In other words, seventy years before these two young people ever met, the groom’s grandfather had been saved by the bride’s great grandmother.

My wife’s grandmother ‘Bobbe Tzila’ was a young mother at that time. Her hands and schedule were more than filled to the brim, with caring for her own two children. Yet, when a frail young Yeshiva boy names Chatzkel, fell ill and there was no one to care for him, she selflessly brought him into her home.

Decades later it turns out that while she was fulfilling the great mitzvah of saving a life, she was also, unbeknownst to her, preparing the future husband for her great granddaughter.

I thought of this story because thank G-d our daughter Devorah Leah and her husband Shneor were blessed with a healthy baby daughter in Israel earlier this week.

It is uplifting when we sense, and even see, the Divine Providence as Hashem directs every aspect in His world. Albeit, sometimes it takes a little (or a long) while to see how things unfold and fall into place.

During this month of Elul, we talk about the acronym of Elul as spelling out

  אני לדודי ודודי לי  (Ani Ledodi Vedodi Li)

which translates ‘I am to my beloved, and my beloved is to me’.

It is a verse from King Solomon’s Shir Hashirim (Song of Songs) and refers allegorically to each of us Jewish people and our relationship with G-d.

In simple English we could paraphrase it as ‘I love Hashem, and Hashem loves me’.

The great kabbalist the Arizal taught that in the month of Elul, ‘I (as in you, me, and all of our brethren), turn to my beloved’. i.e., each of us turns to G-d with love.

What causes us to love G-d?

One of the most potent ways of generating love within our hearts towards G-d is by sensing G-d’s nearness to us. By observing and seeing His Guiding Hand in the events unfolding around us, we naturally feel love towards Him.

If the Torah says that during this month every Jew turns to G-d with love, it must be that G-d sets the stage for this to happen.

The set-up for this to happen is via Hashem allowing us to see His Divine Providence in a more obvious way.

But while sometimes it takes decades to see the Providence of Hashem, there must also be more expeditious opportunities provided for pre-High-Holiday love for Hashem. During this month, in support of the love we are supposed to have for Him, Hashem prepares scenarios where we can see G-d’s Divine Providence in a more immediate way. And thus the love is generated naturally.

The Rebbe suggests this in a letter to someone at this time period in 1972. The Rebbe writes that since the month of Elul is a month in which we turn lovingly to G-d, it is clearly an opportune time to reflect more deeply on the Divine Providence taking place around us.

My understanding in reading this, is that obviously this is not only talking about the Divine Providence that takes decades (or centuries and millennia) to develop and become evident, rather this refers to ‘microwave’ and ‘supersonic age’ moments of Divine Providence that can provide immediate loving feelings toward G-d.

I discovered this letter from the Rebbe last Shabbat. Ever since, I have been blessed to see many instances of Divine Providence unfold in front of my very eyes.

A quick example from early Sunday morning.

A few weeks ago, I was visiting Israel. It was 2am, there was not a car on the road, and I had unknowingly taken a wrong turn. Google Maps (rightfully) took me 5km further on the rural road I was on. It then told me to turn right, and only then did I realize it had taken me there simply to make a U-turn in the parking lot. It ‘just so happened’ to be the parking lot of a business that is owned by someone I was very friendly with. He used to visit Thailand often. Over the past few years, he hasn’t traveled much and while I deeply cherish our friendship, our contact wasn’t that frequent. When Hashem (via Google) brought me to his parking lot, I made a commitment to call him at an earthly hour.

The next day we had a very nice chat.

Fast forward a bunch of days. Early this past Sunday morning I checked my email. Totally unexpectedly, my aforementioned business friend had sent a message instructing his financial office to send a generous donation for our Rosh Hashana programs.

I was elated. First of all, the financial help was very helpful. Secondly, it was uplifting to receive his help in such a gracious way. It was totally self-initiated and unexpected as I knew that his business was going through its own set of challenges and he was a bit stressed. It didn’t seem to me to be the time for him to give donations.

However, as he explained in the accompanying note:

Sometimes, when we are stressed, we are blind to others’ greater needs. I know that Rosh Hashana will be a challenge for you and I’m glad to be of a little help.

May you continue to enjoy good health and strength to carry out your very necessary work. 

But what really lifted me to the clouds was the obvious and open Divine Providence of this story. I thought I had driven 5kms out of my way. Hashem gave me the gift of showing me that He had taken me exactly where I needed to be, when I needed to be there.

It is my privilege and honor, that you are reading my words.

G-d has thus granted me the great pleasure of sharing with you, the gift that Hashem bestowed to me in placing this insight from the Rebbe before my eyes, and in a way that it grabbed my attention.

My week has been an uplifting and joyous one.

First of all, Nechama and I thank G-d for the most exquisite blessing in the world, a new healthy granddaughter. There is no greater miracle than the miracle of birth. It is just that we get used to miracles quite easily and we start to refer to them as ‘nature’. In truth, G-d’s Hand is clearly evident in the miracle of birth.

And I thank G-d for showing me so many other items of Divine Providence. From Torah insights that came my way in a Providential way. To phone calls that came exactly when they were most needed. Even delayed meetings that turned out to be much more effective because of the delay as new information was available that changed the nature of the meeting.

So many things that came together in a way that points to the Hand of G-d who is guiding and directing every single detail.

I am pointing all of this out, as these opportunities are available to you too. If you but open your eyes to look for it. I am confident saying this, as I am paraphrasing the words of our Torah Sages.

But don’t take my word for it. Now that you have learned that the month of Elul has special properties and allows for more obvious recognition and vision of Divine Providence, take a few moments to ‘smell the roses’ or in this case to reflect on G-d’s Guiding Hand in your very own life.

You don’t readily see the pattern of Divine Providence in your life?

Perhaps the following anecdote will be of help.

Professor Velve Greene ( A former Fulbright scholar and a pioneer in exobiology, Professor Velvl Greene spent years working for NASA searching for life on Mars. He continued to lecture right up until his passing in 2011) had his first private audience with the Rebbe in 1963. By this stage Professor Greene had come to learn of the Rebbe’s genius in Torah as well as science. He had learned of the Rebbe’s incredible leadership qualities. But now he was going to have his first personal meeting with the Rebbe.

He later described the encounter:

The Rebbe was so warm and welcoming,” he recalled of that first meeting. “He seemed more like a loving uncle than the spiritual leader of the Jewish world [that he was].”

They discussed the concept of Divine Providence, that “everything that a person sees or hears is designed by G‑d to bring us closer to Him.” The Rebbe told Greene that as a professor in a medical school and as a frequent traveler, he probably saw and heard things most people don’t experience.

“Why don’t you keep a journal, just a few notes at the end of the day, and see if you can find the divine message?” the Rebbe suggested. If he needed help finding the meaning, they could discuss it together.

 Anything I add will be superfluous.

But I can’t resist adding a little request if I may be so bold.

I love hearing stories of Divine Providence. If you do keep a journal, and notice a pattern of events that turns into a remarkable story, (and its not too personal to share), would you consider sharing it with me so I too can be inspired?

Shabbat Shalom

Shana Tova

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

one paycheck away

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

This Shabbat is a ‘double-header’.

Its Shabbat.

And its Rosh Chodesh. The ‘head of the month’.

The month of Elul.

One month away from Rosh Hashana.

It’s a month of accounting for the past year.

It’s a month of preparing for the coming year.

Preparing for the future responsibly, requires an honest appraisal of what transpired in the past.

In every business, the owner looks for ‘best practices’ and tries to strengthen them. As well as looking for things that have failed and discontinuing them.

One of the things that can be transformative in our lives and is definitely a ‘best practice’, is being more mindful of the blessings in our lives.

Our Parsha is called ‘Re’eh’ which means ‘see’. As in ‘See, I am placing before you blessing…’. The ‘I’ in the verse is Hashem.

Sometimes, all it takes for us to feel happier and more content, is to open our eyes and see the blessings of G-d.

Do you feel blessed?

Some people when you ask them ‘what do you want to thank Hashem for today’ have trouble coming up with something that they want to give gratitude for.

You may be surprised to hear this. Not to everyone does it come easily to articulate even one thing that they feel thankful for.

Perhaps this below meditation can help.

A statistic I once read has stayed in my consciousness as it sounded quite frightening.

A survey taken in the USA showed that 59% of Americans are one paycheck away from being homeless.

Come to think of it there is something much scarier which we don’t often think about which we don’t need a survey for. We all know it from observing life around us.

We all know that 100% of humans are just one microbial infection, one blood clot, or one malignant cell away from dying.

That is a pretty scary thought that we don’t often like to think about.

So let us NOT think about it. Or rather let us now dwell on it.

Let us think about the fact that 98% of Americans are NOT homeless and (unless you are one of the unfortunate 2%) how thankful we must be that we DO have a home.

The fact is, that if you are reading this, you are alive.

This means that your body with all of its myriad components, is working.

Let us praise Hashem for our physical health. For every breath. For the blood that flows through our veins unimpeded. For the trillions of healthy cells that do their job devotedly.

Let us praise the Master of the Universe for the symmetry in creation.

For all the blessings.

There is no reason to have ‘bad news’ dominate our psyche.

Good news abounds. It just doesn’t make good headlines like crises do.

So next time you are asked, ‘what would you like to thank Hashem for’, think of the trillions of things that are going right in your very own body.

Breath by breath.

Heartbeat by heartbeat.

Our internal digestive system is a huge miracle. There are 100 trillion microbial cells in our gut. Every time we go go the bathroom, we have to be thankful that they are all speaking to each other and cooperating.

The intricate design and cooperation required for opening our eyes in the morning is beyond miraculous.

Think of all the blessings that surround us all that we take for granted.

Make a good resolution to open your eyes and SEE the good that abounds from G-d.

And may G-d bless you to have many more good things to SEE and to give gratitude for.

(For a perspective on the ‘darkness’ and suffering that we witness in the world, click here for an article by Tzvi Freeman on the opening verse of this weeks Parsha’).

The Alter Rebbe in describing the Divine energies that are beamed down to our world in preparation of Rosh Hashana, starting from Rosh Chodesh Elul, describes an analogy involving a king.

Before a king enters his city, its inhabitants go out to greet him and receive him in the field. At that time, anyone who so desires is granted permission [and can] approach him and greet him. He receives them all pleasantly, and shows a smiling countenance to all . . .

During the month of Elul, G-d is analogous to the king in the field. Hashem gives us the gift of being ‘approachable’ before the awesome High Holidays.

The Kabbalists taught that the month of Elul is a month of intense spiritual opportunity where G-d is radiantly accessible to each and every one of us. Just the way we are. Each of us can and should approach Him and put in our ‘pre-Rosh-Hashana’ requests for a Good and Sweet Year!

Shabbat Shalom

Chodesh Tov

Shana Tova

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

good (kosher) meatballs?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I was listening to a conversation between a father and a son in his early teens.

The family owns several homes in locations around the world, some of them quite exotic in places with exquisite natural beauty.

Father asks son ‘where would you like to live after we are ready to move on from our current location’?

The son answered, naming a European country. The reason he gave for his choice? ‘Because I have heard that they make good meatballs’.  

The father thought that this was rather comical. Who chooses a place to live based on the quality of their meatballs?

I started thinking about the reasons I have heard from people about their choice of where to live. Sometimes the reasons don’t sound very different than ‘meatballs’ in terms of their deeper significance.

It’s a good week to discuss this. As in this week’s Parsha Moshe tells the Jewish people about the qualities of the land of Israel.

‘For Hashem your G-d is bringing you to a good land’.

‘A land with streams of water, springs, deep water sources… a land of wheat, barley…. olive oil and honey.. a land in which nothing is lacking… from its hills you will mine copper… a land you will eat and be satisfied, and you shall bless G-d for the good land that He has given you’.

Clearly, it is a blessing to live in a land that has the important resources of water, food, and building materials.

But is that the sum total of what is referred to as our ‘Promised Land’?

(There are many deeper interpretations about what the aforementioned qualities allude to, but I want to stick to simple meaning in this article).

Allow me to point out what is not written explicitly but is the background and framework from within which the Promised Land is being discussed.

Moshe is talking to the entire People of Israel.

He tells them that ‘Hashem your G-d is bringing you to a good land’.

The description of the goodness of the land starts after that verse. In other words the material qualities of the land of Israel begin to be relevant only after two conditions are met.

It is Hashem that is bringing you there.

It is the Jewish community as a collective that is being told they will enter the land of Israel.

A recurring theme in the answers that the Rebbe gave to those asking for his guidance about where to live, were based on these two criteria.

Where will one be drawn closer to G-d and Torah-based Jewish community.

Environment and societal behavior have a great influence on one’s life. Choosing a place to live ought to first take into account the moral and spiritual implications of living in that locale.

The Rebbe would emphasize that it’s not just about what is better for the person as a ‘private citizen’. For people who are ‘influencers’ in their environment, it is critical to consider in which location is one’s contribution to the Jewish community more beneficial and perhaps even vital.

You may be surprised to learn that not always was moving to Israel the answer that the Rebbe gave his approval to.

When someone was instrumental in their diaspora Jewish community the Rebbe considered it their holy duty to stay and influence their community. Like a captain doesn’t ‘jump ship’ till all the passengers have safely disembarked, so too, one should not seek the spiritual growth of the ‘holy land’ on the account of leaving a void in the spiritual needs of the community.

Once one knows that it is Hashem who is bringing you to your location of residence.

When it’s clear that your intended move is going to allow you to be together in that location as a Jewish community.

Then, the discussion can move to (KOSHER) ‘meatballs’ and other factors of varying levels of importance.

When Moshe describes the goodness of the land to which the Bnei Yisrael are about to enter, the unstated (because its so obvious) premise is that it is Hashem who is giving the land. And that it is the collective community of Israel who is being instructed by G-d to enter that land.

It is my understanding that to truly be considered a strong Jewish community in terms of a choice for relocation, it is not enough that there are basic amenities of Jewish life. There needs to be a viable Jewish schooling option and a sufficient pool of Jewish families to allow for dating and marriage options within the local Jewish community.

I have been very inspired to see how some families take assertive actions and relocate from ‘remote’ communities once they sense the dangers of intermarriage and assimilation where there is not a large enough pool of young Jewish adults.

Or, while practical considerations have hindered their move as a family, they make the great sacrifice of sending their adolescent children for schooling in vibrant Jewish communities where they have the best chance of meeting, dating and marrying Jewishly.

Once those criteria of coming closer to Hashem and His people are met, the discussion about ‘milk and honey’ can begin.

Clearly, making a choice about where to live and raise a family is a very weighty one. It should not be based primarily on ‘meatballs’. Nor on household help availability. Not even on weather (unless of course there is a medical issue).

Those are secondary things.

The Torah way of choosing where to live is based on the primary reasons for which we live.

To draw closer to G-d and fulfill His mission here on earth.

I am mindful of the fact that there may a very small group of readers to whom this discussion is relevant in its complete sense.

I have many readers in very vibrant Jewish communities both in Israel and in the diaspora.

On the other hand, many are in remote locations. Not entirely by choice. Economics and various other sociological factors govern where they reside.

However, there is a lesson here for us all.

Let us ensure that the true values of our lives be uppermost in our minds.

Having an abundance of material conveniences is fantastic.

But it can also be most empty and unfulfilling. Sadly, many entitled and pampered young people, grow up dissatisfied and unhappy.

When the material wherewithal comes from a background of connection to G-d and giving back (tzedakah in all its forms) benefiting your family and community, the materialism becomes a vehicle and conduit for living a meaningful and purposeful life.

Here is a call to action.

Place your arrows firmly in the ‘bullseye’ of the target and draw the circles around that.

Make G-d and His people the primary factors in your life.

The focus and clarity that this will bring to your life, will render many of your subsequent life dilemmas and decisions less confusing.

Ultimately, when you live life by the above values, you create a holy land in your own environment.

The Rebbe used to constantly encourage people ‘Make your own Israel’ via the holiness you inject and the atmosphere you create around you.

With blessings for a Shabbat Shalom.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

 PS It’s the Shabbat that blessed the month of Elul, which means Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur are around the corner. Hence its time to give early SHANA TOVA blessings as well.


 

 

too salty?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Have you ever had the experience of working hard to cook a dish, only to put too much salt in, rendering the food barely edible?

Little things, like spicing food in correct quantity, can change the entire scenario.

In life, its often not about what we do and how hard we work, rather its how we do it and what perspective we operate with.

This week we read the comforting words of Yeshayahu (Isaaiah) the Prophet. This Shabbat is called ‘Shabbat Nachamu’ referring to the opening words of the prophecy of comfort.

Our Sages asked, why did Yeshayahu merit to be the prophet of comfort?

Their explanation, because Yeshayahu accepted G-d’s mission of prophesying to the Jewish people with joy.

Joy makes all the difference in the world.

Joy is the spice that gives all our deeds an uplifted status.

You may think joy is overrated, after all isn’t the actual work more important than the frame of mind from which you operate?

But actually, this is not the case.

You can be toiling away and doing great stuff. However, if you are doing it with a sense of burden, it is second rate at best. How can that be? It would be analogous to oversalting the dish you labored over. You worked so hard to prepare the dish. You think you deserve points for effort. However, if no one can eat the dish because it is too salty, your efforts will have been in vain.

When it comes to Tzedaka the Rambam spells it out very clearly. Giving joylessly is  at the very bottom of the list.

There are eight levels of charity, each greater than the next.

[1] The greatest level, above which there is no greater, is to support a fellow Jew by endowing him with a gift or loan, or entering into a partnership with him, or finding employment for him, in order to strengthen his hand so that he will not need to be dependent upon others . . .

[2] A lesser level of charity than this is to give to the poor without knowing to whom one gives, and without the recipient knowing from who he received.

…. Click here for full chart of levels

7] A lesser level than this is when one gives inadequately, but gives gladly and with a smile.

[8] A lesser level than this is when one gives unwillingly.

We can readily understand why giving tzedakah unwillingly is the lowest on the list, because there is nothing more demeaning and belittling that someone giving you something begrudgingly. By making the recipient feel like you are giving out of a sense of duty rather than out of care for him, you are causing embarrassment and pain.

Of course, even if you can only bring yourself to give Tzedakah without joy, it is better to give joylessly than not to give at all.

But if you are already doing tzedakah, you may as well do it with joy. By doing so you will open yourself up to a new world. To a deeper and more blessed relationship with G-d.

It is self-understood how in relationships, without joy and excitement the relationship will be on shaky grounds.

In Judaism, weddings are celebrated with incredible joy.

The Torah says that for the first year, the husband must make it his all-consuming priority to ‘make happy the wife that he took’.

Regarding the mitzvah of Brit Milah (circumcision) which has survived throughout the millennia despite all odds, our Sages tell us that since Brit Milah was always done by the Jewish people joyously, it endured.

Any Mitzvah that is done with joy, endures.

Even from a human experiential perspective this makes sense. If you sense that your parents were doing something but didn’t really like to do it, chances are that the kids will not continue to do it. Whereas if your children see how joyously you perform a particular Mitzvah, there is a more than good chance that this is something they will seek to continue.

Amazingly, even for Prophets, the catalyst for being a prophet of comfort as opposed to a prophet prophesying about bitter consequences, is the small but mega-powerful ingredient of JOY.

Simply put, if one accepts upon himself to serve G-d, and is joyous about this commitment, they are opening themselves up to G-d’s blessings and smiles.

Last week we had to find something positive within the apparent destruction. It was difficult to keep a joyous perspective.

Not so this week. We should have no major challenge being joyous this week. We need but to open ourselves up to hearing the voice of consolation and comfort that stream forth from this weeks Haftarah portion from the book of Isaiah.

“Comfort, comfort My people, says your G-d.” 

The anticipation of the comfort that G-d promises to bring us, should be enough to get us dancing with joy!!!

May G-d indeed show us His comforting presence in a revealed and obvious way by bringing Mashiach.

Let us do our bit to enhancing and broadening the channels of blessing from the Almighty by thinking, speaking and acting in a JOYOUS manner.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS the Torah teaches that one of the things that adds joy, is ‘new faces’. Guests bring a fresh spirit and a sense of excitement.

This means that here in Thailand the Shabbat will be one of JOY as the guest list for Shabbat dinner at the Chabad Houses across Thailand has gone over the two thousand guest mark.

Click here to get a glimpse of the preps in Phuket

And here to be a tzedakah partner and sponsoring host


destroy vs demolish

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I was giving an informal talk at a Yartzeit anniversary of a community member. Being that it is the days that lead up to Tisha B’av (see schedule below), the day of national mourning for the destruction of the Bet Hamkidash that became the focus of the discussion.

I asked my listeners to consider the difference between the two words destruction and demolition.

They have very similar meanings. Whether the building was destroyed or demolished it is no longer there.

But I would like to posit that there is a nuanced difference between them.

Destruction connotes getting rid of something. As in, ‘the destruction caused by the earthquake means that it will take years for the country to rebuild and recover’.

Demolition lends itself more to planned removal. As in ‘the reason for the demolition of the bridge was to ensure a safe passage over the river’. A new bridge will be built where the old bridge stood’.

Was the Bet Hamikdash destroyed or demolished?

When I had finished presenting my question which would be the springboard for a discussion on the topic, A lex asked me ‘was the Beth Elisheva synagogue destroyed or demolished’?

And then a lightbulb went on in my head.

First some background.

Once we reached the blessed stage that our community was outgrowing the Beth Elisheva building, we looked to expand the existing building by adding an extension. This would be less complicated in many ways. Before one adds to a building it must first be evaluated. The first step thus was to engage the world class Meinhardt engineering firm to inspect the existing building that was at the time more than thirty years old.

Excerpts from Meinhardt’s report regarding the danger of adding an extension to the existing Beth Elisheva structure:

‘it is therefore recommended, that if a change of usage is required, the building should be demolished, and an appropriately designed structure is built in its place

How about just leaving the building as renovating and redecorating? This next line clinched the argument in favor of demolition.

… it should also be understood that the holding of large gatherings currently as practiced, entails some risk’

In other words, even the existing usage didn’t meet Meinhardt’s exacting standards.

Reading these lines in retrospect, they sound more ominous than they did then. For in the interim, tragically, the concept of risk in building structures has become very well known in the Jewish world. The collapse last year of the Surfside Tower in Miami affected the Jewish community in Miami in an acutely painful and personal way.

‘And when will the new Beth Elisheva building actually happen’ further asked Alex. He added, ‘it is now several years since the building was demolished and the new one has not begun to be built. Is it not a priority for you?’

Before I had a chance to answer, Alex asked me yet a more pointed question ‘the Chabad House project down at Kaosarn Rd started around the same time as Beth Elisheva and yet while the Chabad House beautiful new building is now up and operational, Beth Elisheva not yet built?’

The lightbulb started shining more brightly in my mind.

I now started to understand the dynamics of Tisha B’av in a more personal way.

The Bet Hamikdash was destroyed because of our imperfections. The Jewish people had sinned (click here for more details) and thus ‘caused’ the destruction of the Temple.

But does G-d intend it to remain razed?

Or is there a plan to build a replacement?

Clearly Judaism believes in the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash. Our prophets spoke of the coming of Mashiach. This is one of the fundamentals beliefs of Judaism. Part of the ‘job description’ of Mashiach is that he builds a Bet Hamikdash in its intended spot on Mount Moriah in Jerusalem.

A bigger, better and more beautiful edifice.

An eternal temple.

That cannot be destroyed.

But why is it taking so long?

Well, how long does it take for G-d to ‘finalize the plans for the Bet Hamikdash’?

Is there an ‘industry standard’ for how long building Bet Hamikdash’s take?

We actually do have a precedent to compare with.

You see, this is not the first time we have had a loss of our Bet Hamikdash. We had a ‘First Bet Hamikdash’ for 410 years and then we sinned. As a result, it was destroyed, and we were exiled to Babylon. Seventy years later we were given the Divine ‘go ahead’ to rebuild a better and more beautiful ‘Second Bet Hamkidash’.

So it seems that seventy years is sufficient to build a Bet Hamikdash.

Tragically, after 420 years, we lost that second Bet Hamikdash as well due to sin.

What sin?

My colleague Rabbi Uriel Vigler explained it well,

A couple of weeks ago I flew to Israel with my family. As we waited to check in at JFK, juggling our five young children and multiple pieces of luggage, a stranger walked over and introduced himself. Being a Chabad rabbi, and very visible in my black hat and jacket, I am accustomed to being approached by strangers. But this man had something else on his mind.

Jack* was in JFK with his 12-year-old daughter who was flying alone to spend time with her cousins in Israel. The airlines considered her an unaccompanied minor, so Jack was looking for someone he could trust to take his daughter through security, onto the plane and through Ben Gurion at the other end. Of course, we agreed to help him, and it turned out that his daughter was actually great help with our five kids. Win-win!

But we were some of the last few people to check in, so I asked Jack, "You must've waited here for a long time until you found someone you felt you could trust. Why did you pick us? Aren't we strangers just as much as the next person?"

"Yes, we arrived very early," he explained. "I've been standing here scanning passengers, trying to decide who I could trust with my precious child."

"What made you trust me?" I asked.

"Well, I see that you have five children, and I noticed the way you were holding and hugging your 2-year-old daughter. If that's how you take care of your daughter, especially in this harried situation, I know I can trust you."

      ---------

This weekend we will make the saddest day on the Jewish calendar-Tisha B'Av. On Tisha B'Av we commemorate the destruction of the first and second holy Beit Hamikdash. Although it's been almost 2,000 years since the second Beit Hamikdash was destroyed, we yearn for it to be rebuilt.

The Midrash tells us that G-d is waiting and yearning to build the third Beit Hamikdash for us, and on Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat before Tisha B'Av, our souls get a glimpse of it. So, if we are yearning for it, and G-d is yearning to give it to us, what is He waiting for?

He needs to know that He can trust us.

The last Beit Hamikdash was destroyed because of Sinat Chinam-baseless hatred. So before we can receive the third and final Beit Hamikdash, we need to prove that we can do better.

How do we show G-d that He can trust us?

Like Jack* who was watching me, G-d is waiting for us to "hug" one another. We need to demonstrate our care, concern, love and appreciation for all our fellow Jews, regardless of how well we know them, how much we have in common, or how much we agree on.

G-d is waiting and watching to see how we treat one another. When He sees us loving one another unconditionally, He will again entrust us with the holy Beit Hamikdash and the Final Redemption.

*Name changed to protect the individuals privacy.

It's more than nineteen hundred years after the destruction of the Second Bet Hamkidash. We’ve been through lot since then. We have given a lot of ‘hugs’ to each other. There is so much benevolence and so many good and loving deeds being done. Surely, we must have reached the rectification of the sin.

If seventy years was enough time to get a second Bet Hamikdash, now its about 27 X 70 years later. Surely it should be high time. Why is it taking so long?

Let me jump back to Bangkok 2022.

Why indeed is Bet Elisheva taking longer than Chabad House to build?

I can tell you that for me personally, it is of the highest priority. The delay is not because the new center is unimportant. On the contrary, it is uppermost on my mind. I ask myself those very questions ‘when will it be built’ every day.

So why IS it taking this long?

Because of its greatness and significance.

The Beth Elisheva building will be twice the size of the new Chabad House.

It’s a bigger more sophisticated and multi-faceted campus.

It will be ‘The Jewish Heart of Thailand’ for our local Jewish community.

The campus will contain a wide variety of functions so that it will be relevant to every Jew in Thailand.

A dignified and inspiring Synagogue will feature in the campus. As well as a library and study rooms.

A museum will highlight Thai Jewish history and teach the values and guiding moral light of Judaism. Locals, visitors and schools will come to visit and become educated.

JCafe & Kosher Shop will feature prominently in the building and provide a warm meeting place with a readily available variety of delectable kosher food.

Jewish continuity will be bolstered by the including of a state-of-the-art nursery school, a lounge designed specially for Jewish teens, a gym for youth activities, community offices and of course a Mikvah.

The experts all say that it is worthwhile to spend longer on getting the plan right, then starting to build and then needing to adjust.

The good news is that hopefully the ‘waiting stage’ is at its conclusion. The planning is in the final stages please G-d and hopefully the actual building will start soon.

The Bet Hamikdash we are waiting for is the ‘Wow of Wow of Wow’ buildings. One can understand that something that incredible, takes time. Unquestionable it is worth waiting for.

But its not really a good answer when it comes to the Bet Hamikdash.

For how long can we be expected to wait?

Part of the problem with waiting for something for a long time, is that people lose interest at some stage. It’s human nature. When something just keeps getting delayed and excused, disillusionment starts to seep in.

How does G-d expect us to keep waiting?

A story is told of the Maggid of Mezritch. Once, his son came running to him in tears. The Maggid comforted him and asked him why he was crying. The child began to explain that he had been playing a game of hide-and-seek with his friends.

He and all his friends were hiding. They remained in their hiding places for a long time, thinking that they had hid well, and that the person whose turn it was was unable to find them. But soon they got tired of waiting. They came out of their hiding places and discovered that they had been wrong. The one whose turn it was to search, was not even there. He had played a trick on them! After they went into their hiding places, he went home instead of searching for them. That is why the Maggid’s son was crying.

When the Maggid of Mezritch heard this story, he also began to cry. His son asked him why he was crying. The Maggid told him that G‑d has the same complaint.

What did the Maggid mean? It is written, “You are a G‑d Who hides.” G‑d says, “I hide Myself from you, but the purpose of My hiding is that you should come and search for Me. But instead of searching for Me, you go away and busy yourselves with other things.”

The Rebbe tearfully and emotionally commented on this story:

Indeed, it is true that the father must conceal himself from his son in order to awaken within him a yearning for his father… But what should the son do when the father places him in an incredible darkness? . . . And then He demands of us that we should constantly search . . . Sunday we must search . . . Monday we must search . . .

So, how can one register a complaint against a mortal of flesh and blood who is finite and limited—this is how he was created by G‑d; it is not his fault!—how can one criticize him for not constantly thinking about the redemption . . . it is not possible . . . G‑d Himself says, “I ask only commensurate to one’s capabilities,” but He has not given us the strength . . .

Therefore we must increase in light—and not just any light, but specifically the light of simchah (joyousness). Since simchah “breaks all boundaries and limitations,” it breaks through the person’s limitations, the limitations of this world, and the limitations imposed by this dreadful darkness . . .

This question of ‘how long can we wait’. And how long can G-d expect us to keep searching and waiting, is an existential question that is best to leave unanswered by us mortals. G-d alone can and will provide the answer.

As we enter the space of Shabbat, Tisha B’av gets pushed off. Tonight is ‘Tisha B’av’ i.e. the ninth of Av, but the fast is pushed off to the tenth of Av, starting Saturday night.

We wish it would be pushed off entirely. So that the fast would turn into a feast.

How can we celebrate the Shabbat as we should, when we are engrossed in this time period that focuses on the destruction?

On Shabbat we change our perspective. We are given the ‘glasses’ to see things from Hashem’s perspective.

Click here for more on the ‘vision’ of this Shabbat Chazon.

From Hashem’s perspective it was never about destruction.

It was always just about lovingly wanting to grant us a third Bet Hamikdash that will supersede and outshine anything we can imagine.

During the week, and when we see the world in our ‘standard’ earthly ‘glasses’, we see darkness and we feel the absence of the Bet Hamikdash. On Tisha B’av we don’t eat and drink or do other pleasurable things that would take our mind of the mourning. Jewish law instructs us to be fully present in our ‘homesickness’ and yearning and longing for the presence of G-d in his Temple. At least on this one day of the year we need to feel the loss acutely.

Yet, during the next twenty-four hours of Shabbat, we are instructed to see things from the Shabbat perspective.

This Shabbat is thus an intensely powerful one. For it penetrates the gloom and blazes a shaft of light to reframe the situation not as horrendous destruction, but rather as being part of the glorious rebuilding of something so grand that it took nineteen hundred years to ‘plan’ it.

Let us enter this Shabbat with our hopes up that before we can even blink our eyes, Mashiach will come and G-d’s true plan will be revealed.

And then, you and I and all of Am Yisrael will feast and party with abandon celebrating the final redemption.

AMEN

Shabbat Shalom

& if Mashiach G-d forbid doesn’t come first, an easy fast.

If as we hope, Mashiach comes first, we will change that wish to a Chag Sameach greeting. Halevai - If only….

Amen!

 

 

a tale of two pens

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Today is Rosh Chodesh – the ‘head of the month’. In this case the month of Menachem Av. The ninth of this month is the national day of mourning for our destroyed Temples – Tisha B’av.

Together with mourning for our lost Bet Hamikdash, this is a time when we become acutely aware and thus extremely motivated to do things to bring Mashiach and to learn all about the Bet Hamikdash.

It was therefore quite inspiring when a Efraim, a retired Jewish man who lives several hours drive away, came in to say hello on his visit to Bangkok earlier this week and unexpectedly talk to me about Mashiach.

He didn’t just ‘talk’ about Mashiach, Efraim actually brought me a new pen in a sheath and said I would like you to keep this pen and use it when Mashiach comes. I looked at him quizzically. Why would I need a pen when Mashiach comes? Efraim explained, when Mashiach comes we will all go to Israel. Please use this pen at that time, to sign the documents of sale for the Chabad Houses in Thailand. After all, if we are all going to Israel, we won’t be needing the properties here.

I explained to him that there is a tradition recorded in the Talmud Megilah 29a that all Synagogues will all relocate to Israel when Mashiach comes:

It is taught in a baraita: Rabbi Elazar HaKappar says: In the future, the synagogues and the study halls in Babylonia will be transported and reestablished in Eretz Yisrael

I am not sure exactly how that will be fulfilled in terms of actual buildings and ‘real estate’. There are many wondrous and above-nature phenomena that our Prophets and Sages have shared with us that will come to be when the Mashiach comes. While we look forward to those prophesies being fulfilled, it is clear that we don’t understand nor do we have to understand, exactly how those things will come to be. When Mashiach comes we will find out exactly how things unfold.

In the words of Rambam (Laws concerning Kings and the Mashiach Ch 12, 2)

All these and similar matters, however, man will not know how they will occur until they come to pass; for in the [statements of the] prophets these are undefined matters, and the sages, too, do not have a clear tradition on these subjects except for the [apparent] implications of the Scriptural verses. That is why they have differences of opinion in these matters. In any case, neither the sequence of these events nor their details are fundamental to the faith.

What we do know very clearly is as the Rambam concludes the above chapter:

In that era there will be neither famine nor war, neither envy nor strife, because good will emanate in abundance and all delightful things will be accessible as dust. The one preoccupation of the entire world will be solely to know G‑d. The Israelites, therefore, will be great sages and know the hidden matters, and they will attain knowledge of their Creator to the extent of human capacity, as it is said: “The earth shall be full with the knowledge of G‑d as the waters cover the sea!”

Based on the above, I won’t need the pen for selling properties as the Synagogues and Chabad Houses will relocate. However, I told Efraim that I was very happy that he brought me this pen to be used when Mashiach comes. For it is a good tangible counterbalance to another pen that I was given recently as a promotional item. It is from the Asia-One’ undertaker firm that we use for burials. Khun Hiran of Asia-One brought me some promotional pens from his company. Both pens look quite similar. But what a contrast between their intentions.

One pen is from a company that deals with providing services after death.

The other pen was gifted to me to await the arrival of the coming of Mashiach.

It reminded me of the story of two clocks:

In one of his travels, chassidic master Rabbi Yisachar Dov Ber of Radoshitz occasioned to stay the night at a wayside inn. In the morning, he sought out the innkeeper.

"The clock," he asked excitedly, "the clock you have hanging in my room — where is it from? Where did you get that wonderful clock?"

"Why," said the surprised innkeeper, "it's quite an ordinary clock. There are hundreds like it hanging in homes throughout the country."

"No, no," insisted Rabbi Yisachar Dov. "This is no ordinary clock. You must find out for me where this clock comes from."

If only to humor his guest, the innkeeper made some inquiries, which yielded the information that this clock once belonged to the famed "Seer of Lublin," Rabbi Yaakov Yitzchak Horowitz. An heir of the "Seer" had been forced by poverty to sell all his possessions, and so the clock passed from owner to owner until it came to hang in one of the guestrooms of the inn.

"Of course!" exclaimed Rabbi Yisachar Dov upon hearing the clock's history. "This clock could only have belonged to the 'Seer of Lublin.' Only the Seer's clock could mark time in such a manner!

"Your standard clock," he explained to his host, "strikes such a mournful tone. 'Another hour of your life has passed you by,' it says. 'You are now one hour closer to the grave.' But this clock proclaims: 'Another hour of galut (exile) has gone by. You are now one hour closer to the coming of Moshiach and the Redemption...'

"All through the night," concluded Rabbi Yisachar Dov, "whenever this clock sounded the hour, I leapt from my bed and danced for joy."

I then shared with Efraim, a saying that I had heard jokingly from my dear friend Mr. Abi Kashani and his older brother and business partner, Yitschak.

‘One of two things will happen during our lifetime. Life will not just continue the way it is for ever. Either the Mashiach will come to redeem us, or the ‘malach hamavet’ the angel of death, will come to take us. The question is only, which will come first.’

I wouldn’t have recalled this exchange with Efraim if not for the following notable fact. This discussion took place on Wednesday afternoon Bangkok time in my office.

At around the same time, but 11 hours behind, in NY, in the predawn hours of Wednesday morning, Mr. Yitschak Kashani passed away afer an illness, surrounded by his loved ones. May his memory be for a blessing.

Condolences may be sent to his brother Mr. Abi Kashani by email

I realized that this verbal exchange in which I quoted the Kashani’s regarding Mashiach vs angel of death, had happened at the same time as the passing of Yitzchak. I point this out, because of the impact it made on me as it showed me so openly yet another instance of G-d’s Divine Providence.

May Mashiach come and wipe away all tears and eradicate death, before the angel of death is able to take anyone else.

As I reflect on the life of Mr. Yitshak Kashani I recall the below story about his wedding.

Rabbi Kotlarsky of Lubavitch World Headquarters was invited to attend Mr. Yitschak Kashani’s wedding that took place in Long Island a few days before Pesach. Actually, it took place on the eve of 11 Nissan 1989 which corresponded with the Rebbe’s 87th birthday. Rabbi Kotlarsky came very late to the wedding as he waited till the Rebbe addressed the crowd in his Synagogue and only then did he head out to Long Island. Rabbi Kotlarsky was sure that he has missed the Chupa. He was astonished to find that Yitzchak had insisted to wait with the Chupa till he, the Rebbe’s emissary would come. Rabbi Kotlarsky read the Rebbe’s letter of blessing that he had sent for the occasion and the Chupa proceeded. The Chupa was followed by the wedding reception. It was getting late and Rabbi Kotlarsky wanted to head back to Brooklyn but Yitzchak insisted that he stay a while longer. It was soon evident why.

After the first dance, the lights were dimmed, champagne was poured, and a birthday cake was brought out. With 88 candles. The Kashani’s had prepared this cake in honor of the Rebbe’s birthday as he entered his 88th year.

Rabbi Kotlarsky was very touched, and he explained to the assembled that the way to give a birthday gift to the Rebbe would be via undertaking to do mitzvahs in honor of the birthday. The men should undertake to lay Tefilin, the women to light candles among various other mitzvahs.

Upon his arrival back to Brooklyn very late at night, Rabbi Kotlarsky wrote a note to the Rebbe describing the beautiful and inspiring wedding and gave it to the attendant who was living in the Rebbe’s home. The next morning, before Shachrit, the attendant told Rabbi Kotlarsky that in the few hours since he had penned his note, the Rebbe had already responded to his report.

The Rebbe had made a note regarding the birthday candles, that ‘in general, care must be taken with candles placed upon food, to ensure that there are no non-kosher ingredients’. (Candles, especially in the olden times, often contained animal fats which would render it unkosher).

And regarding the report in general, the Rebbe responded, ‘may you always be able to share good news, and in a growing way’.

The above is an inspiring story that speaks of the deep respect and esteem that the Yitzchak Kashani had for the Rebbe. And it gives a glimpse at the Rebbe’s unflagging devotion to leading the Jewish community, paying attention to even the smallest details. Like the concern about checking that the candles on a birthday cake be unquestionably kosher.  

During these days leading up to the commemoration of the destruction of the Bet Hamikdash we are instructed to decrease our joy and enjoyment. Click here for laws pertaining to this time period.

As well, during this time we are empowered to study about the building of the Bet Hamkidash. Through studying about its building, we are credited as if we had actually built it. Click here to study about the Bet Hamikdash

This is a time period where we ought to add in good and loving deeds, study more Torah and give more Tzedaka, so that Mashiach comes NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Chodesh Tov

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

toothbrush motivation

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

How would you feel if someone reacted to your challenging situation by telling you ‘keep plodding forward!!’

Initially I was a little disappointed to receive that blessing. Plodding forward? Plodding means moving along slowly. What kind of a blessing is that? To move along slowly?

Running, Jumping, Soaring, now that would be a blessing.

But, seeing that it was my very own brother that blessed me in this way, I knew that he had a deeper intention.

Google brings up the following for plodding: To move, progress, or develop at a slow but constant and deliberate pace.

Move. Progress. Constant. This is what he meant by plodding. In this context, my brother words ‘hit the spot’. As this was a theme I have been thinking about the entire week.

This weeks Parsha gives the instruction for the daily sacrifice in the Bet Hamikdash. One lamb in the morning. One lamb in the afternoon. Day in and day out. The same daily ritual has to be followed on a simple dreary Wednesday or on the holiest day of Yom Kippur (when multiple other sacrifices were also offered). The daily sacrifice was brought. ‘Rain or shine’.

During the lead up to the destruction of the Second Temple, this daily sacrifice was discontinued due to a siege that didn’t allow for lambs to be available in Jerusalem.

One of the reasons for fasting on the the 17th day of Tammuz, is that on that date, the daily constant sacrifice was interrupted.

(The Sages continued the tradition of ‘one in the morning’ and ‘one in the afternoon’ by instituting the morning prayers and the afternoon prayers. Shacharit and Mincha. Watch 'moment of wisdom' above to learn about Maariv the third daily (evening) prayer).

Things that are repeated daily can be viewed by some as ‘boring’. However, that would be overlooking the gift of that routine brings. For there is something very special about the constancy and consistency of never-changing repeated rituals.

Let us think about the patterns of behavior in everyday life. There are some activities we perform only when we are in a good mood. For example, when we feel buoyant, we like to be social and host guests for a meal. When we feel down-in-the-dumps we isolate ourselves preferring privacy.

Then there are things that we do regardless of what mood we are in.

Like brushing teeth or personal hygiene in general. Or a morning coffee which for many, is a daily ritual rarely to be missed. Checking for messages on email or other communication forms is for many people a consistent activity done daily.

The ‘regular’ daily things are sometimes boring. Monotonous. Even irritating at times. (Ask kids about brushing teeth. They will tell you how irksome it is).

But these habits are placeholders in our lives that keep us grounded and anchored.

When one is low-energy or in a bad mood, one may not be motivated to do exciting things. There is even a danger that a person may fall into a vortex of self-defeating behavior. Like staying in bed with your head under the covers.

The rituals that are embedded into the day will often be the savior. A person may not be in the mood to get out of bed, but the habit of checking the email may get him out of bed (hint hint: don’t take your phone to bed). Once out of bed he will muster up the strength to start his day. One may be too lethargic to go to work. The daily coffee may provide the perky spark needed to get one out of home and off to work.

For people in ‘recovery’ from addiction, setting a schedule for a phone call with their mentor is a powerful tool for ensuring that they don’t fall back into self-destructive behavior. If they get into the habit of calling their mentor, then even if they have begun to fall, they will be caught early enough.

It’s the same way with our connection to G-d via doing His mitzvahs.

One may not always wake up feeling connected to G-d like they do on Pesach or Yom Kippur. Sometimes one even feels downright disinterested in making the effort to connect to G-d.

The daily rituals that we embed into our schedule, Modeh Ani for example, laying Tefilin, saying the Shema, putting a coin into a Tzedaka box and other similar things, serve as a ‘placeholder’ and catalyst for getting ‘over the hump’ of indifference. Often all it takes, is saying ‘Thank You Hashem’ with ‘kavana’ - ‘meaningful intention’ and the energy of the connection with G-d comes rushing back into our life.

This is why the instruction on the daily sacrifice is so central to the Torah. Click here for more on this.

It's great to feel bouncy. If you are mostly a positive energy person you are blessed. But one cannot just rely on natural buoyant energy to be the only source of motivation.

Its critical to first and foremost have the consistency of ‘plodding along’.

Because if you keep taking one step after the other, you will get ‘there’ eventually.

When the consistent and daily sacrifice was discontinued, this is a reason to be sad and worried. It is one of the causes of our fast day.

(In the parallel of daily life, if one is not keeping up with the daily routine chores like taking care of their personal hygiene, this is a warning sign. If it continues for a while they may need professional help).

When you consistently ‘plod along’ you will find that G-d will bless you with special energetic moments as well. Moments of jumping and dancing.

Just as it was with the sacrifices. Besides for the daily unchanging sacrifices, there were additional much more elaborate sacrifices. For Shabbat and Chagim there were multiple special offerings. There were sacrifices for thanksgiving after lifecycle events like birth. When something extraordinary happened like being saved from a life-threatening situation there was an ‘extra-curricular’ sacrifice.

But at all times and on every day, there was the constant and consistent daily offering. One in the morning. One in the afternoon.

There is something else very special about dedicatedly sticking to G-d’s routine rituals. By faithfully maintaining the ‘boring’ and repetitious schedule just because G-d said so, one proclaims the strongest and deepest form of commitment.

Doing the exciting stuff is easy. There are many clients for that work. The unassuming but critical ongoing groundwork, which some see as drudgery, this is where true commitment becomes expressed.

(I would like to take this moment to give a shout out to all those ‘unsung heroes’ who do so much for their loved ones and friends on a consistent basis. They work tirelessly, yet often they are not properly recognized or thanked.

The following joke sums it up:

A man came home from work and found his three children outside, still in their pajamas, playing in the mud, with empty food boxes and wrappers strewn all around the front yard.

He quickly headed up the stairs, stepping over toys and more piles of clothes, looking for his wife. He was worried she might be ill, or that something serious had happened.

He found his wife still curled up in the bed in her pajamas, reading a novel. She looked up at him, smiled, and asked how his day went.

He looked at her bewildered and asked, “What happened here today?”

She again smiled and answered, “You know every day when you come home from work and you ask me what in the world I do all day?”

“Yes,” was his incredulous reply.

She answered, “Well, today I didn’t do it.”

Take this as a reminder to thank those in your life who do so much for you, with so little fanfare).

Thank you brother for wishing me success in ‘plodding along’. I know what you meant. You conveyed to me the great blessing that only comes from investment of time, energy and effort. You reminded and encouraged me to keep up the consistent effort to do the right thing. Because as we both know, that is the ‘long but short’ way to success.

May we all be blessed that our determined and consistent efforts be crowned with success.

And may the blessing extend to the extraordinary. May Hashem give us the ability to run, jump and even soar higher and higher.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

anger CANCELLED

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Kids are born with an intuition that borders on genius.

A kid instinctively knows that their whining is a key that can open many a door.

Kids know that crying, with the right amount of determination is like a ‘master’ key.

Making you feel like you are being unfair to them is another tool that kids employ with success. As in ‘everyone else’s mother is letting them do xyz, only you don’t let me do it’.

If your kid finds you in a good mood, they intuit that that’s a good time to ask for the ‘keys to the car’.

If you are in a bad mood, there are ways kids can use that too.

For example, many a kid knows how to identify when their parent is angry and get them to channel that anger against a teacher that may have acted unkindly to them. There is nothing like anger to beget more anger.

How to predict when their parent will be angry, that is a little more complicated. Especially, if we are talking about a perfectly keeled, emotionally balanced parent. Why would they get angry just like that?

With G-d, you would need to be a prophet to figure out when G-d is ‘short-tempered’ and in an ‘angry mood’ so to speak.

Bil’am was a non-Jewish prophet who was given prophetic powers by G-d to create a contra to the positive prophecy of Moshe. The way G-d created our world is that there should be a balance between good and bad. It is then our task to choose good over bad and make the world a holy place.

Bil’am, in his capacity of someone who had a ‘powerful mouth’, was hired by Balak the king of Moav, to curse the Jewish people.

What was Bil’am thinking when he agreed to take on the task. You don’t need to be a prophet to know that G-d loves His children. Why would Bil’am assume that G-d would agree to allow him to curse his beloved children?

Bil’am accepted the job because he had some information that he thought would allow him to succeed. Bil’am knew that G-d has a brief moment every day when He – so to speak – gets angry at the wicked. Bil’am figured that if he curses the Jews at that precise moment, he would be able to get some traction. When G-d is in a ‘judgmental mode’ its possible to point out something negative, even if ever so tiny.

Yet, he was unsuccessful. The Torah tells us that Bil’am was unable to curse the Jews. He couldn’t find that moment of anger, hard as the tried.

Not because he was not a powerful prophet. He was the most high-level non-Jewish prophet in history.

Rather it was because G-d had totally suspended the ‘moment of anger’ during the time that Bil’am was searching for it to use it in unscrupulous ways.

That is how much G-d loves His people.

When you love someone totally and unconditionally, you don’t even want to listen to anything negative about them.

Even if you know that they are not perfect.

You may be having a ‘brotherly fight’. But if a stranger mixes in, both brothers will join together to repel that intruder.

G-d has some complaints about us at times. We are not perfect.

But to let an ‘outsider’ curse us?

No way!

That is the message of this week’s portion.

Unity. Brotherhood. Love. Togetherness.

Friends, the skies have opened. The tourists are streaming into Thailand. The Jewish tourists are visiting the Chabad centers throughout Thailand in large numbers. Israelis in particular are returning to travel in Thailand.

Israelis, and Jews in general have many opinions. As the famous saying goes, ‘two Jews, three opinions’. Follow the election cycle in Israel and you will see that it’s very difficult to get a consensus.

However, as much as we like to ‘quibble’ between ourselves, we have to take our cue from G-d.

When someone from the outside tries to challenge our right to exist, when anti-Semitism rears its ugly head, we have to close ranks and stand up for each other.

And we do.

We have all seen it time and time again. When there is a real threat, when danger faces us from the outside we stand together.

So lets get one step better.

When times are good. When there is no threat from the outside. Let’s up the ante, and get better at loving and appreciating each other. And at the same time leaving space for each other’s individuality.

As Bil’am said (intending to curse but it was transformed to blessing) ‘How goodly are your tents Jacob, your dwelling places Israel’. This is understood to mean the tent formation of the Jewish people in the desert. In close proximity to each other, but with entrances that didn’t face each other and allowed each family unit their privacy.

Individual. Each one is important. Important to the collective.

Our Sages tell us that the destruction of the Bet Hamkdash was a result of our inability to get along. The antidote is therefore our togetherness.

Next time you think of quibbling with someone else, consider foregoing your point for the sake of Shalom.

Together. Forever.

Am Yisrael Chai.

Our unity is our strength.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Empowering Expectations

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

With such an eventful sendoff at the Bangkok airport, as I embarked on my trip to the Rebbe on the occasion of his yahrtzeit, you can imagine that the trip itself was special.

It was indeed extraordinarily inspirational.

More than 50,000 visitors prayed at the Rebbe’s resting place during this period. Including the mayor of New York.

There was one particular theme about the Rebbe’s approach to the nurturing of others, that grabbed my attention and became the message I took home with me.

Acceptance | Empowerment | Expectations

These are the ingredients needed when nurturing children, students or anyone else in your sphere of influence.

Let me explain.

Mrs. Rishe D. was interviewed about her experiences as a young girl accompanying her parents to a private audience with the Rebbe. She told about the feeling of love and acceptance and how the Rebbe offered her a choice of lollypops (she chose red).

‘But’, Mrs D. continued, ‘a good grandmother also receives her grandchildren with love acceptance and lollypops’.

‘Visiting the Rebbe was different’ summed up Mrs. R. ‘When visiting the Rebbe, we also felt that the Rebbe had expectations of us.’

Expectations sound a bit judgmental. Many a child has complained that they have felt judged when they didn’t live up to their parents’ expectations. This has sometimes led to negative results and low self-esteem.

It is therefore important to emphasize the overarching feeling of love and acceptance that was the backdrop of all interaction with the Rebbe.

From the context of total acceptance, expectations are an indication not of judgmentalism but rather empowerment.

Expectations on their own, can be a source of feeling judged.

When the expectations for what that person can achieve, are preceded by non-judgmental acceptance, this becomes the empowerment that is so critical to personal growth.

The Rebbe totally accepted every person the way they were and saw the inherent good in them.

Yet he also saw the latent potential that was still waiting to be unpacked and fulfilled.

As Rabbi Jonathan Sacks Z”L said ‘ You saw your reflection in the Rebbe’s eyes, and you were suddenly much bigger than you thought you were.’

I met Boruch D. in NY. While he grew up in a Chassidic home he veered off the ‘straight and narrow’ and became a bit of a ‘hippy’. Boruch was not outwardly Chassidic looking. His aunt once brought him to receive a dollar and a blessing from the Rebbe and proudly said about her nephew Boruch that ‘he has now become a good young man. He prays daily, wears Tzitzis….’

To which the Rebbe responded, ‘why do you say he has become good, he was always good’.

This was the Rebbe’s trademark acceptance.

‘Boruch, you are already good’.

But the interaction didn’t end there.

The Rebbe then gave Boruch a dollar for tzedakah and said ‘this is for an addition in all good things’.

The Rebbe was stating his expectations for Boruch to increase in doing good things.

This is a winning combination.

Acceptance plus Expectation = Empowerment.

The Rebbe taught this by example.

Take this message and apply it to your life.

First of all, recognize that you are amazing. Hashem loves you. Just as you are.

Then, recognize that there is a role Hashem is expecting you to play which only you can fulfil.

He expects you to rise to that occasion. To aim for greater heights.

If He has expectations, and of course you believe in Him, then that means that you have the means to fulfill those expectations.

You must be bigger and more endowed than you previously thought.

That should make you filled with an inner peace and self-esteem. And it should produce within you an inner drive to do even better than before.

After all, if G-d believes in you, who are you to say you don’t believe in yourself.

He – G-d the Creator of all of existence - knows better.

Treat your children in this way. Your students. Peers. And anyone else you interact with. The world will be a kinder more loving and more good-deeds-filled place.

I came home to Thailand (yes, Thailand is home…) feeling that more is expected of me.

To do more good, to more people, in a more beneficial way.

And if that is expected of me it’s not because I am being judged disparagingly.

Rather, it means that G-d has empowered me to do even more.

Feeling empowered is blessedly uplifting.

I hope you read these lines and apply this way of thinking and feel that way too. Because if we act collectively, we have so much more power. The power of community and joint effort is very great.

Let’s change the world together, deed by deed.

And bring Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

In G-d we TRUST

 

Watch a moment of wisdom for this week's Torah portion👇👇👇

By the Grace of G-d,

Dear Friend,

I would say that I experienced an anti-Semitic incident as I waited to board a Thai Airways flight this week, but to be honest, I cannot be sure that the person who accosted me was anti-Semitic. He didn’t scream any hateful epithets about me being Jewish. Yet, clearly my appearance (beard, black fedora, dark suit) agitated him.

It happened in the Bangkok airport as I was waiting to board my flight to NY with a stop in Munich. Out of nowhere, a man in what seemed to be his 70's screamed at me: "take that off, you don't trust in anything! '. I gave him a questioning look as I was not sure if he was talking to me and walked on towards the passport-check at the boarding gate. The man got up and walked over to me, pulled at my jacket and repeated in a screaming voice 'take that off! You don't trust in anything!' 

The man who had accosted me looked Western and his accent didn’t give much else away. He was not wearing a mask even though in Thailand airport it's still mandated and everyone else was wearing a mask. I had initially thought he was ticked off by my mask, but when he pulled at my jacket and continued screaming it was clear to me that it was my obviously Jewish looking garb that was sparking his outburst.

By this time all the people around noticed this unprovoked incident. He went back to his seat and sat down but I pulled out of the line and told the Thai airways staff that I would not feel safe boarding a plane with him on board. The Thai Airways staff handled the matter very professionally. A senior supervisor came and reassured me that this person would not be boarding the flight. A passenger who had been sitting next to him at the gate area told me that he was drunk. 

Obviously, my rabbinic style clothing had set something off.

Could it be that he my appearance reminded him of something or someone?

Or perhaps he was just a deranged person with prejudice and bias spilling over when he had too much alcohol. 

Regardless of who that man was and what ticked him off, I was shaken up by the experience. It was a mixture of fear and indignance. This turned to thankfulness to Hashem that the person had been denied boarding and my flight passed without incident.

Yet, as I reflected on the incident, it hit me with intense clarity that G-d had sent me a powerful message. I felt incredibly inspired and grateful to Hashem for sending me that message exactly at the time that He did.

You see, during the few days before my flight, there were some matters that were causing me stress. Yes, Rabbi’s have many duties and some of them involve stressful situations. 

Of course, I was mindful of the fact that if one has true faith and TRUST in Hashem, one has the ability to remain calm and not feel stressed. There is an entire treatise called ‘Gates of Trust’ teaching about the centrality of trust in Hashem. And how when one truly relies on Hashem, one is able to live life in a calm near blissful way. ( Click here for articles and lectures on this topic). 

In reality though, I wasn’t exercising proper ‘trust’ mindset and my feelings were not matching my mental awareness. 

I ‘knew’ in my mind that Hashem is in charge and there is absolutely nothing to worry about. It was also clear to me that I need to be proactive and do what I am supposed to do, and Hashem will take care. However, in my heart and nerves I was ‘feeling’ pressured by various challenging situations I was facing.

Standing in Suvarnabhumi airport in Bangkok, I heard ‘a voice from Heaven’ through a drunken person. (The fact that he was drunk means he was not aware or in charge of what he was saying, merely a mouthpiece for a Higher Power) A voice reminding me to TRUST in Hashem.

And it came to me as I was about to board a flight to travel to the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit. Reminding me so clearly what the function of a Rebbe is and how critical it is for wholesome service of G-d.

I had a long flight to meditate on this.

What is the purpose of a Rebbe?

The word ‘Rebbi/Rebbe’ in Hebrew stands for an acronym of ‘Rosh Benei Yisrael’ = the Head of the Children of Israel.

Think of the great and holy foundational Jewish leaders. Moshe Rabeinu. Mordechai of the Purim story. The Baal Shem Tov who founded Chasidism. 

The Zohar calls Moshe the ‘faithful shepherd’. Just a shepherd tends to his sheep, Moshe, and subsequent Jewish leaders tend lovingly to the Jewish people. Caring for them and providing any form of help they can. In our generation it is so obvious how the Rebbe cares for all the generation. There is virtually no place in the globe where the the Rebbe’s emissaries are not standing by, willing and able to help others, in whatever way they can.

It goes far deeper than that. That same kabalistic term can also be translated as ‘shepherd of faith’. Just like shepherd makes sure that the sheep graze, Moshe makes sure that the Jewish people ‘ingest’ and internalize their faith.

You see, faith can remain dismembered from the persons behavior. How many people have professed to be believers in G-d, yet use that belief to act in a way that is not consistent with that belief. 

I know it sounds ludicrous, but it is not uncommon for someone to pray to G-d to help them succeed in a swindling endeavor. 

The Rebbe’s job is to be a nurturer and shepherd of faith. To ensure that the persons natural, deeply rooted faith, become the reality of their existence. That they breath, eat, live and act in a way that is consistent with their deeply rooted connection to the Almighty. 

Now, that unity and consistency between beliefs, feelings and actions, is not so simple. It requires help from the Moshe who is empowered and tasked by Hashem to shepherd and nurture the B’nei Yisrael so that their faith be real and implemented. 

R' Tzvi Freeman of Chabad.org summed it up nicely

In every generation, the Zohar says, the soul of Moses extends itself into the teachers and leaders of the Jewish people. 

What is the job of Moses? 

To be a shepherd of faith. To nurture his flock with faith. 

But the Jewish people are a people of innate faith, heirs to great men and women of faith all the way back to Abraham. 

So the job of Moses in every generation is not to feed them faith, but to ensure they digest the faith they already have.

To bring the wisdom of their souls into their minds, their hearts, and their everyday actions. 

Until every cell of a Jew is saturated with the deepest wisdom of the soul. 

It is this consistency that is one of the most important goals and outcomes of a trip to the Rebbe. 

How fortunate I am that Hashem sent me this ‘mission statement’ just as I was about to board my flight.

I share this you my friend, because it’s not just a story relevant to me. The day of passing of the Rebbe presents a special opportunity to Jews world over. 

Connection to the Rebbe allow for your already existent faith, to be nurtured and deepened. 

To ensure that the deepest connection to G-d that exists in your soul, becomes the way that you actually live your life.

The way to do this, to live in a way that is consistent with your deepest self, is to do deeds that are instructed by G-d our Creator. These are called Mitzvahs.

You may encounter external or internal resistance to heightening your Mitzvah observance. Voices, outer and inner, may scream out to you ‘take that off’ stop acting religious. 

Don’t listen. 

The true YOU of a Jew is his or her connection with G-d. Anything that detracts from that is ‘drunken’ irrational negative chatter.

The rest of the flight went smoothly thank G-d. I enjoyed the quiet time which I used to study, rest and study some more. I arrived in New York safely thank G-d, and headed straight over to Queens where the Rebbe’s Ohel is located. 

As I was reading the notes of blessing request, I opened a note that someone had given me just before my trip. It was from a couple I had visited in hospital who had been going through medical challenges. In this note, the wife asked for blessings for health for her husband and herself and then added a line asking for a blessing for our family. The language they used was not the usual language one would have used in Hebrew. The word ‘lehagen’ jumped out at me. She had written ‘Please beseech the Almighty to ‘protect’ the Kantor family….’. 

Providentially, she had asked for a blessing for ‘protection’. She couldn’t have known that protection was the blessing I was in immediate need of. Her prayer was indeed, thank G-d, fulfilled. The possible threat to my safety was removed just in the right time. (I don’t want to think of what may have happened if this had unfolded on the plane).

Over the next few days, I will be visiting the Rebbe’s Ohel to pray to the Almighty for myself, my family, my community and beyond. If you would like to send a note to be the read by the Ohel you may do so either by visiting www.ohelchabad.org or by clicking here and emailing me with your Hebrew name, your mothers Hebrew name (if you don’t know Hebrew names just use the names you know) and the nature of your request.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS On the anniversary of a tzadik’s passing, all the light that he planted in this world—his teachings, good deeds, and everything in which he invested his life and being—all this shines brightly, so that anyone connected to him can receive blessings of life, happiness, and wisdom.

How should we spend such a day? How do we make that connection? CLICK HERE to find out:

'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.

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