"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

the Singapore story | Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

There are some very poignant messages that jump out at me from the Parsha of Vayechi.

One of them is gratitude.

Let us see how gratitude brought success. And how subsequent ingratitude led to downfall.

When Yaakov passed away in Egypt a very large and dignified contingent of Egyptian notables went to the funeral in the land of Canann (Israel). 

Why did they go?

Because they felt a deep debt of gratitude to Yaakov.

When Yaakov came to Egypt at the invitation of Pharaoh, and his son Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt, the seven years of famine came to an immediate end.

Based on G-d’s communication to Pharaoh via his dream that was interpreted by Yosef, there was supposed to be seven years of plenty followed by seven lean years. Yaakov’s arrival stopped the famine. Lest one not be sure that this was due to Yaakov, the Nile River miraculously rose when Yaacov walked near the river. 

It was an undisputed fact. Yaakov and his family were a source of blessing for Egypt.

At this stage of history, the Egyptians had not yet enslaved us. They treated the Jewish people as a blessing and were appreciative of their contribution to their country. They showed their gratitude by attending the funeral of Yaakov ‘shlepping’ all the way to the land of Canaan.

Gratitude is central to inviting blessing into every aspect of humanity.

The troubles of Egypt start in next weeks Parsha of Shemot when the Torah relates that a new king arose who ‘did not know Yosef’. He threw away the feeling of gratitude and acted to Yaakov’s family as if they were interlopers and usurping the resources of Yosef. 

This led to their subsequent enslavement of the Jewish people.

The Jewish people, worked to the bone and exhausted in body and spirit, had all but given up on their relationship with Hashem.

This all led to G-d bringing the ten plagues and the death of many of the Egyptian people.

What a disaster.

Imagine the following scenario that could have been. 

If the Egyptians would have continued to respect the Jews for their blessed contribution. If the Jews would have continued their commitment to the observance of G-d’s mission. 

This partnership would have brought prosperity to all of Egypt. The Egyptian kingdom could have continued to flourish and still be the superpower that it once was.

Lack of gratitude turned everything upside down.

We can’t change the past. But we can learn from the past for the future.

If only society and leadership would practice gratitude to those who do them good and bring them blessing, society would be the better off for it.

As Jews we need to remind ourselves to be more grateful to G-d. 

Gratitude is central to Judaism. We start off every morning with the Modeh Ani, thanking Hashem for giving us back our life.

If only we Jewish people would be even more mindful and practice even more gratitude to G-d by observing His wishes conveyed in the Torah.

Hashem would undoubtedly bless the Jewish people for their commitment.

And in turn Hashem would bless the governments who assist and host the Jewish people. Every country would compete in how well they treat their Jewish population and hold them in respect. 

That would be a sustainable model.

It would be a win-win situation.

The Prophets tell us that this is the Messianic utopian model. The Jews serve G-d with their 613 Mitzvahs as the nations that surround them give them the support and back up that they need while keeping their seven ‘laws of Noah’ – Universal G-dly morality. 

The blessings spread forth to everyone in a peaceful and prosperous way. 

No more war, no more strife, no more unhealthy jealousy. 

We may not be able to change the geopolitical situation top down, as we are not heads of state. But we can and must start by making a a difference in our own lives, and this will have a ripple effect outward.

I am reminded of an incident in which Hashem, in His kindness to me, sent me a vivid reminder to place great emphasis on gratitude.

It was fifteen years ago. We had procured mileage tickets to NY to have a family bar mitzvah celebration for our eldest son Mendel. They were very good tickets. Bangkok to Singapore and a short time later Singapore to New York nonstop. 

We set off, the entire family, checked in our multiple pieces of luggage and proceeded to immigration. We needed to make ‘reentry permits’ to come back into Thailand. There was a backlog at the airports immigration office and it took longer than anticipated. 

We finally got the paperwork done and started running to the plane.

On the way we met Mark, a friend and supporter, stopped for a very hurried hi and continued running to the gate. 

Upon arrival at the gate, we were witness to the many pieces of the Kantor family luggage being offloaded from the Singapore airlines flight.

We were shocked. Devastated. And unsure what to do.

Was this a sign from Heaven that we should just abandon our carefully planned trip? 

We decided to go.

The airline told us that they could rebook us for no extra charge, but not on the nonstop flight. With a longer stop in Singapore, a stop in Frankfurt and then on to New York. Quite a shlep with a bunch of little kids.

We now had a stop in Singapore. Exactly at the time that there was an opening dedication ceremony for the new Jewish Community Center named the “Jacob Ballas Center’.

Jacob of blessed memory was a very successful businessman who lived in Singapore and supported many worthy causes in Singapore and Israel. After his passing a new center was built with funds that he left for that purpose. 

I had visited the late Mr. Ballas many times and he had contributed generously to helping set up the kindergarten. I felt a deep sense of gratitude to him. It was only after I had made the tickets to NY that I realized I would not be able to attend the opening as I would be heading to our son’s bar mitzvah with tickets that were not changeable.

I didn’t think it was that important to change our well-laid plans to attend that dedication ceremony.

Hashem taught me otherwise.

Hashem in His unlimited kindness gave me the merit of doing what is right. He orchestrated that I find myself in Singapore for exactly four hours between flights, enabling me to attend the evening of tribute to the late Jacob to whom I needed to give gratitude. 

(A cute addition to the story is that since I hadn’t been planning on doing anything ‘official’ on my trip to NY, I hadn’t taken a tie with me in my carry-on luggage. Now that I was going to attend a fancy event, I wanted to be dressed appropriately and needed a tie. The Jim Thompson store sells ties, and I bought one. Which I still have and wear occasionally. Every time I wear it I think of the warm embrace of Divine Providence).

Here is a story I just read yesterday. Written by the brother of an Israeli solder who is in the front lines.

The observant soldier utilized the few minutes of relaxation his unit was allotted, to pray the Mincha afternoon prayers. It was a ‘clean’ area which means that the terrorists were assumed to no longer be operating in that area. The troops were sitting and relaxing. The soldier who got up to pray turned to face Jerusalem. In the middle of his prayer, he noticed something moving. Apparently, there was a tunnel opening that had not been cleared. A terrorist came out, with an RPG missile. The soldier screamed out for help as he started to engage the terrorist in battle. Together with his friends they were successful in neutralizing their would-be killer.

The entire group of soldiers was so inspired by this miracle that had come as a result of praying Mincha that they decided they would all pray the Mincha service the next day in thanksgiving to G-d.

A small story in a large and complicated labyrinth of multifaceted military operations. 

One of those rays of light in the very tense situation that has engulfed us since Simchas Torah – October 7.

One of the ways we generate light is by finding the kindnesses of Hashem in every aspect of our lives. 

Moreover, many people feel Hashems presence even more strongly during these challenging times.

It is really up to us, how much we choose to see Hashem in our lives.

If we pay attention, we will begin to notice the small miracles and signs that He is here. 

The Baal Shemtov taught that since nothing is random, we should search to find a lesson in everything we see.

For example. Even in the number of the new secular year we can find a lesson.

(I had this thought when I was meeting earlier this week with Elon from Brooklyn (now living here). He came to learn how to put on Tefilin daily in honor of the protection of our soldiers and our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel and all around the world. We got to talk about the numerology of this year, and he pointed out the number eight in the sum of the year. 

Please follow Elon’s example and transform your deep feelings of ‘am yisrael chai’ into tangible mitzvahs. Hashem gives us the mitzvot in order to illuminate ourselves, our immediate environment and the entire world. Click here to see how your mitzvah helps the soldiers and the collective Jewish people).

2+0+2+4 = 8.

Eight is a number that symbolizes ‘beyond nature’.

Seven are the days of the week.

Eight are the days of the ‘bris’ G-d’s covenant with Jewish males. G-d supersedes nature.

Seven are the number of strands in the harp in the temple of yore.

Eight are the number of strands in the harp that will be used when Mashiach comes.  

We need and anticipate Mashiach now more then ever.

It’s the year of 5784 in the count from creation. The ‘eighth decade’ of this century.

It’s 8 if you add up 2024.

May G-d shine His supernatural presence here on earth and may we merit the coming of Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

what's your story?

This week we read in the Torah parsha of Vayigash regarding the dramatic revelation of Yosef to his brothers.

They had reached the end of their tether with the peculiar and "spooky" behavior of Yosef towards them. Yosef had the advantage of recognizing them without them recognizing him. He was able to tell them things about themselves that a stranger would have no chance of knowing. The frustrations and uneasiness with the intimate information that this "stranger" seemed to possess regarding their family melted like magic once Yosef said "I am Yosef". It was as if a huge halogen light had been turned on in the midst of a dark prairie far from the lights of civilization. The brothers went instantly from total disorientation to perfect clarity as to why Yosef had been so knowledgeable regarding their personal family.

Yosef was their brother.

Now however, they had to deal with the immense shame of standing in front of the brother they had long thought would be out of their sights forever. This was the person whom they had wronged in life and now he stood towering over them as the viceroy of the superpower of their time. Not a very pleasant situation.

Yosef nobly responded "do not get agitated or upset, it is not you who has brought me here, rather G-d has orchestrated this.

You may have had negative intentions, but G-d had planned it all along, so that I would be catapulted to power in Egypt and have the ability to sustain our family during these days of famine.

Yosef espoused the classic Jewish belief of "Divine Providence".

In the saga of the sale of Yosef Hashem allowed us to see how what had seemed bad, was actually good.

When Mashiach comes, we will see how everything Hashem did throughout history was somehow for the good. That will require a Divine revelation of otherworldly magnitude.

From the context of that messianic-era light, all the misfortunes, trial and suffering of the long Jewish exile, will be understood.

For now, before that ‘projector’ is turned on, we have many questions that remain unanswered.

Yet, even now, we are sometimes given opportunities to see G-d’s Hand in things that transpire. And sometimes even when initially it seemed bad, it turns out to be for the good.

There are many stories that illustrate this. I would tell you some things that have happened to me that illustrate this, but I prefer to invite you to be the story teller and 'own' the story.

May I suggest that you take a few minutes to try and remember if something like that ever happened to you? Something that seemed mistaken, wrong, bad or painful but turned out to be an opportunity and of benefit.

Share the blessings of the story with your loved ones and then they too may very well recall stories of hope and inspiration where G-d allowed His benevolence to be shown openly.

Today is the fast day of the Tenth of Tevet.

When Mashiach comes, fasts will be transformed to festivals. We await that utopian, blissfully peaceful era with great anticipation and impatience.

May it come NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


Chanukah Finale

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By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

As I was sitting at the seventh candle of the Menorah on Wednesday night, I felt optimistic and invigorated.

Seven lights of miracles burning brightly. Seven is a wholesome number.

Seven are the days of the week.

A complete cycle. Including six workdays and Shabbat.

The pattern and rhythm of life can be summed up by those seven days.

Having all seven lights of the Menorah kindled, symbolizes a fully motivated life. Replacing a ‘dreary’ Wednesday to be an inspired one. Reframing ‘Monday morning back to work blues’ with an excitement to resume making your contribution to Hashem’s world.

The menorah filled with its seven lights, in the context of living and inspired and illuminated life, is a goal worth pursuing.

But its not a stopping point.

It’s like a ‘Cape Canaveral’ launching pad.

For the next day. The 8th light of Chanuka.

If seven is the days of the week. The cycle of nature.

Eight is transcendent of the days of the week. The infinite leap beyond nature.

In the seven day cycle, Sunday is day one of week two.

On Chanuka, day eight, is not the first day of the second week of Chanuka.

Day eight of Chanuka, when the eight lights of the Menorah burn brightly, is an expression of the miraculous energy of Chanuka in full view.

In its very essence, Chanuka is an eight-day holiday. Starting from the very first moment of day one, Chanuka is a supernatural revelation of G-d’s presence here on physical earth.

Chanuka is all about miracles.

The miraculous victory of the few against the many and the weak against the mighty.

The oil that naturally could be alight for one day and stayed alight for eight full days.

These are supernatural occurrences that expose Hashem’s presence in the world.

Today on the eighth day of Chanuka we get to see it in full view.

Eight lights shine brightly in the millions of Menorahs that span the globe.

They call out to us with a reassuring confidence.

G-d, the Master of the universe made miracles in the time of the Maccabees and He makes miracles in our times as well.

The message being beamed out to the world is this:

Even though the world is dark. And even when the darkness has intensified,

Believe in the impossible . Believe that G-d can miraculously intervene.

In times like our current moment of history where there is fear, and uncertainty, the eight lights of Chanuka stand there proudly and reassuringly and proclaim:

Believe in the light of G-d. The light of holiness, goodness, kindness and morality that has the supernatural powers necessary to banish the darkness.

Let me share a Kabbalistic secret with you.

The lights of Chanukah symbolize not just the dispelling of darkness, they proclaim the incredible power of G-d to transform the darkness into light.

The darkness itself will shine.

Because deep down at its source, darkness is a creation of G-d as well. And once the real ‘game plan’ of Hashem is revealed, the darkness too will shine.

Think of it this way.

In the battle of Chanukah, the Greek armies had to be vanquished.

In the ultimate perfected world, when Mashiach comes, the legions of opposition will in a transformative reversal, become support staff to the forces of light.

This is our ultimate and most fervent wish and goal.

At one of our Menorah lightings, I wished an elderly Israeli man, Happy Chanuka. He sighed and told me ‘How can we say Chag Sameach this year when Am Yisrael is in such a difficult situation. Our soldiers are fighting valiantly. Tragically too many have fallen. Our hostages are still removed from their families and loved ones’. So many are wounded. He suggested that we say ‘Chag’ without adding ‘Sameach’.

I understood the feeling he was trying to convey.

Our son Efraim shared a similar sentiment that he heard while he and a friend went door knocking in Netanyah to offer people menorahs and candles. At one home, an elderly woman opened the door and when asked if she had a menorah and candles, she responded that this year although it’s the sixth night of Chanuka they were not going to celebrate Chanukah. After the horrible massacre of October 7th, and with our soldiers on the battlefield, she and her husband can’t bring themselves to celebrate Chanukah.

Efraim and his friend didn’t let the matter rest. With the youthful exuberance of eighteen-year-olds, they asked, begged, cajoled and pleaded that they be allowed to come in and light a menorah with this couple.

Finally, Efraim said, ‘there are so many of our soldiers in Gaza who would love to light the Menorah but can’t as they are in the midst of their work, do it for them’. To this the woman relented and invited them into the home.

There they met the husband. He too tried to resist but his wife had already given the green light so to speak.

The yeshiva bachurs kindled the menorah and then did a heartfelt joyous dance.

The couple was deeply touched and joined in the singing with tears in their eyes. Their hearts were warmed by the flames of Chanuka and the deep caring they felt from the hearts of their fellow young Jews who didn’t give up in trying to get them to do the mitzvah of Chanuka.

They found out which rabbi had recruited them to do the house visitations and they called him to thank him.

‘In our building there are other religious Jews, some build Sukkot during Sukkot and other religious observances, but we are not religious, so we haven’t ever participated. This boy who came all the way from Thailand and wouldn’t take no for an answer, stood there at the door full of concern for us, insisting that we should bring some light into our home and heart, this stirred me and touched and inspired me. Thank you so much for sending those wonderful boys’.

Think of it this way.

Have you ever been so hungry that you have no power or strength or even desire to eat?

Or have you seen a person with high fever who doesn’t feel like taking medication to reduce the fever.

When G-d forbid someone gets so famished they may not even have the willpower to go and get themselves food. With very high fever there may not even be strength to take necessary mediation,

Yet of course, the thing they must do Is eat, and that will give them power to be able to function. It is critical that they take appropriate medication to fight the fever.

Lighting the menorah and rejoicing on Chanuka is like oxygen and food for the Jewish people. It is like vitamins and medication. Yes, we are in a difficult, extraordinarily challenging time, but that is why we must no just celebrate Chanuka, we must celebrate it even more.

We need the miracles of Hashem now more than ever before.

And today, the eighth day, this is the day when the miracle is strongest.

In a literal way, back then in the first Chanukah when the candles were still burning atter eight full days, this was the day that the miracle was most evident and strongest.

My dear friends, let us keep the miracles flowing even as Chanuka comes to its grand conclusion.

An incredible way to bring light into the world is by giving tzedakah.

It is a fundamental Jewish tradition to have a box in your home, a tzedakah box, a tzedakah pushka, a kupat tzedakah, that you put money into on a daily or several-times-daily basis.

It can be given to to any needy person or any worthy cause. You choose where to give it.

Just like eating when you have no strength to eat, giving when you think you don’t even have enough for yourself, (even a very small coin is an act of giving) invites the blessings of G-d’s giving into your life. leaving your own self-preoccupation to think of others, spreads light and invites miracles into your life.

The act of giving tzedakah is transformational.

The way the Rebbe put it. Even if you use credit cards and checks, it is so holy to designate a kupat tzedakah pushka/box for giving ‘tangible’ money with your very own hands. Hands are best used by giving and sharing.

May we merit the ultimate transformational and peaceful light of Mashiach and merit to kindle the Menorah in the Bet Hamikdash, NOW.

Happy Chanuka

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Happy Chanukah

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First of all, Happy Chanuka!

Last night the first lights of Chanuka were kindled across the world.

In private homes, in public spaces and outside in the most prominent squares and streets of the world. And more celebrations and public lightings will be held throughout the eight days of Chanuka. Click here for some pictures.

Our Bangkok community party is on Monday night at the Rembrandt hotel. During the rest of Chanuka we have Chanukah lightings across Thailand as per this link.

The miracle of Chanuka is several-fold.

The vastly outnumbered Maccabees won the war against the mightier Greek army.

While the Greeks had tried their hardest to rid the Temple of any ritually pure ‘tahor’ olive oil, the Maccabees found one flask that had miraculously escaped their desecration.

The oil contained in that flask sufficed for one night. It burned miraculously for eight days straight.

Let us unpack the message that the lights of the menorah proclaim. In simple byte size form.

First message:

The Maccabees were righteous and good. The Greeks were dictatorial, immoral, and evil.

G-d made a miracle.

The good guys won over the bad guys.

The message couldn’t be clearer.

‘When the going gets tough’ and it looks like the bad guys are stronger and the majority, don’t give up. Keep on resisting. Hashem made miracles in the past and He will make miracles for those who follow in the path of goodness, kindness and morality.

Chanuka reminds us that the forces of light will overpower the gangs of evil.

Second message:

The Maccabees searched for oil even though it looked like there was no pure oil.

G-d made a miracle and they indeed found one jug of oil.

The takeaway is simple.

Hashem waits for our efforts, sincere and sometimes strenuous efforts, before He blesses us with His miraculous input.

Don’t give up trying to do the right thing.

Try harder.

Third message:

The Maccabees lit up the Menorah although they assumed it would only remain lit for one day, and once the oil finished, for the next seven days it would remain unlit. Rather than saying let’s wait till we can do it perfectly, they went ahead and did what they could.

You can’t get anywhere without that first step.

For now, it may only be a very small flame, a glimmer of light.

Tomorrow it will grow and become a twosome. And then a threesome until before long, with consistent growth, it becomes a fully kindled eight candle Menorah.

The beginning is always more difficult.

And that’s why the beginning is always more powerful.

It doesn’t have to be a massive or perfect accomplishment.

Just do what you can do right now.

While the headlines of most newspapers broadcast all the dark things going on in the world, the violence, suffering and injustice, on Chanuka we have a mitzvah to do a different kind of PR. To make waves and headlines that have the farthest reach possible through kindling lights.

Peaceful lights that signify warmth and kindness.

The miracles of Chanuka provide hope and inspiration to the Jewish people and we share it with all of humankind.

What could be more positive and enlightening than kindling lights to dispel darkness and spreading the message of positivity as virally and outwardly as possible?

This is why I was stunned to receive a voice note from someone who is usually quite ‘outward’ that went something like this.

‘I know it’s not my place and maybe I shouldn’t be telling you… but still I am going to tell you,

I don’t get the point or understand the publicity of Chanukah

Especially during difficult days like this

Why do we have to do our ‘religious ritual’ outside, in the presence of others who are not connected to it at all.

It’s fun and nice to do it in your house or in my house,

Why do we have to take it outside to the streets,

I have heard from other friends as well , they don’t understand why we are going out to kindle the menorah in the streets

The Muslims have their mosque, the Christians have their church we have our Synagogue,

Why should we go outside and to it in the presence of everyone

I don’t understand the concept, especially during these turbulent times.

I want you to consider it again as it really angers me to see things being done like this,

Phew, its off my chest, I’ve shared my feelings with you,


Before I share the Torah’s perspective on the publicity of Chanuka, let me first make an important and timely point. Safety is paramount. One must follow the security instructions as they pertain individually in each locale. Any outdoor or public celebration must be sanctioned by the security experts.

I realized that the person who sent me the note, saw Chanuka as a ‘ritual’ that is tribal or ethnic and therefore belongs only in the private space of a Jewish home or Synagogue. They mistakenly assumed that the public celebration of Chanuka was a recent and unnecessary addition to the mitzvah. Maybe it was intended as a PR stunt.

Interestingly, celebrating Chanuka in public is an intrinsic part of the mitzvah of Chanukafrom its very inception. The Sages who initiated the holiday of Chanuka instructed that the Menorah be lit in the doorway or in the window. It is intended to be a mitzvah that spreads the awareness of the miracles that Hashem made.

Now more than ever before it is important to be public about Chanukah (while preserving safety).

The Jewish people is in a state of soul searching.

There is the awakening of those who had been so alienated from Judaism for so long and yet feel their deepest Jewish feelings stirring at this time in the most unexpected way.

Especially for all of us Jewish communities living around the world.

There are those who live with the fear of the resurgence of antisemitism around the world.

No one is unaffected.

Questions abound about how to move forward.

Do we hide and cower away in fear. Or do we joyously and proudly march forward raising the banner of our Judaism with confidence.

One thing is clear. We learned this lesson from the Holocaust.

Hiding away in the shadows hoping that ‘they’ won’t see us does not work. Thinking that we will prevent antisemitism by staying away from doing positive things in public, doesn’t work. Antisemitism and prejudice require no outside causes.

Kindling menorahs in public has proved to be a major source of reconnection for Jews who have not felt so connected.

As to the statement it makes to our non-Jewish neighbors?

We are blessed to live in an era when for the most part ‘Non-Jews respect Jews who respect their Judaism’.

We need to be proud of being Jews.

As Jews, we have a mission. We need to represent G-d and proclaim to the world that Hashem made miracles during the Chanukah time and makes miracles now as well and will make miracles in the future.

Kindling the Menorah is a mitzvah that spreads and engenders positivity and optimism about creating a better world.

Spreading the message of light over darkness has never been so critically vital.

In short, I would sum it up:

Chanuka reminds and empowers us that G-d empowers good people to be victorious over evil.

No matter how unlikely it seems, fight valiantly to follow the moral path as taught by G-d. Don’t wait for perfection. Do what you can do now.  

Kindling the lights of the Menorah symbolizes the power of light over darkness and morality over immorality.

Light the Menorah as publicly as possible for when every citizen of the world embraces this message, it will leave no room for darkness in our world.

We pray for the BIG miracle, the ushering in of everlasting global peace with the coming of Mashiach.

And we pray that even before that ‘grand finale’ miracle happens, we have the ‘smaller’ miracles of our soldiers coming home (having achieved secure peace) in complete health, return of our captives, healing of our sick and good physical, emotional and spiritual health for all.

This year don’t stand on the sidelines. Each and every one of us must participate. No one is indispensable.


Kindle a Menorah. Empower yourself, your family and your environment to join the forces of good and together we will make this world a more G-dly, kindly, goodly and peaceful place.

Shabbat Shalom

Chanuka Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS click here for everything Chanuka

‘Fight or Flight’

‘Fight or Flight’?

When you meet up unexpectedly with an adversary who poses a threat to your life, you have one of two immediate choices.


Or stand your ground and fight off the enemy.

It’s an instinctive reaction that our brain comes to. Not before subconsciously considering vast amounts of pre-acquired experiential knowledge.

Some people are hardwired to be more prone to standing their ground and fighting. Others are far more comfortable to run away from confrontation.

Those are instinctive reactions.

I want to touch on conscious decision-making when facing challenges. For that we need to consider the theological question that arises when one faces an unanticipated challenge.

Let us talk about a not uncommon scenario. You are on the path to doing what you think G-d has instructed you to do. And then you hit a snag and you don’t see a way forward.  

What should be your next move?

Does the insurmountable barrier tell you STOP. G-d is the creator of that barrier. And obviously G-d doesn’t want you to go forward.

Or is it that G-d wants you to find a way to scale or breach the seemingly impenetrable wall. The impediment is intended by G-d to cause you to dig deeper and try harder.

How does one know whether to accept defeat or to soldier on?

It’s a theologically strengthened question, as G-d can do anything even if it seems impossible.

For example, after the exodus from Egypt, the children of Israel found themselves trapped between the Egyptians and the deep waters of the sea. The sea was not traversable without ships that they didn’t have.

There were at least four opinions among the Jews as they stood by the sea as to what they should do. G-d communicated to Moshe that He didn’t side with any of the opinions.

G-d said do the unthinkable.

Travel forward!

Once G-d said to travel forward on foot, Nachshon led the way into the sea. Just before he drowned, the sea split.

So, if G-d can do anything, how do you and I know when to call quits and when to keep digging deeper and trying harder even when things look highly improbable to the point of impossible.

Chanuka is the classic story of doing the impossible. The Maccabees fought against an army that was stronger and mightier.

In their case there was no dilemma about what they needed to do. The Greeks and Hellenists were introducing a form of idolatry into the Jewish nation. When it comes to idolatry, we are instructed to resist even at the cost of our lives.

The Maccabees didn’t know that they would win. But they knew what they needed to do. They did it heroically and unhesitatingly.

Countless Jews have given their lives in sanctification of G-d’s name when they were given the choice between the ‘sword or the cross’. They chose G-d over life. This is the default feeling of every Jewish soul. A life lived in idolatrous denial of G-d, is a life not worth living.

The Maccabees won the war miraculously. We have Chanukah to celebrate it and to remind us that there are certain immutable laws that require self-sacrifice. There are not two choices.

If you face a dilemma that puts you in a position of choosing a difficult moral path over an easier immoral path, you know what you need to do. Choose the moral path even though it is more cumbersome and difficult.

Morality is light. Immorality is darkness. Chanukah is all about choosing to add light to overcome and dispel the darkness.

Chanuka reassuringly teaches us that G-d blesses the efforts of those valiantly struggling and fighting to stay true to His wishes. G-d has not limitations and makes miracles when needed, to have the ‘good guys’ win.

Let me now move onward to discuss a different kind of scenario. Very often we face situations where there is no clear moral imperative for one choice over the other. It may be quite confusing as both choices are not immoral and unG-dly. In this instance, how do we view possible barriers in the path we have set out on?

This weekend we commemorate and celebrate the founding of Chabad Chasidism.

What may be less known, is that the Chabad movement that has become the familiar face of Judaism in large as well as remote Jewish communities, almost ‘aborted’ before being born so to speak.

The first Rebbe, R’ Shneur Zalman, was imprisoned shortly after laying forth his systematic approach to Chassidut in the Tanya as the spiritual heir to the Baal Shemtov and his disciple known as ‘The Maggid’.

It was clear to the Rebbe that this imprisonment based although it was on false libelous charges leveled against him, was Heavenly sanctioned.

Why would there be a Divine plan to imprison him? The way the Rebbe understood it, it was Divinely intended to stop the development and dissemination of his teachings. The teachings of Chabad Chasidism comprise a revelation of the Kabalistic secrets of Torah to the broader community.

At the time this was revolutionary. Kabala and Chasidism were kept more discreet. One had to first gain entry via pre-acquired broad scholarship to the circles that taught these kabalistic traditions.

The Rebbe saw his imprisonment as being a protest from Heaven to his new path. His revered teachers who had already passed away, visited him via a spiritual vision he had in prison. They confirmed to him that he was being challenged in Heaven for his public teachings and that he would ultimately be released.

‘When I get out shall I desist or continue’? the Rebbe asked his holy predecessors.

To which they replied, ‘continue and with added vigor’.

After undergoing a cross examination where he was given the opportunity to answer the accusations against him at length, he was miraculously released from the Czarist prison after having spent 53 days in prison and thus his life was saved.

From that moment onward the Chabad movement began to develop and blossom. First in Russia in the shtetl of Lubavitch and from the 1940’s onwards, headquartered in New York with branches worldover.

This story of challenge, doubt and the resolution of this doubt, is one of the stories recounted every year at the celebratory gatherings ‘farbrengen’ that are held to commemorate this day. (In Bangkok we are hosting a men’s farbrengen at Bet Elisheva on Motzei Shabbat at 8pm).

This story speaks to me very personally right now.

Our family are blessed to be the Rebbe’s representatives to Thailand for three decades.

The growth has been exceptional and miraculous.

Jewish life is flourishing across Thailand.

Looking forward, there is much more to do. There are several ambitious projects in the pipeline that are in various stages of planning and implementing.

The path to achieve all of the aspirations seems challenging.

I am thinking out loud.

When I reach a challenge to implement what seems to be a Divinely mandated project, how am I to interpret it?

Is it a divine big red STOP sign. Telling me that Hashem doesn’t want me to continue down that path?

Or is it a hurdle that tells me gather your strength, pray hard, dig deep into your soul and take a leap of faith.

Is there a kind of divine ‘voice’ calling out that the plateau on the other side awaits you if you but have the right faith and march on joyously.

Does G-d want me to have faith that the proverbial ‘sea’ will ‘split’ if need be. That all I need to do is march on with optimism and faith and I will get successfully to the other side?

How did the Rebbe know whether to continue his newly forged path or change course?

He asked his spiritual masters.

This is what we must do when faced with a dilemma in which there is no clear moral imperative. It’s not like it’s a choice between doing something moral or something immoral. Those decisions are clear cut. I am referring to scenarios where both options could equally fit the description of being G-d’s intention. Both make moral sense.

The Rebbe made it very clear to our generation that we must implement what our Sages have instructed ‘make for yourself a teacher’. Every Jew, layman, scholar or even rabbi, needs to appoint someone else from whom he or she take counsel. We are all subjective and partial to ourselves and thus cannot rely only on our own judgment to come to clarity.  We need to seek advice from others who are greater, wiser, older and most importantly objective, to help make certain pivotal decisions.

Perseverance is a wonderful quality, but it is not always the right choice. As a matter of fact, it is quite wrong to keep marching down the wrong road in the name of ‘trying harder’ and persevering. If G-d is telling you STOP. You ought to listen to G-d’s instruction to ‘recalculate’.

On the other hand, changing direction spontaneously and fleeing every time you hit a bump in the road, is evading your Divine mission. It is misguided to misinterpret a hurdle that is meant to energize you, as a barrier that has come to stop you.

This is my first take away.

If you are facing a dilemma, check it out with your ‘rav’ – morally and spiritually healthy teacher/mentor/advisor. Arrive at what seems to be the right decision, be it either ‘fight or flight’ or a combination thereof. And then forge ahead joyously and faithfully.

My second and main point.

The Maccabees won their battles against all odds.

The oil lasted supernaturally, not one day but eight days.

The Rebbe exited jail and expanded his spreading of the inner Kabalistic track of Torah. He said that his redemption was a sign from Heaven that all who would follow his example in promoting inspired Jewish living would have an upper hand against their challengers.

If you are doing the right thing and you apply yourself with faith, joy and effort, these stories of light and miracles remind you that Hashem will bless you with success.

This month of Kislev is historically a season of liberation and victory and it continues to be a month of miracles to this very day.

We are reminded during this month that light overcomes and dispels darkness.

And we are empowered by Divine opportunity to tap in to the energies and spirit of liberation and light that awaits us if we but put forth the effort.

Let us utilize the powers we have access to.

On a practical note. Was there something morally good and socially kind that you wanted to do but thought you couldn’t do it?

Try it again during these fortuitous times. This time trying a bit harder than before.

May Hashem show you that the hurdle was only intended to energize you and this time you will be successful.

Does the world seem very dark?

Don’t hide away under your covers.

Take the incredible opportunity of Chanuka and run with it.

Kindle the menorah yourself and with anyone you can reach, in your home and in the public domain, and LIGHT UP THE DARKNESS both by the physical lights of the menorah and by the additional mitzvahs that you perform.

Shabbat Shalom

Chag Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS as I write these lines, the situation in Israel is evolving. Our prayers for safety, security and peace are with our soldiers, with our brothers and sisters living in the holy land and the world over.

Shabbat SHALOM

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