"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

how does He do it?

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Sometimes I hear a story and it’s just so complex that I find myself asking ‘How does He do it’?

When I say ‘He’ I mean the Almighty.

How does Hashem keep track of the myriads of souls as they traverse the world enclothed in human bodies and wandering off in zillions of directions.

Listen to this story.

R’ Yair Kalev is a charismatic lecturer who teaches Tanya in Hebrew. Yair was invited to a weekend retreat to give a lecture series on the Tanya.

One of the caretaking staff of the conference facility was enamored by the lectures he was overhearing as he went about his maintenance work.

That may not have sounded so unusual if the caretaker was Jewish. But this particular maintenance worker was non-Jewish of Druze origin. He was hired because he was non-Jewish as his work involved doing things on Shabbat that Jewish people are forbidden to do.

Something about those lectures touched him deeply. They awakened something in his soul and he asked R’ Yair where he could find more of the like. Yair directed him to his YouTube channel.

Several months later, this Druze caretaker made an appointment with a local rabbi in Israel to discuss converting to Judaism.

Even after several attempts to dissuade him, the caretaker insisted that he really truly wants to be Jewish. He implored the Bet Din to accept him as a conversion candidate.

The rabbi saw that he was adamant in his request and agreed to consider it. However, he told him, there is a fundamental problem. You are married and have a few children. If you become a Jew you must be married to a fellow Jewess. It won’t be possible to convert to Judaism and remain married to a non-Jewish Arab woman.

To which the man replied, ‘I am not sure, but I believe according to the Jewish religion my wife may not need to convert as her mother was born Jewish before she converted to Islam’.

After investigating the family history, the story that emerged was quite unusual.

The mother of his wife was indeed born Jewish. Her parents were traditional Sephardic Jews who had emigrated to Israel just after World War II.  The girl herself was born in Israel.

As a teenager she had befriended a young Arab man to the dismay of her traditional Jewish family. This developed into a serious relationship. To get married to him, she had converted to Islam. This estranged her from her Jewish family with whom she had no contact for decades.

She was quite upset initially when the rabbi called her probing into her origins. As far as she was concerned, she was fully Muslim, her daughters had all married non-Jewish men and to poke around in the history of her origin didn’t sit well with her. But the facts were true. She was born a Jew. And if the mother is Jewish, the daughter is Jewish as well from birth.

Once the rabbi confirmed that indeed the Druze man’s wife was born Jewish, the process became more straightforward.

His wife agreed to undergo a formal ‘return to Judaism’ ceremony. While she was not ready to embrace Judaism to the extent of her husband who was committing to be fully Jewishly observant, she was agreeable to keep the basic mitzvot of the Jewish home.

After several months, the conversion of the Druze husband to Judaism took place. Shortly afterwards they got married under the Chupa.

The story made waves in the family. The sister of the bride came to the rabbi’s and confidentially shared that she was suffering in her current life and asked for help in returning to her Jewish roots.

The mother of the bride apologized to the rabbi for her angry tone when he had first contacted her. She too expressed her desire to return to her Jewish heritage when the opportunity would be available.

And I, upon hearing the story, am left with the feeling of incredulity about the meanderings of souls here in this diverse world with its web of varying paths.

‘How does He do it’?

A Jewish girl left her heritage in 1948. Some seventy years later her daughters non-Jewish husband gets interested in Judaism in the most unexpected of ways.

Suddenly, the sparks that seemed almost extinguished came back to life.

This is part of the fulfillment of the verse (Isaiah 27, 13) And it shall come to pass on that day, that a great shofar shall be sounded, and those lost in the land of Assyria and those exiled in the land of Egypt shall come and they shall prostrate themselves before the Lord on the holy mount in Jerusalem.

Who knows how many of us there are wandering around the world. Sometimes we remember that we are Jewish and try to maintain our heritage, sometimes people meander and wander very far away. To the proverbial ‘Assyria’ and ‘Egypt’. Click here for a contemporary reframing. However far one may wander, Hashem promises the He will take each Jew by the hand and bring them back home when the Mashiach comes.

This week we had a gathering of the Asia regional emissaries of the Rebbe. It was held in Bangkok and provided much needed inspiration and camaraderie for the men women and children who run the Chabad houses spread throughout the many time-zones of Asia.

One of the very colorful parts of the work in Asia is this very phenomenon of the ‘waking up’ of ‘sparks’ of Judaism within the souls and hearts of those who have traveled far away from their ‘home’ of birth.

Stories were shared about the tenacity of the Jewish soul’s clinging to G-d even after wandering to the farthest of shores.

You too can participate in creating these stories. Start by being open to picking up ‘Jewish vibes’ from people around you. Try dropping a Hebrew/Yiddish word or two if you bump into someone that you think may be Jewish. You may discover a ‘spark’ waiting to be reignited. A ‘member of the tribe’ who is longing for a sense of community and family.

And you never know. YOU may be the messenger of Hashem to reunite this brother or sister to their Jewish soul and to their Jewish family.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS My dear friend Bennett Hymer of Hawaii was so inspired by the stories I would share with him, that he undertook the publishing of a book with a collection of anecdotes and inspirational stories relating to life in Thailand. Click hereOr here for more info about the ‘Chai from Thai’ book. Or email me to purchase your copy locally in Thailand.

social over solitary

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Did you notice the news headlines about a Spanish sportswoman who lived underground in a cave for 500 days?

Yep, you heard right. Last week on April 14’th Beatrice Flamini emerged from living solitarily in an underground cave in the Spanish hills for the better part of two years.   

The timing couldn’t be better for the parsha topic which is about the laws of the ‘metzorah’.

And it is also immaculately timed to be just ten days before the new cycle of non-solitary ‘all of Torah – all of Us’ Rambam study begins on April 24th.

Let me explain what I mean.

Spending a week living in solitary conditions outside the city is the key ingredient in the purification of a ‘metzorah’.

What’s a ‘metzorah’?

in English it has been translated as ‘leper’, however it is not leprosy which is a physical ailment. A “metzorah’ is a halachic concept caused by a skin discoloration.

In Temple times, discoloration would sometimes appear on a person’s skin. It was not connected to any physical fungus, and it was not infectious or contagious. It was a G-dly inflicted discoloration that had no ramifications medically.

For all intents and purposes, it didn’t do anything.

Well, not physically, that is.

Spiritually though, it rendered a person impure. The ‘metzorah’ was one of the most intense impurities in the spectrum of impurities.

The purification process required a seven-day isolation outside of the camp. Not for dealing with some kind of contagion. Rather there was a Divinely ordained socially beneficial therapeutic aspect to it.

The Torah teaches that this Temple era skin discoloration came as an ‘early-warning-signal’ to a person who was engaging in negative communications regarding others. By this I mean ‘lashon harah’, spreading unfavorable information about someone else. Lashon harah is forbidden even if the information shared by the gossiper is true.

Yes, some people are surprised to learn this. That even spreading information that is true, if it portrays someone else in a bad light is disallowed by the Torah. (There are various exceptions to this rule particularly if there is a danger that can be mitigated by sharing pertinent information).

This does not mean we should keep our mouths zippered shut all the time. The power of speech is amazing when used correctly. We are mandated to use our mouths and power of speech to spread good energy about other people. To bring people together and create camaraderie and community.

There is a caveat to speaking nicely about someone else. As the world is still not a perfect place, it is not correct to speak too highly of someone else if you know that it will invite a boomerang of negative responses.

Say you praise someone for his extreme charitableness. You mean well. But you must first assess to which crowd you are saying this to. As sometimes, if for example the donor is not liked by his business competitors, this will elicit a cynical response. I have heard people downplaying generous gifts given by genuinely caring donors by saying ‘oh, he’s just looking to build up his ego by flaunting his wealth and acting philanthropic’. Even though I knew that this person was truly trying to be selfless and alturistic.

Just like you check for cars before you cross the road, we always ought to think before we speak. Even when it comes to saying something positive it requires forward thinking to know what to say and when to say it.

That is not the case when it comes to negative talk. Nothing to think about. Just keep your mouth shut. Lashon hara needs to be avoided always.

Spreading negative gossip tears society asunder and causes hatred and infighting.

How many family feuds and community flare-ups have been caused by the scourge of gossip – lashon hara.

During Temple times, Hashem backed up this commandment of not speaking lashon harah by sending the perpetrator a gentle physical reminder. That reminder would come in the form of a skin discoloration that would render the person a ‘metzorah’.

The purification process included a seven-day period of isolation outside the camp.

It was not punitive.

It was curative.

The path to healing someone who spreads gossip is to allow them to experience for themselves how painful it is when one is ejected from society.

Speaking gossip creates loneliness. The gossiper has caused others to be lonely through his negative and cynical talk. He needs to be walked through the process of identifying with the pain of those he has caused to suffer.

To truly feel remorse and make a firm resolution to mend one’s ways, it requires the perpetrator’s empathetic feeling of what it means to be in solitude.

If you are a Spanish mountain climber trying to break a world record and help test scientific theories about light and sleep cycles, living in solitude even for 500 days may be bearable. If however you are forced into solitude, in Temple times, without phones or communication with the outside world, you would likely feel the pain and difficulty of loneliness.

This parsha thus reminds us about the great gift of community and family.

My dear friends, as I am on the topic of speech, I would like to share something that I think is important to know. For while technology brings great things to our society, it also allows for new twists that can be used nefariously.

Continuing on the topic of lashon harah.

Imagine if you heard a recording of your best friend speaking slander about you to someone else. You would be horrified. You thought that this person was honestly and genuinely your trusted confidant. And then they go behind your back and defame you?

If someone asked you ‘are you sure that this friend actually double crossed you like that, maybe it was someone else speaking’? And you say, ‘no, I recognize my (former) best friends voice a million miles away, the inflections in their manner of speaking and many other details, I am completely sure that it was him’.

Till very recently you may have been right to assume that you had no room for doubt.

No longer.

Voice cloning via AI. Have you ever heard about this latest scamming tool?

Look at this headline:

Scammers are using AI-generated voice clones, the FTC warns The agency issued a consumer alert urging people to be vigilant for calls using voice clones generated by artificial intelligence. They can be used by criminals hoping to swindle people out of money.

The authorities are advising that before you go ahead and send money to someone based on your recognition of their voice, check with the person to make sure it if for real.

This newfangled development has an application to the age-old laws of lashon harah that we have just discussed. If you think you heard someone say something nasty and you are sure you know who said it. Don’t be so sure anymore.

The Torah laws of speech have not changed. They are instructions from G-d for eternity.

However, the ever-developing technologies require that we adapt and develop the laws to know how they apply to the advances that are made as the world marches closer to its final destiny.

The incredible revolution of the industrial age and the subsequent techonoly age is all a preparation for the explosion of G-dly knowledge that is developing as we are about to welcome Mashiach.

The coming of Mashiach will usher in a world of peace and utopia.

No wars, no jealousies and not even unhealthy competition.

All the reasons and excuses for societal discord will no longer be around.

This means that all of us will be totally united as one family and community.

This description of the way the world will be when Mashiach comes is depicted in the final chapters of the Rambams 1000 chapters of laws.

 The Rebbe issued a call nearly forty years ago to join a study cycle of Rambam, this studying the entire oral Torah every year or three years.

The fact that so many Jewish people are on the same ‘page’ learning the same material all around the globe, is a unifying exercise that brings blessing and light to our nation.

Here is my call to action.

  1. As we are still close enough to the pandemic to appreciate the worlds emergence from Covid lockdowns,
  2. during this year of Hakhel gathering,
  3.  as we read the portion of the Torah regarding ensuring that our speech doesn’t drive us apart,
  4. especially during this weekend as we finish the united study cycle of the Rambam (click her to join the new cycle),

Let us make efforts to appreciate the gift and power of gathering together with others.

Let  us instigate and initiate gatherings of our families, extended families, communities, and any kind of group that has a commonality that binds them together.

If you are a leader in any kind of group, go ahead and make a gathering of your group and share Divine inspiration.

You will be bringing blessing for the group as a whole and for each individual therein.

It’s not a secret but sometimes we forget just how true it is.

Hashem blesses us most impactfully when we are TOGETHER.

May Mashiach come immediately and bind us TOGETHER FOREVER


May this be a reality speedily in our days. AMEN

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

non-ending Pesach

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Pesach went out last night.

I don’t want to say Pesach ‘ended’.

Since I was a little child the phrase at the end of my parents black and white wedding movie has been embedded in my subconscious.

This is not the end. This is just the beginning.

Indeed, my parents may they be blessed, concluded their wedding party celebration at the end of that movie, but it was just the beginning of their future blessed lives together. I know, as I was blessed to come onto the scene as part of that new beginning thank G-d.

Pesach doesn’t end.

Click here for a short video on this topic.

After Pesach we have a new beginning, though.

When a Jewish person reenters into the ‘mundane world’ after being elevated to inner freedom after the eight day ‘festival of liberation’, it is not ‘back to square one’.

We don’t land back down at the same height as before we entered Pesach.

Rather, we BEGIN AGAIN.

From a new starting altitude.

Pesach leaving and ‘real life’ starting, provides an opportunity for a renewed liberational beginning, from a higher and more advanced starting point.

As Shluchim of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, we were blessed at Chabad of Thailand to host nearly 9,500 guests at Seder tables throughout the country. (See below note). Numbers that are inspiring and even larger than our pre-Covid Seders.

Mentioning Covid…

This is indeed a moment to pause, reflect and sing our thanks and praise to the Almighty for having restored the equilibrium of the ‘microbe’ and ‘virus’ world of germs so that the trillions of trillions of cells that are all around us and inside of us are functioning seamlessly and healthily.

The ability to congregate in large groups and remain healthy is something we no longer take for granted as it stands in sharp contrast to the days of the Covid that kept us all isolated for so long. As the pandemic roared through humanity taking an all too precious toll in terms of human life and debilitating illness.

Thank you Hashem for every single breath.

Thank you Hashem for creating and guiding with Divine Providence the peaceful interaction between all of the myriads and multitudes of microbes.

The large numbers create a ‘buzz’ and an atmosphere that large crowds engender. An uplifting and euphoric feeling of ‘Am Yisrael Chai’ pride and joy in being part of Hashems special nation of Israel.

The feedback from individuals about their experiences is inspiring to no end.

Let me share two of the many anecdotes I heard over Pesach from participants at our Pesach celebrations.

A Jew, who just a few years ago didn’t know much more about Passover than the ‘matzah ball’ in the chicken soup tradition, confided to me that they had kept a kosher for Pesach diet the entire eight days of Pesach this year.

At the beginning of Pesach it is daunting to think that you cannot eat your favorite grains for eight days.

However by the end of Pesach, once successfully refraining from those prohibited foods, it is liberating to see how those things you thought you can’t do without, do not hold you hostage and do not define your life.

It may not be easy to change one’s diet for eight days, but once you have successfully done it, you realize that G-d gives you the ability to make decisions about what you will bring into your body. Regardless of your natural inclinations and cravings.

The truly liberational part of this is that when you plan your diet based on the instructions of a ‘Higher Authority’, your entire eating becomes G-dly.

Certainly, this is an ‘aha moment’ that should bring a person to a more mindful place in terms of what they ‘want to eat’ vs what they ‘ought to eat’.

This joke says it well.

A guy comes to the bakery eyeing all the calorie laden things.

The salesperson asks what would you like...

‘I would like a cheesecake and some cream puffs’, responds the customer, ‘but I will take a half loaf of wholewheat bread’.

For a Jew it is critical to eat what is healthy for body and healthy for soul.

After Pesach one can reemerge into ‘chametz’ eating with the knowledge that they can control their intake. It is within their power to choose what they put into their bodies rather than blindly following their palates and appetites.

Here are a few words from one of the participants at Phuket’s ‘supersize’ Seder.

‘My experience at the seder evening in Phuket was very emotional and meaningful. To see so many different kinds of Jewish people sitting together around the Seder table, singing, eating matzahs and celebrating our exodus from Egypt. In Israel, just a few weeks ago, our family was in the streets of Tel Aviv demonstrating, yet here we are in Phuket sitting around the same tables with those whom we disagree politically. Here we feel the unity of our nation. This is something unique that Chabad has contributed to our holiday.’

Pesach may be over, but certainly that feeling of Jewish unity, that transcends our differences and arguments should remain with us and be the starting point for reengaging with each other in a loving and respectful manner.

Lets run with the unity thing. Its our biggest, sturdiest, and most powerful weapon that we have at our disposal. It is what injects the Divine blessing into all of the intense and heroic military efforts of our courageous soldiers in the Holy Land for which we are all praying so hard.

May Hashem bless our people with peace, from the inside, and from the outside.

My friend, during this special time period immediately following Pesach, gift yourself a few minutes of meditational time to capture at least one ‘Pesach moment’ that you can incorporate into your life as you reenter the world invigorated by the Pesach spirit.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Chag Samayach and Shabbat Shalom!

Dear Friend,


The frenetic energetic fast paced battle against the forces of negativity represented by ‘chametz’ is basically over. The chametz that we had in our possession has either been sold to a non-Jew (for whom it’s perfectly fine to indulge in chametz during this next week), our disposed of in some other way . Now we can relax from the offensive struggle with chametz while keeping our defenses up to make sure we don’t let chametz into our environments and certainly keep it far away from our food supply.

But we are not meant to disengage or stay idle. Not just yet. Now we are free to focus fully on the positive mitzvahs of Pesach which are eating matzah on the first nights of Pesach and telling the story of our redemption. This is what a Passover Seder is all about. Eating Matzah, drinking four cups of wine, telling the story of Exodus and having a great time doing it, this all takes preparation and effort!

So during the few remaining hours till Pesach I urge you to make sure that you have arranged to eat matzah and recount the Exodus. Moreover, don’t just be satisfied with having made sure you will fulfil your obligation, think about who else you know who is Jewish and may not be invited to a Seder or have matzah. If you are in Bangkok, we still have a few spaces at our Seder in the Rembrandt Hotel so please let me know if you or someone you know or someone you don’t know would like to attend. For my readers around the world, hopefully you could still squeeze in one or two more guests around your Passover tables and I urge you to think of someone who may not have a Seder to attend.

May we all have a liberating Passover and be liberated from all things that constrict us, worry us, cause us anxiety or just plain bother us, both physical, emotional and spiritual. 

Chag Sameach & Shabbat Shalom

A Kosher and Joyous Pessach to you and your loved ones!

Leshana Habaah BeYerushalayim!!!

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Looking for older posts? See the sidebar for the Archive.