"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Ironically, while making purchases via the internet is called ‘online shopping’, you actually avoid standing ‘on line’ by doing your shopping ‘online’.

Standing in a queue is not one of my favorite activities.

Unless it’s for a special reason.

Last week I stood in two long lines one day after the other.

One was agonizing. The other was blissful.

On Wednesday I was traveling from Montreal to New York. I had led a farbrengen at one of the local shuls in preparation for the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit till late at night and early in the morning headed to Montreal’s airport for the first flight out to New York. I thought I had left plenty of time, but I didn’t take into account the length of the queue for US customs that one must clear in Montreal airport.

After standing impatiently for more than an hour in line, I finally made it to the plane. I was the last one to board.

The next day I stood in a line as well. A longer one.

At about 2pm on Thursday the third of Tammuz, I joined the line to go the Rebbe’s Ohel. It took three and a half hours of waiting in the queue till I got to enter the holy space for a few minutes of prayer.

If someone had offered me a ‘pass’ to cut to the head of the line, I wouldn’t have taken it.

Waiting in a line for something holy and cherished, among fellow minded people, didn’t feel like a burden.

I utilized the time to pray, study and greet people from around the world that I would otherwise not meet.

But the truth is, that when one activates their belief in G-d and his Divine Providence to the highest level, one is always happy and calm. Even when stuck in a big traffic jam.

This week’s portion is all about the wicker sorcerer Bil’am (Balaam) who was hired by Balak, the regional king of the time, to curse the conquering Jews as a way of stopping their advance into the land of Israel.

As powerful as Bil’am was, and as great a track record he had of being able to place people under his curse, this time he was blocked and instead of issuing curses, blessings came rolling out of his mouth.

G-d showed Bil’am who the true Boss is and as hard as he tried (even changing locations and trying to get himself into a ‘cursing frame of mind’) only blessings for the Jewish people issued forth from his mouth. Some of the most powerful blessings – one was even incorporated into our daily prayer schedule – originate from this wicked man’s mouth.

While turning curses to blessing is a miracle performed by G-d, we too have some level of ability and power to be able to choose whether we will feel ‘cursed’ by a challenging situation or view the challenge in a blessed way and thus transform it into good.

A few years ago, I met a middle-aged Jew at the Chabad House who had been stuck here for several months totally against his will due to a legal matter that got entangled and instead of taking a few weeks dragged out to a few months. I commiserated with him saying how difficult it must be to have your plans totally uprooted and to be stuck so far away from home, work and family. To my absolute surprise he did not at all agree to my sorrowful commiseration and told me he feels blessed. Blessed? I asked him. How is that? And he proceeded to tell me how he had made himself a list of all the blessings that had come out of this unexpected twist to his life and had reached a total of THIRTEEN blessings that had resulted from this hiccup which was initially perceived as being a ‘curse’. (One of those that he shared with me is that he now reconnected to prayer and dons Tefilin daily, a ritual which he looks forward to continuing once he is able to go back home).

The previous Rebbe penned a diary describing his imprisonment at the hands of the communists in 1927 and his subsequent redemption on the 12th of Tammuz (tomorrow’s Hebrew date) which is marked and celebrated annually.

These days of the liberation of a Jewish leader allow for ‘tapping-in’ to the redemptive energies of the days. They provide us the opportunity for Heavenly strength to overcome the things that may be confining us.

One of the things the Rebbe describes is making a wrong turn in the labyrinth of the prison corridors.

Whether unwittingly or intentionally I do not know, but evidently, because I was immersed in thought, or because of confusion, when I approached that open door I turned into another long corridor which branched off to the right. It was as long as the other, but whitewashed, and the wall facing outside was relieved by many windows. Benches lined both walls, and there were no armed guards. The numerous white doors on the inner wall were numbered and neatly labelled. I did not take the trouble to observe what was written on them, being overwhelmed by the striking contrast between the gross darkness and the armed guards of the former corridor, and the civilized light of the present one. In this spirit I walked on with bolder and surer steps, and no man asked me a word or told me a word.

As I walked, I recalled that I had erred: I was meant to continue straight on to the door that was open to every prisoner. How had I come here? Would this add to my offenses? Would they trump up a charge that I had transgressed by walking in a place where prisoners like myself were not allowed to go? Would this digression supply material for a libel that I was spying out the inner byways of Spalerka?

Nevertheless, I did not hasten to retrace my steps. In the first instance, I told myself, I would not have dared to go there, but since I was now walking down this corridor, then this was one of the workings of Divine Providence. After all, I asked myself, was this detour of mine less significant than the turning over of a crushed bit of straw, or a leaf driven from side to side? For, as our mentor the Baal Shem Tov teaches, even these subjects are governed by Divine Providence (as is explained in the maamar known as Tik’u 5688 [1928]).

Click here for the diary files.

If we were all to take a few moments before complaining about our ‘tzores’ (difficulties) and meditate on the fact that G-d’s Divine Providence covers them too, we would probably uncover latent blessings and opportunities that we are currently overlooking.

No, I am not fantasizer wishing to sell you a utopia that is a figment of an imagination and obviously we all know that there are things that are painful and we wish we could avoid and we valiantly try to avoid. However, once you are in that situation and it is no longer avoidable, you have only one choice, and that is the choice of how to react to it and what to make of it. The famous saying is ‘when handed lemons, make lemonade’.

When one realizes that everything, every single detail of life, is by Hashem’s detailed providence, then even standing on a line is meaningful. Because its where Hashem wants you to be at that time.

And when one is aware that they are in the exact place that G-d desires them to be, then they are happy.

Being happy is one of the most effective methods to bring blessings into your life.

The holy book of the Zohar teaches that G-d chooses to mirror our moves and moods. If you want to change your lot for the better and earn G-d’s smile, first try to radiate joy and put a smile on your face. As the saying goes in Yiddish ‘tracht gut, vet zain gut’ (think positive and it will be positive).

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok (NY)

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

The cornerstone of the work of the Rebbe was education. Jewish education for children in age. As well as Jewish education for those who are children in terms of their knowledge.

The work of Chabad Lubavitch in establishing day schools, Hebrew after school programs, summer sleepaway camps and day camps, is well known.

Let me introduce my ‘miracle story’ with a glimpse into an educational initiative that you may not yet have heard of.

‘Released Time’.

Here is what it is in a nutshell:

The Released Time Jewish Hour Program offers fun and engaging Jewish classes for students in public schools across NYC. The weekly classes occur every Wednesday during the last hour of the school day, and operate within every NYC public school.

The weekly Jewish hour programs are led by dedicated rabbinical instructors who bring the children to synagogues and Jewish centers near the public schools. The programs are meaningful and educational filled with Torah learning and hands on exciting holiday projects.

Psychologists and educators agree that a sound religious education is the key to developing healthy long lasting character traits. Federal law protects the right of any recognized religious group to teach its principle's to public school students who elect to join. 

The Jewish Released Time program is the flagship program of the National Committee for Furtherance of Jewish Education (NCFJE). Since its inception in 1941, the program has educated more than a quarter of a million Jewish boys and girls throughout New York with a fun and meaningful Torah education.

This initiative has been going on for 78 years now. When I was a student in the Yeshiva in NY I too had the honor and merit to teach the weekly ‘Wednesday Hour’ to public school children and got to see the critical importance of this one hour of religious instruction to the Jewish children who attend.

Back at the end of January I was in New York to give the main speech at the ‘Released Time Jewish Hour’ fundraising event. It was timed to coincide with the day of passing of the previous Rebbe of Lubavitch in 1950 and the day that the Rebbe – whose 29th Yartzeit we are marking today (Thursday June 22) - assumed the mantle of leadership.

After the official speeches, I was asked to lead the informal part of the “Farbrengen’ (Chassidic gathering) and I shared some inspirational stories of Divine Providence. One of the stories was from 2011 about my unexpected visit to Brussels due to missing a flight. (Click here if you want the full story. Part 1 Blizzard in New York. Part 2 unexpected trip to Brussels). After I finished the story, someone called out to me that my friend Levi who I had visited in Brussels, was in New York now. I called Levi to see if he was in the area so we could say hi. He told me that he was in Arizona for a meeting but would land in JFK airport early the next morning. We didn’t make up to meet as I wasn’t sure of my plans the next morning.

Hashem made our plans. Early the next morning I set out from Crown Heights, Brooklyn, to the Rebbe’s Ohel in Queens. It was a wintry dark morning and the luminous dashboard of the car showed me that my tire pressure had fallen to a level that could be dangerous. I figured that I had better try to put some air in the tires but at 5:30 am it was dark and the gas stations I was stopping at in Brooklyn did not have functioning air pumps and to be frank some of them didn’t feel all that safe. Hey, a rental car is not supposed to have these kinds of hiccups. I figured that the best way forward was to drive slowly to the car rental at JFK which opens at 6am.

After the rental car staff filled the tires, I was about to head out to the Ohel when I recalled that my friend Levi should be landing about now. When I called Levi and told him I was in JFK and offering him a ride to the Ohel, he was happy to accept. As I got closer to his terminal Levi called me and asked if I had room for an additional person. A Chassidic man from Boro Park said he would join us to go to the Ohel and say a prayer on this auspicious day (it was Yud Shevat).

I pulled up to the terminal and Levi got in as well as a Chassidic looking man by the name of Reb Shea. As Reb Shea got into the car his phone rang. It was his daughter. He asked her why she was calling so early. She told him the special news that she was on her way to the hospital to give birth. Reb Shea was very excited and told her, ‘what a special Divine Providence this is. I am about to go to say a prayer at the Ohel of the Lubavitcher Rebbe and I will pray for your healthy birth.’

It was a beautiful story already. But it gets much more exquisite. Three days later I got a voice note from Reb Shea which took it to a new level.

‘I wanted to thank you for taking me a few days ago to the Ohel. As I associate with a different Chassidic group, I don’t come frequently to the Lubavitcher Rebbe’s Ohel. However, when the opportunity fell into my lap it seemed Divinely ordained for me to visit and I gladly took it. The fact that it coincided with my daughter’s giving birth was inspiring to me. As far as I was concerned that was the blessed end of the story. The birth was natural, all was good, and on the next day (Thursday) they were discussing my daughter going home for Shabbos.

Then the unexpected happened and an emergency alert was called on my daughter’s hospital floor as she started hemorrhaging. It was touch-and-go as to whether she would pull through.

I can now share the good news that Baruch Hashem she is fine.

On Shabbos we made a Kiddush and said lechayim thanking Hashem for the birth and the miraculous recovery.

As I told the story to the people in the Shul, someone pointed out the incredible correlation between the Divinely orchestrated visit to the Ohel of the Rebbe, and the subsequent medical emergency. It was inspiring and amazing to realize that from Heaven I had been directed to the resting place of the Tzadik to pray for my daughter at that hallowed place and enlist the merits of the great Tzadik.

A real miracle had transpired’.

I was so uplifted that I listened to Reb Shea’s emotional voice note to me several times.

My dear friends.

On the Yartzeit of a Tzadik, there are supernal energies that are available to those who study or follow in the footsteps of the Tzadik.

Take a moment to read about the Rebbe and his living legacy, learn something from the Rebbe’s teachingsadd a mitzvah in honor of the Rebbe’s ‘hilula’, be inspired by the love that the Rebbe showered every person with, be uplifted by the Rebbe’s positivity bias, and join the collective efforts to end this dark exile and bring Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS I am currently in New York to attend the Rebbe’s yahrtzeit in person and will be visiting the Ohel in prayer on this auspicious day. I will have you in mind in a collective way. If there is something particular that you would like me to pray for on your behalf, please use the form .

Taxi Tales

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Last week, two days after our daughter’s wedding in New York, the continuation of the seven days of celebrations ( Sheva Brachot ) moved over to the west coast of the USA.

I made a day trip from LA to the S.F. Bay area to visit with some people who used to work/visit Thailand but are currently battling health challenges. The Torah teaches us that Bikur Cholim visiting the ill is a mitzvah.

Our Sages tell us that ‘one mitzvah brings another mitzvah. I saw it unfold before my eyes. I was on the way to fulfil the mitzvah of visiting the sick and by Divine Providence, from the moment I boarded the plane in LAX I was led to other inspiring mitzvahs.

The young man in the seat next to me on the plane guessed that I was Jewish and told me that he too was Jewish. He had just come back from a training session for a Jewish summer program he was chaperoning. We had a wonderful discussion about Jewish learning and observance. In particular he was interested in exploring the synergy between Torah and advanced scientific studies. He was happy to respond positively to my offer to put on Tefillin right there on the plane. As he said ‘it’s the first time in my life wrapping Tefillin on a plane’.

I arrived in San Jose. The Uber driver who accepted my ride went to the wrong terminal in the airport and kept me waiting for longer than usual. During the ride, he had an interesting piece of information to share with me. ‘I could marry a Jewish girl and be accepted in the Jewish community’, he said. ‘How so’ I asked. Well, my mother’s parents were Jewish. Although I was raised Catholic.  

‘Would you be open to having a Jewish experience and doing a ‘ritual’ Mitzvah that Jewish boys do when they are thirteen years old’ I asked him. To which he responded that he would welcome the opportunity.

And so it happened that upon arriving at our destination, on a quiet suburban street, I put Tefillin on with my Uber driver who welcomed the opportunity to offer a prayer to Hashem adorned in the thirty-three-hundred-year-old traditional Jewish ornaments. (Picture below).

I would like to point out that our responsibility in terms of sharing Hashem’s message is not limited to interactions with other Jews. The Rebbe reintroduced the concept of actively engaging with all of the nations of the world in teaching them the seven Noahide laws – the Universal Moral Code.

Click here and here for more on this.

In that vein let me share a meaningful Uber experience that I had with a Pakistani driver named Asif.

As I got into the car, I said ‘thank you for coming to pick me up’ in a good-natured humorous tone.

Looking at my destination on his screen, my driver said, “I thank G-d for sending me this ride’. I looked at him quizzically and he continued ‘my daughter learns in college in Queens and asked me if I could pick her up when she finishes class today. I told her that I don’t think I can as I am in Brooklyn but let us see how the day develops. Now that you have asked me to take you from Brooklyn to Queens (I was going to the Rebbe’s Ohel in Cambria Heights, Queens), I will indeed be in the area of her school to pick her up’.

The driver, seeing my excitement at hearing him share a ‘Divine Providence’ story, continued to chatter. Our discussion continued to the topic of charity. Asif shared an inspiring story.

‘Once I wanted to give someone charity, and the person I had in mind just happened to be coming towards me. I had forty dollars in my pocket. I thought to myself, I will give the needy person half of my cash and keep half to myself. Upon reflection I thought, if I truly believe in G-d and that He will give back more than what I give, I should be prepared to hand over all my cash. In a split-second decision I gave the entire forty dollars to the needy person.

Then I started my late afternoon shift of driving my yellow cab (pre-Uber) in Manhattan. Late at night I was flagged down by a man and after I stopped to pick him up, I discovered that there was a drunk man behind him lying on the ground. It was his friend that he was trying to shlep home. I declined the ride explaining that if he threw up in my cab, my entire evening of work would be lost. He begged me and said that he had been refused by so many drivers already. I acceded and helped shlep the drunk into my car, placed a bag in his friend’s hand to catch any possible retching, and upon reaching our destination, helped shlep the drunk man up the steps.

The friend of the drunk, handed me a sixty-dollar tip on top of the fare.

You see, G-d sent me back more than I had given’.

The driver, recognizing that I am a religious Jew, asked me to share some wisdom with him. I told him that he should  continue to spread the message of the belief in one G-d. And that G-d is the Eye that sees and the Ear that hears so that mankind behaves morally not for fear of the police, but because G-d has instructed the laws of morality. Moreover, he should share with his riders the importance of helping others and giving charity, thus fulfilling the instruction of the Creator who created humanity in His image.

Wherever we go and whomever we meet, there is always a Divine purpose. Sometimes, all it takes is being present enough (not fully immersed in the gadgets we carry around that create constant distraction) to recognize the opportunity that is in front of your eyes.

There is another story I heard recently.

Not from an Uber driver but from a fellow elderly rabbinic passenger from Jerusalem with whom I was sharing an Uber ride.

‘About thirty-five years ago I was on a visit to NY with my wife and daughter’ related Reb C.Y. Cohen. ‘The Rebbe was distributing dollars to those who had come to see him’.

(The Rebbe would give dollars to the thousands of men women and children who came to greet him every Sunday. The Rebbe would hand each one a dollar which they in turn were to give to a person in need. Or as most would do, keep that dollar that was given personally by the Tzadik and give its exchange (with an addition) to tzedakah).

Reb CYC continued ‘my daughter asked the Rebbe for dollars for her sisters who were back in Israel. The Rebbe asked how many sisters do you have. She responded that she has two. The Rebbe asked ‘how many sisters do you have’? Again, she answered that she has two sisters. Yet another time the Rebbe asked and the same response. I looked at my wife not knowing why the Rebbe wasn’t just accepting our daughters’ answers. Till my wife exclaimed. Yes, we do have a third daughter. But she is already married and out of the house.

The Rebbe handed my daughter four dollars, one for her, and one for each of her sisters.

Reb CYC concluded his story and pointed out the incredulousness of it. Here we were, parents of our daughters, yet we had momentarily overlooked one of them. The Rebbe, who had never met our family and to my knowledge didn’t have any pre-information about how many children we had, obviously had holy powers that allowed him to sense that our daughter had more than two sisters.

I was most inspired by the story. It shows how the Rebbe was tuned in to the needs of the ‘sheep’ in the generation that he was ‘shepherding’.

The world shepherd is used to describe Moshe and all the future true leadership of the Jewish people. Thus, I use the word shepherd to describe the Rebbe, for that is the true function of Jewish leadership.

The Rebbe, positioned as he was in history just after the Holocaust, shepherded the broken generation to incredible growth and miraculous rebirth.

Perhaps even more remarkable, is the Rebbes leadership to our unique generation of wealth. We are a generation that has affluence and freedom that previous generations didn’t have. Under those privileged conditions, we are not being persecuted by pogroms and massacres as in the past, but we are challenged by assimilation and apathy.

The Rebbe addressed the needs of this generation. Through the myriads of programs, directives, personal mentoring and lengthy public addresses. Judaism, under the leadership of the Rebbe, was turned outward.

What does this mean to you and I personally?

It is the job of a leader to shepherd his flock. To be in in tune with every single soul. Even if the physical family may have overlooked their child/sibling, it is the holy function of the Tzadik to ensure that they are remembered and connected to Hashem and his Torah.

On Thursday of this week, June 22nd corresponding with the third (Gimmel) of Tammuz the Hilula/Yartzeit of the Rebbe.

The Rebbe’s inspiration, guidance and blessings continue to yield fruits and connect souls to G-d as we study his teachings, fulfil his directives and visit his resting place at the Ohel in New York.

The Rebbe believed in each and every one of us and empowered us to dare to reach for higher achievements than we naturally would aim for.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks ob”m famously said of his experience of meeting the Rebbe many times:

 You saw your reflection in the Rebbe’s eyes, and you were suddenly much bigger than you thought you were.” Click here for his full remarks .

My friend, take up the Rebbe’s inspiration and make if your own.

Consider taking a few moments to peruse this website dedicated to the Rebbe’s legacy and join in his mission of making this world a better place and bringing Mashiach.

No one can remain on the sidelines in this massive undertaking to finish the darkness of this exile. It takes the efforts of each and every one of us to finally bring this exile to an end and bring Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Chodesh Tov (Monday and Tuesday)

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Lost and found

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Words cannot describe the joy that Nechama and I felt at the wedding celebration of our daughter Miriam to her new husband Yosef.

One of the dear friends who attended, wrote to me ‘the simcha (joy) was beautiful, palpable — explosive!’

Come to think of it, there is no other lifecycle celebration that elicits as much joy as a wedding.

Why is that?

Let me first share with you something else extraordinary that happened to me this week.

Just after Yom Kippur earlier this year, my wife and I together with the kids that are still living at home, landed in NY to spend Sukkos in the Rebbe’s synagogue, in conjunction with the Hakhel year.

It was a wonderfully uplifting and inspiring trip.

Except that upon exiting the airport I realized that I had left my Tefillin in the very deep bins of the Cathay Pacific airplane that had transported us from Hong Kong to JFK.

The cleaning crew in NY said that they hadn’t seen it. I tried reaching Cathay Pacific in Hong Kong to no avail.

I bought new Tefillin and tried to get over the disappointment of losing the Tefillin that I had been blessed to receive from my grandfather of blessed memory and that I had prayed with for forty years.

On Tuesday of this week, I was invited to give a class on the topic of leadership to the girls teaching seminary in Crown Heights and I put my phone onto airplane mode. Upon opening my phone, I found a WhatsApp from my cousin who shares the same last name Kantor, and a picture of my Tefillin and Talit bag. ‘Do you recognize this’ he asked. ‘It was found in the lost and found of Israels Ben Gurion airport’ he continued.

Do I recognize it? Yes. It is unmistakably my lost Talit and Tefillin.

My cousin shared with me that someone had posted it on his ‘status’, a friend of my cousin had noticed the last name and asked my cousin if he recognized it. My cousin recognized my name and contacted me.

My heart is full of gratitude to Hashem for orchestrating this find. And I feel most thankful to the person who found it. This special person makes it his duty to visit the lost and found and take pictures of lost items in the hope of finding their rightful owners. What a blessed person this is, to exert so much effort in fulfilling the mitzvah of returning a lost object.

How did my Tefillin land up at Ben Gurion airport?

Perhaps the same airplane after arriving back in HK was used on the HK Tel Aviv flight by Cathay. Could it be that the Tefillin were overlooked when the plane was cleaned in HK (the flights during that time were woefully empty) and only in TLV did the cleaning or security staff find them?

A friend suggested that perhaps they found it in Hong Kong but they must have seen the Hebrew lettering and thought it belonged in Israel.

This would be a good preparation and omen for the beginning of the ‘kibutz galiyot’ ‘ingathering of exiles’. As this story shows how whatever belongs to a Jew goes to the holy land of Israel. When Mashiach comes the Prophets prophesized that every Jew will come back to the land of Israel.

I don’t know if I will ever know exactly how it landed up in Israels airport lost and found. One thing I do know.

I am very happy and elated at this totally unexpected find.

Much more excited than the dollar value that the Tefillin are worth.

Why am I so excited?

It dawned on me.

Finding something that is dear to you, almost a part of you, that has been lost is a source of real joy.

This, our Sages say, is the reason for the incredibly joyous celebrations at weddings. It is based on what the teaching of Kabala tell us about marriage.

Initially the soul is created comprised of two parts. A feminine part and a masculine part. Upon birth, every part of the soul becomes enclothed in its respective masculine or feminine body.

Marriage is about the reunification of those two parts of the soul that were initially one.

(There are various caveats and nuances to this concept, but the general idea is as stated).

The joy of the finding one’s ‘bashert’ (Divinely intended) partner in marriage is thus the joy of reunion.

Finding a wholesomeness that was lost has a special dynamic of energy to it.

Weddings are thus the most expressively joyous events in the Jewish lifecycle.

How do the two parts of the soul meet up?

This is G-d’s domain.

Hashem runs the world with detailed Divine Providence.

I have no idea of how He orchestrates it all, but if we but open our eyes we see that He is pulling the strings.

It sometimes takes longer to see the outcome than our naturally impatient selves are comfortable with, but that too may be for the very important reason of working on our faith.

It is a mitzvah to have faith in Hashem that He is in charge and that everything will work out for the best. For He truly wants our good, He is omnipotent and can do whatever He wants, and He knows everything that was, is and will be.

(It is a very good practice to exercise the muscle of faith by reading the treatise of R’ Bachya Shaar Habitachon – Gate of Trust. Click here for a website that has a wealth of knowledge and information about faith.

Here is a blurb from the webstite:

Your life is an entire book; a story waiting to be told. But in an increasingly uncertain world, you cannot always write your own plot. Instead of walking the path of your own choosing, you often find yourself swimming in a sea of suspense, bobbing up and down amidst its waves of worry. How you wonder, do you find solid footing?

A millennium ago, Rabbeinu Bachya ibn Pekudah addressed this question in Chovot Halevavot, Shaar Habitachon, a comprehensive work that patiently charts the Jewish path of bitachon. It is the rock-solid trust in G-d, developed when we learn to see past the screen of human control and hold onto the hand of G-d that lies behind it. Released from the dictates of the world, we discover the serenity of a profound relationship with G-d.

May Hashem bless all those who are looking for their ‘soulmate’ to find their respective spouses very soon and have the clarity of knowing that ‘this is the one’.

And for all of us who are searching for meaningfulness and for ever deeper levels of connection, may we all be blessed with the wholesomeness of being reunited with our inner self.

Ultimately the only way once can truly live a healthy life, is by following in the path of G-d’s instructions.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


Choosing our actions

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

The first leg of the trip to New York was aggravating.

We had annoyingly obnoxious people sitting next to us.

We were not seated together and asked the few people sitting between us to change seats with us and allow us to sit together. Although the alternative seats were better or at least not worse than their current seats, they didn’t agree to help us by moving their seats.

(To be fair I will say that maybe there is another side to the story that I don’t know about, but to me it looked like they were simply not interested in making the effort to stand up an sit down in a different seat).

It was unpleasant. In the many trips I have made over the last three decades I don’t recall encountering this kind of unfriendly behavior.

In the scheme of things, it’s no big deal. We got to New York safely thank G-d, we are about to celebrate our daughter Miriam’s wedding Baruch Hashem and a little bit of unpleasantness on a flight shouldn’t really rankle me.

But everything is by Divine Providence. And thus, I ask myself, what can I learn from this experience.

The simple lesson is, don’t act like that.

The people of Sodom acted like that. Hashem so detested this radically unkind behavior that they and their cities were overturned and destroyed.

The definition of Sodom-like behavior is when one doesn’t allow for someone else to benefit from them, even when there is no loss to the one giving the favor.

For example, if you have an internet connection that someone can use without causing any danger or delay to yourself or your family, denying someone else access to your internet connection is Sodom-like behavior.

Not wanting someone else to receive some benefit favor from you, even when there is no loss to you, is not proper behavior in a moral society.

Society is comprised of give and take. While one may not always be in a position to give to others, at least one should not protest when someone benefits from you without costing you. To prevent this kind of sharing is a Sodom-like negative behavior.

Hashem blessed me to hear a story upon arrival in NY that gave me a reminder of how giving and sharing a person can be.

My friend related:

I was walking down the street with my father. I was a young kid and wanted ice cream. I asked my father if I he could buy me an ice cream. My father is a very kind man and agreed that I could have an ice cream. We stopped in to the grocery store on the way home. The storekeeper didn’t agree to put the ice cream on the family bill as the bill was too high and not yet paid. My father tried to give the store the modest check that he had received from the Yeshiva that he worked for. The storekeeper, not being convinced that the Yeshiva check would clear the bank, told my father to first cash the check at the check cashing company.

We carried down the block in the direction of the check cashing shop and met a director of one of the local schools. He told my father that he was desperate and didn’t have money to pay some of the teachers and that some of the teachers wouldn’t have food on the table. My father took out the check and told him that he could cash it at the check cashing office and apply it as a donation to help the struggling teachers.

My friend concluded his story by telling me that this lesson stayed with him for the rest of his life. His father had always said ‘the only thing that really belongs to you, is what you give away’. I had now discovered that it wasn’t just a altruistic slogan. By his living example, the ethos and values of proper Jewish living came to life.

It was inspirational to hear about the selflessness of my friends father.

Someone recently told me a similar story about my own father, may he live a long and happy life.  

It was in the 1960’s and my father was studying at the central Lubavitch Yeshiva at 770 Eastern Parkway. A young man who was acquainted with me father, wanted to try out the Yeshiva that my father was attending. However, the young man hadn’t found a place to sleep during his visit to the Yeshiva. My father told him that there was an empty bed in his dormitory room that he could sleep in. He came. Only a few days later when he woke up in the middle of the night and saw my father sleeping on the floor, did he realize that my father had given up his bed for him.

This act of kindness so much affected him that he decided to switch over and enroll to be a fulltime student in the Lubavitch Yeshiva.

In his words ‘if this the kind of students that this Yeshiva produces, I want to be a student here’.

We have the ability to choose how we act towards others.

It is all too easy to fall into the apathy and laziness of not caring about others. This can even degenerate further to Sodom-style behavior.

If we choose, however, to put forth some effort, we can develop a second nature of giving and caring for others.

Just last week we received the Torah on the holiday of Shavuot.

The core of the Torah is about acting lovingly to others like you would like others to act lovingly to yourself.

This is the basis of myriads of mitzvahs and laws.

The premise of the Torah is that our human natures can be adapted and trained to be less selfish and more selfless.

Just because we ‘feel like doing something’ or ‘don’t feel like doing it’ doesn’t mean that this is what we should be doing.

Sometimes we want what is negative. And sometimes we refrain from expending effort to do what is positive.

Perhaps we can understand it from the analogy of exercise.

Overeating without doing physical activity leads to being overweight and to being out of shape.

Following our natural tendencies just because ‘I feel like it’ without assessing if this is something positive in the eyes of our Creator or not is not the Torah way.

The Torah teaches us that man’s job is to toil. One of the important parts of the effort G-d wants us to put forth is to correct our non-positive human tendencies should they exist.

If G-d forbid you find yourself being mean, cantankerous and saying no to helping someone else for no good reason, it is time to schedule a ‘check-up’ with your spiritual guide. You need to fine tune your ‘fitness training’ to be healthier and G-dlier.

I had another realization.

These obnoxious people irked me so much.

It was quite unusual. This made me realize that usually, I am surrounded by nice and kind people.

Perhaps one of the lessons from this encounter is to give thanks go Hashem for the wonderful people He has surrounded me with.

Thank you Hashem for the kind, nice, respectful and loving people I and blessed to engage with.

And thank you my dear friend for reading my emails and allowing our discussion to continue to develop. May we continue to make progress together, in getting closer to the Almighty as we journey through life

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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