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ב"ה

"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

first time at 89

Dear Friend,

Tisha B’av reminds us of the burning of the two Batei Mikdash (Holy Temples). It also serves as a day of mourning over the expulsions, pogroms and all the other suffering that our nation has endured over the nearly two thousand years in exile. In our generation it brings to mind the still fresh memory of the Holocaust.

Yet, from every calamity, from the very ashes of destruction, and even though the painful questions of ‘why’, are still unanswerable, the Jewish people emerge to rebuild, physically and spiritually.

The covenant between Hashem and His people is irrevocable. The bond is immutable. G-d cannot change His people for another, just as His people cannot, and do not want, to sever their bond with Him.

Sometimes it looks like the connection is all but gone, the fire is totally extinguished, only to find that the embers, fanned by the right winds, burst into flames.

We have all witnessed situations where these embers of Judaism buried deep into what seems a ‘disenfranchised from Judaism’ heart, have burst into flames of passionate Jewish expression.

Our very own Synagogue in Bangkok is full of participants who didn’t imagine that they would be so involved in their Jewish observance. Sometimes the journey went through very perilous territory and the connection to Judaism was tenuously hanging on by a thread. When activated though, it revived and came to full bloom. Counterintuitive from our perspective, but from G-d’s perspective perhaps it is quite natural. The neshama is after all a ‘portion of G-d’ which can never be compromised.

I was recently blessed to engage with a Holocaust survivor and lay Tefillin with him here in Bangkok for the first time in his life at age 89.

When the email came in it was definitely not standard:

My Uncle, Ernest Hilton, is a holocaust survivor who is 89 years old and lives in Bangkok with his Thai wife. He has been going through a very difficult time and has lost a lot of weight and is yearning for the yiddish foods he remembers from his childhood. I am trying to find out if there is a way to order things like Cholent, or other Jewish foods to be delivered to his home, so that he can have some familiar comforting foods, as he seems to have an aversion to Thai food. I thought that maybe someone in the Chabad community might be able to help me help him. Shabbat shalom from Israel (where I live).

I reached out and Ernest filled me in on some more details.

Dear Rabbi Kantor, my niece probably told you that I am a Holocaust survivor starting with Westerbork, Belsen and the lost train to Trobitz where we were liberated by the Russian Army.  I was close to famine but was taken to the local Russian field hospital and recovered.  The reason that I am in BKK is that I have been married (in London) to a Thai wife for the past 43 years.  Sadly, she is now battling an illness….

I have been very ill for weeks (at age 89) and have lost a lot of body weight. My Dr recommended "rehabilitation" via proper eating so that I can return to physical activity at the Condo where we reside. 

For sentimental reasons I happen to suggest to Judy that I would like to eat cholent and latkes and anything else that provides a lot of calories. 

…I am also hard of hearing so phoning each other is not practical. Better that you please use my email address … you bring things to my flat at our Condo. My address is:…

Thank you, Rabbi Kantor, to attempt to help me and if you wish to visit me within the next few days with some food items, we would be happy to get to know each other.

Thank you for dealing with my eating tzores!   

Very kind regards,

Ernest

Nechama made latkes and chicken soup, and I made my way to Erenest’s condo to deliver latkes and meet him. Our discussion was lively, albeit hampered by Ernest’s hearing problems.

To my offer of putting on Tefillin, Ernest responded positively and shared that he had never donned Tefillin before in his life.

After sending him a picture of our encounter (included below) I received the following response headed ‘Late but not very much too late’.

 

---------- Forwarded message ---------
From: Ernest Hilton

Date: Tue, Jun 14, 2022, 9:29 AM
Subject: LATE BUT NOT VERY MUCH TOO LATE
To: <[email protected]>

Dear Rabbi Kantor, It has taken me almost 90 years to have such a very nice and loving discussion with a Rabbi.  Then again, I had very few opportunities.

Thank you very much for not only visiting but taking such an interest in my life!  If and when my book needs a title I have chosen "FROM HERZ TO HILTON".  You may be upset that I also have a fallback title or additional title: "TO BE OR NOT TO BE A JEW"?  

Under the circumstances, we might have another discussion and the issue of "to be or not to be" could be discussed?

I ate 3 of the potato cakes it is more than I have eaten for a while back!

The soup is waiting to be drunk for lunch today.

Thank you for your generosity as well as your interest in my being and the picture you took of the two of us is a great souvenir for me.   

Very kind regards

Ernest

Later on Ernest gave me a copy of his short colorful autobiography.

In the Author’s Note to the book, Ernest writes as follows:

I was born Ernst Adolf Herz in 1932 with the world already in midst of the Depression and beginning the age of Hitler and the Nazi Party. In 1933 Hitler decreed that all German Jews were to be denationalized. That meant we had no identity in Germany or anywhere else… the Dutch in 1933 were accommodating and that is how we got to live in Aerdenhout…

… I am a survivor of Westerbork transit camp, a temporary collection point for Jewish in the Netherlands before we were sent to concentration camps. I am also a survivor of Berge Belsen. I was sent to these places because I am a Jew. I was only a child and had committed no crimes except to be born a Jew. ..

To tell you the truth I turned atheist after the war because I figured that G-d didn’t do anything of the six million jews who were removed from the earth….

But my atheism is separate from my Jewishness. In the camps I kept asking myself why my family and I were caught in this misery. I always got the same answer, and that was ‘you are a Jew’.

Later I changed my name from Herz to Hilton… but it was never to escape my Jewishness. Irrespective of my new name I was a Jew from a family with a very long Jewish history…

As I write this at eighty-eight, I am in good physical and mental condition…the gnawing issue I struggle with is why Jews were being picked on and thus ended in camps or far worse destinations for those multitudes who were killed in gas chambers Nazis built to eradicate Jewishness in Europe. After much tinkering with my Jewish question, my issue can be expressed in a n nutshell, as : ‘To be or not to be a Jew?’

Today I still am not ready to answer that question’.

On June 13, 2022, I had the blessing to facilitate Ernest’s inaugural Tefillin laying.

In my mind this was his answer to that question that he had left open in his autobiography.

He chose to ‘be a Jew’. Not just by name, but by performing a uniquely Jewish ritual act.

Ernest knew what Tefillin were when I asked him if he wanted to lay them.

He shared with me that the fact that he was knowledgeable about what Tefillin are, is because he had seen Jewish men wrapping Tefillin in airports and airplanes.

The fact that Ernest wanted to put them on, and did so several times afterwards, including when I visited him on his 90th birthday, is a statement of faith.

It is akin to a declaration ‘I am a Jew’.

Notwithstanding the unanswerable questions of faith that he had to live with ever since the Holocaust.

Ernest told my wife several times that he would now not have used the same title for his book. To be a Jew was no longer a question.

The last time I saw Ernest was during Pesach this year. He was in hospital.

Sadly, he passed away a few weeks later on the first day of Shavuot. One week shy of the first-year anniversary of our meeting.

I tell this story to share the final statement that Ernest has made, one that indicates that a Jew is a Jew is a Jew. And that regardless of all travails, the core identity of the Jewish soul emerges unscathed and wholesome.

May Ernest’s memory fuel our renewed commitment to G-d and Jewish observance. Thus, any mitzvahs that are done inspired by Ernest’s story, will be ‘credited’ to him in the Garden of Eden.

And now a word about ‘culinary Judaism’ and the power of Jewish traditions.

Did you ever realize what kind of potential is contained in ‘latkes’ and other traditional Jewish foods that are served in our homes in connection to the Chagim/Holidays.

Especially when we make the effort and take the time to make them ourselves in our own homes.

I won’t share all of the many emails that Ernest wrote me on the topic of latkes, but interestingly, when we didn’t have time to make them personally in our home and had our restaurant kitchen prepare them, he picked up on it.

It’s not that they weren’t tasty, I enjoyed some myself. But Ernest noticed a missing ingredient. The love that is inherent in home cooking.

Perhaps when we refer to chicken soup as ‘Jewish penicillin’, it’s not just the chicken soup that was therapeutic, it is the love and care of the elderly ‘Bubby’ that made the soup….

Ernest picked up on it and was not shy to share his observations:

Dear rabbi the latkes from the current production line aint anywhere near from the home producing line.  Yes, indeed the current ones were a big distraction from what i had learned to eat prior to that. Obviously, the homemade latkes have grown better and better for the home and not for the masses.   May I agree with you rabbi that what comes from what comes out of your home ovens is bound to be enjoyably good while the other lot are only quantity and therefore not enjoyable quality!!

There is also something else I would like to point out.

The connection in this story between Latkes and Tefillin?

What connection is there between them?

The love that fuels the providing of them.

When someone reaches out for help with nutrition that can only be filled by latkes, it is the love of one’s fellow that motivates and drives the fulfillment of this request.

It is a Mitzvah of the highest degree to express your love for someone else by filling the needs that they have. Tzedaka is the most important mitzvah of all. In this case it was not money that was needed but a traditional food that is not easy to come by in Bangkok.

The Rebbe taught us that we ought to apply that same love to the spiritual spheres as well. If you love your fellow Jew, you will share Mitzvah doing opportunities with your fellow Jews.

If it’s Chanuka you will share donuts, latkes and candles. If it’s Pesach you will offer hospitality at a Seder and Shmura Matzah. If its Rosh Hashana you will offer an apple and honey and Shofar blowing.

Try to remember this the next time you are offered by someone to take Shabbat candles for kindling before Shabbat, the opportunity to put on Tefillin, attend a Seder or affix a Mezuzah to your door. Look at the core motivation and recognize that this comes from a deep loving place in the heart of the one who is offering it.

The Rebbe launched the pragmatic ‘mitzvah campaign’ based on the core principle of love - Ahavat Yisrael.

For in the spiritual spheres, giving a Mitzvah to a ‘hungry soul’ is like offering hot soup to a shivering person on a wintry day.

Wouldn’t you knock on the door to alert a stranger if you saw a fire in their house and they were sleeping?

If you knew of an irresistible opportunity that was expiring, would you not share it with your acquaintance?

This is the motivation behind the offering to help a fellow with performing a mitzvah.

On a personal note, I find it important to meditate every so often on the loving ‘why’, on the compelling compassionate rationale behind my offering others Mitzvah opportunities. It helps to be in the right loving mind frame when you do outreach.

When one projects love and caring to another, the love will be reflected in the heart of the recipient.

King Solomon (Proverbs 27:19) says it “As water mirrors the face to the face, so does the heart of man to man.”

Let us bring more love and peace into the world by projecting love and heartfulness emanating from our inner core to those around us.

Give warm soup, mitzvahs, monetary help, attention, whatever is needed. Give it with love. And may Hashem treat all of us with His unlimited Love.

May G-d bless the soul of our dear Ernest and comfort his loved ones.

How fitting a blessing for this Shabbat which is called ‘Shabbat Nachamu’ the Shabbat of Comforting.

May Hashem console and comfort us by bringing Mashiach and rebuilding the Third Beit Hamikdash.

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

d...g of curiosity

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Have you ever heard the saying ‘I’m dying of curiosity’?

Joke:

A man asks the doctor: -"Have you got the results of my tests? I'm dying of curiosity!"

And the doctor replies: -"It's not just curiosity..."

This usage of the term dying in this context has even crept into Hebrew.

As in ‘ אני מת לראות אותך ’ ‘I’m dying to see you’.

The word death or dying is used in these instances seemingly for no good reason.

It doesn’t have to stay that way.

Why should a perfectly healthy person speak about ‘dying’ for something so mundane as let’s say ‘chocolate cake’.

Let’s consciously become more positive in our speech. It starts by simple changes and slowly we transform our mouths to say words that are more positive and ‘alive’.

For example, substitute ‘I’m dying to see you’ for ‘I dearly want to see you’. אני מתגעגע לראות אותך

Or ‘I’m dying of curiosity’ can become ‘I’m consumed by curiosity.’

(Or come up with your own special flavor on how to substitute the ‘dying’ for something more positive. I’d love to hear your creative suggestions).

The reason I thought about this is because in our Parsha, ironically, there seems to be a source for the saying ‘I’m dying to tell you’?

The parsha of Devarim begins with Moshe rebuking the Jewish People.

Moshe rebuked the people only thirty-seven days before his passing.

To quote Rashi

And it came to pass in the fortieth year, in the eleventh month, on the first of the month [… Moses spoke]: 

This teaches us that he rebuked them only a short while before his death. From whom did he learn [to do] this?

From Jacob, who rebuked his sons only a short while before his death. He said, “Reuben, my son, I will tell you why I have not reproved you [for your shortcomings] during all these years: So that you would not leave me and join my brother, Esau.”

And for four reasons, one should not reprimand a person except shortly before one’s death: So that one should not rebuke and again have to rebuke him, so as not to cause his friend to feel ashamed when he sees him; …

The directive seems to be very clear. If you really feel like telling someone off wait till you’re almost dying.

Jokingly I would say that in that context maybe one could say ‘I’m dying to rebuke you’.

Seriously though, the commentaries ask, how does this above statement reconcile with the commandment in the Torah to correct and rebuke our peers if we see them behaving inappropriately.

It doesn’t seem like the Torah is instructing us to compile folders of accumulated complaints to be shared just before we die.

The explanation given is as follows.

To use contemporary language, the Torah is teaching us to avoid the ‘history trap’.

In relationships, one of the most flammable areas is when we start bringing up history.

Say someone was disrespectful to their loved one. What should happen is that the hurt party informs the hurtful one that they feel hurt and its not ok. Something needs to be fixed. Many snubs and unpleasant comments can be rectified by a genuine and heartfelt apology.

What too often happens is that the snubbed person lashes out at the hurtful person and brings up history. They may say ‘you always do this to me. Last year. Ten years ago….’ And there goes the incident from being an easily rectifiable situation to one that spirals out of control.

The Torah is not telling us to always look the other way. On the contrary, when one sees something that can be fixed in someone else’s behavior there is a mitzvah to say something. The Torah tells us to try and guide our friend to appropriate behavior.

But it should be localized to the incident that has just taken place.

Once that mistake has been rectified, one should not refer back to this issue or bring up previous shortcomings just for the sake of reminiscing.

The only time for that kind of general review is when one feels that their days are numbered and this may be the last chance to share ones reflections.

In our Parsha, Moshe is reviewing the journeys of the Jews in the desert and reminding them of the various mistakes, blunders and sins that they engaged in during the period of forty years.

This is helpful to the Jewish people as they are about to embark into their permanent home in Israel. This is the time when they are given pointers to take to heart.

This is also the last opportunity for Moshe to communicate these lessons.

For future reference Moshe sums up the incidences where they went wrong, so that they don’t fall into that trap again.

That kind of summing up ‘historical rebuke’ is not to be employed during the usual cycle of life.

It too often causes resentment and divisiveness.

Parents should take this to heart and be more mindful in the way they share their guidance. Keep it limited to advice and pointers for the actual situation you are addressing. Don’t bring up old histories that hijack the process and send kids out to get advice from the people on the ‘streets’.

These days we ought to remind kids about this same thing.

Kids, if you think it’s important to point out something (in a respectful way) to your parents that they may have overlooked, don’t resort to digging up old history. It’s not respectful and it’s not effective.

Let us use our words in a way that they add love, friendship and self-esteem to those we are addressing.

During these days of national mourning in anticipation of Tisha B’av, let us focus on rectifying the internal hatred which is the cause of our banishment from the Bet Hamikdas. Let us replace that with unconditional love between all of us.

The Ethics of our Fathers quotes Hillel the Elder as saying ‘be of the students of Aharon. He loved peace, pursued peace, loved everyone and brought them closer to the Torah’.

Why, asks the Rebbe, does Hillel need to give the example of Aharon. Would the instruction regarding peace not be self-understood even without pointing to Aharon?

The point is, when it comes to love, we sometimes limit our tolerance to those who are similar to us. Our love is not boundless to include even those who may be in some respects on the other side of the discussion.

Aharon taught by example that love of one’s fellow needs to extend even to the most underserving of places.

On Chabad.org I chanced upon an article by Levi Avtzon about Aharon’s modus operandi. (based on Avot d’Rabbi Natan).

I never met you, Aaron, but I miss you…

You, who never said to a man or woman, "You have sinned!" Instead, when you would walk along and meet an iniquitous person, you would warmly greet him, "Shalom!" The next day, when this person desired to commit a transgression, he would say to himself: "Woe is to me! How will I show my face afterwards to the holy Aaron, who greets me all the time?" As a result, this person would refrain from transgression—…

You, who when two people quarreled, would go and sit with one of them and say to him: "My son, have you seen what your friend is doing? He beats his breast and rends his clothes, saying: 'Woe is to me! How can I lift my eyes to see my friend? I am ashamed to show myself to him, for I have done him offense!'" And so you would sit with him, until he removed the jealousy from his heart. Then you would go and sit with the other and say to him: "My son, have you seen what your friend is doing? He beats his breast and rends his clothes, saying: 'Woe is to me! How can I lift my eyes to see my friend? I am ashamed to show myself to him, for I have done him offense!'" And so you would sit with him, until he removed the jealousy from his heart. When the two would meet, they would embrace and kiss each other—…

It's more than three millennia since your death, not much has changed. … we still fight over the same petty things such as respect, money and convenience…

I would love to welcome you back.

These days are the perfect time to focus on repairing our relationships with each other.

We may not become perfect, but we can certainly put forth effort and advance in our unity and brotherhood.

This will invite G-d’s blessings upon us and lead to the end of all suffering, the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Bet Hamkidash, at which time Tisha B’av will be transformed into the greatest and most festive Holiday of all times.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

journeys

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I was teaching my Torah class last night about a question that the Rebbe asked regarding the name of the Parsha.

Why is the name of the second Parsha (this week is a double parsha) called ‘Masei’ which means journeys?

(Click here for a recorded version of the class on the Project Likkutei Sichos platform).

Well, the Parsha is named that because of the opening verse of the Parsha.

These are the journeys of the children of Israel who left the land of Egypt in their legions, under the charge of Moses and Aaron.

That doesn’t answer the question, it simply shifts the question to the actual verse in the Torah that introduces the narrative of the Parsha.

The question is, since the Torah is about to describe the forty-two stops that the children of Israel made during their forty-year sojourn in the desert, why are we calling this a story about ‘journeys’. Shouldn’t the verse read ‘these are the encampments of the children of Israel’?

The places that they stopped are really what the story is all about.

Let me try to clarify the question.

Imagine the following news headline.

The Jews wander for forty years through 42 locations in the desert.

It sounds dramatic as a headline.

Forty-two journeys. In forty-two years.

Exhausting and unsettling.

If you have ever moved homes, you know that it is quite taxing and exhausting.

Changing homes once a year on average – forty-two journeys in forty years – sounds really burdensome and suffering.

One can imagine someone conversing with someone from that generation and commiserating with hem ‘what a wretched existence you must have had in the desert, always on the go, without ever getting a respectable amount of time in one place’.

However, if we analyze the timeline of the time spent in the desert, we see a different and more compassionate story.

Let us look at the timeline of the journey.

Year one of the Jewish journey was Exodus from Egypt. Admittedly, it started out a bit hectic. They stopped at total of eleven times during the first month and a half after Exodus at which time they arrived at Sinai. But there was no suffering in those initial travels. After hundreds of years in slavery, traveling as liberated people was joyous and victorious.

They stayed at Mount Sinai for an extended period. To be precise, they were there for one year minus ten days.

They then took three more journeys before reaching Kadesh aka Ritmah.

At Kadesh/Ritmah they sent the spies. Things then went awry and instead of heading straight to the promised land, they got a thirty-eight-year delay in the desert.

How were those thirty-eight years spent?

Let’s fast forward to the last year in the desert (the 40th year, which was not even a full year). During that final year, once they knew that they were finally about to enter the Promised Land of Israel, they journeyed through an additional eight locations. This brought them to the banks of the Jordan River in anticipation of their entry into the land of Israel. Those final eight journeys were ostensibly ‘upbeat one’ as they were on the home stretch to go into the ‘Land flowing with milk and honey’.

So, it’s the middle thirty-eight years that we have to account for.

Twenty journeys in thirty-eight years.

 Of those thirty-eight years, the first nineteen years of that epoch, they remained located at Kadesh/Ritmah.

Yes, you heard right. Nineteen years in one location. Plenty of time to settle in.

For the following nineteen years they traversed the desert and stopped twenty additional times. An average of one year per location.

If you add all the above journeys together, you get a total of forty-two journeys. (11 plus 3 plus 20 plus 8 = 42 journeys).

 

That was a bit unsettling. And indeed, this is why we look at their years in the desert as being unsettling.

But not overwhelmingly traumatic.

After the above analysis it does not appear as turbulent as it sounded in the headline.

For when we look at the details, we see that the majority of the forty years was quite settled and tranquil.

(In the Kehot Chumash with interpolated translation it is summed up as follows: From this chronicle, it is clear that God did not exhaust the people by making them wander continuously during the 38 years between the sin of the spies and the entry into the land. Of the 42 stations, 14 occurred between the Exodus (Nisan 15, 2448) and the decree (9 Av, 2449), and 8 between Kadesh (Nisan 1, 2487) and the plains of Moab (after Tishrei, 2488). The people spent 19 years at Ritmah (from 2449 to 2468), so, in the remaining 19 years (between 2469 and 2487), they camped at only 20 stations. They thus spent an average of a year at each of these stations).

Which accentuates the question:

If most of the time they were camped, why does the Torah describe this forty-year period as the ‘journeying’ of the Jewish people?

Why is it not called the ‘encampments?’

After all, as we have just seen, they spent the vast majority of their time camping not journeying.

Before I share the answer, let us look at our contemporary lives and how we classify the various activities we engage in.

If we were to evaluate our lives trying to classify our lives by the two descriptive terms of ‘journeying’ or ‘encamping’ a fascinating story emerges.

There is a relative of mine, a Shliach who runs a very busy and successful Chabad House in the tri-state area of NY. I have heard him make the following declaration several times regarding his work ethic. ‘Whenever I am in the office, I feel that I am wasting time, as I could and should be out visiting people or in the Chabad House teaching Torah classes’.

In his rabbinic mission, the ‘moving’ part of his life is really where he sees his effectiveness. Not when he is ‘camped out’ in his executive offices making sure that the nuts and bolts of the operation are working. He has successfully delegated the smooth running of his organization to a general manager. Now, he can be up and about in doing Jewish outreach.

The reverse would be true when it comes to someone who works in an office.

Say a doctor for example, the more he is out of the clinic or hospital, the less effective he is. For the doctor, when he is in his clinic or at the operating table, this is where he is ‘journeying’ and ‘advancing’. His ‘camping’ and ‘time out’ is when he is on the couch in his private living room.

Today we have a new concept. Digital Nomads. A ‘digital nomad’ is not limited to a geographical location rather to a ‘virtual’ location. For them it would be true to say that the longer he or she spends at the ‘screen’ the more output they produce. Their ‘journey’ and the place that ‘things happen’ for them in their professional lives, is at the screen when they are not physically moving at all (other than typing).

So, journeying is really a code word for achieving, growing, exerting and most importantly, not vegetating.

Does this relate to quantity of time spent at ‘work’, ‘journeying’?

No. We should not take quantity as an indicator of how we identify.

First, a line taken from the talking points of a bed salesman.

Salesman to client:

‘Did you know that you spend about a third of your life in bed? (Either sleeping or trying to fall asleep or trying to get up).

‘Wouldn’t it make sense that you should invest thought and money into getting yourself a comfortable bed’?

And then driving it home with a sales pitch ‘Do I have the perfect bed for you….’.

In terms of quantity, he has a point.

You may spend twice as much time sleeping as you will working, in the duration of your lifespan. But just because you spend so much accumulated time in bed, would you identify yourself as a ‘sleeper’ when asked to describe ‘who you are’ and ‘what you do’?

Hardly likely.

It may be that after deducting time for eating, sleeping and other ‘human management’ chores, you are left with a but a small fraction of your schedule for doing what is meaningful to you.

Clearly, life is not at all to be judged solely by where you spend most of your time.

Our lives are defined by our aspirations, goals, missions, and world outlooks.

Where do you really live?

I mean where are you alive?

Where do you grow as a human?

What do you know, deep down in your heart, makes G-d happy?

Do you think your mission in life is to sleep?

Is the finest moment of our existence when we are on autopilot-cruise control?

Or perhaps, we feel best, and we are at our best when we are exerting ourselves and expending energy in (both material and spiritual) movement.

Is life about getting over the disturbance and inconvenience and ‘journeying’ of growth and returning to an ‘encamped’ stationary existence?

Or is life about regrouping and gaining strength while stationary and ‘encamped’ in order to ‘journey’ once more on the path of growth with all of the exertion and sometimes unsettling efforts that it requires?

The Torah tells us here unequivocally, that it is the ‘journeying’ that defines the Jewish travels in the desert.

And in our contemporary lives too, it is ‘journeys’ that G-d tasks us with. These comprise our ‘marching orders’ and are the overarching goals of our lives.

Each of our lives is comprised of forty-two symbolic journeys. The Exodus from Egypt being birth, the entry into the promised land being the land of Gan Eden after one’s passing.

The collective Jewish journey, is an allegoric forty-two step journey, starting from the banishment from Israel with the destruction of the Temple till the final destination being Mashiach.

If you have no goals and feel that things are good the way they are without any aspirations for making things even better, this is a sign of stagnation.

The JOURNEYING from one stage to the next, this is what Hashem wants of us.

This can add some context into the purpose of twists and turns in our roadmap through life. The potholes are not meant to sink us, they are intended to get us to rev up our engines and put forth greater efforts.

But it doesn’t have to be that way. Don’t think that ‘journeying’ and growth requires suffering or tribulations. It doesn’t have to be disconcerting and turbulent. We have seen that in the case of the Jews travels in the desert, there were long periods of time when they were settled in one location.

It can even be as comfortable as having ‘bread from heaven’ and ‘clouds of glory’ that shield and buffer you from external inconveniences.

But the frame of mind must be one of ‘journeys’. Of seeking the next step upwards so that we constantly get closer to G-d and better at uncovering our true Divine potential.

In the best-case scenario, these journeys should be self-motivated.

When someone sins, the way to rectify is by doubling up one’s efforts. To use the language of the Talmud ‘if till now he learned one page of Torah, when making efforts to restore his relationship with G-d, he should learn two pages of Torah’.

This is actually the real reason that G-d allows to fall. For when we put the effort to pick ourselves up, we arrive at a higher place than we were before we fell.

But we don’t need to fall to grow. If we set our own internal goals that keep reaching deeper and higher, if once we are comfortably learning one page of Torah, we set a goal to learn two pages, we don’t need the outside challenges to motivate us to jump higher.

We can choose to set our own constantly evolving goals of growth. So that we don’t we need a fall to spark our jump, we set our own internal ‘jumping’ goals.

Journeying does not mean leaving your geographical location. It means growing in your relationship with G-d, and in building deeper, and more mature and beneficial relationships with others.

Ultimately, Hashem’s goal for the Jewish people is to have our journeys lead us to the final destination, the coming of Mashiach and the rebuilding of the Bet Hamikdash. This will cancel out the negativity of Tisha B’av and allow us to have a Tisha B’av that is transformed into a day of joy and festivities.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Wedding Musings

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I am feeling so blessed Baruch Hashem.

The great honor and pleasure of officiating at a Jewish marriage in Bangkok is uplifting and exquisite.

Especially uplifting is the fact that this wedding defied all odds.

The Kalla/bride comes from family of concentration camp Holocaust survivors.

The chances of a Jew emerging from Auschwitz were almost nil.

That survivors were able to marry and rebuild their families is heroic.

To remain committed to Judaism even after going through the hell of the camps is something that defies rationale.

The Chatan/groom is from a several-generations-in-America Jewish family.

Maintaining one’s Jewish identity within the ‘melting pot’ of the United States is no simple feat.

That a Jewish boy from the Washington area comes to work in Bangkok and meets a Jewish girl who was raised in Bangkok, at the Synagogue in Bangkok, is a story that one could make a movie out of.

I can go on with more and more details of how this marriage was a near impossibility. The greater the improbability, the more one sees how Divinely orchestrated this match was.

And it also shows how sometimes it takes many years to see the threads of a story unfolding and becoming woven into a beautiful tapestry.

The bride’s father, David Engel came to Shul in Thailand a few weeks after his father passed away on the 29th of April 1993. My wife and I took up our post in Bangkok less than a week later, on May 5th 1993. When David got back from the burial and shiva he came to the shul in Bangkok to say Kadish for his father. It was then that we met for the first time. We have been connected ever since. Who would have imagined that thirty years later I would have the honor and pleasure of officiating at his daughters Chupa.

On the topic of how some things take time.

I met a visitor to our shul this week whom I vaguely remember from my NY Yeshiva days. He was studying from a volume of the Talmud. I asked about his Torah study schedule, and he shared the following story which I found so inspiring that I feel compelled to share it.

‘My young married son asked me ‘Dad, what did you get me for my birthday’. I couldn’t believe what I heard. looked back at my son who was turning twenty-eight and asked him ‘what have you ever gotten me for my birthday?’

As I said those words, I thought to myself, ‘what have I given my own father for his birthday over the years’? I decided to start a daily study session in Talmud with an aim to complete the first tractate in conjunction with my father’s birthday.

When I completed the tractate of Brachot in the Synagogue on the day of my father’s birthday, my elderly father had tears of emotion and joy in his eyes.

‘You need to understand’, my friend explained to me, ‘I was a challenging student. My parents had to find a new Yeshiva for me every year as I didn’t last more then a year in any school. I was not a learner at all. For my father to see that I had now studied an entire tractate of Talmud in his honor was something that he would never even have dreamed of thirty – forty years ago’.

I was overjoyed that I had granted my father this ‘nachas’ and along the way I discovered that I loved learning the Talmud so now I am continuing and learning the second tractate of Shabbat’.

In the incredible way that Hashem runs his world. I am so blessed to see His guiding hand and benefit from the messages and guidance that these encounters teach.

Today I was blessed to hear an incredible story from our very own daughter Chana who with her husband Mendel are directing a camp for Jewish boys in North Carolina. Ckidsganisrael.com. It’s too good a story to hold back and not share.

In Chana’s words:

It was a long day… but I really wanted to get some powder to treat our baby’s rash. I started driving and I’m thinking to myself: “this doesn’t make sense! Drive for 25 min at supper time with two kids under three! And just thinking about shopping makes me dizzy… back to Walmart for the second time this week:)

I was close to another grocery store but decided to continue to Walmart since I knew they for sure had the powder I was looking for.

The comedy show begins at the Duncan Hines cake-mix aisle. Tzvi Abba has an exciting decision to make! What cake should we make for his upcoming third birthday… He chose strawberry cake, vanilla cake and brownie bars. While we’re debating his choices in Hebrew someone asks me” are you Israeli?” And I respond ‘no, but I’m Jewish’

I asked her: “are you Israeli?” (Just out of politeness since it was pretty obvious that she was). Turns out, she is a counsellor, the only Jew, in a girls camp 30 min away from Walmart. She had come with two fellow staff members to stock up!!!!

My newfound friend shared how incredible our ‘chance encounter’ is.

She is a counsellor in a camp where every few weeks there are 200 new girls. She felt like she is the only Jew in the whole area. When she didn’t go to church on Sunday, everyone asked her why. She said that she is Jewish, and they had no clue what Jewish is.

When she heard that I grew up in Thailand and that my parents run Chabad of Thailand, she said that her friends just enjoyed the Chabad Houses in Thailand during their trek through the Far East.

What a Hashgacha Pratis (Divine Providence)!!!

The whole day I’m thinking about the Walmart trip. It didn’t work out in the morning, we got delayed and I almost didn’t come and then when I finally got to Walmart I realized that it’s all from Above designed by the Almighty so that we should meet this Jewish girl who feels so alone!!!

I tell her that I wish I had Shabbat candles and she says she would love to get!!! I say “I have in my car” hoping that I still do;) She comes and helps me at the store checkout, we walk to the car together and BH!!! We found a pack of Shabbat candles in my car.

The chances of us meeting would seem impossible for a human being to plan but not For Hashem our creator….

Thank you Hashem,

And thank you Rebbe for teaching us that wherever we go, we have to be a guiding light and share mitzvahs and inspiration. Because of your guidance I had Shabbat candles with me, waiting for a beautiful Jewish girl who was waiting to meet me in North Carolina of all places.

On a side note, I forgot to get the powder;) Also Hashgacha pratis

May Moshiach come speedily.

Chana

My response to the last line about forgetting to buy the powder is ‘may Hashem the Healer of all flesh heal the rash supernaturally’. After all, doesn’t it make sense to say that the true and deeper reason that the powder was needed was to coordinate the visit between two Jewish young ladies in most unlikely of locations for a Jewish rendezvous, Hendersonville, North Carolina? Following that reasoning, once the meeting had taken place, there should be no more need for the powder. May G-d heal it naturally, Amen.

Here is what for me is the cherry on the top of the cake.

The daily Rambam study on the day of Adam (Rafael Shraga) and Gena’s (Leah) wedding was… the laws of marriage. Think about this. In the spring of 1984 the Rebbe instituted a daily study of the Rambam. The annual cycle takes slightly less than a year. This means that every year, different laws are studied on different dates.

If you click on the study for last Monday the day of the wedding, this is one of the laws you read.

The marriage blessings must be recited in the groom's home before the marriage takes place. There are six blessings; they are … If wine is available, a cup of wine should be brought, and the blessing over wine recited first. Afterwards, all the above blessings should be recited over the cup of wine; thus, one recites seven blessings.

To think that a study cycle that started in 1984 matches up so perfectly with a marriage that takes place in 2023 just makes me feel so safely ensconced in G-d’s loving embrace and bodes so well for this wonderful young couple who have just wedded, that the Divine blessings will rain down upon them with abundance please G-d.

May G-d bless all of us with the gift of having happy occasions to celebrate and the time and energy and presence of mind to enjoy, cherish and rejoice in them.

Until we merit the everlasting joyous epoch of Mashiach’s arrival, AMEN.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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