"Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok"

A call to action

The tumultuousness of our times….

There is so much going on in the world.

As Jews, the specter of antisemitism has not been as virulent and open as the days leading up to the Holocaust.

Jewish students in the free world feel threatened by their Jewishness in the most exclusive universities in the world. This is a throwback to dark times.

The indictments from the ICC in Hague are disgraceful. It is ludicrous, beyond any rational explanation. To indict Israeli leadership for leading a war that was thrust upon them and equate them with the evil barbaric terrorist leaders who killed, raped, and abducted, is grossly immoral. Antisemitism dressed up in the genteel cloak of sophisticated libertarianism.

You can only shake your head incredulously and be in total disbelief when you listen to the words that are now spoken against Jews without shame.

Did I get you depressed?

I hope not.

That would be totally distracting and counterproductive.

(I would love to hear what you have to say about the following perspective.

Is it possible that we are we panicking in a way that is disproportionate to the level of danger?

Of course, every hate incident against Jews and Judaism, in Israel and in the diaspora is reprehensible. And we must nip it at its bud before it spreads forth its tenacles.

But let us also recognize the enormous blessings that we have in our times.

In Israel we have the blessed and holy IDF who protect the Jewish People in the land of Israel with supreme self-sacrifice.

Around the world, the responsible governments are reacting to the threats against Jewish interests with vigilance and concern.

This is not Europe of the late 30’s and early 40’s G-d forbid.

Is it possible that while we should not tolerate for an instant being marginalized, at the same time we should not fall into a crippling sense of despair either.

Let me know your thoughts on this ).

To me it seems clear what we need to do. The wave of antisemitism is a call to action. That we should start to take our Jewish identity far more seriously.

The hate that is emerging against us should be the biggest indicator that we are unique.

We have been given the Torah, the Mitzvahs and we ought to engage in joyful and energetic Jewish life.

My colleagues all around the world tell me that their Synagogues are fuller than ever before. Jewish identity is a priority for people raising children. Jews are coming out of the woodwork to connect.

In order to reach that ‘call to action’ that we should be sharing as much about authentic Judaism as we can.

Jewish people today are thirsty for Judaism. For authentic Torah and Mitzvahs. The eternal traditions of our people are the only true expression of our uniquely Jewish soul.

A Jew can only achieve true happiness when following the manual that has been set forth for Jewish souls.

Torah & Mitzvahs.

Let us be Jewish with pride and joy!

May Hashem turn to us with mercy and save us from those who seek to harm us.

May our soldiers and hostages come back safely, our wounded heal speedily and Mashiach come to usher in the world of revealed G-dliness that we yearn for.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Emor - say a kind word

A small group of children went out on a hike with their teacher.

They stopped on a road, near a farm, at the foot of a large mountain range. Running down from the mountains was a bubbling brook of fresh water.

The children drank some water. But first they said a  berachah (blessing).

They washed their hands (ritually) before their lunch, and again they said a  berachah. They sat under a tree. They ate their lunches, and then they said  Birkat Hamazon ( Grace After Meals). They then studied Torah under the tree.

The water they drank.

The grass they sat on.

The water that washed.

The shade of the tree.

The development.

For over five thousand years, this little farm was waiting for development.

The children came.

And they went.

They saw two cows as they went.

Click here to find out about the rest of the story written by my dear esteemed father Rabbi Mattis Kantor.

The part of the above story that I wish to focus on, is the centrality of speech in our human experience.

With our mouths we make blessings, we study Torah and we say prayers. This is uniquely human.

Humans are often referred to in the Torah as ‘speakers’.

Minerals, plants and animals do not have the gift of speech.

As the part of G-d’s creation that is identified by our abilities of speech and communication, it is important to stop and think periodically about the power of our words.

Not just the Torah and Prayers holy words, but regular mundane day to day words.

Words can maim and injure.

We are all familiar with the saying ‘you have hurt my feelings’ when someone is rude, condescending or even poisonously vindictive.

Words can also uplift and empower.

Jewish mothers have been doing it right for millennia. They label their little children ‘mien tzadikel’ (my little ‘tzadik’ saint), ‘sheifaleh’ (my little soft, cuddly and gentle lamb), my ‘little bubaleh’ and other endearing words.

I shudder when I hear people refer to their children with words like ‘demon’ ‘monster’ and things like that.

Let us not underestimate the power of our words and choose our words wisely.

How much more so the power of our kind deeds.

Even the simplest of kind gestures can be transformative.

A colleague called me from Europe this week to share the following story.

Yanky is the oldest of many children who grew up in a very religious family in Israel. Before he turned fifteen, he had run away from home and his close-knit religious community. His escapades took him to places and experiences that were irresponsible, wildly hedonistic, and downright dangerous. Besides being totally irreligious.

Over the past few years Yanky started to make steps to leading a more responsible and balanced life. He started working and gradually built himself up to a self-respecting member of the society around him.

As well, Yanky started to reengage with his Judaism. He prays with Tefillin daily, doesn’t work on Shabbat and comes to join in the Shabbat meals at this European Chabad House.

Last week, said my friend, we went around the Shabbat table and asked everyone to share something. Yanky shared the following:

‘Do you know what the catalyst for my turnaround was?

I was partying in Thailand, in an environment that is very inappropriate for the way I was brought up as a religious boy. Judaism, responsible living and being a ‘metsch’ was not in my sights.

A Chabad Shliach saw me, realized I was Jewish and offered me a donut – a sufganiya.

‘Today is Chanukah’, he told me.

I took the donut.

That moment was a catalyst for everything that happened next.

I looked at myself and said, ‘I am still looked at as a Jew, a member of my people, despite the vast distances I have traveled from my Jewish observance?’

That donut told me that my presence and participation is still valued by the Jewish people.

Something in me changed on that day with that donut.

The rest is just a gradual evolvement, a step-by-step process which is bringing me more and more in touch with my inner self’.

My rabbi friend shared this story with me, knowing that because it happened in Thailand I would be interested to hear.

This donut story does much more than just make me feel happy.

It comes at a special time.

As our family celebrates our three-decade anniversary of Shlichus in Thailand.

Yes, this week on Pesach Sheni (the day of ‘second chances’), we will be celebrating the great gift of empowerment that the Rebbe gave our family in 1993, when he sent us to Thailand to be his emissaries in spreading Jewish life in Thailand.

To mark this milestone, we will be holding a Gala in New York, benefiting the work of Chabad of Thailand in one month from today on June 17. (Formal details to follow next week please G-d).

At the benefit dinner we will share our vision for the next decade. The new Beth Elisheva Synagogue community center and various other bold and exciting capital projects throughout Thailand.

Big projects, new buildings, expanded centers, are all critical for developing vibrant Jewish life.

It is easy to get swept up in the exhilaration of exciting projects.

Hosting more than thirteen thousand meals during Passover is exciting.

But ultimately it is the individual interactions that create the big change in people’s lives.

When you get to hear how meaningful even one interaction can be, you recognize that each of us has a contribution to make.

It is tempting to say, the vision is so big, if I am not a ‘big macher’ (‘big cheese’ in American English) how can I contribute something meaningful towards it?

So here is a message to each and every one of us.

There is something unique that every Jew can contribute to Am Yisrael – to our strength as a nation.

Ultimately building Jewish continuity all boils down to one empathetic and compassionate word.

One positive interaction with a fellow Jew.

One word.

One kind deed.

One mitzvah. Click here to see how your one mitzvah can make a world of difference.

Even one donut.

There is not one of us who cannot afford one inspiring and uplifting word.

We have an almost unlimited reservoir of words in our ‘soul’.

This weeks parsha is ‘Emor which literally means ‘Say’.

Take this as a empowering instruction of G-d to you in your own life and your own interactions.

Say something nice.

Say something positive.

Say nice things about others.

See something, say something.

Something NICE. Something EMPOWERING. Something INSPIRING.


To bring Mashiach sooner.

To protect our soldiers, to heal our wounded, to return our captives and to bring SECURE PEACE to our fractured world.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


Have you ever achieved a state of numinousness?

If you don’t know what that means, I will feel a bit better about myself.

I too did not know what it meant .

Until very recently that is.

Moshe, a young man in his seventies who has a passion for studying philosophy, asked me if I had ever experienced a feeling of the numinous.

He then explained to me that in simple English numinous means something along the lines of ‘holy’, ‘divine’ or ‘spiritual’.

Moshe S. made an appointment to see me. He told me something was bothering him, and he was seeking my advice.

I was assuming that the meeting was to ask for my advice or help in mundane matters of life. It is no secret that many ‘farangs’ who live in Thailand struggle to make ends meet. The Torah value of Tzedakah teaches us to help those in need.  I assumed it was a request for assistance.

I was so happy to learn that Moshe is not in need of material help thank G-d. I was delighted to learn that the consultation was about religious and spiritual matters. This was music to my ears.

Moshe felt that he was missing out on something. He confided to me that while he has become much more observant of the Mitzvahs through his coming often to the Shul, he doesn’t get the feeling of the numinous. For example, he doesn’t feel the holiness and aura of putting on tefillin. This bothers him. He knows intellectually that rituals and mitzvahs are the very basics of Judaism. Thus, he is bothered by the lack of feeling of the Divine.

Moshe wanted to hear about my experience with the numinous.

I had to admit to Moshe that I too don’t live in a constant state of feeling the Divine.

However, I am blessed to have studied Torah since I am a child, and therefore I know that the connection with the ‘numinous’ is not defined by our own perception. Connection to G-d is defined based on the criteria that Hashem sets forth.

Holiness means closeness to Hashem and it is Hashem who defines what brings one close.

This week’s Parsha is called ‘Kedoshim’ – ‘Holy’. The Torah starts off by saying ‘You shall be holy’.

What does that mean?

The Torah makes it clear. Firstly, it means something very basic. To stay away from sinful relationships. Forbidden unions, incest, adultery etc are the antithesis of holiness. By staying away from that kind of boundary-breaking immorality, one is already on the way to being holy.

The higher level of being holy is going beyond the letter of the law. Doing even more than required by the Torah. If the Torah says that you can eat food if its kosher, the way of holiness is to eat only what is required. Even when it comes to kosher food, indulgence should be avoided. Indulgence, even in permissible things, is a recipe for unholiness.

A few verses later the Torah lays out the central theme of the Torah.

‘Love your fellow as yourself’.

This is where holiness takes a fascinating counterintuitive twist.

If I overpamper myself with material excess, I am unholy and indulgent.

When I pamper someone else with an abundance of material bounty, I am doing something holy.

For example, choosing the most expensive item on the menu for myself, may be indulgent.

Treating my friend to the best item on the menu is an act of selfless giving.

It is a great rule of thumb.

When catering to my own material needs I should be analytical as they may be self-centered and should be treated with caution not to overdo it.

(I am not advocating an ascetic lifestyle. It is excessiveness that I am referring to as being something one should be wary of).

When it comes, however, to the material needs of my fellow, those should be treated as equivalent to spirituality.

Therefore, one should do their best to provide amply and generously without the meticulous examination one would employ for oneself.

Clearly, when it comes to feelings, things get a little more complex.

Let us try to reframe what ‘feeling holy’ can mean.

When do you feel more holy?

When you feed a hungry person a satisfying meal?

Or at the end of Yom Kippur when you haven’t eaten for twenty-six hours and you cry out ‘Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokenu Hashem Echad’?

Here is a classic story of when doing something holy and feeling holy may not align.

When a birthing woman was in danger and no one was at home to provide her with warm nourishment on Yom Kippur, the great Rebbe Shneur Zalman left his place at the Shul and unobtrusively went to make a fire and heat up some food for her.

Imagine that. On the holiest day of the year, the holiest man of the community went to do activities that are un-Yom Kippur like.

How would you feel if you had to ‘violate’ Yom Kippur to save a life?

I am sure you can relate intellectually that even if you didn’t feel holy, you would recognize that are doing a truly ‘holy’ act by saving someone life.

Saving a life is true holiness.

Whether or not you feel it.

The sanctity and decorum of synagogues all across Israel was shattered on Yom Kippur 1973 when Israel faced an unprecedented attack that threatened its very survival. Men were hauled out of shul, removing their talitot and closing their prayer books to go and defend our people.

Fifty years and twelve days later, on Simchas Torah of this year, we had a tragic repeat of history when hordes of ruthless murderous terrorists came to wage a war of annihilation against the people of Israel.

Once again, reservists were called up for army duty, plucked from the holiness and peacefulness of this most joyous holiday to the front lines of fierce battle.

What does it feel like when instead of swaying in the Synagogue to the chant of the chazzan, you are standing holding a machine gun and shooting at the enemy?

Regardless of what it feels like, fighting in defense of our people is truly holy.

The soldiers who stand in protection of our people are holy.

The medics who dedicate their lives to healing people are holy.

Those who fall in the line of duty are called ‘kedoshim’ ‘holy ones’. They soar to the highest levels of holiness as a result of their absolute selflessness and sacrifice.

Holiness is not meditating in the mountains and reaching ecstasy.

Holiness is doing what Hashem wants you to do.

We now know how to ‘be holy’. How does one also achieve ‘feeling holy’?

Or does one not necessarily ever ‘feel’ holy?

Sometimes Hashem gifts us with a feeling and aura of holiness when we engage with doing the right thing.

At other times, the ‘reward’ and ‘aura’ and ‘feeling’ of holiness is waiting for us for when we enter a more pristine space.

Those who have passed away meet up with their ‘cache’ of holiness in the Garden of Eden. They get to enjoy the fruits of their work in the next world.

We look forward to unlocking our spiritual ‘treasure chest’ here in this world, when Mashiach comes.

The accumulation of spiritual G-dly energy that is generated by us doing the right thing will be the source of divine pleasure in which our souls will bask and radiate.

The determination of what is ‘holy’ can only be sourced in one place.

In the book of Hashem’s communication to humanity – the Torah.

The books of generic and secular philosophy lead down the dangerous path that emerges from time to time in the bastions of ‘culture’ and ‘higher learning’. It ends up in misguided notions of morality which turn out to be twisted and immoral.

There is only one source for defining holiness.

One source for morality.

It comes from the One G-d to the One people of Israel and we are empowered to communicate it to the entire world.

Train yourself to recognize true acts of holiness. To the discerning Jew, acts of mitzvah and righteousness are perceived as holy acts even if they may feel mundane as they engage with the physical objects of this world.

The Kohen Gadol had to be a married man when he entered the holy of holies on the holiest day of the year of Yom Kippur.

In Judaism the act of marriage, when done in the way of ‘Taharat Hamishpacha’ is a holy act. Counterintuitive.

Money, when used as a tool of tzedakah and social benefit becomes a vehicle for the divine.

Be ‘holy’ my friend.

Don’t run away and hide.

Stand up and shine.

Celebrate being a Jew.

Revel in your mundane acts of living life according to G-d’s instructions.

Keep your spirits high and fulfil the commandment of serving G-d with joy.

Simcha – joy – breaks down the barriers internal and external.

Our enemies would love to see us disillusioned, depressed, dispirited and ready to ‘throw in the towel’.

We are G-d’s Holy people. He is with us. In His presence there is strength and joy.

The happy outcome is so close. The darkness in the world is a prelude to the great light that is about to come.

Mashiach is on his way.

If you have discerning eyes, you can see the rays of light poised to drive away the darkness.


Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

Chag Samayach!

Pesach is an eight-day festival.

The first two days of Pesach are marked by the gloriously uplifting Seders in which celebrate our Exodus from Egypt.

Four intermediate (Chol Hamoed) days follow.

Tonight, we celebrate the seventh and eighth day of Pesach.

The highlight of these last days of Pesach is the splitting of the sea.

And ‘Seudat Mashiach’. The ‘feast of Mashiach’ that we eat during the final hours of Pesach.

Let me share some timely perspective.

Merely three days after the Jews exited Egypt triumphantly, they were chased by their former captors. By the end of day six since their escape, the enraged crack commandos of the Egyptian army were in position ready to launch an attack on their former slaves.

G-d’s holy clouds were the only things that stood between the Egyptians and the Israelites.

There was tension in the air all night. They had thought that they were liberated but they stood in danger of losing that freedom and their very lives.

What would happen?

 Just before daybreak the unimaginable happened. The miracle of the splitting of the sea.

The Israelites walked through the seabed while the waters stood solid like walls on either side.

The Egyptians followed in hot pursuit.

As the last Israelite feet left the dry seabed, the waters came cascading down on the Egyptians drowning them to death. Subsequently, their corpses were spit out onto the seashore.

After this happened, the Jewish People were finally able to breathe a sigh of relief. They now knew that they were truly liberated and would not have to look over their backs and live in constant fear of the counterattack of the Egyptian. The Egyptians were vanquished and no more. After all they had seen their captors dead bodies spit out of the sea.

The Jews broke out into a joyous song called ‘Shirat Hayam’ the ‘Song sung by the Sea’. We recite this daily in our prayers.

The seventh day of Pesach thus truly constitutes the completion of the liberation that started on the first day of Pesach. The Exodus seven days earlier would not have been conclusive if not for the miracles at the splitting of the sea on the seventh day.

This is a reason to be joyous. And joyous we are!

Yet, we don’t say the complete Halel.

This following is one of the reasons why we don’t say a complete Hallel (thanksgiving prayer) on these last days of Passover.

The Talmud points out (in Sanhedrin 39,b), G-d is not gladdened with the downfall of the wicked:

Rabbi  Shmuel bar Naḥman says  that Rabbi Yonatan says: What  is the meaning of that which is written  in the passage describing the splitting of the Red Sea: “And the one came not near the other all the night”  ( Exodus  14:20)? At that time the ministering angels desired to recite a song before the Holy One, Blessed be He. The Holy One, Blessed be He, said to them: My handiwork,  i.e., the Egyptians, are drowning in the sea, and you are reciting a song before Me? 

In other words, even when G-d needs by virtue of His Divine justice, to punish the wicked enemies who rise against His beloved people Am Yisrael, He does not rejoice in the suffering of the wicked.

This important message is also transmitted at the Seder night when we pour wine out our cups when we mention the ten plagues.

Although we are celebrating our nation’s  exodus  from Egypt,  Proverbs 24:17  tells us, "When your enemy falls, do not rejoice." Thus, during the  Seder , we spill a bit of wine to demonstrate that our joy is not complete since it came at the expense of others, even if they were deserving of punishment. (from click here for full article)

An important point to always bear in mind, especially during moments of history when our enemies rise against us and face retribution.

The Jewish nation has battled many times throughout the last thousands of years. From the battles in Eretz Yisrael thousands of years ago, to the contemporary military operations to safeguard Jewish life in Israel.

The Torah instructs us unequivocally that when our enemies wish to attack us, we must preemptively neutralize them.

Here is where we encounter what seems to be a contradiction.

One the one hand, Hashem instructs us to not rejoice in our enemies downfall. On the other hand, we must be fully aware that G-d instructs us clearly and unequivocally in the mitzvah of self-defense.

Yanky Tauber sums it up well: (click here for full article)

… each and every life is of Divine — and therefore infinite — significance.

In light of the above, it is surprising to find the following law in the Torah (codified in Talmud Tractate  Sanhedrin 72a, derived from Deuteronomy 22:26): Habah l'hargecha hashkem l'hargo — "If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first." (This law applies equally to someone coming to kill someone else — you're obligated to kill the murderer in order to save his intended victim.)

This law seems to contradict the principle of life's infinite value. If no life can be deemed less valuable that any other, what makes the victim's life more valuable than the murderer's life? Furthermore, this rule applies to anyone who is "coming to kill you" — he hasn't even done anything yet! Maybe he won't succeed? Maybe he'll change his mind? Nor does the law say anything about trying to run away. It says: If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first.

The same Torah that tells us that G‑d placed a spark of Himself in every human being, thereby bestowing upon his or her physical existence a G‑dly, infinite worth — that same Torah also tells us that G‑d has granted  free choice to every person. Including the choice — and the power — to corrupt his or her G‑d-given vitality and turn it against itself, using it to destroy life. A person can choose to turn himself into a murderer — someone who is prepared to destroy life in order to achieve his aims. In which case he is no longer a life, but an anti-life.

To kill an anti-life is not a life-destroying act, it is a life-preserving act. It is not a violation of the commandment "Do not kill," but its affirmation. Without the law, "If someone is coming to kill you, rise against him and kill him first," the principle of life's infinite value is nothing more than an empty slogan, a mere idea.

Judaism is not an idea. It is a way of life — G‑d's ideas made real.

One of the most empowering interpretations I have read on this topic is from Rabbi Yeshayah Halevi Horowitz of  more than 400 years ago known as ‘The Shelo’.

There are two kinds of songs one can sing to G-d.

The conventional songs of praise that we sing to Hashem, are songs of gratitude.

Thanking Hashem for something good that He has blessed us with after Hashem delivers us from our troubles, is quite elementary. It’s simple ‘mentschlichkeit’ - common decency, to give gratitude when Hashem does good to us.

It would seem quite incongruous to sing a song of praise when one has only received a blessing for salvation, but the situation is still dire.

Yet the Sheloh proposes that true believers are able to give songs of thanksgiving to Hashem even before Hashem’s blessing has been fulfilled.

The most powerful form of singing is to sing even before the favor has been done.

He reframes this previously quoted Talmudic statement:

G-d said My handiwork,  i.e., the Egyptians, are drowning in the sea, and you are reciting a song before Me? 

to be an expression of disappointment on G-d’s side:

You, the Jewish people, have waited with your saying of the ‘Shira’ song till you saw the final ignominious end of the Egyptian enemy?

Why didn’t you have the faith in G-d that all would turn out alright and break out in joyous song even before the good actually arrived. Your faith should have been strong enough (especially after seeing the redemption from Egypt just a few days earlier) to erupt in jubilant song as if the final positive outcome had already arrived.

This concept, to dance even before the final positive outcome has arrived is an empowering message. And especially pertinent and uplifting for our times.

We need to step up our song and dance in anticipation of G-d’s deliverance and miracles. (Especially in light of the many miracles we are witnessing on a daily basis, the 99% interception of missiles and drones from Iran etc.).

It is not presumptuous to rejoice in G-d’s salvation before it arrives.

On the contrary it is a sign of deep faith and received by G-d as a sign of our deep trust in Him.

During these grand finale days of Pesach the motif and theme are all about looking forward to bright and glorious future.

The Haftorah on the last day of Pesach speaks about the utopian world where ‘the wolf will lie with the lamb’. Our enemies will lay down their arms and become peaceful.

It hasn’t happened yet, but G-d has promised that it is going to happen.

The Ba’al Shemtov taught that the Pesach is ushered out with a special meal. The Rebbe taught that this meal is also to include four cups of wine.

It is called ‘Seudat Mashiach’ the ‘Mashiach Meal’.

It is a joyous meal. A meal in which we affirm our belief, hope and faith in the imminent coming of Mashiach.

Is it premature to rejoice about Mashiach’s coming even before he has come.

Especially during these post October 7 (Simchat Torah) days.

Whence are we to muster joy when we have hostages still missing, the war in Israel still raging and anti-semitism rearing its ugly head world over?

This teaching of the Sheloh reveals to us that it is precisely now, when things don’t look so good, that we have to express our super faith in Hashem and in the words of ‘Moshe his servant’ – in our generation the Rebbe – who announced unequivocally that we are living in the times of Moshiach.

Anytime now Mashiach will come.

During these last days of Pesach, during these last days of the darkness of the exile, when we face unprecedented challenges, we must galvanize our emotions and inspire ourselves to be joyous and celebratory in the faith and knowledge that Mashiach is about to come.

Celebrate the Mashiach Meal, Matzah, four cups of wine and all. Set your table for a joyous meal at the end of Pesach and together may we celebrate the coming of Mashiach with joy, even before he has come.

Chag Sameach – Gut YomTov

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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