Shabbat Shalom & Chag Samayach from Bangkok

Friday, 6 October, 2023 - 4:41 pm

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

After a joyous week of feasting in the Sukkah, blessing on the Lulav and Etrog, and dancing energetically, we are now about to enter the climax of this High Holiday season.

The grand finale of this holiday month is the Yom Tov – Chag - Holiday of SIMCHAT TORAH.

I will admit. I have a ‘desirability bias’ when it comes to Simchas Torah.

Since I am a little child, the words ‘Simchas Torah’ bring joy to my entire being.

To the extent that it colored my entire experience of Judaism. In my mind from early childhood on, Judaism is associated with joyousness.

There were lollies for the kids.

(Growing up as I did in Australia the ‘candies’ were called ‘lollies’. Have no fear the sugar content in each is exactly the same).

The atmosphere at Shul and at home was happy.

The usually serious and staid adults were jolly and laid back and not very strict with us.

Only when I great up a bit and read about Pavlov’s experiment, did I realize why my endorphins rise just by daydreaming about Simchas Torah.

I thank G-d for being born and raised in an environment where Simchas Torah was a very important holiday and was treated very seriously. I mean the joy was not something that was left to spontaneity, there was really serious planning in creating an atmosphere of joy.

If you were planning the wedding of your daughter, would you just leave it to chance that people will join you in joy? Or would you plan to bring a band and have a bar and good food.

You get what I mean. Simchas Torah is a wedding of sorts. Between G-d and the Jewish people.

It’s a wedding that comes after a period of difficulty in the relationship.

Remember, we just had Yom Kippur. On Yom Kippur we admitted that we had not been entirely faithful to G-d. The day of Yom Kippur was the day that G-d forgave us and renewed the absoluteness of our oneness.

It is this reunion that we are celebrating on Simchas Torah. Not just a first-time wedding, rather a makeup and a reconciliation. The joy when one reunites with someone who had been distant is a much greater joy than when there was never any distance in the first place. Thus Simchat Torah is an incredibly joyous day.

The universally adopted ‘schedule’ for Simchas Torah involves dancing with the Torahs. Seven dances at minimum. They are referred to as the ‘7 Hakafot’.

Every single Synagogue that is self-respecting, has an eating component a ‘kiddush’ where good food, lechayim and social interaction creates an atmosphere of a joyous party.

(Here at Bet Elisheva, I have observed the incredible spreads of delectable dishes that have been prepared for the next two days of Chag. Dieting will have to be put on pause… 😊 ).

The Synagogue, for someone who has celebrated Simchas Torah and seen the joyous side of it, becomes a place associated with serious prayer as well as spirited joyous dancing.

I feel so sad when I meet some Jews whose experience with Judaism awakens not such positive associations. It may have been a parent who was going through their own difficulties and chose to blame G-d and create a sour feeling about religion in the home. Sometimes it was a Sunday school teacher who was irritated and meted out punishments irately.

All too often, Jewish kids never get to see the joyous side of the Synagogue.

We need to plan for Jewish continuity by celebrating our Judaism with JOY.

Jewish continuity AM YISRAEL CHAI is a reality.

G-d does His part and incredibly, Jews wake up to reembrace their Judaism even when they seem so torn away. The soul hangs on by a ‘thread’ but that is enough for the subsequent revival that obstinately shows up when least expected.

But we need to do our part in planning for the future of our people.

This is why we ought to spend time, thought and energy in creating fun and enjoyable Jewish experiences.

Children oriented Synagogue interactions are so important.

In our shul, as we reach the most climactic part of the Neilah prayer, with the ark opened, we call up all children to stand near the chazzan and the rabbi and participate in the saying of Shma Yisrael. In order to leave them with a sweet taste, I personally distribute candy bags just after the Shofar sounding at the end of Yom Kippur.

It is possibly one of the most important items of the Yom Kippur service in terms of Jewish continuity. If we have Jewish kids experiencing Judaism in a positive and enjoyable way, there is a much higher chance that they will choose to continue the golden chain of Am Yisrael to the next generation and beyond.

Mitzvahs and Torah are the only future for our people.

Culinary aspects of Judaism play an important role in creating positive memories.

Just today my daughter bumped into a Jew in the street. He identified himself away by saying “Gut Shabbes’. He is visiting Thailand from Europe and hasn’t been to shul in his home country for years. My daughter invited him to join us here at Sukhumvit 22. He politely declined saying that he was busy. Then as if as an afterthought he mused wistfully ‘I haven’t had cholent since I was a child. We used to eat it every Shabbat and it was a favorite of mine’. My daughter confirmed that indeed we serve cholent for Shabbat lunch.

He said that he will consider joining.

The Rebbe sent out his personal Shluchim emissaries to go and live in every corner of the world.

The mission he gave them was first and foremost to live a Jewish life in their respective locations that is wholesome and happy. There is no greater ‘poster’ for encouraging Jewish life than showing how wonderful a life it is when it is full of the meaning and mindfulness that one has when following in the path of Hashem.

This is the experience that Nechama and I try to share with others. It is a cornerstone of our Shlichus mission.

My own experience with Simchas Torah reinforces to me the power of positive Jewish experiences.

(G-d blessed me to spend seven glorious Simchas Torah’s with the Rebbe at 770 Eastern ParkwayClick here is a writeup describing some of what is indescribable. I try to close my eyes during the dancing and relive the inspirational moments of participating in the heavenly experience).

My pitch to you is, celebrate Simchas Torah. Open yourself up to the joy of the next 48 hours.

Let us utilize the ‘energies’ and blessings of the upcoming days in the fullest of ways.

Let us each make a resolution to partake of the Simchas Torah holiday.

You have likely participated in the Holidays till now in some way.

Even if you didn’t go to shul, you likely fasted and prayed on Yom Kippur.

If you are in Bangkok, please join us for the festivities of the next two days. I have provided quite a detailed schedule here so you can pick and select which slot you most connect to (or come to everything, even better).

If you are elsewhere and in proximity to synagogue, consider attending the Simchas Torah programs. In every corner of the world this is a time that joy reaches a very special crescendo.

Or, if you are not able to go to Shul and join your brothers and sisters in celebration, celebrate with the Almighty Himself.

Pour yourself a drink (if its ok for your health), sing a song, and do a dance. Click here for a perspective on rejoicing alone.

It’s Simchas Torah!

Looking forward to rejoicing together, either in person, or in spirit.

Nechama and I bless you with a wonderfully happy year, and personally invite you to join us in the celebration of the Torah.

YOUR presence will bring even more joy to us and we are appreciative to you for that.

Shabbat Shalom

Chag Sameach

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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