Friday, 5 January, 2024 - 4:02 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friends,

He was very unassuming.

An elderly French Jew living in rural Thailand who had to come to Bangkok for medical treatment that is available only in Bangkok.

J. came to meet me to discuss Jewish burial when the time comes.

Naturally, we prayed together with Tefillin as well and had a chat about his background and family.

He mentioned something about his ‘babies’. I raised an eyebrow as it didn’t seem to me that he had babies. It turns out that he was meaning to say children, as he was talking about kids in their teens. (I have had that experience with other French speakers as well, referring to their children as babies even when they are fully adult).

J. told me about his daughter.

She was a dirty and smelly baby lying apathetically under a tree somewhere in Pattaya. J. saw the baby, felt pity and asked his maid to look into it. The mother was located not far away from baby, high on drugs. J. gave his maid money to give to the mother to take care of the baby. Several days later the baby did not look any less neglected. Obviously, the money had gone to support the mother’s habits and had not benefited the baby.

J. and his wife took the baby home. After a short while the baby was clean and had learned to eat. Initially the baby was so undernourished that she didn’t even have the energy to eat. She had also become used to not eating. Bit by bit they taught her to eat. Once the baby was brought to a stable condition, J. went to a lawyer to ask what to do with the baby.

The lawyer said, you can put her back where you found her. Near her mother in the streets of Pattaya.

J. said, ‘no way’! ‘If this abandoned child has come to my care I will continue to raise her’. He located the grandmother of the baby in a district not far from Bangkok. This is where the mother gave birth to this abandoned child.  J. went there and paid for the baby to be issued papers and legally adopted her.

She is now sixteen. She doesn’t like going to school. She hates farangs and curses her French adoptive father. Not an ounce of appreciation.

I was waiting to hear a word of complaint from J., about the ungratefulness of this girl to whom he had provided with a life, a home and a future. There was not one word of complaint.

J. said I am happy that I saved her life, raised her, educated her and hopefully she will have a happy future.

It was inspiring to meet someone so giving and selfless.

J. did an act of kindness without thinking of ‘what is in it for me’ and as of yet, there indeed has not been anything in it for him. And he knows that there may never be an angle of benefit to him.

He is happy to have done the right thing in the circumstances.

(I was secretly relieved that J. didn’t have any feelings of rejecting his ingrate daughter as I ponder how we possibly act similarly in our relationship with Hashem. He provides us with everything, and nonetheless we find ‘bones to pick’ about things we perceive as imperfections in our life.

Just as J demonstrated, a good parent continues to love and provide for their child even when they kick and scream and act inappropriately and ungratefully.

Hashem in His infinite mercy certainly tolerates us and continues to pour His benevolence on us regardless of our inadequacies.

Yet, it behooves us to make efforts to be even more mindful of the infinite gifts we receive from Him and be gratitude-filled and reflect the happiness in our dispositions).

J’s compassionate act in reaction to something he could have ignored, sets a tone of how moral human beings ought to live their lives.

This week’s Parsha, the first portion of the book of Shemot, starts with a narrative about the bondage in Egypt. Very quickly we are told about the birth and early childhood of Moshe Rabenu (Moses our teacher):

In those days,  the precocious Moses was elevated  by Pharaoh to be the overseer of his personal household... Some years later, when he was 18, he went out to his brethren and observed their suffering , for he felt for them. He saw an Egyptian  taskmaster striking one of  Moses' fellow Hebrews… Moses investigated what was happening:  He turned this way and that and saw that there was no one  observing him, so he struck down the Egyptian  by pronouncing God's Name, and hid him in the sand.

Moshe saw a grave injustice being perpetrated by the Egyptian taskmaster. He could have pretended he didn’t see, he could have ‘minded his own business’, ignored it and kept going on with his life. But he didn’t. Moshe evaluated the situation and reacted in a way that would save his fellow Israelite from certain death.

A few pages later, Moshe once again demonstrates his care, empathy and willingness to act to alleviate the suffering of others. This next verse describes Moshe as a shepherd of his father-in-law’s sheep.

…G-d examined the behavior of Moses , who was tending the sheep of his father-in-law  Jether, who would later be known as Jethro, priest of Midian , and concluded that he would be suitable. For example, a kid once ran away from the flock and reached a shady place near a pool of water where it stopped to drink. Moses ran after it and, when he caught up with it, said: "I did not know that you ran away because you were thirsty. You must be tired." So he carried the kid back to the flock. God said: "Because you showed such mercy to a mortal man's flock, you will tend My flock, Israel."

Click here for interpolated translation by Kehot

Clearly, one of the undisputed requirements to be a Jewish leader is the sensitivity to the suffering of others. And the absolute commitment of time, energy, and effort to come to the aid of those in need.

This is a lesson for all of us.

We are all leaders in our own way.

Here is another example:

In response to my end of year fundraiser (click here if you are those who like giving at beginning of the fiscal year your support at any time is impactful and appreciated by those to whom you provide) I got the following response from D. a Jew living in a rural village in South East Asia

Dear Rabbi,

I hope you will understand that I have adopted and provide all necessities for 3 orphans who live with me. I wish I was able to donate something, but my available funds are already stretched to the limit.

It sounded most inspiring to me, and I followed up with D. to hear more. As it turns out three village-children who lost their father to mental illness when they were mere children, have come to stay in D’s home to study in the local college. He is providing them with a chance to have a career beyond being a salesclerk in a convenience story.

I remarked to D that the Heavenly reward for taking care of needy orphans is already being awarded to him here in this world.

You see, D is a North American retiree in this particular SE Asian town and would be living all on his own if not for those boarders whom he supports.

D’s mitzvah of helping provide a better future to orphaned children is an ongoing series of acts of kindness and giving. The feeling of wholesomeness and deep satisfaction that giving causes, translates into better health, mental and physical. It saves one from being self-centered and dispirited with nothing to think about besides himself.

Giving is a gift that benefits the giver even more than the recipient.

Taking care of others is a remedy to the disconsolate and empty spirit that creates an unhappy void in the lives of those who have no one to care for.

How sad it is when society sees having children as a burden and sacrifice that is not worth the effort.

The greatest path to maturity, selflessness, and happiness, is the commitment of taking care of others that comes with parenthood.

Yes, parents ‘kvetch’ about how hard it is to raise kids. And it can be challenging. But don’t buy in to this shallow conversational piece that parents love engaging in.

Being a parent is the most rewarding and meaningful thing a person can do in life.  If G-d bestows upon one the circumstances and blessing of being able to have children, one gets the immeasurable privilege to partner with G-d in bringing the next generation into the world.

It’s hard to change oneself. At the beginning of the new calendar year many people are making good resolutions about self-betterment. The problem is, that a few days into the year the resolutions often slide away. The best way to solidify a good resolution is by cementing it into your schedule without needing to constantly rethink and recommit.

Dare I say that the best way to transform oneself into a giving person, is by ‘burdening’ oneself with the commitment of raising children. Not more than a few hours (or minutes for infants) can go by without your needing to give your child something. Food, drink, a diaper change or a smile and hug. And once the children get older, a whole new and more sophisticated series of obligations, negotiations and opportunities come your way.

I would like to digress here.

Our generation asks many more existential questions than the generations of decades and centuries ago.

Questions like ‘why should I get married’, ‘why should I have children’, ‘why should I live’ are more prevalent these days than ever before.

Not to mention the big ‘are you happy’ discussion.

It seems clear to me that these questions are a sign of our privileged lifestyle. In the days where survival required all of our energy, there was no brain space left to ponder these questions. Because the basics of life require less energy (think washing machine vs handwashing laundry near the river) we have available time to contemplate the meaning of life and our own happiness and satisfaction.

It is not by chance that the deep Chassidic philosophy taught by Rabbi Shneur Zalman (whose day of passing is today) has proliferated among the general Jewish community over the past two centuries.

Click here for insight into his pivotal work the ‘Tanya’

More than ever before we need to be engaging our minds in the deep Torah teachings that speak to our intellect and heart in creating a meaningful Jewish experience by contemplation and comprehension.

So much of our life centers around our minds and moods. We need to invest into framing life from the perspective that G-d has provided in the Torah.

Rare is it for a person these days to always be so tied up in work and chores that they go unthinkingly through life. It may be that during busy periods you have no time to think, but usually there are occasional quieter periods.

It is a burden to live in a time that we are able to think so freely.

Our society grapples with it.

The Torah gives us the best recipe for life by giving us instructions and mitzvahs that we are to perform regardless of whether we feel like doing them or not.

Those deeds lead us to proper and positive thinking.

I want to focus on the incredible positivity latent in our modern lifestyle.

The Torah tells us that being exhausted by hard labor quashes the spirit and doesn’t even allow one to dream of a better future.

Moses related  God's message to the Israelites, but they did not listen to Moses, because of their anguish of spirit  evinced by their shortness of breath, which had made them despair of being redeemed, and  because of the harsh labor , which had made them skeptical of Moses' promises.

We now have the gift of time to think and with it comes the ability to dream and set the scene for a transformed future, the coming of Mashiach who will usher the world into a place of peace and Shalom.

Let us try to take the message of this Parsha and remind ourselves to ‘do something’ if you ‘see something’.

Have you noticed someone in need? Did a charity that helps others in need reach out to you for help? Is there a person who is down in the dumps that needs a pick-me-up?

Don’t just walk by, or ‘scroll down’ stop for a moment and think whether there is something that you can do to help.

Hashem wants us to do our bit in making this world a more G-dly space by doing mitzvahs between us and G-d and increasing in our acts of kindness to others.

The good deed that you do, will bring you blessing in your personal life, will tip the scales of the world for the good and will bring salvation and saving to the whole of mankind.


Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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