Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Friday, 2 February, 2024 - 5:18 am


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By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

I always get excited when I see the number 770.

Since I was a little boy growing up in Australia, when someone said ‘I’m going to seven seventy’ it meant not an address somewhere in Australia, but ‘770’ in Brooklyn NY, many thousands of kilometers away.

The address of the main synagogue/study hall/office of the Rebbe’s of Lubavitch since arriving in the USA in 1940, is 770 Eastern Parkway.

Therefore, seeing that my flight number to Phuket yesterday was flight number 770 was heartwarming to me. I don’t recall ever being on a flight that was numbered 770 before.

It was especially meaningful to me, as yesterday was the 36th yahrtzeit of the Rebbetzen Chaya Mushka Schneersohn the wife of the Rebbe and the daughter of the previous Rebbe who escaped war torn Europe and established the Chabad movement at 770 Eastern Parkway.

Click her to learn more about the Rebbetzens inspiring legacy.

The Rebbe pointed out that by Divine Providence the number 770 is the numerical value of ‘Paratzta’ as in ‘spread out’ and ‘burst forth’. These became the marching orders and mission statement of Chabad. It spawned the growth of thousands of Chabad Houses, centers of Jewish outreach and social services.

Over this weekend the Rebbetzen’s of Chabad, the Shluchos are having their international annual convention at… 770 Eastern Parkway. Click here for link to their banquet that will stream live early Monday morning (5am Bangkok time)

And my day in Phuket was indeed a ‘770’ day. A day that highlighted and expressed this borderless outreach that the Rebbe taught. The Rebbe’s paradigm of leadership was fashioned after Moshe who the Torah describes as a shepherd who tended to every one of the sheep according to their individual needs and I witnessed so many people from such varied backgrounds at the Chabad House.

On my way from the airport to the Chabad house I stopped to pay a visit to dear friends and supporters who have a holiday home in Phuket. They help fund the activities and it is a pleasure to be able to express my gratitude to them in person.

Upon my arrival at Chabad house, I assisted the Chabad of Phuket rabbi in providing urgent intervention and life-saving help to a youth who had gotten into an entanglement. The kind of which, there are no shortages of in this colorful country.

Later in the day a couple visiting from Moscow ambled into the Synagogue. They are not very observant they say, but they make it their point to visit a Synagogue in whatever country they visit. They had driven an hour from the other side of Phuket, just to visit the Synagogue. The Jewish visitor happily performed the mitzvah of Tefillin with me.

Dinner at Chabad house restaurant was with some old-time friends from Australia.

For after dinner activities, I was invited to give a Torah class at our new location in southern Phuket.

(For those who have settled down in Phuket for longer term, Rabbi Avraham Greenberg and his family run a Chabad House location in Rawai beach as well as organizing communal activities in the Laguna beach area).

The topic of my class was about seizing the ‘here and now’. Recognizing that wherever you are is exactly where Hashem wants you to be. And endeavoring to carrying out the mitzvah opportunities – between man and G-d and between man and man - that are available to you at the unique intersection of time and place in which Hashem has placed you.

It is not smart living, to think wistfully ‘if only I was there’ or ‘if I only had the chance to go back in time’ while finding excuses why you can’t do what is available and appropriate for you to do in your exact location and time.

More importantly, neither is it the holy way of living,

In this week’s parsha Yitro we read the Ten Commandments.

The Torah describes the giving of the Torah as follows:

In the third month of the children of Israel's departure from Egypt, on this day they arrived in the desert of Sinai.

Rashi comments on the choice of the use of the word ‘on this day’ and explains:

On this day: … It could have said only, “on that day.” What is the meaning of "on this day"? That the words of the Torah shall be new to you, as if they were given just today.

Here lies one of the most important life lessons.

To truly receive the Torah in the way Hashem gives it, is to know that the Torah is not a book of antiquity that was given three thousand and some years ago, rather it is a current and vibrant Torah that is contemporary as if it were given today.

The Torah is a book of life that has a directive for you in this exact point of time that you live in.

Where was the Torah given? Not in a dazzling, developed and bustling metropolis. Not in a holy location. Rather the Torah is given in a desert. A neutral place.

This teaches us that the Torah is relevant and accessible everywhere an anywhere. And to be sure, it is applicable in the exact geographical location that you find yourself in.

From Paraguay to Phuket and every place in between.

And as it turns out Phuket (and Thailand in general) seems to be a crossroads of the world.

In the space of just a few hours, I met a Jew from Canada who prays with my nephew from Florida. A group of young Jews from South Africa are on a company trip and come in to eat a kosher dinner and reserve for Shabbat.

(When I meet these young Johannesburg Jews, they ‘name drop’ and tell me that they are friends with S. from South Africa/Australia. I tell them, S. is in town as well and just happens to be sponsoring the Shabbat meals this week. They had no idea, a Divine rendezvous).

A while later, a young honeymooning couple from Panama brings me regards from the Chabad house there.

And then we have the VIPs I have been blessed to meet.

The VIPs for this Shabbat are the heroic soldiers who are visiting from Israel. They are coming to get the well-deserved respite and rejuvenation that will restore their inner selves.

We thank them for their selflessness and sacrifice in doing their holy duties of protecting our people in our land.

Am Yisrael in Eretz Yisrael.

The chayalim thank us for being here to host them so warmly. Expressing how meaningful it is for them that Chabad House provides them with inspiration and light on their furlough.  

One of the visitors to Chabad House last week, sent a beautiful note, expressing his feelings after Shabbat. I share it here:

Aside from weddings and bar mitzvahs, it was the biggest reunion of Jews I have ever seen in my life—so much spirit, togetherness, and life in the room. So special to have seen everybody singing together and strong during these times. Best of all, it was in Phuket, Thailand, which seems so random to me. It shows how unbelievable the Jewish community is—to have this many Jews in the middle of nowhere and a massive Chabad and organization there. From start to end, there was never a dull moment. I ate amazing Kosher food with people all over the world, and sang songs and prayers mid meal. After dinner finished, there was an amazing transition to the Rabbi’s house. It was an intimate setting filled with people who, one hour ago, had never seen each other before. At one point, we went around the room introducing ourselves. There was a group of 10 boys from the same unit who had just fought the war in Gaza. It was unbelievable to see such comradery, happiness, and joking around from these boys who were around the same age as me. Then, a guy who sat in the corner smiling all dinner introduced himself. He was present on October 7th. Everybody from his Kibbutz got killed other than him. After 30 hours of hiding, he said, “I was not religious before, but the first thing I did when I was free was go to the Kotel and buy myself a Kiddush cup.” Amazing. What an experience. Absolutely honoured to have been part of it and welcomed undoubtably with open arms. 

Am Israel Chai,

I thank Hashem for the honor and pleasure to be spending Shabbat this week in Phuket and to join with Jews of varied backgrounds and from multiple locations.

This is especially exciting for me on this Shabbat.

One of the highlights for me of this week’s Parsha  is the verse describing the perfect unity of the people as they anticipated the receiving of the Torah:

The people of Israel camped at Sinai ‘As one person with one heart’

Wherever we are in the planet, may we absorb the special blessings of unity that are shining through on this Shabbat.

And may we take those opportunities given from Heaven and ‘run with them’, develop them further, accentuate them, commit to them and never every forget that we are all parts of one singular united entity.


Our prayers go up to Heaven to protect our soldiers, to bring home our hostages, to heal our wounded, and to bless Israel and the world with secure and stable peace. And of course we pray for Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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