A joyous Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Friday, 9 February, 2024 - 2:35 am

Tomer must be in his early thirties. Long braids of hair piled up in layers on the top of his head. A few years ago, after packing up his trade school in central Israel he deposited the tools and workbenches in his parents’ home at Kibutz Re’im and headed off to backpack in South America.

He was homesick and arrived home in Israel for a month or two with his girlfriend who had never visited Israel before as she isn’t Jewish. After some time in Tel Aviv, they decided it was too noisy for them, so they went off to spend the holiday of Sukkot with his parents in the serene rural environment of Kibbutz Re’im near Gaza.

On the morning of Simchat Torah – October 7th 2023 – the Hamas terrorists attacked the kibbutz. Tomer and his family locked themselves in their safe room and piled heavy furniture against the door.

After waiting many terrifying hours and hearing the ominous sounds of gunshots and grenades they were finally able to leave their safe room. Miraculously his whole family was saved as were most of the residents of the kibbutz. The six members of the security team fought valiantly and held off the attackers till the army and police could come.

After surviving that ordeal, praying to Hashem all the time, Tomer went to a Judaica store and bought all the religious ritual items needed to observe Mitzvot. Candles for Shabbat. A goblet for making kidush on wine for Shabbat, a cover for the ‘challah breads’ of Friday night and a shofar. He already had Tefillin and Tzizit from his Bar mitzvah.

Tomer went off to New Zealand to calm down.

The awakening in his soul led him to learning how to put on his Tefillin and feeling deeply connected to G-d and Am Yisrael. As the days went by, Tomer felt an irresistible desire to head back to Israel to help rebuild the kibbutz. His girlfriend said that the experience she had endured during those excruciating hours and the continued aftermath, ruled out ever living in Israel. They realized their incompatibility and separated.

I heard all of this from Tomer as he makes his way back to Israel. He told his story in Chabad House of Phuket after the Friday night meal.

As an afterthought, Tomer shared an additional detail.

‘For the last few years, I had this deep gnawing feeling of guilt for having filled the entry hallway/porch of my parents’ home with bulky and heavy workbenches and boxes of equipment from my previous trade school. I had planned to clean it up and deal with it many times but had always procrastinated. As it turns out, the windows that were blocked by this paraphernalia were the first line of defense against the terrorists. Our home is one of the closest to the entrance of the kibbutz. Who knows what would have happened if that window had been accessible and the hallway ‘junk free’.’

I thought to myself how significant a message this is. Sometimes the very thing that you consider to be the opposite of blessing, is a catalyst and a vehicle for your blessing.

Rabbi Sholom G. who does a wonderful job running the Chabad House in Phuket asks people to share with him after Shabbat what memory they take with them from the Phuket Shabbat experience.

If you ask me, Tomer’s story was the highlight of my Shabbat in Phuket. Hearing firsthand how the Divine Providence had weaved itself through the life experience of Tomer.

Here is a response from one of the other guests about their memorable experience.

‘Rabbi, the memory I take with me is a half-undressed young man bursting excitedly in to the full hall at Shabbat dinner, wearing pink ‘wings’ on his shoulders and receiving a warm embrace from you’.

Here is the background. There was a young Jewish man visiting from overseas who was suffering from a mental episode and had his money stolen. Rabbi Sholom had been busy trying to help him and was in touch with the distraught parents who were overseas and quite helpless. He had taken a drink in the bar on Friday night and left without paying. The police wanted to detain him, and he convinced them to follow him to the Chabad House. This is when he entered, the packed dining hall and ran over to the Rabbi.

The rabbi hugged him, calmed him down and sent down a staff member to sort things out.

This was the memory that stood out most in the eyes of the shabbat meal attendee who responded to the rabbi about his impressions from Shabbat.

A humane gesture by the rabbi to someone who was mentally unable to cope with life at that moment.

This week’s parsha of Mishaptim, is the first one after the Ten Commandments related in last week’s parsha of Yitro.

In this weeks parsha we have the basic laws of society.

Here is a sample of one of the mitzvahs in this week’s parsha.

When you see the donkey of someone you hate crouching under its load, you must disregard your hatred and help the person unload his donkey. 

After all the high power of the Sinai experience of the giving of the Torah, with the lighting, thunder and fire that symbolized Hashem’s epic revelation, the Torah goes on, in the very next parsha, to speak about such mundane earthly things.

Hate is usually not a holy feeling; it is an emotion that expresses our human ego when left unchecked.

Donkeys carrying loads are so mundane and uninspiring.

Is that the first thing to teach after the intense communication of the Ten Commandments?

Really? The most inspiring mitzvahs to be taught after Revelation at Sinai are such unheavenly and even earthly extremes? Wouldn’t it have made more sense to speak about more lofty things when emerging from the revelation at Sinai?

The Torah is teaching us that after all said and done, with all of the supreme G-dly holiness available through Torah study, the most holy thing of all is to fulfil G-d’s instructions for acting and conducting one selves in the physical world according to the dictates of His divine wisdom.

Rabbi Sholom gave some amazing Torah speeches during the Shabbat. That wasn’t what remained embedded in the visitor’s memory.

It was the implementation of the mitzvah of ‘loving your fellow as yourself’, that made the deepest impression.

For the Torah itself teaches us that it is not the inspiring study that is the main thing of the Torah, it is the deed, the action of kindness that the Torah instructs.

One of the most mundane items of life, perhaps even more than a donkey, is money.

This week’s parsha instructs us in a not so well-known mitzvah regarding money.

The mitzvah of tzedakah, giving monetary help to others is well known. However, what is a bit less known but every bit as important – even more important  - (see the eight levels of tzedakah), is the mitzvah of lending money to others without interest. Simply as help and kindness to someone who may be cash strapped at the moment.

The Torah sees money as a tool for serving Hashem. That is the true purpose of it.

The following story involves the giving of a ‘gemach’ an interest free loan, which leads the giver to a very deep level of revelation.

As this story illustrates:

Although his grandfather, the saintly Rabbi Schneur Zalman of Liadi, had passed away many years earlier, the Tzemach Tzedek merited to envision his grandfather often. At times he saw him at night, other times by day. This afforded him the unique opportunity to present his Torah difficulties before his grandfather for resolution. After becoming accustomed to these visions, the Tzemach Tzedek prepared for them by accumulating his questions in advance.

The Tzemach Tzedek was therefore quite distressed when the visitations suddenly ceased. It was 5575 (1815); he was twenty-five years old, and his father-in-law, Rabbi DovBer, was the rebbe in Lubavitch. The Tzemach Tzedek had gathered many complex Torah questions for which he could find no solutions. He had always relied on his grandfather for answers, and felt greatly anguished at this sudden change.

One morning, as the Tzemach Tzedek was walking to synagogue, he passed through the village marketplace, where he was approached by one of the merchants, a chassid by the name of Reb Mordechai Eliyahu. “Could you lend me five or six rubles just until tonight?” he asked the young scholar. “I expect to make a profit during market hours today.”

“Certainly,” replied the Tzemach Tzedek. “Come to my house after I return from the synagogue, and I will lend you whatever you need.”

When the Tzemach Tzedek arrived at the synagogue, he prepared himself for prayer. He had already taken out his tallit and put it over his shoulder in readiness to wrap himself in it, when a sudden thought occurred to him. “Doesn’t the Talmud (Bava Batra 10a) say that Rabbi Elazar would give a coin to the poor, and pray only afterwards? And doesn’t the Talmud (Sukkah 49b) also say that lending money is greater than giving charity?”

The Tzemach Tzedek immediately regretted his actions. Rather than delaying the good deed, he should have offered Reb Mordechai Eliyahu the loan immediately. In the meantime, the chassid could possibly have earned something. He laid down his tallit at once, returned home, and took out the amount of money the merchant needed.

The Tzemach Tzedek could hear a loud commotion as he retraced his steps to the marketplace. Dozens of merchants had descended on the marketplace, each offering various kinds of wares. The hundreds of customers haggled loudly, animals brayed and clucked and mooed, and merchants fought with each other over prospective customers. Finding Mordechai Eliyahu now would be no easy task.

The Tzemach Tzedek walked slowly through the bustling marketplace, looking intently at every face. The minutes ticked away as he sought out the needy merchant. Finally, after much effort, he located Reb Mordechai Eliyahu, and gave the grateful merchant the funds he so desperately needed.

Leaving the busy market behind, the Tzemach Tzedek returned to the synagogue to resume his prayers. A pleasant surprise awaited him; no sooner had he donned his tallit and tefillin when his grandfather suddenly appeared to him, his face radiating spiritual joy. “Lending money to a fellow Jew in a wholehearted fashion has great merit,” said R. Schneur Zalman. “Doing a selfless favor for a fellow Jew without imposing restrictions, in accordance with the great precept to love your fellow as yourself, throws the portals of heaven wide open.”

The Tzemach Tzedek realized that he had merited this divine revelation with the act of lending charity before even starting his own prayers. He then advanced his complex questions, receiving his grandfather’s replies to all his queries.

Decades later, when he related this incident to his youngest son and successor, Rabbi Shmuel, the Tzemach Tzedek added the following: “Helping another Jew earn his livelihood—even just to earn a small amount on a calf—opens the doors of all the heavenly chambers.”

Less words. More action.

Because the world is holistic, and Hashem created the material as well as the spiritual and holy, doing a physical act mandated by Hashem can engender the most sublime feeling of G-d’s presence.

Forward march to adding in good deeds, kind deeds, G-dly deeds.

They will bring healing, peace and Mashiach to the world ever sooner.

Shabbat Shalom

And Chodesh Tov – today is the ‘head of the month’ of the first Adar as is tomorrow Shabbat and Rosh Chodesh together.

This year is a leap year with two Adars.

Purim will be on the 14th of Adar 2. Saturday night and Sunday March 23/24.

Our local Jewish Community party will be held on Sunday afternoon please G-d.

About the months of Adar we are told to increase in joy.

משנכס אדר מרבים בשמחה

Have a Joyous Shabbat,

Rabbi Yosef Kantor


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