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'Sacrifice’ the ‘easy’ way!

Friday, 3 July, 2020 - 12:00 pm

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

A congregant and I were commiserating about the difficult times we are living in.

Herman is a leader in the hospitality industry and understandably the current downturn in tourism and the ‘social distancing’ restrictions have created huge challenges in operating the hotel he manages. 

I am in the spiritual leadership field yet for me too it is a difficult time as the restrictions have handicapped many of the standard aspects of Jewish communal life. 

‘But we really shouldn’t complain said Herman’. ‘When my father and cousin were in hiding from the Nazis during WWII there was no ‘FoodPanda’ or ‘Zoom’. ‘Not to mention that my grandparents who were taken to Auschwitz and Sobibor were never heard from again’.

He has a good point. Indeed, it is important to put things in perspective. The previous generations faced threats of mortal danger that we cannot even imagine. For a large percentage of us, the current situation is more about the disruption and the havoc than the actual danger to life. (G-d forbid I am not trying to minimize the toll this has taken in terms of loss of life and health, but for a great majority it has thank G-d been more about major disruption than actual danger).

Jobs are in jeopardy for many. Incomes are less. Uncertainty is rampant. These are not easy times, but they are for the most part manageable. Not life and death. Even our religious life need not be diminished.

Truth be told, we can maintain a great Jewish life even under these conditions. It takes readjusting and learning to do things a bit differently,

Some things have even received an unexpected upgrade during this crisis. For example, I have seen more attendance at my Torah classes than ever before. They are via Zoom, and I can’t serve coffee or shake hands, but the transmission of Torah knowledge, which is at core of what a ‘shiur Torah’ is, takes place fully. G-d has even granted me the opportunity to teach Torah on an international level. Because of this situation I have been invited to do a daily post on Facebook Live via Facebook page. I am not sure how to figure out how many people watch, but it is certainly more than I have ever had before at a class. What a merit this is, to be able to be a Torah teacher in this kind of forum.

The Synagogue was closed for some time. Prayer however, never stopped. You don’t need anything, other than your warm heart to pray to Hashem. You can do it in your own words, at your own pace, in your own place and all by yourself. The prayers I did in solitude over the last few months have been meaningful and inspiring. Many people have shared with me that their prayers have been heartfelt even when done in their own homes.

The Synagogue is now open for prayers on Shabbat. 

(We are phasing our reopening. 

For now, we are open for tefilot/prayer services only.

Communal meals have not yet resumed. 

Sermons and classes are via Zoom only.

Masks required. Social distancing rules followed. 

For those in a higher risk bracket, this is not to be viewed as a professional opinion about the situation here in Bangkok. Please make sure to get professional medical advice as to whether its safe for you to attend.

If you plan to attend, please email me or WhatsApp me in advance so that we can ensure we keep to the limits and requirements.

We hope that things continue to progress here in the miraculously positive way they seem to be going, thank G-d).

Things have not always been so religiously liberated and rosy for our people.

A hundred years ago in Russia things were vastly different. The Bolshevik revolution aimed to replace religion with atheism. The observance of Judaism was seen as being an obstacle in the way to achieving the utopian communist dream.

The previous Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Yosef Yitschak Schneerson, defied them and courageously led the battle for the preservation of Judaism in Russia. He did this via his clandestine network of students who founded underground ‘cheders’ where Jewish children would study Torah. Often they were discovered and the teachers sent to Siberia or simply killed by the firing squad. Mikvahs and synagogues, bris and chupa, all of these Jewish rituals were considered anti-state activities and were carried out in hiding by these heroic Jews. 

Eventually the communists arrested the Rebbe and after a summary show trial they intended to end his life as they had done to so many other brave religious functionaries. 

Friends and followers got to work around the world raising an outcry in halls of governments that may have some influence, including the USA. Miraculously, although Russia didn’t usually yield to outside pressure, the Soviet commuted the Rebbe’s sentence to a ten-year exile in Siberia. After more pressure was exerted it was commuted to a three-year exile in a less remote locale. After ten days in exile, the order to free the Rebbe was received. 

Shortly thereafter he left Russia and after ten years in Poland the Rebbe moved to America, arriving in NY in 1940. All the while, till his passing ten years later, he fought the Soviet atheistic designs. The ranks of his devoted followers, who were ready to follow his lead and exert supreme self-sacrifice to continue to ensure that the flame of the Torah would stay alight for the millions of Jews trapped behind the Iron curtain, was thinned by the war and by the small waves of emigration that followed the war. Only a miniscule group of devout, non-yielding observant Jews remained behind, expending every effort to keep the underground Yiddishkeit alive.

The embers remained but the flame was not evident. Jewish life had gone so deeply underground that it seemed truly endangered.

More details about the imprisonment/release here.

Seventy years later in the late 1980’s with Glasnost and Perestroika, those embers were fanned back to life and they became a roaring flame of Jewishness. Today all across Russia, Synagogues, religious schools, mikvah’s, bris, chupa and kosher food are all readily available. Jews proudly and prominently serve G-d with joy and enthusiasm. 

In 1927 when the Rebbe almost faced the firing squad, it looked like the atheistic enemies of G-d had scored a victory. Today we know that nothing could be further from the truth. Hashem and His Torah are the winners.

The Rebbe was released from the mortal threat of imprisonment on the 12th of Tamuz, corresponding this year to Shabbat July 4th. 

It is a day to be celebrated.

It is a reminder that holiness ultimately prevails over unholiness. Good is ultimately triumphant over evil.

The Rebbe said upon his release that since the battle he had fought was for the essence of Judaism, his release represented a victory for every single Jew. Even for those Jews for whom being Jewish is more of a label than an actual conviction. 

More importantly it’s a day to be mindful that when things are not easy, it is not mean we should give up. It means we simply have to try harder!!!!

We are not being asked for the supreme self-sacrifice of endangering our lives.

For most of us, we have religious freedom. 

With that freedom comes the choice to choose to be more spiritually connected or not.

The ‘sacrifice’ of our times is not risking being shot for upholding our Judaism.

Our ‘sacrifice’ is about giving up some of our self-centeredness and desire for self-gratification and think about what is it that G-d wants me to do.

In the supermarket aisles, the choice of buying something inappropriate for a Jew or keeping the shopping cart ‘kosher’, this is where we are being asked to make a sacrifice.

On Shabbat, to be more mindful of the honor and respect we should accord the Shabbat this is the ‘wrestling-match’ taking place in our consciousness.

Our challenges are about trying to be more G-d conscious. 

To study more of G-d’s Torah.

To pray more to G-d. In your own environment in whatever language works for you. 

And by doing more Mitzvahs. Those that connect us to G-d like Tefilin, Mezuzah and Shabbat candles. 

And those that teach us to how to live more wholesomely with others. By being more honest, benevolent, forgiving and gracious. 

If you are a complainer, lets resolve to stop complaining. Complainer can always find something to complain about. This weeks double-parsha speaks about complainers even after being fed G-dly manna from heaven and being treated to a ‘club-med’ kind of experience. Let’s try to adapt to situations we are not used to and reframe things to try and see how things are good

If you are an optimist by nature, good on you. But there is one place you should tone down your natural optimism. When it comes to your own self-growth you should step up your expectations and demand more from yourself. Find something that’s a bit harder than what you are comfortable with, and practice ‘self-sacrifice’ by undertaking that good deed or character trait development.

May we all be blessed with a life of liberty, happiness and great living conditions, and may we use all of that not to be G-d forbid complacent and pampered, rather to use those blessings to springboard and catapault to ever rising heights by adjusting our goals as we advance.

May your ‘sacrifices’ all be about getting better and better from withing a framework of a blessedly trouble free life.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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