Friday, 24 February, 2023 - 2:20 pm

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

Today when I saw Yonatan, I exclaimed out loud ‘Blessed are You, who brings the dead back to life’.

Five months ago, I received a call from John’s landlady in upcountry Thailand that John was in the intensive care in their local hospital.

The end was near it seemed. She was calling frantically for help with implementing the final wishes of her tenant for Jewish burial.

One of our team of Chabad rabbi’s, Yossi Goldberg, set off to Hua Hin immediately and placed a kippa on Yonatan’s head to say the Shema as part of the final prayers that a Jew is meant to recite just before passing.

The doctor suggested that an additional CT scan be performed and asked who would cover the expense. We undertook to cover the costs from our humanitarian tzedakah fund.

The doctors came back incredulous. The CT scan showed that the damage in the brain was receding. It was not ‘all over’ as they had assumed.

Not so long later, Yonatan’s landlady called to explain that Yonatan would need to be in a nursing home, but his budget didn’t fully cover it.

A good friend of Yonatan from the Netherlands got on the phone to explain to me Yonatan’s financial situation.

He shared with me that Yonatan is alone in the world without family.

I told him that we, his fellow Jews, are his family and reassured him and the landlady that our Jewish community would commit to the monthly amount that was missing.

We have been sending funds monthly ever since then.

Yonatan called me a few weeks ago and said he was in Bangkok and was going to come to see me. His landlady confirmed that he was dreaming as he was not in Bangkok, he was still upcountry.

This morning, as improbable as it may sound, Yonatan actually came in person to see me at my office at JCafe.

He is still in need of nursing help and came with his aide. But he is very much alive, aware and in good spirits.

He gave me regards from his Netherlands friend and told me that he had saved his life once before.

‘How did he save your life’ I asked Yonatan.

‘A few years ago, I was dead for ten minutes and my Dutch friend insisted that the ambulance personnel work on trying to revive me. I indeed ‘came back to life’.

After the initial exchange of greetings I asked Yonatan what I could do for him.

‘Help me live my life as a Jew should live’.

Yonatan wants a prayer book, tefillin, mezuzah, tzitzit…

When I asked him how he was so familiar with the items of Jewish life, he told me that he was raised in the Jewish orphanage in London and from the age of bar mitzvah till his late teens he had worn tzitzit and put on Tefillin every day.

I asked him if now in his elderly years he was reclaiming the Jewish practices of his youth, and he told me that yes, he had stopped observing for many years but how he wanted to live his life as a Jew should live.

‘My grandfather and great grandfather would be proud of me. They used to spend most of their day in Synagogue praying and learning’.

When I asked him for more details he shared that his great grandparents came to the USA and were denied entry as his great grandmother was deaf and mute. They didn’t want to go back to Russian so they got off the boat in England and stayed there.

To me there seems to be a common thread running through these stories.

The great power of belief in a positive outcome, and the folly and mistake of thinking that the improbable is impossible. Just because you cannot imagine a favorable outcome, doesn’t mean that G-d is not planning a happy ending.

A life was saved because someone believed that his friend was not yet dead and still had a chance to live. If that friend had not taken the initiative to insist that the first responders try their best, Yonatan would probably not be here to tell the story.

The USA immigration officials may have thought that the elderly deaf and mute Russian Jewess wasn’t worthy of being granted an immigration visa, but they obviously didn’t recognize her greatness of spirit. She was a successful person and a wonderful wife to her husband and mother to her children.

Yonatan’s family and teachers may have thought that once Yonatan left ‘the nest’, his observance of Judaism was abandoned never to be reclaimed.

They could not have been more wrong on that.

Improbable the at this late stage in life Yonatan would want to go back to the Jewish observance of his teens. But not impossible.

How powerful is the importance of believing in others.

There is something even more critical than believing in others.

It is believing in yourself.

Sometimes we need help to believe in ourselves.

Rabbi Jonathan Sacks once shared this about the Rebbe “You saw your reflection in the Rebbe’s eyes, and you were suddenly much bigger than you thought you were.”

When someone shows that they believe in you, it helps you to believe in yourself.

The most important thing to know is that whatever we may erroneously believe about ourselves, Hashem believes in us.

By the fact that Hashem caused you to be born, He has made it known that YOU are needed in His world.

In this week’s Parsha Terumah, we learn about the erecting of a sanctuary – a home – for G-d.

The first home for G-d, the ‘mishkan’ that the Jewish people built, was in the desert.

The Bet Hamikdash in Jerusalem was built many hundreds of years later. It replaced the Mishkan that had been built in the desert and became the permanent place of worship. True, it is now temporarily destroyed (we are nearly two thousand years in this untenable temporary situation) but when Mashiach comes, we will rebuild the Bet Hamikdash in Jerusalem.

Jerusalem is a place of holiness. It always was. Even before the Bet Hamikdash was built. It is not such an unimaginable feat to generate holiness in a holy place.

In stark contrast, the first sanctuary, the Mishkan, was built in the most inhospitable environment possible.

In the desert.

To build a place of holiness in the desert?

The desert is uninhabitable. Building a house of G-d there is incongruous, odd and a little strange.

Yes! said G-d, build me a home right here in the desert.

It is against the backdrop of darkness that light shines forth ever brightly.

It is a more authentic expression of creating a dwelling place for G-d in the ‘lower worlds’ when the location is downright unsuitable.

This message is powerful and empowering if we unpack it and apply it to our times.  

The physical temporary structure of the Mishkan may have been superseded by the permanent Bet Hamikdash but the message it carries is one for eternity.

How sad and painful it is when I hear someone tell me that they are a bag of …. That they feel unneeded. That there is nothing redeemable about them. People look at them like scum. Perhaps they have no money. Their self-esteem is shattered.

They feel like a desert.

It makes me want to cry when I hear someone going through such pain.

But beyond showing my empathy, crying will not help.

I pray that they hear the message that G-d is whispering to them in the deepest recesses of their soul.

G-d says to each one of us. Even if you feel like you are like a desert, you can and should make your life into a sanctuary for G-d.

I wish I could shout it from the rooftops and broadcast it on all of the social media channels available.

G-d believes in you. More than that, G-d is imploring you.

‘Take me up on the infinite gift I am giving you’ says G-d.

Make for me a Mikdash, invite Me in, and I will come to dwell there.

Yes, you, even with all your doubts, insecurities and shortcomings. Even when you feel like you are in a desert, take action to do the next right thing. Let G-d into your heart and let Him guide your deeds. You too will blossom and bloom like a garden once you allow Him in.

My friends, let us act like G-d with compassion and belief. Let us discard our skepticism and sarcasm that we sometimes project to others.

It is all too easy to G-d forbid break those around us.

If you look at your friend with negativity, you are setting him up for failure.

Sometimes one has unrealistic expectations of a child when they are young, and the criticism festers and bubbles till it eventually causes emotional dysfunction.

Put aside the immature and immoral urge to push someone else down as a panacea to making yourself feel better.

Let us take the G-dly path as our roadmap for life.

The joyous HIGH ROAD.

Inject positivity to those around you.

Look at your family members, your friends, your work mate as being full of potential. Believe in them. Compliment them. Appreciate them.

This will help them succeed.

Treat your children lovingly. With unconditional love. Remind them that G-d loves them. Show them how much you trust them. Project to them how much they mean to you even if they have not lived up to your hopes and dreams.

It will propel them to fulfilling their unique potential.

It may even literally help save their life.

Yonatan, thanks for shlepping out to see me and for sharing this inspiration with me.

May G-d bless you with good health.

We are now in the month of Purim (see details about Bangkok celebrations below) and we are instructed and empowered to be JOYOUS.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

PS If you want to partner with us in the above and numerous other acts of kindness, please consider a gift to our humanitarian assistance tzedakah fund

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