the Singapore story | Shabbat Shalom from Bangkok

Friday, 29 December, 2023 - 3:21 am

By the Grace of G-d

Dear Friend,

There are some very poignant messages that jump out at me from the Parsha of Vayechi.

One of them is gratitude.

Let us see how gratitude brought success. And how subsequent ingratitude led to downfall.

When Yaakov passed away in Egypt a very large and dignified contingent of Egyptian notables went to the funeral in the land of Canann (Israel). 

Why did they go?

Because they felt a deep debt of gratitude to Yaakov.

When Yaakov came to Egypt at the invitation of Pharaoh, and his son Yosef, the viceroy of Egypt, the seven years of famine came to an immediate end.

Based on G-d’s communication to Pharaoh via his dream that was interpreted by Yosef, there was supposed to be seven years of plenty followed by seven lean years. Yaakov’s arrival stopped the famine. Lest one not be sure that this was due to Yaakov, the Nile River miraculously rose when Yaacov walked near the river. 

It was an undisputed fact. Yaakov and his family were a source of blessing for Egypt.

At this stage of history, the Egyptians had not yet enslaved us. They treated the Jewish people as a blessing and were appreciative of their contribution to their country. They showed their gratitude by attending the funeral of Yaakov ‘shlepping’ all the way to the land of Canaan.

Gratitude is central to inviting blessing into every aspect of humanity.

The troubles of Egypt start in next weeks Parsha of Shemot when the Torah relates that a new king arose who ‘did not know Yosef’. He threw away the feeling of gratitude and acted to Yaakov’s family as if they were interlopers and usurping the resources of Yosef. 

This led to their subsequent enslavement of the Jewish people.

The Jewish people, worked to the bone and exhausted in body and spirit, had all but given up on their relationship with Hashem.

This all led to G-d bringing the ten plagues and the death of many of the Egyptian people.

What a disaster.

Imagine the following scenario that could have been. 

If the Egyptians would have continued to respect the Jews for their blessed contribution. If the Jews would have continued their commitment to the observance of G-d’s mission. 

This partnership would have brought prosperity to all of Egypt. The Egyptian kingdom could have continued to flourish and still be the superpower that it once was.

Lack of gratitude turned everything upside down.

We can’t change the past. But we can learn from the past for the future.

If only society and leadership would practice gratitude to those who do them good and bring them blessing, society would be the better off for it.

As Jews we need to remind ourselves to be more grateful to G-d. 

Gratitude is central to Judaism. We start off every morning with the Modeh Ani, thanking Hashem for giving us back our life.

If only we Jewish people would be even more mindful and practice even more gratitude to G-d by observing His wishes conveyed in the Torah.

Hashem would undoubtedly bless the Jewish people for their commitment.

And in turn Hashem would bless the governments who assist and host the Jewish people. Every country would compete in how well they treat their Jewish population and hold them in respect. 

That would be a sustainable model.

It would be a win-win situation.

The Prophets tell us that this is the Messianic utopian model. The Jews serve G-d with their 613 Mitzvahs as the nations that surround them give them the support and back up that they need while keeping their seven ‘laws of Noah’ – Universal G-dly morality. 

The blessings spread forth to everyone in a peaceful and prosperous way. 

No more war, no more strife, no more unhealthy jealousy. 

We may not be able to change the geopolitical situation top down, as we are not heads of state. But we can and must start by making a a difference in our own lives, and this will have a ripple effect outward.

I am reminded of an incident in which Hashem, in His kindness to me, sent me a vivid reminder to place great emphasis on gratitude.

It was fifteen years ago. We had procured mileage tickets to NY to have a family bar mitzvah celebration for our eldest son Mendel. They were very good tickets. Bangkok to Singapore and a short time later Singapore to New York nonstop. 

We set off, the entire family, checked in our multiple pieces of luggage and proceeded to immigration. We needed to make ‘reentry permits’ to come back into Thailand. There was a backlog at the airports immigration office and it took longer than anticipated. 

We finally got the paperwork done and started running to the plane.

On the way we met Mark, a friend and supporter, stopped for a very hurried hi and continued running to the gate. 

Upon arrival at the gate, we were witness to the many pieces of the Kantor family luggage being offloaded from the Singapore airlines flight.

We were shocked. Devastated. And unsure what to do.

Was this a sign from Heaven that we should just abandon our carefully planned trip? 

We decided to go.

The airline told us that they could rebook us for no extra charge, but not on the nonstop flight. With a longer stop in Singapore, a stop in Frankfurt and then on to New York. Quite a shlep with a bunch of little kids.

We now had a stop in Singapore. Exactly at the time that there was an opening dedication ceremony for the new Jewish Community Center named the “Jacob Ballas Center’.

Jacob of blessed memory was a very successful businessman who lived in Singapore and supported many worthy causes in Singapore and Israel. After his passing a new center was built with funds that he left for that purpose. 

I had visited the late Mr. Ballas many times and he had contributed generously to helping set up the kindergarten. I felt a deep sense of gratitude to him. It was only after I had made the tickets to NY that I realized I would not be able to attend the opening as I would be heading to our son’s bar mitzvah with tickets that were not changeable.

I didn’t think it was that important to change our well-laid plans to attend that dedication ceremony.

Hashem taught me otherwise.

Hashem in His unlimited kindness gave me the merit of doing what is right. He orchestrated that I find myself in Singapore for exactly four hours between flights, enabling me to attend the evening of tribute to the late Jacob to whom I needed to give gratitude. 

(A cute addition to the story is that since I hadn’t been planning on doing anything ‘official’ on my trip to NY, I hadn’t taken a tie with me in my carry-on luggage. Now that I was going to attend a fancy event, I wanted to be dressed appropriately and needed a tie. The Jim Thompson store sells ties, and I bought one. Which I still have and wear occasionally. Every time I wear it I think of the warm embrace of Divine Providence).

Here is a story I just read yesterday. Written by the brother of an Israeli solder who is in the front lines.

The observant soldier utilized the few minutes of relaxation his unit was allotted, to pray the Mincha afternoon prayers. It was a ‘clean’ area which means that the terrorists were assumed to no longer be operating in that area. The troops were sitting and relaxing. The soldier who got up to pray turned to face Jerusalem. In the middle of his prayer, he noticed something moving. Apparently, there was a tunnel opening that had not been cleared. A terrorist came out, with an RPG missile. The soldier screamed out for help as he started to engage the terrorist in battle. Together with his friends they were successful in neutralizing their would-be killer.

The entire group of soldiers was so inspired by this miracle that had come as a result of praying Mincha that they decided they would all pray the Mincha service the next day in thanksgiving to G-d.

A small story in a large and complicated labyrinth of multifaceted military operations. 

One of those rays of light in the very tense situation that has engulfed us since Simchas Torah – October 7.

One of the ways we generate light is by finding the kindnesses of Hashem in every aspect of our lives. 

Moreover, many people feel Hashems presence even more strongly during these challenging times.

It is really up to us, how much we choose to see Hashem in our lives.

If we pay attention, we will begin to notice the small miracles and signs that He is here. 

The Baal Shemtov taught that since nothing is random, we should search to find a lesson in everything we see.

For example. Even in the number of the new secular year we can find a lesson.

(I had this thought when I was meeting earlier this week with Elon from Brooklyn (now living here). He came to learn how to put on Tefilin daily in honor of the protection of our soldiers and our Jewish brothers and sisters in Israel and all around the world. We got to talk about the numerology of this year, and he pointed out the number eight in the sum of the year. 

Please follow Elon’s example and transform your deep feelings of ‘am yisrael chai’ into tangible mitzvahs. Hashem gives us the mitzvot in order to illuminate ourselves, our immediate environment and the entire world. Click here to see how your mitzvah helps the soldiers and the collective Jewish people).

2+0+2+4 = 8.

Eight is a number that symbolizes ‘beyond nature’.

Seven are the days of the week.

Eight are the days of the ‘bris’ G-d’s covenant with Jewish males. G-d supersedes nature.

Seven are the number of strands in the harp in the temple of yore.

Eight are the number of strands in the harp that will be used when Mashiach comes.  

We need and anticipate Mashiach now more then ever.

It’s the year of 5784 in the count from creation. The ‘eighth decade’ of this century.

It’s 8 if you add up 2024.

May G-d shine His supernatural presence here on earth and may we merit the coming of Mashiach NOW.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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