Hair in the parsha + Divine Providence stories from US trip

Friday, 12 April, 2024 - 3:58 am

This week’s parsha of Tazria, references hair.

The Midrash tells the following story.

There was a man who was not able to support his family and he was planning to leave Israel to search for ‘parnassa’, avenues of support.

This man was a Torah scholar and in one of his Torah lessons, he was expounding on the greatness of Hashem. He taught that even from our hair, we can learn about Hashem’s greatness.

With all of the myriads of hairs on our body, every hair has its own ‘hole’ in the skin (today we call it a hair follicle) from which it grows and is sustained. This means that two hairs are not being nurtured by the same energy source. They each have their own follicle from where they grow.

His wife was listening to his speech, and she commented ‘you perceive the greatness of Hashem and His immaculate design even of a hair, and yet you are planning to leave the holy land of Israel to find ‘parnassa’ a livelihood for our family’?

If Hashem provides an energy source for every individual hair, certainly He can provide you with the support you need for our family without having to leave the holy land of Israel.

The Midrash concludes, the man listened to his wife’s inspirational insight and stayed home. Hashem indeed provided a source of sustenance for their family.

The Talmud states something very similar:

No person may touch that which is prepared for another by G-d; everyone receives what is designated for him. 

If every hair has its own follicle, this means that there are no two hairs that are competing for the same source of nurturing.

This inspired way of thinking and believing in G-d’s Providence is a way to living more calmly and being more scrupulously honest.

A lot of angst comes from being uncertain about where one’s livelihood and subsistence will come from.

Dishonesty is making the mistake to think that you can deceitfully take that which rightfully belongs to someone else.

Fear of competition is the mistaken notion that someone can take something from you that is rightfully yours.

By reflecting on how G-d is running of every single aspect of the universe, down to every hair having its own ‘source’, one can live a more inspired and balanced life.

One could ask the question, according to the teaching I quoted above, why are there so many devout people who travel to support themselves and their families?

(The topic of travel for earning one’s livelihood is discussed in ‘Gates of Trust’ – ‘Sha’ar Habitachon, click here for further discussion ).

The simple understanding is that Hashem wants us to do what is needed according to the laws of nature and then He blesses our efforts with success. Which means that since in today’s global environment it is quite common that one needs to travel for work, this is then the way Hashem chooses to send you the blessings of parnassa and support.

The Baal Shem Tov added a deeper dimension.

The Baal Shem Tov taught that it is Divine Providence that leads a person to a certain place. G‑d orchestrates that you end up in a specific place. The person may think that he has traveled there in order to generate his livelihood but really the Divine plan has him travel there in order to spread the light of G‑d in that very place

He explains the verse ‘And you will go to the place that the L-rd, your G‑d, will choose to make His name dwell there; ( Deuteronomy 26:2)  as follows: You must know that you go from one place to another because G‑d has chosen this path, so that His name will dwell there. ( Hayom Yom 18 Elul ).

Sometimes we can see the deeper mission inherent in our travels, sometimes it may remain more obscured. It is a blessing when Hashem gives you glimpses of deeper meaning at play during one’s travels.

I have just landed back in Bangkok after a trip to the USA to raise funds for our extensive Pesach Seder hosting. We are preparing for the upward of ten thousand Pesach meals being served at our Chabad Houses throughout Thailand.

Let me share a few stories from my trip which showed me so poignantly the inner purpose of the journey ‘to spread the light of G-d in that very place’.

My dear friend Abtin (Yitschak ben Aharon) Etessami passed away a day before Purim. Abtin who was a jeweler and precious-stone merchant visited Thailand many times and we became close friends. As one of the most popular men in his community (the Mashadi community of Great Neck NY), Abtin introduced me to many philanthropic members of his community who became supporters of the work of Chabad of Thailand. Every year before Pesach, Abtin would dedicate a few days to take me around and raise funds for our Pesach hospitality and Seders.

Sadly, after battling illness for a few years, Abtin passed away. I arrived in NY on my scheduled trip just in time to speak at the last Shiva gathering in the main community synagogue. The family and friends were inspired by my words in which I shared some of the unique qualities that Abtin possessed in terms of his unyielding devotion to G-d coupled with his incredible love and acts of kindness to others.

A group of friends made an evening in Abtins memory and invited me to share stories from Thailand. In one of the stories, I shared a ‘chance’ meeting with a Jew, on Charoenkrung Rd who I was able to bring to the Even Chen synagogue to complete the minyan on the Shabbat before Yom Kippur in the late 1990’s. I mentioned that I had lost contact with this person and mused that it would be nice to perhaps send him some shmura matzah for Pesach. Someone at the small gathering said that he recognizes the name of this person as he works in the same area. I asked him to follow up and deliver some shmura matzah. A few days later he sent me a note that the mission was accomplished, the matzah was delivered.

Telling this story, had seemed so coincidental, yet clearly it turned out to be part of the Divine mission of my journey.

Fast forward to the end of my trip. I attended a wedding in Dallas, Texas on my way home and found that the most convenient flight back to Thailand was on the following day from Houston. I decided to use the opportunity to visit very dear friends that I have there and we made a lunch appointment.

While I was there I also planned to pay a spontaneous visit Mr. S whom I had ‘randomly’ met in NY the year before.

Last year, while I was in one of the NY gem dealers’ offices on 47th St. before Pesach, I met a Jew Mr. S. from Houston who is a jeweler. I offered him the opportunity to put on tefillin which he gladly did. Afterwards he gave me a modest donation for tzedakah.

This year when I visited the same office in NY, I mentioned that I am going home through Houston and remembered that last year I had met Mr. S. from Houston. The NY gem dealer gladly gave me the address of the Houston Jew.

After having lunch with my dear Houston friends, I set off to find the jeweler and provide him with some shmura matza for the seder. I pulled up to the address given and asked for Mr. S. When they asked me which Mr. S. I was stymied. I really didn’t know the person that well and didn’t remember his first name. Apparently, there were a few Mr. S's at that business. I said I think he is in his sixties. To which the staff responded, look outside the store, the Mr. S. you are looking for just pulled up in his car in front of the store. Mr. S. walked in and remembered who I was. I presented him with matzah, we put on tefillin, and he once again kindly gave me a modest donation.

It was a meaningful encounter, spreading the light of Yiddishkeit, albeit one that was definitely not part of my conscious reason for traveling to Houston.

Earlier that day as I was driving from Dallas to Houston, I was talking to my wife and she suggested that I should consider visiting G and his wife, a couple who had lived in Thailand for two years about twenty years ago. An hour later I received a voice note from one of the Chabad rabbis in Houston who knew of my friendship with G. ‘I heard that you were in Dallas for a wedding, I think if you had the opportunity to visit G it would be very meaningful as his disease has come back…’. I reached out to G and he told me he was leaving the next day to NY to participate in an exploratory treatment regimen but could see me that afternoon. I visited G and his wife, brought them shmura matza and had a very meaningful conversation in which I both shared and received inspiration.

With the few hours available between my meetings and my flight I was invited to give a class for the Israeli Chabad House in Houston and share Torah inspiration flavored with ‘Jewish Life in Thailand’ stories. How gratifying it was to be greeted be S. who I had helped repatriate back to Israel twenty some years ago after he had a mind-altering substance experience that went awry. Thank G-d he is recovered and is fully functional.

Similarly, I had the opportunity in NY to share inspiration with college students when my brother who is Chabad at Temple University brought a group to visit the Chabad neighborhood of Crown Heights.

These ‘side’ activities were not the ‘main’ conscious reasons for my travels, but certainly they are part of Hashem’s plan and who knows, perhaps they were the ‘real’ reason, and the fundraising was just a ‘cover’.

There were so many other stories, connections and incredible ‘Divine Providence’ encounters during my trip, but for now I will simply say Thank You Hashem for showing me Your Guidance in every single detail.

We are a bit more than a week away from Pesach the festival of our liberation. Pesach is the holiday of our personal liberation. It is not just a historical liberation of our ancestors, rather it is Hashems gift of personal freedom for each one of us.

Faith and trust in the Almighty are the surest way to freedom and liberation from angst, worry, anxiety and fear.

May Hashem bless each and every one of us with liberation from all worries and anxieties. May we be blessed with all that we need.

May Hashem bless us with the release of our captives, success of our soldiers, healing of our wounded, secure peace in our holy land of Israel and security for Jews world over.

And most importantly ‘Leshana Habaah BeYerushalayim’ may we celebrate Pesach with Mashiach in Jerusalem.

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Yosef Kantor

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