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From the Rabbi's Desk

Miracles How To

Moses? Check. 
Pharaoh? Check.
Aaron the high priest? Miriam the prophetess? Check, check.
Nachson ben Aminadav? Say who?

Who is this (relatively) unknown figure?

The seventh day of Passover is when the splitting of the sea occurred. Imagine the chaos as hundreds of thousands of just-released slaves turn around to see Egyptian chariots chasing them down. With the red sea in front of them and the seemingly certain return to slavery behind them, no one quite knew what to do,  and there were many varied responses (
see my previous blog post) They needed a miracle. But how do you evoke a miracle? There's no instruction manual for miracle stimulation.

Well, from amongst the throngs, emerged one soon-to-be hero; Nachshon. The dire circumstance didn't phase him, the hysteria didn't shake him. He was laser-focused on the task at hand. Hashem had instructed them to travel, and come fire (Egyptian arrows) or come water (the Red Sea), nothing would derail him.

And so he stepped into the water and continued walking. Knees followed ankles, chest, and shoulders quickly proceeded. When it got to his nostrils, that is when the iconic miracle transpired. The waters split, allowing the fledgling Jewish nation to pass through on dry land.

The message to us is that miracles - the ability to overcome daunting obstacles - are inspired by action. Almost as if Hashem is saying, "you do your part, and I will do mine".

The Talmud relates a story of an impoverished sage who wanted to bring something special to the Holy Temple but could not afford to. One day, Rabbi Chanina ben Dosa spotted the most beautiful boulder and decided that it would make the perfect gift. As it was extremely heavy, he tried to flag down a group of passersby to help him transport it. After multiple failed attempts, a group of angels disguised as people appeared. They agreed with one stipulation; he must help them by placing his little finger on the rock. In an instant, they were in Jerusalem. 

Why the need for his finger? Because for miracles to happen, we need to tickle them awake. "You do your part, and I will do mine".

Zero Chance?

Passover. A wonderful time for family and community. We gather around the festive Seder table to relive the exodus out of Egypt.

Whether the Haggadah (story of the exodus) takes you 30 minutes or 2 hours, it sounds like a simple story, The Jews were slaves, and then got out free. As a result, we celebrate with Matzah, wine, bitter herbs and the most delicious brisket.

But think about this for a second: The slavery lasted 210 years, not just days or months. In other words, these Jews had never known a day of freedom in their lives. Their only reality was slavery. Coupled with the fact that Egypt's track record for escaped slaves was a big round zero.

This is exactly the message of Passover. Sometimes we can find ourselves in a place where there does not seem to be an exit from a tough situation. Or sometimes there might be a formidable obstacle preventing us from achieving our goals. And Passover shows us that miracles are possible. We can and should believe in a brighter tomorrow. Yesterday's reality of slavery bears no weight against tomorrow's opportunity for freedom, growth, and the ability to pursue our dreams.

This Passover, open yourself up to a miraculous future!

Wishing you and your family a happy and liberating Passover.

My Seder in Russia

What a wonderful way to dedicate the New Center! Thank you to all who came out and to all those who participated in making this a reality! Amazing Jewish music by the band, a delicious spread of Kosher sushi, desserts, strudel, salads and more. We affixed the Mezuzah and started the printing of Petaluma's first special edition Tanya! 

Check out the photo gallery below!

Sunday we are having a 
Model Matzah Bakery, a hands-on Passover experience, taking wheat stalks, grinding them into flour, and making handmade Matzah. Educational, fun, and an amazing way to get into the Seder spirit.

Seeing this, a friend sent me some photos of a Matzah Bakery from 17 years ago. As young Yeshiva students, we traveled to Ryazan a Russian city some 4 hours away from Moscow. For the small Jewish community that lived there, it was a magical week that they looked forward to for months.

Many of the adults had grown up under the Soviet communist regim, when celebrating Passover in a communal setting was near impossible. As a result, the handful of children barely knew about Matzah, the Seder, or the slavery of our ancestors in Egypt. Yet, the inextinguishable Jewish flame burned brightly, curiosity apparent on these pure faces.

While the language made purchasing produce from the local bazaar more difficult and we needed a translator to do the traditional bargaining, when it came to the Jewish community, my poor Russian (I've improved since then!) hardly got in the way. Instead, as we baked Matzah with the children, hosted a kumzitz with a group of Jewish students in our Gastinitza (motel), and sat with over 140 people at our seder celebrating freedom in a place that had much too recently only known oppression, we understood each other perfectly. As midnight approached and we sang Tumbalalaika, we communicated through the language of the soul. Together we prayed for the same future as Jews the world over at their family or community Seder table wished for, "Na sledushom gadu v'Yerusaleme" - Next Year in Jerusalem!

What I took from that special unforgettable trip, is that as wonderful as our traditions are, they are that much sweeter when shared with others. So whether you invite a coworker to join your family's Seder, or bring along a friend to Friday's 
Community Seder at the new Chabad Center, let's think of how we can help someone else on their journey out of a personal Egypt to true inner freedom.

The New Month

This Shabbat is called "Hachodesh" - the month. It's the time when we were given the Mitzvah of the Jewish calendar. It is a lunar calendar. When the moon fades to complete darkness, and the new moon first emerges, it becomes a new month. 

That being said, it was not celebrated (in temple times) as the new month until two witnesses would come to the court confirming that they had seen the new moon. Not just Rosh Chodesh (the 1st of the month), but all the Jewish holidays would be determined based on this. e.g. Passover is on the 15th of the month, so it could shift from a Tuesday to a Wednesday depending completely on whether the moon had been spotted.

This was Hashem giving the power to the people. The very holidays that he instructed us to celebrate, we make them happen. Even now, that a calendar is in place, it was authored and organized and calculated by us, people. 

This Sunday, right in theme, we have another instance of something powerful created by the people. A beautiful community center to celebrate, share, laugh and learn. It is thanks to the wonderful community that we are blessed to be a part of that this has materialized. 

We can't wait to celebrate with all of you this Sunday, 11:00am. 205 Keller Street #101

Turbo Boost

Cell phone chargers, gas stations, the supermarket, sleep. Refueling is something that is part of the fabric of life. There is so much we want to accomplish, destinations to travel to, projects to complete, but without proper nutrition (and a charged cellphone), we become incapacitated.

Shabbat. It's the day of rest. When we take a break from the usual chaos of the mundane workweek, and we take the time to get back to ourselves, to reflect, and to be refreshed for when the cycle of life begins again.

But it's not just a lack of a crazy schedule. It's not just about a break from the homework and conference calls. It's not a pause button. Shabbat uplifts. Shabbat recharges our battery. It infuses us with the energy required for us to navigate the week.

In the Kaballah it states דמיניה מתברכין כולהו יומין - all the days of the week are blessed from Shabbat. It's like a micro Rosh Hashanah empowering us to face the challenges ahead.

Once a month we have a super-powered Shabbat. It's called Shabbat Mevorchim - the Shabbat that blesses - and it influences the entire month. It's the Shabbat before Rosh Chodesh (the start of the month in the Jewish lunar calendar) and it gives us a turbo-boost. We come out of this Shabbat with engines blazing, spiritual grocery cart full, rearing to go and tackle everything that awaits us. We've got our gear and are ready for the adventure of life.

So take a look at 
your calendar and see what's coming up in your life. Of course, there's Passover (and a beautiful Community Seder), there's the Grand Opening one week from Sunday (it's going to be amazing!), and there's everything from JSprouts Tinkergarten, to a Model Matzah Bakery(make your own Matzah!). And then there's your personal agenda. A doctor's visit with an optimistic prognosis, a test to pass with flying colors, a personal best at the gym, a world record to break. How do we gather the strength to climb that mountain? This Shabbat, fill up your metaphorical canteen and grab a protein bar. Light Shabbat candles (5:54pm), sing the Kiddush, recite your favorite Jewish prayer. The energy buffet is open and we're all invited.

Grand Opening

In Jewish tradition, nothing is by chance.

Everything is by divine providence. Take the Purim story as an example. There was an incredible amount of heavenly orchestration for everything to work out the way it did. Esther being queen. Mordechai overhearing the plot to murder the king. The king's sleepless night. And that's the Purim message; to recognize the miraculous within the ordinary.

In the Torah we have been reading about the building of the original Shul (synagogue) - it was the Tabernacle, the traveling temple. This became the prototype for the future Holy Temple in Jerusalem. Shuls across the globe still bear many resemblances to the original. 

In the Holy of Holies was an ark with the tablets. In Synagogues, there's an ark with a Torah scroll. The Eternal Lamp represents the Menorah, that was never fully extinguished. The curtain on the ark (called Parochet) similar to the curtain that partitioned the Holy of Holies from the rest of the Sanctuary.

And then there is the matter of how it happened. They did a fundraising campaign. And the Jewish community showed up. They brought gold, silver, and copper. Expensive wools, and beams of Acacia wood. Precious gems and mirrors for the wash basin. They came with such speed and alacrity, so much enthusiasm for this project, that Moshe had to call off the campaign.

This week, our community, followed in this tradition. When we announced the #NextLevel campaign for the new center, an amazing outpouring of generosity ensued. I'd like to say that it was unprecedented, but it was. Perhaps it is wired in our DNA, inspired by our ancestors in the desert. And while we still have a wish list of items for the new center (coming soon), the lease is signed, the foundation is set for a bright Jewish future.

One thing is for sure, when the Jewish community bands together, we can accomplish amazing things together. So thank you to all who of you who participated and made it happen!

Now, please join us, as we march together into the #NextLevel with a Grand Opening on Sunday, March 18th.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom and Happy Purim!

Who is the Hero?

This one's a keeper.

The Purim story is chock full of drama. From Haman's wicked decree to annihilate every Jew, to Mordechai's defiant refusal to bow to Haman. King Acahashverosh's sleepless night revealing the forgotten episode when Mordechai save the king's life. Esther becoming the queen and risking her life to save the day.

Yet, there's another brave Hero in the Purim story. And perhaps this is the reason why Purim is celebrated with such joy year after year.

Unlike the Holocaust, when the Nazis did not discriminate and ruthlessly targeted anyone who was born to Jewish parents or grandparents, Purim was different.

The decree was limited to the Yehudim; those who identified as Jewish. Anyone could have renounced their faith at any time during the year (yes, nearly a full year!) before the deadline (no pun intended), and their life would have been spared.

The Midrash tells us, that not only did no one take advantage of this escape route, no one even considered it. These brave heroes stood up for their beliefs in the face of adversity, when things looked bleak with no sign of change. Perhaps this very courage was the catalyst behind the miracle, the cause for the reversal of the tide (don't eat Tide pods).

This is actually a moment of greater magnitude than Mount Sinai! At Sinai, the Jews had no idea what being Jewish was all about, they didn't know what surprises the Torah held. It was very much a blind date. If at any point we felt overwhelmed, we could have said this is not what we signed up for. We could have returned the product with free return shipping: Item not as expected.

The Purim story is when we effectively swore our pledge of allegiance. It's when we resolved not just to keep the product, but to risk our very lives to protect and preserve our relationship.

Parkland, FL

Emotions swirling around. Evil reared its ugly head again in yet another horrific and devastating school shooting. This one perhaps strikes closer to home as several Jewish students, as well as a heroic teacher, shot while protecting his students, were Jewish.

A single senseless and callous act by an individual, leaving thousands of family members, classmates, friends, and acquaintances heartbroken. And though on the opposite side of the country, I hugged my kids a little tighter last night, hoping and praying for a safer world.

For inspiration, I looked at this week's Torah portion. It's about the tabernacle, the temporary temple that accompanied the Jews on their journey through the desert. 

A central component was the mizbeach - the altar. It was not some kind of magic trick that wiped away a transgression. Rather it was an experience and a process that realigned one's consciousness. Whereas it is only natural that sometimes we may make choices that are less than ideal, this aimed to get us back on track. The music of the Levites, the contrite meditation, the holy atmosphere, all aiming to elevate the individual to a higher place.

Interestingly, no iron tools were permitted for the construction of the altar. As Rashi explains; Iron was created to shorten the life of man, and the altar wascreated to lengthen the life of man. The whole point of the Temple is to bring us to a more sensitive, less selfish place.

We see a similar sensitivity with the Ark in the holiest spot. On the ark were two Keruvim (cherub-like figures). The Talmud tells us that when the Jewish people were getting along, caring for and respecting each other, the Keruvim faced each other. At times of quarrel and dispute, they would turn away from each other, symbolizing that the divine itself was disrupted from a state of harmony.

The truth is, that these messages are not just from a time bygone. Each of us can be a mini-tabernacle, creating a place worthy of being Hashem's home. We each can try to be more selfless instead of selfish, more loving and caring. We can aim to live for a Higher purpose, not to lose control to negativity. And above all, to value the precious gift of Life, and do whatever it takes to preserve and protect Life. This awareness is what we need to communicate to our children, it needs to be taught in schools, and it needs to permeate our everyday actions. 

With each of us exuding care and compassion, it might just rub off on someone going through a tough time, and the positive energy may just reflect back. 

Let us band together to eradicate the evil of this world with acts of love, goodness, and kindness. Kick it off with lighting the Shabbat candles this evening at 5:32pm. The world needs my light. The world needs your light. The world needs our light. Light will prevail over dark. Let us make that happen once and forever.

With thoughts and prayers for all of the families who lost loved ones,

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

Exceedingly Ordinary

 Following last week's incredible high with the giving of the Torah at Sinai, this week seems way too plain. Gone are the lightning and thunder, the miracles and marvels of heaven touching earth.

Now they are replaced by the utterly mundane, the everyday struggles and scenarios. We just went from "the big ten" emblazoned on sapphire tablets, to the civil legalities of property damage, financial disputes, court adjudications and a plethora of other exceedingly ordinary laws and topics. 

We just went from #epicrevelation to #adayinthelife.

The key to unlock this mystery is a single letter. The Hebrew letter ו - vov means "and". This is the opening line of this week's Torah reading "and these are the laws".

Let us not think that being Jewish is all about a transcendental revelation, a unique moment in time, or a specific location. Moments like that are awesome and serve to inspire and invigorate. But regular life; our daily interactions, behaviors, and experiences, are just as much an expression of who we are.

The Holy Temple, the Shul (synagogue), Sinai, Yom Kippur, are all integral components of our tradition and are definitely highlights. But the litmus test of whether we are properly calibrated is when we step out into the street, into our family, community, and workplace. In the ultra-ordinary, not-even-Instagram-worthy aspects of our lives, we can choose to express the divine there. 

Conducting ourselves based on the principles set out in the Torah with honesty, integrity, respect, and compassion, we turn our entire world into a veritable Sinai.

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!

It's All About Growth

This week it's all about growth.

It's Tu B'shvat, the Jewish New Year of the trees.

We commemorate it by thinking about the environment, eating fruit (especially the special seven), and trying to emulate trees.

How does one be like a tree?

Every day it grows, not satisfied with the accomplishments of yesterday. It's not happy that it has the nutrients that it needs, but seeks to provide nourishment for others, yielding luscious fruit from its branches. It uses its shade to protect and shield from the harsh rays of the sun.

Yet at the same time, we see the importance of caring for those same trees to keep that precious environmental balance going. And that holds particularly true in the tree's earliest stages. The seed needs to be perfect and unblemished, the young sprout needs warmth and protection, and the young sapling needs support. With the continuous care and nurture, and blessings from Above, we can be sure that it will grow into a sturdy and productive tree.

This is the inspiration behind so many of the programs that we do at Chabad, from our amazing Camp Aleph (
registration is open for summer 2018), to our Jewish Kids Cluband Ready, Set Aleph Bet.

And now, for the very youngest, we have just launched JSprouts a whole series of awesome programs, to create a nurturing and supportive atmosphere in a fun and exciting way. Check it all out at
1st event this Wednesday - see below!

And if you have outgrown that young and delightful stage, yet are still young at heart, join us for Tu Bshvat planting at Steamer Landing Park this Sunday at 12:30pm inpartnership with the Friends of the Petaluma River. This event is for all ages young and old alike!

And most important, let's learn from the trees in our own life, to continue to grow, and to always be there for others.



Did you know that not all the Jews left Egypt?

We all heard about the ten plagues, the splitting of the sea and the forty-year journey through the desert. After two centuries of back-breaking labor, life was finally looking good. A start of a nation, a promise of a land, a faithful leader they never had. A magical transformative time. No longer would hardship and suffering be their only reality. So much to look forward to.

And yet, the Midrash tells us, that many did not leave. In fact, a full 80% of the soon to be nation remained behind. Which unfortunately makes sense. This was the only life they ever knew, and hard as it was, the unknown, in a potentially treacherous desert without resources and provisions, was frightening.

You see, the very first, and most vital step in overcoming any obstacle, is an inner desire for change. The bravery to leave the subpar familiar, for a potential of freedom. The hardest part of moving a car is the first push. And that drive is fueled by something straight from our core. Once that inner fire is lit, nothing can stand in our way. 

With a willpower like that, the splitting of the sea, Sinai, and a life lived for a Higher purpose, are mere steps away.

Another takeaway is to be aware of those around us going through tough challenges. There are times when it can be difficult for them to muster the courage to reach for a better life. Let's not leave them behind. A helping hand is needed more than ever to allow them to see beyond the wall they are facing, and realize the dreams awaiting them on the other side of a seemingly impassable sea. Yes, you can!

May we all break free from our constraints, overcome any obstacles we may face, and experience true growth in our personal lives and collectively as the Jewish nation.


The Burning Bush


The Burning Bush.

One of the most iconic, Instagram worthy images of the entire Egypt thing. After chasing down a runaway sheep, Moses notices a thornbush on fire, yet strangely, it was not consumed.

In the ensuing conversation, Moshe receives the mission of the century; Go to Pharaoh and tell him to "let my people go", and take the Jews out of Egypt. Sounds easy? Moshe definitely didn't think so. He protested "but they won't believe me!"

After 210 years of back-breaking slavery, the only reality that they ever knew, Moshe anticipated rejection, dismissal and mockery. Hashem gave him signs to prove that he was legit (think staff transformed into a snake).

When it came down to it, the Torah tells us "the nation believed" - not that they were persuaded by the miraculous sign. 

This is what we are all about. We have an innate soul quality that continues to shine despite whatever shmutz (dirt) you heap upon it. They were never slaves, they were Jews compelled to do slave labor. They never lost their identity, never gave up their hope. Now with Moshe standing in front of them with a promise of a better life, it was the moment they had been yearning for and expecting for the last two centuries. 

When we find ourselves in a situation that compromises who we are, we don't need to accept it. We can believe and hopefully merit a better tomorrow.



The Earthquake

Early Thursday morning, a 4.4 magnitude earthquake woke me up. Barely. Perhaps it was just a dream? For many, it came as a surprise the next morning that they had missed out on the "action". Its epicenter was located in Berkley 45 miles away. Thankfully, no injuries or damage.

Everything we experience in life can teach and inspire us.

Living a peaceful life sounds like a dream. Imagine not having to worry, not having unmet needs, simply able to kick back and relax. However, with it, comes a certain danger, or at the very least something to be wary of. Complacency. A gentle shake every now and then can be our natural alarm clock, not to fall asleep on the job. Floating along on your kayak can be relaxing, but it won't necessarily land us at our destination.

In Egypt, which is where the Jews find themselves swimming in this week's Torah, the greatest challenge that they faced was getting too comfortable. If they learned to accept life the way it was, slavery and all, they would no longer have any desire to leave, to find a better life, to become free.

So they set up safeguards, mechanisms to help them from forgetting the dangers of falling asleep at the wheel. They resolved to keep their Jewish identity strong by not adopting an Egyptian lifestyle. They kept their names, their mode of dress, and their language. They decided to paddle upstream. 

In our own lives, we can think of where complacency might be hampering our dreams and aspirations. And whether or not we woke up from the earthquake, we can use it as a jolt to remind us to keep on growing.

p.s. Like the Jews in Egypt, if you'd like to read Hebrew, 
join RIIH - a 5 week Hebrew Reading crash course, that will take you from A to Z (or Aleph to Tav as the case may be). Enter without knowing a single letter, leave being able to read straight from a Hebrew prayer book.

Virtual Reality

With schools taking winter breaks this week, we took a day trip down to Cupertino to see Apple Headquarters.

A special edition book displays the evolution of Apple products. Just 17 years ago, the first iPod was manufactured. Since then, the products have become ubiquitous in millions of homes and pockets, as they have become more powerful, advanced, and sleek.

About one month ago, they opened a visitors center across the street from Apple Park, the new massive circular spaceship-like campus that will house 12,000 employees. At the visitors center, they have an aluminum model of the campus, designed to "tour" the campus through virtual reality. Pointing an iPad at the massive table, one can explore the buildings and surrounding nature and infrastructure.

This dreamlike new-age concept of virtual reality - the ability to overlay an imaginative experience on top of a tangible realistic one is a central theme in this week's Torah.

In blessing his grandchildren, Jacob crosses his hands to place his right hand on Ephraim's head, despite Menashe being the firstborn. Naturally, this was no random act, but a purposeful message.

The Hebrew meaning of Menashe is "forget" - a constant reminder to Joseph that while living in the spiritually devoid Egypt, he must not forget where he came from. So he would reminisce about life in the "good old days", hanging on to the memories of what life was like growing up in the home of his righteous parents and grandparents.

Ephraim, on the other hand, comes from the word "Pri" (fruit), symbolizing a very different approach. It is the choice to be fruitful in a barren land, to impact one's surroundings, to overlay my dreams and visions over a cold hard surface. Yet not to suffice with a "virtual reality", but to truly transform the environment.

This is the preferred method for dealing with life's challenges. Sure, we can gain inspiration and direction from memories. But the quantum leap into a futuristic, advanced reality, to achieve that success, we must embrace our new reality. Not to simply survive despite what life throws at me, but thrive as a result of it. To turn the darkness of our challenges into the fuel that powers our dreams.

Welcome to Winter!

Welcome to Winter!

Well, as much of winter as Petaluma gets. While we are under a freeze warning, it is certainly milder than a Siberian winter. 

Considering that even warmer climates still get the winter designation, it got me thinking. What is winter, if not just snowball fights and icy roads? Is it just a signal that a vacation (or stay-cation) is just around the bend?

The common denominator across the Northern Hemisphere is that the nights are longer. There is a lack of light. The sunlight that we became so accustomed to over the summer months, is now something we can't get enough of.

At first glance, it seems like an unfortunate time of year. It's dark, cold, and unfriendly. Yet it is precisely at this time that an opportunity arises. The opportunity for us to shine, to share, to warm up the night. Light can only be appreciated in contrast to darkness.

It is this season when we huddle together sipping hot-cocoa around the fireplace. It is during this season when the world as a whole gets into the giving spirit. It is at this time, that we gather together with our family and community to light the Menorah and brighten the night. That is what happened this past Sunday night for Chanukah at the river as 300 gathered together to say no to darkness, to fight for light.

A Yiddish expression describes two ways of staying warm. One is to put on a fur coat, ensuring that I am comfortable and cozy. The second method is to heat up the furnace, thereby sharing the warmth with everyone in our circles, and changing the reality from cold to warm.

So whether you are off to Tahoe for some snow, or your are hunkering down for some family time, let's keep the light of Chanukah shining and create the warmest winter for our families, neighbors, and community!

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