From the Rabbi's Desk

A Single Letter


A single letter.

Studying for an upcoming Bar Mitzvah, we were looking at the Torah scroll and noticing the precision of all the handwritten letters, the size, uniformity, no two letters touching, etc.

But did you know that if the Torah scroll is missing a single letter it is invalid? Howe menny t1mes hav yoo red a boock, notised a spehling eror, and thought that the editor could have done a better job proofreading? 

With the Torah, however, it is essential. Because every letter is precise and adds meaning and message. 

The Torah portion begins with the Hebrew letter "Vav", which means "and". And these are the laws. But how do you start off a story with the word (or letter) "and". Imagine you start a conversation with a friend with "and I went to the store".

"And" connects us to whatever came before. The Forty-Niners had a stunning comeback... and they are playing in the Superbowl. So let's look at what came before in the Torah.

It was last week's reading of the Ten Commandments on Mount Sinai. A truly miraculous, larger-than-life, inspirational experience.

This week, we have many instructions on adjudicating civil legal matters. What happens if my ox gores another's or causes damage by trampling someone's cabbage patch? What if a friend asks me to housesit while they are off on vacation, and a robbery happens on my watch? What are the penalties for petty theft? Five different ways of evaluating monetary compensation for physical injury. In short, lots of boring (or fascinating) legalese, many mundane topics that might occur on the 9 to 5 clock. A far cry from the excitement of Sinai.

Embedded in the "and" is the following important reminder. Connecting with Hashem is not only about unearthly, supernatural experiences the likes of Sinai. The few times that we can get away from the hubbub of the world. It's also - in fact, primarily - when we do the right thing within the ordinary parameters of daily life. 

It may not feel quite as glorious, but this too, is straight from Hashem at Sinai and should be treated as such. And ultimately, it's these seemingly trivial matters, that when navigated properly, transform this world into a better place; a home for the Divine.



What an oversight! What oversight!

Language is funny. The above two statements are quite the paradox. 

While I decide whether to clip this paragraph, I wonder if that means to remove it or to attach it. Apparently, there is a fast rule that something fast can be anchored in place or moving quickly.

This is literally crazy. But not literally. It seems like we may have overlooked how much you can see from an overlook.

While I'm not a linguist, and etymology is a whole field of study, I think it's safe to say that not every word is perfectly precise. After all, so many words have evolved from other languages, colloquial expression, or creative license. I mean, you can Google it - but not before 1998.

Language is primarily a means of communication. So when I order a table from a furniture company, they don't send me a chair. Or a hot dog. I like to imagine that there was a convention of the great scholars of each nation during which they formally agreed on which formulation of letters and sounds should have which meaning.

Theoretically, if at next year's Linguist Convention, they would decide that a table is the new word for chair and vice versa, utter confusion would ensue for a few months, Ashley's would run a creative marketing campaign, and eventually, after some amount of protest, the change would be complete.

There is one language, however, where the meaning, letters, and formulation are intrinsic, precise, unchangeable.


This language is not simply communication. It is energy. It is the transmission of, or the expression of that energy. It runs deep to the core of the Speaker or Author. It is the power Hashem used to create the world through speech - "Let There be Light". It is the reason the sages in the Talmud could not attribute an extra letter to a spelling mistake, but rather a deeper message. It is the reason why over millennia, every Torah scroll is identical.

It is the reason why although prayer is permitted in every language, it must be in a language you understand. Otherwise, it is hardly communication. However, prayer in Hebrew is allowed even if we don't understand the meaning of each word. Because this divinely authored language is pure, potent, and effective energy.

So while it may be awesome to be able to order a פלפל (falafel) and show off your vocabulary, or navigate the streets of Tel Aviv, that is just a perk. Being able to read Hebrew connects you with a language as old as the world, allows you access to the OG (original) message of the Torah, and tethers you to something authentic, precise, and deeply meaningful.

So if you've always wanted to master Hebrew Reading, here is your chance. We'll be starting a 5-week crash course, after which you will literally (as in actually) be able to read Hebrew. Check out the info below (and if the timing isn't great for you, reply to this email anyway, as we may be adjusting the schedule).

Jungle or Garden


The Garden of Eden. Where is it?

I'm not sure what Google Maps would say, (although a family favorite was a Kosher NY restaurant called Garden of Eat-In). But the truth is, it's right here; Earth.

You may be looking out your window, or at news headlines, and seeing less garden and more jungle, and wondering where is the beauty? Not quite the Gardens of Versailles. In the tangled vines of business, politics, and self-centeredness, the flowers seem all but struggling to hang on. What hope is there to ever clean up this mess? Who made this mess in the first place?

The reality is the world started as a garden, and without proper attention, it is all but inevitable for it to become overgrown and unwelcoming. In fact, we also have the ability and the careless tendency to trample through the flower beds, leaving havoc in our wake.

But it is the same "we" who are the key to the solution. We hold another important position.

The Gardeners. We were entrusted and given the tools to be able to turn jungle into garden. To weed out negative and nurture the space back to beautiful life, with the scents, sights, and nutrients, that will be a delight to visit.

We are the conductor who turns random noise, into a harmonic symphony.

We are the artist who takes clashing splatters of paint and transforms it into a masterpiece of gradients and shades.

As we navigate the world around us, from family to workplace, from neighbors to global geopolitics, let's look at everything through the gentle, masterful, and visionary lens of the gardeners that we are meant to be.

Together, with time, work, persistence, and patience, adhering to the blueprints of the Creator of this space, we can restore, and dare I say, improve and upgrade our world to be the most picturesque, fragrant, and idyllic garden imaginable. One fit for Royalty.



The room was silent. 

Suddenly a student perked up, “ Morah Chaya, will the Jews ever be extinct?”

I looked at her and answered, “Well, that’s up to you.”

I continued and questioned, “Where are the nations of the Persian, Greek and Roman Empire?”

“Gone.” they all answered.

We are here. We are a miracle. 

Each of us is a link in a chain going all the way up to Abraham and Isaac. 

This is where it is up to you. 

By showing up to Hebrew School, lighting Shabbat candles, putting on Tefilin, and learning Torah, you're ensuring you will carry on the Jewish torch for your family forever.

Despite the suffering of slavery, the Jews held on to Hashem’s promise of redemption. 

In this week’s Torah portion the miraculous plagues started to bring the Jews closer to freedom. 

When the Magicians could not imitate the plague of lice they proclaimed,

“Etzba Elokim Hee” It is the finger of G-d!

We are a miracle. 

And we are here today.

May we see the “finger” of Hashem, and all haters will have no choice but to proclaim:

“It is the Finger of G-D! They are a miracle.”

So to answer your question dear student:

"No. we will NEVER be extinct."



Anchors. A brilliant invention that allows a ship to survive stormy seas without being battered against perilous rocks jutting out of waters.

It's a reality check. While the shipbuilder surely had all the confidence in the world that his vessel was seaworthy, it would be foolish to head out on a voyage without an emergency preparedness kit, thus ensuring the safety of those on board, despite what any external forces may throw their way.

Once these measures (markers on a hiking trail, GPS trackers, the North Star) are in place, one can traverse treacherous terrain and yet remain on course.

This is precisely what Jacob did prior to going to Egypt. Aware that Egypt wouldn't be a walk in the park for the fledgling Jewish Nation, Jacob sent Judah to establish a place to study Torah. This would be their anchor. This would ensure that they would be able to rise to any challenges. That they would be like a buoy and float blissfully above any waves.

It is for this reason, that Jacob was able to live his 17 best years in the Land of Egypt. Reunited with Joseph, and equipped with the proper toolset to "win" at life, even Egypt couldn't put a damper on it.

So in our own lives, let's find that anchor that holds us strong in the face of adversity. Whether it's Shabbat with your family, a weekly Torah study session, or any of the 611 other Mitzvahs, we have the ability to plug in and weather any storm. Rising above the fray, above the darkened clouds, where the now distant noise doesn't faze us.

The morning after.


The morning after.

We did it. We pierced through the darkness. Introduced a new reality called light. We built on that success, expanding the warmth to a bright, glowing environment. 

And tonight, we put the exclamation mark on Chanukah, proclaiming that we are not satisfied if there is a single corner that is not illuminated. We are not content if one person's light is dim, feeling lonely and distant. Everyone has a place at the table. Everyone is invited to the party. It is only truly light, when there' no experience outside of that.

But then, what happens tomorrow night? How can we possibly go back to no light, no menorah? Did we gain all of that ground just to revert back to the pre-chanukah madness? Did we get all that buoyancy just to once again be defined by the laws of gravity?

No. To the contrary. We have so staked the claim in the field of light, that now light is the new normal. We don't need to light the Menorah, because we are the Menorah. We take the inspiration of Chanukah so much to heart, that tomorrow night, and all through the long nights of winter, we stay warm and glowing. 

So join us tomorrow evening for a Community Shabbat Dinner as the eighth day of Chanukah concludes; as we don't allow its light to wane. We enter right into the Shabbat lights, holding on to the power, luminance, and joy of Chanukah. 

If the Candles Could Speak


If the Candles Could Speak

As the flames dance atop the Chanukah lights, and I gaze into them, I imagine what the uniques message of each of the candles might be.

Naturally, the 1st Candle is a trailblazer, a Maccabee, forging ahead despite all odds. This candle shines in stark contrast to the heavy darkness surrounding it.

When Candle #2 comes into play, we realize that with a partner in the quest for light, it is warmer. It is brighter. The dense fog is beginning to lift. Together they resolve to introduce Candle #3. The troops are beginning to rally. Light is no longer a dream. It is a mission.

With Candle #4, it seems like we are finally shifting the equilibrium. The Menorah is balanced. And though half still remain unlit, the darkness already knows that it doesn't stand a chance against the confident advances of light. This is proven on night #5 when the scales tip in favor of truth, positivity, love, and kindness.

By the time Candle #6 is lit, it seems like we are unstoppable. Nothing will get in the way of eradicating darkness and evil.

As we light Candle #7, we enter into a full sprint towards the ultimate finish line. And as Candle #8 leaps to greet the Shamash (leader candle), the world practically explodes in a dazzling light show as victory is achieved.

This may seem like a distant dream, wishful thinking in a chaotic world. Yet, when we each light a Menorah in our own home, this journey becomes a reality for our own family. Displayed proudly in windows and doorways, it extends to our neighbors. And as the streets fill with light, a community of light warriors (present-day Maccabees) emerges.

Tonight, coupled with the light of the Shabbat candles, the path of light will expand. And the unstoppable force of Candle #2, from homes across Petaluma, along with the Community Menorah standing watch over the Petaluma River for the ninth year, will race across the hills and join cities around the world from the original public Menorah lit by Chabad in SF's Union Square since 1974 (we brought a stretch hummer Chanukah limousine filled with teenagers last night - see photos below!), to the menorah at the Eiffel Tower, in Rome, and the Brandenberg Gate in Berlin.

So share the light; with your family, neighbors, and extended circles, and let's create a world overpowered by a unanimous quest for light.

In a slump?


In a slump?

It happens to all of us. Even all star baseball players (Congratulations to the Texas Rangers on the world series).

Strikeout after groundout. 0 for 4. Batting average sliding. He's got to be wondering if he even deserves a place in the major leagues. Does he have what it takes to bring his team to victory for the first time in 63 years?

This week we read a fascinating story in the Haftorah in which the prophet Elisha advises a destitute woman to gather empty vessels and to pour the one jug of oil she has into them.

She does as she is instructed, borrowing, jugs, pots, and barrels. And she begins to pour. And the flow doesn't stop. Miraculously, she is able to fill them all with the precious oil, and consequently live on the proceeds.

This is a powerful metaphor for life. Sometimes we feel like all our vessels are empty, broken, dusty, and useless. We lack the passion, strength, and motivation to carry on. We look around and we don't see obvious answers, resources, or a way out. 

We need to remember. We do have a single inextinguishable, never-ending resource inside of us. The flask of pure oil - our divine soul inside, that cannot be tarnished, dimmed, or shuttered.

Those voids? Turn them into vessels. The emptiness? It's opportunity waiting for you to fill it up. You are on the team because you belong there. Within you, you have the power, skill, and fortitude to prevail; to turn a slump into a streak, to make it across the finish line as a true champion.

Class Photo

Last weekend I attended the annual conference fo Chabad rabbis, connecting and networking with friends and colleagues from around the nation and from across the globe. 

The highlight for me was a speaker at the grand banquet, who barely cleared the lectern while standing on a box. A nine-year-old boy, the grandson of the Chabad rabbi in Sderot, a border city in the south of Israel, where the ticking clock of danger is an everyday reality. 

Young Avremi, in front of a massive room of people, counted to twelve. And described how that short interval is engrained in his brain and heart; it's the amount of time he has day or night to seek shelter when the rocket siren goes off.

It's the difference between life and death. 

But, if that's the case, Avremi told us, it's also the difference between death and Life. In the span of those crucial 12 seconds, one can spread joy, offer support, instill belief, and breathe life into another. Live life in a way that every twelve seconds can change the world. His words, “chazak, chazak venitchazek” – “Be strong, be strong and let us strengthen ourselves,” resonate as a clarion call for courage, perseverance, and infusing this world with light, care, and love. 

To hear the challenges yet to see the strength and resolve of this young boy left not a dry eye in the hall, while at the same time filling us all with pride and comfort.

With kids like this representing our future, one thing is certain. The Jewish nation will be stronger and prouder, shining our light, being a force of good. 

Pictured below: Some 4,000 Chabad rabbis gather to pray together for the safe return of the hostages, and for the annual "class photo".


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ONE Holocaust survivor,


This entire family is from ONE Holocaust survivor, Rabbi Nissen Mangel. His wish for his 90th birthday (this week) was to travel back to Auschwitz accompanied by all his children, grandchildren and great-grandchildren. 

Rabbi Mangel (who translated the prayerbook we use at Chabad) encountered the evil Mengele twice as a nine year old boy. And twice he survived. Look who’s still standing. This is the ultimate revenge!

Am Yisroel Chai!!!


~ ~ ~


Another emotional week. Hearing from so many who are feeling not heard or seen by colleagues, friends, and the world at large. Yet, also witnessing the unity of our nation, hearing the strong resolve of so many to stand tall and proud. To love harder than they can hate. As strong as the darkness may seem, we know that light is truly and ultimately more powerful. To define ourselves by Life.


More Mezuzahs have been proudly hung around town.


We had a full house for the first of six sessions to explore Judaism's perspective on Happiness. We remain committed to life, to joy, and to celebration.


A fantastic turnout of women got together for an incredible evening last night! They prayed, they sang, they laughed and cried and made PINK CHALLAH! It was in honor of breast cancer survivors and to pray and unite for our brothers & sisters in Israel! 


A reminder that we all have to remind ourselves, as hard and as tragic as it can be, we cannot get bogged down by the evil and negativity. We have important stuff to live for. And so while the battle is being waged physically, let's use all our energy to power on, to tip the scale to side of good. 


This is our ammo; Shabbat candles, Mezuzahs, Charity, Torah education, acts of kindness. And when we use them, we are an unstoppable force.



What a week.

All of it starting to sink in. The enormity. The magnitude. The global reverberations. The voices of support. The shockwaves of hate.

Hearing from someone who lost loved ones in the massacre, a community member who was stuck on an Israel tour at the time, a local family who's son was just called up to serve. 

It feels like we're underwater. Flooded. Gasping for breath, grasping for hope, for an oxygen tank.

What do you do when you are flooded?

Let's take a lesson from the first flood with Noach. Hashem told him to come into the Teyvah - to enter into the ark. No while literally it meant to board a ship, the word Teyvah in Hebrew also means "The Word".

So the message is: let's immerse ourselves into the words of Torah and Prayer, as that is our ultimate source of strength, comfort, and blessing.

Prayer: Devorah has been posting daily short prayers to her facebook.

Torah: Join our fascinating highly acclaimed course about how to take control of your own happiness and peace. Begins this Monday.

Protection: A mezuzah bears three Hebrew letters on the outside "Guardian of the Doors of Israel". Please reach out if you would like a Mezuzah.

And finally, Light: Bring the light and peace of Shabbat into your home, and into our world, by lighting Shabbat candles today before 6:08pm.

Baruch Hashem for the two hostages that were just released, and we pray to Hashem for the safe return of every single one of the remaining hostages, and for the safety and security of all our brothers and sisters in the Holy Land, especially those who are on the front lines.

Shabbat for Israel


In the aftermath of the Holocaust, the Jewish nation was faced with one massive question. What now?

So many gone, wind knocked out of our sails, wishing we could wake up from the nightmare, perhaps it's time to throw in the towel G-d forbid?

Devorah's grandfather was a Holocaust survivor and a partisan fighter against the Nazis. He would always say, the biggest revenge against Hitler is a beautiful Jewish family. Indeed, fast forward to now, after his passing, and there are 13 proud young Jewish boys/men who are named for him.

At a time like this, the very best response is to counter with reaffirming our identity and values. Stand tall! Be proud! We represent the ideals of Life, Love, Compassion, Kindness. Morality. 

As we say in the Passover Haggadah, in every generation they rise up to destroy us, and Hashem saves us from their hands. Whether it was Pharaoh, Haman, the Romans, the Nazis, or Hamas, our answer remains the same. In the face of evil, it becomes that much more important, nee critical, to promote goodness and positivity. In response to indiscriminate acts of terror and destruction, let us come forth with indiscriminate acts of kindness and Mitzvahs.

True evil looks for a reason to do evil, and if it finds none, does evil anyway. 

As Jews, we seek every reason to do goodness, and if we don't find one, we do goodness anyway.

So add your light, and together, let's banish the darkness.

 - Light Shabbat Candles! 

 - Join in prayer tomorrow morning

 - Check out Mendel's Mezuzah project below!

 - Increase in learning about the values we stand for! 
Petaluma Hebrew begins for kids this Sunday.
How Happiness Thinks begins for Adults on Oct 23

 - Want to talk, cry, or simply be together? Let me or Devorah know.

Shabbat Shalom! May we usher in the ultimate peace, an era when there won't be war, death, or destruction, Amen!



It was our first Sukkot in Petaluma.

Tables beautifully set. Delightful aromas emanating from the kitchen. . I glance at my weather app. Some rain in the forecast. As the drizzle begins, I throw a tarp over the Sukkah to preserve it's beauty and dryness.

Finishing touches as the guests are due to arrive soon. The first knocks at the door. The drizzle suddenly turns into a downpour. I look outside, and realize that I should not get into construction or engineering. The tarp has done a fantastic job... at collecting the water into these massive and heavy bubbles deforming and threatening the integrity of our not very strong bamboo roof.

I climbed onto the Sukkah table to hold up the water-laden roof, and as everyone except for me likely expected, that extra nudge allowed the inevitable to happen; water movement and gravity combined for quite the splash. And so our Sukkot began with a very drenched Sukkah and rabbi.

With a few good natured laughs, we took it as a sign of overflowing blessings, and quickly adapted to warm up with some chicken soup and continue the festivities indoors. 

But this is precisely one of the messages of the Sukkah: Living in magnificent structures built with the construction equipment and capabilities that our ancestors in the desert could not imagine, we tend to forget. We think that a leak in our roof, or insulation letting in some winter air, is solely dependent on the successes and failures of our efforts.

The truth is that this would be like holding up an olympic-sized pool with your hand while balancing on a table. While human effort is certainly necessary, we have to always remember that like the clouds of glory protected our ancestors in the desert, our ultimate protection and blessings come from Above. 

May we all have overflowing blessings, and the capacity to receive them.

New Year's Dinner


Rosh Hashanah is fast approaching! 

In just two days, we will ring in the new year with apples and honey. 

I was speaking with fellow today to wish him a Shana Tova, and he sahred with me that life has not been great this last period. He wasn't exactly in the celebrating headspace. Here is what I shared with him.

What really is the big deal about Rosh Hashanah? The clock spun around another couple of times? How is tomorrow any different that yesterday. If my life situation is is not where I want it to be, why do I expect that the trajectory will change any more than by tossing a penny into a fountain? And if I am satisfied with how things are going, then what is there to pray for?

The truth is, that Rosh Hashanah is a time when a whole new unprecedented energy is released. Much like when the world was first created 5784 years ago, Hashem took nothing and turned it into this magnificent world. The past did not dictate the future. Nothingness didn't preclude somethingness. Darkness could not prevent light. Emptiness could be replaced with fulfillment. 

So as we approach the New Year, and the world at large, or our personal circumstances, seem to forestall the very possibility and hope for a better existence. Let's remember, that this is precisely the message of Rosh Hashanah. We will not settle for the shortcoming or failures of last year. We will not accept a world that isn't illuminated by kindness and compassion. We will - with Hashem's blessings - merit a good and a sweet New Year, with everything that we need, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.

This year will be unprecedented good. 

Wishing you and your family a good and a sweet New Year!

High Holidays in the Air


High Holidays are in the air - Just check out D Street on you next cross town journey. Seasonal flowers blooming. Time to start tuning my trusty Shofar. 

But what is the Shofar telling us? It reminds me of a story.

A village boy on his first visit to the Market in the big city. He is taking in teh sights and smells, when all of the sudden he hears the blast of bugle. He looks up to see a fellow up in the clock tower blowing the bugle with all his might. There's a fire in the town, and he's sounding the alarm.

Immediately the vendors and townsfolk drop what their wares, pick up pails, and form an efficient line from the lake to the fire, and in a matter of minutes the last embers are doused and a neighborhood destroying crisis is averted.

Our young boy is mesmerized and decides to bring this gem of an idea back home with him. He purchases a second-hand-only-a-little-rusty bugle from the instrument vendor, and heads back home whistling a happy tune.

He confidently tells everyone that he has discovered the best and newest of firefighting skills while on his world travels, and their village will now be safe. Leave it up to him.

So the next time a fire breaks out, everyone is waiting to see what magic tricks our young hero has up his sleeve.

He pulls his bugle from his valise and runs up the hill to the highest spot and triumphantly begins blowing. The fire is spreading. He blows and blows until he's blue in the face, and the flames rage on without care for the sad, dejected notes emanating from his now-polished fire chasing noise device.

Of course, without knowing what the message of the sound was, without understanding the urgency of its call, and the procedures that should ensue, the bugle was just meaningless noise.

So as we approach Rosh Hashanah, let's pause and think. What does the sound of the Shofar mean to you?

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