From the Rabbi's Desk

Chess & Talmud

Last night my boys sat down for a game of chess. A mind-stimulating activity. Talmud and chess: pencil sharpeners of the brain.

December 25, 2020 - 1.jpg

Pictured here, are the Rebbes playing chess during a rare moment when they weren't studying Torah. Hidden in the strategic skill of a chess match is a powerful lesson:

The whole objective of the game is a larger than life goal: The king has a vision for the kingdom, and thus everything revolves around ensuring the king endures. The graceful knight, the dominating castle, and down to the lowly pawns - who seem to be a dime a dozen (or eight) - everyone moves in lockstep to accomplish this mission.

But the pawns can go where no other can, and can be promoted, or transformed rather into absolute royalty.

Life is a chess game. Hashem has a Master Plan for the world, that it becomes a beautiful, kind, and Mitzvah-filled world. There are angels and heavenly ministers, each tasked with a piece of the puzzle. December 25, 2020 - 2.jpg

But it is the pawn on the lowest rung of the ladder - me and you - who can move no faster than one step at a time. The progress practically, imperceptible, yet steadily undeniable. Our non-glamorous actions accumulate into a headlong sprint for the finish line. 

A mechanic tightening a rivet on Apollo 11, a construction worker laying the foundation of the Freedom Tower, a Jewish girl learning her Aleph Bet. Just as we could put man on the moon, we can, with constant advancement, achieve Hashem's vision for a better world.

Happy Chanukah!

And she's up!

This year, like the past 5, Chanukah is at the River. And this time, thanks toDecember 11, 2020.jpg the dredging, there's actually water!

As a child, my father would always tell us to look into the Chanukah flames to see the stories the candles could tell.

Standing proudly at riverfront, these flames (or light bulbs) must have some incredible stories.

Of a little girl enthralled by the sight of a larger-than-life Menorah. Of a passerby taking a moment of their day to notice someone sitting on a bench alone, and brighten their day with a greeting. Of, struggle and triumph, of hardship and friendship, of darkness and light.

And throughout it all, the Menorah inspires and illuminates the way.

Let's all shine together!

Monolith Solved

Mystery of the week.

A monolith - a steel triangular column - discovered in the middle of theDecember 4, 2020.jpg Utah desert. Lockhart basin has no cellphone service nor restrooms. Yet visitors began flocking to this remote location to get a glimpse of this inexplicable phenomenon.

A colleague of mine cleverly photoshopped the monolith, imagining it to be a giant menorah, and attribute its placement to the local Chabad Rabbi.

Less than 10 days later, just as suddenly as it had appeared the monolith was gone. Four unknown individuals decided that its sleek design and finished look were too out of place and disruptive for the naturally rugged terrain.

It got me thinking about m&m's. Menorahs and Monoliths. And how just perhaps if our shiny protrusion had taken a Menorah lesson, it may have stood a fighting chance.

The monolith with its sharp angles and reflective surface seemed to stand in defiance. I refuse to be as dusty as my surroundings, I will have clear definition as opposed to random curves, bumps, and inlets of the desert landscape. The metallic structure stand in sharp contrast, sending a message loud and clear. I am not the desert. And will not be influenced by it.

Yet, the monolith does not seek to change its environment. And I suspect that late at night when the tourists have gone home and the gazes of admiration have subsided, the monolithic metal actually becomes cold to the touch. The desert has made its impact on the prideful pillar.

The Menorah, however, has but one mission. To illuminate the darkness. To cast its warm glow upon anyone who enters into its radius. Not to stand in contrast, but to influence, inspire, and transform its surroundings. To melt the wax, turn night into light, and darkness into hope.

This Chanukah, be a menorah, and illuminate the desert around you, with warmth, kindness, and joy.

That's a menoralith that would be met with unanimous approval.

Please join us to celebrate Chanukah and illuminate the darkness at the Chanukah Drive-Thru Experience, and for the virtual Maccabeats concert!



Plymouth Rock. Turkey. Pumpkin Pie. Thanksgiving.

Routine calls. Familiar, comfortable, expected. The sun rises in the east. My home awaits my return at day's end. Oxygen is inhaled mindlessly. 

2020 jolts us. Anticipation is entitlement. The obvious is questioned. A new paradigm.

Appreciation for the things we took for granted. Prayer and hope for the future. The ability to find happiness and contentment when not all is how we'd like.

It's an age-old Jewish concept. Jacob on the run from his murderous brother Esau. Sleeping on a mountaintop without access to wifi, memory foam pillow replaced with rocks to protect against wild animals. A pretty hostile and lonely environment.

It's at this point that Jacob envisions a ladder reaching heavenward with angels descending to shelter him. Upon awakening, the message is clear. In the darkest moments, Hashem's angels are right there, holding his hand. He emerges thankful and indebted. The reality is no different, however, his perception has undergone a cosmic shift. 

Modeh Ani. We begin each day thanking Hashem, not for all of the trinkets and accouterments we've collected, but for returning our soul to us giving us another day. Setting a tone of gratefulness for every blessing in our lives. 

(The Hebrew word Todah, thank you, is etymologically connected to the word Hoda'ah, acknowledgment. Thankfulness is a result of a humility that allows us to acknowledge our blessings and from whence they originate.)

It is no wonder that these words - Hodu La'Hashem - Thank you, Hashem,  have become the marching song in the Jewish community to welcome those returning home from a covid hospitalization. My friend, Yudi Dukes, returned home yesterday after 241 days(!) of every challenge imaginable, to his wife and children. One can only imagine the gratitude of walking through his front door.

Tonight, when we sing Shalom Aleichem - breath. Inhale the presence of the Shabbos angels (and the aroma of Devorah's pumpkin Challah, which I am also grateful for!). Feel the divine unwavering support. Recognize that while it may be 2020, the reality hasn't changed. Hashem has been there for us throughout, and like in Jacob's dream, has demonstrated that He will continue to do the same until V'shavti B'Shalom - I return home in peace.

Todah! I am grateful for each and every one of you for being yet another blessing in my life.

The world’s longest Zoom meeting

The world’s longest Zoom meeting just concluded in preparation of Shabbat!

It all started last weekend, as Shabbat ended in New Zealand as partNovember 20, 2020.jpg of this year’s virtual international conference of Chabad Shluchim. Originally, it was supposed to travel around the world once with Rabbis from each time zone leading the online program. It was so inspiring, that fully spontaneously it continued its rotation around the globe for the entire week.

It lasted over 130 hours. As there are thousands of Chabad rabbis around the world and in every time zone, there was always someone sharing an inspiring Torah thought, a motivational story, or a word of encouragement. At times, it would max out on the 1,000 person limit. In two words: non-stop inspiration.

The cliche if life gives you lemons, turn it into lemonade, certainly rang true. Unable to convene in-person, this turned out to be more beautiful than imagined or anticipated.

Sometimes, life is straightforward. More often, it is filled with twists and turns and rollercoaster-like experiences. 

The blessing that Jacob receives from Isaac begins "And may G-d give you..". Why the word and at the opening of the sentence? What was given before? And if one receives a divine (and thus limitless) gift, what would be left to receive?

The answer is that there are two different gifts, because there are two kinds of experiences. The obvious, straightforward, simple type, when things are just working out and moving forward. And the challenging, unanticipated, curveball type. Where one needs to be flexible, adapt, and tackle whatever life throws at them.

The blessing "And may G-d give you.." insinuates that there was the obvious gift, when the sun shines upon you, and everything is rosy. But it doesn't end there. Even when there are storm clouds, and you feel like a ship tossing about the waves of life, Hashem sends his blessing then as well.

And those blessings are the most powerful.

May we all experience tremendous revealed blessings!

In this spirit, we are happy to announce that yes, of course, Chanukah is happening, in an even grander fashion than usual, and in the safest possible manner. Please see below for the "Drive-Thru Chanukah Experience" and join us as we light up the world!


Running on Empty?

It's part of our routine. We drive, then we must stop and fill up the tank. We go about our business, and then we invariably need to take a break to eat, sleep, and rejuvenate. We use our cell phones, only for the battery to be depleted by the end of the day in need of a recharge.

Each year, the Chabad rabbis get together for a recharge. It's a weekend of seeing friends and colleagues from across the globe, sharing stories of triumphs and tribulations, brainstorming and simply catching up. It is energizing. 

Of course, this year, we thought that it wouldn't be feasible. But how would we get our much-needed energy boost? This question is not just for the Rabbis missing the convention, but for all of us, having had our lives thrown for a loop since March.

So two thoughts:

Like I tell my kids at dinnertime. If the menu isn't offering your first choice, this might just be the opportunity to expand your horizons, to find other delicious sources of nutrition. Sure, we love concerts, amusement parks, baseball games, and more, but we might just find new things that we can love just as much. This has led to incredible creativity during this time finding inventive and novel ways of interacting, studying, and enjoying. So a virtual conference is underway (pausing for the divine hours of Shabbat).

The second:

A few years ago, we would have thought that pumping fuel would be an inseparable part of our future. Now, more and more, we are seeing electric vehicles, many of them recapturing their own energy and using that to fuel them further. Tapping into its own hidden resources. This is a car. As a human, with a Soul, we certainly have hidden treasures inside, and sometimes we just have to turn inwards to uncover unconstrained potential.


A Trailblazer

Abraham. A trailblazer.

Did you know that it all began when he was three years old?

As a curious young boy, his inquisitive mind realized that there must be an energizer to the energy, an originator for all of the pieces of this puzzle known as the world. As he fell asleep he wondered whether the moon, the shiniest orb in the night sky, might hold the power over all else. Yet when morning came it became evident that sun was certainly brighter, its radiance illuminating the day and warming the atmosphere. However when nightfall pushed the sun below the horizon, young Avraham understood that there must be a Being greater than the whole galactic system, a Creator to the world, a Master to the plan.

There had not yet been a revelation at Sinai, or an exodus from Egypt. Idol worship was the norm, with his own father, Terach, owning the largest idol shop in town.October 30, 2020.jpg

But don't underestimate the power of the youth. The purity and clarity through which they view the world, untarnished by negativity or bias. From the mouths of babes. One Talmudic sage would articulate that he was praying like a child. Unlike an adult who has concocted an image of what he or she thinks or expects Hashem to be, a child has a beautifully simplistic perspective, capturing the essence of G-d, Good, and Right in a manner that transcends limiting definitions.

I'm thinking about this concept as our son, Meir, celebrates his third birthday and first haircut, this Sunday. The way he watches Devorah lighting the Shabbat candles, his unadulterated excitement as the Challah is uncovered, his pride as he tried on his first Yarmulka (of course, it's a fire truck Yarmulka), his seriousness as he points to the letters of the Aleph Bet.

Meir, I hope and pray, that as you grow, your curiosity and enthusiasm never diminish. That you continue to run to do good deeds, bringing joy to others with your soon to be missing curls still virtually bouncing about.

And for the rest of us, and at a time when the world has such strong opinions and sentiments, let's try to occasionally tap back into child mode, interacting with wide eyes, open arms, and purity of heart. 

Navigating Raging Water

Waters raging. Unprecedented chaos. The world coming to an end. 

Of course, I'm talking about Noah and the Great Flood. The world had devolved into thievery, immorality, and disrespect. Not exactly the vision that Hashem had when creating the world. Time for a fresh start, a deep cleanse. "Enter into the Teiva - the Ark". Noah and his family who had remained moral and loyal would ride out the literal and proverbial waves in a triple-decker, 450-foot long wooden ship, fashioned without power tools.

What is the timeless takeaway that can glean from this story read in the Torah this week? 

At times, crises can arise. A deluge of worry and trouble can engulf us. Floodgates of financial or medical hardship might overwhelm us. Torrential civil (or not so civil) disputes may erupt, threatening to wreck home and work, waves rippling across communities and civilizations. Destruction and mayhem are all but certain. Is there any way out? Can we rise above?

"Enter into the Teiva." A little Hebrew word play. Teiva means "ark", but it can also mean "word". (Get it? Word-play). Hashem recommends that we delve into the words of prayer and Torah study to reconnect and to recharge. These capsules of inspiration serve as our floatation devices, ensuring that we don't sink into the quagmire. They allow us to ride a virtual zipline suspended above the noise and chaos. They allow us to maintain our direction and focus, protect our values, and achieve our goals.

The world we live in can certainly have its tsunamis and hurricanes. Jump into the lifeboat with a word of prayer or Torah, and discover a space of serenity.


5 Years!!

I can't really believe that it was five years ago that a white Toyota Sienna was driving up the hot and monotonous I-5 highway. 

Inside, excitement and apprehension as our family embarked on a new journey, motivated to create a vibrant and warm community inOctober 16, 2020 - 1.jpg Petaluma. New beginnings, similar to the "Six Days of Creation" read from the Torah this week.

Would the world be overrun by the selfish and wicked, or would this land be cultivated into a glorious garden, blank canvas filled with dramatic and striking colors, materials fashioned into a harmonious symphony?

As we drove, we pondered what would be the outcome in our mini globe. Would there be challenges and setbacks? Would we succeed in bringing smiles and joy? Could our hopeful and ambitious efforts grow into a community? What surprises and treasures might we encounter in this uncharted territory? Would our faith and good spirits allow us to sail the waves and plant the beautiful garden we envisioned?

October 16, 2020 -2.jpgAlong the way, in between the fields and orchards, (and cows), we found a small playground, perhaps used by the farmers' families in the evenings. For us, it was like a spring of water, life in midst of a desert, a tire swing suspended in the arid heat. To us, it was a sign that with smiles and connectedness (like the links of the chains), - and a bunch of cute kids - a joyous and lively atmosphere would surely sprout forth as the nutritious greenery across the dirt road.

Five years. It feels like yesterday, and yet so much has transpired. (We even had to go back and recreate the picture to see how the time has flown). Chabad of Petaluma may have started in our living room, but has since expanded to our wonderful downtown location, to the streets (#chanukahattheriver), to our community partners, and grown to encompass so many homes across our small valley. We are so grateful for the hundreds of friendships, the thousands of memories, the innumerable moments. I'd like to take you for a walk down memory lane, but I'd likely run out of virtual ink, and anyways isn't that what facebook is for? 😉

Devorah and I feel incredibly blessed to live in such an amazing community, without whom, none of this would be possible.

We are so enthusiastic about the next five years - and many more - and can't wait to share so many precious moments together with all of you!

Of course, stay tuned for a special celebration, just as soon as the situation allows, may it be soon!

Real Protection


What an inspiring Yom Kippur, unlike any other! Beautiful minyans, graced by evacuees from the Glass fire.October 2, 2020 - 1.jpg

Hashem, on occasion, we have given you a difficult time. On occasion, you have given us a difficult time (need we elaborate?). But Yom Kippur is about exploring the essence of our relationship, that runs deeper than all of that. Like the love of a father to a child. Unbreakable. Eternal. Essential.

So like a father who wants the best for their child, bless us for a year of only revealed good!

Pictured: Just before the onset of Yom Kippur, it is customary for parents to bless their children with the priestly blessing.

~ ~ ~

October 2, 2020 - 2.jpgAnd just like that, we are on to the next Holiday. Sukkot. 

We head outdoors into a temporary structure, covered by branches and leaves. Why?

We install an alarm system, and it makes us feel that our home is protected. We plan our calendar, and think that our schedule is set. We pack a suitcase, and feel that we are prepared for whateverOctober 2, 2020 - 3.jpg awaits us.

The reality, however, is that while we need to take all of these necessary steps, protection, success, and everything else, is dependent on one more not-to-be-forgotten element: Hashem. It is when we surrender to this reality that the blessings can flow, unobstructed. This is the symbolism of the Sukkah, where we eat, drink, relax, (some even sleep) under the canopy of foliage, under the open sky.

In a world that seems ever more chaotic, let's take this week to be mindful of the Divine protection that will carry us above the waves.


What is Essential?

If there is one thing covid-19 has taught us is the meaning of essential.

Essential workers. Essential Services. Do you have your essentials? And we've had the time to reflect on what is essential to us; health, family, shelter, values. Yes, that destination wedding would be so nice, but it's the wedding part that matters more than the destination. Yes, the family vacation could have been so much fun, but it's the family that matters more than the vacation.

Yom Kippur is just that; essential. It's the essence of the day that helps us connect to the essence of our soul, and connect to Hashem's essence. 

We all get caught up in the hustle and bustle of life. The nine to five job, carpool, appointments, groceries, and the list goes on and on. But why are we doing it all? Sometimes we feel like we are running on a hamster wheel, like a train hurtling down the track forgetting to exit at the train station, we lose all sense of what and whom we are working for. 

So on Yom Kippur, we strip away all of the distractions, focusing on essence. Who am I? Why am I here? Am I living up tom my G-d given potential? Can I allow my soul to shine without getting in its way?

And we pray that Hashem do the same. That he look past all of our missteps, because they are nothing more than muddy pants after a slip, or a hole in my shoe after walking where I shouldn't have. They don't change who I am. They can't change who I am. Because who I am - in my very essence - is a pure soul, an inextinguishable spark of Hashem.


Sweet New Year?

September 18, 2020.png

Ever wondered why wish each other a Good and a Sweet new year?

I'll keep it short and sweet - just like our outdoor services tomorrow will be.

You can have something that is good, but not sweet. Think medicine.

You can have sweet that isn't good. Think that double-sized slice of chocolate cake at the smorgasbord after having consumed a Rosh Hashanah brisket dinner.

We trust that everything Hashem does is for the good. We don't always feel the goodness. Other things are enjoyable, yet they aren't necessarily aligned with our values.

We wish each other a year that is both good and sweet. In perfect harmony. May it be sweet. May it be healthy. May it be joyous. May it be successful. May it be full of love. May it be a year that all our prayers are answered in the most beautiful way, and may we celebrate together in Jerusalem.


Time Stood Still

The world watched with shock. Seared into our memory. TheSeptember 11, 2020 - 1.jpg impossible. Terrorism on American soil. The invincible towers, so iconic of the free world, crumbling. 

And then, 1,776 feet below, another unbelievable sight. Brave men and women running towards the flames, fire trucks, ambulances, and volunteer medics racing with sirens blazing into the inferno. Real-life heroes.

On that day we saw the very worst of humanity, and we saw its very best. And while the loss and destruction was devastating, it was this spirit and resolve that breathed new life into our country.

How apropos, that in this week's Torah portion it says, "Behold I have placed before you life and goodness, death and evil. And you should choose Life!"

September 11, 2020 - 2.jpgNot every evil is 9/11, and not every goodness requires the ultimate sacrifice. These two opposites come in every size; choice facing us at every juncture in life. Smile or scowl, help or hinder, get up or stay down, connect or separate.

We don't need to be facing a terrorist to be someone's hero. The sky does not have to be darkened with smoke and ash (from 9/11 or from California wildfires) for us to pierce through with a ray of sunshine.

So as Rosh Hashanah approaches next week, let's resolve to choose Life. For ourselves, our loved ones, and our community. A life of health and happiness, a life of connection and care, a life of Mitzvahs and bringing light into the world.


Switch the Channel!

With the advent of the rotary phone, though tethered and expensive, the world became a bit smaller.  September 4, 2020.jpg

Fast forward to the 21st century. Everyone's got a computer in their pocket. Local calls are a thing of the past. Streaming, FaceTime, Zoom; the entire world is easily within reach. And yet, the world is more massive than it's ever been. 500 hours of video uploaded to YouTube every minute, more shows on Netflix than one could watch in a lifetime, more social media platforms than one could possibly keep up with. 54 million articles on Wikipedia. It's dizzying.

So we choose. We carefully (or not so carefully) curate what to read, which stations to watch, which personalities to "follow". It's incredible to have the power to choose our version of the world. We have the ability to filter out the chaos and noise, put on a lens of positivity, and focus on what is meaningful  and uplifting.

So as Rosh Hashanah approaches, switch the channel. High Holidays season 5781 is playing now.


The First Day of School

Excitement. Anticipation. Butterflies. Trepidation? What does this grade hold in store for me? Will Mr. Stevens be as strict as I heard? Will I be accepted to the dance team? Will my best friend be in the same class?August 28, 2020 - 1.png

The alarm clock rings. I am awake anyway, listening to the chirping birds ushering in a new era of opportunity. A larger size school uniform folded at the foot of my bed reminding me that I'm a year older, a year brighter. The brisk fall morning air fresh against my cheeks as I haul my backpack loaded with workbooks, pages waiting to neatly filled. It feels lighter than it is. Crayons, sharpened pencils, rulers; every item from the supplies list carefully handpicked with mom during the last few weeks.

The yellow school bus is filled with other children, apprehensive and exhilarated, the feelings blending, school floors gleaming, lockers expectantly waiting, school desks proudly claimed, Mr. Stevens himself is smiling, ready to enlighten the next generation. The bell rings. The new year is here.

(While this year's first day at school certainly looks different, we all recognize this feeling and memory, may we experience it again soon!)

Rosh Hashanah.

Excitement. Anticipation. Awe. What does this year hold in store? Will Hashem bless me with health, happiness, success, and prosperity? Will I be able to pursue, nay achieve my dreams? Will I grow to be a better version of myself?

The preparatory Shofar is sounded during the month of Elul, to arouse us from our slumber under the blankets of the mundane. I am already in the mood, shopping for better character traits, cleaning out my metaphorical locker from the accumulated grime, August 28, 2020 - 2.pngpolishing my relationships with family, friends, and G-d.

The crowd gathers, bedecked in freshly cleaned white Talits (prayer shawls), the Shul expectantly awaiting, a gleam from the Torah scroll, each (socially-distanced) seat filled, prayer books ready to be filled with tears, emotion, and love. You can sense that Hashem is smiling with joy, set to inspire and uplift, to transform the world together with us.

The Shofar is blown. The New Year is here.

Please join us for an inspiring and meaningful High Holidays this year at Chabad. Outdoors in an open tent, with socially distanced seating, and masks required.


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