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From the Rabbi's Desk

Dwelling on the Past

 The Three Weeks.

Beginning with the breach of the Jerusalem wall after an 18-month siege, and culminating in the destruction of the Holy Temple by the Romans. With various laws of mourning, it reaches its nadir on the Ninth of Av, marked by fasting, sitting on low stools and more.

This happened close to 2,000 years ago. Why are we still crying about it now? Why are we focusing on the distant past? Why don't we simply move on?

This really depends on our perspective on adversity, struggle, and loss. Are these moments failures, blocks in time that we should be keen on totally forgetting about? Or are these very experiences the hardened building blocks of our future? Do they allow us to create a structure more solid, functional, and beautiful than we could have ever imagined before?

We don't dwell on the past to wallow in self-pity, rather we process the past to include those pages in the evolving story of our journey to the summit. This chapter is called "about destruction and renewal".

Let's Rock!

 You did what!? I can't believe it! You hit the rock?! I told you to speak to the rock. That's it. You, Moshe, will not lead the Children of Israel into the promised land. 

Puzzling. Why did Moshe hit when he was told to speak? And why is that reason enough to disqualify him from his lifelong dream? And did you know that 39 years earlier, G-d had actually told him to hit the rock?


Moshe governed the nation in a truly miraculous fashion. Egyptian slavery? Ten Plagues. Stuck at sea? Let it split. Nead a meal? Manna from heaven. There seemed to be nothing that Moshe couldn't miraculously solve.

However, now it was time to go into Israel, and over there, we would need to encounter and deal with nature. Planting fields, conducting business, baking bread etc. And we are meant to allow Hashem's will to permeate and affect the natural order of things.

Moshe's way was to disregard the laws of nature, to strike the rock into transcendental submission. What Hashem wanted, as the Jews were prepping for entry into the Holy Land, was to coax the rock itself into naturally complying with His will.

The takeaway for us is that sometimes we do a Mitzvah (good deed) simply because Hashem said so without really feeling it. This can be likened to striking the rock; the result is drinking water, but the method is forced and unnatural. This is a great and effective starting point. Our goal, however, should be to get our personal "rock" on board, to delve into the beautiful teachings of the Torah, and gain a greater appreciation for why we do what we do.

When it resonates with us, the water (our spiritually enhanced life) will flow naturally. And it will taste that much sweeter.

A Quiet House

 I never thought I’d think my house, with 5 kids, was quiet and empty. But after 2 weeks of Camp Aleph, being surrounded by 35 kids laughing, singing, learning, playing, and having a blast being Jewish, it definitely feels that way. 

Though camp only lasts for 2 weeks, the warmth, energy, and joy last the whole summer and beyond. 

A boy running to put on his robot kippah, a girl’s excitement about bringing a coin for tzedakah (charity), driving down Petaluma Blvd loudly singing "I’m a Jew and I’m proud" on the bus. The harmonious blend of fun and meaning. Each and every moment shows the joy and the excitement of Judaism. 

This is why we do what we do. I can't wait to watch Camp Aleph (and all of our programs at Chabad) continue to grow and flourish, yielding the strong and proud Jewish leaders of tomorrow.


~ ~ ~

Devorah wrote the above so eloquently. This perspective on sharing the liveliness and joyfulness of our Jewish heritage is easily attributed to the Rebbe, one of the most influential Jewish leaders throughout history. The Rebbe taught us how every individual matters, and encouraged us to add in one more good deed, and through that, we can tip the balance of the entire world to positivity and peace.

This Shabbat marks 25 years since the Rebbe's passing. Join us as we honor the Rebbe and celebrate his legacy at tomorrow night's community Shabbat dinner.

A Stranded Wheelchair

 I was rushing a batch of fluffy Challah back to camp. The delightful aroma reminiscent of the heavenly manna eaten in the desert discussed in this week's Torah portion. 

With a packed schedule, the campers would soon be coming out of the pool, where they had been cooling off after trying their hands - er, feet at Slacklining (kind of like tightrope walking between trees). I still had to set up the Foam Party, and time was of essence. 

But then I saw him.

An elderly gentleman had been off-roading with his electrical wheelchair/scooter and had become entrenched in a pile of fresh wood chips that had been put down across the path. It took me just a second to see him attempt to shake it free, while his puppy, who had been riding shotgun, yipped at his heels, as if admonishing him for getting them stranded.

I pulled over. Foam parties could wait. Another Human being needed a hand. 2 quick minutes later, aided by another two kind gentlemen, and he was back on his way, puppy proudly surveying the Petaluma streetscape. 

At the tail end (or tale end?) of the Torah portion, it mentions how Miriam, Moshe's sister, had been afflicted with a skin illness (another story), and needed a recovery period. Tthe entire Jewish nation who had been en Route to the Holy Land, put their travel plans on hold for a full week.

Sometimes we have important business to take care of, office meetings, schedules, and deadlines. But when we notice someone whom we can help, that becomes the most important task of our day.

Shiva Reflections

 It has been a surreal couple of weeks. 

You think you know what to expect, you prepare yourself mentally, but when it actually does happen, nothing quite prepares you for losing a mother.

There were times of sadness, grief, sadness, and aching. But then there was a beautiful aspect to this process as well.

It was called Shiva. During the first seven days of mourning, instead of being alone with your grief, or getting back to work and "moving on", The Jewish tradition allows for beautiful dynamic. A steady stream of well-wishers came through my parents' Brooklyn home's doors from morning until evening, to offer condolences, share memories of my mother, and uplift our spirits. My father's law school colleagues, my mother's study partners, community members, and childhood friends from near and far. Hundreds of phone calls, emails, and facebook messages. Each one helping to take the edge off, filling the void with love and fond memories.

So we had this incredible opportunity to focus on the incredible woman my mother was, to celebrate it, to honor it, and to channel those values into our lives going forward.

It wasn't as much what each person had to say - although there were so many gems, stories, and reflections - but simply their being present, and coming together for us. 

This idea of Unity, is front and center for the Holiday of Shavuot. Prior to receiving the Torah on Mount Sinai, the fledgling Jewish nation arrived at the desert location "like one person, with one heart". The #1 prerequisite before opening up the Torah to find out all the many intricacies of our tradition, is to set aside our differences and realize that we are so much stronger together.

I have not had the time yet to respond to every message, but in the meantime, please know that I appreciate each and every one of you for reaching out during this time. May we have many opportunities to reach out to each other for joyous occasions.

As we get ready to receive the Torah for the 3,332nd time, we definitely have the unity part in place. Please join us on
 Sunday for the reading of the Ten Commandments at 11am, followed by cheesecake, ice cream, and an exquisite dairy buffet. Services begin at 10. Come when you can. Your attendance will be particularly meaningful to me as I recite the Kaddish, and for my first time join in for the Yizkor Memorial Prayer, a time to connect with our dearly departed loved ones.

Second Passover

 Second Chances.

I remember a quote that I saw on a magnet when I was a child. AN ERЯOR DOES NOT BECOME A MISTAKE UNTIL YOU REFUSE TO FIX IT. 

Not getting things right the first time around is totally normal. In fact, it's inherent in human nature. Angels never make mistakes. But the cool thing about us is that we can grow from our mistakes. Should we be defined by first attempts, or should we choose not to settle?

This is the story of the Second Passover.

When it came time to celebrate the very first Passover after leaving Egypt, there was a group of Jews who were ritually impure, and as such, could not participate in the celebration. They could have simply thrown up their hands in surrender, and simply missed out. Instead, however, they came to Moses with a demand - they did not want to be left out.

This is how we were introduced to the Second Passover - an opportunity to celebrate one month after the first Passover. And with it, the powerful message, that if we only so much as want it, we are always granted a second chance.


This Sunday, a fantastic group of kids completes the year at Petaluma Hebrew, grabbing new opportunity to explore and discover the Alef Bet, the Jewish holidays, and so much about our rich traditions and history.

To be or Be!

 Be holy! Now that's an interesting instruction.

How do I do that? When a Jewish mother tells her child to be a doctor, that's straightforward enough. You've got to go through medical school, complete a residency, and work your way up the ladder of medicine until you get that MD status.

But when your mom tells you to "be special", you probably turn around with a confused look on your face and ask for clarification. Am I not already special? And if not, what are the GPS coordinates of special?

Everything in the world can be divided into three categories. Good, bad, and neutral. Our focus should be on that middle category. To take the ordinary and make it special. Sure, it's just wax on a string, but a woman can use it to bring the Light of Shabbat into her home. Yes, it may look like a simple piece of parchment, but instead, it will adorn the doorpost of my home, transforming it into a Jewish home. Taking a coin and upgrading it from pocket change to Charity. Eating a healthy breakfast so that we can then have a productive day, doing good deeds along the way.

So holiness is not just something we do on the High Holidays in a designated building. It's a direction that we can move ourselves and the world around us in. Let's mindfully make this world special.

From Emancipation to Freedom

Time to go. Tenth plague. Slavery is finally over. Or is it?

Is it truly possible to shed 200+ years of suffering at a midnight moment's notice? Can we just shift into a mindset of freedom? Transition from the Hebrews, slaves of Pharaoh, to the Jewish Nation, chosen to receive the Torah?

Truth be told, it was not so simple. In fact, leaving Egypt was just the beginning. It was followed by 49 days of prep, each day a step away from the past, and into the future. Ascending out of the depths and up to spiritual and mental heights, ultimately reaching the summit: Mount Sinai.

Most notable during this period of time was the splitting of the Red Sea. Regretting his decision to set them free, Pharaoh and his army, in the ultimate 'just kidding' scenario, gave chase. Trapped at the crossroads of "Drowning" and "More Slavery", what were they to do? What would you do?

But this is what it's all about. On the Seder night, the Jews were freed, but it was G-d's decision, it was His Outstretched Arm that had brought Ten Plagues against Egypt. Now at the Sea, it was up to the Jews. Would they revert to servitude and fear, or would they take their own first step of Faith, into the water, and across to Freedom.

It was at this moment that they truly began the journey from Emancipation to Freedom.

Join us on Shabbat, 6pm for Yizkor, as we remember our dearly departed loved ones, and at 7pm as we explore and experience Freedom today - with a Feast of Moshiach, saying farewell to Passover, internalize its eternal messages, and look to an ever brighter future, a time of kindness, wellness, and peace.

Happy Passover!

 Passover. Not a perfect translation. The word Pesach is more accurately translated as Jumpover. It's named for Hashem jumping over the Jewish homes during the tenth plague, the death of the firstborn.

Jumping is totally different than walking. When walking, even as you proceed forward, taking steps to the future, one foot always remains behind, connected to the past, limiting one's advancement by the rules that we are used to playing by.

When you leap, both feet come along for the journey. The past is left firmly behind, with a totally new vista of opportunity opening before us, an altogether new experience, unimaginable from our prior vantage point. It's not simply a level up. It is a different ballgame. 

This Passover, wherever you may be celebrating (you can still join us at the 
Community Seder!), may whatever limitations may be keeping you from achieving the impossible melt away as you leap into freedom.

Challenge: Think of a friend or acquaintance who may not have a Seder to go to and invite them to the Community Seder. Everyone should have a seat at the Seder table.

To the Moon?

Passover. Celebrating freedom. The birth of our Nation. A Nation that dreams big, defies the odds, sticks to their guns (figuratively), and reaches the moon.

Well, almost... Yesterday, Israel came so very close to landing a spacecraft on the moon. Mere moments before touchdown, the main engine malfunctioned, and by the time it was reset, it was too late. The craft was traveling at too high a velocity to be stopped. The control team and millions of worldwide viewers looked on in shock, as it was confirmed that the mission had not been completed. But had it failed?

In a matter of seconds, the Team had refocused, promising to try again. "Today, we did reach the moon. Next time we will try to reach it more gently".

And with this, the name of the spacecraft, Beresheet - in the beginning - (the first word of the Torah, fitting for such cosmic achievements) took on new meaning. Failure is when we give up on trying. When we don't fight back. When we don't rise to the challenge.

The world was created with plenty of "failures", slavery in Egypt comes to mind as an example. There is no smooth sailing. It's not paradise. And the way we are ultimately successful is realizing that this stage is "Bresheet" - it is just the beginning of the journey. 

In the words of Former Chief Rabbi Lord Jonathan Sacks: "Even more than the strength to win, we need the courage to try, the willingness to fail, the readiness to learn, and the faith to persist". 

As the selfie that Bereishit took from a few km up says " Am Yisrael Chai. Small Country, Big Dreams". Don't stop dreaming!

~ ~ ~
We'd like to invite you to join us for an elegant Community Seder with a warm atmosphere, great company, and delicious food.

Whether you are Seder veteran with answers to all four of the questions or a curious explorer with 400 questions of your own, this Seder will provide a stimulating and satisfying experience.

We would love to have you join us. Everyone has a spot at the Seder table.

Sensitivity

In this week's Torah portion it discusses a skin condition that would render the person impure and needed to leave the Jewish camp for a specified period of time or until the condition improves.

The Talmud tells us that this affliction would occur if someone were to gossip, steal, or was arrogant. In other words, this was a heavenly punishment for someone who was not exactly considerate of others.

It required an expert in this field of Jewish law to diagnose whether it was the exact color, size, and type that fit the bill. But interestingly the diagnosis was not pronounced by the expert, but rather by a Kohen - even if the Kohen himself was not familiar with the laws.

Why? Because one job that the Kohen had - and still has to this very day - was to bless the nation. The Kohen's whole identity was kind and loving. So while someone else might have enjoyed giving a snide remark to this character, or taken pleasure of sending him into "time-out", the Kohen would be able to sensitively inform this person that their behavior is not ideal and that they should improve. The kohen would build him up instead of tearing him down. The Kohen would ensure that the message of the leprosy was taken the right way, and would not rest until he helped this individual improve and become pure.

In our own lives, when we have something to critique about a friend, colleague, neighbor, or family member, let us make sure that we are doing it like a Kohen; with love, compassion, and care.

Can You Believe It?

Entering into the Hebrew month of Nissan, Passover is right around the corner.

If we were in Egypt, Pharaoh is just about ready to throw in the towel, having been battered by ten intense plagues. Freedom is so close you could almost smell it. Or could you?

The Jews had been slaves for 210 years, that is more than several lifetimes. Freedom was the stuff of fairytales, murmured as they lay another layer of bricks on the pyramids. This was worse than Alcatraz. No water to swim through, no window bars to peer through. Would they even care to pick themselves up off their dusty cots and believe in Moses?

The Matzah tells us an incredible story of faith. They were so ready that when Pharaoh, himself a firstborn, came running to Moshe during the last plague, it was instantaneously "go time". At the drop of an Egyptian dime, an entire nation - over 600,000 - were en route. To the unknown. But to freedom. To a brand new life as the Jewish nation. And that they were absolutely certain of.

Perhaps, it was this very staunch faith, that merited the redemption.

In our own lives, it may look dark at times, but keep believing. The light at the end of the split sea tunnel is surely right around the bend.

Behind the Costume

 

Why do we dress up in costumes on Purim? It's fun and makes for great facebook profile pictures, but it's got to have some meaning behind it.


You see, the Purim miracle was different than our usual idea of a miracle. The quintessential miracle that comes to mind is the splitting of the Red Sea, defying the very laws of nature. Something supernatural; extraordinary.

In the Purim story, the miracle is "natural". When Haman wants to annihilate the Jewish nation, it just so happens that the queen is Esther, a Jewess. It just so happens that Mordechai had saved the king's life from a poisonous assassination attempt. It just so happens that King Achasverosh is sleepless and has this very story read to him from his royal book of chronicles on the very night that Haman comes to the king to get Mordechai hung on the 50 cubit tall gallows that he built. 

Purim is about seeing Hashem's hand and guidance woven into the fabric of everyday life. Not readily apparent, but there right behind the mask, right below the surface.

Let's recognize and appreciate all of the goodness that we are blessed with in our life, and let's celebrate!

Grounded!

A brand new airplane crashed in Ethiopia this week.

Eerily similar to another accident involving the same model airplane, the 737 Max 8 has been grounded around the world until the investigation is completed and the issues are resolved.

Not all countries were on board with the grounding right away, insisting that the aircraft was airworthy and flew thousands of flights a day safely.

I want to give a Purim shoutout to Indonesia and China for taking the initiative which snowballed into a worldwide ban of what was billed as a modern, fuel-efficient, air vessel. Here's why:

Haman's downfall was orchestrated by Queen Esther's clever plan of inviting the king (and Haman) to her feast, only to disclose that she was a Jewess and thus was included in Haman's evil decree to annihilate the Jewish nation. But to execute this plan required serious guts. The rule was that no one - not even the queen - dared come to the king without being summoned. Esther had not been called for 30 days. The offense was punishable by death.

But with the lives of her entire nation on the line, there was no room to think about personal consequences however severe. Life is too precious to ignore. Thankfully, the king extended his scepter sparing her life, and subsequently, she was able to plead for her people.

Sure, grounding the airplanes can be inconvenient. Money lost by airlines. Travelers with canceled flights. crowded airports. Billions lost by Boeing. But that is all trivial compared to preserving a single priceless life.

Perhaps if we can take this value to heart and share it with the world, we can reach a time when there is no room for hate and murder, no room for life-involving decisions to be swayed by money or honor. A time when life is paramount, valued and appreciated by all.

This can be summed up by a single Jewish word that fits perfectly with the Purim spirit: L'chaim -To Life!

Community vs Individuality

Community or individuality?

Should we all be alike sharing common values, tastes, and gaols? Or should we each be on our own individual track, distinct, separate, and essentially alone? Am I better off conforming to a template or blazing my own path (and perhaps sticking out like a sore thumb)?

Good news is we can get the best of both worlds. The name of last week's Torah portion was Vayakhel - that Moses gathered the Jewish nation together. This week is Pekudei - counting, each individual is distinct. Both elements are needed.

Last week, as we celebrated Shabbat 100, or rather Shabbat 120, this idea was crystal clear. The palpable energy in the room was electrifying, a magical crowd that could not be duplicated in miniature. And yet, the beauty of it was to have 120 individuals, each with their own identity, passions, and pursuits. The only way that Shabbat 100 was possible was by bringing together the individuals.

And that is where the magic is at. If we all simply became identical, then we are just redundant iterations of ourselves. Pretty boring, and to be honest, I'm not sure I'd want to spend Shabbat with one hundred me's. However when we each bring our unique contributions to the table, and we merge together for a shared interest, a common goal, that's a party that I'd like to go to. It may be unattainable on our own, but it is unstoppable when we join forces. 

Let's keep on getting together for good things, and with each of our personalities, we can together continue to achieve miracles!

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom!
Rabbi Dovid Bush

Super excited to welcome our counselors, Gitty, Sarah Leah and Chaya to camp this year! Hailing from Vancouver, Toronto, and Atlanta they were handpicked for Camp Aleph this summer! Will you be joining the 20 kids already enrolled for a summer of a lifetime?

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