Category Archives: Divrei Torah

Parashat Nitzavim-Vayelech

This week we read the double portion of Nitzavim-Vayeilech. Towards the end of Nitzavim, Moses tells the people that the Torah is neither high in the heavens nor across the sea, but it is very close, and therefore accessible and doable. This is a very important message as we enter the final week before Rosh Hashana. As we look to improve ourselves and possibly find something new to observe for 5781, we must always remember that the Torah is indeed close to us, and its observance is part of our special soul given us by HaShem himself. When we observe the Torah, we honor G-d as our creator, paying homage to the source of everything we are and all that we have. If we recognize this, we will not stray from His path. Have a wonderful Shabbos.

Rabbi Evan B. Rubin

Parashat Ki Tavo

This week’s Torah portion, Ki Tavo, begins with the ceremony for bringing first fruits to the Temple. As part of that ceremony the person bringing the fruits recites a declaration which is essentially a history lesson, bringing us all the way from our forefathers to our arrival in Canaan. Why should this be necessary when presenting fruit? There are two answers to this question that I would like to provide. First, this is a reminder that nothing occurs in a vacuum. We are who we are only in context of everything that has come before us. Only by acknowledging and understanding the past can we succeed into the future. Second, it is a reminder that everything we are and everything we have is a gift from HaShem. Despite all of our hard work to produce this fruit, nothing happens without His blessing. Both of these lessons are valuable as we approach Rosh Hashana, a time when we evaluate where we are and where we are going. May we all keep our thoughts appropriately on the context of our past and our present as we chart our course toward the future of 5781. Wishing everyone a wonderful Shabbos.

Rabbi Evan B. Rubin



As my flight descended into the smoke-filled air of the Sacramento Valley yesterday, I reflected on the fact that this has been a week of deadly fire.  In the past week, we have seen the news of innocent people killed by gunfire in Southern California.  We have breathed in the smoke of the deadliest fire in California history, which has killed dozens and displaced thousands of our fellow Californians, while another fire rages in the southern part of the state.  We have wept with grief and outrage at the news that Jemel Roberson, a black security guard who heroically stopped a shooting at the bar where he worked, was shot and killed by police when they arrived at the scene. We have prayed for the wellbeing of our brothers and sisters in the south of Israel, as deadly rocket fire rained down from Gaza, targeting civilians.  This would be a lot to absorb at any time, but coming on the heels of the antisemitic terror attack at the Tree of Life synagogue in Pittsburgh, when many of us are already feeling frightened and emotionally raw, it can be especially overwhelming.

With all the smoke in the air in California, experts are recommending that people limit outdoor activity and stay inside as much as possible.  UC Davis and Sac State have both closed their campuses and canceled classes because of the smoke in the air.  The current forecast suggests air quality will improve somewhat before Shabbat, so that we won’t have to cancel shul. However, I encourage anyone with health concerns to stay home and not walk to shul as long as the air remains smoky.

Just as the physical smoke from the fires in California is unhealthy to breathe in large quantities, the psychic pollution of constantly reading article after article of grim news can also be damaging to our spiritual health. Therefore, the same way that experts advise to limit our outdoor activity due to smoky air, I am advising that those of us who are feeling overwhelmed by the barrage of terrible news, to limit the time we spend on news sites and social media. This is not about ignoring the outside world, or hiding from reality, but about limiting exposure to what is unhealthy for us.

Instead of leaving the cable news on all day, or refreshing our news feed constantly, I encourage everyone to set a limit of how much news you’re going to consume during this bad news week—a set amount of time (say 30 minutes a day) or a set number of articles (3 articles a day), and when you’ve reached that limit, instead of reading more articles, take time for self-care, and for doing something concrete to help.

We fight fire with water.  With so much fire in the world, we can respond by bringing more water into the world.  For those of us who aren’t firefighters, our job is not to bring physical water to the fires, but to bring metaphorical water.  Our tradition compares water to a number of things, but three come to mind as being particularly relevant today.

Chesed (loving-kindness) is associated with water in Kabbalah.  One way to fight the fires in the world is by performing acts of loving kindness.  We can do this directly, by helping out our neighbors, or by supporting communal efforts to respond to these crises.  The Jewish Federation of Sacramento is collecting funds and goods for families impacted by the Camp Fire. Please help contribute to this Chesed by giving online or dropping off groceries, clothing and gift cards at the Federation offices in Midtown. They are specifically looking for store gift cards as well as new towels, new clothing in all sizes (including shoes, undergarments, sweatshirts, and bras), paper cups, paper plates, paper towels, animal food, new jackets, new coats, and bottled water.

The prophet Amos said, “let justice roll down like waters and righteousness like a mighty stream.” Justice works to fight the fires of this world in a different way than Chesed, not necessarily by alleviating immediate suffering, but by addressing the root causes of suffering in our world.  While acts of kindness and caring towards people who are suffering are essential, an equally important way to bring water to the fires of our world is to engage in work that seeks to make our world a more just, equitable and peaceful place in the long run

Lastly, Torah is compared to water.  In addition to performing acts of chesed to help those who are impacted by the literal fires in California, we can help quench the spiritual fires of the world by engaging in Torah learning.  During these difficult times, I encourage everyone to take on additional learning. If you are looking for ways to take on a realistic amount of learning, I suggest reading one chapter of Tanakh each day or studying two or three mishnayot each day to get started.

I hope you will join me in seeking to bring more water to the fires that plague our world in all of these ways. Please also join me in praying for the well-being of our firefighters, of all our fellow Californians, and of our sisters and brothers near the Gaza border.

Rabbi Garth Silberstein



This week, we read how God told Avraham “Lekh Lekha Go from your land and your birthplace and your father’s house to the place that I will show you.” God’s instruction to Avraham to leave behind familiar and beloved surroundings and people precedes God’s promise to show Avraham a new place, which is where he is truly meant to be.

I think many of us walk through life, waiting to get to our promised land, feeling like we are not maximizing our potential, in one area or another of our lives. For some of us, that feeling might come in the form of dissatisfaction with our work life, feeling we have talents and abilities that are untapped in our careers. Others of us may feel we’re not the parents or the spouses that we could be. Something is holding us back from fully realizing our potential in that area. Maybe our sense of dissatisfaction lies in the spiritual realm: “why don’t I feel God’s presence in my life?”

Often, I think the reason we don’t live up to our potential is that we hear that Lekh Lekha call, God saying “Go!” but we want to skip the part about leaving behind the familiar and the comfortable and the expected. However, we can’t arrive before we depart. We can’t become someone new until we’re ready to cease being who we’ve always been.

I encourage each of us to ask ourselves: what are the things that I am afraid to let go of, that keep me from getting somewhere new?

This week I attended a retreat as part of the Clergy Leadership Incubator (CLI) fellowship, which I’m participating in. One the watchwords that Rabbi Sid Schwarz, the director of the fellowship, shared with us, is “Nothing has to happen. Anything can happen.” Often, we are prevented from making needed change in our lives and in our communities because our to-do lists of existing obligations keep us too busy to try anything new. If my week is already full of necessary tasks, I can’t add anything new until I first decide that some things can go.

When we can say “nothing HAS to happen,” when we decide to clear space in our lives by letting go of things we had been treating as non-negotiable, then we give ourselves the time and flexibility necessary to actually make real change. Like Avraham and Sarah, we have to leave behind the familiar before we can reach our promised land.

In that spirit, I’m going to take a break from sending out a d’var Torah to be included with the weekly bulletin between now and the end of 2018. The bulletin will continue to go out as normal, but without my message, in order to allow me to focus on other priorities. I encourage those of you who have enjoyed reading my message in the bulletin each week to join us in shul on Shabbat, where I will of course continue to share words of Torah and thoughts about the weekly parsha.

I encourage you to join me in thinking about what departures we all might make as individuals and as a community, what in our lives might let go of in order to make room for new blessings.

Rabbi Garth Silberstein