Photo of Rabbi Ettedgui

Yom Kippur 5774 (September 14th, 2013)

Welcome to Sharei Chesed Congregation. It's wonderful to see our sanctuary, full again, from wall to wall on this night of Kol Nidre. I welcome you and wish you and your dear ones, "G'mar Hatimah Tovah" - a happy and healthy new year.

An Israeli rabbi leaves this world and is met by the Angel Gabriel in the the world to come. There is a long line as the angel takes each one to their new home. The rabbi is standing behind a cab driver. Gabriel welcomes the cab driver and shows him to his new home - a beautiful villa with all the amenities, rocking chair, and a beautiful yard. Then Gabriel comes and welcomes the rabbi and shows him to a very skimpy little cabin, with just a table and a chair. The rabbi wonders and says, "Angel Gabriel I have been a rabbi of a large synagogue. I preached to thousands of worshippers. That’s all I get, and the cab driver gets all those amenities?" Gabriel answered, "Here in heaven we go by results. When you preached, everyone in the synagogue fell asleep. When he drove his cab, his passengers prayed to G-d." I hope this evening, I don’t put you to sleep.

What is it about Yom Kippur and its opening prayer, the Kol Nidre, that fills synagogues throughout the Jewish world? This evening, I would like to share with you some thoughts about Yom Kippur, what it means to us and what is expected of us on this day. I would also like to reflect with you on the events of the past few weeks, which I believe have been on the minds of everyone here this evening, just like they have been in the news every hour of the day.

Until a week ago, America was on the verge of punishing Syria for using chemical weapons, and the Obama administration was working hard to get the Congress and the American people to endorse such an attack. There were dire predictions as to what would happen to Israel if America was to attack Syria. Syria, Hizbullah and Iran, warned that they would retaliate against Israel, America's ally. This week, everything looks different. Most political analysts believe that Syria, Russia, Hizbullah and Iran have been the big winners.

What happened to America reminds me of a story. This FBI agent comes to a Texas rancher. The owner, an elderly man, asks him what he wants. "I am here to check the premises for any illegal substances. Open that gate and let me in." "I have no illegal substances on my ranch," says the rancher. "You have no right to enter my premises. Do you have a subpoena?" "Listen, old man," the agent replies, "You see right here? This is my FBI badge. With this badge I can go anywhere, and no one can stop me." "Oh, I am sorry,” says the old man. "Go right it." He opens the gate and the agent goes in. A few minutes later, the farmer hears screaming. He runs to the gate and he sees the agent running for his life, chased by a 2000 pound bull, about to gore him. "Help! Help!" the agent screams. The old man yells at the top of his lungs, "The badge, the badge! Show him your badge!" It would seem to me that America tried to show its badge, giving it the authority to stand for what is the right and humanitarian thing to do. But a Russian bear in this case was guarding the ranch. If the negotiations for taking control of the chemical weapons in Syria drag on, while Russia continues to openly arm Syria and Iran, and thousands of innocent civilians continue to be killed, I would feel very bad for America's blunder - regardless of who caused it. That's all for the political situation we are in.

Going back to Yom Kippur - what is Yom Kippur? As its very name implies, it is the promise of atonement. The theme of Yom Kippur is, "Kee Bayom Hazeh Y'khaper aleichem letaher etchem, mikol hatotechem, Lifne Adonay titharu." - "For on this day atonement will be made to you to cleanse you from all your transgressions, before G-d, you shall be cleansed." Rabbi Akiva, in explaining the meaning of "lifne adonay titharu" - "before G-d, you shall be cleansed" - gave us this illustration. He says that G-d on Yom Kippur serves as our mikveh. What is a mikveh and what is the purpose of a mikveh? It is a ritual bath, a body of standing water used for purification and also for conversion to Judaism. In Temple days, a person was not allowed to enter the Temple if he/she had contact with the dead, with the carcass of a dead animal, or had leprosy or other issues that make a person unclean. This uncleanliness is not a physical condition, like being dirty or muddy. For that kind of uncleanliness one uses soap and water. The uncleanliness that the mikveh purifies is a spiritual one, freeing a person from whatever made it impossible for him/her to join the people at the Temple. Rabbi Akiva added: "How lucky and fortunate we should feel when you are told that G-d is our mikveh." We enter our synagogues and accept the requirements of Yom Kippur, as if we were entering a mikveh, immersing ourselves in its pure, refreshing and purifying water.

We have all assembled in our synagogues, because we understand and hold to heart the awesomeness of this day, Yom Kippur. We begin the twenty-four hour period with a contrite heart and humbled spirit. We want to take advantage of what this day offers - atonement from G-d, if only we ask for forgiveness and commit to change our ways. Each and everyone of us has a badge that we carry, representing who we are, what is our essence, what acts of kindness we have performed, what merit do we have, in order to expect atonement and forgiveness from G-d Almighty. Yom Kippur, our sages teach us, is like a day in the the hereafter. Food and water are basic needs for the living, but not on Yom Kippur, because we transcend those needs and imagine ourselves in a totally spiritual world.

What is the badge that allows us to enter Olam Haba, the hereafter? In the Tractate Shabbat, Rava says the following: "When a person stands on the day of judgment in the hereafter, he is asked the following questions:"


(1) "Nasaata Venata B'Emunah?" - Did you conduct your business with honesty?

The word Emunah is more than just to be honest - it also implies faithfulness and fidelity. These are principles that make up the essence of an individual. And, would you stick to those values even if it should cost you? I recently heard a story about a businessman who had a piece of property to sell. He placed a deadline on potential buyers to present their offers. Bids came in and he picked the best offer. A very short time after the deadline had passed, and before any contracts had been signed, another person came to see him and offered him a much higher price. When he explained that he had already given his word to the bidder who met the deadline, he was offered an even higher price, and was told, "Look, you haven't signed any papers yet, you can still change your mind." The businessman again explained that in the eyes of G-d, he has already given his word, since the Torah says, "Keep your word." "Well, if you are speaking about faith," insisted the new bidder, "how about if I pay you more that the asking price, and I will also throw in a large donation to your favorite charity. Just think about it. You will be doing a great Mitzvah to that charity. On the other hand, if you don't sell it to me, you will be denying your charity this large amount of money. Think of all the good that your charity can do with this money." Still the businessman refused to renege on his word.

We don’t have to be in the world of business to be asked the question of "Nasaata Venata B'Emunah?" - Did you conduct your business with honesty? We come in contact with others on a daily basis. Do we follow Shammai's teaching of, "Greet every person with a cheerful face?" Are we selective on to whom we show a smile and friendliness? "Shem Tov" is the the crown of a good name. According to our sages it is the most important crown that a person can wear in his/her lifetime. A "Shem Tov" comes mainly from our dealings with other human beings. When people speak of their departed loved ones, they usually speak of their kindness and generosity, as well as the caring and love that the person had for others. They never say he/she left me a lot of money or gave me great gifts. The legacy we leave behind has to do with the impact we make on others by our personality, our patience, our ability to forgive and our caring.


(2) "Kavahta Ittim LaTorah?" - Did you set aside time to study Torah?

As we discussed on Rosh Hashanah, Torah is what kept the Jewish people throughout the generations. It's the Jewish schools that we as a community establish and support, to insure that our children are provided with a good Jewish education. Torah is what we as adults try to incorporate into our lives, by seeking and adopting lessons from the teachings of our sages. Understanding the Chumash, the Five Books of Moses, engaging in discussions to seek its message, help us become better human beings. The Book of Psalms brings messages of thanksgiving and appreciation at times of great joy, as well as comfort and consolation when we experience going through the valley of death. And indeed, there are so many opportunities to study Torah. I encourage you to take advantage of the weekly Torah and Talmud classes we offer right here at Sharei Chesed, as well as all the community offerings in Jewish studies. Will we be able to answer the question of "Kavahta Ittim LaTorah" - did you set aside time to study Torah, in the positive? Or, were we too busy with other activities? The question that we will be asked is not, "Did you devote **all** your time to studying Torah?", but did you set aside **some** time to study Torah? Without setting the time on a regular basis, there will always be other activities that will occupy the very short time that we have in this world.


(3) "Asakta B'priya U'reviah?" - Were you involved in family life?

Judaism places tremendous responsibility on parents. Their first and most important priority is to be there for their children. Unfortunately, sometimes today's demands of meetings, business travel, work and other responsibilities, may take us away from giving our children and our family the time that should be theirs. Whether in this world, and for sure in the world to come, Rava tells us that we will be asked, "Asakta B'priya U'reviah?" - were you involved in family life? "Piria veriviya" is the first commandment given to Adam and also to Noah - "Peru Urvu" - "Be fruitful and multiply." I believe that this question does not deal only with one's own children, but with making the world a better place for it to sustain "Pirya Verivya" - bringing up children, new lives into this world.

Last month, in Jerusalem, Rabbi Meir Lau, the former chief Rabbi of Israel, led a demonstration in front of the Prime Minister's office, drawing attention to the plight of children in many parts of the world. Rabbi Lau was only a child when rescued by American troops from a concentration camp. He has been a champion and strong advocate for children. He bemoaned the fact that the world today lacks a daughter of Pharaoh. If you recall the story of Moses, he was left as a three month old baby in a basket by the river. The daughter of Pharaoh finds him, and even though she knew that he was a Hebrew and, therefore, condemned to death by her father, the Torah tell us that she had compassion upon the child. She saved him from a certain death, found him a nursing mother and helped raise the future Moses. Rabbi Lau asks, "Where are today's daughters of Pharaoh who show compassion and do something about the dying children in the Syrian civil war? They have nothing to do with the regime or the rebellion. How can we see so many children die and not be moved?" He quoted a study where it has been estimated that 18,000 children die everyday from hunger. He asks, "How can a world that has so much ignore the death of almost 1000 children every hour?" He also pointed out that the announcement about this appeared on page 21 of the newspaper, which means that there were more important things to report in the first twenty pages than the death of 1000 children every hour.

Our synagogue had the pleasure and privilege to hear from a young person who we can say is like "Bat Paroh" - the daughter of Pharaoh - whom Rabbi Lau praised. Her name is Melissa Diamond. She is the daughter of Cindy and Larry Diamond and the granddaughter of Francelyne Lurie. She is only twenty years old, but already has shown concern for children throughout the world. She has devoted her life, so far, to helping parents with autistic children. Her work brought her to the West Bank, where she worked with a Palestinian family with an autistic child. Because of the shame that many Arabs feel when they have an autistic child, they seem to hide these children from their community. Her goal was to show that there is no shame, and that these children deserve to be treated in a kind and compassionate way. She succeeded in getting parents of such children to establish a support group and demand help from the authorities. A few weeks ago, her work brought her to a Syrian refugee camp in Jordan where there are many such children. Living in open tents does not allow the parents to hide these children as the neighbors can tell that these children are different. Here again, Melissa was able to help a family, and she left her mark on others in understanding how to work with these children. As we speak, Melissa - together with another 20 students from her class - are in Nepal working on another project, helping families with children who need our help and understanding.

In our own community we have children and young people growing up in neighborhoods where there is much crime and violence. So many die at a young age and so many end up in prison, ruining any hope for their future. These are the hope for the future generation. We need to get involved in helping save these children. We may not be able to solve the problem, but maybe we can save one child, one Moses.


(4) "Tsipita Liyshuah?" - Did you hope for redemption?

Yes, the world is cruel. There are so many problems that may lead us to believe that there is no hope. We experience suffering, illnesses, and the loss of dear ones. Young people who have their whole life before them - those lives are snuffed out because of some terrible illness. People in the prime of their life, all of a sudden are faced with health issues and great challenges. Many who have reached their golden age ask where is the gold to pay for all the care that is needed to help so many who are suffering from dementia and Alzheimer's and so many other disabilities, that keep our nursing homes filled to capacity. We feel for families who must struggle so much to bring up a child. And the sadness and suffering is all around us, sadness that we see within our family circle and among our friends. We also know of the sadness that many experience for lack of jobs and opportunities.

There is trouble in the world, and the power of evil seems to grow as it does not have to answer to anyone. Still, we are asked to help for a better time. We are not to give up. David Ben Gurion, the first prime minister of Israel, was not a religious man. But he knew the Bible very well. He also use to say that he believes in the Messiah. Why? Because once you give up in believing that this world can be better, you will lose all hope and that is the worse place to be. Each and everyone of us can do something to help a family member, a friend, a member of the community, giving support and comfort in time of sadness. We can all be agents of change for a better world. That's what Judaism expects of us.


We have before us four important questions. Yom Kippur calls on us to prepare ourselves to answer these questions in the affirmative.

Shanah Tovah to all.