High Holidays 5779 – All In

September 20, 2018

Judaism has many rules. This evening I would like to start talking about a rule that is not a Jewish rule, but applies very well to Judaism.

It is called the 80/20 rule.

Some say 80% of the work is done by 20% of the people.

80% of the wealth belongs to 20% of the population

80% of the results come from 20% of the actions.

My 80/20 rule today is about relationships. Imagine I have a friend and 80% of the times we interact, I am asking my friend to do things for me. Only in 20% of the interactions I give something… I am asking him or her all the time to drive my kid, help me with the groceries, lend me money, but rarely (only in 20% of the interactions) do I give a random call, a smile, or offer an invitation over.

I am not sure this friendship is going to last long.

So today I am going to do 80/20 with you. I will dedicate 80 percent of my sermon to stories, and I will only ask you take action on 20%. Is this a deal?

I’d like to start my sermon first of all by wishing you and all of us Shanah Tovah uMetukah.

I hope this year is healthy, sweet, and joyful for all of us.

Now I would like to share with you an old story. The first one is a simple old story about a Hindu king who was riding on his chariot. On the side of the road he saw a homeless beggar sleeping on the ground. He asked his driver to stop and very quietly the King descended from the chariot, took a huge emerald, a very expensive one, and very gently placed it on the beggar’s pocket. He climbed the chariot again and left.

The King’s hope was that the beggar would be able to sell the precious stone and make a living from it.

Five years later the King happened to visit the same town again and his chariot passed by the same place. To his surprise, he saw the beggar with the same clothing, a little bit older than the previous time, in the same position, still sleeping.

The king descended from the chariot, not quietly this time, and without any delicate manners he woke the beggar up and screamed at him: What are you doing here?!!!

I am a poor man, said the beggar.

What’s going on with your clothes? Why are you still here? Said the king.   What about the emerald?

The beggar was shocked. He could barely speak. He didn’t know what to say… He mumbled… what emerald are talking about?

The King screamed at the beggar, saying: the one I put in your pocket 5 years ago.

The beggar put his hand into his pocket and suddenly he found a huge precious stone. He took it out looked at it and then looked at the king. The beggar said to the king: “It never occurred to me to search in here”.

Dear friends,

If you are here this night of Rosh Hashana it is because it occurred to you to search here. If you are here today it is because you are searching for something and you came here to look for that something.

So, thank you. Thank you for dedicating your time to search together and thank you for doing it in your congregation, with your people.

There is something that moved you today to be here.

So what are you looking for besides a short sermon and short Hineni?

Why did you come today? Why are we here? What are you looking for today?

Let me give you 30 seconds to think, to meditate on what is that brought you here today.

Shofar, community, tradition, passion, love, grandparents, time out from work, time out from cellphone, friends, to hear the rabbi’s joke to repeat for the rest of the year.

Something brought you here and only you know what it is. I am sure what brought you here today is meaningful, is evocative and is relevant.

Now let me tell you what motivated me to be here today.

Among the many emotions that move in my soul during the High Holidays there is one that I try to transmit every year. For me there is a concept, a feeling, that I embrace during the Yamim Noraim that I try to extend it to the rest of the year and this year I wanted to ask you to join me in it.

I call that concept: to be all in.

I am here this year to ask you to be all in. This is my 20%. I know I owe several stories…

To be all in means to be like Abraham our forefather, a person of faith, integrity, devotion and commitment. Abraham did not hesitate for a second to offer his most precious treasure, his son Isaac. Because Abraham was all in with God. So I am here today to ask you to be all in, as Abraham was.

When someone immerses themselves in a mikvah to embrace Judaism, we require that person to be all in. No barriers. All in, in the waters of Judaism. All in, in our tradition. And if we require that from those who embrace Judaism by their own choice, the more so should we require that from those who got their identity for “free”.

Abraham was all in and also Isaac his son was all in. According to the Torah, the story of the akeida, Isaac’s binding starts with the words, “Vayehi ajar Hadevarim haele” some time after these events. The Midrash asks what are these events? What does it mean these events? The Midrash answers the question:  Ishmael was mocking Isaac that Isaac had his circumcision when he was 8 days old while Ishmael had it when he was 13 years old, when is more painful.

After being bullied, Achar Hadevarim haele,  Isaac expressed that if that is the case he is ready to give it all and be sacrificed. He said, “I am all in. So, I am here today to ask you to be all in like Isaac was.

To illustrate well what it means to be all in, let me share a second story.

Many years ago I (the person who told me the story, not me) was working as a volunteer in a hospital in Stanford. There I met a little girl. I still remember her name. Her name was Liz. Liz had only one chance to recover from a strange illness she had. The only way to heal was to get a blood transfusion from her 5 year old brother who had survived the same illness and his body had developed the immune system to battle the illness.

The doctor explained the situation to the brother of the girl and asked him if he would be ready to donate the blood for her younger sister. I saw the scene. The brother took a deep breath and said: “I will do it if that saves my sister”.

As the transfusion was taking place, he was laying on one bed next to his sister very calm and smiling. We were with both of them, and we saw how Liz’s cheeks started to regain some color as she received her brother’s blood.

Suddenly the face of her brother turned pale and he stopped smiling. He looked at the doctor and asked with a trembling voice: “At what time will I start to die?”

The five year old boy had misinterpreted what the doctor had told him. The boy thought he should have to donate ALL his blood to his sister and even so he had accepted.

He was all in and I am here today to ask you to be all in, to make the extra effort.

A small change can make a big difference. 80/20. Is like the sound of the shofar. A second before it sounds, the room is silent. We blow out of the small side of the shofar and we get a great sound. If you try to blow on the big end you do not get a sound at all. This teaches us that we only need small steps to be all in.

To be all in means that is not necessary to have a white robe in order to cure.

To be all in means that it is not necessary to carry a baby to be a parent.

To be all in means that it is not necessary to be a rabbi to teach Torah.

To be all in means that it is not necessary to have all your hair on your head to continue learning.

To be all in means that it is not necessary to have money to make someone else richer.

To be all in means that it is not necessary to speak in order to set the example.

To be all in means that it is not necessary to scream in order to be heard.

To be all in means that you can still accept others’ help in order to move forward.

To be all in means that there are aspects of your life that can be improved and you are going to take care of that. It is the 20% we need to take care of.


Another story. It is told about Alexander the Great a very interesting story. In the 4th century BCE, after he conquered Europe and Asia Minor he arrived to a place, that today we call it India. When he was about to cross this new border a general of his army stopped him and said: Alexander, we cannot cross that border. We cannot move forward.

Imagine Alexander’s face… He asked why?

The general replied: because there are no maps of this land.

Alexander looked at him and said: mediocre armies stay inside the maps, great armies explore what is outside the maps.

I am here today to ask you to explore more, to be all in, which means to be outside your known map.

FAO Schwartz (the toys store of blessed memory) used to be one of the biggest attractions of New York City.

One of the toys I loved the most when I visited there, was a punching bag in the shape of a man. I saw a father and a son playing there together. The boy punched the inflatable man who tipped over and immediately bounced back after every punch.

The father asked the young son why the man kept bouncing back up.

The son thought for a moment and answered: I guess because  he is standing up on the inside.

In order to be all in, we need to stand up inside.

We stand up inside when we focus in giving and not only in receiving, as did the boy of the transfusion.

People came to this world to give, not just to receive.

We can only bounce back if we stand up on the inside. We can only bounce back if we are all in.

We are all in when we discover that GOD is not an acronym that means Guaranteed Overnight Delivery and we relate to God with patience and with love.

My 80% story is over now, my 20% request is that you are all in, so we can continue being an inclusive congregation where we welcome all in.

I hope this new year you join me being all in.

I hope the sounds of the shofar move you to be all in.

My wish for all of us is that we are all in, in the Book of Life.

May God give us a healthy new year and may we be all in.