Kol Nidre 5777

October 20, 2016

About 14 months ago Rabbi Harris and I rode together to the Ronald Reagan building in DC.

We were going to the AIPAC Rabbinical Symposium when Rabbi Harris phone sent him an alert. At a red light he checked and told me there was a shooting in Virginia and two journalists were killed.

Of course I grabbed my phone, as I was the passenger, and starting to learn about the incident. To my astonishment, the shooting took place close to Roanoke, VA, the place that I had left just a couple of months before the incident.

We arrived at the building, started to attend conferences and classes and could not stop thinking of my friends in Roanoke.

During a break between panels, we stood up in front of a big screen TV to watch CNN and the latest news. On the screen was the picture and name of Bryce Williams I screamed I know the guy!!!

My friends thought I was joking. But I really knew the individual.

What I didn’t know, was that he was the killer.

That information was not clear yet.

Bryce had killed live on TV two reporters, Allison Parker and Adam Ward, and was fleeing from police towards the DC area.

You may remember the episode and if you saw the images, those were images you will never forget. I would like to ask you that if you didn’t see them, please don’t do it at all.

So we came back to Bethesda, I sat down in front of my computer and started to read the news.

All of the sudden I called Ricardo Munster, who sits next to us in the office and asked him for help. I thought I was going to faint.

Roanoke is a small place, a small town with not more than 1000 Jews so there, at Passover when the news channel needed to interview somebody, they talked the rabbi. If the news channel needed someone to blow the shofar, they called the rabbi. When the local newspaper needed an interview to explain Chanukah, they interviewed the rabbi.

To my astonishment, when I was in the office I discovered that Bryce Williams, the killer, had interviewed me twice in the Synagogue, and not only that, he had played with my kids. I remember that very clearly… playing with my kids.

Bad feelings and thoughts came to my mind when I realized that this could have happened when he was playing with them…

I started to feel even worse, when I discovered that I had his contact information on my phone. Under the name of Bryce – channel 7. This was the contact information of a murderer.

At that moment… I thought it was Yom Kippur.

I was about to faint, I needed to erase from my life the things that harmed me and harmed others, my fingers were literally trembling.

These feelings I have every year on Yom Kippur.  I feel weak, my body trembles and I have to erase, I have to clean out the evil from my life.

But that moment was a little different.

Can you imagine at that moment, hitting the wrong button and instead of erasing the contact, dialing him?

Can you imagine how many police officers and FBI agents would have surrounded Beth El within 30 minutes?

Can you imagine the implications it may have had in my future if I only hit the wrong button at the wrong time?

Today we stand together to erase the contacts from our phones, those phones that for many, sometimes, are more important than our own lives. As we erase the contacts, we need to erase the sins committed last year.

It is not easy… Your fingers have to be steady to erase the contact, especially when your hands tremble.

As we remove the contact information we need to remove from our lives our wrongdoings, our misbehaviors and we need to learn from our mistakes.

As we remove the contact information we need to remove from our lives the toxic relationships that prevent us from becoming better people.

Today, many of us may look pale with fear that we may hit the wrong button and our future will be different than the future we imagined.

Because, dear friends, erasing is not a simple act. It requires courage, audacity and action.

So today, the holiest day of our calendar, I want to travel with you the by way of the Torah text and see how erasing, deleting, wiping away is related to undesirable acts.

So you already know me, and I am going to offer a great reward to the person who knows where in the Torah the verb to erase, limchot in Hebrew, appears for the first time. The prize, again, is lunch tomorrow at my home.

Noah. Emche et haadam asher barati me al pnei haadama. Umachiti et kol hayekum. Hashem is the first one to use the verb to erase. Gd is tired of the behavior of the people and tells Noah that Hashem is going to erase all humanity.

The second time the verb to erase comes in the Torah is related to a commandment. Hashem commands us to erase Amalek. Amalek represents evil. They attacked and killed us when we left Egypt and since then we are commanded to erase Amalek, the evil, from the earth.

The third time the verb to erase appears in the Torah is very interesting.

(Exodus 32)So Moses returned to the Lord, and said, “Oh, these people have committed a great sin [against You], and have made themselves a god of gold. 32 Yet now, if You will, forgive their sin—and if not, please blot me out of Your book which You have written.

Moses asks Gd Mecheni na misifrecha.

Erase me from your Torah.


Erasing is not an easy task. It leaves marks, scars, and wounds that will never disappear.

Erasing is not an easy task. It requires more strength and more courage than leaving the original mark.

Erasing is not an easy task. It involves more patience because you do not want to erase too much.

Erasing is not an easy task. It implicates admitting your own mistakes.

But erasing, dear friends, gives us the possibility to write again, to recover, to improve.

The flood erased most of humanity, but after it Abraham and we, the Jewish people, came to this world.

Amalek is the symbol of evil in every generation and we still try every generation to be “or lagoyim” a splendor among the nations.

The golden calf and Moses’ plea to Hashem to be erased, gave Moses and the people of Israel the possibility to receive the second luchot, the second set of tablets. Exactly the same day in the calendar as today, on Yom Kippur 3328 years ago Moses came back from Mount Sinai with the tablets and his face shined, not only for the tablets but for the opportunity of having a second chance.

When we erase, we have the possibility to write again, to recover, to improve, to write better.

And this is what Yom Kippur is about.

Looking back, admitting and recognizing our mistakes but most importantly, start to write again a new page in the Book of Life.

We know that the Jewish People for thousands of years have dedicated this day to prayer, to fasting, to reflection and to repentance. Jews everywhere in the world share almost the same ritual, the same language the same hope.

But it is only you who can erase and write anew in your Book of Life.

It is only you who can say this is not a good relationship for me.

It is only you who needs to feel your fingers shaking, ready to erase the wrongdoings and mistakes. Nobody else can do it for you.

Three years ago a group of rabbis, I was among them, met with President Peres in Jerusalem. He asked us: What is the greatest Jewish contribution to the world?

After some silence from the 200 rabbis, he said: Well… Since I am older than you, I am going to tell you: The greatest Jewish contribution to the world is: “Dissatisfaction.” A good Jew can never be satisfied.

He also said:

We’re a people born to be discontented. Whatever exists we believe can be changed for the better. . . . However small a nation we may be, we are the flag-bearers of revolution.

We are never happy with the way the world is but care about how it should be.

Peres was right: Isaiah could not feel satisfied while living amidst anguish and war.

Jeremiah could not ignore the widow, the orphan, the corruption around him.

Shimon Peres was right: complacency is not the Jewish legacy.

President Peres was right: A good Jew can never be satisfied.

We are supposed to write and erase and write again and start over and over.

Again and again we need to correct and improve the blue prints.

Over and over we need to acknowledge our mistakes, erase them and start over.

It is ok to be unhappy with the first, the second and the third attempt. We need to keep trying.


There is a story (http://www.jewishpost.com/news/building-a-better-pencil.html) that Rabbi Rafi Frank from Syosset, NY brought in a sermon some years ago.

I’d like to share it with you.

There was once an investigative reporter traveling across America in search of interesting stories for a newspaper she wrote for. She came across a town in mid-America that, at first sight, seemed like every other town she had visited, but there was something odd about it, something very retro that she could not quite put her finger on. It all became clear to her as she strolled down Main Street, that this was a town where no one had in their hand a cell phone, an iPad, or a laptop, but everyone in town jotted notes down on a pad of paper with not even a pen, but a pencil. A pencil!

She couldn’t remember when she had seen so many people with pencils in hand. So she stopped a clerk in the store and asked, “Excuse me, but can you tell me why in this town everyone uses a pencil?” And the clerk responded, “You must be from out of town, because here we all use pencils. These are special pencils: Goldberg’s pencils. These pencils are the wisest pencils in the world. When you write with these pencils, they actually make you feel better.” “What makes these pencils so special?” asked our travelling reporter.

“No one really knows,” answered the clerk. “The pencils are produced in Goldberg’s factory. No one is permitted to enter the factory, but that Mr. Goldberg, he really knows how to make pencils.”

The reporter knew a hot story when she came across one, so she had to, in some way, infiltrate the Goldberg Pencil Factory. She finds out the address, parks her car several blocks away and then in the dead of night, breaks into the factory through a back window and waits for the morning to witness the production of the famous Goldberg pencil. Sure enough, 8:00 AM, the door to the factory opens, and in walks Mr. Goldberg, a gentleman in his seventies, who has done nothing in life but produce pencils. The reporter watches him put on an apron, gloves, and goggles, and proceed with the production of pencils in silence. Nothing is out of the ordinary as far as pencil production goes but just before 5:00 PM, when Mr. Goldberg has finished 100 beautiful, yellowish orange no.2 pencils, he places them all upon his work table and addresses them as follows:

Kinderlach–My dear little pencils. You are about to go forth into the world—schools, businesses, homes, and so forth. Remember the following important lessons:

  1. Everything you do will always leave a mark.
  2. If you’re not so happy with the mark, don’t worry, you can erase it. Erase it quickly because the longer you leave the mark the harder it will be to erase it.
  3. You will undergo some very painful sharpening, but you know what,—it will make you a better pencil.
  4. At some time, you may end up in a desk for years or behind a shelf or lost on the road, abandoned, forgotten, alone. At those times remember—what makes you a pencil is not what’s outside of you, it’s what’s inside of you.

5.And finally kinderlach, my dear pencils, in order to be the very best pencil in the world, you have to be held and guided by the hand that holds you, so respect that hand, for it will help you become what you were put on this earth to be: a pencil. And with that address to the pencils, Mr. Goldberg turned the lights out, went home after a day’s work, and the reporter knew what made the Goldberg pencil the most special pencil in the world.


Everything we do will always leave a mark. Don’t be afraid to make a mistake but don’t be too proud to use your eraser.

Today, is the day when Moses came down from Mount Sinai with the engraved tablets, the same Moses who asked to be erased from Your book.

So let us remember:

  1. Everything we do will always leave a mark.
  2. Erase quickly because the longer you leave the mark the harder it will be to erase it.
  3. The sharpening even though is painful will make us a better person.
  4. what makes us a person is not what’s outside of us, it’s what’s inside of us.
  5. Respect the “hand” that guide us.

Today, Hashem we ask You to guide our hands and help us to erase our faults and mistakes, we ask you to help us write a new page in our Book of Life and to seal us in Your Book of Life.

Gmar chatimah tovah.