RSVP – Rosh Hashanah Sermon 5778

September 28, 2017

One day, God was looking down at Earth and saw all the mischievous behavior that was going on, so he called one of His angels and sent the angel to Earth for some time.

When he returned, he told God, ‘Yes, it is bad on Earth; 95% are misbehaving and only 5% are not.

God thought for a moment and said, ‘Maybe I had better send down a second angel to get another opinion.’

So God called another angel and sent him to Earth for some time.

When the angel returned he went to God and said, ‘Yes, it’s true. The Earth is in decline; 95% are misbehaving, but 5% are being good.’

God was not pleased. So He decided to e-mail the 5% that were good, those people who were really behaving, because he wanted to encourage them, and give them a little something to help them keep going.

Do you know what the e-mail said? No?

What???  You didn’t get that email????!!!


The year has begun and it started great for me.

It has been almost 24 hours and I didn’t have to answer a single e mail!!!

I feel different. Relaxed. Less stressed. Even 24 hours can make a great difference…

So you know, communication has changed a lot and even       e-mail has become old, but it still works for some, especially for rabbis.

And we rabbis receive a lot of e mails. Yes, text messages, WhatsApp, Facebook here and there, I do twitter too, but e mail is a classic.

So I wanted to share with you something I noticed last year. Among the tons of emails I get, and we all get tons, I know, last year I was surprised by the number of e mails from new companies that provide an essential service for our lives.

Punchbowl, evite, mail chimp, monkey survey, blackbird, doodle, “schmogle”, Oh my Lord.

They all want the same thing, Just four letters: RSVP

We need to RSVP for everything now.

You want to park in your own driveway, RSVP to park tomorrow at 7 pm.

You want to check the apples in the Bethesda market, RSVP to check the fresh Fuji apples from Maryland.

Oh my Lord. Please c’mon!!!

So with all these RSVP e mails that I got, I started to do some research on how to correctly answer an invitation.

I am happy to share with you some ideas.

A couple invites people to their wedding:

Their cards ask people to indicate the number of guests attending.  The groom’s grandmother wrote a “1” and then she added “For now – I’m still waiting for George Clooney to get back to me.”

Another example. A couple decided to make sure people will respond on time and they wrote: “Kindly Respond by April 15th or eat at McDonald’s prior to attending.”

Let me get serious now.

Why are we here today?

Aren’t we here because we came to RSVP for next year?

Aren’t we all here to confirm we want another chance?

Aren’t we here to tell the Host; the Creator, that we really want to attend?

I guess we all came today to say, yes, I want to RSVP.

I want to say yes, I am confirming my RSVP.

So let’s see together, let’s learn together what does RSVP mean.

I imagine many of you know that it comes from the French and it is an acronym of the words: Répondez s’il vous plait, translated to the English, “Please reply”.

So the idea behind sending an RSVP is that we want to hear from others. We send an RSVP with the expectation that our voice, our call, our request is heard and hopefully answered.

So, in a way, we are here to both, reply and make a request of our own.

There is a prayer that expresses that very well, Shma Koleinu. Hear our voice. One of the most beautiful passages of our liturgy.

One of the most important reasons we come here today, to ask Gd to hear our voices.

Shma koleinu. We hope to hear from you God.

We have faith that You listen, that you hear our voices.

Shma Koleinu.

One of the most powerful stories I read this year appeared in the British Newspaper, the Sun.

The city of Otsuchi, in Japan has something very particular.

It was affected by the big Tsunami of 2011, and 10 percent of its inhabitants died.

On top of a hill, a white glass paned phone booth has been installed.

The glass-paned box contains a simple, disconnected rotary phone, and allows visitors a few quiet moments alone with those they lost.

In the years that followed the tragedy, the white phone box became a pilgrimage point for those in pain and mourning the loss of friends and relatives.

There is also a notepad on the table so guests can write down any messages or thoughts they have during their time.

Around 10,000 people visited the box in the three years after the disaster, and some people have now become regular users.


They all know the phone is disconnected, but they all have faith their voice is heard.

They go to that phone box to say Shma koleinu, hear our voice, please RSVP Répondez s’il vous plait, please answer us.

It is important for us to be heard.

It is important for us to answer.

So, which are the RSVPs we will answer this year?

Are we going to RSVP to our failures and disappointments?

Can we say YES, we can live with imperfections but still be people with integrity?

Which are the RSVPs we will answer this year?

Are we going to RSVP to the fact that we are no longer as young as we think we are? But still be happy with our scars and wrinkles?

What are the RSVPs we will answer this year?

Are we going to RSVP to the fact that we need to stop living for and start living by?

Are we going to RSVP no to the toxic relationships we have in our lives?

Can I say YES, I am going to look at my kids eyes with love and compassion and tell them that I do not like the people they hang out with?

Let me share with you two RSVP stories from the Talmud.

The first one comes from Gittin 55.

The destruction of the Temple of Jerusalem started Because of Kamtza and Bar Kamtza,

It happened this way: A certain man had a friend named Kamtza and an enemy called Bar Kamtza. He once made a party and said to his servant, “Go and invite Kamtza.” The servant invited Bar Kamtza his enemy instead. Wrong RSVP.

When the man who gave the party found Bar Kamtza at the party he said, “See, you are my enemy; what are you doing here? Get out!” Said the other: “Since I am already here, let me stay, and I will pay you for whatever I eat and drink.”

Said the host: “Absolutely not.”

“Then let me give you half the cost of the party.”

The host refused.

“Then let me pay for the whole party.”

Still the host refused, and took Bar Kamtza by the hand and threw him out.

Said Bar Kamtza, “Since the Rabbis were sitting there and did not stop him, this shows that they agreed with him. “I will go and report them to the government.”

He went and said to the emperor, “The Jews are rebelling against you.” The rest is history.

See, sending the wrong RSVP can destroy the city of Jerusalem.

Now another Talmud story, a happy one.

Shabbat 156

Rabbi Akiva had a daughter. But astrologers said to him, “On the day she gets married, a snake will bite her and she will die.”

On the night of her marriage, she removed a pin and stuck it into the wall. When she pulled it out the following morning, a poisonous snake came trailing after it; the pin had penetrated into the eye of the serpent.

“Was there anything special that you did yesterday? Any good deed?” her father asked her.

“A poor man came to our door in the evening,” she replied. “Everybody was busy at the celebration, and there was no one to attend to him. So I took the portion of food which was given to me, and invited him to celebrate our happiness with us”

Right RSVP. Inviting the right person to your happiness.

Which are the RSVPs we will answer this year?

Are we going to RSVP Jewishly?

A Jewish RSVP means you say yes to your family.

Nothing is going to educate your family better than your example.

You know who understood the real meaning of RSVP?

Rabbi Rudolph

Yes, not only because he showed up every time you needed him but because …

Wait, listen to this story rabbi Raudolph told a one of his sermons.

There was a millionaire who wanted his children to become bar mitzvah.

He called the rabbi and offered the rabbi a ton of money to educate and prepare his son.

The rabbi said no. I will not do it.

What can I do? Said the millionaire? Can I offer you more money?

No said the rabbi.

So what can I do if you are not going to teach my son?

The rabbi answered: I am going to teach you, and you are going to teach your son.

This great story was told by Rabbi Rudolph in one of his sermons.

But the most interesting thing is that I didn’t hear this story from Rabbi Rudolph. I heard this story from a congregant whom after hearing this story decided to attend services every Shabbat to teach his own children by being a role model.

Jews do not leave Judaism because of what they know… They leave because of what they do not know.

A Jewish RSVP means you say yes to your family and your family’s education.

The way we translate literally  RSVP in Hebrew is: Na Ahser Hishtatfutcha.

Not please respond but please confirm your participation.

See how soft it sounds, Na Ahser Hishtatfutcha. This is prayer.

Gd is talking to us.

I can say no to others… But I cannot resist a call from Hashem.

We came to RSVP for a new year and GD is asking us to be present.

Na Asher Histafuttcha.

Rosh Hashana gives us the opportunity to reflect on how we are going to respond this new year.


Dear friends,

It is great to RSVP. It creates the immense possibility of another day, of another year.

But you know, when you reply yes to the RSVP, then you have to show up.

We have to show up because of our families. We have to show up because of our values.

We have to show up because of our people.

We have to show up because of us.

If we RSVP yes, then we have to show up.

May GD inscribe all of us in the book of life.

May we all RSVP yes for this new year.

And may we all show up.