Erev Yom Kippur 5778 - Fear {Less}

         Thank you all so much for your kind words about last week’s services and sermons. I’d like to announce my official retirement starting now. If last week was so good, it can only go downhill from here. You are all too kind, and it is always an honor to share my thoughts and words with you. I’ve been told I’m causing a lot of sleep loss to those used to taking naps during High Holy Day sermons. My son Solomon will tell you I am available for bedtime stories if ever the need arises to help with bedtime.


     My friend, Alden Solovy, wrote in his recent book of Poetry, This Grateful Heart, a Prayer Before Sleep:

Watch over my sleep.

Grant me a night of rest and renewal,

And spread Your loving shelter

Over my family and friends,

My [wife/husband/partner/child/children/mother/father]

And all who are dear to me.

Keep us safe throughout the night

And stay present when the morning comes

This night I’m keenly aware of those in special need of Your care.

Ancient One,

Ease my mind,

Soothe my heart,

Rejuvenate my body,

Restore my strength,

Revive my faith,

So that when I open my eyes

To the new day

I will see beauty in Your Creation

And marvel in all Your works.

Then, I will rise

In service to Torah and Mitzvot,

In service to Your will,

A testimony to Your holy name.


     We need this prayer tonight of all nights as we prepare for Yom Kippur. These days we all need more comfort and more rest. I’ve had to learn to shut my brain down at night and just sleep. But some days I wish I could sleep away the entire day. We all need more sleep, more rest, more peace of mind, rejuvenation, comfort and spiritual renewal. We all need times when we put our technology away, put down our screens and look out at all the beauty and serenity around us. We need to remember how to ground ourselves in the now and stop dreading the when, the if, the “I don’t knows”, our doubts, our yesterdays, our tomorrows, our uncertainty.

We need more moments of personal stillness, where we allow serenity to flow over all of us, inside and out, a time when we embody peace and love so that we may heal ourselves, our souls, our inspiration, our minds our missions. Now is the time to reset ourselves, to remind ourselves of the light placed within us by God, our individual sparks, that guide us on our journey through each day, towards the people we need the most and towards those who need us the most.


Kol Nidrei is about freeing ourselves from the dread of all those promises in the coming year we may fail to keep due to circumstances we cannot foresee. Breathe. Accept your humanity. Accept your oneness. Accept that you are not alone in this.


For the past two years, I’ve been listening to Tim Ferriss’ podcast. He’s the best-selling author of The Four-Hour Body, The Four-Hour work week, Tools of Titans and his latest book Tribe of Mentors. In his podcast, he interviews some of the most interesting people in the world, breaking down their best practices to better understand how they succeeded in their fields of expertise. A few of my favorites are his conversations with

Jaime Foxx,

Arnold Schwarzenegger,

Scott Adams, the Creator of Dilbert,

Brian Koppelman, film and television writer and producer,

Rick Ruben, record producer and co-founder of Def Jam Records

and the list goes on.

Go look at the long, impressive list of people he has interviewed and I promise you will find at least one of his podcasts that compels you to listen. At this point I’ve listened to over 240 of his podcasts totaling over 400 hours of listening time.  I listen in the car whenever I am driving to weddings, funerals, baby namings, meetings, to the homes of students, or even just to run errands. I feel as if I’ve taken what used to be lost time and turned my car into a classroom where some of my favorite individuals from so many industries of interest become my professionals.


Recently, Tim Ferriss took his interviews to television, producing a show titled Fear{Less}. I believe today is a time where we must all learn to fear less. On Kol Nidre and Shabbat we reflect on our lives, creating a day of peace, a time to just be, sitting both within our own personal thoughts while surrounded by family and friends. It is the time of year when we feel the Gates of Repentance opened.


Our liturgy tells us every year that for wrongs against God we must just ask for forgiveness. But for wrongs against each other we must actively do our best to seek forgiveness and extend our own forgiveness. This is a season made for fear and for learning how to let go of our fears. We each feel personal uncertainty of what the year ahead holds for us. Many of us remain unsure how we survived the trials of last year, let alone the trials of last month, last week, last night. It is a time to just let go, freeing yourself for today, this moment, breathing in as the time slips into tomorrow. Then just continue breathing as you do what must be done and live your life one day at a time, the best that you know how.


A while back Tim Ferriss created a concept he calls "Fear Setting." He created this to help him overcome his personal fears and accomplish the goals he wished to set for himself. “He believes that the hard choices -- what we most fear doing, asking, saying -- are very often exactly what we need to do. His system is meant to help us overcome our self-paralysis so that we might take the actions we need to take. His process encourages us to fully envision and write down our fears in detail.”


“Begin by thinking of a goal that is important to you but that you've kept yourself from attempting, and divide a piece of paper into three columns.

  • In the first column, write down all of the things that could go wrong should your attempt fail. Think of the most terrible things possible.

  • In the second column, determine ways that you can mitigate the possibility of each of those bad consequences from happening.

  • In the third column, think of how you would recover from each of the scenarios you imagined and wrote in the first column.”


In my life and my work, I’ve experienced some of the worst we can experience in our lives, and I’ve comforted families experiencing similar moments of suffering and loss. I’ve also experienced a lot of the best that happens in all of your lives and in my own. When working, I often fear I’m going to say the wrong name at a lifecycle event, have a car break down that prevents me from getting to a funeral, wedding, baby naming or b’nai mitzvah. I fear being late, driving to the wrong address, letting someone down, getting sick when I need to be healthy.


All of this causes me to fear my own humanity. Not all the time, but somewhere deep in the recesses of my mind. In my heart, I always know how healthy I feel, do my best to drive safely and keep my car well fueled and well maintained so that I can successfully be where I need to be and do what I need to do with compassion and confidence. I do my best. I’ve spent the last ten years working to face my fears both the irrational ones, 

(Zombie Apocalypse – No more Walking Dead for Me) and the rational ones.

I’ve spent countless hours reading some of the most meaningful books to teach myself how to be comfortable in my own skin and how to control the things I can control in order to mitigate my fears and truly embrace who I am.


I make sure to always be present with all my families so that all the important names are always clear to me. I do my best to learn about my students, who they are, what sports they like, what books they might be reading. I’ve taught myself to embrace city traffic on a Saturday night and to pick a good podcast for the 90 minutes it usually takes me to drive to a wedding. Every day I try to learn something new, and read about methods to be more organized, a better rabbi, a better teacher, a better parent, a better spouse, a better human.

Most of the time I succeed, sometimes I fail. Sometimes we all fail. Sometimes our worst fears are realized and we must pick ourselves up and regroup. Life happens, but we put ourselves under such pressure that our fears almost paralyze us at times preventing us from living.

People always ask my wife and I how we do it, how we keep living, keep carrying on through every day. I don’t have an adequate answer for you. All I know is I have three children and a family that need me, and many people who depend on me. I can’t stay in bed every single day, but I sure as hell pick a day here and there where I just never get out of my pajamas and sometimes suffice with a bowl of cereal when hunger finally drives me from my despair. And then I either prepare for school pick up or look at my schedule and get my tutoring bag as I head out the door to teach and be the rabbi I love being and risked everything to become.


It took me five years to gain enough experience to be accepted to Rabbinical School after being turned down the first time I applied. I failed the Hebrew entrance exam twice and had to spend a summer studying Hebrew in Boston before passing the exam on my third attempt. My fears of never becoming a rabbi outweighed my fear of failure. During that time, I was married to a lovely person who in the end decided she didn’t want to be a rabbi’s wife and give up her work to follow me. No kids, no harm, no foul. We divorced on the best of terms as supportive friends. I met my wife of almost 18 years six months later, on my second day in Israel.

Good thing she likes slightly used, vintage models, and needs her head examined, or I might still be single.


Rabbinical school was so challenging that I failed Philosophy, a class taught in English, using concepts and words I still fail to understand on certain days. The second time taking the course, I took copious amounts of notes and practically lived at my professor’s home doing his laundry so that I could better understand what he wanted me to learn. Some days, during school, I feared I’d made the worst decision ever. Other days I feared for my life. Worst of all, I feared what the process was doing to my soul.


When student teaching and leading services as a student rabbi, I felt I was doing what I had always been meant to do. In the classrooms, I felt many of our professors were speaking a different language with little or no understanding of who we were or what we did out in the real world. It was the best of times, it was the worst of times, and in my heart of hearts I swore they would have to drag me out of that institution before I allowed my fears, failures and doubts to prevent me from achieving my dream of standing before you today.


It took me seven years to complete a five-year program. During my sixth-year, Phyllis started working at Am shalom and I commuted every week from Chicago to Cincinnati, leaving my wife and baby boy five days a week to complete my academics. My seventh year I only had my thesis to complete and couldn’t think of a word to write down that hadn’t already been thought of or written already. I put my fears, writer’s block and reservations aside, finished my thesis, Fed-exed it to Hebrew Union College, March of 2005, boarded a plane to Israel to visit friends in rabbinical school, was ordained as a rabbi that May and welcomed my son, Sam, into the world that November 8th. I often refer to him as my Thesis baby.


Even standing here before you as your rabbi proved challenging with years of politics, and many twists and turns that often made me think I never should have gotten out of bed, let alone left my Ol’ Kentucky home to travel the world, meet the woman of my dreams and become the rabbi I was meant to become. And yet I am just a human, struggling against my humanity, my fears, my failings, my insecurities just like many of us struggle every day.


We all face our fears daily. We’ve all completed journeys on our paths that felt as if they would never end. We’ve faced setback after setback after setback until we feel we don’t know what success or victory look like anymore. We all have such courage and fortitude as we push forward to achieve our goals and fulfill our dreams. We need tools to face our fears and overcome our frustrations in order to unleash our true inner selves and our full potential.

We sit, here, safe, praying together as a community, evolving as we let go of yesterday, sit within this moment, and look forward to tomorrow. We sit together after gathering for Yontif dinners, where we talked to each other about our hopes and dreams as well as our fears.  Kol Nidre is a time to face our fears. Shabbat is the time to find our peace. Tim Ferris’ tools help us to write down our fears so that we can understand that even if they occurred we would know what to do. We must see our fears for what they are and find solace in our strengths that allow us to face almost anything.


In an interview with Tim Ferriss, motivational speaker, Tony Robbins, teaches that it is impossible to stay angry or be afraid when you count your blessings or think of all the people you love in your life. He says "you can't be grateful and angry simultaneously." We can only hold one powerful emotion in our center at a time and fear/anger are the opposites of love/gratitude. When you find yourself being pushed by your fears or anger, begin thinking of all your blessings and feel the love for all the people you have in your life. This switch will alter how you feel and allow you to view your fears with less trepidation and lesson your anger.

Tim Ferriss Podcast 186 with Tony Robbins


Robbins also talks about how “if we let it, fear can keep us locked up in the prison of the comfortable and predictable.” He explains that fear can also erve a valuable purpose, helping us break through the frustration to achieve the life we truly desire. Some of the most successful people leverage fear instead of allowing it derail them from achieving their dreams. “They know that the real fear is the price they will pay if they don’t give their goals and visions every ounce of energy and focus they have. They know the real fear is living a life where they have settled or compromised on what they really wanted.”

Robbins gives 5 tips to stop letting fear control our happiness, to leverage our fear to our advantage:

Ask yourself what it will cost you if you do not push past your fear. This will help you discover whether or not achieving a specific goal is a “must” and not just a “should.”

Try imagining yourself when you are 80 years old, nearing the end of your life. You are sitting in your rocking chair, reflecting on how you lived your life. Now, look back on your life as if you had not achieved the goal you are after at this moment in your life. How has this affected the course of your life? What are your regrets? What do you wish you had made more time for? What do you wish you had tried? Is there sadness and regret? Are you wondering, “what if…?”


I personally couldn’t imagine never having these opportunities of praying with you, learning from you and being blessed with being part of all your lives. What are your musts? Who are the people who help you quell your fears and achieve your dreams?


It’s easy to push our hopes, desires and dreams aside. We make excuses: there’s just not enough time, I don’t have the money or the resources, I have a family, I’m just too busy. And we start to hide behind those excuses. Because they’re comforting. They’re safe. But excuses will also bring you back to exactly where you started. So remember that the next time an excuse floats into your mind."

What are your excuses? At times, I allow certain professors words form years gone by hinder me from writing because I was told often enough that my writing doesn’t have what it takes, that I should seek some other profession. We all need to silence the fears that hold us back, telling us what we can’t do. We must always remember that trying reminds us what we can do.

People often give up on what they want because they believe that reaching their goal is beyond their abilities. But most successful people foster a growth mindset. They don’t think of their abilities as fixed, but rather as flexible. And when faced with a setback, they try harder. They adopt a new strategy. They keep seeking a solution."

The saying goes that if you believe you can you are right and if you believe you can’t you are also right. In order to overcome our fears and be the best human we can be we must believe that we can even if it takes hard work and a lot of exertion. Every day is a struggle for some of us, but our people are there if we look around to give us the encouragement and support we need.


The most painful experiences can help refine what you want, and what you don’t want in life. Failure, disappointment, dead-ends — these can all be used as a means of reflecting and saying, “this didn’t work. It wasn’t the right fit. So what do I really want?” Remember, we are built to adapt."

Going through all the pain in my life, the one thing that kept me focused was being able to learn from it, learn how much I could stand, letting it teach me how to be there for others who were going through the same pain, and trying to understand that everyone experiences painful moments, we just don’t always know how we will be on the other side of our pain. We can’t do this alone. It takes community to remember that we aren’t alone in this. So many people helped pick me up every time I got knocked down that I’ve lost count. We all have angels in our lives who help dust us off when we need it the most.

You will fail. It’s just part of the process. Any successful person will tell you that. But failure offers insights and inherently corrects the faulty ways of approaching a problem. There is no teacher as impactful as the sting of failure. And no lesson in resilience better than the burn of rejection. But if you use these experiences as unique information, and adjust your strategy and approach the next time around, you will have an advantage that no one else does.”

We all fail at some point or other. We all have fears that try to isolate us and prevent us from being our best selves. If we learn to embrace both our fears and our failures we will learn that nothing can keep us down or hold us back unless we let it. Kol Nidrei is our annual wakeup call reminding us to look back and look forward to who we were and who we want to be. Our liturgy reminds us of all the worst aspects of being human and we need to remind ourselves of all the best aspects of our humanity. We are born of light, we hold lightening within the bottle of our bodies that send thoughts at the speed of light through our mind, that bring our visions into the real world in color and full celebration.


Blogger, Beth Woolsey, once shared the fable, The Lobster and the Crab from Fables by Arnold Lobel

“On a stormy day, the Crab went strolling along the beach. He was surprised to see the Lobster preparing to set sail in his boat. “Lobster,” said the Crab, “it is foolhardy to venture out on a day like this.” “Perhaps so,” said the Lobster, “but I love a squall at sea!” “I will come with you,” said the Crab. “I will not let you face such danger alone.” The Lobster and the Crab began their voyage. Soon they found themselves far from shore. Their boat was tossed and buffeted by the turbulent waters. “Crab!” shouted the Lobster above the roar of the wind. “For me, the splashing of the salt spray is thrilling! The crashing of every wave takes my breath away!” “Lobster, I think we are sinking!” cried the Crab. “Yes, of course, we are sinking,” said the Lobster. “This old boat is full of holes. Have courage, my friend. Remember, we are both creatures of the sea.” The little boat capsized and sank. “Horrors!” cried the Crab. “Down we go!” shouted the Lobster. The Crab was shaken and upset. The Lobster took him for a relaxing walk along the ocean floor. “How brave we are,” said the Lobster. “What a wonderful adventure we have had!” The Crab began to feel somewhat better. Although he usually enjoyed a quieter existence, he had to admit that the day had been pleasantly out of the ordinary.


Woolsey talks about loving this, because she believes it sums up all of friendship and all of love. The crab, is afraid and yet joins his friend saying, “I will come with you. I will not let you face such danger alone.” And when the boat actually sinks, which, metaphorically happens at some point in all of our lives, Crab yells “Lobster, I think we are sinking!” Lobster calmly replies to his friend, “Yes, of course, we are sinking,” said the Lobster. “This old boat is full of holes. Have courage, my friend. Remember, we are both creatures of the sea.”


We all know that life is full of storms and danger. Leaky boats, dangerous waters, uncertainty. We all feel at some point in our lives as if the storm will overwhelm us, as if we will drown, as if all our efforts will be for nothing.


Woolsey explains that “On our way to the bottom of the sea, which is where our imperfection lives, and our inadequacies are on display, and we fear we may be found out. We forget, of course, that facing our humanity and sinking into who we really are is always part of finding our way home. And that we don’t go it alone. Not into the storm. Not down with the ship. We go there together. And we find ourselves home. Have courage today, friends. We may be sinking, but we are creatures of the sea.”

I’m sure Monday, I will be hearing interpretations of this fable explaining how I’ve declared that Crab and Lobster are now Kosher, especially on Yom Kippur. Living our lives takes courage. Taking risks, accepting failures as part of the process of obtaining our goals takes chutzpah and fortitude.

So, as we experience our fasts differently on this Yom Kippur and Shabbat hold close in your mind all you love and cherish in this world so that your fears may fade into their nothingness. May you feel your mind freed from its servitude, free at least to carry you forward to accomplish your goals and make your dreams real.

Let go on this Yom Kippur.

Understand your inner light.

Understand that you are created in God’s image.

Understand that the soul God placed in each of us is pure light allowing us to create the reality we wish to live.

Let go of any yesterdays that continue to hold you back because it is today,

the Day of Atonement, where we free ourselves from the obstacles and burdens of the past.

Cayn yehi Ratzon – May this be God’s will. L’shanah tovah metukah

Some of my other Favorite Tim Ferriss Podcasts (in no particular order):

1. Kevin Costner

2. Robert Rodriguez

3. Vince Vaughn

4. Jon Favreau

5. Christopher Sommer, former U.S. National Team Gymnastics Coach

6. Jocko Willink, former Officer in Charge of Training for all West Coast U.S. Navy Seals

7. Joshua Waitzkin, the inspiration behind the film Searching for Bobby Fisher

8. Ryan Holiday

9. Ramit Sethi

10. Justin Boreta, a founding member of The Glitch Mob

11. Mr. Money Mustache

12. Cal Fussman, best selling author and writer-at-large for Esquire Magazine