Erev Yom Kippur Serm

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                          Truth & Integrity
                    Erev Yom Kippur/Kol Nidrea
              September 21st, 2007 10th of Tishrei 5768
                     Congregation Beth Shalom
                        Centennial, Colorado
                       Rabbi Jeffrey A. Kaye

      Bill Cotter has known his boss, Aaron Feuerstein, for a long time.

In twenty-one years as a factory worker and sometimes union official,

Cotter has dealt with the chief executive officer of Malden Mills across a

bargaining table and chatted with him on the shop floor. But Bill

Cotter never really knew Aaron Feuerstein until December 11th, 1995,

when a catastrophic fire nearly destroyed all of the textile company‟s

manufacturing plant in Lawrence, Massachusetts, and it seemed certain

to put its 3000 employees out of work.

      “We had just spent $1000 on Christmas presents,” Cotter

recalled. “We thought we‟d just collect our last check and then go on

unemployment,” added his wife Nancy, a production supervisor at the

mill. “Most of us would have lost everything.”

      But that week, Aaron Feuerstein did something that astonished

his workers—something so impressive that he was invited as a special

guest for the President‟s State of the Union Address in January of 1996.

Feuerstein announced that he would keep all of his 3000 employees on

the payroll for a month while he started rebuilding the 90-year-old

family business. In January, he announced that he would pay them for

a second month. In February, he said he would pay them for a third


         By March, most of the employees had returned to full-time work.

Those who had not returned, were offered help in making other

arrangements. “Aaron gave us a chance,” remarked Bill Cotter.

         That chance cost Feuerstein millions of dollars. “Another person

would have taken the insurance money and walked away,” continued


         When Feuerstein was asked, what made him do it, he responded:

“I have a responsibility to the worker, both blue-collar and white-collar.

I have an equal responsibility to the community. It would have been

unconscionable to put 3000 people on the streets and deliver a death

blow to the city of Lawrence. Maybe on paper our company is worth

less on Wall Street, but I can tell you it‟s worth more. We‟re doing


         Feuerstein, a deeply religious Jew, quotes the first-century scholar

Hillel to explain his motivation. “In a place where there is no righteous

person, try to be a righteous person.” When analyzing his biography, it

is readily apparent that his Jewish faith and beliefs led to his integrity.

      Feuerstein adds: “If you think the only function of a CEO is to

increase the wealth of shareholders, then any time he spends on

Scripture or Shakespeare or the arts is wasteful. But if you think the

CEO must balance responsibilities, then he should be involved with

ideas that connect him with the past, the present and the future.”

      And that is why Feuerstein has arranged for heart-bypass

operations for several of his workers, and for the free soft drinks and

breaks he offers employees during the hot Summer months.

      Malden Mills exclusively produces two synthetic fabrics which are

used in outdoor wear by clothing manufactures like Eddie Bauer,

Land‟s End, Patagonia and L.L. Bean. While production increased

initially after the fire and rebuild, the company had to file Chapter 11 in

2002, and is still trying to emerge from bankruptcy. But the legacy and

lessons of Feuerstein goes on… [Story as told in Parade Magazine,

September 8th, 1996, pp. 4-5; and various internet updated accounts].

      To me, Aaron Feuerstein is a true American hero. Aaron

Feuerstein is a Mensch. Aaron Feuerstein is an incredible model for us

all because of one essential ingredient—integrity. Aaron stood-up for

what he thought was right. Aaron went to any and all lengths to ensure

his responsibilities to his surrounding world. Aaron not only spoke the

truth, but through his actions demonstrated truth. He is a source of

inspiration for us all.

      This Yom HaKippurim evening, I would like to focus on the

Aaron Feuerstein‟s of the world. This night of Kol Nidrea, this ultimate

moment of honesty; let us share reflections on how truth and integrity

help to build character, fulfillment and meaning. May THIS

conversation continue our Rosh Hashana themes, of bringing awe and

wonder into our lives and embracing our commitments, as they are

amplified by the ethos of the tradition regarding integrity and truth…

      As our son and brother Ilan has just left for his freshman year of

university; I thought it would be instructive, or perhaps horrifying, to

share a story I heard about life on a college campus…

      A group of college students, rather than studying for a difficult

physics exam, took a road trip to party with friends in another state.

They partied too long and too hard to make it back in time for the test.

When they arrived back to their campus the afternoon following the

test, they approached the professor and asked to retake under the guise

that their car got a flat tire, which prevented them from making it back

in time for the exam. The professor said, “No problem. Be here

tomorrow morning at 8:30am for the retest.” The next morning, when

the students, scattered across the room, opened up their exam booklets,

they were delighted to see that the first question was a piece of cake.

Then, they turned to the second exam question, which asked:

      “Which tire?!”

      Integrity is a fundamental societal value and an essential core

Jewish value. Integrity is a state of mind and being. Integrity shapes

thoughts and feelings. Moreover, integrity motivates and encompasses

our actions. Integrity pushes us to say the right thing, to do the right

thing. Integrity brings truth into our midst. One of the Hebrew

translations of integrity is “yashar,” which means straight or right or

righteous. That is the essence of this all important characteristic.

      A former congregant once shared with me her story in the

workplace. While a successful professional and very secure in her job,

she noticed increasing unethical behavior, unsavory business practices

and extensive lying. She had the guts and courage and integrity to tell

her bosses that the environment at her company was unethical, and she

no longer could be a part of such an outfit. She left her position, even

before securing future employment. Her integrous actions made a

powerful statement. Truth at home and in the place of worship, needs

to be accompanied by truth in the workplace and community. As the

Talmud notes [Yoreh Deah; Caspi, 14c ch.15; Duran, Tashbetz: “The

truth is neither shy nor timid…” Our tradition also teaches us: “It is

integrity that invests man with immortality, and bestows upon him the

privilege of direct communication with G-d [Bachyah ben Asher];” and

that “moral action is the meeting place between the human and the

Divine [Leon Roth].”

      Integrity and truth are inextricably linked…

      In Hebrew Scripture and Rabbinic Literature, truth is a

characteristic of personal relationships. Truth is fidelity to one‟s word,

keeping promises, saying with the lips what one says in one‟s heart,

bearing witness to what one has seen. Truth is the bond of trust

between persons and between G-d and humanity. However, in the

Western philosophical tradition, truth is a characteristic of the claims

people make about the world they experience: The correspondence

between a statement and the object it describes, or the coherence of a

statement with what we already know about the world. Today, we

synthesize both the personal and objective trends within Jewish

thought. Truth, in a sense, is trust in people and in the knowledge they

provide us.

      A journalist once asked Sam Rayburn, the Speaker of the House

during the 1950s: “Mr. Speaker, you see at least a hundred people a

day. You tell each one „Yes,‟ or „No.‟ you never seem to make notes on

what you have told them, but I have never heard of your forgetting

anything you have promised them. What is your secret?”

      Rayburn responded:        “If you tell the truth the first time, you

don‟t have to remember.”

      Our tradition teaches us, that G-d has chosen Truth as His seal

because any other value can have imitations in some form or other. But

there is no compromising with the Truth, there is no substitute for

Truth. An imitation of Truth, no matter how slight the deviation, tips

the scale in the opposite direction.

      Truth, “E‟met” in Hebrew, is a rich and meaningful term, just

like “Yashar” is for integrity. I am reminded of the paramount

teaching of Judaism and mainstay of our morning liturgy: “Emet Atah

Who Reshon; Emet Atah Who Acharon.” “G-d is Truth, G-d is First,

G-d is Last, G-d is Truth.” Where truth abides, there G-d‟s presence is

felt. We are reminded that just as G-d is fist, last and ever-present; so

are the three letters of Emet—aleph, the first letter, mem, the middle

letter, and tav, the last letter of the Hebrew alphabet. Thus, G-d and

Truth are inseparable.

      The Bible leaves no doubt about the fundamental virtue of truth:

“You shall not deal falsely, nor lie one to the other.” Moses chooses

“men of truth” to serve as judges over the Israelites. And bearing false

witness against one‟s neighbor is condemned in the ninth

commandment of the Decalogue.

      The Talmud also is unwavering in its support of truthfulness.

False speech is compared to idolatry. “G-d despises the man who says

one thing with his mouth and another with his mind.” “Let your „yes‟

be honest, and your „no‟ be honest.”

      The Jewish tradition is concerned with more than the mere

uttering of the truth when one speaks. A person is not permitted to

withhold the truth by remaining silent. To protect a criminal or an

injustice by maintaining silence when one can assist the law, is as

serious a transgression as outright lying. Likewise, to create a false

impression without directly lying is distorting the virtue of Emet.

      Truth and Integrity, at times, means making difficult, even

painful decisions. Take, for example, the story of two candidates who

applied to President George Washington for a certain office position.

One was a dear friend, a life-long associate of the President; the other,

rather hostile to the policies of Washington and a member of the


      Washington, to the surprise of everyone, appointed the latter to

the post. “My friend,” he said, “I receive with a cordial welcome, but

with all his good qualities, he is not a man of business. His opponent is,

with all his hostility to me, a man of business. I am not George

Washington, but the President of the United States. As George

Washington, I would do this man any kindness in my power, but as

President, I can do nothing.”

      Integrity takes hard work, fortitude and perseverance. Integrity

means consistency and continuity. People know where you stand and

what you stand for. Integrity minimizes waffling. And in the end,

people will respect an individual or institution which embraces


      There is a saying, “Truth travels around the world.” A

philosopher once explained it thus: “The truth is driven out by

everyone who does NOT uphold it, and then it wanders from one place

to another, looking for a place where it will be welcome.”

      The greatest evils—from Nazism to Communism to Islamic

Fascism—have been dependent upon, indeed made possible, by lies.

Truth was driven away. Truth had no home. Truth was not welcome.

The Shoah, the Holocaust, was made possible by millions of people

believing the great lie that Jews were inherently different from non-

Jews, and malevolently so. Today, Islamic radicalism is predicated on

the lie that Jews are the sons of apes and monkeys; and the source of all

malcontent in the world.

      Many proponents of twisted doctrines, believe that the

advancement of their movement is more important than telling the

truth. Truth becomes perverted and diminished to people who believe

very strongly about a malicious or lethal cause. Our challenge, as

individuals and as a community, is to ensure that truth and integrity

remain paramount. Truth and justice are not only the American way,

but also, since its origins, the Jewish way…

      And that is the lesson of this Kol Nidrea eve, this Yom

HaKippurim. Our Day of Atonement is to bring us back home—to

remind us of the importance of truth and integrity. Through our self

examination and enumeration of our flaws; we enter the process of

Teshuvah, Repentance. This journey reaffirms our commitment to

truth and integrity.

      Our High Holidays allows us to examine our individual and

communal resources to aid our journey. We have standards, teaching

from the Tradition and the Mitzvot, the Commandments, which can

help guide our lives. These teachings and rituals give us anchors in a

turbulent sea. They are timeless. They ensure continuity and longevity

in modeling society and making decisions; rather than bowing to the

fleeting whim and craze of the day. The Mitzvot refine the soul and

purify the heart. Our Sacred Texts stimulate the intellect and captivate

the mind. Our rituals facilitated gratitude to G-d for the blessings of

our surrounding world. Our Sacred customs provide us with a sense of

awe and wonder and reinforce our all important commitments.

      While not ensuring integrity or being equated with integrity; the

process, discipline and adherence to the Traditions ups the possibility of

living a life filled with meaning and integrity.

      Our tradition is clear and our liturgy has spoken:      Integrity

invests people with immortality; and Truth does travel around the

world and into the Heavens.

       On this Kol Nidrea Eve; during this ultimate moment of honesty

and reality; may we be worthy of such Sacred and life-affirming

pursuits. May we work hard to create an environment and culture

where truth and integrity can flourish and be the backbone of our

homes and community. And, may we be the “true pursuers of Emet

v‟Yashar, of Truth and Integrity, in our midst and throughout the


Ken Yehi Ratzon

May this be G-d‟s Will.


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