Friday, December 23, 2016

Parshas Vayeishev and Chanukah: A Kiss from Above

After Yosef’s brothers cast him into a pit filled with scorpions and snakes, they saw a caravan of Ishmaelite’s coming from afar. Upon seeing this, the brothers decide it would be better to sell Yosef to these men, as opposed to leaving him to die in the pit. In the Torah’s description of this episode, the Torah tells us the seemingly unnecessary detail that these Ishmaelites were carrying with them “spices, balsam, and lotus.” As the Torah does not record any unnecessary details, it is puzzling why it informs us of this seemingly insignificant fact. Rashi points out, quoting the Midrash, that Ishmaelite caravans typically carried foul smelling cargo like naptha and tar—but in order to spare Yosef from a long journey in a smelly caravan, G-d arranged it that this caravan would carry fragrant spices.
               Many are bothered by the following, perhaps obvious question: At this point in Yosef’s life, when all appears lost- his life as he knows it will forever be changed—he is being taken as a slave to a foreign land—what difference does it make how the caravan smells on his way down to Egypt? What comfort does the anomaly of a nice smelling Ishmaelite caravan afford him?
          In order to answer this question, Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz notes how the Talmud tells us that when the Jews returned to the Holy Temple which had been desecrated by the Syrian Greeks, they found one small jug of pure oil, that had not been contaminated. It seemed like there was only enough oil to last one night, but in the end, it lasted for eight nights. As a commemoration for this miracle, the Rabbis enacted an eight day holiday of thanksgiving to G-d known as Chanukah.
            If one delves into this idea a little deeper, it seems a little bit puzzling. We know that there was also another very significant miracle that took place at the same time—namely that a small band of Jewish priests, overtook a massive force from the Syrian Greek army, in an unprecedented, shocking military victory. If the Jews would have lost the military campaign, the results would have been catastrophic. And yet, when the rabbis decided to enact a holiday to commemorate these events, they chose to commemorate the miracle of the oil lasting eight days instead of the more significant military victory. The obvious question becomes—why then, is Chanukah based on the miracle of the oil, as opposed to the key military victory?
            Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz gives a phenomenal answer to this question by giving a very powerful metaphor: Imagine if there was a family who lost a precious object. For a full week, the whole family is searching for the object, with no luck. Finally, the five-year-old boy finds it, and immediately, the father runs over to him, gives him a hug and a kiss on his head. For that boy, there are two things happening: A) The overall, large-scale satisfaction of the whole family finding the lost object, and B) the personal delight and immense pride that the child experiences when his father gives him a kiss on his head. For that child, that kiss was priceless.
            Rabbi Shmuelevitz says that this was the reason that the rabbis enacted the holiday of Chanukah. While it is true, and undeniable, that on a macro level, the larger miracle clearly was the military victory, what we want to remember throughout the generations is how G-d enabled one small jug of oil to last for eight days. Were we to have walked into the Temple, as victors of the battle, that surely would have been enough. But in G-d’s immense love for us, He gave us the miracle of the oil lasting for eight days. He demonstrated His love for us by giving a timeless kiss on our head, and that is what the Rabbis want us to remember and to cling to during Chanukah, the darkest time of the year. So too, for Yosef, during his darkest days, as he was brought down to Egypt against his will, and his life was falling apart before his very eyes, G-d wanted to give him a kiss on the head, to remind him that He was still very much with him.
            Rabbi Shimshon Pincus points out that even nowadays, there are  miraculous things happening all the time, where G-d is constantly giving us a Divine kiss. Our problem, however, is that we are unable to perceive them. We are unable to perceive the kiss and embrace of our loving Father. He likens this reality to the fact that there are an abundance of sound waves that exist in the vast universe. It is true that there are sound waves—but if we don’t have the right instruments, they will never be perceived. On Chanukah, our job is to work on perceiving these daily miracles; to build our own personal radio transmitters, so that we too, can bask in the unending love of the Almighty. 

Tuesday, November 8, 2016

Why I am Celebrating on Election Day 2016

Dear Henry,
       Tonight, Tuesday November 8, 2016, I plan to have a great celebration. I will not be hosting a belated Denver Broncos Super Bowl victory party. Nor will I be throwing myself a belated 31st birthday bash, or even, for that matter, an early 10 year anniversary party. Rather, I will be partying because of the 2016 Election. And not because my candidate is going to win—I think it is safe to say at this juncture that all indications point to the fact that Peyton Manning is in fact too far behind in the polls to make another one of his legendary last minute comebacks. Rather, while millions and millions of Americans will be nauseously watching the results come in, I will be sipping a New Belgium Ben and Jerry’s Cookie Dough Beer, celebrating the profound lesson these elections have taught me. While part of my joy is admittedly that the madness will seemingly come to an end for a couple years, and I no longer have to explain these candidates’ immorality to my children, the real joy is rooted much deeper than that.
         The Talmud teaches us something extremely profound in the Mishnah at the end of Tractate Sotah:

Rabbi Pinchas Ben Yair says: From the time the Temple was destroyed, scholars…have been ashamed, But strong-armed men and Baalei Lashon (literally men of tongue, those whose strength lies in slander and defamation) have triumphed, and there is none who seeks, and none who searches, and none who inquires. Upon whom can we lean? Upon our Father in Heaven…In the period before the Moshiach comes, chutzpah will increase… and the truth will be absent…the face of the generation is like the face of a dog[1]….Upon what, then, can we rely upon? Upon our Father in Heaven!

          One of the great challenges of our affluent, comfortable generation is that we often fall into the trap of thinking that we are in charge. We are running the show, we can rely on ourselves and our own leaders to take care of our well-being. We can fall into the trap of thinking errantly that our society can do it ourselves—we do not need the Almighty’s Divine assistance. Sometimes charismatic leaders arise, that give us hope, and we mistakenly think that they have all the answers.
        This evening, I celebrate and embrace the Divine reminder that this way of thinking is incorrect. As King David writes so eloquently, “Hashem is with me, I have no fear, how can man affect me? It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on man. It is better to take refuge in Hashem than to rely on Nobles.” This election, in which many people report holding their noses as they submit their votes, an election in which many people view the choice as a decision between the lesser of two evils, is a profound reminder that no, in fact, we do not put our hope and trust in the hands of Man (or Woman). It reminds us what the aforementioned Mishna mentions: We rely on the Almighty.
        On Rosh Hashana and Yom Kippur, we offer the following prayer, which, given the circumstances of our elections, I was able to say with more intensity and concentration than ever before: “Iniquity will close its mouth and all wickedness will evaporate like smoke, when You will remove evil’s dominion from the Earth. Then You, Hashem, will reign alone over all Your works…” May we see soon, speedily in our day, a time where we are living in G-d’s Kingdom, where righteousness triumphs, goodness prevails, and corruption and immorality are merely a distant memory.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

[1] Rabbi Elchanon Wasserman, who quoting the holy Chofetz Chaim explains “the face of the generation are the leaders. A leader must guide the people and be a role model to teach them right from wrong. But in the period before the Moshiach, the leaders will first check to see if their views will be popularly received, like a dog that looks back to see if his master follows.”

Monday, September 26, 2016

A Father's Rosh Hashana Resolution

Dear Henry,
     Last night I had the opportunity to hear a lecture from one of the most well known, inspirational speakers in America, Rabbi Yissocher Frand. He spoke about a topic near and dear to my heart- a topic he called "Master in My Pocket." The premise was how our smartphones are our masters-- we are enslaved to them. As a result of perceiving this problem within myself, I wrote in these pages around Passover time how I dumbed down my smart phone by removing email, Safari, Facebook, and Twitter. Now, in light of Rabbi Frand's speech, and given the proximity of Rosh Hashana, it is appropriate for me to do some self reflecting, and offer a recap of how my life has changed since then.
      Fortunately, when I initially made the change, I saw great improvements in all areas of my life. Specifically, my relationship with my children was transformed: I was present when I played with them. Two days after making the change, my daughter learned how to walk. I am convinced it is because I was fully present, and able to help motivate her to take her first steps. However, as time went on, the inspiration waned. While I had hoped that by dumbing down my phone I would be more present for my children, and that when they were sleeping, or not around, and I was bored, I would study the Torah from my iPhone, unfortunately, over time, that has simply not happened. I would have my phone out and around, so we could listen to music, make silly faces on Snap Chat, or see my text messages. After being reminded last night of the reasons for my initial decision, however, I am recommitted to taking up the cause of minimizing the use of my smartphone when I am around other human beings.
     Listening to the rabbi speak last night made me think of the events of the day, only a few hours before. I am very proud of the fact that except for very rare circumstances, I am able to attend all of my child's baseball games. I remember the feeling I had when as a kid, I would see my mom and dad looking at me proudly after getting on first base with a base hit, or how my dad, who was often coaching third base would raise his hands and clap for me after I got an RBI. I honestly attribute a lot of my positive development as a person to this phenomenon. This gave me a sense of being love and a feeling of security that is hard to even put into words. As Rabbi Frand was speaking last night, I thought how I, just like my parents, were at the game. However, the difference was that in my lap was my iPhone 6, opened to the NFL app which was broadcasting live the end of the Broncos game. I wondered, "did my son see me glued to that stupid phone the whole game? Did he notice how I noticed his plays in the outfield? What is he thinking?" And then I realized how blessed I was to grow up before the smart phone era. Would my parents have been on their phones during my games? How would I have felt? Weren't they there to see me? These thoughts were indeed very unsettling. What would life have been like if everywhere we went I had to compete with my parent's phone for attention? At the park, at the pool, at the Rockies game? Didn't my parents want to spend time with me? Are these thoughts that are going through my mind, also going through my children's mind, G-d forbid?
      These stirring thoughts made me think a little deeper. I am extremely proud to have a certain sensitivity to not look at my phone when it buzzes when other people, even strangers, are talking to me. It seems rude, and extremely inconsiderate. (For more on this, please read about my open apology to anyone who has ever texted me.) And I came to realize, if I show the basic human decency to not interrupt my conversation with a complete stranger who is speaking with me, how much more so, is it inappropriate to interrupt my precious children or dear Better Half to look at my phone? When I do this to a stranger, they might think, "wow, this guy is rude-- he cares more about his phone than about acknowledging me." But when I do it to my loved ones, what do they think? Maybe, "I am not as important to Tatty as his phone?" Or perhaps, "I hope he loves me as much as he loves his phone." And then I thought sadly, about how many times  precious conversations with my wife been cut short due to me responding to a text. Thank G-d, as we both work hard,  and are raising four delicious children, we don't have much time to speak to one another every day-- and when we do-- when the kids go to sleep-- the phone sometimes has other plans for us, and we end up not communicating at all.
      As I came to these depressing realizations, I reflected that now, the time before Rosh Hashana, is a time to make a change. To create a fresh start. I decided that I do not want my children to see my smartphone at all. While they are awake, they will have my attention. If I need to sit next to my son and do nothing at all besides watch him do his homework, that is what will be. The smartphone will be put away, to somewhere inaccessible. When they are asleep, my wife and I will have a chance to connect. The smartphone won't be anywhere near us. When I speak to G-d while going to synagogue, the phone will be left in the car. When I am waiting for an oil change, or for a flight, if no one is trying to engage me in a conversation, I will utilize the phone to study and to learn Torah.

I will end with a quote Rabbi Frand said last night: "Distractions comfort us from the greatest miseries, but they are our greatest miseries." Indeed, what greater misery is there than wasting away our precious time, and squandering our most dear relationships?

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

From You, to You, I Escape

        Have you ever been part of one of those occasions when you were left watching your children by yourself for an extended period of time, and when your spouse returns home, you hand the children off, and with a sly smile say, “Here they are, enjoy—I need a beer?”  For us, tonight was one such occasion: As I entered the serenity of my home after stepping out for Mincha, the daily afternoon prayer service, my wife was attempting to put my 1.5 year old princess to sleep. Not ten seconds after I walked in, my wife lovingly commented, “You are leaving town tomorrow for the day, so you won’t be able to tuck her in tomorrow. Here.” “Happily, Cupcake,” I obliged. I picked my daughter up and placed her in the crib. As soon as she entered the crib, she started shrieking louder than the Carolina Panthers fans screamed when their field goal kicker missed the game winning field goal last week. I immediately began stroking my daughter’s hair in a futile attempt to calm her down—but somehow, this made her even more furious, and she took my hand and pushed me back. For three seconds, I stood back, desperately trying to plot my next move, as we stared each other down. Then, to my surprise, she stuck out her delicious chubby arm toward me. I embraced her hand, and she pulled me closer to the crib, and promptly laid down, and indicated that I should put her blanket on her. As she closed her precious eyes, falling fast asleep, I reflected how like so many other aspects of the parent-child relationship, this was another profound example of how we relate to G-d Himself- our ultimate parent, and how G-d relates to us.
This episode reminded me of the beautiful, cryptic poem we read during the High Holidays by Rabbi Shlomo ibn Gabriol: Mimcha, Elecha, Evrach. “From you, to you, I escape.” This might very well allude to the fact that as a result of our fear of judgment, we seek to run away from the Almighty. But then when we realize that it is our Loving Merciful Father that is deciding our fate, we turn around, and escape, and find refuge and serenity in His loving embrace. When we understand, and are real with the fact that our Judge is the Almighty, who has a plan for us and the world, and who is only good, we realize that the fear begins to dissipate. When my daughter first realized that I had come to enforce her bedtime, she was not happy—she wanted her distance. But from that distance, she had a new perspective; I—the one enforcing bedtime—am her father who loves her more than she can fathom. It is I, who she intuitively realized only wants the best for her. With that new clarity, she didn’t want me to be distant, so she brought me close.
Practically, I believe that this beautiful line from Rabbi Shlomo ibn Gabriol teaches us a primary goal in parenting. As a parent, my goal is to instill within my children an intuitive, natural clarity that they are deeply, intensely beloved by me. Just as I know that G-d loves me more than I can possibly fathom, I hope and pray that my children understand that I love them more than they can believe.  With this understanding and natural awareness that is implanted within our children– whenever the time inevitably comes to discipline them, at first we might appear distant to our children– but they will intuitively be drawn closer to us during the process, eager for our loving embrace.

Friday, September 16, 2016

The Morality of Fantasy Football

Dear Henry,
     As I sat glued to my fancy, slightly outdated iPhone 6 last night watching on the Verizon NFL app the New York Jets take on the Buffalo Bills, I was truly getting excited. You see, dear Henry, I am in a free fantasy football league with about fifteen other people, and on this night I had three players playing in the game: Wide Receivers Eric Decker, Brandon Marshall, and running back Bilal Powell. And honestly, I was enjoying what I was seeing. My receivers were making catch after catch, and I envisioned my lead over my inferior opponent "Black Bandit" growing. But then, in the middle of the second quarter my heart sank as I watched Brandon Marshall get tackled to the ground in a dirty way, desperately grasping his knee as soon as he hit the turf. "Oh great," thought I, he tore his ACL. There goes my fantasy season. First last week, I lost Keenan Allen for the year, and now this? Wow, it is sure tough to be me. I feel so sorry for myself." I instantly texted my buddy, who for anonymity sake we will call "Ronnie," the following: "I lost Keenan last week and now Marshall :-( "
Dejected, I opened up a cold one, and looked at Twitter, to commiserate with my fellow Marshall Fantasy owners. To my comfort, I saw thousands of Tweets with gifs describing how we all felt, and I even saw another fellow who like me, lost Keenan Allen last week. Through nothing short of a miracle, it turned out that Brandon Marshall only suffered a slight knee sprain, enabling tens of thousands of people who have Marshall on their teams to take a collective deep breath.
        Upon philosophizing on these dramatic events an hour later at the shvitz, I came to realize that as great as sports are, and is fun as it is to watch, sometimes it can cloud our sense of morality. Sometimes what's right and what is wrong can be confused. This is but one example of a classic case where sports can cloud our morality. While it is inconvenient and annoying that when a player gets hurt it has implications for my fantasy team or for the team I root for, the first thought that SHOULD come into my head when there is an injury is. "wow, that looked painful- I really hope that player gets up without any injuries." When Brandon Marshall went down, the thought that SHOULD have come into my head was, "Brandon Marshall is getting older, heading towards the twilight of his career. I really hope he gets up okay so he can finish out his career in good health." Instead, the inappropriate thought was, "Poor me- my free fantasy football team will suffer, and now I can't win the league and feel good about myself. Nebach."
        Another example of sports confusing my moral compass came up last Thursday night as the Broncos were subjecting Cam Newton to repeated helmet shots. I rejoiced in them, musing, "if the guy is gonna play like a running back or receiver, he should get hit like a running back or receiver. Kudos to the ruthless Broncos Defense!" The appropriate response would have been, "wow, they really should get these guys hitting Cam's head out of the game. There is no room for this type of behavior in football. Safety first!"
      A final example of sports messing with my sense of morality is the whole Brock Osweiler situation. As we are all well aware, the dude walked away from a chance to repeat as World Champions in the best city on the planet this side of Jerusalem, and he walked away to Houston for more money. Naturally, I hope the man loses every single game for the rest of his career. The appropriate response would be, "I wish him the best. He should go on to have a tremendously successful career!"

After all this philosophizing I have come to realize a critical epiphany: Fantasy Football is just that: fantasy. It is crucial that we do not lose sight of reality, and for that matter, morality.


Saturday, September 3, 2016

Living a Life of Luxury: Driving a Second Car

One week ago marked a monumental moment in my adulthood. After being married for almost ten years, and after bringing four children into the world, and, by extension after spending hundreds of hours planning who drives the car where and when, The Better Half and I decided to make the leap to acquire another vehicle. After driving Elana the Elantra for one week, I have compiled a list of 11 tremendous benefits of driving the new vehicle.


11. Elana the Elantra is much smaller than Hindy the Hyundai- that can be especially useful when trying to pull into a small parking space, without even having to try to parallel park.

10. Elana tells me what song is playing from my iphone or the radio. I am frankly impressed how she knows all of that information.

9. Elana has built into her a brand new technology called "Blue Teeth." Why, exactly it's called Blue teeth as opposed to, say Yellow Teeth, is beyond me. But that's another topic for another time. Oddly enough, when I say "Blue Teeth" I don't refer to the state of my pearly whites after drinking a blueberry Icee- rather I refer to when I sync my phone with my car, when someone phones me, rather than risking my life holding a phone to my ear, I can actually speak to that person, hands free. And while it is true, and undeniable that it might look strange to a fellow driver stopped next door at a red light, that is just too bad.

8. My Elantra rhymes with Sinatra-- even as a life long admirer of gangsta rap, I still appreciate Frank Sinatra.

7. Not only does Elana boast blue teeth capabilities, but she also has something called "Apple Car Play." When I plug in Inna the iPhone to the car, on the dashboard loads a simplified version of my phone. I can pick music with the touch of a finger, or see who texted me. However, rather than have to risk my life reading the text message, Siri graciously reads them to me, and asks if I would like to respond, and if so, what I want to say. I thought that was pretty cool- because usually when I get a text in the car I never respond to it, because by the time I get to my destination someone else has texted and I respond to them, and I never quite get to the buried text I received during the drive.

6. Elana boasts a sweet backup camera. I haven't located it yet by looking at the outside of the vehicle, but I know its there, because whenever I put the car in reverse I can see whats behind me. How people ever parallel parked without it, or for that matter, backed into a parking spot is beyond me.


5. In the olden days, if I wanted to open the trunk, I would have to go through a whole complicated, lengthy process. I would have to press the unlock button on my car key, and then proceed to stiffen my arm, and squeeze my fingers against my palm, where the trunk opener was on the car. Needless to say, having to undergo this arduous process a few times a day left this rabbi with extremely sore forearms on a daily basis. Now, with one movement of my index finger, the trunk opens all by herself.

4. The trunk has an irrigation system. When I first got the vehicle, it rained quite a bit. As I went to open the aforementioned trunk one morning, fully expecting all the water dripping down the car to fall into the trunk, I was mind blown to see that it had its own little channels to drip down, staying clear of the interior of the trunk. Perhaps one of the most underrated features of this car.

3. Now that I am driving Elana, The Better Half is almost exclusively driving Hindy the Hyundai. That means that when I come home for work, I get to see The Better Half's adorable parking jobs, which always brings a smile to my face.

Pic for Blog 1

Notice the Better Halfs excellent parking job. SO CUTE!

2. Before having a second car, I was often in the unfortunate predicament of having to walk home the .2 miles during the gorgeous Denver afternoons. Now, I no longer face that challenge, as I can drive home, saving myself 1.5 minutes during my afternoon commute.

1. For the first time since I drove my sweet baby blue 1982 Turbo Diesel Peugeot in high school, I finally have a car that is consistent with my levels of coolness. It once again feels great to be in a cool car. And I only have to thank the good folks at HM Brown in general and the Chosen Broker in particular, for hooking me up.



Friday, August 26, 2016

Parshas Eikev: Living Inspired- Every Single Day

One of the great challenges we face every day is how to maintain and live an inspired life. Many of us will have individual moments of inspiration—Perhaps the day we got married, our first experience at the Western Wall, our first time at a Shabbos table, or when our child is born. Feeling inspired in these monumental moments can truly uplift and transform us. However, the reality is that these moments are but fleeting flashes in the grand marathon of time. Our challenge, therefore, is how to remain inspired on a daily basis, when those life changing moments are but a distant memory.
Fortunately, our holy Torah gives us the mitzvah of mezuzah. In this week’s Parsha, the Torah describes, “And you shall write them upon the doorposts of your house and upon your gates.” In a tremendously beautiful passage, the Rambam elaborates on this inspiring mitzvah:
A person is obligated to be careful in his observance of the mitzvah of mezuzah because it is a mitzvah that is always incumbent upon him. Anytime he comes or goes from his home, he encounters the Oneness of the Name of the Holy One , blessed be He, and he will recall his love for G-d and be awakened from his slumber and his interest in the vanities of time. He will know that there is nothing that stands forever except for knowledge of the Rock of the universe, and immediately he will return to know Him, and to walk in paths that are upright.
Interestingly, the Rambam refers to the mitzvah of mezuzah in the same way that he refers to the mitzvah of shofar- that when one hears the shofar he is “awakened from his slumber.” However, it emerges that really, the mere act of walking into one’s Mezuzah-adorned home should be able to serve as an awakening from our slumber brought on by the mundane trivialities of everyday life.  The mezuzah reminds us every single day of the eternal nature of G-d, and that nothing is permanent other than G-d and His Torah.
                Rabbi Yissocher Frand very beautifully describes how the mezuza invokes this reminder: A mezuzah on the door of a shul has been hanging there for centuries, and has witnessed the bris of a new born baby, as well as his eulogy, one hundred and twenty years later. It has born witness to the rise and fall of antisemitism, to expulsions, and new technological innovations. It has been there in good times, and it has been there in the most terrible of times. Life moves on- nothing is forever. But the mezuzah, representing the Almighty and His holy Torah is permanent and remains unchanged.

Indeed—that realization is enormously inspiring.