Friday, November 29, 2013

Eight Crazy Nights: A Deeper Look

Dear Henry,    
        Anyone who has ever heard of Adam Sandler is well aware of the origins of the Jewish holiday of Chanukah. As Adam Sandler sings about in a song that later becomes a movie, “Instead of one day of presents, we get eight crazy nights!” 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.
            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 very 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.
            Rabbi Shimshon Pincus points out that even nowadays, there are tremendous miracles happening all the time. 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 reality of the 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. 

Danny Wolfe

Wednesday, November 27, 2013

IPhones, Shabbos, and JetBlue

Dear Henry,
       Before I begin my long-awaited blogg post (its practically been a month since my last one-- sorry to all of you dedicated readers checking your facebook statuses every day anxiously awaiting tidings of my new post), I wanted to give a shout out to my big Little Man, Avrumie, on the occasion of his fifth birthday. It was 5 years ago today, the day before Chanukah that he made his grand entrance into the world in Up-town Manhattan, and he has given us unending joy ever since.
      On November 6, 2013, I received a very disturbing email from my favorite airline, Jet Blue. Sorry to all you good folks reading this blogg who work for Southwest-- I love you too-- but there is nothing quite like Jet Blue. Maybe its the blue potato chips. Maybe its the incredible customer service. Maybe its the pleasant late night flights. I don't quite know what it is. But Jet Blue is awesome.
       The subject of the email instantly caught my attention: "Take off without Shutting off!" The email then said, "We'll leave you to your own devices. We know you and your personal electronic devices go hand-in-hand. Now you can use smartphones, tablets and similar devices from departure gate to arrival gate..."
     Henry, it used to be, back in the old days, that if you wanted to go online, you had to sit in front of your big fat desk top, wait for AOL 3.0 to dial up, and then you would be connected. Then, we evolved to world of cable connections, wifi, and eventually 3G and 4G. But even in the more modern times, whenever people would go on a subway or airplane, they would either have to sit down nicely and listen to themselves think, read a paper, listen to music, or just close their eyes. The one consistent sanctuary people would have from constant connectivity was the airplane flight. But now, because our devices and us go "hand in hand," that sanctuary has been stripped from us, and we can always remain connected.
     I was disappointed to read the email from Jet Blue, because I think that we are all addicted to our iphones and androids, and society is simply perpetuating our addiction. You might be thinking, dear Henry, "whats so bad about this addiction to our iphones? After all, it means that I can read your blogg mere seconds after you post it!" Henry, while this is true, and undeniably a tremendous benefit of the speedy connectivity we find ourselves in, it is also true and undeniable that our addiction to technology has ruined our ability to communicate with one another. It is hard to focus on the person we are speaking to when our phones are buzzing in our pockets. It is hard to bother dialing a phone number, when I can send you a text, in a shorter amount of time.  It is hard to read a book,  have a meaningful conversation, or spend quality time with children, when I can see whats going on with my fantasy football team right now, or when I can see what interesting tweets are flying around the twitterverse.
     But as much as these devices are messing up our ability to communicate, they are also messing up our ability to think. Rather than bother thinking, I usually just pull out my phone, and check my email for the 78th time today. Its as if we are afraid to be left alone to our own thoughts, and I think it messes with our ability to be thoughtful, introspective, creative individuals.
    Thank G-d, as an observant Jew, I have Shabbos. On Shabbos I have no choice but to power down, and there is no greater feeling of serenity in the world. Having the opportunity to connect to myself, my loved ones, and G-d, with no outside distractions, is more precious than a little baby playing with his or her toe jam. In fact, even the non-religious world, is picking up on this concept, referring to a "secular sabbath," in which people turn off their devices. (See great article here:

       I double dogg dare all of my devoted readers, (and I am also speaking to myself) to consider three steps to overcome our addiction: A) Walk around 1 day with a pen and paper, and make tally's every single time we check our email from our phones. This will prove to us, that we are in fact, insanely addicted to our phones. B) Read this essay that deals with how to connect to yourself: C) Take a break from your phone- an I-phone shabbos if you will. Turn off your phone at 4:15 Friday afternoon, and leave it off till 5:30 PM Saturday evening. You will thank me.

To Jet Blue, I thank you. I thank you for waking me up, exposing me to the tragic reality that my phone and I really do go hand in hand. That needs to change. And it will.

Danny Wolfe