Thursday, November 12, 2015

Don't be Caught with your Wheels over the Line: A Gripping Tale of how Justice was Served on Speer Boulevard

Dear Peyton,            
       One gorgeous autumn afternoon in the most glorious city this side of Jerusalem, two and a half weeks ago, my Better Half, adorably delicious baby, and myself embarked on the return trip home after a lovely weekend in Vail, Colorado. We had the privilege of attending The Jewish Experience Shabbos Project retreat in Vail, and we were all incredibly inspired. My parents were kind enough to watch my other three children for 48 hours, and on this particular Sunday afternoon we were excited to be reunited with our children. As I got off the highway, about twenty minutes away from home, I called my Pops to tell him that we would be arriving shortly. During this short phone conversation, which is legal to have while driving in Colorado, I noticed a yellow light. Being the cautious, vigilant, excellent driver I am, I decided that I was going to go ahead and stop at the Yellow light, so as not to run the light. To my shock, and profound displeasure, I noticed the traffic light snapped my picture. I was not upset because I was concerned I was having a bad hair day; balding people in their thirties like myself don't have bad hair days. I was not even concerned that I wasn't looking good, exceedingly handsome individuals like myself always look good. I was upset because I was suspicious that this camera would send the picture to the Police, who would mistakenly think I ran the red light, which I most certainly DID NOT do. I turned to my wife to tell her to remind me that I did not in fact run the light, but she was sleeping more soundly then a African Zebra after a long day galloping in the meadowy Zimbabwean Safari. I thought to myself, shucks, if the Better Half is sleeping, I am going to have to remember this myself. "Note to self; you will probably get a letter in a week from the Denver PD accusing you falsely of running the light. Remember Dann-o, when you get that letter fight it, because right now you are are waiting for the light to turn green, just like all the other cars are waiting. After the light turned green, I promptly forgot about the whole episode as I got lost in my thoughts trying to figure out what I would be doing for the remainder of this afternoon given the fact that the Broncos had a Bye week.

Ten Days Later
As I casually strolled into my house for a lunch break on yet another fantastically beautiful Denver fall day, I couldn't help but smile as I was greeted by my adoring Better Half and my three youngest children. The salad The Better Half so lovingly prepared was waiting for me on the table. And that's precisely when I noticed it. I noticed a particular shiny white envelop sticking out in the mail box. I dramatically tiptoed over to see what it was. It looked serious, so I opened it. And to my dismay, the letter was a casual reminder about that fateful day ten days earlier. I looked inside and was shocked to see they wanted me to pay a forty dollar ticket! "That's absurd, thought I, I DIDN'T run the light!" And then I read that the ticket was not for running the light, it was for having my front wheels over the white line at a stop light/cross walk. And then I looked, and sure enough they got my photograph, showing, beyond reasonable doubt that I was guilty as charged, my two front tires were over the white line. I thought I would call anyways to plead my case; after all, I did NOT run the light! I called. And there was a recorded message which said, "Before we transfer you to anyone, please be aware that if your wheels crossed the white line, that is a violation of Colorado driving code of conduct and you will be ticketed for that heinous offense. Good day." I realized I didn't stand a chance. Pleading ignorance wouldn't help, for it was my responsibility to know the law. I dejectedly, ashamedly, hung up the phone, resigned to my bitter fate.

         The Talmud in Tractate Avos, or Ethics of Our Fathers relates the following, profoundly powerful teaching: "Know what is above you: an Eye that sees, an Ear that hears, and all of our actions are recorded in a book." The simple understanding of this passage is that as Jews we are ultimately held accountable for our actions. We are not free to act in any way we please; at the end of the day we have to take responsibility for our behaviors, and we need to remember that G-d is vividly aware of our every action. After a person takes leave of this world, we are taught, a person reviews a recording of his life, and he signs off that everything he saw is in fact true, exactly as it happened. The evidence is presented in a very clear manner.
      Seeing my car's two front wheels over the line demonstrated this concept in a powerful manner. We must never forget, that everything we do in this world has enormous significance; every action brings with it eternal ramifications. We cannot be caught with our wheels over the line. There's simply too much at stake.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

Sunday, November 1, 2015

Why I am Gearing up for a Royal Celebration: an Open Letter to Mets Fans

Dear Met fans everywhere,
      A lot of my thousands upon thousands of readers across the vast expanse of the planet have been asking me, somewhat upset, why it is I am so avidly rooting on the Kansas City Royals this World Series. I have spent many years in New York, and many people I greatly admire are die hard Mets fans. Additionally, inasmuch as the same folks rooting on the Royals also root for the hated Kansas City Cheifs, it is a fair question. 
      Let me begin by acknowledging that I admire you Mets fans to no end. As a life long fan of the most disgraceful franchise in sports, the Colorado Rockies, I can relate to what you have gone through the last 20 years: year after year watching a pathetic team finish close to last place. But my admiration for you goes deeper than that. You could have just as easily jumped on the Yankee band wagon all those years. But you didn't. You remained loyal to your lousy Mets. Loyalty is a huge thing. And I appreciate it; I really do. In fact, if the Mets were playing the Yankees, I would root hard for the Mets. If they played the Rangers, the Angels, or the White Sox, I would take the Mets. There is one team from the American League, and one team only, that I would root for to beat the Mets; and that is the Kansas City Royals.
      Last night, as I left synagogue, I heard one person say, "I don't care who wins; I can guarantee you they don't care about me; why should I care about them?" I have heard this refrain from people who don't care for sports on more than one occasion. And I hear it. Why do so many millions of us allow our moods and happiness level be determined by a group of talented dudes who don't give a darn about is? How does that make any sense?
     The thing is, dear Peyton, and you Mets fans everywhere, when it comes to the Royals, this logic simply doesn't apply. Because they do care about me. When my family moved from New York to Denver, my then six month old daughter got very sick on the road. We had to stop for a scary, long, ten day stay at the hospital in downtown Kansas City. (For more on this read
And on the fifth day we were there, as I was leaving to drive to Denver to take care of my other three children, I saw the Kansas City Royals posing for pictures at the front of the hospital. About 15 minutes later my wife called, and said, The Royals are here visiting, should I have them come see our baby? "OF COURSE YOU SHOULD YOU SILLY GOOSE" was my immediate reply.  I was so touched by them taking the time to visit my daughter, fulfilling a very special mitzvah we call bikur cholim, visiting the sick, that I stopped at the first gas station I found and spent ten dollars on a Royals hat. My wife called me a few hours later and told me two fellows named Mike Moustakis and Jason Vargas came by, and they left a signed hat for my daughter, who despite being only 9 months old, and despite living in Denver now, is also an avid Royals fan.
      In yesterday's Torah reading we read how G-d paid Abraham a little visit while Abraham was recovering from the exceedingly painful circumcision. We see from here that visiting the sick is not just a good thing to do: It is emulating G-d Himself. Those who visit the sick are G-d like. 
Additionally, in Hebrew, the word for "Jews" is Yehudim. It means "grateful ones." We believe that we are required to show hakaras hatov, or recognition of good (ie gratitude) for every good deed performed for us. It is not just a nice thing to do, it is our duty. Conversely, when someone does something good for us, and we don't acknowledge the favor, that is a bad thing. When G-d created Eve for Adam as a life partner with whom to share his life, and to perpetuate humanity, G-d performed for him an enormous kindness. And yet when G-d asked Adam why he ate from the fruit that he was not allowed to eat in the Garden of Eden, Adam blamed his wife, Eve, saying, "it was the woman you gave to me who made me eat it." This was the first example in history of a person being an ingrate, and Adam is ultimately punished for it.
       To put it very simply, when someone showers us with a kind act, we are obligated to be grateful. Therefore, it is not my choice whether or not to root for the Royals; it is my duty. Tonight, when they win the Series in 5 games I, along with my 9 month old daughter will be engaging in a Royal Celebration.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

Monday, October 19, 2015

Feeling the Pain of our Brothers and Sisters in Israel

         Exactly two weeks ago from today, Aharon Bennett, aged 21, and his young wife, along
with their two young children were on their way to pray at the Western Wall, as thousands of Jews are want to do on Shabbos, when they were attacked by a savagely, cowardly, knife wielding 
terrorist who fatally stabbed Aharon, and seriously wounded his wife and toddler. Rabbi 
Nechamya Lavie, husband and father of 7 children, saw what was unfolding and heroically ran to 
try to help the Bennetts. He too was fatally stabbed and murdered, leaving his wife and 7 adoring 
children behind. 
       Two nights before that, Eitam Henkin, a doctoral student at Tel-Aviv University, and his 
wife Na’ama, were driving back from a class reunion to their home in Neria. In the back of their 
car, their four children—the oldest one nine, the youngest four months—were dozing off. 
As they drove past the Palestinian village of Beit Furik, cowardly gunmen approached the Henkins’ car and shot both adults to death at close range. The children watched in silence from the back seat.
        On Tuesday, Chaviv Chaim, age 78, a man who epitomized what it means to have a seiver 
ponim yafos, a nice countenance, was brutally murdered while riding a bus in Armon Netziv, and 
his wife, Shoshana is presently on a respirator. There was another man, ALon Guverg, aged 51, was also murdered in the attack. 
        Also on Tuesday morning, Rabbi Krishevsky, a renowned Torah scholar on his way to study 
Torah was viciously, mercilessly hacked to death by terrorist with a machete, who ran his car into a 
crowded bus stop on Malchi Yisroel street in Geula.
      With all of these horrific events occurring before our very eyes, the question that is incumbent upon ourselves to ask, is WHAT CAN WE DO about this terrible, helpless, hopeless situation. I believe that Rav Chaim Shmuelevitz, the great Rosh HaYeshiva of Mir, gives a phenomenal insight that can be strengthen us at this most difficult time. Rav Chaim notes that a pasuk of this weeks 
Haftara seemingly attributes the flood to Noach, as the verse says, “Ki May Noach Zos Li, " Like the Waters of Noach, this is to me." 
       The Zohar comments that the flood is called by Noach’s name, because when it  became known to him that he and his family would be saved, he did not pray on behalf of the rest of mankind, that they, too, should be spared. Rav Chaim asks a very interesting question. The Medresh teaches us that Noach didn’t eat or sleep that entire year in the ark because Noach and his sons were too busy feeding the animals. Because he exhibited such mesiras nefesh, such selfless dedication to the animals, in order to sustain life in the world Post- Mabul, Noach was rewarded by being given permission to eat meat. But this begs the question: When Noach worked so hard in order to ensure the continuation of animal life and humanity after the flood, why did he not pray to Hashem to intervene and save the world Pre- Flood? 
     In order to explain why it is, that Noach was ultimately attributed blame for the flood, Rav Chaim quotes the Gemara in Sotah which deals with the three individuals with whom Pharaoh consulted regarding the Jewish Problem. He consulted Bilam, Iyov, and Yisro. Bilam gave advice how to oppress the Jews, Iyov remained silent, and Yisro ran away. The Gemara records that as a punishment  for giving Pharaoh advice against the Jews, Bilaam was ultimately killed by the sword. Iyov, who remained silent, was punished by going through painful travails. Yisro, who ran away, was privileged to have grandchildren sit on the Senhedrin. Rav Chaim asks, it seems perhaps that the punishments should be swapped. For the crime of advising against the Jews, Bilaam should have 
been punished with Yisurim, a life of pain and suffering, and for remaining silent, Iyov should have gotten off with death. To some extent, it makes sense that a quick death might be preferable to a life filled with tragedies and agony . Yet, it was Iyov, not Bilaam who was given that lot. Why should 
that be? 
   Rav Chaim poses two answers. One answer is that the premise of the question is flawed. Life is so precious, that as long as ones heart is beating, and he can strive to get closer to Hakadosh Baruch Hu, that is preferable to death, no matter how hard the person’s life is.  Therefore, it would emerge, Iyov did in fact get the less severe punishment, as death is the ultimate punishment. 
    But Rav Chaim offers another explanation as to why Iyov was afflicted with tzaros for his silence, and I think this will have relevance for us as well. He explains that the reason Iyov likely didn’t protest Pharaohs plan, is because he know that his protest would fall on deaf ears. It wouldn’t have accomplished anything. That’s exactly why Yisro ran away, he knew very well that nothing that he could have done or said would have changed Pharaohs mind. Because of his silence, Iyov was afflicted with yisurim, to teach him about the mistake he made. The Brisker Rav says, regarding yisurim, that when a person suffers, and cries out in pain as a result of his suffering, even if he knows his cry will accomplish nothing, and it certainly will not make the pain go away, he will nevertheless cry out. This is the nature of man, such that when he is in pain, he cries out. If he is silent, and doesn’t cry out, that indicates that he is not really in pain. Therefore, says Rav Chaim, the yisurim came to Iyov to show him that the yisurim of klal Yisroel; the pain and anguish of klal Yisroel, was not like his own tzaros. Because if he REALLY felt their pain, he would have necessarily cried out 
in protest, even though he full well understood that his protest would bear no fruits. Therefore, 
says Rav Chaim, we see from here that Iyov was given unimaginable nisyonos to teach us how 
CRUCIAL it is to feel the pain of klal Yisroel. Ultimately Iyov suffered because he could have 
cried out in protest, but he didn’t.

       Says Rav Chaim, this is exactly why the flood is attributed to Noach. Certainly the reason he didn’t pray for his generation was because he knew full well that the generation was unworthy. However, even though his tefillah would not have been accepted, it still was his duty to at least try. Because if he REALLY was in pain over the upcoming destruction of humanity, if it REALLY bothered him, he should have called out and begged Hashem to not destroy the world. And because he did not pray, indicating, he was not, truly in anguish over the destruction of the world, he was ultimately given a reason to cry, by being attributed the blame over the flood.

            I noticed a remarkable life insight amid our ten day hospital stay in Kansas City this summer. When an incredible person came to visit us while we are in the hospital, she empathized with us, brought us food, and encouragement, and gave us unimaginable chizuk. But A few hours later, I observed she was posting on Facebook, back to her daily grind. This, by the way, is as it should be. A person cannot go through life, paralyzed by everyone else's pain. We have to compartmentalize. I thought to myself that I was very happy for  her that her life circumstances were going well, and I wished that I too, could just fast forward and get back to normal. When we go be menacheim aveil, comfort mourners, or go the hospital to visit the sick, for that time we are there, we experience the sadness, try to uplift the family members, and then go on our merry way back to real life. However, when a person is the one that is mourning, or the one coping with an  illness, his pain and sadness does not just disappear when the visitor leaves. He  carries it with him EVERYWHERE he goes, with EVERYTHING that he does. 
     I would like to suggest with the current situation in Israel, we in America are not the ones going to comfort the mourners, those who live in Israel. Rather, I believe, WE ARE THE MOURNERS THEMSELVES. We are the ones in mourning, over the plight of our 6 million  brothers and sisters in Israel. Just as the precious Henkin orphans are crying for the profound loss, not having parents to tuck them in at night, to watch them grow up, attend their bar mitzvos, walk them down to the chuppah, we too, are inconsolable with profound grief.

      On Shabbos we do not display public acts of mourning. But on this Sunday night, I highly encourage every single person here to come to Zera Avraham, to join with the Denver Jewish community in crying for our brothers and sisters in Eretz Yisroel. Because, as Noach and Iyov have shown us, those whose eyes remain dry, have something to answer for. 
    King David said, right after asking G-d to return us from our captivity, “ HAZORIM 
B’dima, b’rina Yiktzoru.” Those who plant with tears, will reap in delight .
Our tears of anguish and despair should immediately transform to tears of Joy and elation, with 
the urgently, desperately needed geula, b’mheiyra b’yameinu.


Tuesday, October 13, 2015

Terror Around the Clock

Last night as I went to bed I saw how one lovely gentleman posted on Twitter how he woud love to torture Jews, removing limb by limb as he basks in their slow and painful death. 

This morning as I awoke at 5:00, I checked out my Twitter feed. The very first thing that popped up revealed that since I went to sleep, 6 hours ago, two more Israelis had lost their lives, brutally murdered by cowardly savages. To their credit, the animals who committed these atrocities are equal opportunity monsters:   They don't discriminate against any particular religious affiliation, age group or gender. Yesterday they excitedly shoved an enormous knife into the body of an unsuspecting 13 year old on a bike. Today they brutally hacked to death a 60 year old rabbi with a machete. Elsewhere they excitedly murdered a sweet endearing elderly man in his late 70s. Last week they stabbed a toddler. Their savagery knows no limits or bounds. 

 This afternoon as I walked home from work, 6000 miles from my true home which forever holds my heart, I saw cars pass me by. But I wasn't concerned that the car would try to mow me down, like they do in Jerusalem. I wasn't afraid a mad man or woman would pop out of the car trying to knife me to death for no other reason than the fact that my heart was beating. I guess my assumption is that most normal people understand it's not nice to run over defenseless civilians. I figured that most healthy individuals on this planet realize it's not ok to lunge a massive knife into the skull of a young woman. But our Palestinian neighbors are not a normal people, nor a healthy nation.  They are a people who bask in their victimhood, who justify the most sadistic actions known to man as a result of their plight. And rather than condemn these horrific attacks, as 99 percent of the Jews condemn the  tragic, painful rare attacks that Jewish terrorists sometimes commit against defenseless Palestinians, they applaud them. Said Mahmoud Abbas, the supposed 'moderate' leader of the Palestinian people, "We bless every drop of blood spilled for Jerusalem, which is clean and pure blood, blood spilled for Allah."

Tomorrow I hope to wake up to reality that this nightmare is over.
May the memories of those murdered Al kiddush Hashem be for a blessing, and may G-d speedily avenge their blood, and protect our holy brothers and sisters in Israel.

Monday, September 7, 2015

How to serve G-d with Joy in a Terrifying World

Dear Peyton, 
        This year, more than any other year in recent memory, the reading of the tochacha, the fateful curses upon the Jewish People comes with a certain dread. Reading how "Hashem will cause you to be struck down before your enemies" and, "your carcass will be food for every bird of the sky and animal of the earth," just isn't sitting so well. Reading about how "Hashem will carry against you a nation from afar, from the end of the earth as an eagle will swoop, a nation whose language you will not understand that will cause you to perish, and besiege you in all your cities, until the collapse of your high and fortified walls in which you trusted throughout your land" cause me to tremble. These verses, which we read every year, remind me of the state in which we currently find ourselves. They remind me of how our government is preparing to give a hateful regime whose sworn to destroy us the green light to develop a nuclear infrastructure. I am no historian, but one thing I have learned as a young man whose great grandparents marched valiantly to the gas chambers, is that when a tyrannical hateful dictator pledges to murder you, we ought to believe him.  
        As we read the tochacha, we are reminded how difficult life can sometimes be. We see this on a national level; we are seeing this on a communal level, and after a ten day stay in the hospital for my precious child, I have seen this on a personal level.
      I believe that it is also of no coincidence that we read of these terrifying curses on the eve of reciting selichos, as we prepare ourselves to stand before G-d in judgment. I have read about how Elul looked in Europe in the 19th and 20th centuries; how there was a dread of aimas hadin in the month preceding Rosh Hashana. The fact that people's lives were in balance was very real to those who lived in Europe; the feeling was palpable. It wasn't until this year that I ever came close to experiencing that fear, that pachad nora. But as I sat earlier this week saying Psalms while my baby was under anesthesia getting her third MRI in a month, I got a glimpse of this fear. I sat there, terrified of what the doctors might find. A feeling of total helplessness overtook me. There was simply nothing I could do to affect the result. For those who aren't aware, an MRI is a Magnetic Resonance  imaging machine which is a medical imaging technique used in radiology to investigate the anatomy and physiology of the body in both health and disease.  And it occurred to me that is exactly what every single one of us experiences on Rosh Hashana. The machzor quotes a Mishnah in Rosh Hashana which portrays a very clear image of what happens on Rosh Hashana: All of humanity stands before Hashem like sheep pass in front of a shepherd who counts and analyzes each sheep." There is no hiding anything from an MRI. On Rosh Hashana G-d analyzes us, and there is nothing that goes unnoticed. This is terrifying.
        Furthermore, the Torah itself gives us a very specific description of why the terrible curses will be unleashed upon the Jewish People. It's not because of our previous propensity towards idol worship. It's not because we neglected Torah Study or were lax in our Shabbos observance. Rather, the Torah says, this fate will fall upon us, "because you did not serve Hashem, your G-d amid gladness and goodness of heart..." The penetrating question that comes to mind, is for one, how can we even function, how can we move on when we are living amid such fear? And even if we are able to cope, how exactly are we supposed to serve Hashem with joy, given the current state of affairs nationally, communally, and personally? How can we be expected to excitedly live our lives as ovdei Hashem given the depressing, downright scary situation we find ourselves in?
       The truth is, I think there are a number of answers to this. One answer is even written explicitly at the beginning of the parsha: "v'samachta b'chol HaTov Asher Nasan Lecha Hashem Elokecha Ul'veysecha..." "You shall rejoice with all the good that Hashem has given to you and your household..." I believe this means you should focus on the amazing things Hashem has blessed you with. No matter how bad you have it, you are still endowed with many special gifts. If you can't hear from one ear, but can hear from another ear, that is a fantastic blessing. If you cannot walk, but can hear and see, that is a priceless gift from G-d. No matter how bad things are, as long as your heart is beating you have what to be enormously grateful for. As we say in Tehillem, and the Gemara in Shabbos brings, "Lo Hameisim Yehallelu Kah...V'anachnu nevareich Ka m'atah v'ad olam..."
       But what I wanted to focus on today was a different way that we can serve G-d with joy, even amid the trepidation we feel in our daily lives. This reason is reflected repeatedly in the Rosh Hashana Liturgy. Through the gorgeous Avinu Malkeinu prayer, we say every single day except Shabbos from Rosh Hashana until Yom Kippur that the One deciding our future, and analyzing us is not only the King of the Universe, but He is also our Father. Our Father, who loves His children more than it is even possible to fathom. It is not some distant, cold judge who is passing judgment upon us, it is our loving Father who only wants what is best for us. 
    On a similar vein, we read the piyut by R' Shlomo ibn Gabriol "Mimcha, Elecha, Evrach." "From you, to you, I escape." This cryptic piyut might very well allude to the fact that as a result of our fear of judgment, we seek to run away from Hakadosh Baruch Hu. But then when we realize that it is our Loving merciful Father that is deciding our fate, we turn around, and escape, find refuge, 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. 
      On the morning of July 15th, after hearing the terrifying news that my 6 month old daughter Tzippora Bracha had been sent by ambulance to another hospital to treat her severe meningitus, as I drove towards the hospital, with tears flowing down my cheeks, the song that 'randomly' began playing from a list of several thousand songs, was a song by Shlomo Katz called Min Hameitzar. As helpless and utterly alone I felt, as I heard the magical words composed by Dovid Hamelech, "Hashem Li Lo Ira" Hashem is with me, I will not fear." I realized, as Rebbe Nachman said "V'afilu b'hastara, Sh'betoch Hastara B'vadai Gam Sham Nimtza Hasheim yisborach." "Even in a concealment within a concealment, Hashem, may He be blessed, is certainly there." 
         During this frightening time let us not forget that Hashem is with us every step of the way. And let it also not be lost upon us the fact that the MRI comparison is absolutely flawed. Because unlike when a person gets an MRI, in which the person has zero control over the outcome, as we pass before Hashem, we have every opportunity to alter the outcome through heart felt teshuva.
        I would like to conclude with a prayer taken straight from this week's beautiful parsha: "Gaze down, from Your holy abode, from the heavens, and bless Your people, Israel, and the ground that you gave us, as You swore to our forefather, a land flowing with milk and honey." 
May we all have a beautiful kesiva v'chasima Tova.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

Thursday, August 20, 2015

Elul, and How I am Tiger Woods

Dear Henry,
This is the first blog post I am writing from my new home, in Sunny, warm, beautiful, Denver, Colorado. As such, from this day forward, the blog will no longer be called 12 degrees, which represented the average temperature in my previous home, Albany NY, but rather it shall be called 72 degrees, which represents the new average temperature in my current home, Denver, Colorado.  Henry, we have had a great run together these last three years, today, drawing over 10,000 readers world wide. But I think inasmuch as I am entering a new chapter of my life, I am going to start writing my blog posts to Peyton, so Henry, this will be the last blog I write to you. You've been a great pen-pal and a great listener these last three years.
       Peyton,  I wanted to tell you about a fascinating conversation I had with my father the other day. My dad, who we will call 'Pops" was telling me how he is not interested whatsoever in competing against other people when he plays golf. He hopes he does well, and he hopes they do well. But what concerns my father is that he improve his own score, and in that sense, he plays against himself. At first I said, "Pops, you're just getting older. You know how awesome it feels to beat an opponent in a sport, I love ya Pops, but I can't relate to not caring bout how your opponent fares; I hope I win, and therefore, necessarily, I hope he loses." After telling him this, I did a little self reflection, and realized, that as usual, my dad was conveying profound words of wisdom. Judaism teaches that a good recipe for a miserable life is to always compare your life to the lives of others. The person who does not focus inward, but is rather fixated on every one else, will never find contentment. Life is not like a tennis match, in which you either win, or lose. Life is like a golf game, where we work on improving our score every time we play. We might go through some slumps, and we might get knocked down. But we can always storm back and get even better.
      Right now we are in the month of Elul, the month before Rosh Hashana. On Rosh Hashana we stand before G-d in judgment as He determines who will live and who will die. Just as we would tremble at the thought of standing before a judge or jury who would determine whether or not we receive a death sentence, so too, right now is a very scary time. It doesn't require perusing the daily newspaper for very long to realize that life is very temporal and can end at any time. The Talmud instructs us that we should repent one day before we die. The obvious question is, how can we do that when we don't know when we will die? To this the Talmud answers, all the more reason to repent today, since you might well die tomorrow; and thereby you will live out all of your days in a state of repentance. The month of Elul reminds us that if we have not started repenting, now is the time to begin, before we stand before the King of all Kings in judgement. We shouldn't push it off; we need to start immediately.
      Rabbi Dessler points out that every single person has a personal spiritual battle that he/she is waging. Each one of us needs to identify with clarity what we are struggling with, and we need to come up with a plan to triumph in the battle. Every one of us is created differently; we each have our own unique struggles. Just like it is useless for me to compare my score with yours on the golf course, so too, spiritually, the only score I should be evaluating is my own.  But the time to start confronting these struggles is right now. The time to start figuring out how to correct my golf swing, is not tomorrow, not in two months, but today.
      In 1996 there was a corny Nike golf commercial that I never properly understood, until today. The commercial featured the enormously popular and successful Tiger Woods, and random children, all of whom went to the camera and said, "I am Tiger Woods." Today I realize, that indeed, just like the children on that commercial, I too, am Tiger Woods.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

Friday, July 17, 2015

A Plea to G-d on Rosh Chodesh Av

Dear Henry,
      I write to you from a room on the fifth floor of a Children's hospital in Kansas City. To be honest, I am not sure if I am in Kansas or Missouri, but apparently Kansas City is located in both of those states. Not sure how that works, but that's what I am told. We were traveling across the country to move to our new home in Denver, when unfortunately my baby daughter became very ill. With only eight hours between us and our new home awaiting us in Denver, we decided it was too far and we needed to be seen immediately. Now, thank G-d things are very slowly, gradually improving, but there is still a long road ahead and we will be here for awhile, and we are still in desperate need of the prayers of you thousands upon thousands of devoted readers across the planet.
     These last few days have been filled with tremendous anxiety, pain, sadness and downright fear. I have experienced these emotions in abundance. However, looking back at all of these feelings, what has consistently made me the most emotional was the outpouring of love and support from the Jewish Community across the world. As Jews, we believe that the power of prayer is very real. G-d listens to us, and has every ability to help us in the manner we hope He will, if He deems that is what is best for us.  As soon as we realized we were in such a precarious situation, I emailed a few email rabbi list-serves to ask for people to pray for my beautiful daughter, Tzippora Bracha bas Tzirel Shoshana. What followed was nothing short of astounding. I received dozens of emails back, from people I had never met, assuring me they were praying for us, and asking what they could do to help. Bosses from old jobs I held called personally, asking what they could do, and connected me to the best doctors in the world, and submitted my daughters name on websites for people across the world to pray for. Different communities across the world held special prayer sessions just for my daughter's recovery. One rabbi I have never met, who is on a trip to Poland prayed at the grave site of a holy Chassidic Rebbe on my daughter's behalf. My holy sister arranged for a group of people who together committed to complete the entire book of Psalms--all 150 chapters-- every day for the next 3 weeks. My incredible, kind, caring, generous brother in law who lives here has put his life on hold to help us with whatever we need. My current boss expressed that they will do anything possible to help us; even if it means making use of a private jet. I have spent hours and hours on the phone with an expert doctor from my home town, who has graciously given his time to me, to clearly explain what is going on. I have been given access to world experts in medicine, and top rabbis, able to help and assist us whenever we need them.
      Additionally, we currently find ourselves in a part of the country with which we are unfamiliar. With the exception of my incredible brother in law, who has given unbelievable emotional support, and one woman my wife has spoken with once on the phone, we don't know anyone. And yet throughout this whole ordeal, we couldn't feel more at home or more loved. The Jewish community in Kansas City has hosted us in their home even though they had never before met us. They have cooked countless meals for us, and delivered them to the hospital, a good twenty minute trip from where they live. They are providing for our Shabbos needs while we are in the hospital. One surgeon who works in this hospital from the Jewish community personally stopped by to drop off lunch. Another sweet, kind family made a special trip to deliver groceries, and a microwave we could use. We have received calls and texts from people we have never met, asking how they can help. We were given a personal visit from the Executive Vice President and COO of the hospital, a member of the Jewish community here, and the President of the Board of the Hospital has seen to it that our every need is taken care of, even though she is currently in Israel. Doctors from the community who work at the hospital are visiting us every day, bringing us things we need, and giving us encouragement. I can honestly say I love and adore the Kansas City community and truly feel that I am a part of the community, even though I only know one or two people from it.
      When I pray to G-d every day, there is a prayer called "Shomeah Tefillah" where we ask G-d to hear our prayers. When I reached that prayer, and I uttered those words, with tears pouring out of my eyes I felt unbelievably comforted as I asked G-d not just to hear my prayer, but to hear the prayer of hundreds of people praying for my baby across the world. Today is Rosh Chodesh Av, a month filled with tremendous pain and agony for the Jewish People throughout history, a month that marks the destruction of both of our Holy Temples. We are in exile, a bitter, cold, scary exile that grows scarier every day. We are in this terrible exile because, as the Talmud relates, the Jewish people demonstrated sinas chinam, baseless hatred towards each other. Dear Almighty G-d, Who loves us more than anything imaginable and Whose compassion and mercy knows no bounds: Please lift Your eyes from up High, and see what is happening in Kansas City. See how Your children all across the world are concerned about us, loving us for no other reason than the fact that we are their brothers; fellow Jews. See the compassion your children are showering towards us; please do not turn away from noticing the profound, baseless love they are giving us. And PLEASE, PLEASE remove all of the suffering from this world, grant health to all of the precious sick children in this hospital and across the world, and return us IMMEDIATELY to our home, in Jerusalem b'mheyra b'yameinu.

Danny Wolfe

Wednesday, May 27, 2015

10 Apps you MUST have if you go on Birthright Israel

Dear Henry,
       I am currently preparing to embark on my fifth Taglit Birthright Israel trip with Israel Free Spirit aka the awesomest trip provider in the world, in the past three years, and I figured that I owe it to my thousands upon thousands upon thousands of readers across the planet; many of whom are Jewish, to share some of the wisdom that I have acquired from this once in a lifetime experience. I thought that since we are now in the year 2015, and phone applications, or "apps" as they are trendily referred to, are very popular, I owe it to you-- my devoted readers to compile a top ten list of "Must Have Apps" if you are going on a Birthright trip. Before I begin, I must make clear that I do believe everyone is better off by not getting a data plan in Israel, but by using the old school rental phones which came straight from the 90s. However if one does not heed my advice, then these are the critical apps to have. I will list them from least important to most important.

10. Google Translate- Even though most Israelis speak some English, in certain parts of the country, for some reason, they do not. It can be maddening; like, how can not everyone speak English. This app though is super helpful, and user friendly, and allows you to speak to it, and will play back a translation. It also easily switches from one language to the next. In short, its awesome. Especially when you are starving, and looking at a menu, and have no idea what it says.

9. Globe Convert- One of the most frustrating things about being in a foreign country is not understanding the currency conversion rates. In Israel it is no different, and it can be exceedingy frustrating when you see that it costs 15 shekels for a lousy falafal. Eventually, once you get over the shock of paying so much for things, it begins to feel like Monopoly money, and then you lose all your money. Therefore, its a good idea to have a currency conversion app. This app also supposedly converts metric units as well; it is annoying that Israelis don't use ounces, and pounds, they use something called kilos, and meters... Very confusing and frustrating. This app helps with the headaches.

8. Daily Water- In Israel it is very hot. Very very very very very very hot. Today it was 105 degrees. You gotta drink a ton of water. This app helps remind you. Being dehydrated and having an IV pump you liquids is not an ideal way to spend your Birthright Israel trip. So drink, and drink and drink some more.

7. The Israel App- I have no idea what this app is, but its called the Israel App, so odds are its a great app to have for birthright.

6. Whats App-This is an extremely popular app in Israel, and it allows you to text, and have group chats with anyone in the world who has the app and is connected to data or wifi. It works even for those unfortunate souls out there who don't have iphones and imessage. This app is especially good for keeping in touch with your 8 Israeli soldiers after the trip, but you can also use it as a texting app to America, as long as the people you are texting also have it.

5. The Siddur App- Israel is an extremely inspiring place. You might feel the need at some point to pray. The Siddur app allows you to open up the traditional Jewish prayer book, and recite your favorite prayers. The good news is that G-d understands all languages and you can always just speak to him from the heart.

4. Glide- This Israeli- made video messaging app is very cool. Instead of sending text messages, you can send videos, recorded in real time. People can watch them as they are recording, or can catch them later. There is a great group messaging feature, and its a very good way to stay intimately connected to your birthright group when you all get back to the States.

3. app- This App is like SnapChat, instagram and twitter all rolled up into one. You can record yourself or surroundings for about 20 seconds, and then people can respond to you. It would be a great way to chronicle your trip so you can relive it 6 months down the line, and a great way to follow up with your new pals from the trip. Make sure to follow me, the SelfeeRabbi.

2. Instagranny- This is a must have app for birthright. It works a lot like Instagram, and it allows you to spice up your pictures with a large assortment of grannies, a couple grandpas, and even a few kittnes for any occasion. For example, I stuck in a granny in a picture with me and my wife on Masada. All your friends will think you made good friends with a ton of different grannies, and it makes you look very, very cool. Thanks to Mel for the awesome referral.

1. Snoopify- This is the winner. It works just like Instagranny, but instead of putting a granny in a picture, you can Snoopify any photo by inserting Snoop Dogg, or Snoop Lion as he was formally known into any picture of your choosing. I owe a big thanks to one of my past participants from two summers ago , Jake for the referral.

That does it for the 10 Apps that you must have on Birthright Israel. Download them now, and have an incredible trip! Make sure to eat and drink a ton of ice coffee, falafal, shwarma, and shnitzel because after your trip you will never again view any of those delicacies the same as you do now.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

Tuesday, May 26, 2015

"Don't Forget, G-d also Made New Jersey"-- Profound Insights on the Garden State Parkway

Dear Henry,
       This past Friday morning, I loaded up Hindy the Hyundai with two suitcases, my four delicious children, and the Better Half, and we set off on the road, traveling to the holy city of Lakewood, NJ for the Jewish holiday of Shavuos, the holiday that commemorates the Jewish People receiving the Torah. Unbeknownst to me, this year, Shavuos coincided neatly with Memorial Day, and it is a major travel weekend. As we set out on the road, I thought, "This will be a piece of cake! Lakewood is 3.25 hours away, my kids are excited to see their cousins, and my wife and I can have some good old fashion chattin' time in the car!" As predicted, the first part of the ride went amazing. The kids were happy eating  the endless supply of snacks we packed, and my wife and I were having heartfelt discussions in which we dissected our dreams, goals and aspirations. We thought, "hey, this is going so swell, why don't we go ahead and stop in Monsey at my favorite Pizza place in the world, Pita Land, the home of the infamous blizzard pizza, the pizza that I am salivating over at this very moment, just by writing about it." Sure enough, we stopped there, and we savored the delicious pizza, sushi, and these little heavenly doughy balls rolled in powdered sugar. After that, we stopped at a book store, to pick up some inspiring Jewish books, and then we hit the road for what should have been an hour and a half drive down to Lakewood. As soon as we hit the Garden State Parkway, we were stopped in bumper to bumper traffic. I thought, that's strange, we are we literally stopped on Friday at 1:00 PM? At 1:01 I turned on 1010 Wins, and my boy Pete Toriello informed me that due to Memorial Day weekend, traffic everywhere was awful. Still, I didn't understand why so many thousands of cars were going to New Jersey. Like, I hear they might want to travel to New York, Vermont, Connecticut, heck, even Pennsylvania. But I was unable to fathom why so many people were traveling to New Jersey.
        Regardless, I tried to stay optimistic, and I announced in the car, as we were literally stopped in stop and go traffic, "Don't worry kiddos and Better Half, we only have another 95 miles to go on this lovely highway!" And right as my optimism bucket had reached its peak, my lovely, perfect 4 month old daughter started screaming. But Henry, I am not referring to the type of screaming that I do when riding a roller coaster or tubing down a massive Vail Mountain tubing run.  I mean like shrieking. The type of shrieking I did in Washington heights when I first saw a cockroach. But at least that shrieking I did stopped after two minutes. Little Tzippy, or Zippy is I sometimes lovingly refer to her was not just shrieking for two minutes. Because two minutes became three minutes. And three minutes became five minutes. and five minutes became six minutes. And six minutes became seven minutes. After about fifteen minutes of listening to unrelenting shrieking, I thought, gee, our 30 hour cross country road trip in July is just going to be lovely! And then I thought, maybe if I roll down all of our windows, the sound of traffic will make everything better and, maybe the cars will hear her and move out of my way so I can get there already. Surprisingly, my strategy did not pay off.
       After about 20 minutes of this, the Garden State Parkway split off into express lanes, and local lanes. I thought, for sure everyone is going to be in the local lanes so they can get off the highway whenever they want! I will go ahead in the express lane, and then get their very fast! Sure enough, I was wrong. And as I saw the cars in the local plane flying past me, as we were stuck literally not moving, I became enraged with jealousy. I longed to get to the local lanes. I hoped that those cars in the local lanes would slow down, so that I would be the one gliding past them. Eventually, I got to the local lane, and I did in fact cruise past the suckers in the express lane, and it felt amazing. I even literally stuck my hand out the window and waved to them as I passed them by, leaving them like dust in the metaphorical wind. And then I stopped again, and they sped up, and I felt the rage returning like an unwanted centipede who invades your bathroom.
       And I realized, dearest Henry, how messed up I was acting. Judaism has a lot to say about this lovely episode on the Parkway. Firstly, the Talmud teaches that jealousy is one of the absolute worst character traits a person can have. A jealous person can never be content. He is always comparing himself to others. If he is making $100,000, and his neighbor is at $115,000, his very respectable $100,000 is almost meaningless to him. He is driven to get the $115,000 his friend has. Jealousy ruins people, causes them to lose rationality, and their ability to think. If a person is not happy with his lot, and is not happy with what he has, he will live a life of misery. Living a life constantly comparing yourself to others is no way to live a life.
       In addition, the Torah teaches famously that we have to love our neighbors like we love ourselves. That is a very difficult commandment to keep; how exactly can we be expected to love everyone like we love ourselves? Some commentaries explain that we should genuinely be happy for people in their triumphs, just like we would be happy for ourselves. When our neighbor gets a raise, we should be happy for him. When our cousin has a child after being married for a year, even though we have not been successful in having children despite trying for the last five years, we should be happy for them. When our roommate we have been living with for the last five years gets engaged, while I am still not, I should be genuinely happy for her. And when the cars are cruising past me in the local lane, I should be happy for them.
        Finally, another lesson to learn is that Judaism teaches that not only did G-d create the world, but He continually runs it and sustains it, and He is involved in each and every one of our lives in an extremely intimate way. When the traffic is rough, and the baby is screaming, this is the situation that G-d wants me to be in right now. He doesn't want me looking around, focussing on how so many more people have it better for me. He wants me to keep focussed on the road ahead, and work with what I have,  to make the best of it, and remember that this is an opportunity for me to grow and ultimately become closer to Him.  Henry, keep in mind they don't call me Rabbi D-Swolle for nothing. I am not brolic by going to the gym and lifting the bar a few times. I am huge because when I go the gym, I load up that bad boy with a large number of plates, and I move the weight. I sweat. Heck, I shvitz. I grunt. It's hard. But thats how I grow; thats how I am huge. I need to focus on moving the weight above me at this very moment; not focus on how that little guy over there is easily benching fifty pounds.
       As we were finally getting closer to our destination, and I was mumbling about New Jersey under my breath, the Better Half profoundly said, "Don't forget, G-d also made New Jersey." Indeed, He did make New Jersey, and I am darn grateful He taught me so many darn profound life insights from my short stay there.

Forever Yours,
Danny Wolfe

Thursday, May 21, 2015

Rabbi D-Train's Dare

Dear Henry,
     My name is Danny Wolfe, and I am extremely attached to my cellphone. I constantly am checking my email, regularly looking up useless articles on and spend way too much of my time staring robotically at my iPhone 6.0. 
      For people like me who are obsessively checking our phones, going to the grocery store can be a difficult chore. Because while we shop we are checking items off a grocery list, far removed from our email, Facebook or Twitter apps on our cell phones. That means that when we arrive at the counter, ready to check out, satisfied with our shopping experience, it doesn't take long until we realize that we have not actually checked our email in 25 minutes, or we haven't seen Facebook in that long. We might be thinking, "Oh golly, I haven't seen my email in the last half hour. Maybe someone emailed me telling me I won the lottery, or maybe I got a new 15 percent off coupon from Bed Bath and Beyond! I better check my email now to see if anything like that transpired. And, once I'm done I need to check Facebook because I am sure one of my 1600 "friends" has posted a new status update, and if I don't check now I might miss it! And while we are at it, I need to check Twitter. Adam Schefter might have a breaking update that the Broncos signed Adrian Peterson, or one of my friends may have tweeted about the beer they drank last night! And after that we might feel the need to check our Linked In app even though we don't know how to use it or why it always is sending us notifications. 
        Suddenly we wake up when the sweet cashier says,  "your total is $86.29. Will you be paying with cash or credit?" We then give a half smile and mumble "credit" as we pull out our American Express card which yields 6% cash back on groceries. We swipe the card, sign the receipt, and go on our merry way.
      I am embarrassed to admit it, but I am guilty of this on a regular basis. Let's dissect what happened here: While I was lost browsing useless information on my phone, a human being, created in none other than G-d's image was helping me by scanning and bagging my massive grocery order. And the whole time, rather than have the decency to engage them in conversation and acknowledge their humanity, I basically told them that I was waaaay too busy to acknowledge their existence with all the important business I had to take care of on my phone. And I ask, oh Henry, how would that make you feel, spending 40 hours a week scanning groceries, while hundreds of thankless people totally ignored you, taking your efforts for granted, not even bothering to lift their heads to speak to you?
       Pirkei Avos, the Jewish Talmudical tractate on ethics enjoins us to greet every person "with a kind countenance." The Talmud elsewhere instructs that it is better to give a poor person the white of their teeth (a smile) than white milk to drink. If we are going to reluctantly give a poor person a few coins with a scour on our face, we would be much better off smiling at them and saying "hello," even if we didn't end up giving them any money.  A great rabbi once said that a persons face is like public property; just like if I leave out any harmful objects extending from my property into public property I am liable to pay for the damages, so too a person's face is public property that hundreds of people encounter every day. If the frown on my face damages people, the damage is my responsibility. I will never forget how utterly depressed I felt when I used to take a train to work every day; everyone in the train appeared absolutely miserable, as if they dreaded going to work. How very sad, thought I, that by the looks on their faces, these people spend most of their lives doing something that makes them depressed.
      Thankfully my wife recently listened to a class online from her favorite rebbetzin, who discussed this at length, and mentioned how she is taking it upon herself to not use her phone in public. Hearing this inspired me tremendously, and I sadly realized how guilty I am of overusing my phone in public, particularly while checking out of grocery stores. I decided on that spot that I would take a sort of pledge to cold turkey, stop using my phone in the checkout line. If I would be offended as the oft-ignored cashier, odds are the guy behind the counter also might take offense. Let us try to make the world a better, happier, more meaningful place. I hereby dare all of my thousands upon thousands upon thousands of devoted readers across the vast expanse of the universe to make a commitment to stop using your phones in grocery stores. Heck, I triple dogg dare you. Whose down?

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe