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.

Thursday, August 25, 2016

Monkey in the Middle

Dear Henry,
      One of my most vivid childhood memories is from the airplane flights to and from Israel as a nine-year-old boy. My parents had the wonderful idea to send me, age 12, my sister, age 10 and my older brother, age 14, by ourselves to Israel for a three week stay with my aunt and uncle in Maaleh Adumim. Arriving at the airport, I was excited for the long 15-hour overseas flight. At the young age of 12, my legs were not yet long enough to be painfully crushed as they are nowadays by the El Al seat in front of me. As we stepped onto the plane, my older brother, who we will refer to as William, said, “I have a great idea: since I am the oldest, I will sit in the window seat. Bridgette[1], since you are the youngest, you take the aisle. Danny, since you are the middle child, you get to sit in the middle. Furious, but convinced by his stellar logic, I obliged. After the three-week life-changing trip, we found ourselves once again, boarding the airplane, as we embarked on our way back home to the majestic Rocky Mountains. Standing there waiting to board, my brother once again spoke up: Since I am the oldest, I will take the aisle seat. Bridgette, since you are the youngest, you should take the window seat. And Danny, well, since you are the middle child, you take the middle seat.
      And so began an adolescence of intense middle-child syndrome. As I grew up, and noticed more and more how unfortunate it is to be a middle child, I promised myself I would remain ultra-sensitive to the needs of my middle children when I would one day become a parent. However, it wasn’t until two days ago where I realized how insensitive I have been. As I merrily walked into my home one day after work, I saw my middle child who we will refer to as The Dude (I actually am blessed with two middle children, but the older one is our first girl, so it doesn’t count) sitting obediently at the table coloring very meticulously between the lines. My wife informed me that he had acted wonderfully on this particular day. I told him, “Dude, I can see that you are acting so nicely today! I am so proud of you!” Not two seconds after I heaped these praises upon him did my daughter, who we will refer to as The Princess chime in: “I also have acted perfectly today!!!” Usually, not wanting to neglect an opportunity to build up her self-esteem by complimenting her, I would begin praising her virtues, losing total focus on the poor Dude, the classic middle child. Today, however, feeling inspired, I told her, “Princess, you are great. But we aren’t talking about you now. We are talking about the Dude. And just because I am telling him how great he is acting, doesn’t mean you are not acting great, it just means that I want to focus on how nicely he is behaving now.” Getting visibly worked up, she persisted: “NO! I am also acting great! Really!” “This might be, Cupcake, but right now I need you to work on a new word you never heard of: It’s called humility. Humility means knowing how great you are, while leaving room for others to thrive as well. While you contemplate that idea with your sweet five year old brain I am going to play catch with the Dude.”
       Not three seconds after those words left my mouth, and a gorgeous smile spread across the Dude’s entire face, my oldest son, who we will call Little Buddy, said, “Tatty, play catch with me! Let’s play monkey in the middle.  The Dude’s in the middle."

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

[1] Name changed for anonymity sake

Thursday, August 4, 2016

Three Profound Life Lessons from my Three Year Old


Dear Hank,
      I know I promised you, and my thousands upon thousands of readers from across the globe a Part Two on my Waze blog, but you will have to wait a bit longer. What I wanted to address on this warm summer evening was not one, heck, not even two, but three profound life lessons I recently learned from my three year old son, whom I affectionately refer to as "The Dude." Sometimes I ask him if I can call him "Little Buddy," but he gets upset and says no, I want you to call me "Dude." So Dude it is. Anyways, we were in the middle of our road trip from Denver to Cleveland, and we were stopped for lunch at the Indianapolis JCC mini cafeteria. The food was exceptional, and I thoroughly enjoyed my quesadillas. But as you know, this is not a food blog, so we will just leave it at that. Anyways as my wife was doing my baby's diaper, and everyone was finishing up in the bathroom, my oldest son, who we will call "Little Buddy" was looking at the indoor swimming pool. You see, the door was set up such that about four feet up, was a window, looking into the indoor pool. As Little Buddy was looking in there, the Dude, also was looking in. But he was very upset, since he couldn't see in the window-- he was too short. He told me, "Tatty, pick me up, I can't see!" Being in an unpleasant mood as a result of driving for the last 12 hours, I told him he aint' missing much, and not to worry about it. But the Dude persisted, and I lifted him up so he could see what was going on beyond the door. When I put him down, I myself squatted down to his level, and looked ahead, and lo and behold, I just saw a blue door. No window, and certainly, no indoor swimming pool. I then stood up, and saw through that magical window a whole new world, totally invisible to The Dude. This experience taught me not one, heck, not even two-- but three deep life lessons:

1) Empathize- It is critical in any relationship-- be it a parent-child, husband-wife, or peer-peer to be able to empathize with someone and to see things from their point of view. The Talmud teaches in Pirkei Avos, Ethics of our Fathers, that a person cannot judge their fellow until they arrive in their place. It was easy for me to judge The Dude and to be annoyed at him for kvetching from my point of view, 6.12 feet above the ground. But if I were him, 3 feet off the ground- unable to see the excitement beyond, while everyone else was enjoying the views, I might also very well be a little more than upset. It was only when I bent down to see the view from his vantage point that I well understood the meaning behind one of my favorite bitmojis: The struggle is real. We need to be able to see things from different vantage points--doing so will make us better spouses, better parents, and better people.

2) Be Happy with What You Have-- Cuz' You Might not be Missing Much
Another point that I learned from this exchange with The Dude, was that G-d gives us everything we need at any given time, and we shouldn't be longing for more. We are not missing out on anything. You see dearest Henry, The Dude thought that he was missing out on something special. But the reality was, that beyond those doors, the only thing that was going on was folks swimming laps, or doing water aerobics to help with their arthritis. Honestly, it is a tremendous achievement, and a very important thing when human beings are able to get out, and exercise-- it truly is a beautiful thing. But after life guarding for over five years during my high school and college years, I can confirm that watching them do their water aerobics in the indoor pool is about as interesting as watching the paint on the door leading to the indoor pool.  You see, The Dude, in his slight immaturity at age three missed this point-- he figured that if Little Buddy was looking into the indoor pool, and had access to something he didn't, that he was missing out on something deep and profound. The reality is, however, that he was just as well off watching that bulky door leading to the indoor pool. We should be happy with the situations in which we find ourselves-- and not be jealous of others who "appear" to have more than us-- since in reality they are simply watching people floating on noodles.

3) Don't use Tunnel Vision-- its a Grand Universe out there
To take a different angle, however, sometimes it is easy for us to feel stifled, as we can only see the world from our perspective, with our limited vision. We just see a door-- we don't realize that beyond the door is a whole new world. There lies a pool, that is very deep, filled with water. But we can't perceive it, and that can be frustrating. If we look up though, we see the window, and understand there is more to the picture than we are seeing from our human perspectives. There is a plan, a bigger picture. I also came to this realization one day as I was walking in Manhattan. As one walks the streets, and looks to his left and right, he sees, in addition to dog feces on the sidewalks and heaps of garbage, countless shops, stores and restaurants. But then if he looks up he realizes there is so much more-- the shops he sees at street level are simply but one floor of 100 floor structures. It is literally just the tip of the iceberg. In life, we need to look up-- to understand that there is a much larger picture, of which we have the privilege of being a distinct part.

Looking back at this amazing road trip with my family, during which we spent forty hours of car time together, we felt American and Patriotic as we crossed the Mississippi, we lip-synced to songs using a Red Bull and baby bottle as a microphone, we spent wonderful time with family,  and we were able to say thank you in person to the heroic doctors who helped treat our baby, there is no doubt that one of the highlights was gleaning deep wisdom from my three year old Dude.

Forever Yours,
Danny Wolfe

Friday, July 29, 2016

It's a Long Road Ahead-- Don't Lose Your Waze: Part 1

Dear Henry,
      This past week I had the distinct pleasure of attending a conference for rabbis such as myself-- 300 strong were in attendance from all over the planet. One rabbi in particular, a man named Rabbi Mindell mentioned something so brilliant it literally blew my mind.
       But before I spill the beans and explain to you what he said, and how it was so profoundly ingenious, let me preface by telling you one of my biggest pet-peaves. More then when someone sneezes on his hand prior to shaking mine; heck, more than when someone coughs out loud seconds before my golf swing, it annoys me tremendously when ones' Waze GPS system suggests the person proceed one way, when the person decides he/she knows better than the GPS and proceeds to deliberately ignore it altogether, and opt for a different way. I never knew why this phenomenon so greatly troubled me, but it truly did. And the truth is I am not the easily-annoyed type. I like to think of my self as rather laid back and chilled out--more chilled, in fact, to quote the late, great, Stuart Scott, than the other side of the pillow. This however gets to me--and I never knew why...that is, until this past Tuesday when Rabbi Mindell explained it in a manner clearer than the pristine Hudson River.
       When people choose to ignore their GPS, they do so for one of two reasons. The first reason is that people of the older generation tend to ignore the GPS, because, as we say in Yiddish, they don't really "chap" (ie understand) how to use it, and why it's so helpful, when they have been going the same way for over sixty years. These folks I don't blame, and I have no problem with their neglecting the GPS. However, for the younger generations among us, who know darn well about the GPS; who used Waze for Morgan Freeman's comforting voice to guide us to far remote destinations; for those of us Waze users who harmonized along with T-Pain as he soulfully sang us how to get around a roundabout, we have no excuse to ignore our GPS. And when we do, articulately explains Rabbi Mindell, we are basically, perhaps unknowingly, proclaiming one undeniable fact: Forget the help of the scientifically brilliant technology which uses global positioning satellite-- I know better. I don't need no help in getting to where I need to go-- I know precisely where I need to go, and I know precisely how to get there. Please don't help me, because I know how to do it all by myself. But says Rabbi Mindell, and I now quote, "it takes anavah (humility) to follow Waze." Following Waze means that I understand that as skillful as I am, and as knowledgeable as I am about these roads I have been maneuvering for the last 15 years, perhaps there is another way to go that would be more effective. According to Alan Morinis, who has written books on mussar, or the act of acquiring positive character traits, based on the Talmud, a Jewish definition of humility is, "limiting oneself to an appropriate amount of space while leaving room for others." Yes, As a fourth generation Denverite I know darn well how to get from point A to point B. But perhaps there are other approaches as well, and perhaps I can even learn from them to get around more efficiently.
        And this, dear Henry, explains my epiphany from this past Tuesday. Namely, the reason why I get so annoyed when people don't listen to their GPS-- because more than any character flaw, the one that bothers me the absolute most, is when I perceive arrogance in other people. That annoys me to no end. It makes sense, therefore, why folks not listening to their GPS-- a seemingly innocuous crime troubles me as much as it does. We need to learn from others. We need to understand that we do not have all the answers. As the Talmud says, "Who is wise? The one who learns from all people." Who is wise? The one who has the humility to listen to his or her Waze.

Forever Yours,
Danny Wolfe

PS. We are only scratching the surface on the brilliance of WAZE. Stay Tuned for Part Two, in where we take Waze's profound life lessons to a whole new level...

Wednesday, July 13, 2016

I will not Forget

Dear Henry,
     With the advent of apps like "Time Hop", and with Facebook's copy cat, "On This Day," we are now able to easily recall what we were doing at this time last year, and beyond. This morning, Facebook brought to my attention that one year ago today, we were in Bloomington Illinois, on our way to move to our new home in Denver. The picture shows my older children splashing away in a park that featured a water playground intended to provide its users much needed relief from the brutal heat and humidity. I was reminded of an unpleasant phone conversation I had with our moving company, where I was trying to understand how our actual costs were more than $5000 than what they estimated they would be. And then, I remembered what the next two days had in store for us.
       Unbeknownst to us, at that time, my baby daughter was suffering from meningitis, as the terrible disease was making its way to her brain. (For more on this, I wrote about it at the time here.) I am reminded how she only wanted to lay in her car seat, being tremendous irritated anytime we attempted to move her. I remember my 30th birthday, suffering through the gut-wrenching unknown of what would be, as my wife took her to the hospital in Kansas City. I remember tossing and turning the entire night, simply unable to fall asleep. I remember being paralyzed with fear of what could be wrong with her. I recall greeting the day with the confirmation of our worst fears-- that instead of finishing the last leg of our trip, we would be spending the foreseeable future in a hospital room in downtown Kansas City. I remember driving downtown to spend the day with my older children as my parents came as fast as they could on a 9 hour drive to pick them up. I will never forget getting on the highway at 9:00 AM with tears in my eyes, observing the darkest rain clouds I have ever seen in my entire life. I cannot forget spending what seems like an eternity putting on a happy front for my older three children as we played for hours at the Lego Museum and the Aquarium. I recall the last hour before my parents arrived, as we waited for them in the blistering heat at the hospital playground, which was equipped with a piano in the cement floor that played music when you stepped on the notes, and I recall the traffic light on the playground that turned colors, complete with a pretend cross-walk. It's funny, the little things you can remember. And I will not forget the 5 minutes I sat crying my eyes out in the parking garage of the hospital, before being reunited with my wife and precious baby. I will not soon forget the fearful days I spent in the hospital, the feeling of dread that accompanied my every breath, and the terrifying MRI's my child had under general anesthesia.
     Nor will I every forget the absolute closeness that I felt to the Almighty, as I pored over the Book of Psalms all day, every day. I will not forget the feeling that King David wrote those beautiful poetic psalms specifically for me, at this very moment. I will never forget the heroic doctors who worked tirelessly to treat my daughter with brilliant care. I will not forgot their sensitivity and their burning desire to help her recover. I will not forget our dear family friends who are doctors who with super-human sensitivity, helped us understand what we were dealing with. I will never forget the feeling that these people are the real heroes of our country. Nor will I forget the Jewish community of Kansas City, who despite not knowing us or having any connection to us, saw to it that our every need was taken care of, driving twenty minutes to the hospital to deliver us enough food for three meals a day, a crock pot, and a microwave. I will not forget the tremendous desire to pay them back for their kindness, and the tremendous frustration for not quite knowing how I ever can. I will not forget the emails, calls, and text messages from close friends, and from people I never met in my life. I will never forget the feeling that our distress, was the distress of the entire Jewish people. I will not soon forget the feeling that despite the fact that we were theoretically alone in a foreign city, I never felt so un-alone in my entire life. I will not forget feeling the loving embrace of the entire Jewish People. I will not forget my daughter's miraculous recovery. I will not forget her first smile in two weeks, as I was about to go back to Denver. I will not forget how the Kansas City Royals visited her, and my prediction that they would win the World Series. I will not forget the first time she said "Daddy," nor will I forget her first steps. As she continually thrives, spending her days showing off her gorgeous dimples, dancing, running around and playing, I will NEVER forget how fortunate and blessed we truly are.

Danny Wolfe

Sunday, July 10, 2016

The Rose & The Garbage Bin

Dear Henry,
     This past Friday afternoon proceeded as most Friday's do. The unreal divine aroma of Shabbos wafting in the kitchen. Sampling in excess the gourmet, extremely delicious foods that would be served on Friday night for Shabbos dinner. And of course, the typical trip to the garbage dumpster on the side of the house where I fulfill one of my essential husbandly duties by taking out the trash. But this particular trip to this particular garbage bin on this particular Friday, dear Henry, was different. As I lifted the lid to the garbage bin with my tan right hand, I held my nose with my stubby left fingers, trying to avoid the inevitable stench of week old diapers filled with fecal matter from my 18 month old princess. I understand, dear Henry, that this was probably too much information, and for that I apologize; I'm just trying to convey an accurate picture of the day's events for the sake of my thousands upon thousands of reader across the expansive universe.
          As I put the lid back down, out of the corner of my eye I saw something that made my mouth drop. I saw a glistening shining rose that was as gold as the metals that the United States Olympics teams are going to be bringing home to this magnificent glorious country. And unlike the roses that I was accustomed to purchase for my wife when we lived in Washington Heights, Manhattan, this rose was not dyed fluorescent colors. It's beauty was breathtakingly natural. And it stood at about 5 feet tall, weighing in at 1.5 Ibs. I had quite frankly never seen anything quite like it. So I did a double take: right in front of me was my large smelly garbage bin- and behind it was one single magnificent golden rose. 
       Over the course of the Shabbos which immediately followed this discovery, I did some self reflection and came out with not one, not two, not even three, but four profound life lessons that this rose taught me about the most deep secrets of life.

1) Sometimes in life, if you look a little harder, you will uncover tremendous beauty, meaning and depth. If one of the tens of thousands of cars who drive on my street every day looked toward my house, they would observe an ugly garbage bin. But if only they looked a little deeper, if they gazed a little more carefully they would have discovered the beautiful rose nestled behind it. So too in life, many times we are quick to make negative judgments about other people or about situations-- but if we held off on judgment, and dug a little more, we would see the beauty behind what is really going on. We know that G-d not only created the world, but He continues to sustain it and run it every single day. Everything that happens in our world around us is latent with meaning and purpose. Sometimes it appears very smelly and ugly-- but we need to remember that He has a plan and behind the mess and the smell lies tremendous depth and purpose.

1a) Additionally, in our superficial world, people are very quick to dismiss potential life partners because of what they see with one quick look on the outside. But perhaps if they would dig in a little bit deeper, they would uncover a perfect rose beneath the surface.

2) Our happiness is up to us. Life can be a matter of perspective. And unfortunately, there is a lot of garbage going on in the world at large, and also in our own individual lives. However, there is also tremendous amounts of good that is happening-- again, both in the larger world, and in our own individual domains. The choice of what we will focus on remains up to us: We can either by Debbie Downers and Negative Nancy's and focus on the smelly garbage. Or, we can choose to focus on the remarkable flowers in our lives. The choice remains up to us.

3) G-d, in His infinite kindness, showers us with blessings we don't even deserve. I moved into my house a year ago. I like to think that as a new home owner, I am becoming more handy, and I have learned a lot of new sweet skills: like nunchuck skills, bow-hunting skills, computer hacking skills. And, I can now rake some leaves. I can hire a lawn-mowing service, and I can even kill some weeds and dandelions. One thing I cannot yet do, since I have never done it, is plant flowers. My golden rose did not blossom because of the toil and effort I put into my garden. It blossomed because someone before me planted it, leaving it for me to enjoy its beauty. I did nothing whatsoever to earn it, or deserve it. So too, In G-d's immense kindness He grants us enormous blessings in our daily lives, even if as a result of our own actions and individual merit, we don't deserve it. It is our duty to acknowledge these gifts, and to be grateful to the Almighty for them.

3a) On a similar note- we also must acknowledge, as the Talmud does in a similar vein, that our actions have massive ramifications for the future generations. The Talmud relays the famous story of a man who asks an elderly farmer why he is planting a tree when he for sure will not be able to enjoy its fruits. The man wisely responds, perhaps I will not be able to enjoy its fruits, but my children undoubtedly will. We must choose our actions carefully and deliberately, as they will have a tremendous impact on future generations.

4) Out of the garbage sprouts beauty and life; out of the ashes brings forth hope. I believe that the rose appearing specifically alongside the garbage bin conveys a lesson embodied uniquely by the Jewish people for thousands of years. Generation after generations nations rise up to destroy us. And tragically, they cripple us in immensely painful ways. But time, after time, after time, we rise up again anew, and we continue to spring forth life. 

Forever Yours,
Danny Wolfe

Thursday, July 7, 2016

Let's not Fight: Life Lesson's from Parsha's Korach

Dear Henry,

In this week’s Torah portion we read about the disconcerting efforts of Korach and his followers to challenge Moshe’s authority, accusing him and his brother Aaron of monopolizing all of the power over the Jewish People. Why, wonders Korach, are Moshe and Aaron better than anyone else, and more fit to lead? He therefore rallies a group of people against them and rebells, which ultimately leads to he and his followers downfall in which they are literally swallowed alive by the earth. Interestingly, in the immediate aftermath of their demise, the Torah records how Elazar, Aaron’s son, is given the charge of taking the copper fire pans that Korach and his people had used, and to hammer them into a covering that would be used for the alter. At first glance it seems strange that we would use such an item for the cover of the alter—an item that symbolizes a failed, inappropriate rebellion against Moshe and Aaron. The Torah itself tells us the reason these copper fire pans should be used as a cover for the alter is because it will serve as a reminder “that no alien who is not of the offspring of Aaron should draw near to bring up the smoke of incense before Hashem… that he not be like Korach and his assembly…”  The Talmud, and the Mishnah Berura, the decisive halachic volume for Ashkenazic Jewry worldwide, rule that based on this verse, we are not allowed to engage in machlokes, in quarreling or fighting. It appears that avoiding fights is not just a piece of good advice—it seems like it is brought as an actual Torah Prohibition. While it is true that there exists the concept of a machlokes l’sheim Shomayim, arguments for the sake of Heaven, like the arguments that Hillel and Shammai had where their motives were simply to seek the truth in clarifying the Torah’s laws, arguments for other purposes, not for the sake of achieving truth, are forbidden.
While it is true that sometimes we have every right to maintain a dispute with someone when we are doing it for the sake of Heaven, the reality is that when we are involved in any type of argument, we are playing with fire. Rabbi Chaim Morgenstern quotes the Chofetz Chaim who writes that a person involved in a quarrel is at risk of violating a plethora of Torah commandments: The prohibitions against slanderous speech, baseless hatred, anger, hurting the feelings of others, revenge, bearing a grudge, and, G-d forbid, desecrating G-d’s name. When faced with the scary consequences of what can come out of maintaining a dispute, one comes to an undeniable conclusion: It’s just not worth it.
The Chofetz Chaim comments further that just as Jews often spend large amounts of money on ritual items such as mezuzahs, lulav and esrogs for Sukkos, homemade shmura matzahs, so too we should be willing to spend money for the sake of peace. The Mishna in Pirkei Avos teaches us to, “Be like students of Aaron: Love peace, pursue peace, love mankind and draw them close to Torah.” Peace is something to be pursued, even at a financial cost. The Chofetz Chaim suggests putting money aside into a “Shalom/peace Fund” every year, to be used to compensate for monetary loss, or to spend to avoid fights and to maintain peace among family and community members. A few weeks ago my oldest child was running down the stairs at Coors Field to try to catch a baseball (Baruch Hashem, a successful endeavor). The problem was, in the process he knocked over another dude's beer. Needless to say, the poor guy was not so happy. Understanding the necessity to avoid conflict, my father on the spot diffused the situation, by simply buying the guy a new beer, and they became fast friends. On another occasion, I once observed on a long bus ride in Israel, a poor American tourist get on the bus at an isolated bus stop in the middle of the Jordan Valley without his transfer slip. He told the impatient bus driver that his previous driver whom he paid 50 shekels, told him on these buses, transfer slips were unnecessary; you just pay the first bus you are going on. The bus driver was unmoved, demanded payment, and a passionate argument ensued. Sitting toward the front of the bus was a young man who understood that avoiding fights is worth spending money on, and he offered to pay the tourist’s fare. Touched by the gesture, the bus driver refused the payment, was cheered up, and continued on his merry way.

This week begins the month of Tammuz, during which we commence the Three Weeks, leading up to the destruction of the Temple. Our rabbis famously teach us that the Temple was destroyed because of baseless hatred. They also teach that every year it is not rebuilt, it is as if that generation destroyed it. Let us take heed from the lesson of Korach, and avoid machlokes, literally at any cost.

Tuesday, July 5, 2016

Ignorance is NOT Bliss

Dear Henry,
     This past Thursday, June 30, I was in very high spirits. I found myself sitting on an outdoor patio meeting a friend, on an uncommonly cool day in Boulder, Colorado, nursing an ice cold half liter of beer at 11:30 AM. There was a slight breeze that I was savoring, and the excitement of July 4th weekend was tangible. After my meeting, I felt a buzz in my pocket, and saw that an old friend had sent me a Facebook message, asking me to read an article she should just written for The Times of Israel. In that article I was shocked to read about the previous night's events-- namely that a Palestinian Terrorist savagely, cowardly, stabbed to death a precious, pristine thirteen year old Israeli girl in her sleep. Reading this left me in a state of denial-- How could this happen when everything is so hunky-dory here? How could this have happened, and only now I am finding about it? Usually, I see disturbing news as it happens on Twitter. But then I remembered, as I wrote about a few months ago, that I removed Twitter, Facebook, and Safari from my smartphone. And I reflected that in general that has been an excellent move. No longer am I reading about mindless political tweets from the candidates, useless sports information, or other downright slanderous speech.
        However, at that moment, when I heard about this vicious attack hours after it happened, I realized getting rid of my Twitter had a downside as well. Because when tragedy happens to my dear brothers and sisters in our precious Holy Land, I want to know about it. I want to mourn with them, to feel their pain. I want to cry with them, to grieve with them. I don't want to be far away, oblivious to the unbearable pain they are going through. And the truth is, this is one of the things I miss most about Israel. Yes, of course I miss feeling the holiness every breath I take. And yes, I miss the food, and interacting with the colorful Israeli personalities. But I also miss crying with my nation during times of crisis. I miss the feeling that I am grieving alongside all of Am Yisroel, not in isolation in America, as everyone else is shooting off fireworks, celebrating this amazing country's independence. It is almost cruel how in America life just marches on, totally unfazed by the horrific tragedy in Israel. But I am shaken. Because the Jewish People are like one body. When the left foot is wounded, that affects the entire being. When part of the body is in pain, the whole body feels it as well.
        When a person is injured, he can take medication to numb the pain, to enable him to forget his misery. When it comes to the Jewish People, I don't want any medication to deceitfully hide the pain. I want to feel it.
        May G-d end our pain for good, and bring us all back to the Holy Land, speedily in our days.

Danny Wolfe