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