5 Life Lessons from the Total Solar Eclipse

After experiencing total totality of the solar eclipse in lovely Glendo Wyoming, and sitting in 13 hours of traffic on my 200 mile return home to Denver, CO, I wanted to reflect on five profound life lessons from this awesome event:

G-d is the King, and He is so incredibly awesome.

To be completely honest, as the moon totally eclipsed the sun, darkening the sky in the middle of the day, allowing for the stars to come out, and producing one of the most magnificent sights I have ever seen (the radiant corona of the sun in the middle of the sky), I had a similar feeling to when each of my children were born: A feeling of complete faith that there is a G-d who runs every detail of His splendid world. I had the chills, watching alongside tens of thousands of people from all over the world, observing G-d’s perfection and complete mastery of the universe He created. And I thought to myself how appropriate it was to witness this one month before Rosh Hashana, where the whole holiday is based on declaring and experiencing the Almighty’s Kingship.

Eclipse 2.jpg

Ani Ma’amin: A Glimpse into the Future

Another extremely powerful part of the eclipse for me was that my 8-year-old son was singing some lyrics to a song we were listening to in the car by the Jewish musical group Zusha: Ani Ma’amin b’emuna shleima b’vias HaMoshiach- I believe with full faith in the coming of the Moshiach. While he “happened to be” singing those words, watching the full eclipse, I was reminded of the idea that when the world was originally created, the sun and the moon were the same size, and only later did the moon diminish its size. Watching the moon completely block the sun, as if it were its equal, reminded me of this idea, and the verse in Isaiah 20:26 which states that when the Moshiach comes, “the light of the moon will be like light of the sun.” My good friend further reminded me of the prayer we say every month during Kiddush Levana, the short service in which we sanctify the new moon after Rosh Chodesh: “May it be your will, Hashem, my G-d, and the G-d of my forefathers, to fill the flaw of the moon and there be no diminution in it. May the light of the moon be like light of the sun and like the light of the seven days of creation, as it was before it was diminished.” Watching the moon block the sun, appearing like its equal, invoked this powerful imagery, and provided a small glimpse into our future.

Eclipse 3


What are we applauding?

One of the most powerful parts of the experience for me, was how, in the seconds leading up to the total eclipse, the tens of thousands of people with me in the Glendo Airport, started applauding, and cheering. This reminded me of how in certain Chassidic circles, when they come to the word “HaMelech” (The King) in the high holiday liturgy, everyone bursts out into a round of applause.  Having grown up with sports, I have been part of crowds who applaud when a guy hits a ball very far, or when a linebacker runs over a helpless quarterback. But I have never seen crowds applauding the Almighty for His brilliant creations. Watching this spectacle was inspiring. I thought to myself how G-d performs wonders every single day. Perhaps instead of getting excited about a strikeout or a first down, I should focus more on a sunrise or a sunset. Rather than clapping for a reverse slam dunk, I can clap for a flash of lightning or thunder.

Eclipse 1

Keeping a proper perspective

As wonderful as the eclipse was, the traffic was, as we say in Yiddish, not gishmak. We observed the eclipse from an airfield in Glendo Wyoming, parked two miles off the highway. Apparently, this small rural town of 200 is  not equipped to have tens of thousands of cars driving on its roads, attempting to get on the highway at the same time. After moving 10 feet in an hour, I had the brilliant idea to turn around, and attempt to get on the highway from 20 miles north of Glendo, on a backroad. Unfortunately for me, tens of thousands of people had the exact same idea, and getting back to the highway, 20 miles north of where we started took me about 4 hours. Once on the highway, we were at a total standstill. People were getting out of their cars to walk around and stretch. By the time we got back to the Glendo exit, it was about 6-7 hours after the eclipse ended. Once out of Glendo, it took us about 6 hours back to Denver, for a grand total of 13 hours, or 18 roundtrip. I will be totally honest when I say that at times I felt a real sense of despair. It seemed helpless. There was nowhere to go, everything was at a standstill. But then I thought to myself, how fortunate, and blessed I am that the extent of my tzaros (troubles/problems) is being stuck in a killer traffic jam. And while I reflected that it felt like being on the Cross Bronx Expressway for 200 miles,  and I rode a whole wave of emotions as we would inch forward, pick up speed, then stop again, I couldn’t help but be filled with gratitude about the fact that at the moment, this one obstacle was my single greatest challenge. Many times in life we lose our tempers, and we become agitated over the most minor things. A flight gets delayed and we yell at the poor person behind the front desk. We get cut off in traffic, or have some car trouble. When that happens, we should yell out Baruch Hashem! “Thank you Almighty for everything you give me, and for these annoyances being the extent of my problems at the moment!”

Eclipse 4

Baby steps

Throughout my 13 hours in the car, as I tried to stave off feelings of despair at our lack of progress (like how for several hours we moved 8 miles in the course of an hour), I tried to stay focused on the positive: That if we continue inching forward, eventually we will reach our goal: To be back home safely, in my beautiful hometown. And while I did the math at how many hours it would take if we kept the 8 MPH pace, I focused on the baby steps we made to move further along the road. I think that we all find ourselves in a similar predicament right now. It is Rosh Chodesh Elul, and we need to start thinking about a plan to return to the Almighty through heart felt teshuva. Often it seems so confounding, knowing we have so far to go before we get to where we want to be. Yet the lesson is that we need to identify for ourselves, and focus on baby steps, that we can actually obtain.

It might take 13 hours, but with enough of those baby steps, we will reach our spiritual goals and have a blessed, sweet new year.

 

Parshas Behar Bechokosai

In the second half of this week’s double-parsha Behar-Bechukosai we read about the terrifying curses that await the Jewish people for failure to act in accordance with G-d’s will. Right in the middle of these frightening curses, the Torah tells us, “I will make the land desolate; and your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate.” Rashi and the Ramban quote that this is actually good news for the Jewish people, as throughout our exile, the nations of the world who try to inhabit the land will not find success with the land. The Ramban also comments that this phenomenon “is a great proof and promise to us (that ultimately we will return to Israel) because in all of civilization there has never been a land as good and as expansive as it, which has always been settled, and yet, it is left so desolate as Israel is now, which from the time we left it, has never received any nation or nationality; and though they have all tried to settle it, none have been able to do so.”

Amid the horrifying curses, G-d promised us that the land of Israel would never thrive and prosper under the rule of other nations. The Ramban (1194-1270) confirmed this to be the case in his day. And, Mark Twain, l’havdil, confirmed this in his time as well, in the 1800s, when he observed:

…[a] desolate country whose soil is rich enough, but is given over wholly to weeds-a silent mournful expanse….A desolation is here that not even imagination can grace with the pomp of life and action….We never saw a human being on the whole route….There was hardly a tree or a shrub anywhere. Even the olive and the cactus, those fast friends of the worthless soil, had almost deserted the country.”- 1867 (Quoted in Mark Twain, The Innocents Abroad. London: 1881).

 

Rabbi Yissochar Frand points out the true miracle of this phenomenon: For two thousand years, the Land of Israel, the land flowing with milk and honey, had been under foreign dominion- under the rule of the Romans, Persians, Arabs, Turks and British. And through it all, the land an uninhabitable wasteland.  To help us appreciate how this is a miracle, Rabbi Frand suggests a scenario in which the Native Americans sought to purchase back Manhattan Island from the Americans. Perhaps they might come to the president in the year 2017, and say, “We sold you this island in the 1600s for sixty guilders (a sum estimated to be $24.) We grant the fact that the Island has appreciated over the last four hundred years, so we agree it back for double that cost, at $48.” Obviously, Manhattan would not be resold for $48, for $48,000, not even for $48,000,000. It would seem, that after 2000 years in the land of Israel, it would be reasonable to expect the land to have appreciated greatly in value, as it did so significantly in Manhattan over the course of four hundred years. But were this to be the case, asks Rav Frand, would it have been possible for the Jewish people to recover this area to become its national homeland? Or, if the land of Israel, like virtually every other country in the Middle East, had known oil reserves in 1948, would it have been possible for the Jewish people to return to our national homeland in throngs? Logic would say not. Rabbi Frand explains that we have only been able to recover the land, due to this ‘curse’ that “I will make the land desolate; and your foes who dwell upon it will be desolate.”

I believe, that aside from the inspiration that can be gleaned by appreciating the Torah’s eternal, prophetic words, there is another lesson to be gleaned as well: That sometimes, even concealed within the most terrifying of ‘curses’ is found the most wonderful blessings, and the most profound manifestations of G-ds Divine Providence. At the time, being told that G-d will lay waste to our treasured Land must have been devastating. So too, in life, we are dealt distressing blows. However, throughout it all, we must strive to remember that G-d is running the world, and He has a plan for all of us, despite our inability to always comprehend it.

We should all merit to see G-d’s miracles in our own lives.

 

 

Day off in Israel

In honor of Israel’s 69th birthday, here is a piece I wrote a few years describing how I visited Israel for 24 hours- and it was worth every second.

Dear Henry, 

    This past Monday, the wonderful opportunity arose for me to take a day off, and go to Israel to attend my littlest nephew’s bris. A lot of people might be thinking, that’s a very interesting place to go for a day off. On a day off, perhaps it would make more sense to go to the nature reserve for some bird watching, go to the farm for some good old fashion cow tippin, or to do some blueberry picking. How does it make sense to drive three hours to the airport, wait three hours for my flight, sit on the cross Atlantic flight for 10 hours, spend a day in Israel for the sake of a 2 minute service and an accompanying breakfast, then, that night, go to the airport, hours before my flight, and do the same exact thing, just this time wait 2 more hours on the plane since I am flying against the jet stream? Well Henry, and all you doubters out there, I am here to tell you that all of this was 100% worth it; I would do it 1000 times more, and I recommend you take a day off in Israel as well. 

     There are three glaring, obvious reasons this is true. The first reason is that Israel is a place unlike any other. Any opportunity to go there is an outstanding privilege that should not be passed up. We are talking about the land that Abraham, Isaac, and Jacob treaded with their own two feet. This is the place that Moses so desperately desired to go, but tragically, couldn’t. This is a place that we have been exiled from for the last 2000 years. This is where G-d’s presence is so concentrated and easily perceived, where miracles happen every single day. This is the center of the universe where being a Jew comes as natural as a colorful butterfly spreading her beautiful wings at Colorado’s Butterfly Pavilion. As I once heard quoted by a great rabbi, being Jewish in America is like being a Polar Bear in the Bronx Zoo. Being Jewish in Israel is like being a Polar Bear in the The North Pole. Thus, I ask you, how on G-d’s green earth could I have passed up the opportunity to be in Israel even for one day? What would the millions of Jews brutally persecuted in the Diaspora over the past 2000 years have given for ONE DAY in Israel? What would they have given, how much money would they have paid?

      Thus as I got out of the car Sunday evening in a quiet lovely little place called Nof Ayalon, I took an intense, deep breath, and as my lungs were filled with the pristine, holy air of Israel, I honestly would have been content getting back in the car, going to the airport and heading home. That one breath of Israel reinvigorated me, rejuvenated me and reignited a spark from deep within me that words cannot adequately describe.

       There is a second reason I have absolutely no regrets about my day off in Israel. Quite simply, I was able to be with my family who I rarely see, at a major joyous life cycle event. If there is one thing my Pops taught me growing up, it is that family is everything. I was blessed growing up in a beautiful, loving family. In addition to my wife and kids, there is no one I would rather spend the holidays with than my Momma and Pops, my Bro and his family, and my baby sister and her family. I was also able to see my uncle, aunt and 4 little cousins. Being with my loving family at such a collective joyous, blissful moment– celebrating the bris of my nephew, effectively welcoming him into G-d’s eternal covenant with the Jewish People, was nothing less than magical. Celebrating together with my family was worth every second of the over 22 hours of flying time. As my brother-in-law beautiful declared as the bris was happening, “Blessed are You, Lord our G-d, King of the universe, who has enabled me to live, and has sustained me, and has brought me, to this (glorious) day.” 

     And finally, dear Henry, the third reason that taking a day off in Israel was an amazing idea that my thousands upon thousands of readers across the vast universe should do is that it drove home what I believe is one of the most crucial ideas a person can comprehend in his life time. The Mishna states: the day is short; but there’s a lot of work. Our time in this world is not infinite. We will be here hopefully 80-90 years, but in the large scheme of the universe that is but a minuscule fraction. Being in Israel for all of one day drove this point home very hard. I had 24 hours in Israel. Was I going to use that reading articles from ESPN, or playing snake on my phone? Or was I going to cherish every one of my precious moments in the Holy Land? Being in Israel for one day made me realize I didn’t have time to waste. I had to wisely use every second. And as I waited for my plane on which I currently comfortably sit in my row to myself, I realized that although I arrived at this very airport YESTERDAY, it seems like a week ago- because in the last 24 hours I bonded with my parents, sister, nephew, brother in law, aunt, uncle, 4 little cousins, and my 

sister’s amazing in-laws. I also learned Torah in Israel, prayed at the Western Wall, visited some old friends, went to my rugelech guy, and falafel guy, ate a mind-blowing sufganiya, and engaged in one of my favorite Israeli pastimes by schmoozing with an Israeli taxi driver. In one day I accomplished an enormous amount. How much can I accomplish if I use my time so efficiently 365 days a year for 120 years? I believe the potential is endless.

    As I sit here, somewhere over the vast Atlantic Ocean with an hour to go in my flight, I know I will be at work in a few hours and this will all feel like a distant dream. But it is a dream I dare not forget.
Sincerely

Danny Wolfe

Tweet: Check out http://ctt.ec/L2RG7+

May their Memories be a Blessing

Below is a post I put up a few years ago on Tisha B’av, for things to think about as we mourn the destruction of the Temple.

As today is Yom HaZikaron, the Day of Remembrance in Israel, today is appropriate to recall these stories, and the ultimate sacrifice made by the thousands of heroes who gave up their lives so that the Jewish people can once again be in our Eternal Homeland.

May their lofty souls continue to be for a blessing.

 

Tisha Bav Reading Material

      On Tuesday, August 5th, the Jewish people worldwide will be commemorating the tragic ‘holiday’ called Tisha Bav. On Tisha Bav both of our Holy Temples were destroyed, and the Jewish people were cast into a painful, and brutal exile. We fast, sit on the floor as is the custom for mourners,  recite kinnos (sad dirges memorializing the sad events of our past) refrain from washing our hands, marital relations, anointing ourselves, and we do not wear leather shoes. (For more specifics check out this link: http://www.aish.com/h/9av/oal/48944076.html?s=mpw)
It is meant to be a very painful day; yet for most of us, as a result of never having lived with the Holy Temples, we fail to grasp what exactly it is that we are mourning; what exactly is that we have lost. Yet our rabbis tells us that every difficulty in our lives, and every tragedy we face is connected to the fact that we do not have our Beis Hamikdash, our Holy Temple. I heard a beautiful analogy to our present situation: If a person is on life support after narrowly surviving a dangerous accident, from his own internal perspective, he might be grateful for still being alive. However to everyone looking in, they feel sorry for him, because they understand that he is not in fact really living. Living on a machine is no way to live. So too, our own state, without the Holy Temple, is analogous to living on life support– we don’t realize how much we are lacking; how much we are missing; and how this situation we call life is not what is ultimately the state in which we are meant to be living. Without our Beis Hamikdash, we are at a loss, and our existence is on a tremendously lower level than what it is meant to be.
I heard a beautiful idea from a great Rabbi named Rabbi Shimshon Pincus. Rabbi Pincus said that the way to ‘celebrate’ and observe Tisha Bav is to feel the pain of Tisha Bav– the pain of being in exile, and the pain, kabbalistically of the Almighty being in exile. It is to understand that every stress, difficulty, tragedy and devastation in life is linked to the fact we don’t have our Temple. Therefore, our job is to figure out how to feel that pain– and if the Jewish people could collectively fill up a bottle of tears from crying on Tisha Bav, the Messiah would come. The Talmud in Tractate Shabbos says beautifully “Anyone who sheds a tear for an upright person, the Holy One, Blessed is He counts them and places them in His storehouse. ”
Our tears our precious to the Almighty. Our job on Tisha Bav is to cry our eyes out. Sometimes, this is hard. Tragically, this year, it is not hard. Therefore, I have prepared below a reading list for articles you can read to cry, and understand how much we are missing by not having the Beis Hamikdash. On Tuesday, go to your room, close the door, open up your computer or iphone, and observe this powerful day by reading these articles.

1. In this article read about the widow of a soldier who gave birth 10 days after he was killed. Think about this man who never will meet his child– and the child who will grow up never having seen her father.

http://www.timesofisrael.com/widow-of-soldier-killed-in-gaza-gives-birth-to-a-girl/

2. In these articles, reflect on the infectious smile of Hadar Goldin, the young man who was engaged to be married in a few weeks. Reflect on the words of his fiance, “the hero of Israel, I love you and miss you. I’m waiting for you so we can dance at our wedding soon.” 

At his funeral she said, ““I though we would be together forever,” she says. “I love you so much, and I miss you so much. I so wanted to be your bride, Hadar,” 

http://www.haaretz.com/news/diplomacy-defense/.premium-1.608736http://www.jpost.com/Operation-Protective-Edge/Tens-of-thousands-gather-for-funeral-of-slain-IDF-officer-2nd-Lt-Hadar-Goldin-369877

3. Read here about two American boys, who could have been any of our close friends, who moved to Israel to serve in the IDF. One of them moved to Israel after being inspired on Birthright. The other one spent some time learning about Judaism at Aish. 
Think about the potential they had, and the pain of their famies.


http://www.aish.com/sp/so/Maxs-Mission.html
http://www.aish.com/jw/id/Saying-Goodbye-to-Sean.html
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=FBYEVzMMdEg
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=stARmvuW4pk

4. Read this article from Newsweek, which featured on its front cover how Jews are fleeing from Europe. Reflect on the fact that it is not 1938, but 2014.

http://www.newsweek.com/2014/08/08/exodus-why-europes-jews-are-fleeing-once-again-261854.html

5. Read about how #Hitlerwasright was trending. Again, it is 2014.

http://mashable.com/2014/07/31/anti-semitism-israel-gaza-conflict/

http://www.theblaze.com/stories/2014/07/13/twitterverse-declares-hitler-was-right/

6. Read about and remember the Fogel Family, murdered in their sleep by terrorists 3 years ago. Think about the three surviving children, who are being raised without parents.

http://www.ynetnews.com/articles/0,7340,L-4041237,00.html

Watch this video memorializing them: 
https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=Ri4-YtnNdII


7. Read a eulogy about the three Israeli boys, kidnapped and murdered for being Jewish. 

http://www.jewishjournal.com/israel/article/eulogy_by_israeli_president_peres_at_the_funeral_for_eyal_yifrach_naftali_f

8. Read the second letter here, from Rabbi Eisenmann about this situation

http://jewishlinkbc.com/index.php?option=com_content&view=article&id=4146:letters-to-the-editor&catid=154:letters-to-the-editor&Itemid=566

9. Read this article about Nava Applebaum, murdered a day before her wedding because she was Jewish.

http://www.freerepublic.com/focus/f-news/980801/posts

10. Read about Mrs. Sandler, whose husband and 2 children were murdered in France for being Jewish and teaching Torah.

http://www.chabad.org/library/article_cdo/aid/1808989/jewish/Massacre-in-Toulouse.htm

11. Read about my heroes Chabad Rabbi and Rebbetzin Gavriel and Rivka Holtzberg, murdered spreading Torah, serving the Jewish community of Mumbai India, for being Jewish. Read about their son screaming “mommy, mommy” at their funerals. 

http://www.huffingtonpost.com/2008/12/01/mumbai-attacks-orphan-mos_n_147446.html

Reflect more on their holy lives here: http://www.chabad.org/generic_cdo/aid/774747/jewish/Legacy-of-Mumbai.htm

Let us read these articles, and cry bitter tears.

The Almighty should indeed collect our tears, and transform them to tears of joy. 

May the prophetic words of King David come true speedily and soon:

“When the Lord brought out Zion of captivity, we were like people in a dream. At that time our mouth was filled with laughter and our tongue with cries of joy…Let our captivity, Lord, be a thing of the past, like dried up streams in the Negev. Those who sow with tears shall reap in joy.”

Hello, it’s me, I’ve been Living Under a Rock.

As Passover has arrived, so have arrived a new crop of amazing Jewish Music videos about Passover. As someone who does not listen to Secular music, the joke is often lost on me. Whether its Six13, whose “Seder Crew” reimagination of “Shape of you” or the Y-studs La La Passover which has to do with Lala land, I simply dont get the joke.  Here is an article on this topic last year, when watching an aish.com video taught me there is a singer named Adelle whose “Hello” had over 1 billion views on Youtube! Enjoy!

Hello, it’s Me. I’ve been Living under a Rock

Dear Henry,

      As an outreach, blogging, tweet’n, Facebookin, Insta-grammin, Insta-grannyin’ Snoopifyin’ rabbi with thousands upon thousands of readers across the vast expanse of the universe, I consider myself to be of the worldly type. Growing up more secular, I can quote you Snoop Dogg, Eminem, Dr. Dre, and 2pac by heart. I was therefore shocked when I discovered four days ago a new singer who apparently is very popular. Even more popular, claims a friend and colleague who we shall call Barbara, than Britney Spears herself. You see, oh Henry, every Jewish holiday presents an opportunity for spiritual growth and reflection. But now in the era of YouTube, it also provides an abundance of holiday music videos. Usually these videos include very catchy songs that I immediately take a liking to. And until about 6 months ago, I thought these songs were originals composed by the Jewish musicians singing them. But then, when I was at Top Golf a few months ago and one of the songs came on as I was preparing for a monster drive, I got extremely excited with the idea that a large venue like Top Golf plays the Maccabeats to the hundreds of people there, the vast majority of whom are not even Jewish. But then, as I returned to my table after my shot and began sipping my ice cold Blue Moon, I noticed that while the music was similar to the Maccabeats, the words were very, very, very different. It was then that someone explained to me that in fact, it was the Maccabeats who made a parody of this, the original song. The same thing happened to me this past Chanukah-I was enamored with the sheer brilliance of Six13’s Watch me Spin my Drei Dei– only to realize that they too made a parody of a very, very different type song by a guy named Silento called “Watch me nay nay.”
With that rather lengthy introduction, I can tell you, my thousands upon thousands of readers world wide what happened last week. Last week I saw literally dozens of my friends posting an Aish.com video called ” Adelle/Bieber Passover Mashup.” People were literally going crazy over this video, so I thought I would give it a watch. The only thing I knew going into this was that I have a sweet, kind, enormously special relative named Adele who has been a grandmother figure for me throughout my whole life, and that Justin Bieber is a singer who looks like he’s straight out of a boy band from the 1990s, who once humbly reflected that Anne Frank was a “great girl” who would have been a huge fan of his. So as I opened up the video I was greeted by the characters from Ten Commandments singing a slow ballad, in a tune that I had never heard in my life. Realizing how excited so many of my friends were getting, I decided to do a little research project, to see if in fact this Aish.com song was based on another song. What I discovered truly astonished me: While I did not identify if in fact Justin Bieber’s song is parodied here, I did come to the conclusive conclusion that there is a singer named Adelle who has a song called “Hello” that is the basis for this new Passover video. Upon doing a little more research I landed on the original YouTube video which totally, completely blew my mind. The reason, oh Henry I was so stunned, was that I saw that on the You Tube page, around 1.5 BILLION people had viewed this very video. That is 1.5 BILLION people! And until last week, when aish.com brought it to my attention, I had never even heard of this singer, let alone her apparently, very, very, very popular song! I was stunned.
After this crazy realization, I did a bit of self reflection: How is it that I had never heard of Adelle, or her song boasting 1.5 billion views? Do I live under a giant rock? Do I live on a remote island devoid of any form of modern technology or other human beings with whom to interact? Am I hermit living in an abandoned house on a prairie? Then I remembered the decision I made over nine years ago, as I prepared to get married to the Better Half. From the day I got married, I made a conscious decision to stop listening to secular non Jewish music, and I also made a decision to cold turkey, stop watching movies. The reason behind this seemingly archaic move on my part is really two fold: For one, the type of music I happened to like listening to was very often about not nice things. Violence, domestic abuse, and the objectification of women. As I began to embark upon my life building a home filled with kedusha, holiness, I realized it would be inappropriate to have these concepts and jingles anywhere in the vicinity of my head. I had to rid myself of it completely. That is why I traded in my Eminem CD for Yeshiva Boys Choir CDs. That’s why I exchanged my Ludicrus CD for my Yaakov Shwekey and Simcha Leiner CDs.
The second reason I abandoned secular music and movies is because as I prepared to start my life as a young husband, I understood that one of my primary job’s in life is to take care of, honor, respect and revere my wife. She is my world– and represents the paradigm of what it means to be a woman, a wife and a mother. As a matter of fact, the Sefer HaChinuch writes, in a phenomenally beautiful manner, how there is a mitzvah we call Shana Rishona. The basic premise behind this mitzah is that a newly married couple spends their entire first year together. The husband is not meant to go to the army, and they are not meant to take vacations apart from one another. The Sefer HaChinuch writes that the reason behind this is so that their natures become unified, and that the newly married husband becomes so used to his wife, that the ways of any other woman on the planet are foreign, and downright bizarre to him. His wife becomes the epitome of a woman. It is for this reason, Henry, that I stopped watching movies and listening to music. I don’t need images in my head of other women. Many times Holywood actresses are pretty. I don’t need them in my mind. I don’t need to compare my wife- in my mind the essence of femininity- to them. Many times secular non Jewish singers like Adelle or Britney Spears or Jennifer Lopez have nice voices. I don’t need to hear them, and to think of the nice looking person behind the voice. Don’t need, or want that imagery in my head. That is why I proudly traded in my Spice Girls CD for my Chevra CD- My Britney CD for my Mordechai Shapiro CD- my Mariah CD for my Mesivta of Waterbury CD.
I am not here to deny there is an abundance of phenomenal, inspiring music and movies out there– there clearly is. To those millions of people who enjoy that, G-d bless you all, I bear no ill judgments against you. But for me, there is something so remarkably beautiful about my life underneath a giant rock.

Forever Yours,
Danny Wolfe

The Joy of Having a Child on Shabbos

I mentioned this in a class I gave last night about Shabbos, so thought it would be appropriate to transfer it at this point to my new un-spam-botted blog.

 

Dear Henry,
As a Sabbath observant Jew, I had very mixed emotions about the prospect of my Better Half going into labor on Shabbos. While usually on Shabbos I do not drive, use electricity, my phone, computer, or any other technologies, when a woman is in labor, she, and her husband are required to violate the Sabbath for her safety, as she is viewed as an individual whose life is endangered. Nevertheless, it felt very unnatural as I picked up the phone to call the taxi, and as the taxi driver turned on gangsta rap, a genre of music I usually like, to calm his nerves as he drove us to the hospital.
However, there was one unmistakeable, unforgettable upside of my wife giving birth on Shabbos, and that is that after my precious daughter was born, and the danger had subsided, I could no longer use my phone, or violate the Shabbos in any other way. What that means, is that in the first magical moments of my Princess’s life, there were absolutely NO distractions whatsoever. My wife and I arrived at the hospital as two people. Suddenly, in the middle of Shabbos, we became three; a phenomenon I pray each and every one of my thousands of readers experiences in their lives. And the three of us had a beautiful Shabbos lunch together. We each took a lovely Shabbos nap. And I was able to hold my daughter, and bask at G-d’s kindness and His creation. Unlike in previous years, when I would immediately snap pictures and call loved ones, this time, my Princess had 100% of my focus, and I simply held her in my arms, unknowingly giggling with blissful delight. I was not in a rush to get home to relieve our incredible babysitter who was watching my other three angelic children at home, because I could not get in a car for six hours. My only concern was living in this holy moment of time, experiencing my love for my wife and daughter, savoring every second of it, and cherishing the holy Sabbath.
This experience taught me that this is what Shabbos should always be. Many of us (especially me) live our lives enslaved to our technology. Instead of cherishing a sunset, we have our phones out, snapping #sunsetSelfies so all of our “friends” on Instagram and Facebook can ‘like’ it.  Instead of contemplating G-d’s wonders as we gaze at the Grand Canyon we are too busy making sure we take enough pictures from enough different angles. Thank G-d we have Shabbos, which requires us to put our technology away, and to live our lives, to engage this sanctified moment of time. It enables us to truly experience our families– to be present with those we love. Shabbos is a time where we put everything away and we delight in G-d’s incredible world. This past Shabbos, I further realized just how miraculous His world is.

Sincerely,
Danny Wolfe

 

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Standing on the Scale

Standing on the scale

Dear Henry,

Before I got married, many year ago,  I was by all accounts a gym rat, even taking two semesters of “Weightlifting” for my PE requirement with Brandeis’s legendary Coach Covan. His timeless encouragement “Lez go lez go lez go!” Motivates me until today. As part of my intensive gym regiman, I would naturally stand on the scale frequently, to monitor my gains. I took bulking season very seriously, and was very pleased with the results.

Somehow though, after getting married, the gym sessions decreased in number, as did the daily check-ins on the scale. Now that I was married, I was eating a lot more salad, and figured I would naturally remain at my pre-marriage weight. Never did I realize that eating 7 slices per meal of The Better Half’s divine challah every Shabbos might lead to the wrong kind of gains. Seven years later, when living in Albany, I, and my esteemed colleague, challenged some of our college students to a 2 on 2 matchup in basketball. Extremely confident in our own ability, and equally  confident in their lack of ability, I talked a lot of smack leading up to the big game. At first the game went as expected. When my poor opponent tried to shoot the ball over me, I stuffed him like a Thanksgiving turkey. We scored a quick layup, and assumed we were on to a seemingly swift victory. However, on the third possession, I became overwhelmed with exhaustion and fatigue. My opponents, 8 years my junior, seemed to have an unlimited supply of energy. They proceeded to destroy us, and run us off the court. I required a halftime, where I could lay down and rest for 15 minutes. After this humbling experience, I realized, “Wow,I ain’t in my early 20s any more. This body aint what it used to be.” When getting home, I casually stepped on the scale, and realized right away, that my weight, to put it mildly, was not what it used to be.

I proceeded to put a weight logging app on my phone, and every morning I simply logged my weight. To my pleasant surprise, doing this activity, enabled me to lose about ten pounds over the course of three weeks. When I had to be accountable for my weight every morning, I thought twice about what I put in my mouth. But inevitably life would get interupted, I would take a trip to Israel, or an intense Jewish holiday of eating food would appear, and after the trip, or the holiday, I would be too ashamed to step on the scale. I did not want to see what the scale would reveal, so I kept noshing and fressing to my stomach’s content. Then, two years ago, I brought a group of students to Colorado for a week of skiing, and inspiration. On the slopes for the first time in 10 years, with my BFEE, about half way down our first painful run, I told him I needed to pull over and rest. So I sat down on the fluffy snow, enjoying the gorgeous view that the Almighty placed in front of me. After 7 minutes of basking in the cool mountain air, and the surreal scenery around me, I attempted to stand up. I had done maneuevers like this hundreds of times in my teens. But for some reason, now, 10 years later, like Humpty Dumpty himself, I could not get up again. I realized, again, that this body wasn’t what it used to be, and after the trip, I stood on a scale, and started my diet once again, logging my weight every morning.

This cycle continued on sporadically over the past two years. A couple days ago, as I stood on the scale after yet another long hiatus, I realized that this phenomenon also has a deep spiritual lesson. You see, oh Henry, one of the greatest challenges in our service of G-d is simply to build up the guts to stand on the scale. To have the courage to take stock of where we are holding,  and to objectively get a sense of where we are at. Once we know honestly where we are, we can make a plan. We can brainstorm ways to improve ourselves; to be more careful how we treat each other. If we never stop to evaluate how we are doing, we will recklessly continue on the way we are going, continuing our detrimental habits, wasting precious time, slandering others, etc…Only by objectively recognizing where we are, can we do a 180, and get back on track. By standing on the scale I can objectively recognize if I am overweight, and therefore respond by exercising extreme caution by monitoring what goes in my mouth. Similarly, by stepping on the spiritual scale, I can recognize if perhaps I spend too much time on my phone, or I don’t spend enough time with my kids. With that recognition, I can take steps to improve in these areas.

The question is, when is it possible to even stand on this spiritual scale? Is it even possible? I would like to suggest that we have an opportunity to do just this once a week, every week, during Shabbos. From Friday night until Saturday night we put our phones away, desist from regular weekday activity, and don’t go to work. This allows us the opportunity to not only connect to our families, but also to connect to ourselves. To get on the spiritual scale and to get a sense of where we are at, and to make a plan for how to get back on track. All of us– myself, and my thousands, upon thousands, upon thousands, of readers world wide have a lot of areas in which we can improve. But the first step is very simple. We just need to work up the guts to stand on the scale.

Forever yours,

Danny Wolfe

 

 

Mi K’Amcha Yisroel– Who is Like You Oh Israel- Reflection on a KidneyTransplant

This is a post from my old blog, posted 4 years ago. As my other blog has been invaded by Spam bots, I am trying to move everything here. Inasmuch as the surgery was about 4 years ago to the day, I thought now would be a good time to repost. For more information about getting involved check out renewal.org

Dear Henry,
I know that usually, when I write to you, I have a tendency to use a light, almost humorous tone. Let me warn you, dear Henry, that today will be a bit more of a serious tone. I wanted to write to you about an experience, as I escorted my friend to the hospital as he donated his kidney to a person he had never before met. My experience undoubtedly was one of the most profound experiences of my entire life.
The profoundness of the day actually began as soon as we walked into the hospital. As I sat with my buddy in the waiting room, I looked around at everyone around me, wondering why was each one of them there. Some were undoubtedly awaiting the results of very risky surgeries. As I looked around and saw the agony and suffering in their faces, I began to get an inkling of how much we take our lives for granted. Some of us complain because we have a lot of stress in our lives. Some of us looking for jobs; others stressed out about term papers or tests. Spending time in a hospital waiting room is all that one needs to do to realize the triviality of it all. Spending time in a hospital is all it takes for one to wake up, and actually appreciate all of the gifts that one really does have.
The most powerful moments of my life has been the first moment I met each one of my children. Standing in a hospital room, with my wife, and a nurse, three of us in total, and then, all of the sudden, when there is that cry from my baby, and now suddenly, there are four of us in the room– that moment is beyond words, and is to me, a clear proof of G-ds incredible existence. However, right up there, as one of the most meaningful moments of my life, was when I had the privilege to watch my friend meet the recipient and his lovely wife and children, for the first time, shortly before the surgery. My friends incredible heart-felt love for this man was palpable– as was his, and his family’s– love for my friend. Everyone around had tears streaming down their faces as we realized in this world of pain and suffering, what man is capable of. We realized, as one family member observed, that G-d has angels that He uses to carry out His plan, and my friend, is one such angel. I later tried to describe this interaction to someone else, but could not get the words out, as I became too emotional.
I was further impacted on this day, after my buddy and I went to a different type of waiting room, called the “bikur cholim.” Shortly after arriving at the hospital, they told us we could go wait in the bikur cholim. The Bikur cholim is a lounge which is stocked daily from donations of various Orthodox Jewish communities around the NYC area. It is food that the community donates for the sake of the sick patients, and the family members. In addition, there is a synagogue, with daily minyanim (prayer quorums of 10 men) which is made up of patients, family members, and Torah-observant doctors. It was here that I stayed throughout the duration of the 5 hour surgery, praying for my friend’s successful surgery. Seeing this Bikur Cholim, and seeing the volunteers constantly returning to restock the fridge and the supplies reminded me of how special our People is– a nation unlike any other.
As I sat there, awaiting the results of the surgery, I thought to myself how appropriate it is that this happened right now, a week before Passover. During the Passover seder we say, “B’Chol Dor vador chayav adam liros es atzmo k’ilu hu yatzah m’mitzrayim.” “In every generation a person is required to view himself as if he himself left Egypt.” Therefore- on the seder night, each one of us has a mitzvah to experience a transformation whereby we leave from a state of bondage to a state of freedom. Our great Rabbis teach us that this is very difficult to achieve– to relive the exodus. We are currently living in the comfort of the 21st Century, with tremendous freedom. How are we supposed to relive the exodus? I thought to myself, that each one of us has our own personal Egypt- we all have our personal struggles and challenges and our job is to overcome them. Then I thought, that for this recipient- this amazing man– what would he be thinking on Pesach? Perhaps it would be easier for him to relate to this mitzvah– he is leaving the misery and pain of life on constant dialysis- tremendous suffering and repeated hospital visits. This Pesach- he can G-d willing experience, a true form of physical freedom- a true personal redemption.
Yet another profoundly impactful  moment was watching the doctor relay to the family the good news that the operation was successful. That sight is a sight I never want to forget- seeing the pure joyful exuberance and delight, and the demeanor of all of the family members. Such pure, unadulterated joy and delight. And I thought about it, and I asked myself, what are they rejoicing over? They are rejoicing over the fact that G-d-willing their holy father and husband will be granted a longer life, and a life with no more pain and physical anguish. Then I asked myself- do we ever take pleasure, joy and delight in the mere fact that we are alive? Do we take pleasure in the fact that we are not constantly experiencing physical pain and anguish? Do we ever actively celebrate the fact that our kidneys function properly, and we are able to relieve ourselves unassisted? In Judaism we have a blessing called Asher Yatzar, which thanks G-d for the ability to go to the bathroom. How often do we say this blessing? For those of us who do, do we feel the exuberance that should naturally come with it?
On a similar note, another impactful moment was the first question my friend asked me in the recovery room, when he was drugged, and in pain– “Did the transplant work? Is the other man okay?” His only concern was not with himself, but with the person to whom he gave his kidney.
I had the zechus (merit) to assist my buddy in the hospital the night after the operation. I slept pretty well on a reclining chair, and the next day my friend told me what a miserable night of sleep he had. He told me that because of the incision, he was physically unable to sit up, when he couldn’t sleep– so he was stuck, laying on his back, waiting for the long night to end. The next morning he told me, that he never in his life was so appreciative for the ability to physically sit up. He told me how terrifying it was to be confined to his back, how helpless it was to not be able to move. And I realized, that as a rabbi, I often teach people how to appreciate everything we have. But even I never considered the enormous blessing we have with the ability to sit up in bed. What would a paraplegic give for the opportunity to sit up? Have I ever stopped to appreciate the awesomeness that comes with being able to move my limbs and my body? How fortunate are we for this incredible gift?
As the man who runs this organization that facilitated the transplant left home at about 8 PM, (after having facilitated two transplants that day) I though about the conversation he would have with his wife that evening. “Hi honey, what did you do at work today? “Not too much- just saved two lives today.” We should all do work that we can take pride in, and that gives us joy and satisfaction.
Yet another impactful moment, actually occurred several times, as new nurses and doctors entered the room. They asked my friend, how do you know the person to whom you donated your kidney? My friend told them, he did not know him– he was merely a fellow Jew. Seeing their faces of surprise and incredible admiration was very touching. For as Jews, we are one family, and when one of us suffers, we all suffer. When a family member needs something, wouldn’t we run and do anything we can to help them?
The Holy Temple was destroyed beause of baseless hatred. We should all follow my friend’s lead– and baselessly love each other, and this Passover we should all find ourselves back in our Holy Land, celebrating Moshiach’s arrival, may it be speedily and soon.

Sincerely,
Danny Wolfe

#StayAtHomeDad

This is a post from my old blog, which has been invaded by SpamBots. I am moving it here, and figured, as my wife just returned from leading a 3 day trip, now would be a great time to repost it!

 

May 18 2016

3:34 AM

Dear Henry,
By all accounts it’s the middle of the night. My 16 month old princess is snoring away like a Malaysian tapir. The others are sleeping soundly like little lion cubs. But not me- I am wide awake.
I am literally so excited I cannot sleep. Not because I am going to a Backstreet Boys Concert tomorrow, nor because I am going on a swanky vacation to the Congo. I am too excited to sleep because in 9 hours I get to go to the airport and pick up The Better Half, after ten very long days.

9:45 AM

      These past ten days, as I’ve manned the ship as a Stay at Home Dad, tending to the house, my four delicious children, laundry, dirty dishes, dirty diapers, you name it, I have learned an awful lot. I have learned that there is no wrong way to boil an egg, though there are a heck of a lot of wrong ways to strap in a child into her car seat. I learned, after a year in our house, where the measuring cups can be found. I learned that my youngest son is the only one of my children who cares for these snacks called “fruit leathers,” and I learned that my 16 month old Tzippy loves being tickled while she has her diaper done. I also learned that either our brand new dryer needs replacing, or I shouldn’t dry three loads of laundry at once. I learned that olive oil is a great way to remove gum from one’s hair, and I also learned that it is not a good idea to throw a ball in the vicinity of a glass picture frame. I learned how to make a burrito in 10 seconds, and how to make a bowl of oatmeal in a minute and a half.

But I also learned a few deeply profound life lessons– lessons deeper than the Hampden Heights Swimming Pool deep end. Right now, oh Henry, I will discuss three of them with you. The first of these lessons is that human beings have such tremendous G-d given potential, it is truly astonishing. The great Mussar master, Rabbi Nosson Tzvi Finkel, the Alter of Slabodka teaches of the concept of Gadlus Ha’adam–the greatness of man. We are created in the image of the Almighty, and as such have incredible potential and capabilities. It is our job in this world to tap into that wellspring of talent we each were gifted by G-d. If you would have asked me 10 days ago how I would fare running the home for 10 days by myself, I would laughed at you. What do I know about running a home? I haven’t done laundry since I was in college, I am not the most talented diaper changer, I don’t know how to run the Dishwasher, and I cannot cook or bake. How was I expected to do all of this in addition to maintaining my patience with my four young children, and enable them to continue to thrive on a daily basis? But as my wife left at 5 AM in the morning, I realized that I was left with no choice– I would have to dial into these previously untapped resources within me, and do the best I can. And by golly, I think I did a pretty decent job. In life, if we all felt an urgency to get a task done– if we felt like we had no choice but to accomplish the job– it is amazing how much we could truly achieve by utilizing talents and abilities we never knew we had.

The second lesson I learned came as a surprise. You see, going into this adventure I already knew The Better Half was the epitome and embodiment of what a woman and wife should be. I thought that my absolute respect and admiration for her could increase no more– it was already at the ceiling. After this trip, my respect, admiration and love for her is, as hard as this is for me to fathom, even greater than what it was before. I have concluded, without a doubt, that women in general, and my wife in particular, are possessed with super-powers. It is unreal what she does on a daily basis. Me getting a small taste of it for the last ten days was immeasurably valuable. I was faced with the dilemmas she is constantly faced with: One of our daughters is not yet in school. What do we do when she takes her morning nap? Should we ourselves rest, so we can be at our best later? Should we blogg, as I have opted to do at the present moment?  But there is too much still be done! What about starting the laundry load? Or emptying the dishwasher? Or maybe cleaning up the toy room? The dining room needs some vacuuming maybe I should do that? But,the kids are going to be hungry when they get home from school, maybe I ought to prepare them a snack? Speaking of food– I am hungry, maybe I should eat now!  What about obliterating my festering dandelions? There also are a number of emails I need to respond to… These dilemmas my wife deals with on a regular basis, and she also takes care of me, and manages a job on top of all of that– and does it all with such immense grace. How she does it, honestly, can only be attributed to the super human powers that the Almighty has given to her.

And finally, the third lesson I learned: It really comes down to this blogg I wrote a few years ago when The Better Half went away to a conference for three days. At the time, that was the longest she had ever left, and I was at home with two children. I reflected in that blogg that my wife is my true inspiration, who motivates me to no end. In the days leading up to the trip, what gave me the most anxiety, was how I would manage the daily tasks of running a home without my wife there to help. I was most nervous about getting the kids off to school, feeding them, and getting them to bed, while maintaining order in the house. But, after ten days of doing exactly that, I can tell you that the hardest part was not the mundane routine that I had to perform on a daily basis. The hardest part of the last ten days was operating with a feeling that I wasn’t fully present– part of me was certainly absent. Ten days without having my wife by my side were in fact the ten longest days of my life. Every day I had a clear number in my head of how many days we had left until I could see her again. The feeling of incompleteness consumed me each of these 10 days. A natural lack of motivation permeated my entire being. On the rare occasion I was able to speak to her without being interrupted by my children I felt renewed with life and vigor that carried me throughout the day, and gave me a high for hours. In this week’s Torah portion of Emor, the Kli Yakar describes a man’s wife as his sustainer. He quotes the Talmudic passage that notes the fact that while a man might bring wheat home, is he the one who turns into bread? If he brings home flax, is he the one who turns it into clothing? A man’s wife takes his abilities and potential, and turns him into a man. As the Kli Yakar says, she lights up his eyes, and stands him up on his feet.

As I am about to set out to pick up my wife from the airport, how true these words ring: I have no doubt that as soon as I see the Better Half, my eyes will once again be lit up, and I will be back on my feet. I truly can’t wait.

Forever yours,
Danny Wolfe

 

 

 

Parshas Teruma: The Gift of Giving

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Now that we are in the month of Adar, the Talmud comments that it is appropriate to increase our levels of joy. Personally, I try to accomplish that seemingly difficult task by taking stock of all the incredible gifts and blessings I have in my life. My thought process looks something like this: Wow, I am so fortunate, that I get to live in the most beautiful city in America. I could be somewhere on the East Coast, or in the middle of the country, and never see the light of day, but instead, I get to wake up to sunshine and a view of the glistening mountains! Wow, I am so blessed! Not only am I alive, but I have the ability to move my body, walk, talk, hear, see, smell, and taste. I live in a country and in era, where, while things are not perfect, I can live openly, and freely as a proud Jew, a luxury that many of my ancestors were decidedly not afforded.

When I reflect on all the blessings in my life, perhaps one of the most profound blessings is that I am able to give of myself to help others. And whether I am giving to my children, parents, wife, students, or colleagues, that ability to give fills me up with a sense of life and purpose that drives me every single day. I imagine there is no greater sense of sadness and despair then when a person loses his or her ability to give to others. What greater frustration is there when an employee feels like he has the capacity to contribute and to help, but for whatever reason, is not given the opportunity to do so?

In this week’s Parsha, Parshas Teruma, G-d speaks to Moshe, and tells him, “Speak to the Children of Israel, and let them take for Me a portion, from every man whose heart motivates him you shall take for My portion. The rabbis comment, that seemingly, this instruction uses the wrong verbiage. G-d is telling Moses to conduct a massive fundraising campaign, and to do so by letting the people take a portion of the construction of the Tabernacle?  Wouldn’t it have been more accurate to say, “Ask the people to give a portion towards the construction of the Tabernacle?” The rabbis point out that the Torah’s using the word v’yikchu, “let them take” is teaching us that by allowing the Jewish people the opportunity to contribute and give towards this project, really, it was as if they were taking. By assigning us some responsibility, and an opportunity to give, we ultimately, were receiving and taking one of the greatest gifts of all: the opportunity to contribute, give, and make a difference.

I recently was having a conversation with some people, and I was explaining to them my goal of creating opportunities for Young Jewish Professionals in Denver to volunteer, and to do acts of chesed. What emerged was that as wonderful and generous it would be for us to visit the sick, or visit the elderly, perhaps even more meaningful, would be for us to come to the elderly, and learn something from them. Perhaps they can teach us how to sew or knit, or they can share some of their greatest recipes with us. By coming to them, seeking their knowledge, affords them the gift of giving—a gift that is harder to come by with advanced age.

Ultimately, at His Essence, G-d is constantly giving to us. Every second of our lives are filled with His gifts. When we turn around and give to others, we are imitating G-d Himself.  And, when we find opportunities for others to give, we are enabling them to mimic G-d as well. Indeed, what greater gift can be given than the opportunity to act with G-dliness? As I enjoy these happy days in Adar, I thank the Almighty, with every fiber of my being, that He has blessed me with the opportunity to give to others.