Parshas Bamidbar: Carrying the Weight of the World on our Shoulders

man carrying barbel on his back looking down

Photo by Frame Kings on

Towards the end of the Parsha, the Torah tells us about how the Mishkan would be transported.  “The assignment of Elazar the son of Aaron the Kohen is the oil of illumination, the spices of the incense, the daily flour offering, and the anointment oil.” Rashi comments on this verse, describing how Elazar didn’t only need to oversee the transfer of the above items from place to place, but he was actually charged with physically carrying it himself. The Ramban graciously does the math for us, and calculated that this all weighed a bit more than 2000 pounds. Thus in addition to the stressful task of overseeing and supervising the transfer of the other vessels of the Mishkan transferred by the Bnei Kehas, Elazar also had to carry this unbelievably heavy load.

The question begs itself: How was this humanly possible for Elazar to be able to do all of this? He is but one human being of flesh and blood! In answering this question, Rav Shlomo Wolbe writes, “the degree of responsibility that Hashem assigns to a person is in direct proportion to his caliber. The greater the person, the greater the load he is given.” Quoting the Ramban, who quotes the navi Yeshaya, “And those whose hope is in Hashem will have renewed strength.” Explains Rav Wolbe, a person might very well feel the weight of the world on their shoulders. Individuals sometimes might feel overwhelmed with their responsibilities in life, their tasks that have been assigned to them, or the overwhelmingly, unyielding challenging life circumstances that have been cast upon them. But Rav Wolbe explains that we learn from Elazar that while a person’s load might be heavy and difficult, he must bear it with he assurance and awareness that Hashem delegated this load specifically for him. By understanding that each challenging circumstance was delegated by G-d uniquely for each person, an individual can find the strength within the recesses of his being to persevere and succeed.

Even life’s mundane circumstances can be challenging and overwhelming. Last night, at 9:00 PM, my wife began cooking for a three day Yom Tov in which we will be blessed with the opportunity to host many guests. An hour into the cooking, my baby wakes up screaming wanting to eat. Somehow, we need to prepare our house to be in suitable shape for Shabbos and Yom Tov. As a person who finds it exceedingly difficult to function at night, I went to bed last night needing to write this Dvar Torah, develop a shiur for Shavuos, and prepare for my two classes I teach to my High School students. I also need to carry my weight in preparing our home for Shabbos, while being a good husband and father. From the time I began writing this until now I have realized that I have a flat tire, and need to figure out how to factor that into my day!

For an average Jew, life is filled with responsibilities: taking care of oneself physically and spiritually, while raising a family, while being a helpful, productive member of the community who donates time and money, while simultaneously going to work every day and being a mentsch on top of it! At times a person might simply feel unable to carry his weight, and to manage these myriad of duties placed upon him. But, as Rav Wolbe says, “Recognizing that Hashem specifically chose us for these tasks not only prevents us from ‘throwing in the towel,’ it also infuses us with vigor and an intense desire to succeed!”

As we enter the holiday of Shavuos in which we receive our Holy Torah, let us rejoice at the responsibilities the Torah places upon us, and delight in the fact that the Almighty chose us to be His nation to spread His light to all of humanity. With His help, not only can we succeed, but we will succeed.



The Miracle of Hearing

Dear Henry,

Two weeks ago, I noticed feeling a sense of fullness in my left ear, that made it difficult to hear. Always struggling with the fact that my ears are hotbeds for earwax, I figured this was a wax issue that a little over-the-counter Debrox could help resolve. So a couple hours before Shabbos, I put some Debrox in my ear, and attempted to flush it out with warm watter in the bulb provided in the Debrox box. While letting the Debrox do its thing, while laying down on my side, I even watched on my wife’s phone a YouTube video about how to flush one’s ears. I had no doubt, that I too, would have no problem flushing out that silly wax after a couple tries.

But to my chagrin, flush after flush, I was not successful. I probably spent fifteen minutes inserting water into my ear hoping to drain out the  ear wax. But, as bad as my hearing was before the Debrox debacle, it was now significantly worse. It felt like I had an ear plug in my ear, while sitting on an airplane with clogged ears.

Resigned to having to spend Shabbos with only one and a half working ears, I figured I would go to Urgent Care first thing Sunday morning to get my ears properly flushed.

By golly, that is what I did. But after 15 minutes of flushing my ears, causing lots of dark red ear wax to come pouring out, (sorry to be so graphic), I still couldn’t hear out of my left ear. The doctor looked in it after it had been flushed, and declared it was simply too infected and irritated to enable him to go any further. Apparently some serious earwax was compacted in my ear, near my eardrum, totally blocking it: This job, must be left to an expert. He game me anti-biotic drops, which were totally ineffective, as they couldn’t penetrate into my ear through the wall of wax.

Thankfully, an angelic ENT office in Aurora was able to see me three days later. I had now been going about two weeks with significantly impaired hearing in my left ear. I had been praying that this could be fixed. I longed to be able to hear clearly again.

And to my utter delight, when the doctor took a look in my ears, telling me they both were filled with wax, he told me he thought this could be resolved with a good old fashion earwax vaccuum. He started with my good, right ear, and after five minutes, declared it wax free.

Then, he took to my totally blocked left ear. After about fifteen seconds, suddenly, the vacuum sounded extremely loud! He had successfully sucked up the glob of earwax that had been totally blocking my eardrum from working its magic.

As soon as I sat up, the world seemed so real; I felt so alive, and present. As I began to try to articulate my words, I was stuttering– hearing my voice so clearly was confusing, and I wasnt used to hearing my voice so clearly. I profusely thanked the doctor, telling him he made my month.

As I got to the car, I was taken aback by the distinct sound of the jingle of my keys. I –for once– was not interested in listening to sports talk. I rolled down the window, and listened to the sound of Hindy my Hyundai swooshing past the slow-driving- Denver drivers. At a stopped light I listened to the birdies tweeting away more eloquently than Donald Trump.

Truth be told, on the drive home, I teared up a bit. I had the gift of hearing taken away partially in one ear. And now, it was restored. I reflected that even if insurance would not have kicked in I would have happily paid a hefty sum to fully restore hearing in my left ear. How rich I am that I could once again hear clearly! How wealthy I am, that I can see, hear, smell, walk, talk, eat, chew, relieve myself, lie down, sit up, etc… With all these gifts, how could I ever be depressed? Why don’t I wake up every morning, and chest-bump my mirror that I am alive, hearing, walking, and talking?

The scary thing though, is that after about a hour of my euphoria, I forgot how awesome it is to hear. It just seemed so normal, like nothing ever happened. The reality is, that perhaps one of life’s greatest challenges is to maintain the enthusiasm and excitement after being inspired.

In the bevy of blessings we say every morning, we thank G-d for these gifts. Perhaps I need to put more intention and thought into these blessings. Perhaps I need to stop every day for at least one minute and think and meditate about the unreal gifts the Abishter has bestowed upon me. Or perhaps I need to actually chest-bump my mirror every day. No matter what it is, I–and I surmise many others out there– would do well to contemplate our tremendous blessings on a more regular basis.


Forver Yours,

Danny Wolfe

5 Week Report: A Dumbphone at Starbucks

Dear Henry,

Yesterday, I was sitting down in Starbucks in downtown Denver, waiting for my next meeting. As the person I was meeting was running a few minutes behind schedule,  I had some time on my hands. Excited to catch up on some work, I realized I had a few problems: I have a dumbphone, not a smart one. My car was parked two blocks away, which contained both my computer, and Pearl the planner. All I had at Starbucks, was Denise the Dumbphone and Yours Truly. So, with no alternative, I decided to just be in the moment, and to engage in some good old fashion people watching.

I started by looking at the end of the line. The nice looking goateed man was oblivious to the world around him, totally immersed in something on his phone. As he advanced through the line, placing his order, and paying, he never even looked up. The fellow behind him was also on his phone, but as he placed his order, the phone went into his pocket. About 45 seconds later, as he progressed through the line, and was now awaiting his coffee, he put his hand in his pocket, feeling that his phone was still there. Ten seconds later, he grabbed it from his pocket, and checked it; a lot might have happened in 55 seconds since he saw it last.

There were people at two of the tables to my left- at one of them, both parties were on their phones. At the other table they were talking, but the phone was on the table.

I looked outside, on the bustling 16th Street Mall, and most of the business people, and tourists that were out and about had the phone in their hands. One of the guys who left Starbucks had a coffee in one hand, and was texting with the other.

For starters, let me be crystal clear: I aint judging nobody. I am those people that I observed. If I would have had a smartphone on me, I would have been doing the same thing.

As I was observing all of this, a few thoughts came to mind: If Annie the Alien came to Planet Earth from outerspace, to simpy observe us Earthlings, what might she have thought? It seems to me that Annie would conclude, quite reasonably, that these rectangle devices that everyone was holding and using are some sort of battery that enables human beings to move and to function. What other explanation  could there be for why the vast majority of people have it in their hands at any given time? Just like a remote control car cannot operate without a battery, so too, these Earthling creatures cannot move or exist without this square rectangle devices.

Then it occurred to me, as I was watching all this, that it really seemed that I was living in a different, perhaps enlightened Planet. I had a true feeling of what was going on around me. I felt very present. I was in the moment, experiencing reality. It is hard to describe what I mean, but it almost felt like I was sitting in an airplane, watching the cars driving below– they with their tunnel vision, only able to see immediately in front of them or behind them, where I, from the comfort of my exit-row seat thousands of feet above, am I able to see a larger picture. Without passing judgments on them, it felt like I was living in a different plane of existance.

And then I wondered to myself how it must feel for the Starbucks baristas who are trying to interact with these people. They are trying to communicate with them, but for a large number of customers, they are simply too busy to be fully present, and to acknowledge their existence because they had business to tend to on their phones. I realized that undoubtedly, a lot of these patrons on their phones were doing important tasks: responding to texts, checking time-sensitive emails, or catching up on the news. They weren’t necessarily playing Pacman, or Snake on their phones. But what it occurred to me is that for a lot of us (MYSELF INCLUDED) we need external stimulation CONSTANTLY. It is difficult for us to be alone, with ourselves, with our own thoughts. This is why I have struggled during my 5 week journey, to drive without music, Podcasts, or the radio. We need to fill the silence with noise- with activity, with some sort of external stimulation. We cannot ever just be. And I suspect, that this makes it more difficult to be real. It makes it harder to understand who we are, and how we tick.

With two weeks left to go in my 7 weeks of freedom, I still have no idea what I am going to do when its over. But I am resolved to figure out a way, that no matter what I do, to continue to be able to be real, and to be present in my every interaction.

Forever yours,

Danny Wolfe

A Month Without my SmartPhone: Week 4 Report

Dear Henry,

As you know, four weeks ago I gave up Iggy the Iphone for Denise the dumbphone. The first 2-3 days were rough. What was I missing out on? How can I operate and function without my handy dandy phone in my pocket directing my life?

The following two weeks were a honeymoon of sorts, as described here. 

In the last week or so, I have realized to some extent, the honeymoon is over.

The benefits of being without Iggy are real: less stress, more efficiency and daily productivity, better ability to connect with people, including my close family, and desire and ability to read more and learn more.

But there are a couple downsides. The whole texting thing is starting to make me crazy. Because I am using my wife’s old dumb phone, it only has 1000 contacts, so my old contacts didn’t transfer over. Anytime I try to save a contact I must first delete a different. If you have been deleted, it aint personal, and it pains me to delete you. It’s just that you don’t write or call enough.

Anytime I receive a text message, I must delete several others, as my inbox is 100% full. If you write me a message, and press send, and then write me another message, and press send, I receive two messages from you under separate texts. It is hard to keep track of conversations. If you send me a message with an emoji, hebrew letter, or its too long, I cannot receive it. That gets frustrating, but it has led to more phone calls, as I am often curious to know what I missed out on!

The only other major difficulty with Denise the Dumbphone is that on long drives I am no longer able to listen to productive, informative and inspiring Torah classes from various podcasts or Torah apps. Recently I had starting to listen to lots of these types of classes when I needed a much needed break from Broncos talk radio, and now, I miss out on all that learning that could have taken place. Sometimes I turn the noise off, and it feels great to drive in silence. But in the back of my mind I also wonder if it would be more beneficial to me to be learning from the podcasts that I would have otherwise listened to.

At this mid-way point, the jury is still out. The texting issue is almost non-bearable. But I fear having Iggy back in my pocket. While I intend to set up tremendous safeguards for myself to prevent egregous time-wasting, I still fear that I will not be able to abide by them, will ignore my children, and will not be able to think clearly due to the constant notifications. Perhaps with an investment of a little money, I can purchase a nicer dumbphone which solves the texting problem. I love that when I am waiting for a meeting, or have some downtime, I cannot resort to my iPhone. I can think, learn, write, or read. It is truly wonderful.

And for the time being at least, I cannot imagine sacrificing that luxury.

Forever yours,




Two Weeks of Freedom


Dear Henry,

It’s hard to believe, but it has been over two full weeks without Iggy the iPhone. And my life has carried on.

At first it was downright frightening.  How would I navigate my way home from downtown? How would I find subs for my basketball team, and scorekeepers, when I didn’t even have their phone numbers anymore? Denise the Dumbphone can only hold 1000 contacts after all, so I lost many of my regular numbers.  How could I make it 7 weeks, when I can barely make it 7 hours???

The truth is, even now, 2 weeks later, there are some challenges. Some text messages just will not come through. Without an iCal to remind me of meetings, I was 15 minutes late to a meeting today, and missed a couple critical Facebook messages which required my attention.

But, after a few days without Iggy, I began to literally experience a sense of euphoria. So much stress in my life simply evaporated. My mind felt clearer than a stage 4 Colorado River rapid.  I felt like I was an optimal, better version of myself. I began to think more clearly. One day, while sitting on the couch, with my broken foot wrapped in ice, I looked at my children playing. And I thought to myself, “Holy cow, I have children. They came from The Better Half and I. These little creatures, with their colorful personalities, are unreal gifts from The Abishter. They look and act like us.” I couldn’t get over it. My mind was blown. And I thought to myself, how many people have such wonderful gifts in their life, children, or otherwise, that they simply never acknowledge or notice, because they are too busy looking at their smartphones? How come I personally don’t regularly marvel over the myriad of gifts that I have? My mind was literally blown, and it continues to be.

This past Sunday, my kids were playing at my parents house, and The Better Half was at the hardware store (I don’t do tools). I was home alone. Two weeks ago I would have taken to the couch, caught up on Twitter, or the NFL Mock Draft reports, and probably fallen asleep. On this day, however, I sat at the table, sipped a Fast Lane tea, and studied a page of Talmud. This would have been unthinkable two weeks ago, with Iggy in my pocket.

Two days ago, I got home from my 5:30 AM study session, with twenty minutes “to kill” before I needed to go to work. Rather then catch up on emails, or Facebook, I noticed that my oldest daughter had awoken, and was sitting on the couch, looking at her sticker book. Despite having had this book for about a year, I never noticed what it was. I sat there with my daughter as she explained the book has removeable stickers that one takes out, and puts in various pages in the book. We connected and bonded over this for twenty minutes before I had to leave. I asked myself how often I have really played with my kids in a manner in which I was fully present the last few years. Embarrassingly, the answer is: NOT ENOUGH. With Iggy in my pocket, it was almost impossible to be fully present, ever.

I also am connecting with other people on an entirely different plane. When people send me unreadable text messages, (which is at least a daily occurance) I have no choice but to call them. And EVERY SINGLE TIME I call them, I walk away glad that I did. We connected in a meaningful way that simply is not possible via text. I hear the other person’s voice. I find out more about what is going on in their lives;  the triumphs, and the difficulties.

I am additionally extremely more effective and efficient in my daily work schedule. I now have a pink planner called Pearl the Planner, and I write my tasks with a black pen. Pearl makes me jot down my top three goals every day, and I must check off every task upon completion. Needless to say, it is working wonders. Something about a pen and paper in front of me enables me to succeed in ways that looking at a screen never will.

And even though I am not using social media very much, when I am using it, is is effective. Like having Von Miller retweet me is a feat I never accomplished while tweeting every couple hours from Iggy.

Thus, after two weeks, the only real downside of downgrading, is I can no longer use the thumbs up emoji or the fist with the thumb and pinky raised in the air. Besides that, I really don’t miss much.

I am never one to push an agenda on anyone, but this is such a life-changing exercise I double dogg dare all of my thousands upon thousands of readers to try going 24 hours without your phone. Heck, as tomorrow night begins the Jewish Sabbath, maybe try going Sunset tomorrow night until nightfall Saturday night without your phone.

It might just change your life.

Forever yours,

Danny Wolfe

A Dumb Phone and a Broken Bone

Image result for broken foot

Dear Henry,

I aint gonna lie. At first I felt overwhelmed. I felt stressed out. How was I going to make it home safely from downtown Denver without Waze? And how on earth would I find a score keeper to keep score at our Hoops and Halacha basketball games that evening, and find replacement players for the 10 guys who texted me they couldn’t come play that evening, two nights before Passover? How could I possibly figure this all out, on a dumb phone? Why didn’t my contacts all transfer over? (Turns out I can only have 1000 on my phone at a time). And why do so many texts I receive turn up as gibberish which I cannot read? While my aspirations of getting rid of my smartphone for seven weeks were noble, how could I even make it one lousy week? The overwhelming feeling gnawed at me, and I didn’t know exactly how I would survive.

But then, something miraculous happened. For the first time in 16 years, I broke a bone. Apparently, now that I am in my thirties I don’t jump as high as I used to, and I assumed I would have another split second to turn my foot back to the normal position after jumping up for a loose ball. But that split second cost me dearly, as I landed squarely on my fifth metatarsel bone, fracturing it on impact. At first as I hopped in agony to the sideline, I was hoping it was just a bad sprain. But when I needed to get wheeled to my car, I realized it would be a bit worse, a feeling that was confirmed by X-ray the next morning.

Only six hours after quitting my iPhone in order to introduce myself to more inconvenience, I broke a bone, and would come to understand a fraction of what real inconvenience is.

Inconvenience is not when you need to type a text message slowly– it is when you must crutch yourself to the bathroom, getting out of breath in the process.

Inconvenience is not being unable to use GPS navigation from your phone– it is when you must give yourself an extra ten minutes to get dressed in the morning, after which it would be best to change clothes, because I became a sweaty mess in the process.

Inconvenience is not being unable to ask your smart watch what the weather is– it is having to put one’s broken foot in two plastic bags before bathing oneself.

As I spent the next few days on the couch, with my left foot on an elevated couch pillow, I had a lot of time to think and marvel about the unreal irony, that on the day I had opted to boldly and bravely play martyr, and ‘inconvenience’ myself, I experienced a personal inconvenience that dwarfed the inconvenience of no iPhone. And I thought to myself, as the timing was uncanny, that perhaps the Abishter was telling me something: You want to see inconvenience? I will take away your regular use of your foot for 6-8 weeks- and then you will have a tiny idea of what inconvenience is.  I also initially entertained the idea that the Almighty was telling me another message: You want to spurn the conveniences I give you in life, and make your life more difficult than necessary? That is foolish– I will show you real inconvenience in any case. (I have sense concluded this was not the message to be gleaned, as will be explained in a subsequent post.)

These were some initial thoughts after my downgrade, and my broken foot.

I look forward to sharing with you in my next post how after only 1.5 weeks, my broken bone, and dumb phone have been absolutely life-changing.

7 Short Reflections After Day 1 of Dumb Phone

Dear Henry,

I wanted to share my journey into DumbPhoneLand with the masses of people who read this blogg from across the globe so here are some casual observations from Day 1.

  1. Who knew that some phones can only hold 1000 contacts???
  2. What do you mean I need to delete some texts messages since I have run out of room on my phone?
  3. Dumb Phone are really, really, really inconvenient!
  4. I am excited to use the really pretty personal planner/calendar I bought from Target today! I already filled in my first appointment with a gel-pen!
  5. Will having a dumb phone be more inconvenient now that I have a severe ankle sprain and am unable to put pressure on my foot two days before Pesach? Anything to get out of Passover cleaning…..
  6. I actually called two people today I had been texting with, since texting was too brutal of a task, and it takes up space on my phone. And, by golly, it was quite nice to hear another dude’s voice on the phone. It had been awhile. I was even able to personally thank one fellow (Ben, you are THE MAN) for helping me out, and I was able to express my gratitude in a way that would have been impossible by text…..
  7. This ain’t no cakewalk, but I never said it was supposed to be easy…..

Parshas Tzav: Escaping the Enslavement of Convenience

Image result for convenience

Upon a simple reading of this week’s Torah portion, Parshas Tzav, one is amazed at the intricate details that went into every aspect of the avodah- the sacrificial service that took place every day.  One particular curious detail is how the Torah describes to us how the ashes from the previous day’s service are removed: “The Kohen should don his fitted linen tunic, and he shall don linen breeches on his flesh; he shall separate the ash of what the fire consumed of the elevation-offering on the Alter, and place it next to the Alter. He shall remove his garments and don other garments and he shall remove the ash to the outside of the camp, to a pure place.” To the modern mind, at first glance, this might appear odd. Why is the Kohen taking the trouble of changing his clothing so unnecessarily?  Would it not suffice to either wear different layers, and simply remove the outer layer after first separating the ashes? Or perhaps he could simply change his soiled clothes only one time, after the completion of his service? Why is he seemingly inconveniencing himself to the extent that he must take extra time in the changing of his clothing? Surely the kohen was a very busy individual- this does not appear to be the most efficient use of his precious time. I would like to suggest that the Torah is teaching us a profound lesson, that is echoed repeatedly throughout the Torah: Life is not about taking shortcuts, or pursuing the most convenient way of doing things—life is about putting in tremendous effort into everything that we do. As the Talmud says, “According to the pain is the reward.”  This past Shabbos, I saw this idea expressed very beautifully while I was reading an article in Mishpacha Magazine that quoted liberally from Professor Tim Wu’s article in the New York Times titled The Tyranny of Convenience. His premise is that our pursuit of convenience trumps our true preferences, and it has become our ultimate value. According to Wu:  But we err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear…though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning in life. Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us… The dream of convenience is premised on the nightmare of physical work. But is physical work always a nightmare? Do we really want to be emancipated from all of it? Perhaps our humanity is sometimes expressed in inconvenient actions and time-consuming pursuits. Just today, I set an alarm clock to wake me up from a short nap by speaking to my smart watch. I responded to text messages by speaking to my phone, so as not to have to bother typing. I am blessed with an Apple Phone, but those people who use Androids do not even need to bother lifting up their fingers when sending a text message—they can simply swipe their fingers from one letter to the next. Self-driving cars are quickly being produced so as not to trouble us with having to drive. Now instead of dialing up a taxi like we used to have to do in the old days, we simply press one button on our phones to summon our rides. GPS ensures we never have to use our brains when getting to a destination. I have lived in my home city for 21 years of my life, but every time I embark on my weekly drive downtown, Waze is telling me how to get there. Recently I bought a juicer, so I can make homemade fresh juice. However, after realizing that I can simply purchase fresh certified kosher juice in any grocery store, I stopped bothering to put in the effort to juice the fruits and vegetables myself. When riding up the Super Bee Chairlift at Copper Mountain last week, from the base of the mountain to the Summit, I asked myself why I would ever bother climbing up a mountain when a chairlift could take me to the top infinitely quicker, easier, and more efficiently.  And while it is true, and undeniable that there are many constructive places for convenience in our society, one must ask himself what he is doing with the saved time that the convenience has afforded him? Is he utilizing it for a productive purpose? Or using it in the pursuit of even more convenience?  But even if one is utilizing convenience for constructive purposes, it strikes me as very difficult to remember that exerting effort, and, even, dare I say, using the inconvenient option, are very Jewish values. There is no convenient or easy way to really master a page of Talmud. One cannot conveniently, easily master being a good husband or father. These endeavors take tremendous amounts of time, and incredible amounts of work and effort.  This Pesach, as we celebrate our freedom, our triumphant exodus from bondage—let us strive to be like the Kohen, who took no shortcuts in performing the Divine sacrificial service, who worked very meticulously to fulfill every aspect of his avodah. Let us unshackle ourselves from the various elements of society to which we are enslaved. Or, to rephrase Professor Wu, let us emerge from the enslavement of convenience, but let us not be emancipated from working hard to fulfill our life goals and aspirations.

No More Excuses: Liberation from the Throes of my Smart Phone 📱

Image result for dumb phone

Dear Henry,

Two years ago, on the fourth day of Passover, I wrote a very powerful post on my blog about how I would be utilizing the holiday of Passover to experience the liberation from my addiction to my Smart Phone. It was very well written, if I may say so myself, and very sincere. To quote Yours Truly:

But we suffer from a different enslavement, a bondage of the spiritual sort. We are enslaved to our phones. And for me, this Passover 5776, I will be free at last. As soon as I finish this piece, I will travel to Verizon, having the courage to do something I have longed to do for years: downgrade for the sake of an upgrade.

There was but one fundamental problem with this passionate post of mine from two years ago: I chickened out.

When I got to the Verizon Store in downtown Denver two years ago, the fellow who worked there looked at me like I was crazy after telling him my aspirations to downgrade my phone, but patiently explained to me how I didn’t need to go the route I was intending to embark upon. He explained to me how I could block my ability to waste time on email, Facebook and Twitter, and to only use the items on the phone that were actually helpful and useful to me, that wouldn’t turn into time wasters. I realized that I needed the camera on the phone– what would I do when I observed a gorgeous Rocky Mountain Sunset? Are not my hundreds of Instagram followers relying on me to catch the moment?!  I needed the thousands of songs that were stored on my phone on my music app– how could I get through a day, or a chore while not listening to Zusha or Backstreet Boys??? I needed GPS to guide me to my every destination– how could a boy get to his destination without being told every single direction? I needed the convenient calendar, which so seamlessly keeps track of daily and recurring appointments and meetings. I needed the texting function, which enables you to text quickly, and to see the flow of the texting conversation.  I needed my newly discovered favorite app, Bitmoji, which enabled me to truly express myself to my friends.   And I needed the emoji option where could make gnarly signs like 🤙🏿✌🏽 and 👊🏿. As none of these things are time wasters, it didn’t take long for me to reconsider, and ultimately, keep my iPhone.

Two years later, I am older, and I am wiser, but I did not learn my lesson. Because I am publically reaffirming my pledge to (at least temporarily) drop the smartphone altogether. From Passover until Shavuos, I will be using a dumb phone. And this year, being two years smarter than I was in the Spring of 2016, in great thanks to the Moment App, and in thanks to Mishpacha Magazine, I have answers for each one of my reasons to keep the smart phone two years ago:

1)   But Danny you NEED your camera!

2). But Danny, you NEED your groovy jams!

3) But Danny, you NEED your GPS on your phone!

4) But Danny, you NEED the sweet iCalender!

5) But Danny, you NEED to be able to text quickly, and to see the flow of the conversation on the screen!

I indicated in my blog post from two years ago how I was terrified at the prospect of finding out how much time a day I wasted in front of my screen. Sure enough, there is an app that conveniently calculates that number for you- Moment. It keeps track of screen time, and there would be days where I would be on it for over five hours– about one-third of my awake hours.

No Camera? No Problem!

Thankfully, within the Moment app there is a smart phone boot camp, and a program called “Bored and Brilliant” where it assigns tasks to help minimize the screen time. Surprisingly, some of the daily challenges included not taking a picture for the whole day, or not even listening to music or a podcast. The idea is that when one takes a picture, his/her brain turns off and doesn’t opt to remember the occasion as well. As the app preaches, ” There is a Photo-Taking Impairment Effect. When you’re taking a photo instead of experiencing the moment, you’re missing out of what is happening right in front of you. You want to capture the scene to remember later but what are you remembering? You never really experienced it in the first place.” Therefore, I realized, yes by surrendering my Smartphone I am also giving up my camera. But is that necessarily a bad thing? If I see something amazing, and cant snap a picture of it is that detrimental to me? True, I won’t have a picture to prove to my friends on Facebook that I saw something cool, but the image will forever be etched in my heart and my mind– is that not a worthwhile tradeoff? I have written before about the miracle and blessing of childbirth on Shabbos– which we were blessed with on two occasions. When our children were born, there could be no pictures. No phone calls. Just precious memories that will endure forever.

Surviving without my favorite jams or podcasts????

When individuals listens to music, or anything external, it is true that there is much to be gained. When I listen to the holy words and tunes of Zusha or Yehuda Green, I feel closer to the Abishter. I have been enormously enriched and inspired by listening to podcasts or lectures on inspirational Jewish topics. Therefore, I was surprised on the day where Moment challenged me to not listen to anything on my commute to work. And to be totally honest,  the nine minute drive to work one day in silence, was among the longest nine minutes of my life. I must have yawned twenty-five times, unsure how I would be able to teach a Talmud class to high school seniors. But when I got to my destination I noticed I was a much better version of myself than I could have imagined. Perhaps not being able to listen to something on my way to work, or even an educational podcast, might not be the worst thing for myself. Maybe it  enabled me to connect internally, with myself– something that does not happen all that much. I look forward to the challenge of forcing myself to spend more time with, myself.

But how can I get around without GPS spoon-feeding me directions, make meetings without my iCal, or survive without convenient, easy text messaging?

I remember, many many years ago, during our first year of marriage, when we lived in Boston. For some reason, and I don’t claim to know how this is even actually possible, Boston has intersections that occur twice. For example, there are two Commonwealth Avenue and Washington Avenue intersections, but they are 5 miles apart. Like I said, how that works, is beyond me. But on many, many, many occasions, my wife and I would be driving to Taam China, only to get totally lost. The printed Mapquest maps were of no use to us on the pitch black icy roads. So the question begs itself: How could I possibly be willing to forego my smartphone which would necessarily mean giving up Waze and Google Maps, in which I don’t even need to know the address of the place to which I am going? The reality is, that while this very well might make my life more inconvenient, (having to go through the trouble of printing directions, or thinking about where I am going,) this is not necessarily a bad thing. Mishpacha Magazine featured last week a life changing article by Columbia Law Professor Tim Wu from the New York Times which was called The Tyranny of Inconvenience. 

His premise is that our pursuit of convenience trumps our true preferences, and it has become our ultimate value. According to Wu:

But we err in presuming convenience is always good, for it has a complex relationship with other ideals that we hold dear…though understood and promoted as an instrument of liberation, convenience has a dark side. With its promise of smooth, effortless efficiency, it threatens to erase the sort of struggles and challenges that help give meaning in life. Created to free us, it can become a constraint on what we are willing to do, and thus in a subtle way it can enslave us… The dream of convenience is premised on the nightmare of physical work. But is physical work always a nightmare? Do we really want to be emancipated from all of it? Perhaps our humanity is sometimes expressed in inconvenient actions and time-consuming pursuits.

So yes, while it is true that foregoing a GPS is inconvenient, that is not always a bad thing. The Torah and Talmud are filled with statements that extol the virtue of hard work, and putting in effort to accomplish tasks. It is true and undeniable that there are many ways modern technology can add ease to our lives, making things simpler and more expedient than ever imaginable. Just yesterday I set an alarm for my power nap by doing no more than lifting up my wrist and speaking to my watch. I did my ten minutes of chores that evening by telling Siri to set a timer for the ten minutes. I am blessed with an Apple Phone, but those poor people who use Androids do not even need to bother lifting up their fingers when sending a text message—they can simply swipe their fingers from one letter to the next. Self-driving cars are quickly being produced so as not to trouble us with having to drive. Now instead of dialing up a taxi like we used to have to do in the old days, we simply press one button on our phones to summon our rides.  Recently I bought a juicer, so I can make homemade fresh juice. However, after realizing that I can simply purchase fresh certified kosher juice in any grocery store, I stopped bothering to put in the effort to juice the fruits and vegetables myself.

All of these conveniences that technology affords can greatly enhance our efficiency and be blessed, useful tools. However, at least for me, I am concerned about the overall impact it having upon me. In regular every-day endeavors, am I willing to put in the necessary time work or energy for important tasks? Or perhaps, I am less inclined to do so, since that would be inconvenient, and I no longer have the patience for inconvenient tasks. Says Wu, “We are spoiled by immediacy and become annoyed by tasks that remain at the old level of effort and time. When you skip the line and buy your concert tickets on your phone, waiting in line to vote in an election is irritating. This is especially true for those who never had to wait in lines (which may help explain the low rate at which young people vote).” If I sanctified the time saved with these convenient technological advances that make my life easier by doing something productive,  that would be phenomenal. But I cannot truly claim that is the case. The time saved by these conveniences is either wasted on other time-wasters the phone offers me, or it is used pursuing other convenient ways to get tasks done.

By foregoing my GPS I will have to not only put in effort to get to my every destination, but I will also have to use my brain. For some reason, after living in this city for 21 years of my life, I still rely on GPS to get me from place to place, so as not to have to go through the bother of actually being mindful of what I am doing and where I am going. That can, and should change.

It is for this same reason that I no longer have any qualms about foregoing my iCal. Back in the olden days, people would write down appointments on things called “personal planners.” The world functioned back then, people still made it on time to meetings. By golly, my world can continue to function with the use of a pen and paper to schedule my meetings.

This is also one of two reasons why I no longer am bothered by the inability to text as efficiently by downgrading to a dumb phone. Yes, it will be annoying and inconvenient to press each button on my phone multiple times before getting the letter I want, and it will be tough not being able to see the flow of the text conversation. But I embrace the struggle of having to work hard to send a text message. And I hope, that the inconvenience, might actually encourage me to do something not done very much these days: pick up the phone and press “dial.” Allen Gannett, CEO of Media Maven noticed recently that the most successful people he knows are “phone-prone.” When getting an email or a text they simply responded with, “call me.” They explained to him that a phone conversation helps create empathy and promotes open communication and is “a much more real and civilized conversation on the phone because you’re able to express emotion and hear a person’s voice and understanding what’s happening.”  Inspired to try it for himself, he “had fulfilling conversations that wouldn’t have been possible through typing alone. I helped one of my customers solve a thorny issue and ended up reassuring him about some of his career worries. I’d never have heard the stress in his voice by emailing.”

Will downgrading my phone mean I text less and call more? Yes? Is that a bad thing? I am not so sure.

So, here I am, two years later, but this time a changed man. I am confident that this seven-week social experiment will greatly liberate me and enhance my life. I am going to learn about myself, and observe the things that I really do need vs. the things that I don’t need. Heck, with the time saved by being inefficient, I eveni plan on reporting about the journey on this blog. Then when I come back to the phone in seven weeks I will be armed with new strategies for how to maximize the convenience the phone offers.

Will it be easy? No, not at all. But that’s exactly the point.

A Timely Message from Parshas Noach

This weeks parsha begins by describing how Noach was a righteous man, who was perfect, in his generation. Rashi famously quotes the debate amongst the rabbis as to whether or not this is a compliment for Noach, or a criticism. Perhaps he was only righteous in comparison with the other lowly people of his generation, but if he would have been in the generation of Avraham, he wouldn’t have been anything special. Or, perhaps, he was truly righteous, in every sense of the word. Rabbi Shlomo Wolbe explained this debate by saying that people can reach greater spiritual levels due to a number of circumstances. Sometimes they might grow because they are so disgusted with the morally corrupt society around them, that they swim against the tide, and act in an upright manner. Perhaps, suggests Rav Wolbe, according to the opinion that our verse is meant to imply that Noach was not truly righteous, the idea is that if such a person lived in a righteous generation he would have lacked the impetus for growth. On the other hand, perhaps if such people were able to withstand the enormous pressures thrown at them by society, then obviously these people would thrive if they lived in a righteous generation, and reach even higher levels of greatness.

A few verses later, the Torah also describes in this week’s parsha that “G-d saw the earth and behold it was corrupted, for all flesh had corrupted its way upon the earth.” Rashi quotes a midrash which describes how “all flesh” even refers to animals who began acting immorally with other animals of other species. Rav Pam quotes the Beis Halevi who asks how it is even possible for animals, with no free will, to act in a “corrupt” way?  He answers that the midrash that Rashi quotes teaches that when humanity devolves to the lowest possible levels of wickedness, the immorality poisons the surrounding atmosphere to the extent that it even affects the animals.  The immorality affected the entire world.

With this idea in mind, it is even more remarkable how Noach is described as a righteous man, perfect in his generation.  I would argue that it truly doesn’t matter whether or not Noach would have been just as righteous in Avraham’s generation. What matters, and what we should focus on, was that he was able to remain righteous in his generation.

In a very depressing week, reading the news, and seeing on social media how many people have suffered due to horrific acts of cruelty and immorality, perhaps this idea can offer us a glimmer of hope and inspiration.  Rabbi Wolbe, who passed away in 2005 described his own generation as “a morally corrupt generation that has overstepped all boundaries of decency.” It is frightening to think how Rav Wolbe might describe the state of affairs in 2017. It is clear that we live in a generation where immorality is rampant. At times, as we read the news, it feels utterly helpless. But then, we remember that we too, can be like Noach. We can be perfectly righteous, despite the morally bankrupt environment we live in.

I recall an old saying: “At first when I was young, I wanted to change the world. But then, I realized it would be too hard to change the world, so I resolved to change my nation. After realizing that too, was too difficult, I decided to change my town. But that too was impossible. So as I became older, I realized that the only thing I can change is myself.” I can, and will make a cognitive decision to remain perfectly righteous in this generation. Thankfully we are blessed with a perfect, timeless instruction manual for living in a moral and upright fashion: our holy Torah. Our Torah, which insists that we guard our eyes from even gazing inappropriately, ensuring that we would not G-d forbid objectify members of the opposite gender. Our Torah, which demands that man cherish, and honor his wife, treating her with more respect than he would afford himself.   It is times like now, more than ever, that we need its eternal guidance.