There is a treadmill which sits in our basement which holds a very special place in my heart.
About twelve years ago, one of our past presidents, Jerry Wolkowitz, of blessed memory, called me aside and said, “We notice you’ve been putting on weight, and since I’m not using the treadmill that I have, I’ve arranged for it to be delivered to your home.”
I was moved by his concern. And on that evening, as promised, this impressive machine arrived at our door.
A few years later, in 2010, it took three of us to schlep it into the basement of our new house where it has remained for the past nine years.
During that time, I’ve used it twice. But that treadmill has remained in our lives, like many of our best intentions, never to be pursued.
Early this month, my wife called me aside and declared, “That treadmill has to go. I have plans for our basement, and that thing is sitting right in the middle of it.”
To which I protested, “No way. Besides, I plan to begin using it very soon.”
“Oh really,” she replied. “Is that like your gym membership which we pay ten dollars a month for? How often have you used that over the past six years?”
“Annually,” I sheepishly replied.
And the standoff continues.
I was thinking yesterday about that treadmill, and how important it seems to me. It represents my perpetually pious plan to eat better and to improve my fitness — which I seem to make every year at this time, as I pledge not only to remove the chametz – or yeast – from our home, but also from my soul.
That treadmill also reminds me of our wise and insightful Past President, Jerry Wolkowitz, who passed away in November, 2016. He gave it to me out of sincere concern.
I’ve been reflecting, as the final hours of Passover approach – why is that treadmill so important to me? And where does it fit within my plans for an even brighter and “chametz free” future?
The Torah tells us that this time of year is actually the Jewish New Year. Rosh Hashanah, which is observed on the first day of the seventh month of the year, is the time when we turn over our calendars, and pledge to improve the quality of our lives.
But the Torah tells us that the first day of Aviv, later to be known as Nissan – which contains the festival of Passover – actually marks the “beginning of the months.” (Exodus 12:2)
For it was during that month that the Israelites were liberated from Egypt. The Torah inspires us to remember that the Jewish story began with freedom.
But are we truly free?
Often as the final days of Passover approach, I am asked a profoundly theological question, “What time does Passover end?” FYI – in Glen Cove and immediate area, Pesach ends Saturday at 8:31 pm.
So what do we do until then? Do we grumble about the mass of matzah in our systems? Do we grouse about how long and restrictive the holiday is? Do we pine for a slice of pizza?
Or can we attempt to embrace the spiritual meaning of this holiday. With the Seder dishes put away, and the leftovers consumed – with the last few sheets of matzah calling to us from an almost empty box, is there something more we can do aside from wait?
Or can we ask ourselves, “What is the bloat that we have yet to clear from our souls?”
Are there plans we keep putting off? Have we become stubborn or cynical? Is there a piece of fitness equipment which sits idle in our basement?
Since last month, I’ve had some time to think about my wife’s request. And yesterday, I went downstairs and eyeing the treadmill, realized it had become a repository for our family’s chametz.
I looked at the old Bob Dylan t-shirt hanging from the handlebars. It is a small. I am no longer a small.
I moved the pile of old photos which we’ve been meaning to sort. I fidgeted with a mysterious small box addressed to my wife which has never been opened, and then I went upstairs and shared with my wife, “sometime in the next two days, let’s have the chametz talk.”
And we agreed. Where do we see ourselves in the future? How do we plan to manage our waking hours? How will we spend more time with family, children and grandchildren? How can we slow down and let more God in?
We will talk about all of these things, and maybe even share a memory about Jerry Wolkowitz, a wise person who ultimately inspired this whole conversation.
But ultimately, with the days of Passover winding down, we will discuss how to rid ourselves of the yeast we have accumulated over the winter.
I’ve also made a decision. I’m either going to begin using that treadmill, or pass it on to someone else. But ultimately, in its current state, it is doing nothing but taking up space in my life.
I’m sure we will identify more “yeast” in our lives. I think it’s something we all should do in the true spirit of Passover.
Indeed, have we rid ourselves of, as the Talmud terms it, “the yeast in the dough” – whether that be physical or spiritual?
What plagues exist within our lives? Let’s pick one and commit to an antidote.
Let us reflect upon this from now until Saturday at 8:31 pm. And tomorrow, as we sit in synagogue for the Yizkor service, as we remember those who have passed away – let us consider what advice that they would share with us in order to increase the meaning of our lives?
How can we remove the leaven from our soul?
How can we truly embrace Judaism’s true New Year?
How free are we prepared to be?
Shabbat shalom, v’kol tuv.
Rabbi Irwin Huberman