In one months time it is Passover, a time of year that promotes family unity as well as personal reflection. The act of removing Chametz from the home is not just a physical act of removing leavened food products but also a symbolic gesture for cleansing the self of unwanted traits and character flaws, including selfishness, material greed and gluttony. Kind of ironic considering how much I usually end up eating at the Seder table. Let’s just say the dried fruit compote normally served as a kosher dessert is also used as a necessary detonator for cleansing my intestines and freeing me from the bondage of my bloated condition.
In the spirit of personal reflection and preparing oneself for Pesach I offer the following. Once upon a time, when my kids were young, my middle son said to me, “Dad, if I could just have a Castle Grayskull toy for Hannukah, I would never want anything else for the rest of my life!” Yeah, right…I said the same thing to my mother in 1961 about a chocolate malt flavored breakfast drink called Ovaltine which I kept seeing advertised on TV. Somehow I associated Ovaltine to eternal happiness, supernatural strength and a cool decoder ring hidden inside. My mom loves to repeat the story that when I finally got to taste Ovaltine my face scrunched up in revulsion and I nearly spat it out while pronouncing, “That’s Ovaltine??!” The point is that alot of times we really think we need something and want it so badly, only to find out later it wasnt as essential to human life as we first believed.
Fast forward to today. I notice at age 58, a mere half century since the aforementioned “Ovaltine incident”, that there are still things I think I cant live without. As an empty nester my house is like a quasi-museum of stuff from the past. Watching Hoarders on cable television is an ironic experience as I look around and see the boys bedrooms still decorated with their kid sized baseball gloves and hats, wrestling medals, stamp collections, and art projects. Another layer down in the archeological dig are their old toys from early childhood including action figures, legos, and the plastic parts to a thousand “must have” items. Pixar’s Toy Story lives on in my Sandy Springs home, only Woody has gone mute, the Ninja Turtles dont banter back and forth anymore, and Star Wars spaceships no longer lift off either by hand or through the power of a child’s imagination. Glances in several different directions reveal the many things I was temporarily enamored with like a non working hot tub in my driveway, a pocket fisherman still in its box, and about 10,000 non essential tools and garage sale finds in my basement. I guess I didnt need them as badly as I thought I did. As time progresses we begin to appreciate what we really need and what is really important, and very little of it is material in nature.
I freely admit that crackers and starchy foods may be the last bastion of my “gotta have it” complex. My mind still resists this particular domain of psycho-spiritual housecleaning and getting rid of the chametz is always an interesting exercise in inner conflict. My mind plays tricks on me still. The closer it gets to Passover the MORE I want to eat bread, bagels and beer. Have you ever bought a beautiful Challah on Friday knowing FULL WELL there is nobody coming over for Shabbos and instead you are really fantasizing about tearing it to shreds and consuming it all alone like a starving wild animal? Is it only me who goes to Big Lots in March and fills the cart with crackers from around the globe because it’s good to have a pantry full of gourmet treats for visiting dignitaries and foreign diplomats? Sure, I dont know anybody that fits that particular description today…but I might tomorrow. I also know it just feels like I should have a dozen everything on it bagels, garlic and butter croutons and sesame Melba Toast available to go with the Costco Ceasar salads and tub of whitefish on St. Patrick’s Day Sunday morning’s brunch menu. Finally, I know it is only a Jedi mind trick of my “inner glutton” that tries to convince me that Entenmann’s pound cake is a viable food group as important as leafy green vegetables and fresh fruit. Normally I attempt to quell my Yetzer Hora and remind myself that the Ovaltine was horrid and the decoder ring broke in less then an hour. Still, the Castle Grayskull was pretty darn cool. I used to play with it when my kids werent around and still would today if I could find it in my basement amid the clutter. Maybe I need to finally get off my tush and clean out not just the Chametz but the whole kit and caboodle. Now that would be real change and the kind of clean slate that both Hashem and my grown up kids would probably approve of.