Sunday, March 25, 2012

Blogging the Exodus Day 2: Chameitz

Growing up, we never threw out anything that might vaguely, possibly be useful.

Case in point: when my parents got married (in 1972) they bought an avacado green Kitchenaid portable dishwasher (the kind with the butcher's block on top). This was in Cincinnati. They shlepped it with them to Indiana in '74, then Cape Cod in '78, where it immediately went to live in the garage. When I got back from Israel in 1999 and was getting ready to move to Cincinnati, my dad pulled it out, fired it up (for the first time since 1978 at least), discovered it still worked, and we ended up shlepping it BACK to the 'nati, 25 years after it left town. Marisa and I used it all 4 years in the 'nati, and despite having permission from my mom to finally throw it away, we brought it with us to Bucks County and now Wilmington, where it once again lives in the garage.

I tell this story in relation to today's theme of 'chameitz' (which I'd rather talk about than 'puffiness', if you please) because I think we have a tendency to think of the idea with an eye toward getting rid of what's extraneous in your life. chameitz is, of course, anything made of leaven, that we are supposed to clear out of our homes before Pesach in various practical and ritual forms. As such, it becomes quickly a metaphor for cleaning out all the 'extra', a spring cleaning of our lives and that which is weighing us down.

On the surface it has a whiff of New England Protestantism, a lament about why we have all this STUFF (full disclosure, both my wife and I are stuff people, who come from long lines of stuff people. I can show you my mother-in-law's aluminum serving piece collection as proof)? Why do we need all these things? But before we get all Ethan Frome on our homes, let me suggest another Yankee (like this guy, not this guy) alternative: while it's good to clean and replenish, we should hold on to things that we might need later on. Or to put another way, rather than see things as wasteful or useless, we should think creatively to see the potential in the things.

Look for example at things like Maker Faire and the Maker movement (along with Steampunk and other 'creative recycling movements' out there). These are people that, rather than discard things of yesterday, seek to utilize them creatively today, whether it's disk drives as musical instruments or something more modest.

So it is with chameitz. Rather than throw things away, perhaps we need to look at their use creatively. All that beer and all those chips demand a party, after all, and while the laws of Pesach forbid a party after the seder, certainly a celebration in advance using opened products (and donating the unopened) is a better use than the trash. Perhaps now is a good time to pull out those frozen ingredients and figure out what to do with them, then give them to friends (Jewish or no). Warren Buffett and Rabbi Jonathan Gross just used the selling of chameitz to illustrate the power of investing (and publicize the mitzvah).

Larry Kushner tells a story of how he had this set of t'fillin (phylacteries) and didn't know what to do with them. He himself didn't participate in the ritual, but he held onto them, until he met a young man who had gotten rid of his father's (some say, his grandfather's) before he fully appreciated their meaning, and now, with that person gone from his life, regrets and bemoans his hastiness. Rabbi Kushner then says, "now I know why I had these t'fillin. They weren't mine, they were yours all along, I was just holding on to them for you."

So, what have you regretted getting rid of? What have you wished you got rid of sooner?

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