April 23, 2024
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April 23, 2024
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Acharei Mot: A Trek in the Wilderness


This was not good. Not good at all.

The summer was coming. The boys would be coming home from college this week. It was a time of great excitement in the Zuckerman house. But it was also a time of tribulation. Because Marty Zuckerman knew what it meant. He was going to have to sacrifice one of his babies.

Not his sons, of course. God forbid! He meant one of his bicycles. Because when Danny and Barry went into the garage to choose their rides, only one of his mountain bikes was coming back alive. And the worst part was, he didn’t know which bicycle would be trashed. Neither was a good choice.

The first bike was his new Specialized Enduro 29. It was a sweet ride, with a full carbon frame and carbon wheels. The X Ram X01 drivetrain was wicked, and the DB air inline shock absorbers made it like riding on rails. The 160 mm RC fork up front seriously shredded trail. This clearly was a rig for charging hard and getting rowdy in the downs.

The second bike was a few years older but was also a nice set of wheels. Marty had conquered some gnarly trails on his Trek Slash 9.8. The Borntrager wheels had never let him down, and the RockShox DebonAir shock absorber had saved him from more than a few coccyx-rattling traumas over the years. It had a solid feel, and the Shimano XTR drivetrain had let him climb with abandon.

Truth be told, they were both excellent rides. But Marty knew that one had to be sacrificed. There was nothing he could do about it. Because when his twins walked into the garage and chose their mounts, one of these two bicycles would never be the same.

Danny would not be a problem. He was the more down to earth of his sons. An economics major at the University of Maryland, he was not into taking chances. Danny rode a little bit off trail, but mostly he stayed on-road, or close to it. Whatever bicycle he chose to ride, he would return it pretty much in the same condition in which he received it.

Barry was a different story. He was Marty’s wild thing. A film major at Queens College, Barry marched to a different drummer. He took a bike to the dirt, and then he was gone. Strictly off-road, but not the normal trails for Barry. Oh no. If there was a part of New Jersey that hadn’t been explored—as unlikely as that seems—Barry would find it, and the more remote the better. He had to jump rocks, blaze a trail that hadn’t been carved. If there was a cliff to jump, he was there. And when he came home afterward, muddied and occasionally bloodied, his bike would be in tatters. Stripped gears. Battered shocks. Torn brake cables. Nothing would surprise Marty.

Danny arrived Wednesday and Barry showed up Thursday. Marty and Mirriam were elated to have them home. First came the mountains of laundry. The washing machine ran nonstop all of Friday. Then came a wonderful Shabbat filled with singing, divrei Torah and raucous college stories. They laughed and laughed. Saturday night they all caught a movie together. Something with Tom Hanks about being lost overseas.

Sunday morning the boys headed to the garage. It was the moment of truth. Marty had pulled both cars out and placed the bicycles front and center. He tried to give them equal billing, because he wasn’t sure which one he would miss more.

Barry whistled. “Wow, nice bike, Dad! Is it new?”

So, it would be the Specialized.

“You know it. I’ve only had it out a few times.”

“Really nice,” Danny agreed. “Today, it’s mine.”

“You sure?” Marty asked. “I thought you always loved the Trek.”

“I do. But sometimes new is good.”

“So true,” Barry agreed. “Which means I get the oldie but moldy.”

“If you don’t like it, you don’t have to ride it.”

“Are you kidding? I love this bike. It’s always been a great ride. And it’s worn in just right.”

The Trek. He would miss it. Farewell, old friend.

“Thanks, Dad,” both boys chimed. They put on their helmets and pads and rode off down the finely paved asphalt driveway into the morning sun.

Marty went back into the house to have a pancake breakfast with Mirriam, resigned to the fate of his wheels.

As he munched on his blueberry pancakes—his favorite—Marty thought how his bicycle was so much like the se-ir hamishtaleyach, the goat that gets sent away to Azazel on Yom Kippur that was mentioned in Acharei Mot, that week’s parsha. Didn’t they kill it by pushing it off a sharp rocky precipice somewhere in the wilderness? Just like his beloved bicycle. And for what? The story in the Torah is unclear. Some consider it a chok, a law with no obvious explanation. Maybe there was no logical reason why Barry was going to destroy his bicycle. Marty just had to accept it without question, because he loved his son.

Other commentators consider the goat a primeval expiation for our sins. Maybe Barry had to destroy the bike to exorcise his inner demons. Who knows? Perhaps the destruction of the Trek was purifying for him, an antidote for his rebellious nature. Who truly understands the ways of the world?

It was a long, slow afternoon. Marty watched golf on television to kill time until the boys came home. Danny was first. The Specialized looked as good as new. Did Danny actually clean it before he brought it back into the garage? Barry was next. He had cracked the Trek’s carbon frame on a sharp drop. Impressive. It’s not easy to crack the frame on a mountain bike, but he had pulled it off, as Marty knew he would. The bicycle was fully destroyed, a total washout. The good news was that Barry was unhurt. In fact, he looked better than before he went out. Dirty, but very happy.

Marty pressed the button to close the electric garage door. His boys were home, safe and sound. Tomorrow he would go to the Cosmic Wheel to shop for a new bicycle, maybe that Mongoose he had his eye on.

It was a good day.

By Larry Stiefel

Larry Stiefel is a pediatrician at Tenafly Pediatrics.


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