Passover: Life In The Orange Zone


The other day I tried my first Orangetheory Fitness™ class. According to their website: “It offers group personal training workouts based on high-intensity interval training that blend cardiovascular and strength training.” If you asked me, I would simply say: “It’s circuit-training cardio on steroids with loud music.” Before class, after signing the waiver and charting my health conditions (and my marital status??), they strap on a heart-rate monitoring device. Throughout the hour-long class, your heart-rate appears on a large display screen, providing ample opportunity to publicly demonstrate how infrequently you exercise. Essentially, an instructor, or “coach,” leads you weather you like it or not from rowing to running to strength training - switching every 5 minutes like a game of sweaty musical chairs. There’s a lot of jumping around and plenty of invitations to give everyone high-fives and motivational, reassuring messages: “The only bad workout is the one you didn’t do!,” a random person shouted at me as I walked in the room. “Sweat is just fat crying!” I yelled back, channeling my inner Richard Simmons - jazzercise leotard and all. Overall, A+ experience. A bit jarring. But certainly, the best thing to come out of Boca Raton, FL since the early bird special at your local Jewish cafeteria/delicatessen.

Now, as an avid jogger, I don’t usually follow this type of routine. I find a steady pace and keep it, gently tuning out the world with a mild dose of serotonin. The inclining heart-rate part usually comes from distracted, texting-and-driving motorists swerving onto sidewalks. But this class is supposed to put you in the Orange Zone (84-91% Maximum Heart Rate), otherwise known as the “Uncomfortable Zone.” Scientifically speaking, it achieves the maximum caloric burn. Hence, the name Orangetheory. Scientifically speaking, it’s also why I had no idea what I was doing half the time…

I began the class confidently on familiar terrain - the Treadmill (an actual torture device originally designed to reform stubborn and idle prison convicts). And rather quickly, I found my Base Pace (71-83% Maximum Heart Rate). And just as I was getting situated - easing into the workout - the instructor yelled out to the class from her sporty headset: “Keep it up, Aaron! But don’t get too comfortable! We’re gonna keep you on your feet today!” Followed quickly by group chant of: “You got this! Woohoo!” And as I began to wonder regret what I had gotten myself into on a Monday evening, I was reminded of an all-too-familiar message. A piece of advice I’ve had to relearn time and again. One that applies to both peppy workout classes and life in general: “Don’t get too comfortable. Stay on your feet. Get familiar with the Orange Zone.”

So thank you, Coach Katie, I needed to hear that this week. Just in time for my annual bread cleanse, salty parsley dippings, and large quantities of Manischewitz wine. Because this so-called Orange Zone, the uncomfortable zone, is one that we live in regularly. And it happens with a slight touch of a Treadmill button. It hits us fast and hard. And often.

As we begin to read our Haggadah (the retelling of the Israelite’s exodus from slavery in Egypt), we start at the Base Pace. Challenging, but do-able. We read in the first few pages of the story:

“And I took your father, took Abraham, from across that river, and I walked him through the whole land of Cannan. And I made plentiful his seed, and I gave him Isaac. And I gave Isaac, Jacob, and Esau….and Jacob and his sons went down to Egypt...[My father was a fugitive Aramean]. He went down to Egypt, and lingered there with a small group. And it was there he transformed us into a great nation, massive and many.” [1]

Seemingly, despite a few biblical mishaps, things had been going pretty great. We had been swimming along - begatting and begotting - sacrificing and saving - overall the story of Genesis portrays a semi-dysfunctional family, who, by Chapter 50, had found prosperity in Egypt. After Jacob’s death, the brothers even begin to sort through their emotional baggage, going through some tough love therapy…

“When Joseph’s brothers saw that their father was dead, they said, ‘What if Joseph still bears a grudge against us and pays us back for all the wrong that we did him!’ So they sent this message to Joseph, ‘Before his death, your father left this instruction: So shall you say to Joseph, ‘Forgive, I urge you, the offense and guilt of your brothers who treated you so harshly.’ Therefore, please forgive the offense of the servants of the God of your father.’ And Joseph was in tears as they spoke to him…”

“So Joseph and his father’s household remained in Egypt. Joseph lived one hundred and ten years. Joseph lived to see children of the third generation of Ephraim..” [2]

This is truly heartwarming stuff people! It doesn’t get better than this. In fact. It gets worse. Much worse. Because before you know it, “BIFF! BAM! POW!” And other dramatic comic book noises…

A new king arose over Egypt who did not know Joseph. And he said to his people, ‘Look, the Israelite people are much too numerous for us. Let us deal shrewdly with them…’ So they set taskmasters over them to oppress them with forced labor...But the more they were oppressed, the more they increased and spread out so that the [Egyptians] came to dread the Israelites.
— Exodus 1:8-12

In a matter of mere words, literally 7 whole verses, we find ourselves going from freedom, love, and reconciliation, and into slavery! On the fast track no less. Meanwhile, at the seder table, the sons and daughters of Israel are left wondering: “What happened? What went wrong? What did we do!?” And the answer provided is an uncomfortable one: “Well. Things happen. Pharaohs come and go. This one wasn’t such a fan.”

Because life happens in painful, uncomfortable, and agitated spaces. And it comes at us with the flip of a switch. Each year we recount that life, either 2,000 years ago or 2 hours ago, hurdles toward us with unpredictability and speed. On Passover, we confront a hard truth to swallow (like matzah): Freedom can be taken at any time. Comfort is a luxury that can be stolen at any moment. Welcome to the Orange Zone! An uncomfortable reminder not to get overly content with the status quo. Because it's just that - what's happening here and now. And then, out the blue, your very own Coach Katie will push you to the threshold: “Stay on your feet,” she’ll yell - have you jumping from this thing to the next, grasping to catch your breath.

On Passover, we remind ourselves that comfort is rare, and in fact, the Orange Zone is the norm. Sporadic movement is the only thing we can count on. And often we forget what it’s like. We get nice and snug. And then life drags you out of bed and onto a Treadmill. And so, this year, the bold-faced reminder of Passover for me personally is plain and clear: Don’t get too comfortable. Get familiar with being uncomfortable. You may be here for a while. And without a doubt, you'll be back again soon. Because:

Everything that happens once can never happen again. But everything that happens twice will surely happen a third time
— Paulo Coelho, The Alchemist

[1] New American Haggadah, p. 32
[2] Exodus 50:15-17; 22-23

Aaron Sataloff