The Sara Litton z”l Monthly Emunah Essay

Nissan is distinguished as the time for redemption, where we celebrate our physical freedom from slavery in Egypt. This journey can be marked on a map, where individuals in our family- turned- nation travel from point A to point B. No less crucial is the brave spiritual journey, however inestimable, to move towards emancipation. Nissan, the king of the months, is associated with the tribe of kings, shevet Yehuda (Bnei Yissaschar, Nissan 1:4). A notable Judean, Nachshon ben Aminadav is known for his trust in God and his courage to step forward as he plunged into the tumultuous Yam Suf (Sotah 36b).

Yehuda himself set an example of admitting fault and had the courage to stand for what is just, including taking care of the disadvantaged. His precedent of admitting his culpability with Tamar (Bereishit 38:26), or pleading on behalf of Binyamin before Yosef (ibid 44:18-34) served as a paradigm for biblical figures from this tribe from Nachson at the sea to Boaz and Ruth in the time of the Judges (Ruth 1:16-17, 2:8-9) and to King David (Shmuel 2; 12:13) to strive for a life of confidence guided by a moral-religious compass.

As we are all associated with Yehuda, therefore called yehudim, we too have inherited some of that determination to seek truth and justice coupled with faith in the Almighty. We say on seder night that it is incumbent on every individual to see him or herself as if they have personally left Egypt. The concept can be taken allegorically – that every individual finds themselves in times of duress, hardship, pain or confinement and we are called upon to find within ourselves the Judean traits of bold courage and emunah to traverse the inner journey to freedom.

Are we held captive by fear of what others think of us? Are we restrained by self-doubt? Immobilized by analysis paralysis? Shackled by imposter syndrome?

Rabbi Adin Even-Yisrael (Steinsaltz) explains that there is a hidden world and the revealed world. The land represents the revealed world while the waters represent the camouflaged reality. We often lead our lives on a surface level- degrees or accolades can be mistaken for who we are. The splitting of the sea is a process of revealing the dry land; revealing the hidden that was present all along- תהליך של גילוי היבשה שבתוך הים- תהליך של גילוי ההעלם. He posits that the Kriyat Yam Suf is an aspiration of every individual to delve deeply into their own personal sea -לעבור ולבקוע ב “ים סוף” השייך לו to see themselves in a more profound, positive and limitless way.

Admitting where we have erred and building better habits is a way to utilize the admirable character traits of shevet Yehuda (admitting culpability and helping the weak) for personal and spiritual development. Researcher and author Brené Brown, echoes these thoughts when she says, “I believe that you have to walk through vulnerability to get to courage… courage over comfort.” Stepping out of our comfort zone – and sometimes, as in the case of Nachshon ben Aminadav- literally stepping foot in the water, is a critical component in personal growth and what often makes an ordinary person into a hero. The leadership role is not without fear and to be our own hero is no less significant than being someone else’s hero.

These days we open up waze to get from point A to point B. Sometimes, especially in our inner journey, it’s only “showing approximate location” and we don’t quite know where we are. Take a deep breath and lean into the vulnerability, as uncomfortable as it may seem. Have Emunah that Hashem is with us and we will journey deeply to rediscover ourselves with courage and determination. This Sefirat HaOmer period, may we emerge from our restricted narrow places of servitude to a more expansive place of self-compassion and love. May we have the courage to cross our personal seas and reveal the hidden bounty which awaits us. As Brown writes “vulnerability is the birthplace of love, belonging, joy, courage, empathy and creativity…It is the source of authenticity. If we want greater clarity in our purpose or deeper and more meaningful spiritual loves, vulnerability is the path.”

Adina Ellis is a graduate of the Matan Bellows Eshkolot Educators Institute. She has been teaching Tanakh and machshava over the last two decades, initially on college campuses and in Hebrew Schools in the New Jersey area. Since making aliyah in 2005, she has given weekly shiurim in Hebrew and English to women in her community. Adina has taught in the ALIT program and Rosh Chodesh seminars run by the OU Women's Initiative as well as in the mother-daughter "learn and art" program of OU Israel. She is known for her unique ability to facilitate in-depth textual learning along with engaging and relevant discussions. Adina lives with her husband and children in Yad Binyamin.