This Pesach, we have been invited out for dinner on the seventh night of pesach to a family who has the minhag to wear beach clothes to dinner in celebration of the anniversary of Kriyat Yam Suf.
I am loving this idea– not only because I can not wait to wear my flippers and snorkel gear to dinner on Thursday night, but I realize it has really made me really think about the significance of the experience of kriyat Yam Suf.
Imagine the scene. The Jews have fled Egypt, leaving confusion and pandemonium behind them. And then are faced with the sea– Did they know there was a sea there? Had they realized they were running into an insurmountable obstacle? The fear must have been astounding.
We are taught that one man, Nachshon ben Aminadav, took the ultimate leap of faith and jumped into the sea, at which point, God took over and split the sea. The Jews crossed over on dry land, walking between columns of water, between the drops.
What an interesting relationship we as humans have with the natural world, and with water in particular. Water is life giving, and we are nothing without it. Yet, too little water or too much water, for a human being or for the earth is disastrous.
It is of particular interest that we use water in our ritual cleansing, our mikveh experience. Mikveh is a transformative experience changing someone from an impure status to a pure status. It is not an external cleaning but an internal spiritual transformation.
The Jews of Egypt had to go through the water, walk between the water, to become spiritually transformed by the experience. They brought with them all their fears, hopes and the faith of Nachshon ben Aminadav.
Mikveh can be a challenging experience, depending on where you are in your feelings towards religion, God, spirituality and what is happening in your own personal life. There are times when we feel connected, and times we feel disconnected. There are times we are hopeful, times we are afraid, and times when we willingly surrender to our faith. For brides, mikveh has the connotation of faith and hope in their future. For women experiencing infertility, mikveh can be a reminder of another month gone by without conceiving. Experiencing mikveh, not knowing what the next month will bring, can be a powerful and complicated experience. One can feel hopeful in the mikveh, and one can feel loss. Tears can melt into the mikveh waters and become indistinguishable from the other droplets. The Mikveh, like Yam Suf, can absorb an individual, her faith, hope and fear in the present and the unknown future.
For my next mikveh experience, I hope to reflect on the fear that Bnei Yisrael must have felt facing the water, the hope that Nachshon had as he jumped in, and the way that the water feels surrounding all of my human emotions and experiences.
Now, if only I could wear my flippers!
Dr. Karen Wasserstein is a psychologist in Maryland and Virginia specializing in infertility.