The Sara Litton z"l Monthly Emunah Essay | Walking with Your Left Leg Forward - Matan - The Sadie Rennert
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The Sara Litton z”l Monthly Emunah Essay | Walking with Your Left Leg Forward

Adina Ellis

A journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. This saying (ascribed to ancient Taoist, Lao Tzu) perfectly describes the sense attributed to Sivan, namely the חוש ההילוך, or walking according to the Sefer Yetzirah. Our bipedal gait is what sets us apart from heavenly angels. Holy and free of sin, malachim are referred to as “those which stand” (Zechariah 3:7). This can be understood literally, as having legs fused as a single straight limb (Yechezkel 1:7), greatly limiting mobility and can be understood figuratively as well.

Angels are perfect creatures without a yetzer hara and with the sole purpose of serving God. Humans on the other hand, struggle daily with the constant push and pull between our inner thoughts and inclinations. The familiar mazal of Sivan- twins (Sefer Yetzirah), known as Gemini (based on the Latin translation) highlights this tension well.  When Rivka Imenu was pregnant with the most well known biblical twins, Yaakov was pulling to the beit midrash and Esav to idol worship- one for good and for bad (Bereishit 25:22, Rashi).

As the twins grew older, their father, Yitzchak saw Yaakov wholly immersed in the world of Torah, seemingly detached from this world. Yaakov represented an almost angelic quality of unwavering holy focus. He was a  perfect tzadik, uninvolved in battling his yetzer, whereas his twin Esav was a man of the world. The Netivos Shalom explains (Parshat Toldot) how that struggle within ourselves is ultimately God’s will and what creates an abode for the Almighty in our world. Esav’s seeming involvement in this venerated endeavor of battling the yetzer is what swayed Yitzchak’s preference and great love for him.

A story is told in the name of the Kotzker Rebbe. His disciples cited the verses (Tehillim 146: 7-8) which state that God makes justice for the exploited, gives food to the famished, releases prisoners, restores sight to the blind, straightens the bent, and loves the righteous. Why is a faultless tzaddik part of the list of these people with various limitations? The rebbe answered that anyone confined in the role of a tzaddik, angelically riveted in the spiritual world is also in a sense, limited.

We have emunah that we are perfectly imperfect and the persistent refining of our thoughts, speech and actions, is part of the beautiful and often messy journey of our lives. Just as B’nei Yisrael traversed the desert with 42 encampments, each one is diligently listed (Bamidbar 33), many with unusual names. Rabbenu Bechaya explains that the names of the places reflect the inner thoughts and emotional state of the people at the time. As the Ba’al Shem Tov (whose date of passing is in Sivan) expressed, each and every one of us goes through our own personal 42-stop journey in life, ultimately ending in the promised land. Our mindset alone will determine how we will name and categorize each of those chapters or stations in our lives, for a person is found where their thoughts are.

We are meant to struggle, for this is how we grow. We are not meant to be static in a flawless state of being.  As Carol Dweck writes “the fixed mindset does not allow people the luxury of becoming. They have to already be” (Mindset, p.25). The danger of positive labels (ibid, 71), of calling your child a tzaddik, instead of praising him or her for effort, is alluded to in the body part associated with Sivan. While the right leg was the body part linked to Nissan, our spiritual redemption in Sivan is represented by the left leg. Only with both together can we propel forward. While pejorative to lefties- there’s a common phrase in Hebrew- when wishing someone success with a new venture- you bless them to “start with the right leg” and when describing someone’s failure, it’s said that they started with their left leg. It has a negative connotation, but imagine walking with only the right leg? Impossible.

We need the balance of the wins and the failure, the tension between our yetzer hara and yetzer tov, the pull to the good and the pull to the bad, just as did the twins in Rivkah’s womb. In perhaps the holiest month, the time where we received the Torah- we are also reminded that we are not angels, we are not free from sin but we are on a perpetual journey- where we will constantly be swayed in different directions, yet we journey forward one step at a time.

Adina Ellis

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.