Into the Unknown

April 24, 2024

On the second night of Passover, Jews worldwide began counting the Sefirat HaOmer. For seven weeks, or forty-nine days – or seven squared, as my six-year-old reminded me – there is a Biblical commandment to count each day between the holiday of Passover and the holiday of Shavuot. Essentially, we are also counting the days between the exodus from Egypt and the giving of the Bible at Mount Sinai. What a countdown!

But here’s a fun fact: In addition to the commandment to count each day verbally (“today is day one of the Omer”, and so on),  people like to use these seven weeks for self-improvement to be deserving of receiving the Bible. Now, more than ever, our world needs improvement. Who better to look to for inspiration than some incredible and influential heroes? For the next seven weeks of the Omer, I’m excited to share stories of faith and heroism—stories from which we can all learn a lesson or two.

For our first story? Let’s dive into the life of a young woman who leaped headfirst into the dangerous Nazi territories of Yugoslavia.

Hannah Szenes’s story is one of courage amidst one of the darkest times of the 20th century. Born in Budapest in 1921, Hannah moved to the British Mandate of Palestine (which was the name for modern-day Israel!) in 1939, driven by her love of Israel and sparked by growing anti-Semitism in Hungary. In 1944, after becoming a member of the elite Palmach fighting force in Israel, she joined a mission to parachute into Yugoslavia (of all places!), aiming to help save the Jewish community of Hungary from the Nazis. Just imagine, for a second, jumping from the safety of your home – far away from the atrocities in Europe – straight into the pit of hell. But that was Hannah. And her goal was to save as many of her brethren as she could.

But alas, Hannah was captured by Hungarian authorities and, sadly, was tortured and tragically killed. Yet even the story of her death is an illustration of heroism. For after enduring immense physical duress, she was offered a lifeline: a pardon…in exchange for information that would betray her fellows in the field. Hannah refused. Her unwavering strength and belief in the then-dream of Israel fueled a heroism and determination that Hollywood can only wish to capture on a screen. 

As I read the story of the Jewish people crossing the Red Sea over the holiday of Passover, I couldn’t help but be reminded of another Biblical hero – who also leaped headfirst into the unknown.

Nahshon ben Amminadab is mentioned in the Bible as a leader of the tribe of Judah during the Exodus.

But according to Rabbinic literature, he’s celebrated for an extraordinary act of faith. The sages tell us of the scene as the Jews reached the Red Sea as they fled from the Egyptians in hot pursuit. They lined up at the sea and came to the horrible realization that they were trapped between the Egyptians and the waters!  They were paralyzed with fear – I mean, imagine the hoofbeats and war cries from Pharaoh’s army behind you – with a vast sea – uncrossable up ahead. But then, one man ran forward. It was Nahshon!  Demonstrating unwavering faith, he ran into the sea, which stood undivided and menacing. According to the Talmud,  it was only once the water reached Nahshon’s neck, signaling his complete belief in  God’s salvation,  that the sea finally parted, paving the way for Israel’s escape.

Cue the dramatic music –  both of these stories get my heart racing! Hannah, parachuting into Hungary and ultimately stepping before a firing squad, and Nachshon, stepping into the sea, both faced the unknown with a belief in the good of their actions. Hannah’s resolve during her trial and her final moments really make me think of Nachshon’s solitary walk into the sea—neither could be certain of salvation or victory—and yet both understood the divine necessity of their actions.

Today, it should be obvious to us how important it is to find our inner Hannah and Nachshon. Psalm 27 couldn’t articulate what our mission is better. 

Now is the time to find courage and strength in faith. And know that God is with you when you’re standing up for good. 

Whether you’re being dropped into enemy territory to stand up for the rights of others (and the image of Hannah Szenes parachuting into certain elite universities right now is a strong one) or taking a leap of faith into a literal sea – no matter how big or little of a “splash” you make, there’s no question that now is a time to answer the call to act justly and bravely, even in the face of long odds.

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Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

Sara Lamm

Sara Lamm is a content editor for TheIsraelBible.com and Israel365 Publications. Originally from Virginia, she moved to Israel with her husband and children in 2021. Sara has a Masters Degree in Education from Bankstreet college and taught preschool for almost a decade before making Aliyah to Israel. Sara is passionate about connecting Bible study with “real life’ and is currently working on a children’s Bible series.

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