We Must Do Ours

“Who wants to go first?” asked the math teacher. All the kids looked quizzically at one another, but no one raised their hand. There was a 30 second silence until one boy stood up and walked towards the white board to try and solve the complicated problem. He tried and tried and tried until he almost gave up; and then unexpectedly he had a breakthrough, and with a smile he proceeded to dissect the problem and advance towards the solution. 

Let’s rewind to a challenge in Biblical times that required a leader to find a solution. 

The Israelites were fleeing Egypt and the Egyptians. They stood facing the banks of the Yam Suf /Red Sea in front of them, and the ferocious Egyptian army approaching from behind. It was a tense and frightening moment. The Israelites needed to advance forward. But who would lead them?

An argument ensued as the Talmud states in the Mechilta D’Rebbi Yishmael:
זה אומר אני יורד תחלה לים וזה אומר אני יורד תחלה לים מתוך שהיו עומדין וצוהבין..מתוך שהיו עומדין ונוטלין עצה קפץ נחשון בן עמינדב ונפל לים עליו הכתוב אומר הושעני אלהים כי באו מים עד נפש

A group from the tribe of Benjamin said, “We will go first into the sea,” and then members of the tribe of Judah stated, “We will go into the sea first.” 

While they were quibbling, the great Nachshon Ben Aminadav jumped into the sea up until his neck. Psalms 69:2 states of this moment, G-d save me as the waters have risen up to my head and my life is endangered. 

Only then, did G-d miraculously split the sea.

Since that time, Nachshon has become a symbol of strong and definitive leadership. While others argued the merits of how to enter the sea, when to enter the sea, and who should enter the sea, Nachshon decided to act instead of deliberate. He immediately jumped in, and miracles ensued for which we celebrate until today.

In addition to a great leadership lesson, this miraculous event demonstrates when and how miracles occur. Namely: only after we do everything we can, then G-d does the rest. Sitting back on the couch watching Netflix waiting for the manna to fall is not a recipe for success. When we jump into the sea and struggle with all our effort, only then does G-d miraculously split it, allowing the Israelites to pass through and the Egyptians to follow and meet their end.

There are so may ways in our community to be a Nachshon. If you are interested in stepping forward and helping to lead our community forward, you can email jfedvolunteer@jfedsnj.org to learn about the many opportunities available throughout our Federation system.

Shabbat Shalom and Chag Somayach,

Rabbi Epstein
Community Scholar in Residence