D’var Torah for January 18, 2019

This week we will be reading from parashat B’Shallach. It begins with the Israelites leaving Egypt. The Torah explains that the Israelites were guided “by a pillar of cloud by day and a pillar of fire by night to give them light that they might travel day and night.”[1] The Israelites also traveled in an unusual way. Instead of going straight to Canaan because they risked encountering the Philistines, the Israelites went through the wilderness towards the Sea of Reeds.
Of course, we know what happened next because we’ve seen The Ten Commandments and The Prince of Egypt, Pharaoh had a change of heart. Pharaoh took 600 chariots with him and began to chase down the Israelites. At this moment, the Israelites found themselves trapped between the Sea of Reeds and Pharaoh’s approaching army.
Newly freed, the Israelites began to panic. They shouted out, “Was it for want of graves in Egypt that you brought us to die in the wilderness?!”[2]
God responded by telling Moses to lift up his rod and extend his hands, so that the Sea would part. It was at this moment that, according to the Midrash, that Nachshon ben Aminadav[3] stepped forth. As an aside, we love to tell the story of Nachshon so much, that many have come to believe it is in the Torah. Alas, it is not; instead it can be found in the Talmud.
Facing drowning or death, Nachshon began to wade into the water. Each step brought him closer to death, but Nachshon believed. Only when the water reached his mouth, did the water part, thus enabling the Israelites to pass through to freedom.
It was Rabbi Doron Perez who wrote, “The Jewish name Nachshon, through the ages, has become synonymous with fearless, heroic and daring leadership in challenging situations… Nachshon’s greatness lies in the fact that he was prepared to risk his life and commit to the daring act of going into the sea at this crucial time. Anyone could have done it, but nobody did. Nachshon was certainly not the greatest person present. There were certainly many more competent to take a stand and assume a leadership position during this compromised situation. But nobody did. Everyone got lost in the crowd and The Bystander Effect took place. Only one man stepped forward to be the trailblazer and the one whose actions would forever echo into eternity as the courageous leader heroically taking a stand and assuming full responsibility for a situation when others around him would not.”[4]
On this Shabbat B’shallach, where we gather together to celebrate the Shirat HaYam, the Song of the Sea, and the redemption of the Israelites, may we also be reminded that each of us has the power, capacity and courage to be a Nachshon. All we need to be willing to do is take that first step.
Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi Benjamin Sharff
[1] Exodus 13:21
[2] Exodus 14:11
[3] Masechet Sotah 36:a