Many Nachshons in history


By Rabbi Jennifer Weiner
Special to WJW

This week’s Torah portion is Beshalach,
Exodus 13:17 – 17:16.

Beshalach finds us standing at the proverbial shores of freedom. Many people know this portion from the passage known as Shirat HaYom, the Song of the Sea, containing the prayer Mi Chamocha. For that reason, this Shabbat is called Shabbat Shirah, the Shabbat of Song.

In this parshah, Moses tells the Israelites to gather their belongings. He relays the words from God: “Speak to the people of Israel; they shall travel.” It is for this reason that they find themselves trapped between a raging sea and the vengeful Egyptian army coming after them even though Pharaoh had said they could leave. Moses raised his arms as instructed by God, but the sea did not part.

The midrash and Talmud share the following account:

When Israel stood facing the Sea of Reeds, and the command was given to move forward, each of the tribes hesitated, saying, “We do not want to be the first to jump into the sea.”

Nachshon saw what was happening — and jumped into the sea.

At that moment Moses was standing and praying. God said to him, “My beloved ones are drowning in the stormy seas, and you are standing and praying?”
Moses replied, “Master of the world, what am I to do?”

Said God, “You lift your staff and spread your hand over the seas, which will split, and Israel will come into the sea upon dry land.”

From this passage, we learn of Nachshon ben Aminadov and his heroic act that saved our people. Legend holds that Nachshon desired freedom more than his safety and overcame his fear in order to set an example for the Children of Israel. Nachshon’s brave action, taking one footstep at a time, saved our people. After the waters parted, the people followed. As soon as the Israelites crossed to safety and freedom, they followed Miriam and raised their voices in praise and thanks to God.

There have been many Nachshons in history. For example, Golda Meir and Louis Brandeis. They ventured into leadership positions and led nations to achieve greatness. Their leadership exemplified what it means to inspire people. They knew when to lead and when to follow.

Some leaders are charismatic while others are quiet. A good leader is one who leads by example and inspires others to exhibit their best qualities and to contribute their talents. Most importantly, they inspire us to achieve more then we may have thought possible. In this manner, a leader involves the community and strengthens it through building coalitions and bringing people together.

We are fortunate to have such leaders in our community. Some are known by their names while others are not. These leaders helped the Jewish community not just survive but thrive when we had to pivot and move services, programs and events to online venues during this time of COVID.

As we stand at the brink of the Reed Sea contemplating freedom and the possibilities of new opportunities in our portion this week, let us summon our courage to take that first step and be willing to encourage others to do such. May we be Nachonites!

Rabbi Jennifer Weiner lives in Northern Virginia. Thanks to the combination of airplanes and Zoom, she serves as interim rabbi of Temple Emanu-El in Honolulu, Hawaii.

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