Acting in the interests of everyone
On the seventh day of Pesach we read about the splitting of the Sea of Reeds (Red Sea), the demise of the pursuing Egyptians, as well as Shirat Hayam, the Song of the Sea. This song is identified with the Israelites’ expression of faith and their recognition of God’s role as protector.
This song is also included in our daily morning services, during P’sukei D’Zimra (Songs of Praise).
Shirat Hayam is followed by the song of Miriam, where Miriam takes a timbrel in her hand, and she leads all the women in a dance with timbrels, singing how God had triumphed gloriously and saved the Israelites.
Shortly before crossing the Sea of Reeds, just seven days after leaving Egypt, the Israelites find themselves trapped between the sea and the Egyptian army, pursuing them. Their immediate response is to complain to Moses that they have been taken out of Egypt to die in the desert. God tells Moses; “Speak to the Children of Israel and let them travel” (Exodus 14:15). Despite this instruction, no one ventured forward. It is at the stage that our tradition introduces the bravery of Nachshon ben Aminadav. His story is not told in the Torah itself, but rather through several iterations in Midrash and the Talmud.
Even before God commanded Moses to lift his staff and spread his hand over the sea, which would then split the sea and allow the Israelites to cross safely, Nachshon, having witnessed the various tribes hesitating and refusing to be the first to go in, jumps into the sea.
He shows great faith and leadership in taking that leap into what could have been his death. Nachshon didn’t enter the waters when they were receding, he overcame the fear of death possibly by evaluating the choice of dying at the hands of the Egyptian army or drowning in the Sea of Reeds.
His bravery encourages others to follow, and cross the Sea of Reeds. We are told of a number of rewards that Nachshon earns following his bravery, including that the eternal kingdom of Israel was given to his tribe (Judah), a number of heroes of Israel were among his descendants, and he was the first to bring his sacrificial offering to the Tabernacle.
Perhaps even greater than all of those rewards is the use of his name as a metaphor for bravery, courage and leadership by action. We often refer to someone who is willing to be the first person to undertake a challenge or perform a daunting task in a group environment, such as preparing and presenting a project or paper, as our Nachshon. We’ve also adopted a feminine version of his name, Nachshonet, in recognition of the importance of that role and our willingness to be that person.
Pesach is a time for us to recognise our establishment as a nation. We left Egypt as a group, not as individuals. We were freed from slavery in order to serve God, as a people. We had to learn to recognise that our fate is linked to the fate of those around us, and that the attitudes we displayed and actions we carried out had a much bigger impact than just affecting us or our families.
One of the first opportunities to learn that was at the Sea of Reeds. No one wanted to undertake the dangerous task of going in first, afraid for themselves only. Nachshon ben Aminadav led by action, not instruction. His courage and faith led to others following suit, for the betterment of all. He acted in the interests of the group, not his own. His actions and determination result in something much greater, including the expression of faith and recognition of God’s role as protector in Shirat Hayam.
As we approach the end of this festival of freedom, let us too recognise the importance and value of acting in the interests of everyone, not just ourselves.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Same’ach,
Reverend Sam Zwarenstein
7 Ocean Street
Woollahra, NSW 2025
p: 02 9389 6444
Shabbat, January 30, 2021
17th of Sh’vat, 5781
Friday, January 29 2021 7:44PM
Motzei Shabbat 8:20PM
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