On community and courage: The story of Nachshon ben Aminadav
This past weekend was a very proud one for me and Debra as parents. Our daughter, Rachel Leah Hurt, became a Bat Mitzvah on Saturday. Her Torah portion, Parshat Beshalach (Song of the Sea), was an especially challenging one and she read it just perfectly. This took her hundreds of hours of study in 2017 (and she had an amazing teacher in Nancyellen Seiden). Alongside this study, she also wrote her first book, Guardians of the Forest, which also took hundreds of hours in 2017. It is a truly beautiful book for children ages 6–14 and I know she would appreciate it if you bought a copy at that link. And, during all of this, Rachel made all top grades at her middle school (including in all of the AP classes that she can take). I truly consider my most important job in life to be a good parent. I have had many influences in this regard, including my own parents (Lucky7 is named in tribute to my mom), Debra’s parents, and even my friend Michael Dell, who has had a hugely positive influence on his children, including the one I know best, Zachary (watch him become an extraordinary entrepreneur one day). I’ll write a blog post on parenting one day, but I certainly don’t want you to think I’ve got it all figured out. In many ways, to be a good parent is more challenging than starting a company and I’m certainly trying my best. It requires constant work (and innovation), but I digress.
I woke up this early this morning, around 4:40am, thinking about this past weekend. There were some good leadership lessons in this Torah portion, especially the one given by Nachshon ben Aminadav. Nachshon is certainly a lesser known figure in the Parting of the Red Sea, especially as compared to Moses. To that end, I would love to share with you a portion of Rachel’s speech, given by her after she read from the Torah. And I would love to hear your stories of where either you’ve been a Nachshon or you’ve seen someone close to you be a Nachshon. We all know the stories of Ghandi, Nelson Mandela, MLK Jr., and many other incredible leaders throughout history. But who are the lesser known figures that took the first actions to show the rest? Please share those much lesser known stories with me (and all of the Lucky7 readers) in your comments below — it would be a lot of fun to get a dialogue going about this.
Now, I’m quoting Rachel:
“Shabbat Shalom! This week’s Torah portion, Beshalach, from the Book of Exodus, is about the Israelites’ departure from Egypt and their journey from slavery to freedom.
After the final of the 10 plagues, Pharaoh finally decided to let the Jewish people go. The Jews headed out of Egypt as quickly as they could with their families, and were lead by G-d on their journey to the land of freedom, Israel. G-d directed Moses to take the Israelites by way of the wilderness to the Red Sea — a longer and less direct route.
I think that G-d chose to take the Israelites on the longer road opposed to the shorter path, because G-d wanted them to come together as united people, and be able to overcome the problems that life has to throw at them as a community.
As we learned last week from Parashat Bo, the Jewish people were slaves in Egypt for over 400 years. They are now at a crossroad in their lives. They were entering into unknown territory and an unknown future. From the Babylonian Talmud, it is said, “There is a path which is long and short, and a path which is short and long”. To me, it doesn’t seem right for G-d to simply solve all of the problems for the Jewish people by taking them on the direct, and short path. I think that before G-d gives them all of the answers, they all have to come together, to solve the obstacles that they will face along the way. I believe that G-d wanted to test the Israelites faith and trust in each other, and through a more challenging route, it would cause the people of Israel to mature, overcome adversity, and learn to work together as a unified nation.
The people of Israel traveled along the unclear road to the Red Sea. G-d led them by a pillar of fluffy cloud by day, and a pillar of warm fire by night. Shortly after they got to the Red Sea, the Egyptians changed their minds and came after the Jews.
Imagine this: your whole life, the only type of life you have ever known, is not a free one. Your parents are slaves and you are a slave. Then, all of a sudden, an idea you have never known comes true for you. You are free. This was exactly the sort of thing that happened to the Jewish people. They had never experienced this sort of life, or feeling, and so they do not know how to act or what to do…
Once the Israelites get to the Red Sea, they see that there is no way to cross the deep water, crashing with brutal waves. They are trapped between the Egyptians who are approaching quickly, and the raging Sea — with no way to cross it. They have no idea how to act, and have never had to make these kinds of decisions before, and it is definitely overwhelming. One wrong decision, and the Egyptians kill them. Naturally, not knowing what else to do, they start to complain to Moses, and think about it, there is definitely a whole lot to be complaining about at this point; and if you’re honest with yourself, you would probably be complaining too.
“Why have you even brought us here?” they would say. “The Egyptians are on our tails, and there is no way to cross the monstrous sea! There are no guaranteed signs of freedom and even staying alive is not assured. If we went back as slaves, at least then we would be alive.” Moses remained steadfast, did not question G-d’s word, and told the Israelites not to fear and to trust in G-d’s divine presence. G-d’s plan was beginning to unfold.
I imagine a lot of worrying and the Jewish people being distraught when they are trying to figure out what to do next. Meanwhile, the Egyptians are drawing closer as they speak. Time is running out.
There are several theories and ideas that I explored on what happens next. But keep in mind, that ultimately they all lead to the same result — the Sea split.
Today we read in the Torah that G-d instructed Moses to, “Lift up your rod and hold out your arm over the sea and split it.”
Did G-d finally believe that the Israelites had faith in G-d’s promise of safety and deliverance? Did the waters part because of the Israelites profound faith in G-d?
These are just a few thoughts and questions to keep in mind when you hear the different perspectives and theories.
This midrash, or ancient commentary, which I am now going to share with you, resonated with me the most.
An Israelite named Nachshon ben Aminadav, a tribal prince of Judah, witnessed and saw all of the complaining, questioning, and doubting around him, and knew that nothing anyone could say would change the perilous situation that the Israelites were facing. So, unlike everyone else, he took a chance — a risk — and decided to act.
So, while everyone else was frantically trying to figure out what to do, questioning G-d’s motives and the instructions of Moses to move forwards into the Red Sea, Nachshon chose bravely to be the first one to enter. He walked into the Sea until the water covered his entire body, and he couldn’t even breathe. When the Israelites see Nachshon covered in water from head to toe, and the Red Sea splits, they all follow him on the unclear road to survival.
If we consider the Midrash of Nachshon, then perhaps the question is…why did the waters part only after Nachshon entered the Red Sea and only after he was almost engulfed by water?
One can choose to lead either by instruction or by action. Nachshon chose action by walking bravely into the Sea. Because many times actions speak louder than words. He overcame the fear of death — either by drowning in the Sea, or dying at the hands of the Egyptians. The longer route to the Red Sea presented obstacles every step of the of way, making the Israelites test their faith in each other and recognize their belief in G-d.
I think that since the Israelites didn’t know how to work as one or what to do at all — before crossing the Red Sea — that maybe G-d whispered a simple thought in their heads to look around at each other. They might not have known what to do at the time, but once they looked around, things changed. A whole community was what they saw around them, and G-d might have hinted to them that you don’t have to do it alone. No matter what would happen at least they had each other, and even though they had no experience by themselves, free, and in the wilderness, as a team they figured out what to do next.
In doing this, the Jewish people showed incredible resilience. The Israelites could have just given up before crossing the Red Sea, and gone back to being slaves. But instead, even though the circumstances were foggy and scary, they kept moving forward, even though their future was unclear. They knew that if they kept trying, never gave up, and worked together, that eventually they would see the light.
Together, anything is possible. Because the Jews believed in each other, and worked together to cross the Red Sea, they made it safely across; and when the Egyptians came running after them, the Sea crashed before they got to the Israelites. The Jewish people ended up making it through together, working as a team.
I think that this week’s Torah portion can relate to each and every one of us. We have worked together as a community for thousands of years. As long as we continue to do this, together we can accomplish anything.
For my Bat Mitzvah project, I decided to impact the world through my writing.
Each and every one of us travel along the path of life. In writing my book, I choose to take the longer route. Writing a book is definitely not an easy task, but, just like G-d felt in taking the Israelites on the longer road, I felt like I wanted to make an impact for my Bat Mitzvah project through writing.
As many of you already know, I chose to write a book that I named Guardians of the Forest. I started my book in December of 2016, and finished it a little less than a year later. I worked with many people on my book, including my amazing illustrator Ryan Durney.
As of today, I’ve reached almost 100% of my goal, which I set at selling 1,000 limited edition copies. The great part of this project is that 100% of the profits are going to the Andy Roddick Foundation to build out a library for their summer camp, which enrolls thousands of kids every summer to help them learn new skills and keep them focused on heading down the right path. The donated books that you all have purchase are going to be gifted to children in all different types of facilities where they may have only a few books of their own. After I finished my book, I read to two classrooms at Harris Elementary School in East Austin, which has the most refugees of any school in AISD and 31 languages are spoken by the young children in that School. Afterwards, I read to adults and children at a reception hosted by the Andy Roddick Foundation, where almost all of the rest of my books were purchased. And I will be continuing this Mitzvah by reading to more children in hospitals, children’s centers, schools, and other venues as well. I’ve got hundreds of donated books, purchased by many of you here today, to distribute too! I’m so proud of my accomplishment and it warmed my heart to impact so many kids and change the world by doing what I love — writing.
To close out on our Torah portion — we all follow the path of life, and we all face crossroads in our lives. Many times throughout our lives we will have to be like Nachshon and take the first step. Because who knows? You’ll never know life’s many possibilities if you don’t even try. Shabbat Shalom!”
Congratulations — if you made it this far, you have now attended part of a Bat Mitzvah service, which is a Mitzvah in and of itself. And I’ll close out this Lucky7 post by sharing this photo of Rachel reading Guardians of the Forest to one of the classes at Harris Elementary School:
Note: this was originally posted on my blog at Lucky7.io.