Our Torah reading this week tells of the Israelites finally going forth to freedom after 210 years of harsh slavery. After a series of horrible plagues that God brings upon Egypt, the Torah relates that Pharaoh finally demands of Moses that he lead his people out of Egypt.
But as the Israelites are leaving, Pharaoh has a change of heart, and he orders that his soldiers pursue the Israelites and bring them back to servitude. But as the Israelites reach the sea, they see that they are now being pursued by the Egyptian army. And in panic, they cry out to Moses fearing that they are about to die, either by drowning in the sea, or by the swords of the Egyptian army.
According to the Torah, Moses looks up to heaven and appeals to God that He intervene on behalf of the Israelites. God responds: “Tell the Children of Israel to go forward.” And says rabbinic legend that is wasn’t until one man whose name was Nachshon dared to take that first step into the water, that the sea began to part with the Israelites going forth to freedom.
Whether this is exactly the way things happened, I don’t know. Only that the legend about Nachshon speaks to many of us regarding the so-called “threatening seas” that we face in our lives, and of how the first step is usually both the most important and the hardest in confronting the challenge. Yes, there was a miracle that occurred said our sages. But it didn’t happen until on man dared to take that first step.
And I think that there is a timeless message in this ancient legend. For all of us, from the time that we are children and for as long as we live, life is filled with challenges. Life is filled with so-called “threatening seas” that we need to cross if we are to reach our goals and our dreams. Yes, there was a miracle that the sea parted, but what Judaism wants to say to us is that it didn’t happen until one man dared to take that first step.
For many of us, is there not some goal or hope that we have, but where fear or habit keep us from going forth? From Nahshon we learn that in life, if we will but find within ourselves the courage and the strength to take that first step, then will God help us to take the second and third steps.
And so for all of us, whatever “sea” it is that stands before us, God’s call to us is “tell the people to go forth and I will be with them.”
Shabbat Shalom. I hope to see you at our “Friday Night Live” service this evening.