Torah Fax

Thursday, January 20, 2005 - 10 Shevat, 5765

Torah Reading:  Beshalach (Exodus 13:17 - 17:16) 
Candle Lighting time: 4:42 PM
Shabbat ends: 5:46 PM
Shabbat Shirah
For a lengthy discussion of the 10 plagues and their meaning see The Doctor Is In I, II, III and IV
According to the Talmud and Midrash, different approaches among our people began to develop at the very beginning of our emergence as a nation. Many of these differences are still visible among Jews today. Even before we crossed the Red Sea, and were totally out of the grasp of Pharaoh and his pursuing armies, we were already divided about what we should do. 
As Pharaoh's armies approached, and the Jews were apparently trapped with the Sea in front of them and the enemy behind them in hot pursuit, the Midrash tells us that four different factions developed among the Jews, each voicing a different opinion about what to do. The first group said they should return to slavery. The second group insisted they should fight the Egyptians, while the third despaired and wanted to drown themselves. The fourth group decided to pray to G‑d for salvation. In the end, G‑d simply said "Travel on!" Have faith and move toward Sinai without regard for the apparently insurmountable roadblock (or "seablock") before you.
Even at that point, the Talmud (Sotah 36b) records that a dispute broke out as to who should be the first tribe to jump into the sea. According to the opinion of Rabbi Meir, "One tribe declared, 'I will jump into the sea first,' while  the other tribe said, 'I will jump into the sea first.' At that point, the tribe of Benjamin jumped into the sea first..." Rabbi Yehudah, however, disagreed with Rabbi Meir and said to him: "No, this was not what happened! Rather, this one said: 'I will not go into the sea first,' while the other one said, 'I will not go into the sea first.' At that point, Nachshon, the son of Aminadav, jumped into the sea first."
So there was a dispute amongst the Talmudic Sages about the dispute of the Jews at the time of the Exodus! According to the opinion of Rabbi Meir, they were divided as to which tribe will be the first to jump into the raging waters. Each tribe vied for this honor. And it was the tribe of Benjamin that did not wait for a formal announcement. They took the initiative and went first. 
The obvious lesson from this approach is that in times of crises there is no time to stand on ceremony. True, in times of peace and calm, it is important that there is a protocol. There must be a system of priority, who goes first and who follows. And each tribe is entitled to vie for the responsibility and honor of being first. But when it comes to times of crises, even Benjamin, the youngest of the tribes can override the system and jump into the sea. For this heroic and pioneering gesture on their part, the Talmud declares, the holiest section of the Temple-the place where the Ark and the Tablets were placed-was situated in the territory of Israel that belonged to the tribe of Benjamin.
Rabbi Yehudah, however, disagrees. In his opinion, the heroes are rarely, if ever, tribes as a whole. Communal entities, many will argue, must subscribe to a system, or else chaos will ensue. Furthermore, a tribe, government, or any bureaucracy is like a massive ship that cannot quickly maneuver itself into a new direction. Thus, each tribe insisted that it cannot do anything rash and be the first to jump into the sea without authorization. Committees have to be formed, votes have to be taken and the decision whether to jump or not must be a deliberate and slow process. In these times of crises, a community depends on a Nachshon the son of Aminadav type of person; a man who overrides the system and acts quickly and unceremoniously. At that point the sea did split for everyone.
The lesson for our times is clear. While we should always try to work within the community for the well being of its constituents, we will always need individuals who cannot rest and cannot wait for the community to take the initiative. In every community there is a Nachshon who jumps into the sea and thereby saves the Jewish people.
We can now appreciate why it was Nachshon who merited to be the ancestor of King David and all subsequent great Jewish leaders, including Moshiach. In modern as well as classical Hebrew, a pioneer is known as a Nachshon. While Judaism believes very strongly in community action, it also believes that in every generation there is a great Jewish leader who does not wait for the community to decide, but takes the initiative and, figuratively, causes the sea to split, enabling the Jewish people to forge ahead towards our national and universal goal of bringing Moshiach and Redemption.
The 10th and 11th days of Shevat (coinciding this year with January the 20th and 21st) are the days that the Previous Rebbe, Rabbi Joseph Schneerson passed away and was succeeded by the Rebbe, respectively.  In addition to their scholarship, piety and love for the Jewish people and humanity, they were/are the Nachshon's of our modern age, fighting Communist oppression on one side of the ocean and American indifference on the other side. They single-handedly jumped into the raging waters that threatened to engulf the Jewish people and succeeded in getting these waters to split, reversing the trend that allowed the Jewish people to direct their energies towards the ultimate Messianic Age.  
Moshiach Matters
Exile is associated with night — darkness and concealment. It is only a temporary state leading to the era of the Redemption. (The Rebbe, 19 Sivan, 5751)
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