This week we read of the parting of the Red Sea. On their way out of Egypt, the Israelites found themselves trapped between the sea on one side and the Egyptian army on the other.
The people panicked. Moses told them to have faith and to continue travelling towards the sea. And when they arrived at the sea, God told Moses to stretch out his arm over the sea, and it split, creating a dry path to the other side. The Egyptians pursued the Israelites into the opened sea, but as soon as the Israelites climbed out onto the other side, the sea closed on the Egyptians and drowned them.
The Midrash claims that the opening of the sea did not occur as simply as the verses themselves seem to indicate. Moses stretched out his arm as commanded, but nothing happened. The people stood around waiting, feeling scared. Finally one brave individual, Nachshon ben Aminadav, mustered up courage and jumped right into the water. When the water reached his neck, the sea finally split.
We are meant to learn something from this story. But the Midrash is not advocating we all become irresponsible dare-devils. In Midrash, stories are often exaggerated and embellished with the goal of teaching us a reasonable lesson. Whether or not Nachshon did actually jump into the water, and whether or not that particular action would have been praiseworthy, is irrelevant. In what way, though, should an average Jewish person endeavour to be like Nachshon? By living our lives optimistically, believing in the goodness of human beings, the goodness of life itself, and doing what we believe is right, despite the dangers involved. We are not meant to put ourselves at risk, but if we exert excessive caution, the tasks we are meant to accomplish will never get done either.
When we see people in peril or suffering, or when we see something around us we can improve for the betterment of our society, we should all be ready to jump right in.
Be like Nachshon! Have faith, for a good deed by one person leads to many other people doing good deeds themselves.