RIDING THE WAVES
Towards the end of this week's Torah portion of Naso, the Torah describes the offerings that the twelve princes of Israel presented at the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle).
Towards the end of this week's Torah portion of Naso, the Torah describes the offerings that the twelve princes of Israel presented at the inauguration of the Mishkan (Tabernacle). The first prince who offered his gift was Nachshon the son of Aminadav from the tribe of Yehudah. There is a fascinating passage in the Midrash which explains how Nachshon merited this distinction. The Midrash reads as follows:
Rabbi Yehudah the son of Rabbi Ilai stated that when the people of Israel stood by the Red Sea, the tribes were quarreling with one another. One said, "I will go down into the sea first." Another said, "I will go down into the sea first." Nachshon then leaped into the waves of the sea and went down into the waters. In reference to him did Kind David state, "Save me Hashem, for the waters have reached [the point of taking] my soul." Hashem then told Moses, "My friend is sinking in the sea and you are praying? Speak to the Children of Israel and they shall travel through the sea!" This is what is meant by the verse, "Hashem is known through Yehudah" (Psalms 74:2). Therefore Hashem made the name of Nachshon great by having him offer his gift first.
A careful reading of this Midrash reveals its true interpretation. However, it also raises several questions. Why does the Midrash point out that Nachshon leaped into the waves of the sea? Furthermore, why does Hashem specifically use the term "my friend" to refer to Nachshon? And finally, what does the verse "Hashem is known through Yehudah" really have to do with this event?
It seems that the tribes, quarreling on the shore, had amongst their good motives a sense and desire to expand their own honor. Nachshon showed his trust in Hashem by jumping into the sea, his sole intention being to increase Hashem's honor. Hashem had promised to deliver the Jewish people. Nachshon, by specifically jumping into the waves, perhaps the most treacherous part of the sea, displayed that Hashem can be absolutely trusted, hence increasing Hashem's glory. This is what is meant by the verse "Hashem is known through Yehudah" Hashem's greatness is revealed through Nachshon, the prince of Yehudah. Such an act could have only been motivated by an intense love of Hashem. He calls Nachshon "my friend" as if to recognize the emotions that Nachshon has displayed and to reciprocate. It is for this reason that Hashem "made the name of Nachshon great," increasing his honor.
Rabbi Elie Cohen, who grew up in Atlanta and is an alumnus of Yeshiva Atlanta, is an educator at the Columbus Torah Academy in Ohio.
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