We prepare for Passover in many ways, from buying food to cleaning our kitchen. The most important preparation is telling the story.
We have the story direct from the Torah and it is a great one with lots of action and wild plagues. We look to understand the why of the plagues and there is wonderful rabbinic insight. Moses is the hero of the Torah but there are also many other heroes. The women are amazing: the midwives Shifra and Puah, Yocheved (Moses’ mother), Miriam (sister), and Tziporah (wife). But the one we must hear about at our Passover Seder is the hero of the Red Sea Miracle — and it is not Moses.
The story at the sea says that Moses put his staff in the water and God split the sea — a great story but not a lot of action. So the rabbis told a new story in the Talmud. In the story, Moses puts his staff in the water and nothing happens. The people are panicked. So the hero rises — Nachshon, the son of Aminadav, steps into the water. As people shout for him to come back, he continues deeper and deeper. The moment he goes under water, the sea splits. (Babylonian Talmud, Sotah 36b-37a, Mekhilta Beshallach 6)
The rabbis teach us that liberation comes to the courageous. Nachshon was able to believe and have faith — he was willing to risk because he trusted. Rabbi Adam Greenwald, in a commentary on this parashah, suggests that a good name for the Israelites would be B’nai Nachshon, children of Nachshon. We are the children of the one who walked into the sea because he believed in a better life for himself and his children.
After the sea opens and the children rush to the other side, they are free. But they still had miles and years to go before they reach the Promised Land.
At our Passover Seder, we stop the telling after we reach freedom. This year, let us talk about what happens when the journey continues and how Nachshon made it possible. The first steps were taken long, long ago and we are still walking toward freedom thanks to Nachshon.
Shalom… from the Shabbat Lady.
Laura Seymour is director of Camping Services at the Aaron Family Jewish Community Center of Dallas.