Off the Pulpit


When the Israelites came to the red sea, it did not part. Even Moses’ entreaties to God could not get the seat to split. The Rabbis recount that one man, Nachshon Ben Amminadav, boldly leapt into the sea, and it parted. Like Curtis who flung himself into the breach in the Roman Senate, Nachshon proved that what mattered was the courage to act when others’ falter.

There are always good reasons to hesitate. Considerations of prudence, of fairness, of deference hold us back. Psychologists tell us that the greater the number of people who might respond, the less likely any individual is to take responsibility. So why did Nachshon leap into the sea while all of Israel stood at the bank? Because he knew that at decisive moments of history, to hope, dream or even pray is not enough. Deliberation is eclipsed by daring.

Herzl once told some friends: “I am not better nor more clever than any of you. But I remain undaunted and that is why the leadership belongs to me.” Among the children of Israel there were good people, wise people, even faithful people who cried out to God. But Nachshon jumped.