Taking The Leadership Plunge

Nachshon ben Aminadav, the famous leader of the tribe of Judah who steps first into the not-yet-parted waters of the Reed Sea, is one of Judaism’s famous leadership models. As a direct descendant of Judah, the brother-in-law of Aaron, and a direct ancestor of King David, his yiches (leadership lineage) couldn’t get much better. What was it about him that allowed him to step forward first out of all the People of Israel gathered at the edge of the sea?

Those of us in leadership positions have an abundance of books, blogs, podcasts, seminars, fellowships, etc., all focused on helping us grow as leaders. There are literally hundreds of approaches: servant leadership, adaptive leadership, primal leadership, etc…We can infer, like we can with the abundance of sources of advice on parenting, that these are complex tasks that rely heavily on our core identities and beliefs in order to make decisions. Just like with parenting, some decisions will be right and some will not. Some will make our constituents happy, and some will not, and some will split them in half.

The decision facing Nachshon was a little bit different, as he was stuck between potential death by Egyptian chariot vs. drowning – a life or death situation that few of us have to face. You might imagine someone in that position going with the chariots, as at least there you have a slim chance of survival or perhaps returning to a life of slavery in Egypt. But Nachshon went the other way, wading into the water. The Midrash and Rabbinic tradition treat this as an act of faith — as if Nachshon knew the waters might split, or they might not, but demonstrating faith in G-d was the only way forward. Perhaps.

Another read, though, is that Nachshon was able to see that returning to a life of slavery wasn’t better than dying. That in fact being willing to die to preserve his recently acquired freedom was a demonstration of the value of being free. Perhaps he was honoring the Children of Israel’s redemption in the hands of the divine by showing that he’d rather go forward towards certain death than step back into servitude. Either way, his actions took bravery, and of course they lead to the redemption of the entire nation.

The whole dramatic scene of Nachshon stepping forward first is not in the text of the Torah. It is only through the process of Midrash (using the text as a jumping off point for stories and explanations) that we ever learn of his heroic moment. Otherwise, he’s just a name in a list. This may be another mark of outstanding leadership, as the leaders I admire most certainly don’t require parades or accolades for their actions. At Gesher we offer students many opportunities to lead, and this week was no different — our 4th, 5th, and 6th graders each stepped into new roles in Tefilah (prayer) leadership this past Thursday, and they demonstrated poise, energy, confidence, and resilience — we are very proud of them!

This week, talk with your kids about a time when you considered yourself a leader, and ask them if they consider themselves leaders.

Shabbat Shalom,