Rabbi David Etengoff
Dedicated to the sacred memories of my mother, Miriam Tovah bat Aharon Hakohen, father-in-law, Levi ben Yitzhak, sister-in-law, Ruchama Rivka Sondra bat Yechiel, sister, Shulamit bat Menachem, Yehonatan Binyamin ben Mordechai Meir Halevi, Shoshana Elka bat Avraham, Tikvah bat Rivka Perel, Peretz ben Chaim, the Kedoshim of Har Nof and Pittsburgh, and the refuah shlaimah of Yakir Ephraim ben Rachel Devorah, Mordechai ben Miriam Tovah, and the safety of our brothers and sisters in Israel and around the world.
The Yom Tov of Shevi’i shel Pesach (Seventh Day of Pesach) is a continuation of Pesach, rather than a Chag (Festival Day) in its own right. Both the Midrash and Rashi (1040-1105) make it quite clear, however, that this seemingly secondary status in no way diminishes its singular import, since it commemorates an overwhelmingly miraculous moment in our nation’s history, namely, Kriyat Yam Suf – the Splitting of the Sea of Reeds. In turn, this amazing event generated the song of thanksgiving known as the “the Shirat HaYam” ─ “the Song of the Sea:”
…On the fifth and the sixth [days after the Jewish people left Egypt], they [the Egyptians] pursued them. On the night preceding the seventh [day], they [the Jewish nation] went down into the sea. In the morning [of the seventh day], they [the Jewish people] recited the Song [of the Sea]. Therefore, we read the Song [from the Torah] on the seventh day, that is the Seventh Day of Passover. (Rashi, Commentary on the Torah, Sefer Shemot 14:5, this and all Bible and Rashi translations with my emendations, The Judaica Press complete Tanach)
On a certain level, Rashi’s statement, “they [the Jewish nation] went down into the sea,” conceals more than it reveals, as this matter-of-fact phrase hides the drama that ensued immediately prior to our forebears’descent into the Yam Suf. The best-known Talmudic version of the “story behind the story” is found in Talmud Bavli, Sotah 37a:
Rabbi Yehudah responded to him [Rabbi Meir]: What you suggested is not what happened, instead [when the entire nation was standing at the Yam Suf,] this person said, “I am not going down into the water first!” and another responded, “I am not going to go into the water first!” [During this time of endless inaction,] Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped up and became the first one to descend into the waters of the Yam Suf. As the text states: “Ephraim has surrounded me with lies, and the house of Israel with deceit, but Judah [Nachshon ben Aminadav’s tribe] still rules (rad, literally, “has gone down”) with G-d, and with the Holy One He is faithful.” (Sefer Hoshea 12:1, Talmud translation and brackets my own) …
The notion that “Nachshon ben Aminadav jumped up and became the first one to descend into the waters of the Yam Suf” is found throughout Midrashic literature. For example, in Bamidbar Rabbah, Parashat Naso 13, we find: “‘Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Yehudah’ — why was he called ‘Nachshon?’ This is because he was the first to descend l’nachshol sh’b’yam — into the surging waves of the Sea.” Midrash Pirkei d’Rabbi Eliezer, Chapter 22, takes a different approach than that of Bamidbar Rabbah, and focuses its primary attention on the powerful outcome of Nachshon’s heroic behavior:
And Nachshon was the first to jump up and go into the Sea. In so doing, he sanctified His great Name in the eyes of all. [As a result,] under the Tribe of Yehudah’s leadership [that was led by Nachshon], the entire Jewish people followed them and entered the Sea. As the text states: “Judah became His holy nation, Israel His dominion.” — This means under the rulership of the Tribe of Yehudah. (Translation my own)
In his work, Netivot Olam (Ahavat Hashem, chapter II), the Maharal of Prague (Rabbi Yehudah Loew ben Bezalel, 1520-1609) notes that Nachshon performed a very special kind of kiddush Hashem (sanctification of G-d's name), in the sense that he did so “b’pharhesia” — before the entire world. In the Maharal’s view, this is the highest form of kiddush Hashem, and is thereby categorized as, “kedushat haShem l’gamrei” — complete and total sanctification of the Divine Name.
Clearly, not all of us have the opportunity to undertake Nachshon-like public actions that will lead to a kedushat haShem l’gamrei. None-the-less, each of us can emulate him on our own level. As the Rambam (Maimonides, 1135-1204) teaches us in a celebrated passage in his Mishneh Torah: “Anyone who refrains from committing a sin or performs a mitzvah for no ulterior motive, neither out of fear or dread, nor to seek honor, but for the sake of the Creator, blessed be He...sanctifies G-d’s name.” (Hilchot Yesodei HaTorah V:10, translation, Rabbi Eliyahu Touger) Therefore, with the Almighty’s help and our fervent desire, may each of us dare to be like Nachshon! V’chane yihi ratzon.
Shabbat Shalom and Chag Kasher v’Sameach
Past drashot may be found at my blog-website: http://reparashathashavuah.org
They may also be found on http://www.yutorah.org/ using the search criteria Etengoff and the parasha’s name.
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Talmid of Rabbi Soloveitchik zatzal