Nachshon ben Aminadav Walked into the Sea

Haggadah Section: Urchatz

During Urchatz we wade into the waters, quietly. This first of a double action in the Seder -- we will wash again soon -- calls up the Exodus story's many mentions of water. 

What holds in its story the sending, sneakily and quietly, a child floating down a river will lead in time to the crossing of a whole sea.     

In this part of the story in Exodus, Moses has cried out to God for help, and God's response is basically "I told you to keep going -- keep going" -- as though the people were expected to just continue into the sea as though they were still walking on land, but who can do that? 

In the story from Midrash (a collection of supplementary stories that seek to fill in blanks like this in the narrative), everyone is standing around arguing about who should be the first ones in. Tired of the arguments, our character Nachshon ben Aminadav just jumps right in. Midrash attributes two lines of a Psalm to him: 

Psalm 69:2-3

Rescue me, God,
   for the waters have come up to my neck
I have sunk in the slime of the deep,
   and there is no place to stand.
I have entered the watery depths,
   and the current has swept me away. 

Nachshon is named once in Exodus and 4 times in Numbers, and again in the Book of Ruth, but nothing is told of him. What is made clear is that his place in history is clear -- he is a prince, he falls halfway through the family line between Judah and David, making him an essential part of the stories of power in the Hebrew Bible. 

Nachshon teaches us many things about acting on faith, taking risks, acting while others are only talking. This story and the time where it comes in the Exodus story shows that even once the rule of the tyrant has been escaped there needs and struggles and reasons to continue doing all the things that Nachshon did arise immediately -- is the escape ever actually over? Here, the matzah has been hurriedly made, the plagues have been survived, and someone still needs to take a stand to move forward the cause of collective liberation. 

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