Passover, the most observed of all the Jewish holidays, begins Monday night with the first Seder. During the Seder we retell the story (Maggid) of the Jewish people’s difficult journey from slavery in Egypt to freedom. Most of us know the basics of the story. And, of course, early on in the Seder, even before we recite the ten plagues, we seem to ask the same six very important questions:
Why is this night different from all other nights?
Why do we eat matza?
Why do we eat bitter herbs?
Why do we dip twice?
Why do we recline while eating?
And, on what page do we finally get to eat?
Seder is a very special time for families and guests. In some ways, it is our annual “family reunion.” I am saddened that this will be the first Passover without my father. It is a time when we share our own personal stories, while also sharing the story of our people’s exodus from Egypt. The climax, of course, is the parting of the Red Sea and the Jews ability to cross and begin their new life of freedom.
Although not truly mentioned in the biblical exodus story per se (although cited as the chief of the Tribe of Judah) is one of the most important (and one of my favorite) figures in rabbinic literature – Nachshon ben Aminadav.
The Midrash (stories told by rabbinic sages to explain passages in the Bible) tells us that when the Jews stood facing the Red Sea, the command was given to move forward. Each of the tribes hesitated, saying “We do not want to be the first to jump into the sea.” Nachshon, who could not swim, saw what was happening and walked right into the water.
As he walked in, the water rose first above his ankles, above his knees, above his waist, above his shoulders - and still he kept walking. As the sea got deeper, the water finally rose above his mouth and nose – he was drowning. When Moses saw that Nachshon was drowning, he cried out to God to save him, and by extension, all the people. It is then that God finally responded to Moses, saying, “Moses, my friend … the sea is closing in upon him, the enemy is in close pursuit, and you stand there praying? Do something!”
Nachshon and Moses were two different types of leaders – both are important, but Nachshon’s story has always struck me. Moses is the famous leader who stands up to Pharoah and talks to God. And, despite his speech impediment, he stands before the Children of Israel during all of the big moments of their journey through the desert. Nachshon, instead, was a “doer.” His leadership style focused on what needed to be done and took responsibility for those initiatives. Nachshon’s name has become synonymous with courage and the will to do the right thing – even when it is not popular.
To paraphrase a recent article by Andi Rosenthal and Cantor Adina Frydman, I am grateful for the many fearless Nachshons among our community leaders (volunteer and professional) who characterize their work through their bravery, trust, and willingness to risk their own comfort and security for the sake of the betterment of the Jewish people. Each day, we are blessed that our communal leaders, no matter where they may be on the continuum of change, take even the smallest steps forward so that they may experience an exodus from the narrow places that may keep our organizations in stasis as the world changes around them. And most of all, recognizing that there is always fear involved with change, we must enhance our relationships, so our community(ies) can learn from and be inspired by one another, and move forward together, just as we did so long ago, at the shores of the sea, as one people – am echad.
Enjoy your Seder (click here if you are still looking for a place to celebrate with others) and best wishes for a zissin Pesach.
On a volunteerism note, last Sunday morning, I saw many leaders in action. Check out this video where members of Kesser Israel are packing and delivering Passover food boxes to 120+ families (as identified by Jewish Family and Child Service) in our community. As you may recall, the money needed for the food was raised in less than ten days by our community. I wish all of these families, along with yours, a joyous Passover Seder meal and holiday celebration.
Let’s also not forget our young leaders who will lead our community into the future. In April 2014, more than 10,000 Jewish teenagers from around the world came together to serve their communities and make a difference. J-Serve, the Official Day of Jewish Youth Service, was held this past Sunday afternoon.
Locally, the program was hosted by BBYO, B’nai B’rith Camp, Tivnu: Building Justice, and the Jewish Federation’s Portland Mitzvah Network at the ReBuilding Center. 80 teens (double the number last year) representing various youth groups (BBYO, Jr. NCSY, USY, NFTY), Oregon Jewish Community Youth Foundation, Portland Jewish Academy, and synagogues (Congregation Beth Israel, Congregation Neveh Shalom, Havurah Shalom, Congregation Shaarie Torah, Shir Tikvah) came together for an afternoon of volunteer service. The spirit of tikkun olam and tzedakah was alive and well. While one person can make a major difference, thousands working together can change the world.
Check out the photos from the day’s events.