It was a moment of crisis, danger and desperation. Two people were faced with a life-threatening situation, and time was running out. At the climactic moment, one turned to the other and said “Don’t just stand there; do something!”
That scenario is similar to the scene at the Yam Suf (Red Sea) in this week’s Torah portion of Beshallach. Moshe and the Children of Israel stood on the banks of the Red Sea and watched the Egyptian army steadily approaching, ready to attack and return them to slavery. The only other option that seemed to be available was for them to jump into the sea and face what seemed to be certain death.
At that moment, Hashem said to Moshe (Exodus 14:15) “Why are you standing there praying? Do something! Have the Children of Israel go forward!”
The Midrash says that they hesitated. None of the tribes wanted to go first. Then Nachshon ben Aminadav of the tribe of Yehudah took the plunge. Literally. He jumped into the sea. It split and everyone followed after him.
Nachshon demonstrated the proper course of action for his generation and for the future. He had faith in Hashem and acted decisively on that faith. This type of action is called hishtadlus, putting in as much effort as we can. He wants us to use the talents and abilities He gave us to make things better for ourselves and for others. We must do our part and also call upon Hashem to do His part.
We cannot be passive and ask Hashem to remove all obstacles and problems in our path. Nachshon shows us that Hashem wants us to be active and to take the first step.
In life, we all encounter times when we need G-d’s help. There is a balance that we must strike between helping ourselves and asking Hashem to help us. His help is essential. However, the actions we take are also essential.
(This column is a service of the Greater Pittsburgh Rabbinic Association.)