In Parshas B’Shalach, the Jewish people were trapped between the sea on one side and the advancing Egyptians on the other. Moshe turned to Hashem in prayer, and Hashem instructed him to raise his staff and stretch his hand over the waters to part the sea. The Jewish people then entered the sea.
Our Sages explain that the actual entry into the sea wasn’t as simple as it seems. The Torah tells us that “the Children of Israel entered into the sea, on dry land.” When they first entered, the sea was still the sea; only once they entered did it turn into dry land. According to the Gemara, there is a difference of opinion as to what exactly happened.
In Midrash T’hilim, Rabbi Tarfon asked his students why they believed Yehudah merited the monarchy. Rabbi Tarfon offered several suggestions, but each one was rejected by his students. Finally, Rabbi Tarfon turned to his students: He said to them: If so, by what did he merit (to rule)?
They said to him: [It was] in the merit of his leap into the waves of the sea, for all the tribes were standing and not one would go down into the sea. Rather, one said, “I will go down first,” and the other said, “I will go down first.” But Yehudah sanctified the Name of the Holy One, blessed be He, and went down. And this is the reason he merited [to receive] the monarchy. As it says, “Yehudah became His sanctuary” (T’hilim 114:2). Because Yehudah sanctified [God’s name], therefore, “Israel became His dominion,” [God gave Israel dominion, kings]. And because Yehudah made God’s Name known, the name of Yehudah was made great amongst Israel. (Midrash T’hilim 96, ed. by Salomon Buber)
According to this opinion, when the tribes were standing on the shore of the Red Sea, none of them wanted to take the first step into the water. Yehudah was given the monarchy because Nachshon ben Aminadav, who was from the tribe of Yehudah, decided to take that first jump into the sea. This leap into the water was necessary to move B’nei Yisrael from their paralyzing fear of change. At that time, Moshe was in the midst of prayer, and God instructed him to pay attention to his people who were already in the water, and instruct the others to follow. The act of Nachshon ben Aminadav was what allowed the tribe of Yehudah to merit the monarchy, and it turned Yehudah into a leader.
“Hashem is known for the judgment that He performed…” (T’hilim 9:17). “G-d is known in Yehudah…’ (T’hilim 76:2).
Looking around at all the difficulties that we face daily, it may seem very hard to do Hashem’s will. At times, we may feel that we are closed in at all sides just like the advancing Egyptians and crashing waves. While our situations and problems may change, they always seem to lead us down a dead-end road. We must remember that Hashem is just testing us, and all we have to do is follow Nachshon’s example. If we become hesitant or afraid of leaping into the water, we will not find our way out. We must “jump into the sea” with m’siras nefesh, without being concerned about the problems that make it seem impossible. Just like Nachshon, every Jew is capable of reaching the pinnacle of devotion and complete trust in Hashem. When a Yid resolves to perform Hashem’s will with total disregard for the obstacles, Hashem provides a way to overcome the obstacles.