Far From the Shallows: Nachshon and Our Love Affair with God

In BeShalach, this week’s Torah portion, we read about splitting of the Red Sea. Caught between the sea and Pharaoh’s advancing chariots the Israelites cry to Moshe and to God.  In response Moshe tells the people not to worry; God will take care of everything. However, God does not seem to be happy with this, and essentially says to the people—and to Moshe—do not cry to me, do something. God’s position seems to be that God has been doing everything for the people up until this point, and now it is time for them to act ( Exodus 14:16-22). What does it take for the sea divide? What is the needed action?

According to the Gemara in Sotah the various tribes were arguing what to do and not doing anything. There we read:Then, in jumped the prince of Yehudah,Nahshon ben Amminadab, and descended into the sea first, accompanied by his entire tribe, as it is stated: “Ephraim surrounds Me with lies and the house of Israel with deceit, and Judah is yet wayward toward God [rad im El]” (Hosea 12:1), which is interpreted homiletically as: And Yehudah descended [rad] with God [im El]. (Sotah 37a)

Nahshon the prince of Yehudah took action and descended into to the Red Sea which caused it to split. The midrash elaborates on this image in a discssion of the line from Psalms regarding Yehudah making the people connect with the name of God ( Psalms 76:2). There we read:

Rabbi Yehudah bar Ilai said: When Israel was at the sea, the tribes were arguing with each other. One tribe said: ‘I will go down first [into the sea]’, and the other tribe said ‘I will go down first.’ Nachshon jumped first into the waves of the sea and went down, and on him David said, “Deliver me, O God, for the waters have reached my neck.” Said the Holy One of Blessing to Moshe: My beloved is sinking in the sea and you are praying?! ‘Tell the Israelites to get going!’(Ex. 14:15)”This is ‘E-lohim is known in Yehudah’ (Bemidbar Rabbah 13:5)

In this version it was not enough that Nachshon went into the water, he submerged himself in the water. God is known because of  this prince of Yehudah went “all-in”.

Yes, Nachshon is of the tribe of Yehudah, but what is the significance of Psalms proclaiming that Yehudah is the one who reconnects the Israelites to God?

The line of Yehudah goes from Nachshon to Boaz to David. Both Boaz and David lives are marked by deep romantic love. In the cases of Boaz with Ruth and David with Bathsheva we get a sense that it was love at first sight.

I was thinking about these themes while listening to the breakout single Shallows from a Star is Born. In this song the male protagonist invites the female on to the stage to share a song inspired by  their emerging love.

Lady Gaga’s character sings:

I’m off the deep end, watch as I dive in
I’ll never meet the ground
Crash through the surface, where they can’t hurt us
We’re far from the shallow now

Clearly she is talking about her falling in love. While she knows that there are risks involved in her going on stage she is throwing herself in to the relationship. And just like that a Star is born.

It is hard for me not to connect her words to Nachshon as he was submerged in the Red Sea. Similarly you can hear in her song Boaz’s love for Ruth and David’s falling for Batsheva. All three men of Yehudah help reconnect Israel to God. All four are modeling being vulnerable and open to love. We as a nation are saved when Nachshon goes past the shallows and reconnects us to God by being “all-in”. And just like that our star was born. Knowing the risks, I still wonder what would it take for any of us to enter into a passionate or even divine relationship?

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