Chinese philosopher Lao Tzu said that a journey of a thousand miles begins with a single step. What he didn’t say that the first step is the hardest step.
Jewish wisdom teaches this in the story of a man named Nachshon. His story begins on the shores of the Red Sea. The Israelites are on their way out of Egypt. Pharaoh and his army, however, are in hot pursuit.
What can the Israelites do? They are trapped between a body of water they cannot cross, and an army of soldiers and chariots they cannot defeat. God has promised them a miracle. But none seem forthcoming.
Moses begs God to do something. God does not answer.
The Power of One
Then, so the legend goes, Nachshon steps forward. He walks right into the Red Sea. He keeps walking until the water reaches his eyes. At that point, God parts the waters, and the Israelites walk safely across the Sea and into the wilderness.
The Sea did not part until Nachshon walked into it. Nothing happened until someone took the first step. Nachshon knew the truth Dr. Martin Luther King would later put into words, “You just need to take the first step in faith. You don’t have to see the whole staircase, just take the first step.”
Why is this step so difficult? Why was Nachshon the only one to step forward?
Wading Through Uncertainty
One reason is uncertainty. No one knew what lay ahead. No one knew what would happen next. That uncertainty not only paralyzed the Israelites. It can afflict us as well.
I think about people who stay in lousy jobs because they do not know what else they can do. I think of people who stay in abusive marriages because it’s all they know.
Slavery was all the Israelites knew. It’s all Nachshon knew. Yet, he took the first step. And we are here because of it.
His action leaves an enduring lesson for all of us. As Rabbi Will Berkovitz put it, “We have to be willing step into uncertainty. We have to be willing as Nachshon did at the Red Sea to keep wading deeper and deeper until we risk drowning. And then maybe the sea will split.”
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