This week’s d’var comes from Rabbi David Lyon, senior rabbi of Congregation Beth Israel, Houston, Texas (founded in 1854), in honor of the anniversaries of Troop 806 (40 years) and Pack 806 (35 years), both chartered to the Brotherhood of the Congregation. This week also marks the completion of the 8th year of Derech Tsofeh.
Leaders are all around us. Some are strong and well-known; others are unsung heroes whose names are less familiar to us.
In Exodus, familiar leaders like Moses, Aaron, and Miriam are remembered easily and celebrated often. But an unsung hero named Nachshon needs to be celebrated, too.
Who was Nachshon? He was the first man among the Israelites who put his foot into the waters of the Reed Sea. Nachshon showed all the Israelites that God’s way was right, and that Moses was trustworthy. Nachshon put one foot and then the other into the waters and they began to part, just as Moses raised up the staff in his hands as God commanded him to do. The waters parted and the Israelites entered onto dry land to cross the sea and escape Egypt, forever.
In every generation there are people who must take the first step before others will follow. In Mishnah (Pirkei Avot 2:6), we learn, “In a place where there are no leaders, strive to be a leader.” When a leader is needed, you might be the right person for the task.
At your age, you’ve already done more than most boys and girls who haven’t hiked or camped, learned safety and survival skills, and learned the value of integrity and honor. As Scouts, you’ve earned badges on safety, conservation, citizenship, and have performed good deeds (mitzvot).
These life skills make you ready to stand up when your family, your community, and your faith need you. Who among you hasn’t heard someone ask for help or a favor? Who hasn’t anticipated someone’s help before they asked for it? Who stepped up and made a difference because it was the right thing to do? All of you are well on your way to answer these questions with confidence.
This Shabbat, we’ll open the Torah to chant Parashat Beshallach, in Exodus 15. It has a special name, the Song of the Sea (Shirat HaYam); it’s the Israelite’s victory song. It exalts God and scorns Egyptian horsemen. It asks, “Who is like You, God, among all the gods that are worshiped?” and it champions the Israelites who emerge safely and faithfully on the other side of the Reed Sea. Then Miriam picks up her timbrels and leads a dance to celebrate their freedom. The victory song was sung because of what all the people did. But it began with Nachshon.
You have a victory song to sing, too. Sometime, perhaps many years ago, a few caring adults in your community gathered together some eager young people and created your pack, troop, crew or ship. Who were the brave people who put their toes in the waters of a new unit, and formed a new group of Scouts who became friends and leaders? Perhaps you have carried on this work by asking someone to join you in Scouting.
Let’s learn from those whose names are celebrated, but let’s also learn from those whose names are unknown. Let’s honor all people who are heroes in our eyes. You can be a hero today and tomorrow, too, when you serve with honor, dignity, selflessness, faith, and mitzvot.
May you go from strength to strength.
Rabbi David Lyon