I am referring to giving up your life when the situation calls for it. Although this is our most precious commodity, we are sometimes thrust into unfortunate situations when it’s called for.
I’m not only talking about giving up one’s life instead of committing the three cardinal sins of murder, idol worship and immorality.
I am talking about each one of us in our regular lives.
Allow me to explain.
The Jewish people, fresh out of Egypt, after witnessing all the wonders there, stood at the banks of the red sea.
They were effectively trapped on all sides. The mighty Egyptian army threatened them from behind. The raging sea was looming in front of them. Ferocious animals were licking their chops on either side of them.
The Jewish people did the only thing they could. They prayed to Hashem!
Surprisingly the divine command was to go forward right into sea!
At this point the Jews were frozen with fear. To make matters worse, the Midrash describes how the tribes argued with one another saying that they would never enter the stormy sea first!
Suddenly Nachshon the son of Amidanov from the tribe of Yehuda, without a moments delay, jumped right into the forbidding sea!
Nachshon was greatly rewarded for this selfless act.
Rabbi Chaim Shmuelevitz asks a most disturbing question.
We generally focus on Nachshon’s great act. But where were the tribes? Why were none of the other Jews willing and ready to sacrifice their lives for the sake of Hashem? There was a direct command to enter the sea!
Are we not familiar with the stories of entire communities giving up their lives when the hour called for it?
Throughout our blood soaked and tear drenched pages of history even simple Jews lied down their lives when they had no choice! So why didn’t the Jewish people, who must have been on a lofty level after living through the exodus from Egypt, have the strength of conviction to do the same? The answer offered by Rabbi Shmuelevitz had a tremendous effect on me.
He answers that the test facing the Jews of the desert was qualitatively different than the tests facing the Jews through the ages.
Had the Jews of the desert been faced with the identical test of the Jews through the ages, they would have jumped into the sea without a moments delay.
The test of the Jews of the ages was to lay down their lives for the sake of heaven. It was to sacrifice themselves in order to die.
But the test of the Jews of the desert was to lay down their lives in order to live. Meaning they had to look at the raging river as if it was dry land. They had to view the stormy waters as therein was their salvation.
The former test of the ages was already trail blazed by Avraham when he went into the fiery furnace. And at the binding of Yitzchak. Those great actions set into the spiritual DNA of all the Jews throughout the generations who had the strength to sacrifice their lives in order to die.
But the generation of the desert was hit with a brand new test.
This test was the ultimate challenge. A challenge no generation was ever faced with.
They were faced with an unbearable test of faith to look at the raging river of seeming certain death, and see tranquility.
I identify so much with this explanation, because in my life I have to daily find a way to look at the danger that surrounds me, and see only tranquility!
I believe in everyone’s life we face virtually unbearable challenges.
We would do well to utilize this coping technique.
Instead of drowning in our troubles, we have the ability to float upon tranquil waters!