Nachshon ben Aminadav, the head of the Tribe of Yehudah was a true trailblazer who acted on faith and set a powerful example for others to follow. According to tradition, when the Jewish people were encamped on the banks of the Sea of Reeds, fearing what would become of them, it was Nachshon who leapt into the watery depths, wading in the Sea’s icy embrace up to his nose, until it miraculously split. Nachshon led by example, and it was in his merit and by his model of leadership that the Jewish people crossed the Sea of Reeds.
However, in this week’s parsha, Parshat Nasso, Nachshon appears again, only this time, as the first among the tribal leaders to offer gifts for the inauguration of the Mishkan, as it says, “The one who brought his offering on the first day was Nachshon ben Aminadav, of the tribe of Yehudah” (Bamidbar 7:12). Now, the reason why Nachshon was chosen to be the first tribal leader to bring his contributions was because “the one who sanctified the Name of God at the Sea, [should be] the one who should bring their offering first. This was Nachshon” (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:7). However, when referring to Nachshon, our parsha does not use his proper title, “Nasi,” or “Prince,” as it does with the other tribal leaders. Instead, the Torah simply calls him by his name. Why? After all, “the hero of the Sea of Reeds,” the first person selected to lead the tribal procession should surely be referred to in the most dignified way possible. And yet, he is not. What is our parsha teaching us?
According to the Midrash, the reason is, “because [of the fact that Nachshon] was the first to bring his offerings, he might flaunt his station over the other tribal leaders, saying, ‘I am a king over you because I was selected to bring my offerings first!’ And so, the other leaders would reply, ‘No, you are an ordinary person, for behold, we (the rest of the tribal leaders) are called princes and you are not!'” (Bamidbar Rabbah 13:17). Thus, by not calling Nachshon a “Nasi,” a “Prince,” the Torah is teaching us that even though he was given such a lofty, glorified position among the Israelite nobles, as a leader, he needed to maintain his humility, his piety, and his awareness that every tribe, no matter how great or small, was just as important as he was.
The mark of a true leader is not how high you can rise above others, but rather, how high you can raise others up along with you. Nachshon, displayed that essential leadership quality both at the Sea of Reeds and during the inauguration of the Mishkan, never flaunting his spiritual prowess, but always staying grounded, seeing how his actions could set an example for others to follow, thus establishing a positive foundation for his community to build upon. By not referencing his title, the Torah teaches us that titles are not everything, and that true leadership is about action, not accolades.
This Shabbat, as we consider the leadership roles we play in our personal and professional lives, let us follow the example of Nachshon. May we always jump at the opportunity to Sanctify the Name of God, may we always strive to serve God and each other with humility, quiet faith and spiritual strength, but may we also always view ourselves, our words and our deeds as being part of a bigger picture, enabling those around us to make their contributions to the community each in their own way, for the benefit of the Jewish people and all Creation.