He was a prince of the tribe of Judah. He was the brother-in-law of Aaron, the high priest. When everyone else hesitated, he jumped into the swirling sea. He was Nachshon, the son of Aminadav.

Here is a portrait of the man whose quiet action left an indelible mark on our nation.

Family Origin

Nachshon was a fifth-generation descendant of Judah, son of Jacob. (His father was Aminadav, son of Ram, son of Chetzron, son of Peretz, son of Judah.)1

He appears for the first time in the Torah when Aaron marries his sister: “Aaron took for a wife Elisheva, daughter of Aminadav, sister of Nachshon.”2 The Torah generally records names only when mentioning someone new, and the commentaries wonder why Elisheva’s brother is mentioned here as well.

They suggest that before marrying Elisheva, Aaron had inquired about Nachshon, his future brother-in-law. We learn from Aaron that when searching for a wife, it is important to vet her brothers. Fine, upstanding brothers indicate that the sister will be a fitting life partner.3

At the Splitting of the Sea

Seven days after leaving Egypt, the Israelites found themselves trapped between a raging sea and the vengeful Egyptian army. Then G‑d gave Moses a command that seemed impossible to fulfill: “Speak to the people of Israel; they shall travel.”4

The order was given to go forward, sea or no sea. But who would make the first move? At that moment, Nachshon’s devotion and bravery came to the fore. The Midrash5 and Talmud6 share the following account:

When Israel stood facing the Sea of Reeds, and the command was given to move forward, each of the tribes hesitated, saying, “We do not want to be the first to jump into the sea.”

Nachshon saw what was happening—and jumped into the sea.

At that moment Moses was standing and praying. G‑d said to him, “My beloved ones are drowning in the stormy seas, and you are standing and praying?”

Moses replied, “Master of the world, what am I to do?”

Said G‑d, “You lift your staff and spread your hand over the seas, which will split, and Israel will come into the sea upon dry land.”

And so it was. Following Nachshon’s lead, the Israelites entered the sea and were saved.

Nachshon’s Reward

The Midrash enumerates the rewards that Nachshon’s brave deed earned him:

  • He was given the name Nachshon, since he jumped into the waves (nachshol) of the sea.7
  • Five heroes of Israel were among his descendants: David, Daniel, Chananiah, Mishael and Azariah.8
  • The eternal kingdom of Israel was given to his tribe, Judah, and it follows that Moshiach will be his descendant as well.9

After Moses completed the Tabernacle in the desert, the princes of the twelve tribes of Israel offered special inaugural sacrifices and gifts. Even though Judah was not the most senior of the tribes, Nachshon, prince of Judah, was the first to bring his sacrifice.10 This may have been a reward for his special deed of devotion.

Nachshon was also among the seventy elders upon whom Moses conferred his spirit.11

His Passing

Nachshon’s appointment as an elder had a tragic result. We read that in the second year after leaving Egypt, “the people were looking to complain, and it was evil in the ears of the L‑rd. The L‑rd heard, and His anger flared, and a fire from the L‑rd burned among them, consuming the extremes of the camp.”12 The Midrash explains that the “extremes of the camp” is a reference to the seventy elders,13 including Nachshon.14

A Symbol of Strength

Nachshon’s name has become synonymous with courage and the will to do the right thing, even when it’s not popular.

Inspired by Nachshon, King David wrote in Psalms, “I have sunk in muddy depths, and there is no place to stand; I have come into the deep water, and the current has swept me away . . . Let not the current of water sweep me away, nor the deep swallow me, and let the well not close its mouth over me.”15

The Rebbe saw Nachshon’s deed as a call to action:

“One fellow named Nachshon jumped into the sea, and caused the great miracle of the Splitting of the Sea. Technically, he was under no obligation to do so. But he knew that G‑d wanted Israel to move onward toward Sinai. So he did what he needed to do. There was a sea in his way. So he jumped into the sea and plowed on toward his goal.

“The lesson for all of us is that we must stay focused on our life’s mission, disregarding all obstacles.”16