Welcome everyone. I have put this speech together in order to teach you about my
Torah portion and to help you learn something new. My Torah portion is called Naso. It
is in the Book of Numbers, and my haftorah is from the Book of Judges.
The Torah portion of Naso has several topics that don’t seem to fit together. It talks
about how the Levites were special, and their job was to set up the mishkan every night
when the Israelites found a camp. The mishkan was the tabernacle, the sanctuary for
God, like a portable synagogue. Naso also talks about how wives who have cheated on
their significant others have to be forced to drink water that has a scroll of this law
dissolved into it, and if the woman is innocent she will be ok, but if she is guilty, she will
die a painful and slow death. Another thing this parsha talks about is the Nazirites, who
take oaths to never cut their hair, never touch anything that comes from a grapevine or
drink wine, and never touch a human corpse. Finally, this parsha gives the priestly
blessings, which are still said today by parents over their children at Shabbat.
I’m actually not going to be talking about any of these topics today, though. I’m going to
be talking about Samson and Nachshon, who are both biblical heroes that are briefly
mentioned in my Torah and Haftorah portions. Samson appears at the end of my
haftorah, and Nachshon appears towards the end of my Torah portion.
Samson was born in ancient Israel in the tribe of Dan to Manoah and Zealophonis. An
angel predicted that Samson would be born and would be a savior of the Jews against
their enemies, the Philistines. Samson’s parents raised him with the blessing of the
Eternal, and a razorblade was to never touch his head. Samson was extremely strong.
When he was young, he was attacked by a lion and killed it with his bare hands. There
are many stories about him killing Philistines in different ways. But his downfall was that
even though he hated Philistine soldiers, he had a thing for Philistine women. He met
Delilah and married her, and she kept asking for the way to take away his strength.
When she finally wore him down, he told her that cutting his hair would make him weak.
She cut off his hair in the middle of the night while he was sleeping, and then Philistine
soldiers captured him, gouged his eyes out and tied him to a pillar. He asked God to
give him one last burst of strength, and then he tore down the pillars, killing thousands
of Philistines along with himself. Samson stood up for the Jewish people against the
Philistines, which was heroic, but he was obsessed with Philistine women and killed
thousands of Philistines, which in modern times would be horrible, but back then it was
Nachshon ben Aminadav was the brother of Aaron’s wife in ancient Egypt. He was a
descendent of Judah. When Moses led the Jewish people out of Egypt, they came to
the sea, and God told Moses to raise his staff. But nothing happened. The people were
terrified, because Egyptian soldiers were coming for them, and they would be enslaved
again. So Nachshon came out of the crowd. His family and friends said, “What are you
doing?” but he started walking into the sea. First his knees, then chest, then nostrils,
and the second the water was above his head, the sea parted. The Israelites were able
to cross because the sea was now a pathway. Of course, now they had to wander the
desert for forty years. But Nachshon was a hero who saved the Israelites from getting
enslaved again. Nachshon showed the courage of his faith. He fully trusted God to
save the Israelites. He was a type of hero that not many people know about.
What makes someone a hero? A hero is sometimes a real person, but more often
they’re a character in a movie or a book who people look up to for their actions.
Sometimes a hero can be motivated by personal reasons, like wanting to save a family
member or friend from danger. Sometimes a hero can be motivated by a desire for
fame. A hero often performs a heroic action because there’s no one else to do it.
Sometimes, when a hero steps up, people look up to the hero and want to make the
hero their leader, but the hero doesn’t necessarily want the responsibility of being a
leader, and can run away from that responsibility.
What makes a leader different from a hero? A leader always has the people’s interests
at heart. A leader might give their people what they need to survive, like food or shelter,
or might protect people from a threat. A leader might not put themselves in harm’s way
in the same way that a hero does, because the leader is thinking about the needs of the
people, and the people might be stuck if they end up without a leader. Sometimes
leaders are hard to find, because leading takes a lot of work, and can be stressful. A
leader might sometimes do heroic acts, but it’s the people and their needs that are most
motivating to a leader.
So if I was going to apply these ideas to the heroic characters in my Torah and Haftarah
portions, we could say that Samson was both a hero and a leader. He was a leader in
the sense that when the Israelites needed someone to defend them, Samson stepped
up to fight for them. Although Samson was very strong, magically strong, he was also
vulnerable when he wasn’t being helped by God. Ultimately, his actions were probably
more heroic than leadership-focused, because he killed himself in order to get revenge,
which meant he wasn’t thinking about the Israelites’ long-term needs.
Samson spent his life doing heroic deeds, but Nachshon was a hero for one moment.
Nachson was a hero because he jumped into the ocean without thinking. He didn’t
really think about himself, he thought about the needs of his people. Because of his
actions, the Israelites were able to escape from slavery. Like Samson, Nachshon was
willing to sacrifice himself for his people, but he did it out of faith and trust in God and
because he saw that someone needed to step up and act.
Nachshon and Samson are both examples of long-ago heroes. Their stories are
interesting and even exciting, but in today’s world, I think we need more leaders than
heroes. Heroes do helpful things in the moment, but leaders are thinking more long-
term about the needs of the people. Some of the issues that our world needs more
leadership around is conflict, like Russia’s war on Ukraine. If Putin was a better leader,
and was actually thinking about the needs of his people, he wouldn’t have invaded
Ukraine. Another issue that it would be helpful to have better leadership around is
COVID. And not just one leader to keep us as healthy as possible – we probably need
multiple leaders working together, both within the United States and across the world.
In general, we need leaders who are able to work well with groups and listen to the
needs of the people. They need to be flexible, and not assume that they have the right
answers themselves. They need to be able to collaborate. They need to be able to
come together to see people’s shared needs, and come up with plans to meet those