R’ Yehuda said to : That is not what happened; but each tribe was unwilling to be the first to enter the sea. Then sprang forward Nachshon the son of Amminadav (he was the leader of the tribe of Yehuda) and descended first into the sea (Sotah 37a:1-6).
אמר לו רבי יהודה לא כך היה מעשה אלא זה אומר אין אני יורד תחילה לים וזה אומר אין אני יורד תחילה לים קפץ נחשון בן עמינדב וירד לים (סוטה ל״ז)
For my military service in Israel, I served as a battlefield medic. After a while on the job, I was asked to go back to the military school of medicine near Tel Aviv as an instructor for future battlefield medics. Of course, I was thrilled. My last class was a group of 17 soldiers from the ‘Netzah Yehuda’ (נצח יהודה) Battalion, also known to the troops as the Haredi Battalion, just because the majority of its soldiers are from an ultra-orthodox background. As a 20-year-old young man who grew up in the very secular youth movement HaShomer Hatzair in the very secular city of Arad, I had little to no knowledge about any Haredi group, their life, or customs.
One of my responsibilities as an instructor was to teach a general education slot every Friday afternoon. This was an opportunity to discuss more general subjects not necessarily connected to medicine or being a soldier.
For most of my units, this was my favorite teaching slot. It took my head out of the long, monotonous, and tiring days and gave me room to express myself and revisit the interests that I had almost forgotten. It also gave me an opportunity to connect with my soldiers and to get to know them on a deeper level. I chose a wide range of subjects, including animals in the Judean desert, the life of Spinoza, and moral dilemmas in everyday life.
With the Haredi group, this educational hour and half was different. Most of these soldiers were from hard homes, with few opportunities to do something different. Most of them referred to me only in the third person. Many of them didn’t graduate high school or Yeshiva. The way they spoke and what they spoke about seemed strange to me, as most of what I had been exposed to was not part of their life at all. I remember it was extremely difficult to choose a subject for our Friday class that both they and I could relate to.
As Rabin’s Day approached, I knew that specific Friday would be a hard one, but I wasn’t prepared for what happened. Hate speech, rage, conspiracy theories, and false information were thrown and proclaimed as historical fact, as if they were portraying an obvious reality known to all.
After finishing that class, I decided that the next three classes would be dedicated to the life and death of Yitzhak Rabin and his vision, his values, and his character. We discussed the changes he made in his life, and the goals he tried to achieve. We spoke about peace, but also about Oslo and 1967. We discussed his religious views, as well as his family roots. The lessons were created by, and presented mainly by, the soldiers. I sent them to read, prepare, and present different aspects of the weekly subject by themselves, or in small groups. I knew that this was the best way to help them learn about Rabin, by discovering him for themselves.
In the last class, I asked the whole group to choose one Jewish leader or figure that they thought compared to Rabin.The group chose Nachshon Ben Aminadav, the Nasie (נשיא), leader of the Judah tribe who, according to the midrash, went first into the Red Sea, even before it split. In a thirty-minute presentation, they told the rest of the company about Yitzhak Rabin (whom they didn’t really know about) and Nachshon Ben Aminadav (whom they were very familiar with). One by one, they unfolded the eventful, outstanding life of Yitzhak Rabin Z”L. At the end of the presentation, I asked one of the participants, who was very involved during class, but did not like to speak in front of everyone, to summarize it for us all, and in one sentence, to tell us why he thought that Rabin and Nachshon are similar. He said that both Rabin and Nachshon were leaders that had the courage to do something that no one else had done before, even though they probably weren’t sure about the outcomes themselves, and by doing so, they gave all the rest of the people hope. They led their people courageously, and provided them with hope of a better future.
Rabin was a leader with courage, and he gave us all hope. I hope for more leaders like that, in Israel, here in the U.S., or anywhere else. May his name be of a memory.