Earlier this week, we noted the different opinions cited by the Gemara in Masekhet Sota (36b) regarding the events that transpired in the moments before the miracle of the splitting of Yam Suf. According to Rabbi Meir, the tribes quarreled with one other over the privilege of being the first to jump into the water and demonstrate faith in God’s promise to save the nation. As the tribes were arguing, Rabbi Meir tells, the people of the tribe of Binyamin jumped into the water, to the consternation of the people of the tribe of Yehuda, who proceeded to hurl stones at the Binyaminites. Rabbi Meir adds that in reward for taking this initiative, the tribe of Binyamin was granted the privilege of having the Beit Ha’mikdash constructed in its territory.
Rabbi Yehuda presents a much different account, claiming that to the contrary, none of the tribes wanted to jump into the water. They were all frightened and insisted on waiting for others to jump first. Finally, Nachshon, a prominent member of the tribe of Yehuda, jumped into the sea. The tribe of Yehuda was rewarded for Nachshon’s leap of faith by becoming the tribe of royalty.
Rav Yehuda Leib Ginsburg, in his Yalkut Yehuda, observes the difference between the rewards that were said to have been given in these two accounts. According to the first account, the tribe that jumped first was rewarded with the Beit Ha-mikdash’s presence in its territory, whereas according to the second, the tribe that jumped first was rewarded with leadership. The explanation, Rav Ginsburg writes, is that leadership is earned through the ability and preparedness to inspire others to act. According to the first account, the Binyaminites did not show special courage. After all, all the tribes – according to this opinion – eagerly wanted to jump into the water. Binyamin was commended and rewarded for its zeal, jumping without waiting for the argument to be resolved, but while zeal is undoubtedly an important and valuable trait, it does not characterize leadership. The essential quality that characterizes a leader is motivating others, courageously charting a path that is not necessarily popular, and inspiring others to follow. According to the second version cited by the Gemara, Rabbi Yehuda was rewarded specifically with leadership because this is precisely what its member, Nachshon, displayed at the shores of the Yam Suf – the willingness to be the first when no one else dared to, tread uncharted waters which everyone else feared, and serving as an inspiring example for other people to emulate.