In the book The Good Book, Writers Reflect on Favorite Bible Passages (see review here), A.J. Jacobs describes the problems he had deciding whether to write The Year of Living Biblically (which became a New York Times bestseller) or not. He decided to ask for advice from Rabbi Andy Bachman, later to become rabbi of Brooklyn’s Congregation Beth Elohim, and invited him to lunch. Jacobs told the rabbi his doubts and the rabbi related a story from the Midrash.* The story goes like this:
When Moses was fleeing the Egyptians, he arrived at the Red Sea with his thousands of followers. Moses lifted up his staff hoping for a miracle – but the sea did not part. The Egyptian soldiers were closing in and Moses and his followers were stuck at the shores. It was only a matter of time before every one of them would be slaughtered. Moses and his followers were panicking. No one knew what to do. And then, just before the Egyptian army caught up to them, a Hebrew named Nachshon did something unexpected. He simply walked into the Red Sea. He waded up to his ankles, then his knees, then his waist, then his shoulders. And right when the water was about to get up to his nostrils, it happened: the sea parted. “The point,” said Rabbi Bachman, “is that sometime miracles occur only when you jump in” (p. 71).
The story stayed in my mind long after I finished reading it. I thought about how often we are stuck setting goals and objectives, crunching numbers, seeking opinions, doing market research, thinking and re-thinking a project until we are sick to death of it and wished we had never dreamed it up. How delightful to be like Nachshon and just jump in up to our eyeballs to see what happens.
I can picture Nachshon standing by the water waiting for direction from Moses. His eyes shift from the approaching army to the water to Moses and back again. If he had owned a watch, he would undoubtedly be checking it. (If he had a smart phone, he might be asking his genie app what to do.) Finally, impatiently, he decides enough is enough and walks in, thereby setting an example for all of us wafflers who are stranded on this side of our dreams.
I spent the first eight months of my retirement writing a book that came out of my experience of introducing hundreds of people to the process and goals of spiritual formation. I thought I had an “in” with a publisher. When that fell through, all my friends grieved for me, but I wasn’t really that upset. I had intended to write a book and I did.
Several months later a pastor at my church asked me to combine the blog posts and a book chapter that I had written on living as a wounded healer into a booklet for use in training church elders. I thought it was a good idea. As I worked on it, I decided it was a great idea – and I wrote seven more booklets based on my book. Eventually they were designed, copied and made available to the congregation. To my delight, they were very well received both in and outside my church.
That was when the anguish that A.J. Jacobs experienced began for me. These books were begging for wider distribution. What should I do? How would I do it? The research began, many steps were revealed, and several obstacles arose – including how to pay for this dream. Then I read about Nachshon. And I decided to just walk in to my dream and see if the waters will part. Stay tuned as I attempt to walk across the Red Sea. Perhaps you have your own dream that you need to walk into. I’d love to hear about it.
*The word Midrash comes from a Hebrew root meaning “to study,” “to seek out” or “to investigate.” The Midrash contains stories by rabbis which expound on incidents in the Torah or on laws and traditions for the purpose of providing a moral lesson or deriving a principle of Jewish law. Midrash is commonly defined as the process of interpretation by which the rabbis filled in “gaps” found in the Torah. Some Midrashic passages contain fantastic legends about previous rabbis or biblical figures. Some passages reach the heights of mystical ecstasy and theological speculation, while others concern the minutiae of everyday life, fine legal distinctions, and arguments about the proper interpretation of various certain biblical statements.