Daniel and Nachshon: Courage
Updated: May 7, 2020
Once upon a time, many, many, many, many years ago there was a man called Nachshon.
When it was time for the Jews to cross the Sea of Reeds and Pharoh's army chased them from behind, no one wanted to be the first to enter the sea. The sea was deep, it was wide and frightening. No one wanted to be the first. Nachshon knew that there was no way to turn back. The way forward was fraught with dangers so Nachshon summoned his courage and tentatively stuck one foot into the sea and then another. It was cold and it was frightening, but Nachshon kept walking. I'd like to imagine that his head was held high, but maybe not. Maybe his hands were trembling with fear and his eyes opened wide with terror, but he kept walking. At some point we know where this story goes; the seas opened up and Nachshon led the Jewish people across the parted Sea of Reeds to the Promised Land. Nachshon showed his courage one small step at a time.*
Once upon a time, not too many years ago, there lived a boy whose name was Daniel.
Daniel, whose in Tanach is the Daniel of the lion's den, lived with his mom and dad, one older brother and one young brother in Colombia. He had smooth brown skin that was soft to the touch. His saucer round eyes were the color of chocolate, framed with long black eyelashes. He loved to laugh, but had a temper. He sketched sharks, was a fan of any Boston sports team, and loved being with his friends and his family. One morning in early spring he got sick and it was discovered that he had leukemia.
I recall the call from Daniel's father, one morning. His voice was tentative, uncertain. What was this that was happening to his son? What would they do? Where would they go? Like the ancient traveler, Homer, who started an epic and treacherous journey, Daniel's parents carried Daniel from one treatment to another on a road paved with danger, pain and uncertainty. Daniel's journey ended too soon and he passed away a few days after his 14th birthday. It has been nineteen years since his death and we still think about him and love him. His memory lives in the hearts of his parents, his brothers and his extended family.
Over the past two months we have heard many stories of courage. It is hard to miss the stories of people working the front lines at hospitals, supermarkets, nursing homes, public transportation. Our society rightly owes them a large measure of gratitude. Most of them didn't sign up to be heroes, but circumstances have forced them to go to work even if they are scared, so they show courage whether they wish to or not. They get to walk the walk while some of us get to talk the talk. They serve even if they are scared, even if the consequences are high because they have to, that is their duty, their job.
Our Daniel, with the chocolate eyes and dancing feet, showed courage as well. He kicked and screamed and denied his fate. He had the courage to endure pain and treatment, way too much pain for a young person. He also had little choice about whether or not to show courage. There were few choices open to him and he did not go forward on his final voyage happily but did display courage and even spunk on the way.
My brother has courage. After he lost his son, that became evident as he took one step after another toward a destination that was unknown. His greatest fear had already been realized; his son was gone, but my brother slowly picked himself up and began to once again interact with the world. As a way to give him courage and a connection, my brother, no matter how busy the day or how melancholy he was feeling, took out his siddur and talit (prayer shawl) and murmured the morning prayers. He continues to pray every morning nineteen years later. As he prays he sways rhythmically as if the angels sing him inner music that guides him. Sometimes he sings out loud to himself in a voice both beautiful and strong. It is during this holy time, this Z'man Kadosh, that happens every morning since his Daniel left this earth, that he talks to God and has a connection with his son as he says the Shema or the Ashrei or the Aleinu. Prayer gives my brother courage. Prayer gives my brother answers.
Daniel's mother has courage. Like her beautiful Daniel and like her husband, she put one foot in front of another during his illness and after his death. It seemed impossible but she had no choice so she kept walking. The death of her son left a hole in her neshama (soul) while the rest of her soul was crushed. There were many days where it was hard for her to find the strength to get out of bed in the morning, but she did. She took one tiny step after another toward a goal that seemed like it could never be reached, but those tiny steps added up after a while and Daniel's mother picked herself up to her full height and
she lived again. The hole in her heart will always be there, but Daniel's mother has immense courage. She found other openings in her neshama to fill with family and friends, to grow professionally and personally and to care deeply about others. Taking life one step at a time gives her courage.
I have very little courage but through my brother, my nephew, my sister in law, through Nachshon, I can learn about this quality that some possess. Maybe courage doesn't exist in its own right. Maybe only courageous people exist. People become courageous when they have few choices and the choices aren't pretty. Turning back at a time of peril might have its own consequences, so slowly, step by step, courageous people go toward the danger. They know that they could be broken, but they do it anyway. Eventually, slowly, they do what they have to do and go on. Sometimes the ending is glorious and they become heroes and sometimes the endings are sad but the courage remains a constant. Perhaps that is what courage is.
Once upon a time, long, long, long ago lived a man called Nachshon. He was the rabbi's example to teach us about courage by taking one step at a time to an uncertain end.
Once upon a time, not too long ago, lived a boy named Daniel. He lived for fourteen years and graced all who knew him through his spirit. Daniel, you would be proud of your father and mother. They are our family's teachers of courage, one step at a time.
Learn more about the Book of Daniel .
Learn more on the Midrash of Nachshon .