January 20, 2019

Three Leos, Three Giant Leaps for Mankind

Although we are nearing the end of Passover, we still have a grand event to celebrate this week – the exodus! But didn’t we do that at the Seder? Yes, but according to Biblical chronology, the night of the Seder is the date when we ate the Paschal Sacrifice in Egypt, which was the first step in our liberation. It then took us one week to journey to the banks of the Red Sea, making the actual date for the miraculous climax of the exodus from Egypt – the crossing of the Red Sea – on the Seventh Day of Passover (which we celebrate this coming Friday).

The Seventh Day of Passover is a day to celebrate those whose sign are Leos. Really?  Let me explain.

When looking at horoscope descriptions of the sign “Leo,” they almost all typically include something to this effect: “Leos have the power to inspire others, are natural leaders and chiefs, can lead people through dangerous situations, they lead by example, have an extremely independent spirit, have great tenacity of purpose and will power, and once they put their mind to something, they usually reach their goal in spite of every difficulty and obstacle.”

One of the most famous Leos in history is the first human being to conquer the space frontier and “take a walk in space.” Born August 5, 1930, Neil Armstrong had an illustrious career as a pilot and aerospace engineer, but he will always be known for making history as the first man to step onto the moon. On July 21, 1969, at 2:56 UTC, Neil Armstrong, a brave space explorer, made human history by stepping out of Apollo 11, walking down the ladder of the Apollo Lunar Module, and as his boot stepped on a surface where no human foot had ever stepped before, he spoke his now famous words: “That’s one small step for a man, one giant leap for mankind.” Just like that, with one step, Neil Armstrong changed history forever.

Thousands of years earlier, long before space exploration or moon walks were even a discussion, another Leo took a courageous leap that forever changed history. Here is the scene: The Jewish people finally begin their journey towards leaving Egypt, when Pharaoh has a sudden change of heart, and gathers his entire army to chase after the Jews. He catches them as they are camping on the banks of the Red Sea. “As Pharaoh came close, the Israelites looked up. They saw the Egyptians marching at their rear, and the people became very frightened” (Exodus 14:10).

The Jewish people are now stuck between Pharaoh’s army in hot pursuit of them from behind, and a massive sea in front of them. In fear and desperation, they cry out to Moses, who tells them not to fear, and to have faith in God.

The Talmud records an intriguing tradition about what happened at that moment. Without knowing what would happen next, the people decided that they had to take their chances and move ahead into the Red Sea.  The tribes started to argue about who would first step into the sea. “Rabbi Judah says: Each tribe was unwilling to be the first to enter the sea. Suddenly, Nachshon Ben Aminadav sprang forward and was the first to leap into the sea” (Talmud Sotah 37a). Only after Nachson jumped into the stormy waters did God then command Moses to extend his staff over the sea, and only then did the waters begin to split. The great miracle of the crossing of the Red Sea was certainly a miracle from God, but Nachshon’s courageous leap into the stormy waters is what jumpstarted the miracle. This episode characterizes the classic Talmudic dictum that “we do not rely upon miracles,” and that “God helps those who help themselves.”

Who was Nachshon Ben Aminadav? He was a classic Leo. To start with, he was the Prince and Leader of the Tribe of Judah, whose symbol is…a lion! His actions certainly were in line with the typical Leo descriptions. He was a leader and chief, inspired his people, led them through a dangerous situation, and did not allow any obstacles to stand in his way. By taking his courageous “leap of faith,” Nachshon not only made history, but also triggered the greatest of all miracles ever recorded in history.

So it was, early in the morning on the 21st of Nisan – on the Seventh Day of Pesach — some 3000-plus years ago, Nachshon Ben Aminadav – in the true Leo spirit – took a “giant leap for mankind.” His was not onto the moon, but into the stormy and uncertain waters of the Red Sea. He wore no special protective gear, and his journey to the sea was not a historic space voyage. It was an escape from 210 years of slavery, in search of freedom.

Nachshon Ben Aminadav – the “father of all Leos,” and the man from whom princes and kings descended – took a giant leap into the sea that not only set a path for his people to cross over in safety, but brought about a revolutionary new way of thinking in the world. He did not conquer space, rather he conquered the human spirit, introducing a new idea to the world: no human being should be enslaved.

Thinking about it, Nachshon’s “leap for mankind” 3000-plus years ago led to Neil Armstrong’s “leap for mankind” on the moon, for it is only a human being living in a free and open society, void of slavery, who could dare to dream of taking a voyage into space and stepping onto the moon. Neil can thank Nachshon for that.

One other “Leo-like” leader can thank Nachshon for his inspirational leap. Although not born under the Leo star, this leader’s bold declaration of the State of Israel – “one giant leap for the Jewish people” – certainly fits the Leo mold. Not surprising, therefore, that the man born with the name “David Grun” changed his name to “Ben Gurion.” In Hebrew, “Ben Gurion” means “my lion cub.”

From the banks of the Red Sea, on the moon in outer space, and in a tiny country with a lion’s heart, Leos everywhere can be proud.