In an essay called On Risk and Solitude, psychotherapist Adam Phillips reports an important lesson learned by a young patient who overcame his fear of the water through risk:
I knew I was safer out of my depth because even though I couldn’t stand, there was more water to hold me up.
For his patient, the risk of learning to swim was the risk of discovering that he, or rather his body, would float. The heart of swimming is that you can float.
Ancient rabbinic voices join the conversation about risking the water at the Red Sea:
Rabbi Meir said: When Israel stood at the sea, the tribes fought amongst themselves. One said: I’ll go first into the sea and the next said: I’ll go first…
Rabbi Judah objected: That’s not how it happened. Rather, one tribe said: I’m not going first into the sea and the next one said: I’m not going first. Then, Nahshon ben Aminadav jumped into the sea first… It is of him that Scripture explicitly speaks: Save me, God! The water has reached my neck! (Psalm 69:2) (Click here for midrash)
Ani/I will, ein ani/I won’t: An almost indistinguishable syllable marks the difference between a competition of bold contenders and a story of frightened companions, one of whom takes the risk to wade into the water beyond his depth. Thanks to Rabbi Judah, we have a story that highlights risk rather than certainty.
Nahshon, the prince of Judah, is a champion of risk. He ventures into the water up to his neck—only then does water displace weight; only then does possibility displace risk. Only then does the sea part.