(Torah Portion Mishpatim) Responsibility

The Torah portion we read this week is called Mishpatim, which means laws, for the portion outlines many judicial laws.

In the wake of the Costa Concordia cruise ship affair, where the captain, who faces possible charges of manslaughter, abandoned ship after the vessel struck rocks and rolled onto its side, an Israeli newspaper Bakihilla, reported that the leading sage in Israel, Rabbi Sholom Yosef Elyashiv (may he have a speedy recovery) was asked by Tel Aviv University researchers what is the Torah view concerning a captain who abandons his passengers aboard a sinking ship.

The researchers asked: Perhaps the captain acted properly based on the Talmudic principle that one’s life takes precedence over someone else’s?

Rav Elyashiv responded that according to Jewish law and ethics the captain was required to wait and make sure that the last of the passengers left the ship before he exited.

“A captain is like a soldier,” Rav Elyashiv explained. “Just as a soldier understands that he may not flee but must protect the citizens even though his life is on the line, so too, the captain is not a private person whose only concern is himself. The captain should have been the last one to leave the ship.”

This responsibility and duty reminds me of the heroic pilot Chesley Sullenberger who safely guided all 155 passengers and crew aboard US Airways Flight 1549 to an emergency water landing in New York City’s frigid Hudson River. This courageous and fit pilot then made sure that all passengers got out of the plane before he did. He reportedly walked the plane twice after everyone was off, verifying in all certainty that there was no else left onboard the plane; only then did he exit.

In an interview Sully stated that he was driven and determined to help and save others due to his father’s tragic death. “One of the reasons I think I’ve placed such a high value on life is that my father took his, and I couldn’t save my father,” he writes in a memoir.

I was in attendance at a conference where the noted lecturer Rabbi Pesach Krohn related this incident and shared the following poignant message. “Here is a man who through the experience of his own personal loss, was motivated in split seconds to use his great skill to ensure that his passenger’s families wouldn’t have to go through the same pain he was subjected to!”

Another illustration of turning challenges into effective and positive energy:

Towards the end of the portion, the Torah gives us additional information about the events of Mount Sinai. Two of Aaron’s sons, Nadav and Avihu, were permitted to draw closer to the holy mountain than others. During the event they gazed a bit too much at G-d’s Revelation and their lives were eventually taken by G-d.

Aaron had two other sons, Elozar and Isamar, who were not allowed to come as close to the mountain as their brothers during the Revelation.

Rabbi Ahron Shteinman points out that it is likely that these brothers wondered why they weren’t allowed to come as close to the mountain, and they may have felt left out.

After their brothers passed away, they realized that had they also been allowed to come close at the Revelation, they too, would have gazed excessively and would have died. It turned out that G-d kept them back for their benefit. Eventually they filled the leadership positions of their brothers.

Reb Shteinman points out that at times people carry a sense of resentment or feeling hurt when they are not chosen or included in a particular situation.

The positive and productive approach to deal with these feelings is to focus on the concept that everything that G-d orchestrates is ultimately for the good. In due time, one may gain clarity why it was for his ultimate benefit.

Wishing you a restful, peaceful
and inspirational Shabbos!
Rabbi Dovid and Malki Saks