O Captain, My Captain

The WORD – 1/19/12.  Last week at this time, how many Italian cruise ship captains could you have named?  I know that I didn’t know any last week.  This week, however, we are all too familiar with Capt. Francesco Schettino – the man responsible for the horrible Costa Concordia shipwreck off the coast of Italy.

Although the investigation is far from complete, the details that have emerged so far paint a picture of an overconfident captain who thought that he could maneuver his 1,000-foot cruise ship in waters more appropriate for a 55-foot yacht.  The result is that perhaps as many as 30 people are dead.

This hubris – which allowed Capt. Schettino to navigate his ship close to his head waiter’s hometown in order to show off the ship to those on land while also entertaining some mystery lady on the bridge – runs in stark contrast with the humility of Moses as exhibited in this week’s Torah portion.

In one of the most famous interchanges between them, God tells Moses to appear before Pharaoh and demand that the Israelite be allowed to leave Egypt.  Moses responded: “The Israelites would not listen to me; how then should Pharaoh heed me, a man of impeded speech!”

We know that Moses turned to his brother Aaron for support.  We know that God intervened as well.  However, we also know that Moses is held up as the paragon of leadership in the Jewish tradition.  He successfully led the Israelites out of Egypt and slavery to the cusp of the Promised Land and freedom.  Perhaps, the secrets of his success were his willingness to question himself, to accept advice and help from others, and to put the needs of the people ahead of his own.

After all, Moses did not simply express his self-doubts to God. His humility came across in other ways as well.  Moses implemented a judicial system in the wilderness based upon the urgings of his father-in-law Jethro.  Further, even though he was the unquestioned leader of the Israelites, he never tried to force his own two sons on the people as leaders after him.  He did not seek glory for himself or his family.

Imagine if Capt. Schettino thought twice before sailing so close to the island of Giglio.  Imagine if he had looked more closely at his charts rather than relying upon his intuition (as he said in an interview).  Imagine if he had put the safety of his 4,000 passengers ahead of his ego.

If he had done those things, then perhaps none of us would have ever heard of Capt. Francesco Schettino.





About Rabbi Avi Friedman

I am the rabbi of Congregation Ohr Shalom - SJCC, a progressive Conservative and traditional congregation. I am also husband to Jodi as well as father to Gabi, Jonah, Jessica and Ilana. I have been a part of the Summit community since 2005.
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