So You Want To Be A Politician? Part Two

We left off last week with a fascinating insight by the Chaver in the sefer Hakuzari, towards the beginning of the third ma’amar. The Chaver defines a pious person in terms more befitting a politician or a sovereign. The Chaver, upon being challenged, explains that the chossid is actually a full-fledged ruler, albeit one who is ruling over all of his senses and his middos, his attributes. He leads them as a real leader leads, giving his physical needs their due and satisfying them, while muzzling their aggressive tendencies. He marshals his energies for worthwhile objectives only, and in general makes sure that his intellect is in control of what he does and what his goals are. Such a person, says the Chaver, shows that he is fit to lead and to govern — and were he to rule over a country, he would preside over it justly, as he does over his own body and soul. He would then be able to call upon his citizenry to be obedient and to work together for the good of the entire klal.

A person who cannot control himself, who cannot stand up to his own desires, cravings, and every attraction, who loses control when an imagined slight to his honor occurs, how can he turn to his people and ask for their obedience? He may be able to rule by force, as a dictator rules, by cowing his people into submission — but not to have them willingly place themselves under his jurisdiction.

Chazal teach us in Pirkei Avos (4:1), “Who is a gibor — strong person? One who controls his desires.” As the posuk states, “He who is slow to anger is better than a strong man; and a master of his passions [is better] than a conqueror of a city” (Mishlei 16:32). The Gra gives us an insight into what the posuk is saying: Someone who “merely” wants to overpower his fellow man, then, if he is indeed stronger than that fellow, will have no problem besting him, killing him if he wishes. But someone who wants to conquer a city presumably wants to keep its inhabitants alive, for he doesn’t want to decimate the city; he wants it alive and vibrant — for himself! He has to capture the city yet keep its inhabitants alive! This takes a higher form of gevurah, to control and measure and weigh the fighting and his actions to enable him to do so.

A person’s middos are the same, continues the Gra. Anger is a middah, an attribute, that a person should totally demolish, should simply do away with. But a person’s other emotions, including his desires, must be meted out in the proper measure; it would prove impossible — and incorrect — to try to eradicate them, for they are necessary for the functioning of the world and society. A person has to act as a conqeuror of a city, keeping the people alive while subduing them.

Yosef Hatzaddik very clearly deserved to be the ruler over all of Mitzrayim. Why? Because there was no greater master of his passions, indeed, master over himself, than he was.

Most of you reading this are probably nodding your heads (in agreement, I hope, not in somnolence), thinking of Yosef’s ability to withstand the attempted seductions of Potiphar’s wife. Yet as amazing as that was, I suggest that Pharaoh saw an even more striking sample: Yosef was called in front of Pharaoh after spending twelve years in a dungeon for a crime he did not commit. Pharaoh said to him, “Okay, I’ve heard that you can interpret dreams; fine, I have two dreams for you.” What was Yosef’s immediate response? Now remember, here was his chance to escape from his twelve-year residency in Nowheresville, Mitzrayim. He had a life-sentence to complete; surely logic would dictate that he interpret the dreams, and afterwards, perhaps in a week or month, make sure that Pharaoh knew that Yosef was “religious” and “owed it all to Hashem.” If you were called in today after a twelve-year layoff from work, and were told that the CEO heard that you were the man who could solve the company’s problems, would you think that now is the time to say — “No, not really, it’s not me at all, it’s a Higher Power”? Yet that was precisely Yosef’s immediate response: “It is Hashem who will put Pharaoh at peace.” What self-control! What discipline! What management and supervision over what one says and how one acts!

And that is what Pharaoh saw: the person who could command and demand everyone’s self-control, to take of the plentiful grain after plowing, planting, and tending to, and store it away for “later”! Yosef was a shining example of self-restraint, strength of character, and government of self.

Yes, this is what Yaakov would want to know, and what the brothers wanted to tell him. Yosef was improbably, impossibly, miraculously, the ruler over Mitzrayim. And that fact itself told Yaakov all he wanted to know about Yosef. For the ruler over Mitzrayim would certainly have to be the ruler over himself.

So the next time a politician demands sacrifices from the populace, or talks about the citizen doing something for the place where he or she resides, and there is wonder at the tepid response, perhaps the answer lies not in the selfish tendencies of the population, but in the esteem and approbation afforded the presumed leader…

A reminder of the wonderful shiurim on tefillah given every Motzei Shabbos at 8:30 p.m. at BTYA, by the renowned Rav Yehonasan Alpren, shlita, for men and women (with mechitza). Now doing an examination on various aspects of kavanah. 10 shekel suggested, voluntary donation.

 

Rav Malinowitz is the Rav of Beis Tefillah Yonah Avraham, located in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, at the corner of Nachal Refaim and Nachal Luz. Many of Rav Malinowitz’s shiurim can be heard at www.btya.org. Send your questions to RCZMChadash@gmail.com.

So You Want To Be A Politician? Part One

The dictionary I use has the following two definitions for the word “politician”:

  1. A seeker or holder of public office, who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles.
  2. A person skilled in political government or administration; a statesman or stateswoman.

Now, while I freely admit that the first definition resounds more with me, the second one is more the plain meaning of the word. (Interesting, though, that the dictionary places the first one first.) Nevertheless, it is rather strange that Yosef, upon revealing himself to his brothers, said, “Now, it is not you who have sent me here, but G-d; He has made me a father to Pharoah (i.e, Pharaoh’s vizier), director of his entire government, and the ruler over all of Egypt.” And the next posuk, “Hurry, go back to my father, and give him this message: ‘Hashem has made me master over all of Egypt, come to me without delay.’ ” And further on, “Tell my father all about my high position in Egypt, and about all what you saw.” And when the brothers finally went to Yaakov, indeed they said, “Yosef is still alive, and he is the ruler of all Egypt.”

Is this the news that Yaakov Avinu was waiting to hear after learning that Yosef was alive? He surely wanted to know if Yosef had faithfully maintained his faith, the Torah that Yaakov had taught him, his morality and ethics and principles. Does it really interest Yaakov to hear about Yosef’s political power, his governing abilities?

Actually, one wonders about Pharoah as well. He said to Yosef, “You shall be in charge of my government [lit. house]; and food will be distributed only by your order.” And, “I am placing you over the whole land of Egypt.” And a further posuk states, “And Pharoah took off his ring from his own hand and placed it upon the hand of Yosef.” He had Yosef ride a royal chariot, and “thus was Yosef given authority over all Mitzrayim.” And “Without your say, no man will lift a hand or foot in all of Mitzrayim.” And the ultimate “only the throne will outrank you.”

Yosef was, for all intents and purposes, the absolute ruler and leader. Why? He gave a seemingly very correct interpretation of a dream. So Yosef was wise, very wise, exceedingly wise… Does it make sense that when Pharoah met up with a wise person he so humbled himself that he gave that person all of his power and authority? Unlimited and unfettered? Egypt was full of wise men! When the posuk wants to describe the wisdom of Shlomo Hamelech, it says, “And the wisdom of Shlomo was greater still than the wise men of the East and of Egypt” (Kings I, 5:10). True, Yosef himself advised that “Pharoah must seek out a man with insight and wisdom and place him in charge of Egypt.” But that was regarding the famine, as the posuk states, “Appoint officials over the land, and a rationing system will be set up during the years of plenty; and the officials shall collect all the food during the coming good years, and store the grain under Pharaoh’s control; and the food will be kept under guard in the cities; the food will thus be held in reserve for the land when the seven years of famine come.” Of course, a very wise man would have to be appointed to oversee and administer and manage such a huge undertaking. And he would have to be an extremely capable manager, organizer, and administrator. And of course it was a thankless task that not many would even want to attempt to do. Does it follow that that person be made ruler and sovereign over the country, with all the privileges and rank that is involved?

Rav Yehudah Hachassid, in his famous work The Kuzari, has the Kuzari (the king) ask the Chaver (the talmid chacham Jew), “Please describe for me the actions of a person considered by you to be pious.” The Chaver answered, “A pious man watches over his state carefully, evaluating and providing for the needs of its people, and governing them with justice. He wrongs no one, nor does he treat anyone unjustly, nor does he favor anyone. He acts justly and fairly. And because he is so just, he is able to win the people’s cooperation; when called upon, they respond immediately, and he commands their obedience; he issues orders and commands, and the people obey and act accordingly.”

“Er, excuse me,” asked the king, “I asked you about a pious person, and you’ve described to me a politician!”

The Chaver replied, “The pious man is in truth a ruler, for he is a person who is in control of his senses and of his physical and intellectual faculties. There is a posuk which states, ‘He who rules his spirit is better than one who subdues a city.’ This person, in complete control of his spirit, is qualified to rule, because he will govern as righteously as he governs his own body and soul. For a pious man controls his desires, giving himself just enough to satisfy his needs for food, drink, etc., in moderation, and abstaining from excess. He subdues any innate aggressiveness, and allows himself enough spirit to pursue intellectual or scientific pursuits, and to admonish evil people. He makes use of all of his senses (his hands, feet, speech) only according to his needs, and the same is true of his hearing, his sight, even his powers of imagination, conception, and thought! All these does the pious man make subservient to the power of his intellect. He does not use anything to excess, nor does he violate their essential functions. He satisfies the needs of his organs with sufficient sleep and with food and exercise. He is thus able to enlist the strength of both body and soul to have him reach higher and higher Divine levels, just as a respected leader calls upon his disciplined army to help him attain his goals… After establishing harmony between his physical and intellectual sides, he directs them to obey him with diligence, alertness, and joy.” To be continued, im yirtzeh Hashem.

 

Rav Malinowitz is the Rav of Beis Tefillah Yonah Avraham, located in Ramat Beit Shemesh Aleph, at the corner of Nachal Refaim and Nachal Luz. Many of Rav Malinowitz’s shiurim can be heard at www.btya.org. Send your questions to RCZMChadash@gmail.com.

Eiruv Tavshilin

The following was culled from the Rav’s 60-second D’var Halacha after Ma’ariv:

The idea behind Eiruv Tavshilin is to begin, already on Erev Yom Tov, the preparations for Shabbos.

Generally, people use an egg (a cooked food) and a matzah (a baked food) as this would allow one to both cook and bake.

The way to do the Eiruv is to take the cooked and baked food, and to make the Brocha and to say the formula, found in the Siddur.

Lechatchila, the food you are preparing for Shabbos should be edible before Shabbos comes in, but B’dieved it does not need to be.

If you have guests who are BOTH staying and eating by you, they are automatically included in your Eiruv.

If you have guests who are ONLY eating by you, but are staying elsewhere, and they will be involved in food preparation, then the best thing to do (although b’di’eved it’s ok without this) is to be makneh part of the eiruv to them (having someone else–NOT a member of your family— “acquire (part of it) it for them,” not necessarily in their presence), and then to have them in mind with the Eiruv you are making.