The dictionary I use has the following two definitions for the word “politician”:
- A seeker or holder of public office, who is more concerned about winning favor or retaining power than about maintaining principles.
- 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.