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.