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Home » Vayigash

Vayigash: Jewish Leaders

Submitted by on December 24, 2006 – 6:34 amNo Comment | 2,456 views

National Pride

The Jewish nation lost its pride nearly two-thousand years ago. I’m not talking about religious pride. I’m talking about national pride.
Yes, there was a time when we were a sovereign and powerful nation. We did what was right for Jews and didn’t worry much about world opinion. We believed deeply, as deeply as a human is capable of believing, that
we have a right to self governance and that Jewish interests are the highest priority in a Jewish country.


Ah, the nostalgia of long forgotten times. Alas, those days are no more. Today we govern with fear even in our own country. What will, others think? What might stimulate a wave of antisemitism? What might provoke the wrath of the United Nations? (1)


A long and torturous exile has left its mark on our suffering psyche. We bear this mark with pride, but it is a mark we would rather not bear, at all.

Conflicted Loyalties

It is in this context that we ask ourselves if we are more secure with a friendly gentile than with a fellow Jew. What happens when a Jew is elected to a position of power in a non-Jewish country? Should Jewish
politicians bend over backwards to avoid forming an impression that they care more for their people than for their country?

This is the lot of Senator Joseph Lieberman, who was elected as an independent to the United States Senate and whose vote has become critically important in a senate split between two parties.

Strains of conversation around Jewish dinner tables lament the misfortune of a Jew thrust into the limelight. What should the senator do? Should he rigorously defend Jewish causes or should he absent himself from the debate? Should he be our silent alley or our fierce friend?

Viceroy of Egypt

Let’s tear a page out of Joseph’s book. Joseph was a Jew. What’s worse, he was a foreigner. Many countries pass laws against the appointment or election of a foreigner to positions of power. Yet, Joseph was appointed viceroy of Egypt. (2)

His position was no doubt precarious. His every move was surely scrutinized. His every decision was surely critiqued. How did Joseph win the hearts and minds of the Egyptian people? By demonstrating his loyalty to Egyptian concerns.

Firm, but Loving

Joseph was appointed viceroy of Egypt, not ambassador of his Jewish family. When issues arose that affected the entire region, including his family, Joseph looked after the interests of Egypt first, but he never abandoned his family.

Joseph predicted a famine and gathered provisions to provide for Egyptian citizens. He never asked Egyptians to provide for his family. On the contrary, he sold food to non-Egyptians for exorbitant sums. When his brothers arrived, he provided for them from his own coffers, not from the country’s treasury. (3)

Joseph perceived that opening the borders to travelers from across the region exposed Egypt to unsavory characters, who could now enter the country for nefarious reasons under the guise of obtaining provisions
for their family.


When Joseph’s brothers arrived they were clandestinely followed, interrogated and incarcerated on charges of espionage. In the case of his brothers it was only a ruse, but the episode suggests that Joseph established a bureau of counter-espionage to secure the safety of his country. (4)

When Egyptian citizens depleted their stores, Joseph provided for them from the country’s treasury. When they could no longer afford to purchase food from the treasury Joseph instituted a policy of social welfare and provided food free of charge. (5)

Joseph’s integrity, transparency and industrious commitment won over the hearts of the citizenry. They trusted their Jewish viceroy because he put their interests first. Yet Joseph never forgot his family.

The plight of his family always concerned him and he reached out to help them. However, because of his position he was always careful to align his family’s interests with those of Egypt. He invited his family
to Egypt and provided for them, but he made certain that Pharaoh and the citizens understood that hosting his family would also benefit Egypt.


He explained that the presence of pious people would protect Egypt and deliver blessing to the country. (6) Indeed, the famine in Egypt lifted on the day that Jacob arrived. (7)

To Be Like Joseph

Joseph’s shining example must serve as a guide post to our generation. Jews, who are appointed to positions of leadership must demonstrate loyalty to their respective countries. However, looking after their country’s interests does not absolve them from obligations to their own people.

Regardless of citizenship we must remain loyal to our people. We mustn’t look on with equanimity when our country’s interests conflict with those of our people. We must make the strongest effort to reconcile the differences between our two causes.

Like Joseph in days of old, we too must respond. When Jews are in distress Jewish politicians must seek and vigorously adopt solutions that serve the interest of their people and their country. Reducing our dependence on foreign oil is one such solution as it serves the needs of our host countries as well as those of Israel.

This nuanced path could grow complicated. Advocating such solutions could provoke antisemitic allegations. But with trust in G-d, faith in the righteousness of our cause and a transparent display of loyalty to our host countries, Jewish politicians can indeed thrive and succeed.

Footnotes

  1. There are roughly ten members in the Israeli Knesset that represent Israeli Arabs. These people unabashedly champion Palestinian causes to the detriment of the state they represent. They are not conflicted about this and harbor no fear of reprisals. They greet resistance to their path with utter surprise. “We are Arabs,” they say, “what else do you expect?”
  2. Genesis 41; 39 – 46.
  3. Genesis
    41; 33-36. ibid. 56-57. See also Genesis 43; 44-45. It was only when
    Pharaoh ordered that Joseph’s family be fed from Egypt’s coffers that
    Joseph agreed to do so. (Genesis 45; 17 – 21 and 45; 5 – 6.)
  4. Genesis 42; 1-20.
  5. Genesis 47; 13-26
  6. Midrash Tanchuma, Naso; 26.
  7. Tosefta, 10; 3. It also mentions that the famine returned after Jacob’s passing.

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