Dei'ah veDibur - Information & Insight

A Window into the Chareidi World

6 Teves 5759, December 15, 1999 | Mordecai Plaut, director Published Weekly







Opinion & Comment
Slave Turned King?
by L. Jungerman

"From prison he went forth to rule" (Koheles 4:14). Rashi explains that Koheles is referring to Yosef, who emerged from prison to rule over all of Egypt.

This event surely has a phenomenal message to teach. Royal rule, as we probably envision it, requires special grooming and training. One does not necessarily acquire this preparation in an educational institution. Rather, it is absorbed naturally by the environment surrounding the royal family. But to emerge from behind bars and to rule over an entire nation?

The transition from slavery to freedom is, in itself, a major change, but from slavery to royalty? Exercising power over other people requires certain personality traits which are, necessarily, suppressed when one is imprisoned and robbed of one's basic freedom. Self esteem, self reliance and independence of spirit are all crushed. How then, can one be transformed from a subservient creature to a dominant one, all in one day? Can a slave be metamorphosed into a king?

This question is not straightforward; it begs itself.

In our era, royalty and ruling are coupled with strong-arm power, raw might, or, in more modern terms, political success. These concepts do not say it all. Rulership is the power of imposing absolute obedience and discipline. And this originates from within. Through self discipline.

Man is like a wild donkey which needs restraint, as much over itself as over a city or country. Wild -- anti- establishment, fiercely independent, savage. The stubborn refusal, the stiff- neckedness which a person must exercise towards his own self is no less than the natural hostility of an entire country towards its own restrictive conventions and mores, which a king must divert and control. Conversely, the impact of the tactics of a person's drives, good or evil, employed for/against himself, are no less deadly and dreadful than the ammunition used on the front lines of a war, conventional or not.

Just so, no less. "Better a man in control than a hero of war, and one who dominates his own spirit than one who conquers a city." The same energy required to wage war against a city is demanded of the person of spirit in order to control and sublimate that spirit. Even more. And one who succeeds in conquering his temper and harnessing his unruly spirit is the true hero; he has verily conquered a city. He is king! This is why Yosef is considered an eternal supporting pillar, yesod olom. He is the ultimate example of self control. He was an aristocrat, a king, even while he was in jail.


The Kuzari deals with man's inner struggle between the two polar forces of good and evil, between his drives and his thoughts, and compares this battle to a king and his troops. His words are very striking:

"The refined person is the ruler!

"He is such a man whose senses, character traits and drives are subservient to him, as it is written, `And one who rules his spirit [is stronger] than one who conquers a city.' The refined person is suited to rule others as well, for were he to rule a country, he would dispense justice at large, just as he is just and disciplined and measured towards himself, his body and his spirit.

"He rules over his desires. He brakes and barricades them and remains in charge, after supplying his body with its minimal but necessary needs. He is the master of his temper and yet, sublimates it to serve him when necessary in a positive manner, like in rebuking and intimidating the wicked. In the same manner does he give allowance for all of his limbs and organs to fulfill their function in their necessary but moderate fashion. So long as they serve his purpose, he utilizes them but keeps them in check.

"All of his faculties: sight, hearing, imagination, memory, thought processes -- all are at his service, harnessed to fulfill their purpose, no more.

"This paragon of a man arranges his flock (his limbs and his natural drives), activates his will power and controls it to obey every command he dispenses and to execute it at once. He utilizes his faculties and organs according to the dictates of his good sense, brooking no disobedience, and commands his mind to remain firm, unswerving to any false attractions, not to be tempted by a vivid imagination or anything vain and futile. Not to necessarily believe what the senses report, just to weigh everything carefully with reason before acting. If the intellect approves of something, the body can go ahead and carry it out; if it condemns, he must reject that deed. His will must be subservient to his intellect and only do what it is permitted.

"This ideal man invites his power of imagination to conjure up marvelous national experiences, like the giving of the Torah, the Mishkan and the ritual of sacrifices. He commands his memory to retain this imagery in his subconscious. He rebukes those fantasies produced by his imagination which obscure the truth and castigates his power of anger and lust, lest they meddle with him and cause him to veer from the true path."

The result: "After he has mobilized and arranged his army of spiritual forces in battle formation, he can allow his will to guide his limbs with agility, efficiency and with joy."

What a marvelous description! This gives an entirely different outlook, in contrast with the misguided conception that construes a person as a single entity. The ego wants, the ego acts, the ego and its weaknesses. He is the one and only. But we are presented with an entirely different conception. The person who is in control of his senses can divide himself and study his alter ego distinctively. There is the real `he,' which is represented by his intellect and his innate sense of good. These become the commanders in chief over the rest of his body, the organs which become obedient soldiers, ready to serve.

From hereon in, all terminology adapts to the military: orders, discipline, subservience, reprimands, conduct. Rulership!

If, at the age of seventeen, in the home of Potifar, in a strange land, Yosef was able to withstand terrible temptation and emerge victorious, if he persevered, issued orders, reprimanded, was obedient, and ruled over his impulses -- then he could and did emerge from prison to rule. Over others, as well.

He was already king, even before. He had already reached that level.

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