In Plain Language: Follow the leader

I suggest that the greatest political leader in our history was none other than Joseph, the victim who would be Viceroy.

Elections in Israel (photo credit: MARC ISRAEL SELLEM/THE JERUSALEM POST)
Elections in Israel
Well, like it or night, Israel Election Follies have begun.
For the next three months, we will all be subjected to the various plans, platforms and promises of our current and hopeful politicians, as they emerge from the shadows in pursuit of our vote.
It seems like only yesterday – my, how quickly two years can pass! – that we were called upon to select the men and women who would lead our nation. Coalitions have been made, and broken; another war has come and gone; and both the portent of peace and the predictions of our demise have, as expected, turned out to be little more than pre-election hype and hyperbole.
I haven’t yet decided for whom I will cast my ballot, but I do know the candidates I won’t be voting for.
I won’t support an ex-con who still claims he was railroaded, no matter whose saintly picture he hides in front of.
I won’t help elect someone who sacrifices integrity for cheap shots on national television, using gutter language and hitting new lows by calling the sitting prime minister “impotent,” “garbage” and a “zero.” She may wear the pants in her own party, but her greatest achievement is making us realize what a truly magnificent woman and leader Golda Meir was.
I also will give long and hard thought, before I toss that little slip of paper in the box, as to who I want sitting in the commander’s seat if and when the next war comes.
In some countries, that may be a fanciful and sometimes far-fetched consideration – though Islam’s relentless war against humanity is fast coming to a country near you – but in Israel, unfortunately, this is an ever- present consideration. So I want to know that the men – or women – with their “finger on the button” are tough, battle-trained, decisive individuals who can protect me and my family.
As we search our history for examples of great leaders, many of us would go back to what is widely considered to be the Golden Age of Judaism, when we had world-renowned kings, a mighty nation and the spiritual epicenter of the Temple. We would probably focus on the first monarchs of Israel, those who ruled over a united kingdom comprising all 12 Tribes. We nostalgically reminisce over the tenures of Saul, David and Solomon, wishing we could identify and elect their modern-day counterparts.
But we would be wise to remember that even those stellar sovereigns were far from perfect, and had foibles all their own. Saul, whose majestic modesty morphed into acute paranoia, was deposed from power because he failed to “go the distance” in completely eliminating arch-enemy Amalek. David remains a rich and romantic icon, but his tenure was marred by the Bathsheba scandal, inter-tribal rivalry and the rebellion of his own son against the crown. Solomon, for his part, presided over Israel in its greatest size and glory, but fell victim to the largesse of royalty – too many wives, too many horses – so God decreed that the kingdom be split, and stripped his successor son of all but two tribes.
I suggest that the greatest political leader in our history was none other than Joseph, the victim who would be viceroy.
In effectively managing the Egyptian empire – the acknowledged superpower of the era – Joseph had a formidable challenge, but clearly rose to the occasion.
Despite being a foreigner, and a Hebrew to boot (remember, the Torah remarks the Egyptians considered it “an abomination” to break bread with our people) he became a national hero, responsible for Egypt’s stunning prosperity and financial success. His dramatic “pit-to-palace” story occupies a huge chunk of the first book of the Torah, granting him, in effect, the status of a “fourth Patriarch.”
Joseph had several outstanding qualities that present-day politicians would do well to emulate, and I list several: Dreams: Joseph, from an early age, was a dreamer. He dreamt big about the future, about destiny. To be a leader, one must be able to see beyond the horizon, to dream, to have a vision of that which could be. As vital as it is to grapple with the problems of the day, it is no less important to envision a better tomorrow, and to act upon that dream in order to bring it to reality.
Joseph’s immediate plan of action, upon interpreting Pharaoh’s dream which presaged seven years of famine, so impressed the Egyptian that he immediately took off his signet ring and handed it to Joseph.
It is infinitely easier to identify the problems of state – as many of our politicians so adeptly do – than it is to fix them and move forward.
Humility: Joseph’s greatness was inextricably intertwined with his modesty.
He refused to be seduced by his master Potiphar’s wife, feeling this would be gross ingratitude for someone who showed him kindness. He refused to take credit for his interpretation of Pharaoh’s dreams, instead giving all the credit to God, thus enhancing the Almighty in the eyes of Pharaoh and sanctifying the Divine name. And when he was reunited with his brothers – the same brothers who cruelly cast him into a pit and sold him into slavery – he refused to castigate or take revenge upon them. “This was all God’s plan,” he said humbly.
Now, take away ego, diatribe and the desire for revenge from our present-day candidates, and who do we have left? Guts: For all his humility, Joseph also had a healthy amount of chutzpah.
When he told Pharaoh there would be years of famine, he was taking quite a chance. Prosperity in Egypt was a function of the Nile overflowing its banks and irrigating the land; Pharaoh considered himself god of the Nile. So Joseph, in effect, was telling Pharaoh he was powerless to alter what was coming; he could only attempt to counteract the calamity.
I suggest this is why Pharaoh immediately accepted Joseph’s interpretation of his dreams, while rejecting his own wise men: Anyone with the nerve to question my authority at the risk of his own life, he must have reasoned, has to be telling the truth! Later, Joseph had to make some very tough – and unpopular – decisions vis-à-vis the general population, even insisting they become slaves to Pharaoh if they wished to survive.
No doubt our own leaders are going to be regularly called upon to stand firm in the face of excruciating pressure coming from all corners – in particular, from our so-called “friends and allies,” who blithely ignore the more serious crises of the planet, coddling the demagogues and dictators (see: Iran, Qatar and Cuba) while focusing the lion’s share of their attention on the only true democracy in the region.
Self-sacrifice: Perhaps the greatest quality on Joseph’s resumé was his willingness to sacrifice his own personal well-being for the sake of the greater good. He brought his family to Egypt and worked tirelessly to secure them a safe haven in Goshen. He swallowed his pride and never revealed to his father Jacob what his brothers did to him, so as not to tear the family apart. He remained true to his mantra, as he expressed it while still a teenager: “It is my brothers that I seek.”
Joseph’s sense of self-sacrifice was in the blood: His mother Rachel displayed it when she magnanimously allowed her sister Leah to marry her beloved Jacob; Joseph’s descendant Esther would show it when she courageously confronted King Ahasuerus in order to save her people from the evil Haman.
Tellingly, despite his position of prominence, Joseph would be the first of the 12 brothers to die.
AS THE election campaign progresses, I will be listening and looking for the men and women who are less interested in defining what others have done wrong, than in what they will do right.
I will be swayed by those who demonstrate a greater love of their fellow citizen than of themselves.
I will prefer those who combine savvy and strength, energy and empathy, and those who make me proud to be a Jew, an Israeli and a human being created in God’s image.
That will help me find the rightful heir fit to wear Joseph’s Technicolor Dream Coat. 
The writer is director of the Jewish Outreach Center of Ra’anana; [email protected]