Leading with Authority

Avot (1:9) | Yisrael Bankier | 6 years ago

The Mishnah taught (1:9):

Shamaya said, love work, hate lordship and seek not intimacy with the ruling powers.

We will focus on the second of the three teachings.

The Bartenura provides two explanations. The first is that this is a continuation of the first statement. You should love work and never think “I am too big and it is beneath me to engage in work.” The second explanation is that one should not use excessive power and act with dominion of the community as lordship ultimately buries those that engage in it.

The Tifferet Yisrael appears to combine the approach of the first explanation of the Bartenura with the content of the second. He explains that indeed one should engage in work. If one however succeeds and is nominated to a position of authority, one should not dominate his subjects like slaves, but rather treat them with compassion like children. The Tifferet Yisrael then continues with numerous examples where the Sages degraded lordship and spoke of their negative consequence.

The Tosfot Yom Tov elaborates on the statement of the Bartenura that “lordship buries those that engage in it”. He cites that Gemara in Berachot (13b) that asks why Yosef HaTzaddik died before all his brothers. Rashisights the pasuk in the beginning of sefer Shmot that states, “And Yosef died, and all his brother” as the source. The Gemara responds that it was because he acted with authority.

The Chatam Sofer asks that in Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer a different reason is brought why Yosef’s life was shortened. There, R’ Yishmael taught because Yosef heard his brother say, “our father, your servant” ten times and remained quiet thereby giving consent, his life was shorted by ten years (and lived to 110). The Chatam Sofer explains that really bother reasons were required. Yosef suffered for 13 years from when he was sold at the age of 17 till he made viceroy at the age of the 30. He explains that he was meant to live another 7 times the 17 years he suffered in stated of greatness. (Based on the pasuk“seven times against your sin” he understand that be repaid in good measure should be at least seven times.) Consequently he should have lived to age of 121. The reason stated in our Gemara deducted one year, while the reason from Pirkei D’Rebbi Eliezer deducted another 10.

A different answer might be found based on the words of the Maharsha. He notes that the Gemara writes the “ha’manhig atzmo ba’rabanut” and not “ha’noheg”. The difference is that the “ha’noheg” refers to one that acts with authority. That is not what the Gemara writes and not the focus. “Ha’manhig atzmo” implies that one seizes authority against that will of those he intends to rule. The Maharsha explains that Yosef did not seize power; he was granted it. Consequently he was not punished. The Gemara nevertheless learns this concept from the superfluous pasuk that states he died before his brothers.

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