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The Ruler and the King (long vort)

Written by D Fine

This week kicks off the first of the three-part series of the sale of Yosef and – eventually – his reuniting with the brothers as the viceroy of Egypt. It all begins with the brothers selling Yosef after his two dreams, which, like other events which occurred to the Avos, have set the scenes for and have had repercussions across history – in the words of the Ramban, ma’aseh avos siman babanim [the actions of the fathers display those of the sons]. The selling of Yosef was no different. Rav Elchonon Wasserman[1] points out that it has been the cause of Jewish tragedy across generations; he traces blood libels as being connected to the blood used by the brothers to pretend to their father that Yosef had died. In fact, the Meshech Chochmah notes that the red string tied onto the se’ir hamishtale’ach (atoning sheep which was led to the cliff) on Yom Kippur was the same weight[2] as Yosef’s coat, and was intended to atone for selling Yosef. We are going to look at the very start of it all; the brothers reaction to Yosef’s first dream.

Yosef reports his dream of twelve sheaves of produce in the field; one for each brother. The dream continues that Yosef’s sheaf stands up and the other brothers’ sheaves bow down to his one. The brothers are not best pleased with this dream. In fact, some explain that the brothers felt they would all comprise the beginning of klal yisrael, unlike the previous two generations in which one son had been chosen to continue klal yisrael (Yitzchak and Yaakov) and the other son had been rejected (Yishmael and Esav). They feared that Yosef envisioned another generation in which only one son was chosen, and that Yosef felt that he was the chosen one, with the consequence that (apart from the implicit rejection of the brothers), klal yisrael would have to wait another generation to sprout its roots as a people /nation; which they knew was incorrect. Either way, they are not impressed by his dream, and they reply[3] ‘are you going to rule over us (‘hamaloch timloch aleiu’), will you rule over us’ (‘im mashol timshol banu’). In English this sounds repetitious, but in lashon hakodesh no two words mean the same thing. So what is the difference between the root words melech and moshel?
The Vilna Ga’on writes[4] that melech denotes someone who rules based on common consent, whilst a moshel is someone who rules forcefully and regardless of whether the people agree to him being the ruler (an elected/agreed-upon leader versus a dictator, for lack of better terms). Using this, we can see that the brothers were accurately addressing the two parts of Yosef’s dream. The part about Yosef’s sheaf alone standing upright insinuated that Yosef would be a leader over them against their will; thus they asked ‘will you be a moshel over us.’ The next part of the dream was their sheaves bowing down to his one, implying that the brothers would voluntarily accept Yosef as their leader, to which the brothers appropriately used the expression melech in asking ‘will you rule (timloch) over us.’[5] The Ga’on goes on to use this distinction in explaining a part of our daily davening[6]. We say ‘for to HaShem is the kingship (meluchah) and [He is a] ruler (moshel) over the nations …and (in the future) HaShem will be the King (melech) over the whole world…’ Why the switch between the terms melech and moshel, and what does it mean that HaShem will be the King over the whole world – is He not the King now? Once we understand this difference between the terms melech and moshel, the answer is in the words themselves. For us, HaShem is a melech, for we have voluntarily chosen Him as our King, whilst for the other nations He is only a moshel, for He reigns over them without them having chosen and acknowledged Him as their Creator. But in the future when HaShem reveals himself to all during the times of Moshiach, HaShem will be the King (melech) over the whole world; every nation and person will accept Him voluntarily and wholeheartedly as their Leader, Creator, and King. This is also the meaning of that which we sing on Simchas Torah ’the kingship (meluchah) and dominion (‘memshalah;’ from the root moshel) is to HaShem’ – it means that HaShem is both a melech who is accepted voluntarily, and to those who do not accept Him voluntarily, He is a moshel.’ Similarly, Rav Reisman notes that when the gemarra[7] tells us that ‘someone whose wife rules (mosheles) over them’ has an unhappy life, it does not mean that one’s wife is not to correct them whatsoever. The expression moshel is used, conveying that the trouble is when the wife’s opinions are not voluntarily accepted by the husband, and she becomes like a moshel type of ruler.

Perhaps we can use this distinction between moshel and melech to understand the character of Eliezer, servant of Avraham Avinu. Eliezer is called a ‘moshel;’ he is chosen for the mission to seek a wife for Yitzchak because he is a ‘moshel over all that Avraham has.[8]’ One facet of a moshel (as opposed to a voluntarily accepted melech) is that since he rules without popular consent, he is naturally less interested in his subjects’ views and is ultimately less influenced by them. In this vein, explains the kli yakar[9] that Eliezer was selected for the ‘wife-seeking’ mission because he ruled over Avraham’s possessions, meaning that he was not influenced by wealth and so would look for the correct girl for who she was and not what wealth she possessed. So too does the midrash[10] expand Eliezer’s accolade of ‘he rules over all [Avraham] has’ to mean that Eliezer ruled over his evil inclination like Avraham.’ Again, the term moshel is referring to the characteristics of a dictator of the lack of others influencing them, albeit here in a positive manner of not being swayed by money. However, despite all this, Avraham deemed Eliezer unfit to be his spiritual heir to spread his legacy, and asks for a son (this is before Yitzchak was born) rather than ‘the servant from Damascus, Eliezer.’[11] Perhaps this too stemmed from Eliezer’s character as a moshel, for a dictator tends to rule with fear (as opposed a melech, whom people serve out of love/admiration). The comments of the Sforno do not fall far from this. He writes[12] that Avraham requested a son over Eliezer because Eliezer served Avraham out of fear, but a son’s relationship is one of love. This fits with Eliezer’s description as a moshel; he built into his character the fear that is normally associated with a moshel and it was with this fear that he served his master Avraham.

We have a middah (quality) of malchus;[13] HaShem gave us the ability/power to decide to, as it were, crown Him as King (melech) or not. But as the Ga’on said, a melech must be accepted voluntarily and so this power must be something that we could reject. This is our freewill in this world. In the Rambam’s classic words[14] ‘permission/ability was given to all of man, if he wants to turn himself to the good path and be righteous the ability is in his hands. And if he wants to turn himself to the bad path and be wicked the ability is in his hands.’ We have freewill to do mitzvos and reflect HaShem, thus crowing Him as King and giving back our middah of malchus to its Creator, whereby we become partners in this Kingship, so to speak. Alternatively, we can use our freewill and our middah of malchus to crown ourselves and our agendas, ignoring HaShem’s Malchus. As Rav Dessler notes vis-à-vis the connection between Sukkos and Shalom[15], when one feels a spiritual elevation, one feels less constricted by their agendas and egos, personal differences are put aside, and peace ensues. And this was the battle between us and the Greeks in Chanukah; the Greeks wanted to crown themselves (body and mind) whilst we knew to use ourselves to crown HaShem.

Have a great Shabbes,

[1] Kovetz Ma’amarim. He was a close talmid of the Chafetz Chaim.
[2] The gemarra says that both were the weight of two sela’im; Shabbes 10b, Yoma 42a
[3] Bereishis 37;8
[4] Gra in his commentary on Mishlei
[5] A point to note about to the Vilna Ga’on’s explanation, is that the responses are not in the same order as the events; Yosef first reports his sheaf standing and then says about their sheaves bowing, whilst the brothers’ response begins with melech, and then moshel.
[6] Just before ‘Yishtabach’
[7] Gemarra Beitzah 32b
[8] Bereishis 24;2
[9] Kli Yakar Bereishis 24;2
[10] Yalkut Shimoni 24;2
[11] Bereishis 15;2
[12] Sforno Bereishis 15;2
[13] This part is from Rav Moshe Shapira
[14] Rambam yad hachazakah hilchos teshuva 5;1
[15] For example, we daven on Friday nights that HaShem spreads the sukkah of Shalom…

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