Shabbat Talmud Study: President George H.W. Bush and Joseph in Egypt–What is the Single Most Essential Quality of a Great Leader of a Nation?

Tomorrow morning we are going to look at an underexplored part of the Joseph story: How he feeds the Egyptian people during the period of severe famine. Thankfully we have not experienced famine and so do not really get its destructive and horrible power. We are going to read some excerpts from Nothing to Envy by Barbara Demick about the famine in North Korea. Famine kills. And it kills slowly, painfully, cruelly.

Joseph saved the Egyptian people from this slow, painful famine-induced death, for which they are grateful and for which they thank him.

And yet.

As Rabbi Shai Held observes, the Torah suggests a critique of Joseph’s life-saving policies. Indeed, what Joseph will do to the Egyptians-make them slaves unto Pharaoh in Egypt, avadim l’pharoh-the Egyptians will do to Joseph’s descendants.

This analysis of Joseph will yield a simple metric by which we can judge all of our leaders and which can explain why President Bush, though super successful in international relations (end of Apartheid on his watch, fall of the Soviet Union on his watch, creation of a truly international coalition to get Iraq out of Kuwait, the successful prosecution of the war, restraint in not going to Bagdad), was denied a second term.

Shabbat shalom and Happy Hanukkah,