Who’s the boss?

By Arik Speaker 
Head of the International Mechina,
World Bnei Akiva

“Power to the people” or “G-d save the Queen”? The question of how much power to give to the rulers – may it be a single absolute monarch or a democratically elected government – is one of the central questions of society for as long as organized human life existed, and the central question of political theory. It is that which divides right and left parties, moderate and extremists, liberals and conservatives.
The story of Yosef and his brothers is one of the most dramatic stories of the entire Torah. So much can be learned from it in regards to family, betrayal, remorse, teshuva, dreams, hopes, prayers, responsibility, etc. It’s a real textbook for a long list of values and ideals.
But I think the story of Yosef and his brothers, or rather Yosef in Egypt more generally, also touches on an additional topic, And that is the dilemma I mentioned earlier – how much power do we wish to give to the ruler. The story of Yosef’s rise in Egypt, when looked at broadly, seem to be strengthening the case for more power to the government. The fact that Egypt survived the hunger while other neighboring nations starved is because of the tremendous organizational control that the powerful Pharaoh and his lieutenant Yosef had over their land. It takes a lot of power to be able to tax your subjects in such an extensive way and to organize an operation of such a scale, it takes a lot of power to store and secure tremendous amounts of food for such an extensive period,…
This has always been one of the main arguments in favor of strong leaders and governments with expansive powers. It is so much more effective than the other options. So, by looking at our story, this opinion seems to have a strong case.
But, there’s another side to that story. Both what happened to Yosef and the result of his doings as Egypt’s de facto ruler show the other edge of the sword – the dangers of absolute rule.
The story of Pharaoh’s birthday, at the beginning of the Parasha, shows one of the main negative traits of absolute rule. The utter randomness of Pharaoh, when for no apparent reason he frees one of his ministers and kills the other is one of the classic qualities of dictators. Yosef himself, floating from servant to prisoner to second in command of the biggest empire of those days – all of that instantly and with no real logic – describes the lives of millions under autocratic rule.
But in our Parasha Yosef is on the other side, the powerful side. After he was “thrown” from one extreme to the other – he is now the one using his power to do as he wishes with his brother, “throwing” them from one experience to the other. At first threatening them, jailing them, then treating them like kings and then again taking their brother. This arbitrariness is classical.
But much more so – in next Parasha we see how during the next years of hunger in Egypt, Yosef turns Pharaoh’s rule into completely absolute. He actually owns the land, the property and the people themselves. Long before Am Israel were slaves in Egypt, the Egyptians themselves were Pharaoh’s slaves. 
There are huge advantages but also tremendous dangers to strong central rulers. It can be someone like Yosef which uses it for the good but it can just as easily be Pharaoh or Haman or Achashverosh.
Just by looking at the song of Maoz Zur we can see all of that.
The real answer to it all we can see in the last part of the song – חשוף זרוע קדשך – we want to see His strength. His absolute rule.