pirkei avot 2:3 - Talking from a Place of Truth

This post is dedicated in memory of Etya Sarah bat Yitzchak ha-Levi. May it be an aliyah for                                                               her neshama.
By Elisheva Maline

He [Rabban Gamliel] also says "Be cautious with the people who govern. They are the ones who draw a man close in a facade of friendship when, in truth, they are using him to further their needs and purposes. They show themselves as friends when it is to their benefit but they will not stand by a man in his hour of difficulty." 

What do you call fifty lawyers drowned at sea? A start.

Okay, some may view this joke as one told in poor taste, but I am positive that others will follow up this introductory sentence with a sage nod and the adage, "Yes, yes, lawyers are liars. Send 'em for a long walk down a short pier." Is it fair of Rabban Gamliel to make this generalization with people in the justice system, though? Surely some good eggs exist among those who work the legal system. If there aren't, well, those rotters must be the exception to the rule, right? 

Unfortunately, the men we expect to operate as the backbone of society are actually part of the reason countries are so fragmented. Moreover, it is, perhaps, from this pit of disgust that Thoreau's essay on Civil Disobedience sprang. If the people in government act out of personal greed and/or cruelty, abolitionists make a stink to even the playing field between citizens and government policy.

In Rabban Gamiliel's case, his disillusionment stemmed from the relationships he witnessed between his father, Rav Yehudah haNasi (Judah the Prince) and the Roman government. Rav Yehudah shared a close friendship with the Roman emperor whom the Talmud and Midrash term Antoninus but who is identified by Graetz as Alexander Severus. As a result, Antoninus's senators often approached the Jewish sage for nuggets of wisdom. Yet when Rav Yehudah needed help with keeping the land of Israel in Jewish hands, the ruling parties made themselves scarce. Beware: lawyers and politicians advertise truth and justice whenever the need represents itself i.e. right after someone has greased their palms with cash or just prior to elections. While there are exceptions to every rule, the general principle is that people in power are not as humanitarian as they claim. "When a statesman says yes, he means maybe. When he says maybe, he means no and if he says no, he is not a statesman." I'm not propagating mass anarchy; just be wily in your dealings with one who has as much probability for stabbing you in the back as he does for greeting you with a hug and kiss.        

How do we avoid becoming intimate with people who are unhealthy for us? Listen to the sage, "Be cautious with the ones who govern." Be careful with anyone who has a lot to gain and a lot to lose. Remember who the true ruling power is - G-d - and act according to the tenets of His land i.e. the keeping of the Torah's laws in this world. 

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