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THE ART OF POWER
Important notice: Please read this article to yourself before reading this at the Shabbat table to the family!
Power can be good, and power can be bad. It depends on how you use it, and on what you use it. One of the popular self-help books of today, with both great reviews and horrible reviews, is a book called The 48 Laws of POWER. The book is a guide that shows the laws, of how to rise to power, how not to lose power, and what the causes were, for others, to rise to power, or to lose the power they had.
The first rule of power, is the rule, Never outshine the Master. Greene writes: Always make those above you feel comfortably superior. In your desire to please or impress them, do not go too far in displaying your talents or you might accomplish the opposite – inspire fear and insecurity. Make your masters appear more brilliant than they are and you will attain the heights of power. Everyone has insecurities. When you show yourself in the world and display your talents, you naturally stir up all kinds of resentment, envy, and other manifestations of insecurity. This is to be expected. Although you cannot spend your life worrying about the petty feelings of others, with those above you, however, you must take a different approach: When it comes to power, outshining the master is perhaps the worst mistake of all.
This rule of power, is so true in so many life areas. I did not read on to the other 48 rules in the book, after the first rule. I realized how true just this first rule is, as I reflected on my own life. I actually lost my first job, because I disobeyed this rule. I outshined my boss, so I got fired. I was TOO good at my job, and I became too popular, way too fast.
In parenting for example, there comes a time, when your kids will teach you, who is boss. The Hebrew word for teenage, is נער. And the Hebrew word for shaking something off, is also, נער. Teenage is a time, when children shake their parents’ dominance and control off their backs, and they start to learn their own identity, as they become the masters of their own life decisions. This is a natural occurrence, and could be one of the most important steps of their development, as they learn independence. THEY will decide what they want and believe, who they respect and who their friends are, NOT you! Of course, you, the parent, can try and manipulate, you can try and guide, but in the end of the day, the teenager is the Master of what he/she believes, and who he/she associates themselves with. As important as the rule that “there are no secrets from parents” is, they are the Master of their secrets, NOT you! Even if you force a secret out of a child, eventually, the child will just learn how to be better at hiding secrets from you. If you, the parent, want that there should be no secrets from you, you must build that trust! You need to realize this truth and surrender: You are not your child’s boss. You are your child’s host for 20 years.
How depressing! How powerless! Are we all hopeless and helpless, doomed to the sad story of The Fiddler on The Roof?
The answer is, of course not. If you don’t outshine the master, the master gives you power. If you show the teenager that you want their independence, but they need to build trust, for you to be lighter on the reigns… you are in a better position of power over the child. The more you give choice to the child, safe choice, the more you empower your child in a safe way, the more the child will turn to you for guidance. Because you served the real Master over their choice, which is your child, you served his need to make his/her own life decisions. The sad thing, is, that some parents don’t pick up on the signs of נער , of the child’s need for becoming more independent, and they don’t realize that their child has reached the age, that they need to be trusted, as long as they are not hurting themselves physically, spiritually or emotionally.
Where do we find this rule of power in the Torah, never to outshine the Master? In the story of Yosef. The Talmud teaches, Megillah 16b, תעלא בעידניה סגיד ליה Which means, When fox becomes king, you need to bow to it, serve it, and buckle under it. The Talmud teaches this regarding the brothers bowing to Yosef. More precisely, the Talmud tells us, that this is referring to Yaakov, the “lion” who bowed to Yosef, the “fox”, when Yosef came to visit Yaakov when Yaakov was on his deathbed. Yaakov needed his son Yosef, to promise him that he would bring his body back to the Holy Land, and bury him in Maarat Hamachpela. Yosef had that power, he was the master, and so, Yaakov bowed to Yosef.
The Midrash teaches, What has G-d been doing since Creation? He has been flipping ladders! הקדוש ברוך הוא יושב ועושה סולמות משפיל לזה ומרים לזה ומוריד לזה ומעלה לזה, הוי אומר (תהלים עה) אלקים שופט זה ישפיל וזה ירים (Bereshit Rabbah Vayetze 68 4) In life, people who are on the “top of the ladder”, eventually fall to the bottom, and the people that are on the bottom end up being flipped to the top. The banana boats of the Syrian Community, became the Luxury Liners. אין לך אדם שאין לו שעה There is no person, who doesn’t have his time of power.(Avot 4;3) This means that if one feels powerless in any situation, look for the one who has power in the present, and buckle down under that power, and you will gain some power back. That person who has the power, is not always clearly identifiable. The masters keep changing, the ladders keep flipping. In fundraising for example, I was taught in fundraising school, to respect with utmost respect, the donor’s secretary. One Rabbi in Israel, complained to me that he could not get into a certain donor, because the secretary acted to him in such a nasty way. “That secretary is such a dog!” I told him, next time you go to that office, pet that dog, give that dog respect, understand the dog, bring the dog a present… He came back to Israel with a 100,000 dollar donation. I asked him what he did. He said, he became that dog’s best friend!
The biggest lesson of history, is that people do not learn lessons from history. Antisemitism has repeated itself, throughout the generations, especially in places where Jews outshined their hosts, the gentiles of the countries they were guests in, on their journey throughout the ages of Exile. When we have fancier cars, houses, clothing, vacations, restaurants, we are outshining our masters, our hosts, and the power of the Jews is eventually overthrown. The Peleh Yoetz quotes the Abarbanel, who takes responsibility for the Spanish Inquisition. “The Spanish Inquisition, of 1492,… it was all my fault!” The Abarbanel was the treasurer of Spain. He was very close to King Ferdinand and Queen Isabella. The Abarbanel was richer than the King and Queen, and his wife’s ring had on it the Abarbanel stone, that was more valuable than the stone of the Queen, herself! This jealousy is what took over Queen Isabella, who pushed for the Inquisition. “If only I had lived more modestly, the whole Inquisition would never have happened.”
This is what Yaakov told his sons, when they went down to Egypt, וַיַּ֣רְא יַעֲקֹ֔ב כִּ֥י יֶשׁ־שֶׁ֖בֶר בְּמִצְרָ֑יִם וַיֹּ֤אמֶר יַעֲקֹב֙ לְבָנָ֔יו לָ֖מָּה תִּתְרָאֽוּ When Yaakov sent his children down to Egypt, he warned them, not to show off that they are satiated and full, while everyone else is hungry. This is the lesson for all of us in Exile. Yaakov’s lesson to his children going into Exile is just this: Don’t show off, when the gentiles don’t have. (see Peleh Yoetz -Galut)
The Talmud in Bava Batra 73b, gives the Mashal to this. Rabbah Bar Hanna said, when out at sea, we saw a big fish, that stood in one place for a long time… It stood for so long, until sand and dirt piled up on its back, and grass grew upon it. We thought it was dry land, and we went up on its back. We baked and cooked on its back, and when the heat from the fires we made was too much on its back, the fish turned over, and we all fell into the water… If there was not a nearby boat, we would have all drowned. This is the story of the Jews throughout exile. We get too comfortable in our foreign lands, we outshine our masters, until we get thrown out into the sea. According to the first Belzhe Rebbe, this is why we stamp our feat in Shul, when we hear Haman and Amalek. To teach our children, always be ready to run in exile, always have your passports ready, so that when Haman and Amalek arise, you will just leave everything behind.
Grandpa Gary, my mother’s father, was an 8 year old boy, in Bonn, Germany, on the night of Kristallnacht. He was coming home from Mincha- Maariv with his father, Great Grandpa Will, when it all happened. That night, Great Grandma Roselle (Sarah), realized they needed to go into hiding from the Nazis, until they got the necessary papers to leave. She was the head manager of a chain of shoe stores, and she always treated the people who worked under her, with respect and dignity. One of the employees, the head cashier, told her, if you ever want to hide from the Nazis, you can’t stay by me, because the Nazis are probably going to check me as I am a potential suspect because I worked under you… but you can stay by my uncle’s cellar, Uncle Fritz.” They stayed there, from Kristallnacht, from Nov 10th until May, for 6 months. They did not see the light of day, until they got their passes to leave. (Grandpa Will already applied for those papers before Kristallnacht, as papers to England and United States were possible for domestic workers. Although Grandma Roselle did not think that it was so important to apply for papers, she did not think that things would spiral downward in Germany so badly and so fast, but Grandpa Will already applied for them, anyway.) My Great Grandma knew, who is the real Master, and always treated her German workers, as if, they are the master. The result: the life of her family was saved, and I am here to write this article.
The biggest mistake that managers make, is that they think that when you are boss, you don’t have a boss! They don’t realize, that their boss, is the customer! The customer is your Master. What built up Amazon to the mammoth retailer it became, was probably this approach. Customer is King. Exceed the client’s expectations, with customer service and support. This made Amazon king of commerce, by realizing who the real master is, and serving the master better than everyone else. The second boss the boss has, is the team that works under boss! As Andrew Carnegie said, Burn down my factories, and I will just build another factory across the street. But if you take away my workers, my factories will grow weeds! When a manager outshines those they delegate to, and does not empower those under them, or when a manager does not listen to the issues and concerns of the team he or she hired, and does not want to hear their feedback, they can bring down their entire company or organization. Not everyone is replaceable, and those who are dedicated to the mission, are not just cogs on a wheel.