Beware of those in [positions of political] power, for
they only bring a person close to them for their own
needs. They appear as friends when it benefits them, but
they aren't there for the person when he is in trouble.
After teaching that one should be involved in communal matters,
the Tanna warns about those in positions of power and control.
Individuals in positions of political power are actually an opposing
force to the community (the all encompassing entity of the "tzibbur").
Those in power, because of their importance and [perceived] greatness,
separate themselves from the "tzibbur" (community). They appear to be
involved in the welfare of the community by guiding it. In fact,
rather than serving the community, they are simply exerting power in
their quest to control it. This separates the politicians from the
people, with whom there is no real attachment. This is the nature of
those who seek power over others.
Even if political leaders appear to create a relationship with
someone, giving the appearance of loving that person, this is
deceiving. The only reason they maintain closeness to a person is for
their own benefit. Any time they derive no benefit from the person,
even when he is in a very difficult situation, they abandon him. This
indicates that the relationship was in essence one of self-interest.
Why is this so? Because people who wield power separate
themselves from the community. Even if they appear to be creating a
bond, there is no real love and attachment to others.
(The principle at work here is the one taught to us by Rav Dessler
in his "Kuntres Hachesed" (Michtav M'Eliyahu; Strive For Truth) which
we touched on in the last shiur of Mishna 2. We love those to whom we
give. Giving to and serving others is a way for me to extend myself,
which creates an attachment and a bond between myself and those to whom
(Many times people appear to be giving to others when in fact they
are motivated by the need to exert control over them, as a way to build
up their own egos. This distinction in motivation is at the root of
what the Maharal is teaching us in this Mishna. A proper communal
leader is one who is motivated exclusively by the recognition of his
responsibility to serve others. This person views his existence as
being a series of continuous opportunities to serve others and give to
them. This is the true meaning of imitating the Almighty. Most people
in positions of power view their position as a means towards
accomplishing personal goals, rather than a way to help others
accomplish their own goals.)
What is the connection between the previous Mishna ("...all those
who are involved with the community...") and our Mishna? A person is
supposed to strive for the welfare of the community utilizing all his
energy and resources. Yet there are people who look to flatter those
in power, trying to ingratiate themselves with these leaders. They may
give them advice which is really for their own welfare, in contrast to
what is best for the community, hoping to attain personal benefit from
them. It is these people our Mishna is addressing.
"Beware of those in power." Why? Because "they only bring a
person close to them for their own needs." If a person sees that the
leaders are showing him favoritism, it is only for their own benefit.
So people who try to ingratiate themselves with the authorities lose on
two counts. Firstly, they are punished for pursuing their own welfare
at the expense of the community's welfare. And they will not succeed
in their attempt to attain their desired goal (their own benefit), for
the people in power will never pay back the favors done for them when
it doesn't suit their own agendas.
(Admittedly, this doesn't present people in positions of power in
the most complimentary light. We discussed this topic in Chapter 1,
Mishna 10, parts 3 and 4. As we have written in our introduction,
Pirkei Avoth is not simply words of wisdom on who to live a more
effective life. As Mishnayoth, they are Halachoth. The Halacha being
taught us here is that a person is required to focus on how he can
serve others. Most people in positions of power are not motivated by
this commitment to serve. One who tries to cooperate with them for his
own agenda, in a way that compromises the welfare of the community,
will ultimately fail, since those in power are motivated by the same
selfish drives as he is. And they have the power! We have to be
focused on serving others.)