Rabban Gamliel the son of Rabbi Judah HaNassi would say...
Be careful of the government, for they befriend a person only
for their own needs. They appear to be friends when it is
beneficial to them, but they do not stand by a person at the
time of his distress.
Ethics of the Fathers
Good advice for anyone lobbying for a cause among the wielders
and brokers of power, and as pertinent today as when offered
eighteen centuries ago. But Rabban Gamliel is not only speaking
to community leaders and political activists, but to each
and every one of us, including those fortunate enough never
to have had any dealings with the government. What is his
message to those of us whose involvement in politics is confined
to the governance of the miniature city
that is man?
Indeed, the individual human being is a virtual city
of thoughts, feelings and deeds, each with its own momentum
and trajectory, converging, interacting and clashing with
one another. What gives it all coherence and unity is the
government of the citythe intellect and instincts which
are the authorities in a persons life.
As is the case with all governments, this internal authority
is crucial, indeed indispensable: without it the city of man
would be reduced to a chaotic mob. But as is also the case
with all governments, it is profoundly selfish, its every
act motivated solely by self-interest and geared solely toward
One must avail oneself of this government. But one must also
deeply mistrust it, being aware of its self-bias. One must
repeatedly challenge oneself: am I doing this because it is
the right thing to do, or because it serves my selfish interests?
Based on an address by the Rebbe, Iyar 1, 5739 (April
. Ecclesiastes 9:14, as per Talmud, Nedarim 32b;
Tanya, ch. 9.
. Cf. Zohar, part II, 153a: There are three
governors [within man]: the mind, the heart and the liver.
. Biurim LPirkei Avot (Kehot, 1996), p. 95.