I welcome R. Aharon Ziegler to Torah Musings in this new feature of Rav Joseph B. Soloveitchik’s halakhic positions. Rav Ziegler is widely known for his writings on this subject, including six books, over the years. It is an honor to host his new essays. -GS
Are we obligated to give Kavod HaMalchut even to a non-Jewish King? According to Rav Soloveitchik, absolutely Yes!
In Bereishit (41:1), Paroh’s dream begins that he is standing al ha’ye’or, on the river. When he later relates the dream to Yosef, he states: (41:17), I was standing al sefat ha’ye’or, I was standing “on the banks of the river”. The Midrash comments, that on this point Yosef corrects him. The Midrash cites the pasuk from Tehillim (81) (Tehillim for Yom Chamishi) sefat lo yadati eshma, “sefat” is something I am not familiar with. In other words, in your dream your were not standing on “sefat ha’ye’or, but on the ye’or. Adds the Midrash, this made it clear to Par’oh that Yosef knew more about dreams than all the Egyptian interpreters.
According to the Midrash, Yosef was taken out of prison on Rosh Hashana, and that day was a Thursday. For this reason many congregations recite Tehillim 81 on every Rosh Hashana, even if it is not a Thursday.
The Chatam Sofer asks, if the Avot (and presumably their children) observed all the mitzvot of the Torah, how was Yosef able to shave himself on Rosh Hashana when he appeared before Par’oh, as stated (41:14), “va’yegalach va’yechalef simlotav”, he shaved and changed his clothes?
The Chatam Sofer, in his Drashot Al HaTorah explains, that the Avot only observed the mitzvot voluntarily, that is, as an Eino Metzuva Ve’oseh, they were not commanded to do so, but they voluntarily obligated themselves, which is really no more than a chumra be’alma, a personal stringency. Rashi comments, citing Midrash Bereishit Rabba, that Yosef shaved himself “Mipnei Kevod Ha’Malchut” , so as to show honor and respect to the king, which is an outright Din. Notes the Chatam Sofer, we see from here, that we must place our priorities
in proper perspective.
Similarly, when a delegation of Rabbanim were going to the White House to discuss an urgent matter with the President of the United States during the Sefira period Rav Soloveitchik advised them to appear clean-shaven for Kavod HaMalchut.