There are many traits that a King of the People of Israel must possess, but I wanted to focus on one. This trait, of enduring shame while remaining quiet, reveals itself by the shevet (tribe) that represents Malchut (the attribute of kingliness) Yehuda, and later on by King David, the progenitor to the messianic line. It also represents how the last sefira, the sefira of Malchut, manifests itself in the world.
Also, I would like to suggest a method by which to acquire the ability to remain silent in the face of embarrassment, for according to the Rambam, a king is one who is suffused with the fear of God, and we all want to strive to be God-fearing people.
In this parsha, Yehuda (Judah) endures a crushing blow. After putting forth an eloquent argument filled with imagery and persuasion, he is defeated by five words, “I am Yosef (Joseph), Is my father still alive?” Yehuda’s argument was lacking for one simple reason. He failed to apply the same logic to Yosef. After Yosef reveals himself, Yehuda is forced to realize his hypocritical argument (see Beis Halevi).
There is no response here by Yehuda, only an endurance of shame. Though one might argue that Yehuda wasn’t able to respond due to the magnitude of shock, there was still no verbal response, but a shame that infused his inner core. Here is an example of Malchut enduing great shame and embarrassment with no response.
The second classic episode with Yehuda that defines his essence is with Tamar. Once again, he endures gargantuan embarrassment. Here not only is he silent but he enunciates words that implicate him.
When looking at the other quintessential l king of Israel, we find David HaMelech. We need only look towards his formation to see shame and degradation. His mother, Nitzevet, has to endure 28 years of shame, enduring the taunting of her son David HaMelech in lieu of claims of his genealogical imperfections. She is finally redeemed from her anguish when all of David HaMelech’s brothers are passed over and David HaMelech is chosen as king. Indeed, “Nitzevet” was someone who “stood” and endured shame with no response. This was the essence of a king: humility and endurance of shame.
We find by Shimi ben Gera a startling episode. He curses a king, something worthy of death, yet David HaMelech, not only doesn’t kill him, but says these words are words from God. We know that Shimi deserved immediate death, for David allows him to be killed later. Yet, in the moment, we see an analysis by David of applying Shimi’s words to his own possible failings. David HaMelech endured this shame as a warrior with his sergeants on hand, yet remained introspective and self-effacing, absorbing the embarrassment.
We find that the last sefira is that of Malchut. It’s like the moon that reflects the colors of all of the other sefirot. Is it the representation of God’s existence in this world. It is Shecinah. And when we look at the Shechina, what do we find? We find a Shechinah that said, “Let us make man in our image.” It was a God that out of humility said, let me show the world that I am, so to say, conferring with angels, to create man, as I value the opinion of others, and take into consideration the feelings and needs of others.
This sefira of Malchut is characterized by none other than David HaMelech’s words, when he says, “But as for me, I am poor and needy; may the Lord think of me” (Psalms 40:17). The final manifestation of God’s presence in this word is one that is present with the needy and oppressed, as God dwells amidst those who can overlook their shame and degradation.
I believe there’s a Mishna in Avot that gives solid counsel on how to endure shame and not react. The Mishna (1:17) says, “[Rabbon Gamliel's] son, Shimon, would say: All my life I have been raised among the wise, and I have found nothing better for the body than silence.” Two fundamental questions emerge when reading this Mishna. First, it should say, “I never saw,” why “I never found.” Second, why is it good for the “body,” such a notion of intangible silence should be good for the neshama. I believe the language of “found” is referring to the Gemara in Megillah (6b) that says, “Rabbi Yitzḥak said in the style of a previous passage: If a person says to you: I have labored and not found success, do not believe him. Similarly, if he says to you: I have not labored but nevertheless I have found success, do not believe him. If, however, he says to you: I have labored and I have found success, believe him.”
This is what the original Mishna is saying when it proclaims, “I never found.” The message is to be in silence is a journey. You won’t naturally be able to remain in silence the first time someone degrades you. But if you work on it and bring yourself to a level of self-effacement, then indeed you will be one that it could be said about, “I toiled, and I found.” In terms of the silence being good for the guf, I believe the message is that silence is also good physically for the body. Silence is such a healthy response, as it doesn’t rile up the senses and cause unnecessary anger within, that it offers peace and harmony to the body, which is a physical reality.
Yehuda and David HaMelech, the quintessential kings of Israel, exhibited throughout their lives what Malchut is all about. Malchut is a manifestation of enduring shame and embarrassment and not reacting. It is with people like this that God dwells, and who God wants to lead his people, as God, Himself, lives with the needy and oppressed. Living a life of remaining silent in the wake of humiliation, will not only give you physical health, but put you on par with kings whose stellar quality is the fear of God.