Following the United Nation’s vote approving the partition of Palestine, David Ben-Gurion understood that the Jewish state was going to be attacked. The Yishuv desperately needed weapons and, more immediately, the funds with which to purchase them. Although the United States government would not sell those weapons to the Jewish community in Palestine (those weapons would come from Europe and various black markets instead), the money to purchase them would have to come from the American Jewish community.
Golda Meir was sent to the States in January 1948 to fundraise. It is interesting that support for a Jewish state among secular Jews in America was not firm. Meir realized that she had a major uphill battle ahead of her. With the help of Henry Montor, executive vice-chairman of the UJA, she was given a luncheon-speaking spot on January 25 at the Chicago conference of the Council of Jewish Federations. She realized she had only one chance to succeed.
Looking at the crowd, she began: “Friends, the Mufti and his people have declared war upon us. We have no alternative but to fight for our lives…” (Lioness: Golda Meir and the Nation of Israel by Francine Klagsbrun, 2017, p. 304.) She continued by explaining that the Jewish people in Palestine had very high morale and would fight with whatever they had, even if it was only stones. However, she continued, high morale is not enough; without weapons and such, a fight can’t last for a long time. “Rifles and machine guns without spirit are not worth very much, but spirit without arms can in time be broken with the body.”
She emphasized that they needed the money right away. “Millions of dollars that we may get in three or four months will mean very little in deciding the present issue. The question is: What can we get immediately. And, my friends, when I say immediately… it means now.”
In her conclusion, she laid out in crystal clear fashion the actual decision facing the people present that afternoon. “You cannot decide whether we should fight or not. We will… That decision is taken. Nobody can change it. You can decide only one thing: whether we shall be victorious in this fight or whether the Mufti will be victorious” (p. 305). The speech hit its mark. Over the next month, more than twenty-five million dollars was raised – three times the amount originally hoped for.
What is very significant from a leadership perspective is how Golda Meir structured her speech. Communication is a key element of effective leadership. A leader needs to frame his or her message in a way that inspires the result he or she desires to achieve. Meir could have simply asked for money to fight the expected war. She could have framed the decision facing American Jews as one of : Will we have the guns to fight. She, however, took it one step further. She made them realize that it was not about whether to fight, it was a question of who would be victorious: Israel or the Arabs. Who did those people in the room want to support? Few people seemed ready to shoulder the responsibility for the Mufti’s victory.
The Torah in this week’s parsha alerts us to the value of framing in interpersonal communication, especially when the stakes are high. After Yosef explained to Pharaoh the meaning of his dream, Pharaoh realized that there was nobody more qualified than Yosef to implement and administer the strategy that would save Egypt. Most of us understand that the way events unfolded was a given and that Yosef’s key moment was when he described the problem and offered the solution. However, a careful reading of the text indicates that Yosef ensured that Pharaoh would follow his suggestion by framing Pharaoh’s choice as being binary. The Torah relates (41:36) how Yosef framed the decision to Pharaoh. “The food will be stored for the seven years of famine that will be in Egypt, so that the land will not be destroyed during the famine.” Yosef precluded Pharoah from thinking there were other options. “Follow me,” and you will survive; “refuse to follow me,” and you will perish.
Despite the fact that there were other possible scenarios, such as the land suffering but not being destroyed, or that during the seven years of plenty Pharaoh could use his extra resources to conquer other territories to serve as his bread basket during the famine, Pharaoh accepted and acted upon Yosef’s presentation. By carefully framing Pharaoh’s choice, Yosef guaranteed the success of his plan and moved Jewish history forward.
Later on in the parsha we witness Yehuda convincing Yaakov to send Binyamin to Egypt by carefully framing the choice Yaakov faced. Yaakov was justly concerned about sending Binyamin. In his mind he had already lost Yosef and Shimon. Sending Binyamin was a tempting of fate that Yaakov was not prepared to do. Yehuda understood Yaakov’s concerns. He, therefore (43:8), explained to him that by going down they would live and not die. Rashi explains that Yehuda clarified the situation this way: While sending Binyamin entailed a risk, it was still only a risk. By not letting them go down with Binyamin, Yaakov would definitely cause the death of everyone, including Binyamin. When the situation was framed this way, Yaakov realized that he had no choice. According to his own logic and concerns he had to let Binyamin go.
Leaders must always be cognizant of the power of framing. A good message in and of itself is not enough to facilitate success. It must be framed, presented, and delivered in the most appealing, inspiring and convincing way. As we celebrate Chanukah, we can appreciate how Matityahu’s rallying cry of “Whoever is for G-d, come to me!” framed the choice for the Jewish people in very simple terms. You’re either for G-d or against G-d. Today, when we light the candles we commemorate, among the other miracles, the miracle that so many Jews answered Matityahu’s call.