Yosef became the most powerful economic leader of the land. He was an astute economics genius who sustained the population through a devastating famine and ensured the devotion of the entire Egyptian people to Pharoah and his regime.
It is interesting that when the Torah describes Yosef’s relationship with the population it states, “He gave the Egyptians bread and he led them with bread”, whereas, with his own family, it simply says, “He sustained them with bread”.
It is well known that in politics the majority of people vote with their pocketbooks and so it is a safe assumption that if the economy is flourishing, the incumbent president will be voted in no matter how outlandish his behavior or his tweets from the Oval Office are. On the other hand, if the economy is in a recession, the incumbent will be tossed out.
Yosef’s relationship with the populace is that he ‘led them’ with bread because they surrendered to whoever controlled the economy. They did not care about ethical or moral issues, only about making money. Bill Clinton ran his successful campaign against the incumbent George H.W. Bush on the slogan “its the economy, stupid!” It seems that there has not been that much change in the workings of politics over the past three thousand years.
However, with his own household, Yosef’s support did not give him a position of ethical or moral leadership, therefore it simply says the ‘he sustained’ them with bread.
The Torah tells us that “Man does not live on bread alone”. Perhaps a better translation would be “Man should not live on bread alone”. That there is more to life than economics.
~ Rabbi Shaul