Rabbi Chanina, the deputy High Priest, said, "Pray for the welfare of the government [in Hebrew ,'malchut'], for were it not for the fear of it, a man would swallow his fellow alive. (Avot 3:2)

With heavenly assistance, it seems fitting to interpret the above as follows: The Divine Presence (or Shechina) is referred to by the name "malchut", as is known. In addition, our sages, of blessed memory, have said that in every place that the Jewish People have been exiled, the Divine Presence [i.e. malchut] is with them. This is in order that they should be afforded protection against the nations [amongst which they have been exiled]. For how is it possible that one sheep can dwell amongst seventy wolves?

Let us examine the following Midrash from our sages:

It once happened that the wicked Titus [the Roman chief general] glanced from his tower, which was perched above the market, and saw a mass of people from the nations of the world and one lone Jew among them - not even one opening his mouth against him [the Jew]. He was greatly astonished at this, for he knew that they were all Jew-haters, and if they had squashed him who would there be to even protest?

Immediately, he called in Rabbi Akiva and said to him, "Today I have witnessed an awesome wonder! Thousands upon thousands of lions, panthers, and wolves were walking by and one lone sheep passed between them - and they didn't harm him!" Rabbi Akiva understood what he was talking about and said to him, "Not because of their pity for him did they not harm him, but because of fear of the Shepherd." And [Titus] was astonished at this answer.

Upon this [idea] the holy Rabbi Mekor Baruch commented upon the verse "G‑d is my shepherd…" (Psalms 23:1): It is because [G‑d is my shepherd that] "…I shall not lack" (ibid.), for bears and lions fear the Blessed Holy One, who is my shepherd, and thus don't harm me.

This is why is says that while in exile, one should pray for the welfare of the "malchut", meaning the Divine Presence in our midst. For She protects us and because of Her, fear descends upon the seventy nations below and their supernal [corresponding angelic] ministers.

Thus [the above Mishna says,] "a man…", referring to Esau, who is called "a man of the field" (Gen. 25:27). And "his fellow…" refers to Ishmael, who joined with Esau, as is written, "And he [Esau] took Machlat, the daughter of Ishmael [to wife]." (Ibid. 28:9) And Israel is called "alive", as is written, "All of you are alive today." (Deut.4:4). And "swallow" means that [if not for the well-being of the Divine Presence] they [the Jewish People] would be swallowed up. May mercy and peace be upon us. [Thus the final phrase of the Mishna can be interpreted as: "…for were it not for the fear of the Divine Presence (which protects the Jews), Esau and Ishmael would consume the Israelites (in their exile)."]

[Adapted by Baruch Emanuel Erdstein from the Ben Ish Chai, Chasdei Avot.]