June 10, 2010
Korach and Hamas: Sharing PR Tactics
By Rabbi Reuven Spolter
Following the recent flotilla fiasco facing the IDF last week, Israelis are wondering: Is Everyone Crazy? How is it that only we can appreciate the missiles raining down from Gaza, even today? How can the world watch Hamas continue to vow to destroy Israel, send terrorists to attack civilians, holds Gilad Shalit hostage – and still consider us to be the villain. In the words of Yossi Klein Halevi in an op-ed piece in the Wall Street Journal, "Has the World Lost its Mind?"
No, it hasn't lost its mind. Rather, to our great dismay, the Palestinians have long last learned the media savvy and publicity techniques of Korach.
The Torah tells us that during his rebellion against Moshe, ויקהל עליהם קרח את כל העדה – "Korach gathered against them the entire congregation." (Bamidbar 16:19) How did Korach manage to rile up the people against Moshe and Aharon? A very famous Midrash (Midrash Tehillim 1) shares light not only on Korach's tactics, but also on our own human nature, and why we're losing the PR war.
התחיל לומר לפניהם דברי ליצנות, ואמר אלמנה אחת יש בשכונתי, ועמה שני נערות יתומות, והיה לה שדה אחת. באתה לחרוש, אמר לה משה לא תחרוש בשור ובחמור יחדו (דברים כב י), [באת לזרוע, אמר לה שדך לא תזרע כלאים (ויקרא יט יט)], באתה לקצור ולעשות ערימה, אמר לה לקט שכחה ופאה, באתה לעשות גורן אמר לה תני לי תרומה ומעשר ראשון ומעשר שני, הצדיקה עליה את הדין ונתנה לו, מה עשתה עניה.
In her Commentary on the Weekly Parshah, Nechama Leibowitz points out the insidious nature of Korach's oratory, emphasizing two main aspects of his PR tactics.
First and foremost, Korach doesn't argue about the facts. He doesn't complain about the burden of the laws of Terumah and Ma'aser. Rather, he pulls at their heartstrings. He tells a tragic tale about a poor widow and her pathetic plight. He knows that people respond not to intellectual arguments, but instead to emotional pulls at the heartstrings. He realizes that better than argue the nuances of economic theory, he should emphasize the human tragedy that sometimes results from the normal application of the rules.
Secondly and even more importantly, Nechama points out that Korach deliberately ignores the facts. Numerous mitzvot throughout the Torah demand compassion, charity and kindness towards the widow and orphan:
(כָּל אַלְמָנָה וְיָתוֹם לֹא תְעַנּוּן (שמות כב,כא
It should not surprise us that the very mitzvah of charity Korach cited as a complaint against Moshe actually helps the poor widow, explicitly. But to Korach, facts don't matter. It's all about the narrative of the poor, pathetic widow and her sad, starving orphans, victims of a ruthless and reckless regime.
We now watch Korach's tactics once again on display worldwide. No, the world hasn't lost its mind, because it was never watching with its mind. It watches with its heart, feeling sorrow for the poor victims of an evil blockade, preventing women and children from going to school, cooking breakfast, and living a normal life. And facts don't matter either. All the arguing in the world about whether there is a humanitarian crisis or not, and whether Hamas steals from its people to try and kill Jews – it's all beside the point.
Korach's uprising didn't just hurt him and his men. He hurt all of Klal Yirsrael. And as long as the world care more about the narrative than it does the truth, Israel will continue to suffer additional PR defeats.
Rabbi Reuven Spolter teaches Judaic Studies at the Orot College of Education in Elkana, Israel. You can find additional shiurim and articles at his website, www.spolter.net.
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