Korach and Hamas: Sharing PR Tactics

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10 Jun 2010

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

He opened before them with words of scoffing and said: There is a widow in my neighborhood with two orphan daughters, who owned a field. She went to plow her field, and Moshe said to her, “You may not plow with an ox and a donkey together. (Devarim 22:1). She went to sow seeds, and he said to her, “You may not sew your field with mixed seeds.” (Vayikra 19:19) She we to cut her stalks and make a pile and he said to her, “Leave the uncollected, forgotten and corner sheaves.” She brought her produce to the granary and he said, “Give me Terumah, Ma’aser Rishon and Ma’aser Sheni.” She accepted his judgment and gave [all of this] to him. What happened to her? She became impoverished.

מכרה את השדה, וקנתה שתי כבשות, כדי ללבוש מגזותיהן, וליהנות מפירותיהן כיון שילדו, בא אהרן ואמר לה תני לי את הבכורות…הצדיקה עליה את הדין, ונתנה לו את הולדות. הגיע זמן גזיזה וגזזה אותן, בא אהרן ואמר לה תני לי ראשית הגז

She sold the field and bought two sheep to clothe herself from their shearing, and to benefit from their offspring. When they gave birth, Aharon came and said, “Give me the firstborn”… She accepted his judgment and gave him the firstborn. When the time for shearing came and she sheared them, Aharon came and said, “Give me the first shearing.”

אמרה אין בי כח לעמוד באיש הזה, הריני שוחטתן ואוכלתן, כיון ששחטתן, בא אהרן ואמר לה תני לי הזרוע והלחיים והקבה, אמרה אחר ששחטתי אותן לא נוצלתי מידך, הרי הם חרם עלי, אמר לה אם חרם הן כולן שלי…ונטלן והלך לו, והניחה בוכה עם שתי בנותיה…

She said, I have no strength to stand up to this man. I will slaughter [the sheep] and eat them. When she slaughtered them Aharon came and said, “Give me the shoulder, cheeks and maw.” She said, since I have slaughtered them and still not saved myself from them, they are forbidden to me!” He said to her, “If they are forbidden, then they all belong to me!” He took them and left, leaving her crying with her two daughters.

In her Commentary on the Weekly Parsha, 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

You shall not afflict any widow, or fatherless child.

(עֹשֶׂה מִשְׁפַּט יָתוֹם וְאַלְמָנָה וְאֹהֵב גֵּר לָתֶת לוֹ לֶחֶם וְשִׂמְלָה (דברים י,יח

He (G-d) executes justice for the fatherless and widow, and loves the stranger, in giving him food and clothing.

(לֹא תַטֶּה מִשְׁפַּט גֵּר יָתוֹם וְלֹא תַחֲבֹל בֶּגֶד אַלְמָנָה (דברים כד,יז

You shall not pervert the justice due to the stranger, or to the fatherless; nor take the widow’s clothing to pledge.

(כִּי תִקְצֹר קְצִירְךָ בְשָׂדֶךָ וְשָׁכַחְתָּ עֹמֶר בַּשָּׂדֶה לֹא תָשׁוּב לְקַחְתּוֹ לַגֵּר לַיָּתוֹם וְלָאַלְמָנָה יִהְיֶה לְמַעַן יְבָרֶכְךָ יְקֹוָק אֱלֹהֶיךָ בְּכֹל מַעֲשֵׂה יָדֶיךָ (דברים כד,יט

When you reap your harvest in thy field, and forget a sheaf in the field, do not go back to fetch it; it shall be for the stranger, for the fatherless, and for the widow;

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.

The words of this author reflect his/her own opinions and do not necessarily represent the official position of the Orthodox Union.