“The Origin of the Big Lie”

by Rabbi Ephraim Z. Buchwald

In this coming week’s Torah portion, parashat Korach, we read of Korach and his rebellion against G-d, Moses and Aaron. Although Korach was himself a member of the noble tribe of Levi, he persuades Dathan, and Abiram and On, of the tribe of Reuven, and 250 leaders of the people of Israel to join in his rebellion. They confront Moses and Aaron and demand (Numbers 16:3): “Rav l’chem,” You, Moses and Aaron, have taken too much for yourselves! After all, the entire congregation is holy. “U’mah’doo’ah tit’nas’uh al k’hal Hashem,” and why do you exalt yourselves over the congregation of G-d?

Korach was a brilliant provocateur who was able to stir up the passions of the masses, a la Hitler and Goebbels, convincing the hordes to believe that he was rebelling for the sake of the common folk, instead of for his own personal benefit.

The Midrash relates that Korach attempted to incite the people to join in his rebellion with him against Moses by railing against the gifts and tributes that were given to the priests, who were, of course, from the family of Aaron and Moses. According to the Midrash, Korach went from house to house telling the Israelites the story that he had invented of the “oppressed widow.”

A widow and her two orphaned daughters owned a small field, eking out a most meager living. Yet at every move she made the widow was questioned by Moses and Aaron. She was stopped from plowing the field together with an ox and a donkey and was not permitted to plant diverse seeds together. She had to bring the first fruits to the Temple and was forbidden to reap the corners of the fields or gather the gleanings. When she was about to grind the grain, Moses demanded the heave offering, the first and the second tithes that belonged to the priests.

When the widow realized that she could not live off the field, she sold the field and bought some lambs in the hope that she could finally be undisturbed. When the first sheep was born, Aaron appeared and demanded it. At the first shearing of the wool, he demanded the wool. Finally, he claimed one sheep out of every ten, as a tithe. The poor widow could not take it any longer and she slaughtered the sheep. Once again Aaron appears, demanding the shoulder, the cheeks and the maw as his. In desperation, the widow consecrates all the meat to the sanctuary. “Now,” said Aaron gleefully, “everything belongs to me.” Aaron took the meat, left the widow and her daughters behind, weeping bitterly. “Such men,” said Korach concluding his tale, “are Moses and Aaron who pass the cruel measures as Divine law.”

It was with these words, and with this heart-rending story, that Korach managed to seduce thousands of Israelites to join in his rebellion.

Eventually, through the use of holy incense, Moses proves that only he is the true chosen of G-d. As the earth opens and swallows Korach and his immediate followers, fire bursts forth and devours the 250 men who sacrificed the counterfeit incense.

Like many enemies of Israel, including the contemporary Palestinian Authority, Korach was a genius at public relations and marketing. His lies were extraordinary, but always based on truth. In fact, everything that Korach said about the priestly gifts and the tithes were absolutely true, but reported in such a distorted manner that it resulted in dramatic incitement and rebellion.

According to the Torah, when Moses ultimately confronted Korach before the people, he said: If these people (Korach and his cohorts) die a natural death, then G-d did not send me. But, if G-d creates a special creation and the earth opens its mouth and swallows them up, then you will know that these people have indeed provoked G-d.

Just as Moses was speaking, an image appeared before the people of Israel. It was the exact same situation described earlier by Korach. However, this time the people were dwelling in the land, working in the fields. The Levites, the converts, the orphan children, the widows, the poor, those who languished, were coming to the fields to eat and be satiated. The owners of the field greeted the poor, calling them to come, to eat and drink, and rejoice together. The more that the nation of Israel donated to charity, the greater was the produce. The earth brought forth its bounty, the wine vats were full, and the oil storage overflowed.

The Midrash says that when Korach and his rebellious cohorts beheld this utopian vision that had appeared before them, at that very moment, the earth opened its mouth and swallowed Korach and the rebels. As they tumbled into oblivion, they cried out in a resounding voice, “Moshe emet v’Torah’to eh’met,” Moshe is true and his Torah is true. The earth then covered them, and they were lost forever.

Many of our enemies, and even a few of our misguided Jewish brothers and sisters, employ these tactics, the tactic of the “Big Lie,” to attack our people, Israel. They either harp on a single individual’s misdeeds implying that all Jews are corrupt, or they simply fabricate lies about Jews. Our Jewish brothers and sisters who are unhappy with tradition often focus on an obtuse verse or obscure rabbinic source in order to justify their apostasy and faithlessness, making little effort to see the beauty that resides in the very elements that they criticize.

Given our enemies’ propensity to distort, it’s no wonder that the Israeli Defense Forces attack on Jenin, which was in truth a paradigmatic military operation and a master strategic assault that actually prevented massive civilian casualties, was denounced by our enemies as a most horrendous deed and compared to Nazi atrocities in Auschwitz. We need to be knowledgeable in our responses to these untoward attacks. We must educate ourselves sufficiently to make certain that we are in a position to show our enemies and our misguided brothers and sisters the true picture of G-d and of our extraordinary religion, so that hopefully, before the earth opens to swallow the rebels, the entire world will see the truth and cry out: “Moshe emet v’Torah’toh emet,” Moshe is true and his Torah is true, thereby sparing the world much unnecessary pain and suffering.

May you be blessed.