By Rabbi Pinchos Lipschutz
The Chovos Halevavos, in discussing the ongoing battle with the yeitzer hora, writes that his objective is “le’ameis hasheker,” to make what is false appear to be the truth. In pursuit of that goal, he uses everything we encounter to convince us that what is untrue is fact. Once we buy in to what is not real as reality, it is smooth sailing for him and he can easily convince us to sin and go down the wrong path.
The novi Yeshayahu (59:15) foretold that in the period leading up to the revelation of Moshiach, “vatehi ha’emes ne’ederes,” the truth will be missing.
We are living in that time. The yeitzer hora seems to have perfected his game. We are living at a time when the fiction is so pervasive that it is very difficult to discern truth from lies. Wherever you look, whether in our communities, in this country, or in Eretz Yisroel, many disagreements and machlokes are brought about by people who simply lie to advance their agenda and career.
Look at this country and all the lies that were implemented in an effort to bring down Donald Trump. He coined a name for the fiction that was peddled as fact by the mainstream media. He termed it “Fake News,” and because the name had much truth to it, it stuck and defined the era. This article is not about Trump. It’s about the phenomenon.
For years, Trump was accused of all types of things, from colluding with Russia to get elected to falsely blaming China for the virus which upended the world, disrespecting the arch-expert Dr. Fauci, and a host of other sins. By now, they have all been proven to be lies, untruths concocted by his political enemies to rid themselves of the greatest threat they had ever faced.
When the Russian communists began publishing a newspaper and wanted the people to believe what it said, they called the publication Pravda, which is Russian for truth. Of course, there was no truth there. It was all lies. They were ahead of the times, as today much of what appears in the mainstream media is false.
Until a little while ago, opining that Covid originated in a Wuhan lab was enough to get you cancelled and derided as a conspiracy freak. No more. Evidence is mounting that the virus escaped from a Chinese lab, and even Dr. Fauci does not discount it anymore. The personification of trust himself is no longer perceived by people of truth as the paragon of virtue, he has been felled by the facts and his personal emails. He and his ilk claimed it was all about science and now we are finding out that very little of it was.
Trump’s term in office was cut short by a man very few people gave a chance of winning the election. He rarely left his home to campaign, did few interviews, and hardly ever addressed serious issues publicly. The campaign sold him as the moderate versus Bernie Sanders, the socialist. People voted for him, thinking that by doing so they were staving off the Democrat socialists. But it was a ruse. Once he got into the White House, there was little difference between him and the Left.
In Israel, a man who fashioned himself as the savior of the Right, the settlements, and the Religious-Zionist community swore prior to the recent election that he would never join a coalition with the anti-religious Leftist Yair Lapid and Islamist Mansour Abbas. That man, Naftoli Bennett, went on national television the day before the election and pledged that he would never join with them. He also signed a document affirming the pledge. And then, the election came. On election night, as the numbers were coming in, he said again that his heart was with the Right.
When Netanyahu encountered difficulty in forming a right-wing coalition, Bennett promised that he would not and was not negotiating with Lapid. He would and he was. He lied. His lieutenants lied. His voters were deceived. They had empowered him because they believed he was on their side. Then he clinched the deal with a group of left-wing parties, and for the first time, an Arab party would be part of the coalition. And he is slated to become prime minister.
The coalition came about through lies and is built on lies. And there is nothing anyone can do about it.
Because we live in a world of lies.
There ought to be a law against lying to people throughout a campaign in order to con them into voting for you, but there isn’t, because lying is part of the system. Everyone lies, they say, so when one politician lies a little more and a little better than others, it is not that big an aveirah.
Korach acted as a politician, using cunning to spin the people against Moshe Rabbeinu and Aharon Hakohein. Using demagoguery, he portrayed Moshe as heartless and cruel to the poor, forcing people to do silly things, such as putting tzitzis and techeiles on a tallis shekulo techeiles. With deceit and sleight of mouth, he was able to gather around him serious leaders of the Jewish people and present a serious challenge to Moshe’s leadership.
The power of the lie is so potent that not only the known troublemakers Doson and Avirom rallied to Korach’s side and joined his attempt to supplant Moshe and Aharon, but also people who should have known better, the 250 nesi’ei ha’eidah, were convinced to go against everything they had stood for until then and join the revolution to topple Moshe.
How can people be so foolish? How can people who saw how Hakadosh Boruch Hu redeemed the Jewish people from Mitzrayim through Moshe forget what they had seen and experienced? How could people who stood at the foot of Mount Sinai as Moshe alighted to Heaven and returned with the Luchos then go and turn their back on him?
That is the power of a lie.
That is why the yeitzer hora works “le’ameis hasheker,” because when that is accomplished, people lose themselves and fall for anything.
This is why Korach and his clan were heard shouting from their group burial site in the desert, “Moshe emes veSoraso emes. Our insurrection was based on lies. Moshe pursued and is all about the truth. We were all about lies.”
There is room for legitimate debate and discussion, but that is when the dispute is, as Chazal refer to it, a machlokes Hillel v’Shamai, when each side arrived at its point lesheim Shomayim. Both sides arrived at their position via an honest search for the truth and the quarrel centers on arriving at the truth.
Chazal say that sometimes, talmidei chachomim become so engaged in Talmudic discussion that, as they debate, they appear to be enemies, but when the conversation ends and they exit the bais medrash, it becomes obvious that, in fact, they love each other.
This is because they were never enemies. They were arguing with each other because they wanted to gain a true understanding of a sugya. Each one cares so deeply about the truth that they are unable to tolerate the other’s misconception and misunderstanding of the issue.
Each one throws his energy into his attempt to convince the other of the way to understand the Gemara. Both combatants are united in their love of Torah. They continue going back and forth until they are satisfied that they have arrived at the proper conclusion and interpretation of the Gemara. They embrace and a smile breaks out across their faces. “Boruch Hashem, yogata umotzasa,” that smile exclaims. “We now understand the p’shat.”
The new insight that each one has given the other in understanding Torah is what engenders love between them.
If truth is our goal and we remain loyal to it, even when that means swimming upstream and against the tide, we will reach safe, calm waters. The storm will blow over, and the sun of victory and righteousness will shine upon those who remain loyal to the causes of truth and Torah.
If the truth is what inspires us to act, we will never meet the fate of Korach and his followers. If ever we have the need to enter into a machlokes lesheim Shomayim, we will be seeking to advance the cause of truth and not be consumed with bitterness and dissension.
People who get involved in petty fights and are quick to judge others without giving the matter much depth of thought become enmeshed in battles with no positive objective. What is plainly obvious to everyone else escapes them. They become entwined in their pursuit of victory and fail to appreciate the virtue of their opponent, losing their objectivity. They stumble, they fall, and they go down to bitter defeat.
In a world of falsehood, in the almah d’shikrah, we must endeavor to always find the truth and not be taken in by sweet talk, convincing arguments, appealing demagoguery, and clever marketing. The truth is not always comfortable or popular, but we must always pursue it if we wish to feel fulfilled and successful. Quick gains and phantom popularity are fleeting and have no staying power. Ultimately the truth wins out and sustains those who cling to it.
Before going after someone, before jumping to conclusions, before thinking that you understand everything, hear out the other side, and because there are always two sides to a story, the one you heard first is not necessarily the correct one. Everything has to make sense. If it doesn’t, despite how many proponents it has and in how high a position they may be, don’t give up until you understand it. Before taking a course of action or getting into an argument with somebody, think it through to the end and make sure that you are right and your understanding is correct.
We have to make friends with the truth. We have to side with the truth and always champion those in its camp. If we are able to ignore the barbs of people blinded by hate, conceit, corruption and falsehood, we will prevail and eventually our cause will triumph.
Korach had great yichus and a fine reputation, but his judgment was clouded. He was overcome by jealousy and used his intelligence to swing others to his side. They went down with him and earned eternal shame and a tragic death.
Torah represents the ultimate truth, so if you find fault with it, you are lacking understanding.
Don’t fight the truth. Embrace it. Pursue it, fight to understand it, and fight to be part of it.
The yeitzer hora is quite clever. He’s older than you and me and has been at this for a very long time. Don’t fall for his tricks. Don’t let him paint for you false impressions. Don’t let him present you with false narratives. Don’t let him lead you to take part in a machlokes shelo lesheim Shomayim. Don’t let him lead you to impugn the character of fine people. Don’t let him convince you to accept false p’shat in a Gemara – or anything else.
Before making a call, undertaking an action, sending a message, or mouthing a retort, consider whether it will bring about a kiddush Hashem, and if it won’t, don’t pursue it.
Remember that we are students of Moshe and Aharon, children of Avrohom, Yitzchok and Yaakov. Go in their ways and the ways of your rabbeim and zaides and bubbes who lived through much more difficult times than we do. When in a situation, think of what they would have done. When an issue arises, think of what the proper course is for a ben and bas Torah with an individualist mission to make the world a better, holier, more loving place.