Tuesday, Jun 25, 2024

Spinning and Winning

Last Tuesday night, as results from polling stations across the nation began to come in, it became obvious to a non-partial observer that the Republicans were heading to a smashing victory. Yet, the media was refusing to say that the Republicans had taken over the Senate. Exit polls are conducted during the entire election day, and when the polls close, it is possible to project a winner. As soon as the Republicans racked up three of the six victories they needed to become the majority party in the Senate, the media stopped revealing the results of their exit polling, as they tried to digest the effect of what they had to know to be a fact.

The Iowa polls closed at 10 p.m. Eastern Time, but it wasn’t until much later that the networks revealed the results of their polls. By that time, it was known that the Republicans had elected five new senators. If they had revealed the exit poll results in Iowa, it would have been obvious that the Republicans were on to a historic win. Instead, they spoke about races that they termed “too close to call,” as the margins were razor thin. Actually, the results that were razor thin were the ones that Democrats were winning. From the fact that they didn’t release the results of the Iowa exit polls we deduced that the Republican had won and thus flipped the Senate to their party.


That is how we realized that the Republicans had won before the rest of the media called it and we went to press at our regular time.


In fact, Republicans pulled out huge victories. It took a few hours for that news to be digested and published. Although the headline was inevitable, they comforted themselves by delaying the results of race by race, as if that would change anything.


Their behavior reminds us, lehavdil, of this week’s parsha, which describes Avrohom Avinu’s exchange with Efron Hachiti. When asked to sell his property to Avrohom as a burial place for Sorah Imeinu, Efron insisted at first that he wouldn’t accept any money from Avrohom. “Listen to me, I have given you the field, and I have given you the cave that is in it. I have given it to you…” (23:10).


The same word, “nosati, I have given,” appears three times in theposuk.


Avrohom responded by insisting that he didn’t want it for free, but wanted to pay for the property.


Efron seemed to reject the request, saying, “What is a piece of land worth four hundred shekels of silver between friends like us?” (23:15).


What happened? Why the sudden shift from boundless generosity to self-serving entrepreneurship? Efron’s initial offer in the first posuk was proclaimed “be’oznei bnei Cheis,” before an audience of townspeople. That was what he said in public. The second posuk is what he actually did when the spotlights were turned off.


Rashi points out that even the form of payment was oveir lasocheir, high-value currency. Rashi quotes Chazal, who say that Efron was an “osei me’at ve’omer harbei,” one who promised big things but didn’t even deliver a little bit.


He separated words from action, seeing speech not as a means to accomplish, but as the end goal. If he would speak a certain way, he reasoned, he would earn the people’s respect and be able to pat himself on the back,  and then do what he really wanted to when it came time to act.


Self-indulgent as it seems, it’s a school of thought that has endured through the ages.


In modern-day America, they have given this a name. It’s called “spin.” The facts make no difference. What counts is how you present them. Most political teams have at the very top of the totem pole someone responsible for spin. More important than the experts in finance, foreign relations or law, this master of communication is indispensable to an aspiring politician, because it’s not what happens that matters, but how it’s presented. He twists everything to make it appear as if his candidate is out front and in the right.


Last Tuesday night, the mainstream media looked on as their beloved president, his message and his agenda were hammered at the polls. They delayed telling the people about it, perhaps hoping that it would go away and somehow work out the way they had incorrectly anticipated. At the same time, they were crafting an appropriate way to present it, something that would still paint the results as a victory for the president, as he himself did. They, and he, decided that the shellacking of the Democrats in historic proportions was a wake-up call from the American people, declaring that they wanted the parties to work together. They also decided that it was an anti-incumbent vote. The fact that no Republican incumbents lost didn’t get in their way. Nor did the fact that if the people had wanted the parties to work together to further the Democrat progressive agenda, they would have simply accomplished that goal by voting Democrat.


With final results much more sweeping than anyone had anticipated, the president seemed unmoved. Those who won were running against Obama, his health plan, rising taxes, the progressive agenda, the IRS scandal, open borders, immigration follies, the president’s inability to project American strength, feebleness in dealing with ISIS and Arab states, battles with Israel, and on and on. Yet, he said there was nothing to change and all is good. He would press ahead with his plan to grant executive amnesty, even though the congressional leaders told him that he was lighting a fire that would burn him and ruin any hope of working together. He remained unmoved, as he and his party began engaging in spin instead of serious introspection and subsequent negotiations.


This koach -the deception used by politicians and the media – has been the property of reshoim since Efron sought to “spin” Avrohom’s request. Efron, we are taught, rose to prominence merely due to the fact that Avrohom Avinu came to speak to him. That was the first public relations victory. Then Efron seemed to generously gift Avrohom with the property, earning him still more esteem from the people.


And then he got his money.


The people who began the current battle against Torah are very clever. Instead of coming straight out and declaring war against frumme Yidden, the reshoim from Yesh Atid and Bayit Yehudi came up with a brilliant slogan. They called their campaign “shivyon banetel.” They claim that all they are attempting to do is correct some social imbalance. They claim that they really care about the chareidim and that the campaign is all about improving their economic welfare.


Chas veshalom, they will tell you. They are not against Torah, not against frum people, and not against yeshivos and kollelim. They are against parasites. They want to straighten everything out and make everyone even. And what is wrong with that?


They claim that the army desperately needs manpower. Without drafting yeshiva bochurim, they aver, the army is in danger of weakening.


What they really want to achieve has nothing to do with the army. They merely hitched a ride on a convenient emotional wave.


They seek to force kollel people into poverty, contract yeshivos by shrinking their budgets, and change the face of the Israeli rabbinate by putting in place liberal rabbis and dayonim all across the country.


They want to do away with geirus standards, with Shabbos laws, with kashrus laws, with gittin, with kiddushin, with traditional marriage, and with the way secular and religious Jews have co-existed since the founding of the state. They want to reduce the role of Torahand halacha with thousands of cuts and slices.


Yet, they spin it, stating that they are the people with “ahavat Yisrael.”We are shrill baalei machlokes, they claim, while they are men of peace, progress and conciliation. We are divisive haters and demonizers, while they are progressive purveyors of optimism and hope. 


And more people than we would like to admit buy into their arguments.


Many modern historians point to the theory popularized by the biggest rasha in recent history. The Big Lie theory was used by Adolf Hitler and later by his minister of propaganda, Joseph Goebbels. The basic idea is that if a lie, no matter how ludicrous, is repeated often enough and with enough persistence, people will eventually believe it. These two evil men used this strategy to great effect, blaming Jews for all the problems in the world, including the loss of life and the upheaval of the First World War, the economic collapse, and health problems. It worked.


An old joke tells of the Jew sitting on a bench in Warsaw, perusing a copy of Der Sturmer, the hate-filled rag produced by the Nazi party. A friend passes by and says, “Yankel, how can you hold that poisonous paper in your hands?”


“Look, Yossel,” sighs the first. “I read the Yiddishe Togblatt and I learn how Jews are suffering here, struggling there, and being persecuted in a third place. Then I read this and I see that Jews control the banks, own the armies, and set stock-market prices! It makes me much happier.”


The sad joke reminds us of this truth. Propaganda is not just an industry, but a force that forms people’s attitudes.


Last week, we wrote how Rav Mendel Kaplan taught his talmidim to read and understand a newspaper. A good friend told me a similar story about Rav Shlomo Freifeld, who would also peruse the daily newspaper withhis students and use it as an opportunity to convey timeless truths. One day, in 1989, he read a story about a wall that had collapsed in the Kremlin due to an engineering failure. The article quoted a Kremlin spokesman as saying that it was a structural error that would soon be corrected.


Rav Shlomo turned to his talmidim. “Within a year,” he said, “Communism will fall. It’s over.”


He explained how he had arrived at that brilliant deduction. For decades, Mother Russia had never admitted failure at anything. Spinmeisters, then known as propagandists, would cover-up the truth and, when forced to admit the obvious, would cover-up for whatever it was that had happened. “If they are conceding a mistake, even a relatively minor one, then they’ve already given up,” he said.


Every day, we see reports of goings-on in Eretz Yisroel and we bear witness to the deception, lies and pro-Palestinian misinformation that shades every line in every story. “Israeli Police Shoot Man in East Jerusalem” was the way the vaunted Associated Press communicated the horrific, sadistic murder of a tiny, pure baby by a terrorist. Hashem yinkom domoh.


The US Consulate in Yerushalayim referred to the terror attack as a “traffic incident.”


News outlets described the obvious attack as a crash that Israel, supposedly because it is an evil occupier, was treating as a purposeful attack.


Despite repeated calls for a new intifada and sloganeering across the West Bank calling on Arabs to use their vehicles as missiles against defenseless pedestrians, the world has the temerity to deny the obvious and find a way to blame whatever happens on the Jews. They equate the casualties on “both sides,” as they push their agenda to create a state for the poor Palestinians.


They know better. In an interview, the mother of a terrorist who was killed carrying out one of these traffic incidents, said, “I am so proud, I wish all my children would die that way.”


Yet the spin continues.


No one asks what happened to a mother’s heart. No one asks where the motherly love, care and concern are. Where has her desire to see her child grow up and have his own family gone? No one wonders about the agent of change who snuffed out that most natural emotion and buried it under blankets of hate.


To any objective person, it is obvious that the mother is influenced by her imam, a political leader, the media and the Palestinian “educators,” who spin and tell her daily about the despised Jews and the great reward in store for those who harm them. The propaganda has an effect, and that woman, like many hundreds of millions, comes to hate and despise the Jew.


We must endeavor to uproot this middah from ourselves. We must always seek to be truthful about every situation. We should learn from the middas ha’emes of the avos and the Torah, emulating our Maker, whose seal isemes.


Chazal contrast Efron’s obsequiousness with the conduct of Avrohom Avinu, who was an “omeir me’at ve’osei harbei.”


This past Sunday was the 13th yahrtzeit of Maran Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach. Each year, on Motzoei Yom Kippur, the Ponovezher rosh yeshiva would commemorate a miracle that occurred to him when he was yet a small child.


One Yom Kippur, a group of wild Lithuanians grabbed little Leizer from the street in front of his house and attempted to drive off with him in their wagon. When a neighbor noticed and began to shout, they tossed him from the wagon and drove off.


In commemoration, Rav Shach would host a small gathering each year. One year, when his close talmid, Reb Refoel Wolf, visited on Motzoei Yom Kippur to drink a lechayim, Rav Shach was engrossed in learning Shulchan Aruch Even Ha’ezer. He waved Reb Refoel away, saying, “Nisht yetzt.”


Eventually, Rav Shach closed the sefer, looked up and greeted him. Reb Refoel inquired what the rosh yeshiva had been learning and why he wasn’t interested in his usual small celebration.


Rav Shach explained: “Last night, during Kol Nidrei, I was given a Sefer Torah to hold. As I stood there holding the Sefer Torah, I made a cheshbon hanefesh for what I had done over the past year. I recalled that someone asked me advice pertaining to an Even Ha’ezer matter and I remembered what I told him. As I reviewed the matter in my head during Kol Nidrei, I realized that I might have advised him wrongly and been oveir on yo’atznu ra. So, when Yom Kippur was over, I wanted to go through the sugya again and determine whether or not my suggestion was correct. I fear that I may have been wrong.”


Rav Shach made a cheshbon hanefesh for advice he had given someone during the year and wasn’t sure about. In pursuit of the truth, everything else fell to the side, for emes is our guiding light and, as we pursue it, everything else can wait.


Truth. We must be driven by the truth. Not spin, not what sounds nice, not PR, and certainly not lies. We should never hesitate to find out the truth before acting and to always ascertain that we have not fooled others or let ourselves be misled.


We must be fastidious in all we do and never fall back on convenient excuses to justify untruths.


Rav Mordechai Shulman, rosh yeshiva of Yeshivas Slabodka in Bnei Brak, once noticed a letter in the yeshiva’s office in which the administrator informed a donor that Kaddish would be recited in memory of the donor’s father on his yahrtzeit.


Rav Mordechai read the letter and told the administrator to change it. “By writing, ‘We will recite Kaddish in the yeshiva,’ you make it sound like we will be saying Kaddish specifically for his father. In fact, as you know, we say Kaddish for several other people as well. It’s not emes. Please change it to, ‘We will have his neshamah in mind when we recite Kaddish.’”


The administrator complied, but the rosh yeshiva wasn’t done.


“I don’t want the donor to think that he is absolved of his responsibilities to the soul of his father because the yeshiva says Kaddish. Please add a request that he, too, should learn Mishnayos.’”


The administrator obliged.


But Rav Mordechai wasn’t done yet.


“The image at the top of the page contains candles and the posuk, ‘Ner Hashem nishmas odom.’ Please remove that graphic, because it suggests that the yeshiva will be lighting candles as well, and we don’t do that.”


“Rebbe,” the frustrated fellow complained, “ihr nemt altz av ek. The rosh yeshiva is taking everything off the paper. Mir zeht doh gornisht. Hewon’t see anything in our letter!”


The rosh yeshiva smiled. “Mir zeht doh emes! What he’ll see is the truth!”


Once, when the Kletzker Yeshivawas experiencing great financial difficulties, the rosh yeshiva, Rav Aharon Kotler, thought that there was a ray of light to rescue the yeshiva from its dire straits. The great yeshiva of Volozhin was closed by the government and the building sat empty. Rav Aharon thought that perhaps he could move his yeshiva into that building.


Rav Elazar Menachem Man Shach was then serving as a maggid shiur in the yeshiva. Rav Aharon sent him to Volozhin to see if he could obtain permission from the roshei yeshiva to move the Kletzker Yeshiva to their building, which was sitting empty.


Rav Shach returned from his mission on a Friday, just prior to the onset of Shabbos. He quickly prepared himself for Shabbos and made his way to the home of the mashgiach, Rav Chatzkel Levenstein, to hear the weekly shmuess he delivered at that time.


When Rav Shach entered the room, Rav Chatzkel turned his attention to him and said, “Eved Avrohom anochi.” Rav Shach and everyone else who was listening to the shmuess looked at Rav Chatzkel in wonderment, trying to understand why he welcomed Rav Shach with the words that Eliezer articulated in this week’s parsha.


The famed mashgiach explained: “Reb Leizerhas just returned from performing a shlichus on behalf of the rosh yeshiva. Let me tell you what happened. He reached his destination and said, ‘I came to find out if it would be possible to transfer the yeshiva of Kletzk to here.’ The people asked him if he is the rosh yeshiva, but since he is an ish emes, he said, ‘No.’ They asked if he is the mashgiach, and again he said, ‘No.’ ‘If so,’ they asked, ‘what is your role in the yeshiva?’ He answered, in his humility, that he is merely a maggid shiur in the yeshiva and that the rosh yeshiva sent him to inquire about the building, but by then, it was too late. He hadn’t made the right impression.”


Rav Chatzkel concluded, “Now ask him if that is what happened and you will see that it is.”


Rav Shach would repeat the story and say that everyone in the room was shocked at what Rav Chatzkel said, for he had depicted exactly what had transpired upon Rav Shach’s arrival in Volozhin.


No, he didn’t succeed in his immediate mission, but in the ultimate mission, he did. For he remained humble and loyal to the truth. And we should follow that example. Whatever the cause, it is not virtuous if you must lie to achieve it.


A nation is built with emes. Torah is taught with emes. Gedolei Yisroel don’t need spin or propaganda to transmit their messages. Neither should the rest of us. By focusing on what we say and do, may we merit to emulate their ways, talking little, doing much, and having healthy accomplishments.




Walking the Walk Have you ever had the experience of recognizing someone in the distance simply by the way they walk? I have, many times.

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