Rabbi Jonathan Gewirtz – Fake News, True Story


Operation Inspiration

Unless you’re living under a rock in the 1990’s, you’ve likely heard the phrase “Fake News.” Stories that are constructed to prove a point but aren’t real can sometimes backfire. For example, I recall hearing a story that a few years ago, there was a gathering in a New Jersey city with the goal of getting women to choose headcoverings that were more modest. According to the story, in the three days following this gathering, in which women accepted upon themselves to modify their attire, there were NO Hatzoloh calls in that town. It was a proof of how important this cause was to the Ribono Shel Olam.

Unfortunately, the number of Hatzoloh calls never really changed, and when this ruse was revealed, it undermined the intended message. Sadly, by spreading fake news, the “truth,” as they saw it, was perceived by people to be folly. Instead of proving how vital this cause was, they proved it was not strong enough to stand on its own merits. That’s what happens when you use falsehood to further your aims.

Recently, a video was shared by many people, including reputable Jewish content providers, showing a man sitting at the piano in a house with no roof. With the sky visible from every room in his home, he sits calmly, playing piano. A tornado had swept through the town, and astoundingly, though the roof had been completely removed, the contents of the house seemed intact.

As the footage progresses, we hear the lilting piano notes of a very familiar tune: the first Ani Maamin (Thirteen Principles of Faith according to the Rambam), which says, “I believe with complete faith that the Creator, blessed be His name, creates and guides all creature, and He alone did, does, and will do everything that occurs.”

The poignant message was overwhelming. This man, in his pure faith and Emunah in HaKadosh Baruch Hu, was able to cope with the loss of his home and the continued losses that would certainly follow with inclement weather, by fixating on the fact that Hashem is in charge and carefully orchestrates every event to minute specifications. Except that it was fake news.

You see, this fellow, who looked to be wearing some sort of cap in the video, was not actually a frum Jew. He was not playing Ani Maamin on the piano. He was actually playing a different song, as was made clear by the other videos of the fellow when he was interviewed by reporters. Not only was the music different, but he stood there bareheaded for the interview and explained that the song he’d played was a church hymn.

Someone I know wanted to share this story with his students, but upon attempting to verify it, he instead identified the fake. He shared both videos with me and I thank him for it because it gave me something to think about.

I wondered, what was the point of whoever took the video and put the Jewish music to it? Was he trying to trick people? Did he just think it would be a great story if people thought it was a Jew whose home was not as devastated as his neighbors’ because of his faith? If that’s what he wanted, then I guess it backfired when it was easily debunked.

But what if that wasn’t his point? Maybe he wasn’t trying to fool people into believing a miracle occurred to prove to them that having Bitachon will save your house when others are losing theirs. What if he had something else in mind?

What if, just maybe, someone saw this news story, and saw how, of all the homes in Kentucky that were affected by the tornado, this one had its roof torn off but its contents remained there. It struck him that though everything seemed chaotic and devastating, there was a clear limit to the damage. What caused that?

It reminded him of that first Ani Maamin, that everything comes from Hashem and He is in control of everything, even the seeming randomness of a tornado’s path. He put the music to the video to underscore what he felt, something very sincere and true. He wasn’t trying to prove anything to anyone else. He wasn’t trying to convince people that you can get Hashem to do what you want by doing this thing or that one. We all thought that’s what it was which is why the fake news was so demoralizing. But the truth is so much more empowering.

When we look at a video like this, or a sick person, or people going through any number of difficulties, including our ourselves, we have the power to affirm, “This, too, came from our loving Father in Heaven.” We have the power to repeat the words of Ani Maamin and refuse to become distraught, taking strength in the knowledge that Hashem, Who loves us very much, is in control. That message is so powerful that no amount of fake news can take away from its veracity. True story.


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