You may have heard the term “gaslighting” before. It describes a particularly cruel and pernicious form of emotional abuse.

The term originates from a 1944 film about a vile husband who, for personal financial gain, seeks to convince his own wife that she is insane. So what did he do?

Each night, he went to his neighbor’s house and from there, crawled through a window into his attic, where he would rummage around. He would also turn on the gas lights, blocking the flow of gas to the floor below and causing the lights there to dim.

When he would officially “come back home,” his wife would tell him that she heard noises from the attic and had noticed the gas lights flickering and dimming. He would insist that it couldn’t possibly be true, and that she must be going mad if she really thought so. And so the pattern continued until he almost succeeded in his cruel plot.

I won’t spoil the end of the story. What’s relevant for us is identifying this particularly terrible form of abuse: One party knows the truth and seeks to rob the other party of their own reality, or at least make them question it. With time, this can seriously wear down a person’s psyche and literally drive them mad.

As it turns out, we all have a classic gaslighter inside of us.

About Face

Parshat Shelach tells the sorry story of the Spies. Despite G‑d’s promise to deliver them the Land, the people send scouts ahead, and they return with a dastardly report. “The fruits are huge, and the people gargantuan!” the spies wail. Everyone starts wringing their hands, saying things like, “They’re too strong for us, G‑d can’t help us with this one!” and the future look terribly bleak.

Long story short, the people are punished and relegated to 40 years of wandering in the desert. The spies die a horrific death, and Moses gives the people a what-for.

The next event is quite surprising. These very same cowards get up early the next morning, make an about face, and say:

“We are ready to go up to the place of which G‑d spoke, for we have sinned.”1

Granted it was too late, but what just happened? Yesterday they were quaking in their boots, and overnight they turned into mighty warriors?

If you look at the verses in between, it only seems more bizarre. The only thing on record are Moses’s words to the people. And they aren’t pretty: Moses sternly tells them off, informing them that G‑d is furious with them and has promised not to let them enter the land.

Let me ask you: does that sound very inspiring? Is that an effective way to turn someone around? To scream at them? Apparently, it worked for Moses. But how? What was the formula that magically turned an entire nation overnight from meek cowards to fearless warriors of G‑d?

The answer is, “Yes! It absolutely worked!”


Because Moses knew that he was dealing with a massive, overgrown, gaslighter gone wild.

Don’t Engage the Gaslighter

Moses knew that the internal voice whispering, “They’re too strong and G‑d can’t do this” was really gaslighting the people. It’s the voice of the yetzer hara, who tries to sway a Jew off the true path. We each possess a soul that’s a literal piece of G‑d and always connected with Him. We believe in G‑d and wish to follow His will in our deepest selves, and to suggest otherwise is simply ridiculous. All temptations to the contrary are just that: temptations planted by G‑d to test our resolve and see if we will remember who we really are.

So when the spies came back with their negative report and sent the people into a hapless tizzy, Moses knew that it was all a fake. It was an internal voice trying to rob a believing people of their own truth.

Moshe saw the elephant in the desert: a big gaslighter.

Do you know what you’re supposed to do when someone is gaslighting you? Do you engage, trying to prove that the lights really did dim? Do you show screenshots and email proof?

Absolutely not! The more you do so, the more you walk right into their trap. “See, you really are crazy! You even think this screenshot is real! Ha! You’re ridiculous!” the gaslighter shoots back at you. And you start tearing your hair out.

Don’t do it. Your mother and your therapist will tell you one simple rule: Don’t engage. Tell them, “You’re ridiculous. I don’t have time for you, so get out of my life. I know the truth, and you will never rob that from me. Goodbye.”

This is something you must always remember: The gaslighter is not real. The entire point of their game is for you to engage, lose energy, and eventually question your own truth.

The people in the desert were being gaslit, and big time. So what did Moses do? He yelled at them: STOP! Enough of this nonsense! Stop listening to these ridiculous fakers and start remembering your own truth! He was not just screaming at them, but screaming at their inner collective gaslighter: “Buddy, the game’s over. Get out of our lives.”

And just like that, overnight, the people turned into fearless believers. With the gaslighter out of the way, truth prevailed.

Remember Your Own Truth

So many people spend way too much time battling inner demons. But often, the remedy is quite simple: Don’t engage; scream at the demons instead!

This is especially true with matters of faith. Too often, that inner voice comes along and tells you, “You don’t really believe in all this stuff. You’re a practical person, and abstaining from lobster because of some ancient verse is absurd. Come on, do you really think that anything will happen if you don’t keep Yom Kippur this year, or stop putting on tefillin, or miss a Shabbat candle-lighting one time? Give me a break!”

When the voice comes swinging, don’t make the mistake of engaging. “Maybe he’s right? Perhaps I really don’t believe? Maybe I’ll pass up Yom Kippur this year and see what happens?”

How foolish to fall into this trap! You are being denied your own truth by a gaslighter inside your own head. Don’t do it. Instead, keep your eye on the prize, remember the truth and tell that inner voice what it needs to know:

“You’re ridiculous and I will not engage!”

Congratulations. Your therapist would be proud.2