Mix - Multitude Mire

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Adapted by Channie Koplowitz Stein

As the Torah records the exodus of Bnei Yisroel from Mitzrayim, it introduces us to a group of people who attached themselves to Bnei Yisroel and left Egypt with them together with the cattle and livestock. Who are these people who are called the erev rav, the mixed multitude? According to Rashi, these were converts from assorted nations who now attached themselves to Bnei Yisroel.

Rabbi Munk, citing several sources, gives a more nuanced description of this mixed multitude. Besides the large numbers of these people, he divides them into two groups. One group consists of Egyptian slaves and prisoners of war while the second group were true converts, Egyptians who were convinced of God's truth before the tenth plague. Moshe did not differentiate between these groups and, in spite of God's warning him to the contrary, he accepted them and allowed them to leave Egypt along with Bnei Yisroel. Moshe's reasoning is up for debate and is probably psychological, based on his own life experiences. Unfortunately, Moshe's faith in these people was proven to be misguided, as they were at the center of so many of the conflicts that arose within the ranks of Bnei Yisroel in the desert.

In Oznaim Latorah, Rabbi Sorotzkin clarifies this point. The verse says, "And also the mixed multitude went up itam/with them..." Rabbi Sorotzkin points to the two terminologies the Torah uses for accompanying someone. The first, used here, is itam/going along with, while imam implies joining with, with a shared purpose. Rabbi Ber clarifies this analysis in quoting Chazal, who note that the people are sometimes called Bnei Yisroel and at other times called Ha'am/the Nation. Bnei Yisroel is a prestigious name, while the Nation usually implies the lower elements within the nation. If we read through the history of our desert experience, we will note that it was "the Nation were as complainers," and "the Nation" that cried at the return and report of the spies, initiating the forty year sojourn in the desert. This group is none other than the Erev Rav. [I constantly see connection to Hebrew in other languages. There is no question in my mind that the English word riffraff, the dregs of society, is derived from erev rav. CKS]

The mixed multitude were all originally Egyptians who had grown up with the belief in Egyptian gods. Among them were some of the sorcerers of Egypt. When their new belief in the God of Israel was challenged, they reverted to their default position and needed a visible god, a god consistent with their magic and manipulation. It is for this danger that Rabbi Gamliel Rabinowitz urges us to pray more for good friends and neighbors than for good children, for great is the influence of the people around us.

Nevertheless, these people sought out and joined Bnei Yisroel. The Novominsker Rav quoting the Ari z”l, explains that after Adam's sin, many sparks of Godliness were implanted in souls throughout the world. These souls were found among the generation of the flood, and later among the generation of the dispersion of the Tower of Babel. But they had not yet achieved rectification. Many of these souls and holy sparks descended to Egypt, awaiting rectification through the presence of Bnei Yisroel in Egypt. These constituted the mixed multitude. But they chose to join only at the last minute, when Bnei Yisroel were ready to leave. While Moshe Rabbenu allowed them to join, hoping their souls would be rectified, Hashem knew they were not yet ready. It was at that very moment that the Torah records that Hashem took them out "betzivosom/by their legions." In just a few verses earlier the Torah calls the people Tzivos Hashem/ the legions of God. This second group includes not only those for whom Hashem was fulfilling His promise to Avraham, Yitzchak and Yaakov, but also the mixed multitude.

Carrying this reasoning forward, the Novominsker Rav cites the Ariz"l in explaining the discrepancies in the ensuing mitzvoth. Hashem tells Moshe to sanctify every firstborn of Bnei Yisroel. But then the Torah tells us that Moshe addressed ha'am/the nation. He tells them to remember this day that they left Egypt, and therefore chametz may not be eaten. Moshe chose to speak of a mitzvah that would apply to all of them, since they all left Egypt. But the erev rav had not yet joined Bnei Yisroel, did not experience the miracle of the firstborn, and did not eat of the pascal offering the night before. Moshe hoped that the following year, they would have been circumcised and would be able to bring korban Pesach. These souls did not imbibe the fullness of sanctity, and because of the sin of the golden calf, that was not to happen.

When Bnei Yisroel left Mitzrayim, the Torah tells us that Hashem led them on a circuitous route lest Ha'am/the nation be afraid of an imminent war. It was not Bnei Yisroel, those who defied the Egyptians and partook of the korban Pesach who might be afraid, but the mixed multitude who had displayed no such faith the previous night, who had not eaten the korban Pesach, who had joined only today, who would be afraid. As the prophetic insight of the Ariz"l teaches us, "Until the day when the entire world will achieve its rectification, these neshamos will still be there, threatening our existence as a holy and devout nation."

Rabbi Gedalyah Schorr explains the link between these details. Anyone who willingly does not offer the korban Pesach or who remains uncircumcised is destined to be be cut off from the Source of life, to deserve karet. While the Pesach offering connects the soul of the individual to Hashem, circumcision connects one's body to his Creator. The erev rav lacked both of these mitzvoth, and therefore did not have this solid foundation and were easily disconnected from pure faith. As the Sifsei Chaim adds, matzah and Pesach are about Hashem's ruling the world in miraculous, supernatural ways, not through natural cause and effect. The erev rav did not have this foundational experience.

The erev rav were stuck in a world of nature, a world where everything is circular, from the cycle of life to the paths of the planets, writes the Talellei Chaim/Hachalban. Therefore, when Moshe was delayed and they feared he was lost, they needed to have a natural, physical leader. They formed an עגל/calf as symbolic reference to an עגול/circle. They could not escape their belief in nature, in looking around instead of up, like a fly caught in a bottle. The Torah is about breaking through the circle and looking up. Our very name alludes to this concept. We are ישראל, ישר א -ל, those who have a straight line to God. We look upward, beyond the circle of nature.

In Be'er Moshe the Oshorover Rebbe cites the Zohar and says that the erev rav were the sorcerers of Egypt who were not drawn to the miracles Hashem wrought through Moshe, but to what they perceived as the greater magical expertise of Moshe. Therefore, when the chief magician didn't return, they needed to find a replacement. Moshe Rabbenu did not see this flaw, and hoped that we were at the cusp of experiencing the full redemption when all the nations would recognize Hashem.

Rabbi Chanan in Torat Chesed discusses the nature of these magicians. He goes into a very esoteric discussion into the powers of sorcery. The average, minor sorcerer had power only from nine and a half hours until the day's completion. [A halachic day is divided into twelve "hours."] But a great, master magician was powerful already from six and a half hours of the day, a period still of complete daylight.  Hence, they are called ‘erev rav’ even when the evening, ‘erev’ is ‘rav’ far away, they use their powers. Therefore when Moshe was delayed, the Torah uses the word boshesh, a word that can easily be read as bo shesh, the sixth hour [came]. True to their essence, these sorcerers now demanded a new leader. They brought Aharon the gold. Coming from their contaminated hands rather than from the earth, the gold carried with it the impurities of Egypt, and the idol emerged.

How could they have fallen so low after receiving the Torah at Sinai? Rabbi Chanan continues by explaining that the erev rav was not at Sinai with Bnei Yisroel. They were outside the camp with the animals. They hadn't eaten the miraculous manna, for it was Bnei Yisroel who ate the manna, not the Am. They survived on the refuse from the manna.

It is the erev rav that is the source of destruction of our Beit Hamikdosh and the Diaspora as well, writes Rabbi Shapira in Mima'amakim. Converts are good, for they are the lost sparks spread through the world. But one must be careful to accept only righteous converts who are seeking a connection with Hakodosh Boruch Hu, and not some benefit in this world. The choice must be to do the will of the Ribbonoh shel olam, and not my egocentric will. This was the mentality of Adam before the sin, a mindset we again achieved by accepting the Torah. However, the erev rav were unwilling to submit to Hashem's will. They felt life was all about themselves and their personal judgment.

Here Rabbi Shapira links this discussion with the laws of Pesach itself, the festival that commemorates our exodus from Egypt. Citing the Vilna Gaon, Rabbi Shapira remarks that on erev Pesach we must get rid of our chametz/leaven by the sixth hour, the same hour of the "delay" of Moshe's return that precipitated the sin of the golden calf. Homiletically, it is also the hour when we must get rid of our inner chametz, the leaven that puffs up our ego.

There is also a daily connection between the erev rav and the timing of the sin they instigated. The hour is the hour of the Minchah/Afternoon Prayers, prayers attributed to Yitzchak Avinu. Yitzchak is the epitome of humility, of literally being willing to sacrifice himself to the will of the Ribbonoh shel olam. In contrast, the erev rav epitomized brazenness, that even as night was falling, they persisted in thinking they were in control of the world.

In contrast, our mindset should constantly be that Hashem directs everything that occurs in the world. This realization, writes Rabbi Elias in Ani Maamin, should lead us to measure every action we take against the yardstick of what Hashem would want me to do now, not what I want to do.

Rabbi Shapira continues with a very esoteric discussion that leads us to the role the erev rav plays in our history. There are three evil characteristics that serve to veil and hide God's presence, each compared to an animal associated with one of our eternal enemies. The chamor/donkey is related to chomer/materialism and desire. This is the characteristic of Ishmael; the shor/bull is full of anger, a trait associated with Esau. The combination of these is the dog, the brazen and arrogant animal, the erev rav, the mixture and internalization of both these negative traits. Bnei Yisroel, on the other hand, is the manifestation of the opposite trait, that of bashfulness and shame. We tend to know our place as part of Hashem's overall plan.

Many of the erev rav found a willing listener in the Tribe of Shimon, whose very name depicts listening. But it was the erev rav who influenced Shimon to sin with the daughters of Moav. Similarly, we must be aware that there is an erev rav attacking us from within in every generation. At the end of days, the brazen erev rav will raise its head. They will show their arrogance to the elders and the Torah scholars. They will brazenly say and do whatever they feel is correct. [Keep in mind, as we've discussed, that this "dog" is a combination of materialistic passion and anger. Can you hear the footsteps of Moshiach?] When we eliminate the brazenness of the erev rav and embrace the humility of Bnei Yisroel, it will be time for Moshiach to come.

In Step by Step, Rabbi Pelcovitz assures us that shame is a positive attribute, for it serves as a braking system to keep us from sin. After all, bushah can translate to delay as well as to shame. It thereby allows us the moments of introspection that keeps us from saying or doing what would be embarrassing and unbecoming to Bnei Yisroel and the children of God.

Our focus as Bnei Yisroel must be to counteract the influence of the erev rav around us and within us and thereby hasten the arrival of Moshiach.