So over the next few posts here on Emunaroma, I'm going to share with you my (still rough) draft of 'Unlocking the secret of the Erev Rav'. It's hugely controversial - but not in the way you might think. Also, I'm very happy to have any feedback you might want to give me (in a nice, constructive way) especially about the areas that don't make so much sense to you, or where you're having difficulties following the logic or connections I'm making.
The other thing to say, is that this is still a work in progress (in all senses of the word, including grammar and basic sentence structure), and I'm sure there are still many, many bits of the puzzle that I haven't yet figured out. Some of those 'missing pieces' may still change the whole picture, so I'm not claiming that what you're about to read is definitely how IT IS!!! I'm very open to hearing other ideas (in a nice, constructive way).
Unless my husband comes home today and tells me it's a really bad idea to be posting this stuff up on my site, I hope to be giving you a chapter a day, for the next week or so - and I hope you find it useful, in some way.
Over the years, so much has been written about the ‘Erev Rav’, that mysterious group of people who somehow attached themselves to the nascent people of Israel, as they were leaving their Egyptian exile, and who went on to cause them so much strife and grief.
The whole concept of the Erev Rav has been shrouded in mystery and intrigue for millennia. Where they have been discussed at all in our sources and by our Sages, the impression left has always been that the Erev Rav are very bad news for Am Yisrael, and the source of so many of our difficulties, problems and even, ongoing exile.
You’ll read some of those sources for yourself, as you go through this book, to discover the secret of the Erev Rav. But as you’ll hopefully learn by the end, successfully understanding who the Erev Rav really are, and what they’re real relationship to Am Yisrael actually is, is the key to redemption – but in a very different way than you might expect.
This book is the product of more than four years ongoing research into the concept of the Erev Rav. The sources I’m going to share with you span the breadth of our esoteric writings, from the Zohar and Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai, through to the Vilna Gaon and his Chassidic contemporary, Rebbe Nachman of Breslev.
The picture they paint of the Erev Rav is complex, at times disturbing, and challenging. This book is small in size, but big in scope: It will introduce you to the real roots of the Erev Rav; explain why they are still are huge issue for Jews even today, in the twenty first century, and then describe the real – and only – way we can really meet the challenge they pose to us, our communities, and our hopes of redemption.
So without any further ado, let me initiate you into the secrets of the Erev Rav.
Chapter 1: A Brief history of the Erev Rav
Before we can even begin to discuss who the Erev Rav really are, and what the consequences are for today’s Jewish community, we first need to know a bit more of the background. This is where we’ll discover the first secret of the Erev Rav, because far from being some strange Egyptian non-Jews who decided to jump on the Jewish bandwagon, the Erev Rav have been deeply connected to the Jewish people from the beginning of time.
Let’s find out how.
The Erev Rav in the Torah
The first time the Torah actually explicitly mentions the Erev Rav is in Exodus (12: 37-38), when it says:
The Children of Israel traveled from Ramses towards Succot. There were about 600,000 adult males on foot, besides the children. The Erev Rav also went up with them.
But that’s not the first time they actually appear in the Torah. To discover where the spiritual roots of the Erev Rav actually begin, we have to travel back in time even before the Egyptian exile, to the Garden of Eden.
Adam HaRishon’s connection to the Erev Rav
Every school child knows that Adam HaRishon, the first man, made a huge mistake when he ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, in the Garden of Eden. When Adam ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, evil stopped being something 'external' to man, as embodied by the primordial snake in the Garden of Eden and became an internal part of humanity instead.
Now, instead of being solely good, human beings had an internal fight on their hands between their urge for good, and their newly-acquired urge for evil, or what’s often referred to as the yetzer hara, in Hebrew.
There were many, many consequences to Adam’s big mistake, but the main ones we’re going to focus on for the purposes of this book are the following:
* Adam's sin brought death into the world - instead of living forever, mankind now had to die.
* God, and His direct control of the world became 'hidden' instead of openly revealed.
* Evil - the evil inclination, or yetzer hara - became an integral part of man's spiritual and emotional psyche.
* Where formerly ‘good’ and ‘evil’ were kept strictly separate, now they were completely mixed up in the world – and no-where was that more obvious than in man himself.
The Gemara (Eruvin 18b) tells us that after he committed the terrible sin of eating from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, Adam separated from his wife, and 'emitted seed' for 130 years.
In his seminal work on the kabbalah, called ‘Shaar Hakavanot’, Rabbi Yitzhak Luria, aka the Arizal, explains that the souls contained in this 'wasted seed' were captured by the dark side, and subsequently needed to go through many reincarnations before they could start to be purified and whitened.
The Arizal goes on to explain that these souls are the root of both the Erev Rav and Am Yisrael.
The Erev Rav’s Egyptian Connection
He says that these souls started their rectification process when they were reincarnated as the generation of the flood; then continued the process when they were reincarnated again as the generation of the dispersion, aka the people who built the infamous Tower of Babel; next, they came back again as the cruel inhabitants of in Sodom and Amora, in Avraham Avinu’s time, and then finally, they were reincarnated again in ancient Egypt, at the time of the Egyptian exodus.
Those souls who had been sufficiently rectified and purified by the process they’d already gone through were reincarnated into Bnei Yisrael, or the Children of Israel. But the souls who had not been sufficiently rectified by their previous incarnations became the Erev Rav, or 'mixed multitude', - the millions of Egyptian converts who came out of Egypt with the Children of Yisrael.
As mentioned, the Torah first explicitly mentions the Erev Rav in Shemot 12: 37-38, when it informs us that: "The Children of Israel travelled from Ramses towards Succot. There were about 600,000 adult males on foot, besides the children. The Erev Rav also went up with them."
The connection between the tzadikim and the Erev Rav
In another of his kabbalistic works called Shaarei HaPesukim, the Arizal explains in the chapter on Shemot 1:8 that when the Torah describes Pharaoh’s complaints that: "The people, the Children of Israel are more numerous and greater than us," he wasn't just talking about Yaacov Avinu’s direct descendents, the children of Yisrael. He was also talking about the millions of Egyptians who had already converted over the past few years, as a result of the efforts of Yaacov Avinu, and his son and defacto ruler of ancient Egypt, Yosef HaTzaddik.
This is probably quite a surprising idea to most of us, but the Jewish Patriarchs were deeply engaged in trying to rectify these ‘lost souls’ that came about as a result of Adam’s wasted seed, right from the beginning.
It’s no coincidence that Avraham Avinu exerted so much effort trying to convince God to spare the incredibly sinful communities of Sodom and Amora. On some very deep level, Avraham knew about the spiritual connection between the inhabitants of Sodom etc, and the Jewish people, and was trying to rectify the spiritual blemish even then. But the time was not yet ‘ripe’, and the people had to be reincarnated again, in Egypt, before they were truly ready for the next stage of the rectification process.
When Yosef HaTzaddik found himself as defacto ruler of Egypt, he understood that the next part of that process had begun, and as Rashi tells us in his comments on Parshat Mikeitz verse 56, he made all of the Egyptians circumcise themselves before he would give them any supplies from his stores of grain.
There are different explanations given for this, but the one that’s pertinent to this book is that Yosef HaTzaddik understood that these souls were ‘lost’ as a result of what’s called ‘Pagam HaBrit’, or ‘blemishing the covenant’ – the wasted seed that Adam emitted in the 130 years that he was separated from his wife. And one of the main rectifications for this sin is the mitzvah of brit milah, or circumcision.
Together with his father Yaacov, Yosef HaTzaddik was already busy trying to rectify these ‘lost’ souls down in Egypt, a hundred years before Am Yisrael would leave under the aegis of Moshe Rabbenu.
Remember that the Jewish people were simply further along in the process of rectification, but the Erev Rav were actually from the same spiritual root, and also required ‘fixing’. This idea is further underlined by the fact that in the plague of darkness, 4/5 of Am Yisrael died, leaving just 600,000 Jewish men to go out, with their wives and children, to receive the Torah under Moshe Rabbenu.
If we do the math, that means that around 2.4 million people died in that plague – and [NEED SOURCE] that’s the rough number of Egyptian converts, or ‘Erev Rav’ who travelled out with Am Yisrael, when the Jews left Egypt.
Moshe Rabbenu’s connection to the Erev Rav
Now, perhaps, we can also start to understand why Moshe Rabbenu, the leader of Am Yisrael, was so willing for these Egyptian converts to come along for the ride, despite the fact that even God warned Moshe against including them in the Exodus.
On some level, Moshe was continuing the work of the previous tzaddikim, and was trying to rectify these ‘lost’ souls that came from the same root stock as the Jewish people. But unfortunately, the time was not yet ripe for the full rectification of these souls – and of the world, generally, to be completed, as we’ll discuss a little later on.
So this is the first secret of the Erev Rav: spiritually, they come from the same place as the Jewish people, just they are further back in the rectification process.
For now, park that idea in the back of your mind somewhere. We’re going to come back to it in subsequent chapters, but first we have to figure out why the Erev Rav have had such a bad rap in our sources, and why they pose such a huge challenge to Am Yisrael, if they’re effectively coming from the same spiritual root as the Jewish people.