Surely, even at that point in history, they knew it was effectively impossible to really know beyond the shadow of a doubt who was from the Erev Rav, and who wasn’t?
So what’s really going on here?
This is where we start our transition away from discussing people, towards discussing character traits. If we can’t know who the Erev Rav are by their clothing, appearance or surnames, then what other clues do we have to go on? Both the Rashbi and the Vilna Gaon set out their description of the five different types of Erev Rav, so before we continue, let’s take a look at them, and see what we can learn about how the Erev Rav typically behave.
The five types of Erev Rav - according to the Zohar
The Zohar explains that there are five categories of Erev Rav:
1) The Amalekites - who it says ‘make themselves leaders by force, and are scourges to Israel’.
2) The Nefilim (or 'fallen ones') - who ‘fall into fornication with fair women’.
3) The Gibborim ('mighty ones') - who ‘build synagogues and yeshivot and place in them Torah Scrolls with rich ornaments, but they do it not for the sake of God, but only to make themselves a name’.
4) The Refaim ('weak ones') - who ‘if they see Israel in trouble, abandon them, even though they are in a position to help them, and they also neglect the Torah and its students in order to ingratiate themselves with non-Jews.’
5) The Anakim ('giants') - who ‘tend to bring the world back to the state of 'tohu vabohu' (chaos and anarchy) and who caused the destruction of the temple’.
The five types of Erev Rav – according to the Vilna Gaon
Meanwhile, the Vilna Gaon also identifies five distinct types of Erev Rav, but he describes them a little differently, as follows:
1) Those that create strife and talk lashon hara (evil speech, gossip, slander).
2) Those who pursue their desires, like prostitution, etc.
3) The swindlers who pretend to be tzaddikim, but their hearts are not straight.
4) Those who pursue honour and build great synagogues to make a name for themselves.
5) Those who pursue money and strife.
As we can see, there’s a lot of overlap between the two lists, and taken together, we’re starting to build up a more composite picture of the sorts of things Erev Rav people might do.
The allusions to the Erev Rav in Psalm 37
Now, let's go to the Zohar II, 45b, where Rabbi Yitzhak explains that Psalm 37 is talking all about the Erev Rav:
"Rabbi Yitzhak opened and said (Psalms 37:1) "Do not pay attention to the deceivers (mereim)". Who are the 'deceivers'? For it is not written sinners or evildoers, but deceivers, for they deceive themselves, and those who befriend them.
"Rabbi Yehuda said: Deceivers, get away from the deceivers, so that you will not befriend yourself with their acts, and then be part of their sins. Come and see: If there was no Erev Rav, those that united with Israel, that act (ie, making the Golden Calf) would not have been done, and all those who died from Israel would not have died, and all that was caused upon Israel would not have been caused. And come and see that act and that sin indeed caused exile for Israel….
"Now that act was done, it caused everything, it caused the yoke of other nations, it caused that those tablets were broken, it caused a few thousand to die among Israel, and all this because of associating with the Erev Rav that went along with them."
So another clear trait of the Erev Rav appears to be that they lie, not only to those around them, but also (crucially) to themselves.
What else can Psalm 37 teach us about negative Erev Rav traits?
In that psalm, King David tells us three times:
"Do not compete with evildoers!"
So competition and comparison appears to be another key trait of the Erev Rav.
King David continues:
"The wicked man plots against the righteous person, and gnashes at him his teeth,"
which suggests that the meyrayim / Erev Rav appear to be spiteful and vindictive, and obsessed with getting even with other people.
"Borrow does the wicked, but repays not."
Another Erev Rav trait seems to be that they have very little regard for abiding by agreements, or respecting other people's rights, boundaries or property.
"The mouth of the righteous man utters wisdom, and his tongue speaks justice (mishpat). The Torah of his God is in his heart, falter not will his footsteps. The wicked one watches the righteous one, and seeks to kill him. But Hashem will not forsake him to his hand, nor let him be condemned when he is judged."
In this passage, King David explains that a righteous Jew talks 'justice', in other words, that he's internalized his Torah - it's in his heart - and he's not just going through the external motions of being pious, or putting on some sort of show for other people.
Another Erev Rav trait is to rush to judgment against people, and to condemn them harshly. Remember that previously, the Vilna Gaon explained that speaking evilly about others and spreading slander and gossip (ie, lashon hara), is a key trait of the Erev Rav.
Before we leave Psalm 37, make a mental note that whenever we see the words ‘merayim’ in scripture, it’s a codeword that something to do with the Erev Rav is being discussed.
‘The brazen-faced of the generation’
A little earlier, the Vilna Gaon described the Erev Rav as being the 'brazen-faced' of the generation. What else can we find in our holy sources about ‘brazen faced people’, that might give us some more clues about who or what we’re meant to be fighting against, and splitting ourselves off from?
In our morning blessings, there is a specific bracha we recite as follows:
"May it be the will before You, Hashem, my God and the God of my forefathers, that you rescue me today and every day from those who are brazen-faced and from brazen-facedness, from a person who is evil, from a companion who is evil, [and] from a neighbour who is evil."
The morning brachot seem to be setting up a clear connection between 'brazen faced' people and evil people.
In our Yom Kippur davening, we begin the Vidui, or confession of our sins, with the following statement:
"…do not ignore our supplication. For we are not so brazen-faced and stiff-necked as to say before You, Hashem, our God, that we are righteous and have not sinned, for indeed, we and our forefathers have sinned."
Here, our sages appear to be making a clear link between 'brazen-facedness' and people who act as though they believe they are perfect, and refuse to admit their sins, or to repent for them.
‘Brazenness’ in Sefer HaMiddot (the Book of Traits)
In his work Sefer HaMiddot (the Book of Traits) Rebbe Nachman writes the following about 'brazenness':
* Brazenness is caused by anger.
* Brazenness prevents a person from accepting rebuke.
* Brazenness causes stubbornness and attests that one has not rectified the sinful ways of his forebears.
* Brazenness causes the rains to be withheld. Also, a brazen person has certainly stumbled in a sin, and will stumble in more sin. It is permitted to call him 'wicked' and to hate him, and he is from the 974 generations that preceded the Creation.
(This is another link between 'brazenness' and the Erev Rav, and echoes the words of the Vilna Gaon.)
Pulling it together: Negative Traits of the Erev Rav
Before we conclude this chapter, let’s just take a moment to recap everything we’ve learnt about the negative traits of the Erev Rav, as drawn from a variety of Jewish sources, ranging from the holy Zohar, through to Sefer Tehillim, Kol HaTor, Sefer HaMiddot, and other sources:
- They are brazen.
- They like to make out (and believe) that they are perfect.
- They are stiff-necked or stubborn, which means that you normally can't get them to reverse their opinions or change course.
- They are bullies.
- They pursue their physical lusts (particularly, sexual immorality)
- They want to 'make a name for themselves' and pursue honour, for example by building synagogues and adorning Torah scrolls.
- They abandon Israel whenever it's in trouble, preferring to band together with Israel's enemies.
- The promote strife and lashon hara (evil speech).
- They pretend to be tzadikim (righteous, holy people), but their hearts are not straight.
- They run after money and strife.
- They lie, and they believe their own lies.
- They compete and compare themselves to other peoples.
- They can be very spiteful and vindictive, and hold grudges for a very long time.
- They often don't respect agreements, boundaries, or other people's property and rights.
- They often don’t do things sincerely, but mimic what they see other people doing, or put on a show.
- They often judge other people very harshly
- They lack compassion for others
- They are often angry.
- They will generally refuse to admit their errors or mend their ways.
- The inside and the outside often doesn’t match up – ie, they often don’t act in accordance with the appearance and persona they’re trying to project to the outside world, especially behind closed doors.
How is the wicked person going to ‘vanish’?
The last thing we'll take from Psalm 37 is King David's wisdom about what ultimately happens to the Erev Rav:
"I have seen a wicked man, powerful and well-rooted like a native tree that is ever fresh. Yet he vanished, and indeed! He was no more; I sought him, but he was not to be found."
As we’re about to learn, this verse can be understood in either of two key ways, both of which have huge implications for how Jews should react to the spiritual ‘problem’ posed by the Erev Rav.
The first way, as traditionally espoused by the majority of our Sages in their writings about the Erev Rav, is that the wicked person himself will vanish, in entirety.
The second way, as put forward by Rebbe Nachman in his lesson on Azamra (which we’ll explore in much more detail in a future chapter) is that the wickedness in the person will vanish, leaving only the rectified good.
This distinction is crucial, as we’re about to find out.