The third secret of the Erev Rav: Before the coming of Moshiach, the majority of our leaders will act like ‘Erev Rav’.
Arguably one of the most upsetting factors of modern Jewish life is the number of Jewish leaders we have, both in the observant and the secular world, who are falling far short when it comes to even basic standards of morality.
Everyone unfortunately has their own examples of this, but it’s useful to understand that this phenomenon, too, is connected to the Erev Rav issue we’re discussing in this book.
Earlier, you saw the passage from the Vilna Gaon where he stated that:
“Our sages said that in the period of 'Mashiach's footsteps' impudence will become great…and the Erev Rav will return to be the leaders of Israel.”
"Let us make a name for ourselves"
Really, this shouldn’t come as such a surprise, as ‘making a name for themselves’ was one of the key ‘Erev Rav’ traits, as set out both by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the Zohar, and the Vilna Gaon.
In his book Etz Chaim¸Rabbi Chaim Vital, the main student of the Arizal, warns us that one of the ways that the Erev Rav will do this is by pursuing 'honourable' positions in the Jewish religious world, and making a point of doing mitzvoth that will get them kudos from others.
"All those that do kindness and toil in the Torah, all they do for themselves. And in particular through our many sins, in our times the Torah has been made into a hammer with which to do their own ends for many baalei Torah, who occupy themselves in the Torah in order to receive their reward and other benefits and luxuries, and in order to be in the group of heads of yeshivot, and judges in their courts, so that their names and fame spread throughout the land."
So if a leader is more interested in their salary, press cuttings or prestigious perks than the people they are meant to be serving, or the Torah they are meant to be teaching, then a red flag should go up that we might not be dealing with a completely infallible, bona fide tzaddik, or saintly person.
Rabbi Vital tells us how we can spot who is the real deal:
"In Pirkei Avot (Ethics of our Fathers) 6:41, Rabbi Meir said: He who studies the Torah for its own sake (without ulterior motives) deserves many things, and not only that, but the whole world is indebted to him. And he is called beloved friend, loved by God and men, he pleases the Creator and humanity. The Torah covers him with modesty and fear, makes him virtuous, merciful, devoted, just and faithful, moves him away from sin, guiding him by the path of virtue, etc.
"The secrets of the Torah are revealed to him and he is turned into an endless fountain of wisdom, and he becomes modest, patient, forgiving offenses, etc."
When this isn’t happening with the leaders in our neighbourhood or community, religious or otherwise, we should make a mental note that while these individuals undoubtedly still have many good qualities and maybe, even an enormous amount of Torah learning and good deeds under their belt, there’s still some spiritual work to do before we can safely assume that they’re as altruistic, honest and holy as we’d like to believe.
Rebbe Nachman and false leaders
In the book Rebbe Nachman's Wisdom, paragraph 126, the Rebbe says the following about false leaders in the time preceding the coming of Moshiach:
"The Talmud teaches us that the angels will chant 'holy, holy, holy' before the Tzadikim, just like they do before God…the tzadikim who remain faithful before the Moshiach's coming will deserve this, and much more. So difficult will it be to remain firm in faith and not to be misled by everyone's mistaken beliefs in the pre-Messianic era.
"At that time, many who call themselves religious leaders will preach falsehood… There will remain some truly religious individuals, but they will be very widely scattered."
Again, without belabouring the point, these passages should make it clear that the Sages of previous generations were warning us that the closer we get to Moshiach, the more ‘brazen-faced’ and morally-corrupt many of our leaders would be, in all walks of life, and in all areas of the Jewish world.
The assumption is often made that just because someone is in a position of leadership or influence, that they are above reproach and beyond moral scrutiny – but sadly, in our times the opposite is often the case.
In this time before Moshiach, the majority of our leaders will be false. Caveat emptor, we need to be very careful about who we place our trust in, who we ask for advice, and whose directives we follow, and to be sure that they meet the criteria of a ‘true leader’ as set out by Rabbi Vital, namely:
"The secrets of the Torah are revealed to him and he is turned into an endless fountain of wisdom, and he becomes modest, patient, and forgiving of offenses, etc."
So hold on to your hats, as this is where things start to get really interesting (and hopefully, much less depressing and miserable)!