Israel’s Greatest Enemy: The Erev Rav

At the end of this week’s parasha, Bo, the Israelites are finally free and set forth out of Egypt. We are told that along with the Israelites came out an Erev Rav (Exodus 12:38), a “mixed multitude” of people that joined them. Rashi (Rabbi Shlomo Itzchaki, 1040-1105) explains that these were non-Jewish people that wished to convert and become part of the Jewish people, having seen such great wonders and miracles. Ibn Ezra (Rabbi Avraham ben Meir ibn Ezra, c. 1089-1092) adds that they were mostly Egyptians, and Shadal (Rabbi Shmuel David Luzzatto, 1800-1865) says they were Egyptians that had intermarried with Jews. He proves it from Nehemiah 13:3, where the non-Jewish “erev” were separated out of the returning Jewish population. The Zohar (II, 291a) states that many of the Erev Rav were Egyptian magicians, witches, and wizards, who would perform their tricks in the erev ravrava, the “great evening”. The time between sunset and midnight is when the impure forces are most active, hence a “great evening” for those wicked people.

The Zohar teaches that God warned Moses not to accept the Erev Rav, for they would cause nothing but trouble, but Moses had a hard time keeping them away and thought that perhaps they could be redeemed. Not surprisingly, God was right. The Erev Rav went on to cause havoc and mayhem both to the Exodus generation itself, and throughout all of Jewish history, until the present. As we shall see, they orchestrated the Golden Calf and the Midianite catastrophe, among other calamities. While the term “Amalek” is reserved for Israel’s external nemesis, the Erev Rav is the far more dangerous enemy from within. It is of them that the prophet Isaiah said “…those who destroy you and ruin you emerge from within you.” (Isaiah 49:17) Now, more than ever, we need to understand: Who is the Erev Rav? How can we identify them today? And, most importantly, how do we stop them?

The Sins and Methods of Erev Rav

When the Erev Rav came out of Egypt with the Israelites, they were not “Jewish” in any sense. However, the Israelites themselves were not officially “Jewish” yet either—though they were the descendants of God’s chosen one, Abraham, and part of the covenantal tradition first forged with him. It was only when Israel stood at Mt. Sinai and witnessed the Divine Revelation, accepting the Torah upon themselves, that they officially inked a permanent Covenant with God and became a holy nation. The Erev Rav stood alongside them, and participated in the Sinai Revelation, too, thus becoming part of that Covenant, at least nominally. Though they seemingly became “Jewish”, they still retained all of their old idolatrous and immoral ways. Soon after, they instigated the Golden Calf incident.

The Zohar cited above names the two Erev Rav leaders who cooked up the Golden Calf plot: Yunus and Yumbrus. They happened to be sons of the wicked sorcerer Bilaam. They sought to, subtly, convince the Jews to commit a horrific act of idolatry. The Arizal (Rabbi Itzchak Luria, 1534-1572) explains that their method was in manipulating people’s da’at, loosely translated as “knowledge” but referring to the deepest layers of the mind (see Sha’ar HaPesukim on Ki Tisa and Balak). They knew how to manipulate people psychologically. In fact, the Arizal points out that the numerical value of Erev Rav (ערב רב) is 474, equivalent to da’at (דעת)! Here we learn our first important point about the Erev Rav: they are masters of deception, subliminal messaging, and brainwashing.

The Torah tells us that 3000 people were executed for instigating the Golden Calf (Exodus 32:28). These were all men of the Erev Rav. However, the Erev Rav was not defeated. The Zohar (II, 45b) suggests that as many as a fifth of the populace that left Egypt was Erev Rav. This is one meaning for the Torah’s statement that chamushim ‘alu, which can be read as “a fifth ascended” (Exodus 13:18). The Zohar here also gives us a way to recognize when it is that the Torah speaks of the Erev Rav specifically: whenever the Torah says ‘am or ha’am (“the people”) by itself, it is referring to the Erev Rav. When the Torah speaks of ‘am Israel, or ‘ami (“My people”), Bnei Israel or Beit Yaakov, then we can be sure that it is referring to the true Jewish people, not the Erev Rav imposters. Once we know this, we find that most of the cases where the Exodus generation inexplicably complained or rebelled against God was the ‘am, ie. the Erev Rav. This is why many of them even wanted to return to Egypt! (See Numbers 11:1-5, where they are also referred to as the asafsuf, in addition to ha’am.)

Years later, the Erev Rav instigated the horrendous sin with the Midianites. The chapter begins by stating that “Israel settled in Shittim, and ha’am started to profane themselves…” (Numbers 25:1) We see a clear contrast between Israel and “the nation”, ie. the Erev Rav. Keep in mind that, like with the Golden Calf, this sin of the Erev Rav was not done privately, but was paraded before everyone, “in the sight of Moses and the whole community of Bnei Israel…” (25:6) Again, the Torah distinguishes between the promiscuous Erev Rav and the true Bnei Israel who were sinless and shocked by the gross display. At the end, God sent a punishing plague that killed the 24,000 sinners. The Lubavitcher Rebbe taught that these 24,000 were the Erev Rav (see Likkutei Sichot, Vol. IV, pg. 223).

We now see the two main sins that the Erev Rav is involved with: idolatry and sexual immorality. We find that the Erev Rav is not content to sin privately, but do so publicly, and seek to inspire others to do the same through their corruption of people’s da’at. The Erev Rav are spiritually contaminated, and the Arizal taught that all the wicked so-called “Jews” in every generation are the reincarnated souls of the Erev Rav (Sha’ar HaGilgulim, Ch. 39). Worse yet, the Zohar (I, 25a) states that the Erev Rav will be particularly strong in the End of Days, with their final all-in push to corrupt the world and lead people astray (see also Tikkunei Zohar 144a). There is little doubt that we are in the End of Days now, so who is the Erev Rav?

Who is the Erev Rav?

Our Sages teach that all real Jews have three traits: they are reserved and modest, merciful, and kind (Yevamot 79a). The Rambam (Rabbi Moshe ben Maimon, 1138-1204) adds that a “Jew” who doesn’t have these qualities can be suspected of not being a real Jew (Hilkhot Issurei Biah 19:17). Indeed, the Sages state that those apparent Jews who lack compassion and kindness, and are wealthy but refuse to help others, are of the Erev Rav (Beitzah 32a). The Zohar adds to this that the Erev Rav are wealthy people, in leadership positions, who are corrupt (III, 124b, Ra’aya Mehemna). Needless to say, they are very far from true Torah observance.

Elsewhere, the Zohar (I, 25a-b) goes in depth describing the five types of Erev Rav people, easily remembered by the acronym nega ra (נג״ע ר״ע), literally an “evil plague”. The nun stands for nephilim, “fallen ones”, for these Erev Rav are likened to the fallen angels first mentioned in Genesis 6:4, who were guilty of sexual sins—mating with the “daughters of man”. Next come the gibborim, “great ones”, compared to those conceited and narcissistic people that built the Tower of Babel. The third variety are the ‘anakim, “giants”, those that sow disorder in the community and in the world. The refa’im, literally “weak ones”, are those traitors and cowards who abandon or betray Israel. Finally, the amalekim are those who side with Amalek, Israel’s arch-nemesis, and fill the world with hamas, “lawlessness” (as in Genesis 6:13). It is important to remember here that the greatest ultimate villains in the world are those with the spirit of Amalek, and such wicked people are found dispersed among the gentile nations, and are far more numerous than the Erev Rav. Having said that, the two collaborate and seek many of the same ultimate goals.

So, let us put it all together. The Erev Rav are those that appear to be Jews, but are imposters. They are not Torah observant (even if they might claim to be) and are, on the contrary, idolaters or atheists who push godless ideas. They are “leaders” that guide Jews astray, and inspire the transgression of Torah law. They tend to be wealthy and corrupt, in influential positions, instigating disorder and division. Like the original intermixed Erev Rav, some may promote widespread assimilation and intermarriage, and some may be sexually depraved. With these qualities in mind, it is very easy to identify who the Erev Rav is. You can find such individuals across the social and political spectrum; in Hollywood and in government, in certain “temples” and synagogues, as well as in academia and the business world.

While there is undoubtedly a lot of plain-old hatred and bigotry out there, if you examine the bulk of anti-Semitism today, it is actually an attack not on the average well-meaning and God-fearing Jew, but on the Erev Rav. The problem is that the anti-Semite is unable to differentiate between Jews at all, so the rage is displaced upon the wrong people. This is why it is imperative for Jews ourselves to confront the Erev Rav and oppose them as much as possible. It is vital to dissociate from any supposed “Jewish” organization that is advocating on behalf of Erev Rav ideas, those rooted in sexual immorality and idolatry, assimilation and godlessness, hedonism and materialism. (It is worth remembering the words of our Sages in Sotah 11b that in ancient Egypt—the birthplace of the Erev Rav—they would wickedly make “men do female tasks and women do male tasks”.) It needs to be made abundantly clear to the world that none of these ideas have any place in Judaism, and true Jews have nothing to do with them.

In this generation, we cannot be silent. Every Jew must stand up and speak out. There may be hesitancy to say something because the world is so sensitive, and no one wants to “trigger” another, nor does anyone wish to be “cancelled”. In reality, this is all the more reason to speak out, because the Erev Rav knows how to silence dissent. Remember, their power is in manipulating da’at, and they know how to infiltrate the minds of the public. It is important to keep in mind that many well-meaning Jews may have succumbed to the Erev Rav ideology—but they are only the victims. It is the dangerous minority of crooked leaders that need to be stopped. When their temples and classrooms and organizations and corporations are empty of followers, they will lose their power. When their filthy content is no longer consumed, they will stop producing it. We must all do our part in separating from anything that resembles the Erev Rav, and speak up at every opportunity to save our fellow Jews (and gentiles) who may have been led astray. We mustn’t fear that it will fall on deaf ears or that it will be “offensive”. God commanded us to “rebuke your fellow and do not bear a sin because of him.” (Leviticus 19:17)

Finally, we should all know that the Erev Rav will soon perish. The Zohar cites the prophecy of Zechariah 13:2 as referring to the end of the Erev Rav, those “false prophets” of the “unclean spirit”, who will be extinguished once and for all:

And on that day—declares the God of Hosts—I will erase the very names of the idols from the land; they shall not be uttered any more. And I will also make the false prophets and the unclean spirit vanish from the land…