“The Erev Rav delay the redemption much more than all the nations of the world”
– Raaya Mehemna – Sefer Ha Zohar
The Torah only mentions the erev rav briefly. Today erev rav is a term that gets thrown around in some circles with numerous assumptions and pre conceived ideals. In reality, do we really know who they are? Can we readily identify them? Who are the erev rav, and where did they come from? More precisely, who do the sages say they were/are? To begin, our sages teach us that the last and final exile, the exile among the “erev rav”, is the most challenging of all. But why is this so and why does the erev rav have such an effect on the children of Israel?
The Term “erev rav” is found in the Torah in the book of Shemot (Exodus)
Shemot 12:37-38 Orthodox Jewish Bible (OJB)
37 And the Bnei Yisroel journeyed from Rameses towards Sukkot, about 600,000 gevarim on foot, not counting women and children. 38 And an erev rav (mixed multitude, a mixed company that was large) went along also with them; and tzon, and herds, even very many domestic animals.
The verse in the Torah does not clearly, in itself, describe who the erev rav were or what identified them. We can only conclude based on the text that they left Egypt with the children of Israel, and they were not born Jews. The sages have plenty to say on this topic. In fact, according to their teachings, the erev rav have been here since the beginning.
ADAM HA RISHON
When Adam HaRishon (The First Man) ate from the tree of the knowledge of good and evil, evil stopped being ‘external’ to man, and instead became internalized.
There were many consequences to this which include the following:
- Adam’s sin brought death into the world instead of living forever, mankind now had to experience death
- G-d became ‘hidden’ instead of being openly revealed in the physical world
- Evil the yetzer harah (evil inclination) became a massive part of man’s spiritual and emotional makeup and placed each one of us in a position of ‘fighting for our lives’ against the evil inclination every day
- Good and evil became inextricably mixed together
After the original sin, Adam was separated from his wife, and ’emitted seed’ for 130 years. The souls from this “scattered” or “wasted” seed were captured by the forces of darkness, and subsequently needed to go through many reincarnations before they could start to be purified and whitened.
The Arizal explains in Shaar Hakavanot 1b that these souls are the root of both the Erev Rav and Am Yisrael.
This leads to another question. What was going on between the creation and the giving of the Torah when the erev rav was first mentioned? According to Tehillim (Psalms) 105:8-10 HaShem said He would only give the Torah after 1000 generations, however Moshe was only the 26th generation. What happened to the other 974 generations?
The Talmud, Chagigah 13b, explains:
“These are the 974 generations that were decreed to be created before the creation of the world, but were not created. The Holy One, Blessed is He, arose and ‘hangs’ them in each generation, and they are the most brazen of each generation.”
“In Sifra D’Tzniusa, Chapter 1, the Vilna Gaon combines the 974 Generations together with the Erev Rav, saying that 974 Generations are the Erev Rav . . .”
– Sha’arei Leshem, p. 437
The Arizal explains that these souls started to be rectified with the generation of the flood; then reincarnated as the generation of the dispersion; then again, as the generation in S’dom, and finally, in Egypt.
The souls who had been sufficiently rectified and purified reincarnated into Bnei Yisrael, the Children of Israel. The ones who had not been sufficiently rectified became the ‘mixed multitude’. This is why the Jewish nation did not come into being until Ya’akov’s time, because until that time most of the souls were mixed with the Klipot (evil forces), and were in a process of refinement and reincarnation from generation to generation. These souls didn’t begin their rectification until Ya’akov, who rectified Adam HaRishon. That was also when his sons began their tikkun all during the Egyptian exile.
Chazal teaches that this is the meaning of Devarim 4:34
“Could any other G-d come and take a nation out from within a nation?”
Chazal teaches: “It does not say ‘a people within a nation,’ but rather, ‘a nation from within a nation,’ because that is what really occurred since they were well within the midst of the Klipot (in Egypt), and were a nation like them. They were then refined, purified, and taken out from the midst of that nation literally. The beginning of their reincarnations was in the Generation of the Flood . . . This is the deeper meaning of the verse, ‘G-d regretted that He made THE MAN on the land’ (Bereishit 6:7), which refers to the Generation of the Flood. This hinted to the fact that they were on the level of Adam HaRishon himself, emanating from him during the 130 years . . . Next, they reincarnated as the Generation of the Dispersion, and were evil like their fathers . . . This is what is written, ‘G-d went down to see the city and the tower that the Son of Man built’ (Bereishit 11:5). As the Zohar elucidates (Bereishit 75a): Literally, son of the Man, Adam HaRishon, to hint to the fact that they were literally his sons . . . The third reincarnation was as the people of S’dom, and therefore it says, ‘The people of S’dom were evil and sinned greatly against G-d’ (Bereishit 13:13), to hint that their evil was the result of the destroyed seed of Adam, which was called ‘evil’ . . . After these three reincarnations over three generations . . . they returned a fourth time in Egypt, in B’nei Yisroel, born into the generation of that exile, at which time the tikkun finally began .”
– Arizal, Sha’ar HaKevanos 1b
 Talmud – Eruvin 18b