18 Menachem Av 5774
In the war for the hearts and minds of Jews, we have an internal enemy. They're called the Erev Rav and they present a formidable barrier to the dissemination of authentic Judaism and the breaking of our connection with Western values and democracy.
Rivka Levy wrote an excellent seven-part series on the Erev Rav for Breslov's website. You'll want to go there and read it in full as time allows, but meantime, please peruse these important excerpts which take us from their origins to their fate at the end of days.
From Part 1:
...The Torah was given after just 26 generations, but we know from Psalms that Hashem said He'd only give it after 1000 generations - so what happened to the other 974?
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." The word 'brazen' is a key clue to what's going on here, and we're going to meet it again later on in many holy works.
The Vilna Gaon explains in his book Sifra D'Tzniusa, Chapter 1, that the 974 generations are the Erev Rav.
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', or millions of Egyptian converts who came out of Egypt with the Children of Yisrael, despite G-d advising Moses against accepting them.
The Zohar in Ki Tisa 191A explains that the Erev Rav were false converts, who wanted to be Jews to be 'on the winning team' and to get all the benefits of being the servants of such a powerful 'G-d', as opposed to serving Hashem with their hearts and souls.
From Part 2:
The Torah first explicitly mentions the Erev Rav in Shemot 12: 37-38: "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 Arizal in Shaarei HaPesukim, Shemot 1:8 explains that when Pharaoh complains that "The people, the Children of Israel are more numerous and greater than us," he wasn't just talking about Bnei Yisrael; he was also talking about the millions of Egyptians converts that Yosef and Yaacov converted (remember, Yosef made all the Egyptians circumcise themselves.)
According to the Arizal, these converts were the Erev Rav, who left together with the Jewish people in the Exodus - and they were more than double the Jewish people.
...Those original Erev Rav souls became intermingled with the authentic Jewish souls. We still have the Erev Rav with us, but today, they can be born into the best families, have the highest pedigree, and be the most (externally) pious and 'frum' people you'd ever care to meet. Why is this a problem?
Simply put, the soul of a real Jew is a part of G-d. In its essence, it's completely pure and holy and good, and is always yearning to return to its source, namely, G-d.
This returning to G-d is the essence of making teshuva. A real Jew can be eating a pork chop on Yom Kippur on Tel Aviv beach, and still have a deep (as yet unexpressed or unrecognised) yearning to connect to G-d.
The soul of an Erev Rav, by contrast, even if it's housed in an externally very pious 'body' cannot come back to G-d. It's not rooted in G-d, and G-d is completely out of the picture, even if the person themselves appears to be mega-observant.
But that's not the real problem. The real problem is that the Erev Rav have a mission in life: to pull the real Jews away from G-d, and away from real, authentic Torah and mitzvoth.
From Part 3:
...A real Jew will acknowledge their wrongdoing on some level, and display some sort of embarrassment, shame and regret, even if they carry on doing it. (The yetzer hara, or evil inclination, is very strong, and it's very hard to immediately stop doing bad things, even when we've actually realized they are bad.)
By contrast, the Erev Rav are brazen, which means that they won't accept any suggestion that they are doing anything wrong, and they will justify their evil deeds with any amount of lies, evasion, intimidation and other manipulative behaviours.
From Part 4:
...a key tell-tale sign of the brazen-faced Erev Rav is that they genuinely believe that they are perfect and can do no wrong. And if you try to challenge them on that, they won't back down and they'll just keep lying about their actions, and the impact of their actions on other people.
From Part 5:
...Let's recap what we've learnt from Rebbe Nachman about 'brazen' 'wicked' people (ie, the Erev Rav):
* They are angry, stubborn and refuse to mend their ways, even when they are shown what they are doing wrong.
* We need to avoid them like the plague, or we'll get pulled away from the service of G-d, and caught up in their punishment (just like what happened with the original Erev Rav and the Golden Calf)
* There's no point speaking to them, even to try to get them to change their ways
* They hide their evil and heresy behind a veneer of 'good' and 'religious', which confuses us, and makes it very hard for us to know what's going on, or what to do about it
* Sincere Torah learning (ie, learning Torah to live it, and not just to know it) shatters their friendship
From Part 6:
The Tikkunei Zohar 119a explains that: "as soon as they [the Erev Rav] are removed from the world, then people will start calling in the name of Hashem."
The Erev Rav can't / won't / don't do hitbodedut, or personal prayer, where you call out to G-d in your own words. Why not? They don't really believe in Him!
What's more, the Erev Rav actively discourage other people from putting G-d in the picture, and turning to Him to solve their problems. They are the people who make a very big point of 'hishtadlut' - effort - and who are always telling us that it's 'forbidden to rely on miracles'. They'll be the ones who are encouraging us to medicate or buy our problems away, and who are always looking for 'natural' explanations for everything that happens in our lives, that cuts G-d out of the picture.
Remember, many of the Erev Rav appear to be externally religious, and these 'hidden enemies' are the hardest of the lot to identify and stay away from, because they will try to 'prove' their heretical lies and ideas with quotes from the Torah itself!
...Let's recap what we've just learnt from the Vilna Gaon: the main problem with the Erev Rav is that they influence the real Jews to follow their evil ways, and to cut G-d out of their lives. They use devious, sneaky ways to do this, and will hide their evil designs behind a very pious or 'good' front. If we don't actively fight against their evil influence and ideas, then we end up helping them, and the Vilna Gaon tells us it would then have been better for us if we hadn't been born in the first place.
...Rabbi Simcha Issaschar Ber Halberstam, the Divre Simcha, explains that even the 'good' that the Erev Rav do has to be rejected.
..."And even if we see in them (the Erev Rav) good things like Torah, and tradition, and good manners, and in particular, they make peace with everybody and peace is the foundation of everything, and it is a very good trait, even so, as in the case of a sick person that needs to have his blood extracted, even though the soul is in the blood, so it will be in the days prior to Moshiach."
"We must reject all these people even when they have good aspects in their behaviour, because then will be time of clarification and selection, and this will be the trial and choice in those days."
Rav Halberstam is teaching us that prior to Moshiach coming, one of our main jobs will be to split off from, and reject, the Erev Rav, even if they are apparently doing 'good' things.
In particular, the Erev Rav are obsessed with 'making peace' at any price, and will bully others mercilessly to get them to acquiesce to their plans.
From Part 7:
...Erev Rav are typically attracted to roles and positions where they can influence the people around them, which gives them the perfect platform for starting or encouraging negative trends that take Jews away from G-d.
...Making a name for themselves is one of the main preoccupations of the Erev Rav, as set out both by Rabbi Shimon Bar Yochai in the Zohar, and the Vilna Gaon.
Rabbi Chaim Vital, the main student of the Arizal, warns us in the introduction to his book Etz Chaim that a key way that the Erev Rav 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.
...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 G-d…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."(Part 5)