Parsha Halacha

Parshat Ki Tissa – Parshat Parah

The Mixed Multitude

Moshe’s People

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The main discussion in the Torah portion of Ki Tissa revolves around the sin of the golden calf and its aftermath. According to our sages, it was the Erev Rav, the mixed multitude of converts, who instigated the Jewish people to sin. This is derived from the verse that says,[1] וַיְדַבֵּר ה אֶל מֹשֶׁה לֶךְ רֵד כִּ֚י שִׁחֵת עַמְּךָ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלֵיתָ מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם׃ – “G-d spoke to Moshe, ‘Hurry down, for your people, whom you brought out of the land of Egypt, have acted basely.’” Rashi (based on the Midrash) explains that the term עַמְּךָ אֲשֶׁר הֶעֱלֵיתָמֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם – “Your nation that you took out of Egypt” refers to the mixed multitude as it was Moshe who accepted them into the Jewish people without first consulting with G-d. In addition, the Torah says that those worshipping the calf proclaimed,[2] “This is your god, O Israel, who brought you out of the land of Egypt.” The expression “who brought you out” indicates that they were not part of the regular nation who was brought out.[3]

Three Types of Death

When Moshe came down from the mountain and put a stop to the worship of the golden calf, the Jewish people who had worshipped it were punished with death while the punishment for the rest of the people who had tolerated the worship was suspended. Specifically, the people were killed in one of three ways depending on how they had transgressed.[4] Those who had sinned after being warned and had been seen worshiping by witnesses were put to death by the Levites. Those who had not been warned but had been witnessed were killed in a plague. And those who were neither warned nor witnessed were killed when they drank the water which Moshe mixed with pieces of the crushed calf. (They died when their stomachs swelled and burst after drinking the water, similar to the death of a Sotah [suspected adulteress] who was guilty of adultery.)

While the rest of the nation had sinned by not stopping this worship, G-d accepted their teshuvah and forgave them although He still punishes for this sin in small increments. (Whenever the Jewish people are punished for their sins, some punishment is added for the sin of the golden calf.)

Erev Rav Spared

The verses indicate that the people put to death by the Levites included the Erev Rav as it says,[5] וַיִּפֹּל מִן הָעָם בַּיּוֹם הַהוּא – “There fell from the people…” (הָעָם – “the people” refers to, or includes, the Erev Rav when used in contrast to the title בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל – the children of Israel which means the Jewish people exclusively.) The punishment of the plague also affected the Erev Rav as the verse says,[6] וַיִּגֹּ֥ף ה אֶת הָעָם – “G-d smote the people.” Regarding the water mixed with the crushed calf, however, the verse says[7]that Moshe gave it specifically to the בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל (sons of Israel) to those born Jewish. This would mean that although every born Jew who had served the golden calf perished, there were members of the Erev Rav who survived – those whose sin was not witnessed.

The Lubavitcher Rebbe explains[8] that the reason for this disparity is that the (born) Jewish people were judged more harshly as a greater level of loyalty to G-d was expected of them since they were considered G-d’s bride (arusah). Whereas the Erev Rav were (at that time) considered like the handmaidens (shifcha) and, as such, were not (yet) expected to be as devoted to G-d.[9]

Moshe’s Handiwork

The Rebbe suggests that the reason G-d chose to spare some of the members of the Erev Rav was because they were a group that Moshe had accepted. The Midrash says[10] that the Mishkan was never destroyed because it was Moshe’s handiwork (and was therefore too holy to destroy). This was true even though Moshe only oversaw the building while the actual work was done by others. How much more so, G-d wanted the group of converts that Moshe had accepted to survive and not be destroyed. (It seems like the entire Erev Rav had sinned[11] and had G-d not spared some of them, they would have all been wiped out.)

The Power of Teshuvah

The Talmud says[12] that the sin of the golden calf was not becoming to the Jewish people and that it was (Divinely) arranged for them to have the opportunity to sin in order for them to do teshuvah and thus teach the Jewish people about the power of Teshuvah. This power of teshuvah was expressed most clearly in the case of the Erev Rav as some of the actual sinners in that group (who were the instigators of the entire sin) were spared.

The Term Erev Rav

The term Erev Rav is found in Exodus 12:38, where it says that at the time of the Exodus “Also an Erev Rav (mixed multitude) went up with them (the Jewish people).”

The commentaries give various explanations for the term Erev Rav:[13]

●      Mixed Multitude

Rashi says that it means they were from a mixture of different nations (Eiruv means mixture).

●      Egyptian Sorcerers

The Ibn Ezra says that they were Egyptian people but are referred to as a mixture since they subsequently mixed with the Jewish people.[14] The Zohar[15] adds that they were the sorcerers of Pharaoh (see below). They were called Erev Rav which means “the great evening” because they would perform their magic in the beginning of the afternoon (which leads towards evening) as opposed to the late afternoon, which is called “the small evening


Although we don’t know the names of most of the Erev Rav, the Zohar mentions the names of two of the sorcerers who were part of this group: Yonos and Yimbrus. Others say their names were Yochni and Mamre.[16]

G-d’s Opinion and Moshe’s Opinion

As mentioned above, the Zohar says that the Erev Rav included the sorcerers of Pharaoh. The Zohar adds that they were so impressed by the miracles wrought by G-d for the Jewish people that they wanted to join and become part of the nation. G-d told Moshe that he should not accept them. Moshe said to G-d, “Master of the Universe, since they saw Your might, they want to convert. They will continue to see Your miracles every day, and they will know that there is no G-d other than You!” Moshe then went ahead and accepted them. (It seems that G-d did not refute Moshe’s argument nor did he expressly agree with it. Perhaps this is why Rashi says (quoted above) that Moshe accepted them without consulting G-d, i.e., without receiving explicit permission.

How Many?

The verse indicates that this was a large group of people (Rav means large or great). There are different opinions in the Midrash as to the exact number of the Erev Rav. All agree that they were a larger group than the (born) Jewish people.

Some say[17] they numbered 1,200,000 or twice as many as the Jewish people.

Some say[18] that they numbered 1,800,00 which would be three times as many as the Jewish people.

Others say[19] they numbered 2,400,000 or four times as many as the Jewish people.

Finally, some say[20] they numbered 2,600,000 people.

Souls Connected to Moshe

According to the Arizal[21] the souls of the members of the Erev Rav were connected to the soul of Moshe Rabeinu which is why he worked so hard to make them part of the Jewish people. Ironically, Moshe’s passing in the desert rather than in the land of Israel was a result of the sins instigated by the Erev Rav, the very people he was trying to elevate.

Other Troublemaking

The mixed multitude instigated several of the other sins in the desert as well.[22]

●      Asking for Meat

Regarding the time that the people complained that they didn’t have meat, it says,[23]“The riffraff (אסַפְסֻף) in their midst felt a gluttonous craving; and then the Israelites (בְּנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל) wept and said, ‘If only we had meat to eat.’” This means that the complaints started from the mixed multitude and then spread to the rest of the Jewish people.

●      Sin of the Spies

Regarding the sin of the spies, it says that,[24] “Kalev quieted the nation (הָעָם)” which refers to the mixed multitude.[25] Later it says that,[26] “the entire congregation (כׇּל הָעֵדָה) cried.” Once again, the sin that began with the mixed multitude spread to the entire community.

●      The Waters of Merivah

When the Jewish people complained about the lack of water in the event that led to Moshe hitting the rock, it says,[27] “The people (הָעָם) fought with Moshe.” This term refers to the mixed multitude as mentioned above. Later on, it says that Moshe gathered the entire community in front of the rock which means that here, too, the complaints of this group spread to the nation at large.

Slaves and Maidservants

According to one Midrash[28] it seems that the Erev Rav became the servants of the Jewish people.

In the Future Time

The Midrash says[29] that just as many people converted in the time of the Exodus and at the time of the miracle of Purim,[30] so, too, many people will try to join the Jewish people[31] in the Messianic Era, as the verse says,[32] “Thus said the L-rd of Hosts: ‘In those days, ten men from nations of every tongue will take hold of every Jew by a corner of his cloak and say, “Let us go with you, for we have heard that G-d is with you.”

May it take place speedily in our time!

[1] Exodus 32:7

[2] Ibid verse 4

[3] Rashi on the verse

[4] Rashi on Exodus 32:20 based on Yoma 66b

[5] Exodus 32:28

[6] ibid verse 35

[7] Ibid verse 20

[8] Likutei Sichot, vol. 16 page 410

[9] See Amos 3:2 where it says “You alone have I singled out of all the families of the earth — That is why I will call you to account for all your iniquities.”

[10] See Sotah 9a that the tabernacle, including its boards, beams, clasps and sockets, were all hidden away in the tunnels underneath the Beit Hamikdash.

[11] See Rashi on Exodus 32:7 that “The Erev Rav… destroyed and brought destruction to others.”

[12] Avodah Zarah 4b

[13] Shadal writes that the Erev Rav refers to Egyptians who had intermarried with the Jewish people. This is not the traditional view of our sages who say that there was no intermarriage in Egypt.

[14] Ralbag

[15] Parshat Ki Tissa page 191

[16] Note on the side of the Zohar, based on Shemot Rabbah 9

[17] Rabbi Yishmael in Mechilta DeRabi Yishmael 12:35

[18] Mechilta DeRabi Shimon Bar Yochai (this number includes converts and slaves)

[19] Rabbi Akiva in Mechilta DeRabi Yishmael ibid

[20] Rabbi Natan in ibid

[21] Etz Chayim, Sha’ar 32, chapter 2 see also Sha’ar Hapesukim, Parshat Shemot, 22a

[22] Torat HaOhel by Rabbi Shmuel Keidar (Ofra, 2007) page 523

[23] Numbers 11:4

[24] Ibid, 13:30

[25] See Zohar in the beginning of Parshat Beshalach that הָעָם (the nation) refers to the mixed multitude. See also Ohr Hachaim, beginning of Parshat Beshalach (Exodus 13:17)

[26] Numbers 14:1

[27] Ibid, 20:3

[28] Kohelet Rabbah 2:8

[29] Lekach Tov on Megilat Esther

[30] Esther 8:17

[31] But see Yevamot 24b that converts will not be accepted in the Messianic era

[32] Zechariah 8:23

Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom UMevorach!

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