Why the Erev Rav CAN'T Change Themselves
“And Moshe recorded their origins for their journeys according the word of Hashem.” (Masei 33:2)
The Kli Yakar notes in the following verse (33:3) that the Torah says about Bnei Yisrael: “They journeyed from Ramses...on the day following the Pesach, sacrifice, Bnei Yisrael went out.”
But later it says, “Hashem took you out from Egypt at night” (Re'eh 16:1).
We know that “Bnei Yisrael” refers to the Jews, while “Am” hints at the Erev Rav. In Shemot 14:5, it says, “And it was told to the King of Egypt that the Am had fled” – “fled” and not, “is fleeing.”
The Erev Rav were already gone.
The Kli Yakar points out that the best way to flee is at night and that fugitives don’t just “go out,” but that they escape immediately – they flee. (Remember, the plagues had been quite terrifying.) So if we have a group called “Am” who is fleeing at night, then it must be the Erev Rav.
He goes on to contrast their exodus with that of Bnei Yisrael who went out in the day “with an upraised hand,” adding another telling verse: “And Bnei Yisrael went after them.”
The Kli Yakar emphasizes that it is the way of fugitives to go out at a run, which is why they preceded Bnei Yisrael.
(Picture people crazed with panic who abandon everyone else in their desperation to save themselves first.)
But Bnei Yisrael left Egypt with fearlessness and dignity.
The Kli Yakar concludes that now Moshe is referring to Bnei Yisrael’s journeys:
Their basic foundation is from the Holy Land, so they always turned their face from the place which they came because the goal of facing toward their journeys was to come to the Land that is promised to their Avot.
But the Erev Rav, whose source derives from Egypt, didn’t go out according to the word of Hashem, but according the opinion of Moshe. And it’s said about the Erev Rav: “And these are their journeys to their origins” – because they always had a desire and a will to return to Egypt, to their source.
While we often consider the Erev Rav to be sneaky, cunning, and manipulative (and they’re that, too), we can understand from the Kli Yakar’s words that despite their craftiness, they aren't really thinking. It’s their innate instinct to go back to Egypt – a place of darkness, atheism, debauchery, and materialism.
It’s like a powerful reflex that they are powerless to resist - which makes them even more dangerous.
Doesn't that explain why it seems impossible to reason with them or to convince them of the beauty and light of Torah?
They don't want light. Light feels all wrong to them. They want darkness.
They automatically look back to Egypt because that feels most natural. And like any creature going purely by blind instinct, they seem unaware or unconcerned about the consequences.
Simply put, the Mitzrayim mentality just feels “right” to them.
And we real Jews must hold on tight to our emuna so as not to get caught in the Erev Rav slipstream.
Update: Since this was first posted, Rivka Levy at Emunaroma has run a 9-part series addressing the issue of Erev Rav using Torah sources here. If you've discovered Erev Rav qualities in yourself or you find yourself with Erev Rav types that you can't avoid completely (like family members, neighbors, your group's leader, your husband's rav, etc.), then it's worth taking a look at that series.
This is my own translation and any errors are also mine.