(For a synopsis of the tragedy, please see What was the Golden Calf?)
How did the Jewish people go from the Divinely gifted exalted spiritual level necessary to receive the Torah in all its glory to worshiping an idol only 40 days later?
The Original Fake News and It's Twin: Fake Fear
Or did they?
It was actually the Erev Rav who got worried...but not for the reasons you might think.
Well aware that Hashem objected to their presence and that it was Moshe Rabbeinu who allowed them to join along, the Erev Rav feared that without Moshe Rabbeinu, they'd be kicked out by Hashem (as if Hashem couldn't just kick them out if He chose to).
This is why the Erev Rav felt they needed to create a new leader, and to do it on the double.
So they sounded an alarm of sorts that affected the emuna of the Jews. In addition, the satan (a prosecuting angel) adjusted nature to provide a gloomy atmosphere. And rather than taking an emuna-driven "Let's wait and see" approach of yishuv hadaat, the true Jews of Yisrael got sucked into the Erev Rav fear.
- The Jews NEVER had anything to fear.
- They were beloved to Hashem.
- So even if something had happened to Moshe Rabbeinu, Hashem would still take care of Yisrael as a mother cares for her newborn baby.
- It was the Erev Rav who stood to lose out if Moshe Rabbeinu didn't return.
- The Jews would have been fine all along NO MATTER WHAT.
In other words, the Jews panicked for NO REASON WHATSOEVER.
And that was their first mistake.
The Importance of Daat Torah
"Wait for us here until we return to you, and here Aharon and Chur are with you; whoever has a case, let him go to them."
So at this point, the Jews consulted with Chur, the son of Miriam Haneviah and Kalev ben Yafuneh.
Apparently, Chur told them in no uncertain terms that they didn't need any new leader and were forbidden from doing so.
So they killed him.
Okay, let's look at this for a minute.
Back then, the Erev Rav was obvious. They even looked different to the point that the Moavites could differentiate between Erev Rav and Yisrael.
Also, these Erev Rav people were NOT descended from the Avot and Imahot. And the Jews KNEW this. So why did they listen to the Erev Rav over their own leader (appointed by Moshe Rabbeinu himself), a leader who had proven himself time and again?
(See here for a brief and impressive bio of Chur.)
Picture the scene for a moment:
- You've got these clearly non-Jewish-looking people talking to you in either Egyptian-accented Hebrew or in Egyptian itself,
- people whom you know aren't really a part of you
- and whom you know aren't even wanted by Hashem
What on Earth were the Jews thinking?
(For more details please see the Kli Yakar on Parshat Ki Tisa and scroll down past the chelbana.)
The Original Cult Leader
This whole thing started out as a quest to create a leader.
Not an idol and not a cult, but simply a new leader.
And the Erev Rav probably didn't seem so bad.
They probably just seemed pro-active. Take charge!-types. Self-empowering.
Maybe they even seemed caring and inspirational.
Maybe they conducted promotional self-empowerment seminars.
Yet the Erev Rav, being steeped in Egyptian ways, wanted to be led by the stars, which is why a calf representing the Taurus constellation popped out. In fact, they assumed that Moshe Rabbeinu's power derived from some kind of star-image, and not from his own inner work and holiness.
Of course, the Jewish women resisted handing over the jewelry for the dastardly deed, but the men insisted and the calf was made.
Once the idol was created, the Jews should have immediately realized what they were getting into. After all, bovine-shaped idols were all the rage in that part of the world for millennia. It's sort of like if an "Ephraimite" was leading everyone to what he claimed was a Chanukah party and then suddenly whipped out a cross right before the festivities started.
I mean, you know the guy is not Torah-true, and now he's waving this big cross around at the party. And you know that's not just some random giant "T" because Christians have been using that symbol for the past 2000 years.
But what ensued next was a free-for-all that included debauchery, drugs and alcohol, adultery, and blasphemy.
At this point, viewing the scene from above, could you differentiate between the Erev Rav and the Bnei Yisrael?
Not really; they were all acting the same.
Perhaps if you looked carefully, you might notice that only certain people are orchestrating the whole event, and that those people look different than the participants. But overall, you would not be able to specify who was who according to behavior.
And upon seeing this, Moshe Rabbeinu smashed the Tablets.
And this is one of the reasons we mourn today.
Lessons from and about the Erev Rav
- The Erev Rav think only about themselves, which also means they are obsessed with aligning themselves to whoever seems most powerful and they are obsessed with materialism.
- For their own self-interests, they will do whatever they can to get an authentic Yisrael WHO HAS NO REASON TO FEAR all riled up with anxiety and fear over an outcome that affects the Erev Rav ONLY.
- Erev Rav motivations are very different than Jewish motivations, although Erev Rav will speak to Jews in a "Jewish" language, if you get my drift.
- This panic discourages authentic Jews from listening to tested-and-true daat Torah.
There are other lessons, but that's all I can think of for now.
Signs that You May be Suffering under the "Erev Rav Effect"
- Are you Erev Rav?
- Are you a Yisrael caught up in an Erev Rav fiesta?
- Are you a Yisrael with Erev Rav sparks pricking about your holy Jewish soul?
You can't really know.
But what you CAN do is take a step back from it all, especially at the following times:
- Are you feeling panicked?
- Are you feeling desperate?
- Are you feeling like "Move, move, move!" or "Do, do, do!"?
- Are you willing to latch on to anyone or anything who seems to promise security and leadership?
- Are you listening to the silver-tongued voices of people who obviously aren't the real deal while dismissing authentic daat Torah? (And I mean REAL daat Torah; not every Orthodox rabbi is daat Torah!)
- Are you blindly assuming the other cares about the same things you do, when much of what they say or do actually points to a completely different motive?
- Do you want to contemplate issues and situations before acting, but you have people around you (or even a voice within yourself), pressuring you to just jump into the frenzy without another thought?
- When you want to discuss real issues of emunah and serving Hashem and genuine Torah observance, are you ever waved off, rejected, mocked, or even attacked? (You might even do this to yourself.)
- Are you tempted to follow people who couldn't possibly have the answers because they don't possess your Jewish tradition and yichus?
- Do you see people insisting that you follow them when you clearly see they're holding up a well-known and forbidden idol...but you're caught up in your fear and peer pressure, and anyway, they've got such convincing reasons for what they're doing?
Erev Rav Alert! The above is the effect of Erev Rav on a Yisrael.
And it's a sign to take a step back from it all and inquire of Hashem.
How to Deal with the "Erev Rav Effect"
Remember, at the time they were actually worshiping the Golden Calf, the Erev Rav and Bnei Yisrael were behaving exactly the same.
A Reform rabbi holding up a cross at a Chanukah party can still possess a soul of Yisrael.
They only real way to deal with it is via yishuv hadaat - taking a step back and asking:
- "What's really going on here?"
- "Is this the Torah way? If so, where is it written?"
- "Where is Hashem in all this?"
- "What does He think?"
- "What does He want?"
- "Okay, Hashem...tell me what to do!"
Why couldn't Bnei Yisrael have told the Erev Rav, "Wait a minute, Hashem's in charge. Let's give it another day and see"?
Why couldn't they have listened to Chur?
And even at the point that the calf appeared, could they not have said, "Whoa! Wait just one second here! Hmm... I'm going to step out and do some hitbodedut before I do anything else."
They could have taken a step away from everyone and engaged in conversation with Hashem at any point during the ride. Even after they'd killed Chur, they still could've stopped the madness. They still could have turned to Hashem.
And THAT would've saved them.
So don't give up.
Even if you find yourself swept up in a crowd led by Erev Rav after your real leader has been murdered and your other true leader has gone undercover...and even when you're faced with a clear symbol of everything that's wrong with the world and you're all hyped up to worship it with the basest human behaviors...
STEP BACK. And talk to Hashem.
It's not too late. Even if the Erev Rav stuff seems to be a part of you, don't give up.
Just turn to Hashem and don't repeat the mistake of the first Seventeenth of Tammuz.
We mourn it in order to rectify it. And we can!