How to Blot Out the Memory of Amalek

The Secret of the Erev Rav (Part 2)

In last week’s article, The Erev Rav Also Went Up With Them, we learned a number of important points related to the Erev Rav and their relationship to B’nei Yisrael. First, the worship of the golden calf was instigated by a group of converts from Egypt known collectively as the Erev Rav. Second, rooted in the abstinence of Adam ha-Rishon after his sin in Gan Eden, the souls of the Erev Rav shared a common origin with the souls of the Jewish People. Third, by the time of the Exodus, the souls of the Jewish People had progressed further along the road of their tikkun than had the souls of the Erev Rav. Fourth, acting contrary to the desire of Hashem, Moshe Rabbeinu oversaw the conversion of the Erev Rav and brought them along with B’nei Yisrael during the Exodus. Fifth, the Zohar ha-Kadosh enumerates the five types of souls associated with the Erev Rav and explains each of their fundamental characteristics. Sixth, just before the final geulah, the souls of the Erev Rav would ascend in power and influence within the Nation of Yisrael and make life miserable for the Jews.

Before we go further, it is worthwhile to examine the words of the Vilna Gaon. Commenting on the meaning of the phrase בֵּין־פָּארָן וּבֵין־תֹּפֶל וְלָבָן וַחֲצֵרֹת וְדִי זָהָב (Between Paran and Tophel, and Lavan and Chatzarot and Di-Zahav) in the opening pasuk of Sefer Devarim, he says that these five ‘places’ are really ‘code names’ for the five types of Erev Rav (Aderet Eliyahu on Devarim 1:1:30): דע כי יש ה’ מיני ערב רב. א’ בעלי מחלוקת ובעלי לה״ר. ב’ הם הרודפים אחר התאווה כמו אחר זנות וכדומה. ג’ הם הרמאים שמראים עצמם כצדיקים ואין לבם שלם. ד’ הרודפים אחר הכבוד ובונים חרבות למו לעשות להם שם. ה’ הרודפים אחר הממון (You should know that there are five types of Erev Rav: (1) Champions of controversy [ba’alei machloket] and lashon ha-ra, (2) those who chase after lust, e.g. after sexual immorality and the like, (3) deceivers who show themselves that they are tzaddikim but their hearts are not whole, (4) those who chase after kavod and build swords (or ruins) for themselves to make a name for themselves, (5) those who chase after money. For those who wish to study further, we recommend reviewing last week’s article to see how this list, although very similar to, is not identical to the list provided in the Zohar. What does this mean? It means that the Erev Rav has evolved since the time of R’ Shimon bar Yochai and that now, the five groups are as described by the Vilna Gaon and not as described in the Zohar. (Below, we’ll see that there’s been further evolution of the Erev Rav since the time of the Vilna Gaon.)

The Vilna Gaon goes on to explain that the first group, the ba’alei machloket, are the worst of all, for they directly impede the revelation of Mashiach (Devarim 1:1:31): ואמר פארן מתחל’ כי המחלוקת נגד כולם. והם נקראי’ עמלקים ואין בן דוד בא עד שיעברו מן העולם ועליהם נאמר תמחה את זכר עמלק כמבואר בזוהר (And he [Moshe] mentioned Paran first because machloket is equivalent to all of them, and they are called Amalekim, and [Mashiach] ben David can’t come until they are removed from the world, and about them, it is said [Devarim 25:19], ‘You shall blot out the memory of Amalek’ as it is explained in the Zohar ha-Kadosh).

With that strong warning against getting involved in machloket and lashon ha-ra, let us go further, for there is a very insightful story in the Zohar (Beshalach 45b) which sheds tremendous light on the relationship between the Erev Rav and the Jews. Specifically, the story comes to explain the meaning of the word מְּרֵעִים [merei’im] in Tehillim 37:1: לְדָוִד  אַל־תִּתְחַר בַּמְּרֵעִים אַל־תְּקַנֵּא בְּעֹשֵׂי עַוְלָה (Of David, Do not compete with the merei’im; do not be jealous of those who do iniquity).

This story appears in the middle of a lengthy passage discussing the Erev Rav and the sin of the golden calf. The Tanna’im R’ Yitzchak and R’ Yehudah were walking together from Usha to Lod with a man named Yosi. Yosi was a merchant who led a caravan of camels heavily laden with merchandise. As they were going along, Yosi saw a non-Jewish woman picking herbs in a field. He left the company of his two holy companions, took her by force and raped her. Shocked by this sudden turn of events, R’ Yitzchak and R’ Yehudah wondered why Hashem had shown them this despicable act. They concluded, without yet knowing why, that Hashem did not want them associating with this individual. After they finished their journey, they looked into the matter and discovered that Yosi was the son of a non-Jewish woman, and therefore, wasn’t even Jewish. Furthermore, they discovered that Yosi’s father was conceived through some type of inappropriate union and was, therefore, himself pasul. The two Tanna’im then realized that Ha-Kadosh baruch Hu had actually saved them from him and from any potential spiritual harm that they might have incurred as a result of being with him.

They then got into a discussion about the meaning of merei’im in the verse quoted above. R’ Yitzchak held that since the pasuk didn’t use a more common word such as חטאים [sinners] or רשעים [wicked people], merei’im must mean something with a different connotation. He concluded that the word merei’im comes from רע (evil or bad) and refers to people who do evil to themselves and to those who befriend them. R’ Yehudah suggested that the word comes from מרע (friend or companion), and that David ha-Melech was warning people to stay far away from friends who do evil. In other words, don’t allow yourself to be ‘mixed’ up with so-called friends who set a terrible example, a clear allusion to the Erev Rav, i.e. the ‘mixed’ multitude. Immediately after relating this story, the Zohar resumes its commentary about the sin of the golden calf and summarizes its effects as follows: תָּא חֲזֵי אִי לָא הֲווֹ אִינּוּן עֵרֶב רַב דְּאִתְחַבְּרוּ בְּהוֹן יִשְׂרָאֵל לָא אִתְעָבִיד הַהוּא עוֹבָדָא וְלָא מִיתוּ מִיִּשְׂרָאֵל כָּל אִינּוּן דְּמִיתוּ וְלָא גָּרִים לוֹן לְיִשְׂרָאֵל כָּל מַה דְּגָרִים. וְתָּא חֲזֵי הַהוּא עוֹבָדָא וְהַהוּא חוֹבָה מַמָּשׁ גָּרִים גָּלוּתְהוֹן דְּיִשְׂרָאֵל (Come and see: if the Erev Rav had not connected themselves to Yisrael, then the incident of the golden calf would not have occurred, those who died among Yisrael would not have died, and all the [bad] things that happened to Yisrael would never have happened. Come and see: the incident of the golden calf and the sin associated with it literally caused the exile of Yisrael).

If this is the case, then how do we ‘reverse’ the process? What kind of tikkun is required in order to rectify this sin and bring about an end to galut? We need to separate ourselves from the Erev Rav. But how can we do that? Can anyone state with absolute certainty that he is not part of the Erev Rav? Or we can put it another way. Can anyone say with absolute certainty that so-and-so is definitely part of the Erev Rav? Do we stand in the place of Hashem to be so accurate with our assessments? In other words, ask yourself the following questions. Have I ever harbored thoughts or spoken words of lashon ha-ra or spoken out against talmidei chachamim? With the proliferation of the internet and its readily available obscenities, have I ever behaved in a sexually immoral way? And if I haven’t behaved in such a way, have I ever entertained such evil thoughts? Have I ever craved, even just a bit, a little personal kavod for all of the tzedakah that I have given? Have I ever tried to show myself or others that I’m a tzaddik when in reality, I’m such a terrible sinner? Have I ever, or do I currently, spend more time chasing after the illusory benefits of money than chasing after limud Torah?

Granted, those are really blunt questions. But no one needs to know your answers except yourself. We each need to assess ourselves and examine the real truth within. The truth is that these negative character traits are not foreign to us. They aren’t foreign to even the religious among us, let alone to the not-so-religious. So what does that tell us? It teaches us that the association of the Erev Rav with the Jewish People has evolved to such a point that it’s not just that they are mixed up with us, but rather, that their souls are mixed up within us! Our souls are literally combined with their souls, or perhaps it is more accurate to say that their souls have combined with our souls. (There are reasons for this which have to do with why Moshe Rabbeinu insisted on bring them out of Egypt in the first place, but that’s beyond the scope of this article.)

But at least we should now understand why R’ Nachman taught in Likutei Moharan 282: דַּע כִּי צָרִיךְ לָדוּן אֶת כָּל אָדָם לְכַף זְכוּת וַאֲפִלּוּ מִי שֶׁהוּא רָשָׁע גָּמוּר צָרִיךְ לְחַפֵּשׂ וְלִמְצֹא בּוֹ אֵיזֶה מְעַט טוֹב שֶׁבְּאוֹתוֹ הַמְּעַט אֵינוֹ רָשָׁע וְעַל יְדֵי זֶה שֶׁמּוֹצֵא בּוֹ מְעַט טוֹב וְדָן אוֹתוֹ לְכַף זְכוּת עַל־יְדֵי־זֶה מַעֲלֶה אוֹתוֹ בֶּאֱמֶת לְכַף זְכוּת וְיוּכַל לַהֲשִׁיבוֹ בִּתְשׁוּבָה (Know that it is necessary to judge everyone for merit, and even someone who is completely wicked, i.e. a rasha, it is necessary to search and find in him some little good, that in that little good he isn’t a rasha, and since you find in him the little good and you judge him for merit, through this you actually raise him to the side of merit so that he can do teshuvah). In the context of this discussion, these are incredibly powerful words. Do you see what he is saying? He’s saying that there is no such thing anymore as a Jew who has a soul that is 100% from the Erev Rav. It is completely forbidden to call any Jew a rasha anymore because even the most deplorable individual, someone whom we might be tempted to point the finger at and say, ‘For sure, he’s from the Erev Rav’, has a spark of kedushah from the soul of B’nei Yisrael who stood at Har Sinai. In other words, we have reached the point where we can no longer speak of Erev Rav people, but rather only of Erev Rav traits.

How can we be so certain that this is the correct understanding of L.M. 282? Because R’ Nachman goes on to quote the very mizmor that R’ Yitzchak and R’ Yehudah were discussing in the Zohar when they revealed that the merei’im is another name for the Erev Rav (Tehillim 37:9-10): כִּי־מְרֵעִים יִכָּרֵתוּן וְקֹוֵי יְיָ הֵמָּה יִירְשׁוּ־אָרֶץ׃ וְעוֹד מְעַט וְאֵין רָשָׁע וְהִתְבּוֹנַנְתָּ עַל־מְקוֹמוֹ וְאֵינֶנּוּ (For the merei’im will be cut off and those who hope in Hashem will inherit the land. A little longer and the rasha won’t be there, you will contemplate his place, but he won’t be there). ‘He won’t be there’ anymore because some holy, righteous Jew did what R’ Nachman taught: he searched for and found the spark of goodness within this person which gave him the merit to do teshuvah.

And just in case the reader is still a little wary of this understanding, R’ Nachman says explicitly in L.M. 36:3 that the soul of the Erev Rav is literally mixed together within us now. Discussing the importance of reciting the first two verses of the Shema, he says the following: וּכְשֶׁאָדָם מְקַבֵּל עָלָיו עֹל מַלְכוּת שָׁמַיִם בְּאֵלּוּ הַפְּסוּקִים שֶׁכּוֹלֵל אֶת נִשְׁמָתוֹ בִּשְׁנֵים עָשָׂר שִׁבְטֵי קָהּ וּמַפְרִישׁ אֶת נִשְׁמָתוֹ מִנִּשְׁמַת עֵרֶב־רַב הַבָּאִים מֵאִשָּׁה זוֹנָה שֶׁהִיא שִׁפְחָה בִּישָׁא (And when a person accepts upon himself the yoke of the kingship of Heaven with these verses, through which he encompasses his soul with the twelve tribes of Kah, he separates his soul from the soul of the Erev Rav that came from the ‘adulterous woman’, who is the ‘evil maidservant’). He repeats this idea more than once there, but to fully appreciate his teaching, we will need to write a separate article dedicated to this topic. B’li neder, in next week’s teaching we will learn why the mitzvah of Kriat Shema is so important, how it is connected to the ‘adulterous woman’, and what all of this has to do with the 130 years during which Adam ha-Rishon refrained from having intimate relations with Chavah.

In conclusion, what is the war that we must fight with the Erev Rav? It is to eradicate their negative traits from within us. That’s what it means to separate from the Erev Rav. It’s not a physical separation; it’s a spiritual one. And now we can understand the deeper meaning of Devarim 25:19 cited by the Vilna Gaon when he said that Mashiach ben David cannot come until the memory of Amalek is eradicated. Let’s read the pasuk in its entirety, for it is worth focusing on it as we approach Purim: וְהָיָה בְּהָנִיחַ יְיָ אֱלֹקֵיךָ לְךָ מִכׇּל־אֹיְבֶיךָ מִסָּבִיב בָּאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יְיָ־אֱלֹקֵיךָ נֹתֵן לְךָ נַחֲלָה לְרִשְׁתָּהּ תִּמְחֶה אֶת־זֵכֶר עֲמָלֵק מִתַּחַת הַשָּׁמָיִם לֹא תִּשְׁכָּח (And when Hashem your G-d gives you rest from all your enemies that surround the land which Hashem your G-d gives to you as an inheritance to inherit it, you must blot out the memory of Amalek from under Heaven: do not forget). We need to blot out the Amalek, the ba’al machloket, that’s within us. That’s what we must not forget.

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