Drash Cards for Bo (5779)
by Marc Mangel
• I want to discuss one verse that the we read today and one that will come up in BaMidbar, and which interlock, taking advantage of the wonderful new translation of the Bible by Robert Alter.
• I will read the verses from the Rebbe’s Chumash first alone and second with Rashi and interpolated.
• This week’s verse with no interpolation. Ch 12, v 38: Moreover, a mixed multitude went up with them, as well as flocks and cattle – a great deal of livestock.
• With interpolation: Moreover, a mixed multitude of people from other nations asked Moses if they could join the ranks of Israelites. Moses did not consult with God but accepted them on his own authority, reasoning that it would be good for them to be attached to God’s presence. This multitude went up with them, as well as flocks and cattle – a great deal of livestock.
• This ‘mixed multitude’ gets a pretty bad rap from Rashi. He says that they inspire the Israelites to build the Golden calf (arguing that what happened in Egypt was the result of the battle of constellations in which Taurus defeated Ares).
• Then in BaMidbar, Ch11, v4, let’s see what happens. Without interpolation: The mixed multitude had begun to have strong cravings. The Israelites too were affected and began to cry “Who will feed us meat?”
• Without interpolation: The mixed multitude among the Israelites had begun to have strong cravings for their former way of life. The Israelites too were affected by their behavior and began to cry with them. Even though they had taken many animals with them from Egypt and therefore had plenty of meat, they all said “Who will feed us meat?” for they were seeking a pretext to avoid the challenges of their new way of life.
• Now the mixed multitude is explicitly held responsible for inspiring the Israelites to complain about the lack of meat.
• Who are this mixed multitude? The Hebrew words that we focus on are “Erav rav”. Nahum Sarna translates it as ‘mixed multitude’ and writes “Varied other groups of forced laborers seem to have taken advantage of the confused situation and fled the country with the Israelites”. He notes that Ibn Ezra identified them with the riffraff in BaMidbar Ch 11.
• Now let’s turn to Alter. He translates ‘Arav rav’ as ‘motley throng’, noting that ‘mixed multitude’ comes from the King James version of the Bible. He suggests that it should be one word ‘Eravrav’ and that combining syllables like this is a way in Hebrew of making perjoratives. He writes: “The English ‘riffraff’ comes close. And in fact, in BaMidbar 11:4 a similar kind of construction occurs – one word AsafSuf, which Alter translates as ‘riffraff’, as does Jacob Milgram. (In the Rebbe’s chumash it remains the mixed multitude.)
• With the golden calf, the role of the motley throng is inferred by commentators, but with the meat episode in BaMidbar they are squarely blamed.
• What do these subtleties of grammar have to do with us? Plenty
• The Torah is not shy about human frailty. In Bereshit and Shmot thus far we have had lying, siblicide, murder, rape, incest, to name a few. Today’s parsha is another instance of the Torah reminding us of the dangers that arise with human frailty: The Exodus was for the Israelites and the motley throng managed to sneak out with them. But when the Israelites misbehave, what happens is that the weaker, motley group gets the blame.
• This is the story of the Jews in the galut: when something goes wrong in the non-Jewish society, the Jews – a weaker group – gets the blame.
• This is the relevance to us, and what the Torah warns us about: The in-group blaming the weaker out-group. And it continues to this day.