The Motley Throng
“And the people saw that Moses lagged in coming down from the mountain, (and the people assembled against Aaron and said to him, ‘Rise up, make us gods that will go before us, for this man Moses who brought us up from the land of Egypt, we do not know what happened to him [Exodus 32:1]). People denotes the motley throng [Exodus 12:38; 32:7]. And who were the motley throng? Were they Lydians, Ethiopians, or Cyprians? Were they not all Egyptians, and did they not all come from Egypt? If they had consisted of a mixture of many different nations, would not the plural ּעַלו alu, ‘they assembled against’ have been used [instead of the singular עַל al]? In fact, however, the motley throng consisted entirely of one people all the members of which spoke one language: namely, all the sorcerers of Egypt and all its magicians, as it is written, and they, too, the soothsayers of Egypt, did thus with their spells [Exodus 7:11]; for they wanted to oppose the wonderful works of the blessed Holy One. When they saw the signs and the wonders which Moses wrought in Egypt they came to Moses to be converted. Said the blessed Holy One to Moses: ‘Do not receive them’ Moses, however, replied: ‘Sovereign of the world, now that they have seen Your power they desire to accept our Torah, let them see Your power every day and they will learn that there is no God like You.’ And Moses accepted them” (Ra’aya Meheimna Ki Tissa 191a).
“And since the motley throng are the leaven in the dough [which mix with Israel] and the nations of the world are like chaff, the motley throng detains Israel in exile more than do the idol-worshipping nations, as the sages taught. But what prevents us? The motley throng [which] stick to Israel as does the leaven to the dough, but the nations of the world are no more than chaff that the wind drives away [Psalms 1:4]. And not only that, but when the motley throng were intermingled with Israel, what is written? Her adversaries have become the chief [Lamentations 1:5]. And not only that, but when the children of Israel are in exile it is said about them: What prevents [their redemption]? The yeast in the dough, for the sages of the Mishnah have taught: When the motley throng are the chiefs over Israel it is as though the rule of the blessed Holy One was removed and they had come under the rule of the jurisdiction of the stars and planets. This is why they cry out, saying, O YHWH our God, other lords besides you have had dominion over us: but by you only will we make mention of Your name [Isaiah 26:13]” (Ra’aya Meheimna).
“Israel is recognized in these qualities to be the children of the blessed Holy One and His Shekhinah; that is, that there should be among them worthy men, as in the verse: A worthy woman is her husband’s crown (but like rot in his bones a shameful wife) [Proverbs 12:4], for they are bestowed with loving-kindness, such as those who fear God. Truthful men [Exodus 18:21] - and not men of falsehood, for the remnant of Israel shall not do iniquity, nor speak lies; neither shall a deceitful tongue be found in their mouth [Zephaniah 3:13]. Haters of bribes [Exodus 18:21] - as a man who rejoices in his portion [Ethics of the Fathers 4:1]. And they are not as a motley throng, the children of the wicked bondwoman [Lilit] who are as a serpent before whom is the whole land, as it is written: and dust shall be the serpent’s food [Isaiah 65:25]. [With all this] he fears eating the dust until he is full, for he is afraid that there will not be enough for him. This is how it is with men of unjust gain, for even if they had all the money in the world, it would never be enough for them” (Ra’aya Meheimna).