The Mixed Multitude; The Motley Throng
“Come and see! It is written: 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). Who are the people? The עֵרֶב רַב (erev rav), mixed multitude [see Exodus 12:38; 32:7]. Who are the עֵרֶב רַב (erev rav), mixed multitude? Were they Lydians, Ethiopians, Cretans or Togarmans, that they are called עֵרֶב רַב (erev rav), ‘mixed multitude’? Were they not Egyptians, journeying from Egypt? If they were a mixture of many nations, it should have been written A mixed multitude ּעַלו (alu), went up, with them, corresponding to their mixture. Rather, A mixed multitude עָלָה (alah), went up, with them [written with a collective singular verb] (Exodus 12:38)—they were one nation, with one language, but consisting of all the sorcerers of Egypt and all its soothsayers, of whom is written and they too, the soothsayers of Egypt, did [thus with their spells] (Exodus 7:11), wanting to confront the wonders of the blessed Holy One. Once they saw the miracles and wonders that Moses performed in Egypt, they returned to Moses. The blessed Holy One said to Moses, ‘Do not accept them!’
Moses said, ‘Master of the Universe! Now that they have seen Your power, they want to convert. Let them see Your power every day and they will know that there is no God but You.’ And Moses accepted them [cf. BT Pesaḥim 87b]” (Zohar 2:191a, cf. ibid. 2:45b; 191a; 195a).
“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 do no offence, 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 [see M Avot 4:1]. And they are not as a motley throng [or: mixed multitude], the children of the wicked slavegirl [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)—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” (Zohar 3:229b, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).
“And since the עֵרֶב רַב (erev rav), mixed multitude [or: motley throng], are the leaven in the dough [which עַרֵב (erev), mix, with Israel] and the nations of the world are like chaff, the mixed multitude detains Israel in exile more than the idolaters do, as the rabbis taught. But what prevents us? The mixed multitude [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)…
Furthermore, when the mixed multitude 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 Masters of Mishnah have taught: When the mixed multitude are the chiefs over Israel it is as though the rule of the blessed Holy One is removed and they 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)” (Zohar 3:232a, 237b, Ra’aya Meheimna Pineḥas).