By: William J Jackson
This week we read Torah portion 36, also known as Behaalotecha which means “when you step up”. We have an interesting group introduced after Israel leaves Sinai. They are called “The Rabble” or in other interpretations “The Mixed Multitude”. This ungrateful gathering of malcontents seem not to be satisfied with the manna that HaShem has provided. Although manna is not as exciting as steak dinners, by accounts, manna doesn’t appear to be all that bad (Numbers 11:7-9). This, however, doesn’t prevent this entitled bunch from wanting the finer things for their pallets. So, who is this group of critics causing so much discontent in camp and heartache for Moses?
Many sources connect this group with the mixed multitude that left Egypt with the Israelites in Exodus 12:38. This is understandable because the Complete Jewish Bible (CJB) refers to both groups as a “mixed crowd” and the New Living Translation (NLT) refers to both of them as “rabble”. Because of the same use in words other sources take liberties in connecting these groups. The Zohar, which is Jewish mysticism (Kabbalah) says that this “Mixed Multitude” was a gathering of non-Hebrew converts that would never become part of Israel (2). Other references take it a step further and has this group being the chief influence that seduces Israel into sin (3). A lot of blame is placed on this supposedly non-Jewish group. Lets refer to the Jewish language, Hebrew, to determine who they are.
In Numbers 11:4 This group is called “asaphsuph” which does means rabble but this is the only time this word is used in Tanakh. Whereas the group in Exodus 12:38 is called “rāḇ – ‘ê·reḇ” which is abundant mixed company. This group of non-Hebrew leaving Egypt in Exodus could have been the other slaves and/or Gers. Remember, the 10 plagues would have convinced many who lived in Egypt that YHVH was the one and only Elohim, (G-d). This certainly would have inspired a following, especially since Egypt was now destitute.
As we know a rabble is a large group of loud people who could become violent (4). It is possible that some of these non-Israelites leaving Egypt might have been “asaphsuph” (rabble). We also know that it does not necessarily mean that the rabble were not Israelites. These could have been both foreigners and Israelites prone to complaining. Proof of this is that Israel was very capable of complaining without being inspired by other people (Exodus 16:8, Numbers 11:1, 14:27, 29, 36, 17:6, 20, Deuteronomy 1:27). But, what if the Zohar is right and these are the non-Israelites not inheriting the covenant? Let’s turn to Moses for our answer. As we look forward about 40 years after this event with the rabble, Moses is reviewing the covenant before going into the promise land in Deuteronomy 29. He is addressing both Foreigner and Jew in Deuteronomy 29:8-14 giving both the promise.
So although it’s easy on the surface to blame Israel’s gripping on external sources they are human just like their Patriarchs. And let us not forget the one thing about the Patriarchs that make them beautiful is that they were flawed, just like me and you, yet they worked through these challenges and developed through the Father, Hashem. I believe the “rabble” in Numbers 11:4 is not about our excuse to blame others for our problems but our appreciation for all the things (manna) our Creator does for us.