“The Tachash that lived in the time of Moses was a unique species. The Sages could not determine whether it was domesticated or wild. It only appeared at that time for Moses, who used it for the Tabernacle. Then it vanished.” (Shabbat 28b)
What is the significance of this unique animal? What was its special connection to Moses, that it made its appearance only during his lifetime? And why did Moses incorporate the colorful Tachash in the Tabernacle, albeit only for its outermost covering?
Mixed Blessings from Mixed Multitudes
In Aramaic, the Tachash is called Sasgona, for it was proud (sas) of its many vivid colors (gona). According to Rav Kook, the multihued Tachash is a metaphor, representing Moses’ desire to include as many talents and gifts as possible when building the Jewish people – even talents that, on their own, might have a negative influence upon the people. The metaphor of the Tachash specifically relates to Moses’ decision to allow the Erev Rav – “mixed multitudes” from other nations – join the Israelites as they left Egypt.
The Erev Rav were the source of much grief. They instigated the Sin of the Golden Calf and other rebellions against God in the wilderness. And their descendants throughout the generations continued to bring troubles upon Israel. Nevertheless, at the End of Days, all the troubles these difficult and diverse forces caused will be revealed as having been for the best, as the absorption of the Erev Rav served to enrich the Jewish people.
One disturbing aspect of the Erev Rav is the phenomenon of many dynamic forces abandoning the Jewish nation during its long exile among the nations. Yet this is not a true loss, since only that which was foreign to the inner spirit of Israel is cast off. These lost elements of the Erev Rav were ultimately incompatible with Knesset Yisrael, the national soul of Israel; thus they were unable to withstand the pressures and hardships of exile. It saddens us to lose that which we thought was part of Israel, but in fact, they were never truly assimilated within the nation’s soul.
This outcome benefits the world at large. As these ‘fallen leaves’ join the other nations, they bring with them much of what they absorbed from the holiness of Israel. As a result, other peoples have become more receptive to Israel’s spiritual message.
Could the Tachash be Domesticated?
The Sages were in doubt as to the ultimate fate of the multi-talented Erev Rav. Would they be truly absorbed within Israel, enriching the people and remaining forever a part of it? Or would they only serve as a positive influence on the world, outside the camp of Israel?
The Sages expressed this uncertainty by questioning whether the Tachash was a domestic creature. A wild animal cannot be trained and will not permanently join man’s home. It can only be guided indirectly. A domesticated animal, on the other hand, is completely subservient to man and is an integral part of his household. Would the Erev Ravultimately be rejected, like wild animals which can never be truly at home with humanity? Or would they be domesticated and incorporated into the house of Israel?
Moses and the Tachash
Just as the Tachash only made its appearance in Moses’ time, so too, this absorption of foreign talents was only possible in Moses’ generation. No other generation could have taken it upon itself to accept alien forces into the nation. Once the contribution of the Erev Rav to Israel is complete, the nation’s spiritual restoration requires that they will be purged from the Jewish people. “I will purge your dross… and then you will be called the city of righteousness, faithful city” (Isaiah 1: 25-26).
We usually avoid destructive forces which may delay and hinder the ultimate good. However, a far-reaching vision can detect the underlying purpose of all human activity, as all actions ultimately fulfill the Divine Will. The great hour of Exodus resonated with the highest vision; the first redemption of Israel initiated the historical process that will culminate with the final redemption. Moses, the master prophet, “the most faithful of all My house,” saw fit to include those varied forces that ordinarily would be rejected. And yet, like the skins of the Tachash, they were only suitable for the most external covering.
“The new heavens and the new earth which I will make are standing before Me.” (Isaiah 66:22)
All of the wonderful forces of the future – “the new heavens and the new earth” – are not really new. They already exist. Even now, they are “standing before Me.” By accepting the Erev Rav, Moses planted these diverse gifts within the Jewish people. Like seeds, they decay in the ground; but ultimately they will sprout and bring forth new life. The brilliant future light, with all of its spectacular colors and breadth, is not new; it was secreted away long ago. This resplendent light is hidden, like the multi-hued Tachash, until the time will come for it to be revealed once more.
(Sapphire from the Land of Israel. Adapted from Ein Eyah vol. III, pp. 105-107)