Wednesday, July 21, 2021

Moshe's pleas


At the beginning of this week's parsha, Moshe mentions that he pleaded with HaShem to allow him to enter Eretz Yisroel but to no avail. The sefer M’galeh Amukos says that Moshe Rabbeinu davened 515 times - the gematria of Vaeschanan. R' Yehonasan Eybeschutz, in Divrei Yehonasan, is curious to discover how such a tally is reached.

He offers the following possibility: The Midrash states that Moshe Rabeinu started davening on 15 Av. As the gemara (Bava Basra 121a) explains, it was on this day that it was realized that the punishment for the sin of the spies was complete and no more men would die in the midbar. He saw that that decree had been fulfilled and had a glimmer of hope that perhaps, since he had been spared from the decree, he was in a position to plead for Divine Mercy. (This would explain why he never engaged in such extensive prayer on Aharon's behalf as Aharon died prior to 15 Av.)

There are 6 months from Elul to Shevat. We may assume that it was a normal year, whose months alternate between 29 and 30 days throughout. So those full months would total 177 days (3x30 + 3x29). Add the 16 days of Av that Moshe davened and the 7 days of Adar until he dies and we have 200 days. Of those 200 days, 28 are Shabbosos on which it is not permissible to make personal requests. That leaves 172 days. Considering Shacharis, Mincha and Maariv and we now have 172x3 = 516 tefilos. Only off by 1. However, the nation only discovered in the morning of the 15th of Av that the dying has stopped. Therefore, Moshe would have missed the Maariv from the night before and only begun davening at Shacharis. And there you have exactly 515 tefilos!

The Tur writes that on Yom Kippur one is permitted to make personal requests, but on Rosh HaShanah, Sukkos, or Shmini Atzeres it is forbidden. We would then have to subtract three more days of prayer. However, we are taught that Moshe Rabbeinu died on Shabbos. If that is the case, then Rosh HaShanah, Sukkos, and Shmini Atzeres of that year all fell on Shabbos as well. So we need not subtract for them and we are safe with our tally of 515!

Special thanks go out to R' Ari Storch for providing me with the material for this shtikle.

Gematrias off by 1

One of the favourite, and often entertaining forms of drashos is the gematria, finding a significance in the numerical value of a word or group of words. The Steipler Rav devoted the back of his sefer, ברכת פרץ, to gematrios on the parsha that can blow the mind. These aren't simply one word equaling another. Time after time he will find a phrase in the Torah having equal numerical value to the phrase that Rashi uses to explain it. One of the well known rules of gematrios is that it is allowed to be off by one. What the deeper reason is for this, I do not know. However, in the הקדמה to the לקט יושר, a fascinating proof to this concept is brought from the gemara, in the name of the תרומת הדשן. It is not only pertinent to this week's parsha, it is also connected to Tisha B'Av which we  recently commemorated, hopefully for the last time.

The reading for the morning, taken from this week's parsha, begins (4:25) "When you have children and grandchildren, and you dwell long in the land..." the pasuk goes on to explain that Bnei Yisrael will commit grave sins. And HaShem vows that Bnei Yisrael will subsequently be wiped out. The gemara (Gittin 88a and Sanhedrin 38a) learns from a pasuk in Daniel 9:14 "HaShem hastened the calamity and brought it upon us, for HaShem our God is just in all His deeds..." Is it because HaShem is just in all His deeds that he brought calamity upon us? The gemara explains that if Bnei Yisrael had dwelled in Eretz Yisrael for the numerical value of the word "venoshantem" (and you will dwell long), 852, then HaShem would have had to fulfill "avod toveidun," you shall surely perish. However, from the time that Bnei Yisrael entered Eretz Yisrael until they were exiled was only 850 years. HaShem graciously exiled us early so that we would not be doomed to being wiped out. The question is, if HaShem was being so gracious, why didn't He at least wait one more year? It must be, therefore, that 851 would have been considered equivalent to 852 and HaShem therefore had to exile us two years before. From here we see that a gematria may be off by one.

Sunday, July 4, 2021

Splitting up the Animals

Some time after the victorious military campaign against Midyan, ל"א:כ"ה-מ"ז, all of the booty - humans and animals - is counted and divided in two. One half is designated for the soldiers who fought the war and the other half is for the rest of בני ישראל. Of the half that went to the soldiers, one out of 500 was to be given to אלעזר. Of the half that went to the rest of the nation, one out of 50 was given to the לויים.

There are a number of puzzling nuances in this chapter. First the totals of the sheep, cattle, donkeys and humans are tallied. Then the halves to the soldiers are counted as well as אלעזר's portion. The halves to the rest of the nation, although exactly the same as the halves to the soldiers are counted. It is recounted that משה distributed the portion for the לויים but no count is given. Lastly, אלעזר's portion is said to be "from the humans, from the cattle, from the donkeys and from the sheep." The same phrase is repeated with regards to the portion of the לויים but the words מכל הבהמה, from all of the animals, is added.

נצי"ב, in העמק דבר, suggests that מכל הבהמה includes other species of animals that were brought back that were fewer in number. Since they were fewer than 1000, there would not have been enough to give אלעזר even one. Therefore, this phrase is left out of the command of אלעזר's portion and these animals' numbers are not significant enough for the תורה to recount.

A fascinating approach is offered in the name of ר' שלמה הכהן מווילנא. Elazar's portion is referred to in פסוק כ"ט as a 'תרומה לה. One of the laws of תרומה is that one may not separate from one species as תרומה for another. Therefore, אלעזר's portion was required to be one out of every 500 of each animal. However, this was not a requirement with the portion of the לויים and it was sufficient to give them 1/50 of all the animals combined. That is the meaning of מכל הבהמה. The לויים were given 1/50 of all the animals. And that is why the תורה does not go into any detail concerning the division for it was not exact.

The Probability of the Goral


In pasuk 26:54, the Torah explains how the land was divided amongst the tribes. Rashi explains exactly how the lots were picked to determine each tribe's portion.

Even though the portions were Divinely predetermined, a lot-drawing process was used to assign each tribe their portion. Rashi explains that one drum was filled with 24 pieces of paper. On 12 pieces of paper were written the names of the 12 tribes. On the other 12 were written the 12 portions that were to be assigned to the tribes. Each Nasi approached the drum and picked out two pieces of paper. One paper had the name of his tribe written on it and the other the prescribed portion of land in Eretz Yisrael. The purpose of this exercise was to prove the Divinity of division plan that allotted each tribe its portion and appease any tribe who felt it might be unfair. As such, I believe that a miracle of this type may be more greatly appreciated if we knew exactly how unlikely it would have been to happen naturally.

Suppose we had a prescribed list of which portion was to be assigned to which tribe. What would be the odds of each Nasi picking out both the name of his tribe and also the corresponding piece of land that had already been prescribed? Let us start with the first Nasi. He has 24 pieces of paper to choose from. He must pick two specific pieces of paper out of the drum. The odds of taking the first one correctly would be 1/24 and then the odds of taking the second correctly would be 1/23. However, since the two papers were taken together, the order does not matter. The rules of probability theory state that if the order of the choices is not relevant, than the odds must be multiplied by the number of possible sequences which, in this case, is two. So the odds of the first Nasi picking the right pieces is 2/(24 x 23). With 22 pieces of paper remaining, the odds of the second Nasi picking correctly will be 2/(22 x 21). And so on. The last Nasi's odds will be 2/(2 x 1) which is 1. That means that he will definitely pick the right ones. That is understandable. By the rules of probability theory, in order to find the odds of all the Nesiim picking correctly, we must multiply each Nasi's odds together. Thus, the odds may be generalized as
212
(24 x 23 x 22 x 21...x 2 x 1)

24 x 23 x 22 x 21....x 2 x 1 is referred to as 24 factorial and expressed as 24! Thus the final expression is 212/24!. When all is totalled, the odds of the draw falling out exactly as planned without any Divine intervention would have been one in 151,476,000,000,000,000,000.

This calculation is based on Rashi's explanation in the chumash according to the Midrash Tanchuma. However, Rashi (actually written by Rashbam, Rashi's grandson,) in the gemara (Bava Basra 122a) states clearly that two drums were used. This will alter the calculation somewhat. The first Nasi would have a 1/12 chance of picking his tribe's name from the tribe drum and a 1/12 chance of picking the correct portion from the portion drum. The fact that the order does not matter will not affect the odds in this case because the choices are made from two separate groups. The odds for both drums are multiplied and thus, the first Nasi's odds will be 1/122. The odds of the second Nasi will be 1/112. And so on. The total odds will be:

1
122 x 112 x 102 x 92 x 82 x 72 x 62 x 52 x 42 x 32 x 22 x 12


This can, in fact, be simplified as 1/12!2. The final odds will be one in 229,442,532,802,560,000. This is approximately 660 times more probable than the odds according to Rashi on the chumash.


Just to get an idea of the extent of this improbability, the odds of winning the Powerball Jackpot are approximately one in 175 million. That is over 1.3 billion times more likely to happen than this, according to Rashi on the gemara, and over 860 billion times more likely according to Rashi on the chumash. The odds of getting fatally hit by lightning in a given year are approximately 1 in 2.4 million. In fact, it is more likely for one to win the Powerball twice in one week or get fatally hit by lightning two-and-a-half times in one year than for the goral's results to have been produced naturally. This is a veritable testimony to the extent of the miracle that occurred and the Divinity of the apportioning of Eretz Yisroel to the twelve tribes.

תשע"ד: A similar drawing came up this week in דף יומי on :תענית כ"ז regarding the גורל used to determine the order of the משמרות in the בית שני. According to רש"י's understanding, there was a similar miracle at play. The probability associated with that drawing is discussed here.

1

Friday, June 25, 2021

Counting the Judges


In the end of Parshas Balak, (pasuk 25:5), Moshe passes on HaShem's command to carry out justice upon those who worshipped Ba'al Pe'or.

Rashi states that there were 88,000 "Dayanei Yisroel" and cites the gemara at the end of the first perek of Sanhedrin. However, the gemara over there clearly calculates the number of Dayanei Yisroel to be 78,6001. Of course the obvious easy way out would be to say that there is an error in our version of Rashi, which would require only the replacing of the word shemonas with the word shiv'as to get close enough to the true number. This, in fact, seems to be the version of Rashi that the Ramban had. However, whenever this is avoidable it is best not to rely on such an answer and to justify our reading of Rashi. But is it avoidable in this instance?

Perhaps, it is possible that Rashi is not referring to the actual number given in Sanhedrin but to the calculation done there. Just as when B'nei Yisroel were 603,550 the number of dayanim was 78,600 the number of dayanim based on B'nei Yisroel's current population would be around 88,000. The next step, then, is to calculate what population would require 88,000 dayanim. Being that the dayanim included judges of groups of 1000, 100, 50 and 10 the following equation is given:
88,000

= (x/1000) + (x/100) + (x/50) + (x/10)
(where x = total population)
= (100x + 20x + 10x + x)/1000
(multiplying by 1000/1000, i.e. 1)
= 131x/1000
(131 judges per 1000 citizens)
x= 88,000,000/131
x

= 671,755
(rounded down)


A population of close to 672,000 is needed to necessitate 88,000 dayanim. This is an odd number since none of the recorded censuses rendered a number anywhere near this. But as clearly shown in the very Rashi in question, there was to be a large population decrease before B'nei Yisroel would reach the figure of 601,730 given in Pinchas. To justify this figure of 671,755 we must account for 70,000 lost lives. The only definite casualty count we are given is the 24,000 who perished in the plague following the worship of Ba'al Pe'or. That still leaves 46,00 lives unaccounted for. Starting from Beha'aloscha there were a number of catastrophic incidents recorded in which many fell from B'nei B'nei Yisroel. However, many of these may not be considered in this particular calculation. If B'nei Yisroel did in fact reach a population as large as we are suggesting then it must have happened gradually from the time of the census in Bemidbar to the time that they began their decline to the figure given in Pinchas. Therefore, since the individual plagues from Beha'aloscha to Korach were still in the second year and, for the most part, immediately after the census in Bemidbar we may not consider them in the decline of the population toward the figure of 601,730.


We are left, then, with only three incidents to consider. The first is the episode following the death of Aharon when B'nei Yisroel began to return toward Mitzrayim and B'nei Levi ran after them (see Rashi 26:13). The Yerushalmi records that only eight (or seven, see Rashi and the Yerushalmi inside) families were wiped out from Yisroel in that incident. This would seem to represent a significant loss but perhaps not 46,000.


The second is the episode with the snakes (Bemidbar 21) where, as recorded in the Mishna (Rosh HaShanah 29a), those who were bitten and did not have appropriate kavana when shown the copper snake perished. Here, too, there is no significant loss recorded but only that proper kavana was required for the snake to cure you. Before the cure, however, the pasuk states (pasuk 6) that a great multitude perished from Yisroel. We are not given any further information, though, on the number of casualties2.


Finally, there is the plague of Ba'al Pe'or. That leads into a discussion as to what in fact transpired besides the loss of 24,000 in the plague. From the fact that the Torah refers to a magefa, it is doubtful that this refers to those killed by the shoftim. So how many people did the shoftim kill? The Ramban (on this pasuk) quotes a Yerushalmi, the simple reading of which implies that each shofet killed two men as commanded by Moshe. This would render well over 150,000 casualties. Ramban, however, concludes that the figure given by the Yerushalmi is just referring to how many would have been killed had Moshe's command been carried out but in the end the shoftim never had a chance to do so and they didn't kill a soul. Perhaps it is possible to take this idea of the Ramban that the shoftim were interrupted before having a chance to complete their mission, but to suggest that they had already begun to carry it out when they were interrupted. With or without such a supposition, one could suggest that in some way, these three incidents combined for a grand total of 46,000 fatalities. The other 24,000 died in the magefa. Now we have accounted for all 70,000 lives and all the figures work out.


Nevertheless, it is doubtful that Rashi actually wrote 88,000 and had this convoluted calculation in mind. Rather, it is more reasonable to assume that this version of Rashi is a mistake and that he originally wrote 78,000, particularly because the Ramban had such a reading of Rashi. However, I am not the first to try and justify the figure of 88,000. The Margaliyos HaYam on the gemara in Sanhedrin cites the sefer Techeles Mordechai who offers a calculation based on a population of 603,550:

603shoftim over a thousand
6,035shoftim over a hundred
12,071shoftim over fifty
60,355shoftim over ten
70zekeinim
276(12x23 small Sanhedrin for each tribe)
72(12x6 Nesi'im for each tribe)
8,580Levi'im
=88,002

There are a number of details involved in this figure that may be questionable. Firstly, we have previously determined that before the sin of Ba'al Pe'or the population was at least 625,000. Also, there is no source that indicates that all these different parties were included in the term "Dayanei Yisroel." The gemara in Sanhedrin certainly did not include them. Then Rashi's comment on this pasuk would have absolutely nothing to do with the gemara and from the text of Rashi it seems that Rashi himself cited the gemara in Sanhedrin. So, the conclusion remains that the proper reading of Rashi is most likely 78,000 rather than 88,000.


1Although it is not the subject of this piece, it is interesting to note the various discussions concerning the calculation in Sanhedrin. The Yad Ramah and one opinion in Tosafos state that the shoftim were all over 60 and were not part of the general population. Another opinion in Tosafos states that the shoftim of 50 were taken from the shoftim of ten, the shoftim of 100 were taken from the shoftim of 50, etc. This, however, is not in accordance with the Yerushalmi quoted here by the Ramban. See also Margaliyos HaYam who raises a number of interesting questions regarding the figure given there. It bothered me, though, that the calculation is based on 600,000 not 603,550 which would render a different total.
2The Zohar in Parshas Balak cites an opinion that this pasuk is referring to Tzelafchad alone for he was the leader of his tribe (Source: Ta'ma D'Kra, R' Chaim Kunyevsky)

Friday, May 28, 2021

Piles of Quail

In this week's parsha, we have the episode of the quail that fell outside of the camp. The pasuk (11:32) recounts that the one who gathered the least gathered 10 mounds of quail. The GR”A has a fascinating calculation to figure out how this number was reached. It is assumed that the one who gathered the most would have been the one whose tent was at the outskirts of the camp because the quail fell outside the camp. The one who gathered the least would be the one whose tent was the furthest inside the camp. The gemara (Berachos 54b) tells us that the camp was 3 parsa by 3 parsa. Therefore, someone who lived on the very inside of the camp would have to walk three parsa in order to get a pile of quail, one and a half there and one and a half back. The gemara (Pesachim 93b) also tells us that a regular man can walk 10 parsaos in a day (not including the night). According to the pesukim, the quail was collected for a day, a night and a day, a total of one and a half days. This would give the average man enough time to walk 30 parsaos - ten the first day, ten during the night, and ten again the next day. This would allow one who lived in the centre of the camp to travel back and forth ten times. That is how the pasuk arrived at this number.

Thursday, May 13, 2021

No Population Increase

I was discussing the census numbers with someone one שבת. An interesting question was posed regarding the lack of an increase in population over the different censuses that were taken throughout the years in the מדבר. This question is really better suited for פרשת פינחס which takes place towards the end of their journey with still no increase. 

One obvious question is that there should have been many children born over the course of the first 20 years in the מדבר who would be counted by the last census. I've heard some answers to that question which I'd rather not go into at this juncture. The less obvious but more difficult issue is the children that came out of מצרים. As we've pointed out in a previous post, the first born made up approximately 4% of the population which means each family was exceedingly large. It would probably be a gross understatement to suggest that each family consisted of at least 10 male children. Let's even go so far as to say 5, to take into account children who were already counted in the original census. Even though the original 600,000 included a number of different generations it still seems that by all accounts, there should have already been millions of male children not counted in the first census. So where did all these millions go?

Tens and Ones

In Biblical Hebrew, numbers containing both tens and ones are usually written with the ones first, followed by the tens. To cite one of many examples in Bemidbar, the census figure for Reuven is 46,500, written in pasuk 1:21 as "ששה וארבעים אלף וחמש מאות", literally "six and forty thousand and five hundred", in contrast to the usual English way of speaking, which would be "forty-six thousand".

The first question is, why is this the case.

Furthermore, I noticed something this week that I don't recall ever noticing before: In one instance in the parasha, this style is violated. Pasuk 2:9 gives the total of the Eastern Camp, including the tribes of Yehuda, Yissachar, and Zevulun. The number is 186,400, written as follows:


כָּל-הַפְּקֻדִים לְמַחֲנֵה יְהוּדָה, מְאַת אֶלֶף וּשְׁמֹנִים אֶלֶף
וְשֵׁשֶׁת-אֲלָפִים
וְאַרְבַּע-מֵאוֹת--לְצִבְאֹתָם; רִאשֹׁנָה, יִסָּעוּ.


"... a hundred thousand and eighty thousand and six thousand and four hundred ..."

This is a clear departure from the usual style, which would have been "ששה ושמנים אלף", "six and eighty thousand". I am not aware of any other such departure from the usual style. Any ideas why this is?

Rounded numbers

An interesting article on the use of rounded numbers in the census:
This article was originally found at the following location:
http://www.biu.ac.il/JH/Parasha/eng/bamidbar/mer.html
However, with Bar Ilan's rearranged site, I was unable to locate it. So I rescued the text from the web archive:

Parashat Bemidbar 5759/1999

The Census of the Israelites in the Wilderness

Prof. Eli Merzbach

Department of Mathematics and Computer Science

Several censuses of the Israelites are mentioned in the Torah. It is interesting that almost all the numbers listed in these censuses appear to be round numbers, i.e., without units and even mostly without tens. Of course this can be ascribed to miracle or viewed as an inexplicable random occurrence (as some have tried to do). The great commentators have rejected interpretations of this kind on the simple grounds that there are no miracles that do not have significance or purpose.

Another question arises when we consider all the censuses that appear in Numbers: why does the Torah have to relay the subtotals both for the various tribes and also according to their banners? Nine sums appear in Numbers, each and every one of them accurate; but what did the Torah wish to say by relaying these sums? On this question Nahmanides wrote (Num. 1:45):

Scriptures had to say what the total was after giving the detailed figures because Moses and Aaron were commanded to know the census of the entire people and the census of each tribe, for that is the way of kings when counting the people. But the reason underlying this commandment--why the Lord commanded it--escapes me. I do not know why they had to know the number; why were they commanded to know it?

Here are the detailed figures and the totals of the censuses recorded in the Torah:

Numbers 1 Numbers 2 Numbers 26

(on the Plains of Moab)

Reuben 46,500 43,730

Simeon 59,300 151,450 22,000

Gad 45,650 40,500

Judah 74,600 76,500

Issachar 54,400 186,400 64,300

Zebulun 57,400 60,500

Ephraim 40,500 32,500

Manasseh 32,200 108,100 52,700

Benjamin 35,400 45,600

Dan 62,700 64,400

Asher 41,500 157,600 53,400

Naphtali 53,400 45,400

Total 603,550 603,550 601,730

Census of the Levites Numbers 3 Numbers 4

(1 month and up) (age 30 and up)

Gershon 7,500 2,630

Kohath 8,600 2,750

Merari 6,200 3,200

Total Levites 22,300 8,580

These are all the census figures given in the Torah (with the exception of the enumeration of first-borns, whose number is very small in comparison to these figures).

In the literature of the rishonim, or early commentators, I did not find any direct attempt to deal with the two questions which I raised (why the figures are rounded, and what use there is in the totals or sums). Aharonim, or later commentators, however, struggled with these questions. In Meshekh Hokhmah Rabbi Meir Simha ha-Cohen of Dvinsk addressed the first issue as follows (Num. 3:16):

Perhaps Scripture says regarding the number of Israelites, "You ... shall record them by their groups, from the age of twenty years up, all those in Israel who are able to bear arms" (1:3), because they were counted not in units, but only by tens. Therefore, none of the numbers has units, because each head of Israelites gave his number of men, and they were heads of tens. Every small number was rounded, and fewer than ten did not have a head over them alone. Therefore it says "by their groups," for no camp has fewer than ten, as explained in the Jerusalem Talmud, at the end of the first chapter of Eruvin.

Regarding the number of Levites, from age one month up--Moses entered the Tent and a divine voice called out and said, "Thus and so many babes," also not counting by individuals, for the count was "as he was bidden" regarding the number of Israelites [no less than ten]. But this was not the case with the list of first-borns, where each individual was reckoned.

According to this commentary, the smallest unit counted consisted of ten (heads of tens), and therefore only groups up to ten were counted and numbers smaller than that were rounded down. This explanation only accounts for part of the difficulty, since almost all the numbers are rounded to hundreds, not tens. Indeed, Rabbi Aharon David Goldberg relates to this question in his book, Shirat David (Num. 26):

Above, in Parshat Bemidbar (1:25) we cited Imrei Noam to the effect that the reason "units and tens" were not mentioned in the counting, and each tribe was reckoned in hundreds except for the tribe of Gad (45,650), is that Scripture is not strict about the few. There we explained that the reason must be that the Torah completed the counting to the nearest hundred, and that one should not interpret that it rounded to the nearest ten, for if so how does one explain the improbable fact that no tribe had a number ending in tens save for the tribe of Gad? As for the tribe of Gad not being rounded to a hundred, that is because their number came exactly to fifty, and it was not possible to round it to a hundred since it falls just in between.

But our explanation is problematic, since here in chapter 26, all the numbers are rounded out to the nearest hundred save for Reuben (43,730) ending with thirty. Clearly in the reckoning here the Torah did not complete to the nearest hundred. If so, it is wondrous how they all ended with hundreds save for one; so this must be studied further.

At least a partial resolution of the problem is provided in Emet le-Ya'akov, written by Rabbi Jacob Kaminetsky:

In my humble opinion, the counting was done by the chieftains of fifties, since we see in Parshat Jethro that the leaders were divided into heads of tens, heads of fifties, heads of hundreds, and heads of thousands, and apparently the army was divided into heads of fifties. Likewise, we see in the beginning of II Kings (1:9-10) that there were captains of fifty with their fifty men. It was by these captains that the Israelites were counted, and hence there were either complete hundreds or fifties. Except that this theory encounters a problem in Parshat Pinehas (26:7), where the tribe of Reuben totals forty-three thousand, seven hundred and thirty. Possibly the Torah subtracted those of Korah's followers who were swallowed in the earth from the rounded-out fifty, and since their number was twenty that left exactly thirty, and this accounts for the exact number in 26:7, but nevertheless the matter needs more thought.

In my opinion both questions can be answered by relying on the following general rules that pertain to fairly large numbers (certainly to numbers greater than 5,000).

1) When the number obtained was in tens (with no units), then it was registered as is and the Torah did not round it.

2) When the number obtained was not in complete tens, it was rounded to the nearest hundred.

There is a simple logic to these rules: if you round a number that ends in units, then it is rounded to hundreds (the error being less than a hundredth), but a number that ends in tens is left as is. It should be noted that the simple notion which we understand of rounding numbers to the nearest hundred was totally foreign to science until the end of the Middle Ages. Otto Neugebauer, in "The Astronomy of Maimonides and its source," HUCA 22 [1949], p. 340, notes that also ancient astronomers who were expert in complicated computations and who regularly used rounding did not generally round to the nearest whole number. Rounding was generally done downwards, unless the number was very close to the larger number (e.g., greater than 0.75). Neugebauer stresses that Maimonides in his astronomic computations to determine when the new moon occurs rounded to the closest integer and that this was a major innovation in comparison with his predecessors such as Ptolemy or even Al-Battani.

Now let us return to the census in the Torah. As we have said, the numbers were rounded according to the two rules I mentioned above. If we look at the figures in the Torah, this is patently clear. In each of the two censuses of the Israelites in the wilderness, 11 out of 12 figures are multiples of hundreds, whereas one (in the first census the tribe of Gad, and in the second census the tribe of Reuben), is a multiple of ten. The probability of any number ending in zero but not being a multiple of one hundred is 9/100, therefore if one takes any 12 numbers, the expectancy of such a number appearing is equal to 12 x 9/100 = 1.08. In other words, on the average, out of 12 nu, one will be a multiple of ten (but not of a hundred). Moreover, if we compute the different probabilities (according to binomial distribution), it turns out that the greatest probability is obtained when exactly one out of twelve numbers has this form. The probability of this equals 12 x (1-9/100)11 x 9/100, and all the other probabilities are smaller.

Examining both censuses together also yields the same results: out of 24 figures, the average number of occurrences of the specifically desired form is close to 2, and the maximal probability is obtained when k=2, which is indeed what happened.

As for the censuses of the Levites, similar results can be obtained, but with a small number of figures (there being only three families) no statistical analysis can be made.

The rules that we used enable us to answer the question about the sums. Now it is clear why the Torah had to write down the total sums of Israelites in both censuses. Since all the numbers were rounded, one could have had a situation where the grand total obtained would be far off from the actual number in the census. In theory, for the census of the Israelites the deviation could be as great as 588 people. For example, if the number of people counted in each tribe ended in 49, then the numbers would be rounded down to the nearest hundred, so that after totalling all twelve tribes one would have a figure smaller by 588 (actually by 600, after rounding) than the actual census count. Of course this is a rather extreme example, and actually there is a mathematical theorem stating that as the number of figures being summed increases, the deviations resulting from rounding are more likely to offset one another. Actually that is precisely what happened with the census of the Israelites. All the deviations, both upwards and downwards, counterbalanced so that the sum matched the total census taken (of course, to the nearest 50), and therefore it was very important that all these figures and sums be reported in the Torah.

Prepared for Internet Publication by the Center for IT & IS Staff at Bar-Ilan University.

Discrepency in לוי's Population

One of the points of interest concerning the census is the discrepancy between the population of the tribe of Levi as compared to all other tribes. The tally of the tribe of Levi was 22300, almost 10000 short of the lowest tally amongst the other tribes, Menasheh's 32200. But the Leviim were counted from one month old whereas the rest of the nation was counted from 20 years old so their numbers are even more unusually low.

Ramba"n notes this point and offers two explanations: 1) B'nei Yisroel's dramatic increase in population was a result of the subjugation in Mitzrayim. As the pasuk (Shemos 1:12) "But the more they afflicted them, the more they multiplied and the more they spread abroad." Since, as we know, the tribe of Levi was not subjected to the same hardships as the rest of the nation, they did not multiply at the same rate. 2) When Yaakov Avinu expressed his anger with Shimon and Levi over the incident in Shechem, Levi was cursed with being less in number than his brothers.

Ohr HaChayim HaKadosh takes issue with both of these offerings from Ramba"n. First, he argues that B'nei Yisroel's miraculous rate of reproduction was not a result of the subjugation. The pasuk stating, (Shemos 1:7) "And the children of Israel were fruitful, and increased abundantly, and multiplied, and waxed exceeding mighty; and the land was filled with them," comes before any mention of slavery. As far as Ramba"n's second suggestion, Ohr HaChayim cites a census in Divrei HaYamim in which the tribe of Levi was great in number, implying that there was no such curse on Levi.

Ohr HaChayim and Klei Yekar offer an alternative suggestion. The gemara (Sotah 12a) recounts that when Par'oah issued his evil decree on all Israelite males, Amram divorced Yocheved and everyone else followed suit. Although Amram eventually did take Yocheved back, this move had a drastic effect on population growth, and most drastically on his own tribe, Levi. Over 80 years later this was reflected in the census.

R' Sander Goldberg (Baltimore) in Nachal Chayim, shows mathematically how Ramba"n's first answer does not seem to work. B'nei Yisroel totalled 603,550 of which 22,273 were first born. That would mean the first born made up less than 4% of the population. But the first born were also counted from one month. It can be assumed that the total population of B'nei Yisroel counting from one month would be far greater than 603,550. As there is only one first born per family, that means the families had an average size of over 30. This is impossible under natural circumstances and is therefore a testimony to the statement of Chaza"l that the Israelite women would give birth to six babies at a time

When we observe the tribe of Levi we find similar numbers. The population of Levi was 22300 of which 300 were first born. That amounts to even smaller percentage of first born and thus, an even larger average family size! Clearly, when the tribe of Levi multiplied, they did so at a similar if not greater rate than the rest of the nation.