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.

Explaining the Uncounted לויים

This week’s parsha makes it perfectly why this book is commonly referred to in English as Numbers. After counting all of B’nei Yisrael, Moshe is instructed to conduct a ceremonial swap of first-born for Levi’im, a procedure signifying the consecration of the the descendants of Levi as the performers of the service of HaShem, a position previously held by the first-born. First, Moshe counts up all of the Levi’im and the Torah (3:39) reports a total of 22000. The first-born are subsequently counted and their total is 22273. The procedure for the extra 273 does not concern us for now. What is of importance is the point made by Rashi on the tally of the Levi’im. If you add up the figures that the Torah gives us – 7500 for Gershon, 8600 for Kehas and 6200 for Merari – you get a total of 22300!! That would have avoided the need for a special procedure for the extra 273. However, Rashi tells us, based on the gemara (Bechoros 5a) that those 300 extra Levi’im were first-born themselves and therefore, they redeemed themselves, so to speak, and could not be used to redeem other first-born.

Ibn Ezra quotes a complicated calculation from Yehudah HaParsi (whom I believe was a Kaarite,) which he then proceeds to take apart. This is how I, with the help of a friend and the sefer Be’er Yitzchok, understood the give and take in the Ibn Ezra:

Yehudah HaParsi attempts to show how Chazal’s “assumption” that the 300 uncounted Levi’im were in fact first-born is a mathematically sound one. The proposed number of first-born of the Levi’im, three hundred, is approximately 1/73 the size of the general Levite population of 22000. The first-born among the rest of B’nei Yisroel, 22273, were 1/27 the size of the general population. The proportions seem way off at first glance. However, there is one catch. The general population was counted from 20 years old and up. But the first-born were counted from one month and up. Of the Levi’im, however, both the general population and the first-born were counted from one month.

Yehudah HaParsi proposes the following adjustment: Beginning at the end of this week’s parsha and spilling over into next week’s, the Levi’im of the age of service are counted. The total given (4:48) is 8580. Subtracting the 300 first-born, we are left with 8280. The Levi’im of the age of service therefore make up a mere 38% of the total Levite population (8280/22000=0.38). If we were to take only that percentage of the first-born of the rest of B’nei Yisroel, there would be only 8383 first-born of the age of service ((8280/22000)*22273=8383). This is remarkably 1/73 of the general population of B’nei Yisroel which was initially tallied based on service age, an astonishingly accurate correlation with the Levite figure of 1/73. This is truly a brilliant calculation.

However, Ibn Ezra didn’t think so. He strikes down the entire calculation with one very simple fact that I deliberately avoided exposing until now. The age of service for the Levi’im was from 30 to 50. The counting of B’nei Yisroel began at 20 years old without any upper bound. Thus, there is no rationale for comparing the two figures. [There are other mathematical flaws as well. It is foolish to subtract all 300 first-born Levi’im from 8580. Either the first-born should be subtracted proportionately (117) or the 8580 should simply be divided by 22300, ultimately resulting in 1/71 as the proportion of regular first-born.] Rather than trying to come up for some “proof” for the validity of the words of Chazal, we must accept them as truth with full faith that that is what was passed on to them.

What are the odds?

Since this week's parsha deals at length with first-borns, I thought I'd share a rather interesting family fact:

I have an aunt and uncle who have six children (בלי עין הרע) and every single one of those children made a פדיון הבן!

I once tried to calculate the odds of that happening. To calculate the odds of anyone making a פדיון הבן there are a number of factors that must be calculated. We can try to approximate:
  1. Let's assume that the child themselves is a ישראל, otherwise it's a non-starter. So we need to know the odds of their spouse not being a Levite (80% based on my snooping of our shul's membership database.)
  2. The first fetus has to be male (let's just say 50%)
  3. The baby must be delivered and not miscarried (let's use 90%)
  4. The baby must be born without a Cesarean (again, 90%)
So the odds of anyone making a פדיון הבן are only about 32%. The odds of going 6-for-6 are a mere 0.12%
WOW!

Friday, May 7, 2021

Ironic Observation

Well, I guess it's more an observation of irony. We are rapidly approaching ספר במדבר which is known as the book of Numbers. And for good reason. But it is interesting to note that we find numbers and counting as a recurring theme in the פרשיות leading up to במדבר. First, we cover ספירת העומר in אמור. Actually, we already began dealing with counting at the end of מצורע with the הלכות of זב and זבה. Then, בהר begins with the counting for שמיטה and יובל. The ensuing הלכות all involve calculations based on the proximity to יובל. We end of ספר ויקרא discussing the laws of ערכין which involve considerable calculation as well as a brief mention of מעשר which also involves numbers.

Friday, April 2, 2021

Omer Counting in Different Bases

My father-in-law showed me a ספר that discusses whether or not you can fulfill your obligation to count the עומר using other base systems besides decimal. This a good case where the question is far more interesting than the answer. Surely, one should not do that. However, it was a very interesting concept I had never thought of before. So, I added a widget on the blog's sidebar which will display the day of the Omer in various relevant bases.

On the insistence of reader Pi (that's his shorter name), I have added base 7 as well as a pick-your-own-base section.
Here is the excerpt from the ספר.

Friday, February 19, 2021

עמודי החצר

In the end of Parshas Terumah, (pesukim 27:9-19), the Torah describes the beams that held up the curtain that surrounded the courtyard of the Mishkan. Pasuk 10 discusses the beams on the southern side of the courtyard:




In Rashi's seemingly innocent comment on the pasuk, there is a grave arithmetic difficulty which is the subject of much discussion amongst the commentators on Rashi. If there are five amos between each beam and 20 beams, that would provide only 19 spaces of five amos. That would yield only 95 of the 100 amos that the pasuk tells us make up the length of the courtyard. Of course, the first notion is that the space does not include the width of the beams. Therefore, there may have been 95 amos of space and five amos of beams to complete the 100 amos. This is in fact the suggestion of the Riva, in the name of his rebbe and is also the opinion of the Abarbanel. The 20 beams on the north and south sides added up to five amos on either side. This would make each beam one quarter amah (1½ tefachim). This interpretation would avoid all our problems from the outset. However, R' Eliyahu Mizrachi takes issue with this interpretation on two accounts. Firstly, he sees no reason why there should be such a large difference between the thickness of the beams of the courtyard and that of the planks of the Mishkan itself (nine tefachim). His second objection is that within the beams themselves you would have some of different thickness than others. On the east and west sides, there are only 10 beams needed to make up five amos. (The nine spaces between the ten beams make up 45 of the 50 amos width of the courtyard.) Therefore, each beam would be three tefachim, twice the width of those on the north and south sides. The lack of symmetry involved in this understanding of Rashi causes the Mizrachi to disregard it and give his own interpretation.

Firstly, the Mizrachi suggests that the five amos referred to by Rashi are not five amos of space but rather five amos from the beginning of one beam to the beginning of the next.. This view is generally accepted amongst all those who deal with this problem with the obvious exception of the aforementioned Riva and Abarbanel. In pasuk 18, the Mizrachi infers from Rashi that the beams were one amah thick. Therefore, the actual space between each beam would be four amos and the thickness of the beam would complete the five amos. However, we have now only accounted for 95 amos. Therefore, the Mizrachi suggests that the north and south sides actually had 21 beams and the east and west had 11 but that the seemingly extra beam on each side belonged to the set of of beams of the side perpendicular to it. For instance, 21 beams were placed on the southern side of the courtyard. The beam in the southwest corner, though, was officially part of the western side. So, too, the beam in the northwest corner was not counted as part of the western beams but as part of the northern beams and so on. See illustration. With this arrangement another space of five amos is added to complete the 100 amos referred to in the pasuk.

In pasuk 18, the Mizrachi suggests that the 100 amah measurement of the courtyard was in fact a measurement from within the beams and the one amah taken up by the beams is not included. This reasoning was given in order to justify Rashi's calculation of 20 amos distance between the Mishkan and the curtains of the courtyard on the north, south and west sides. The Gur Aryeh objects to this with the claim that the pesukim (9,11,12,13) clearly state that the curtains were exactly 100 amos long on the north and south sides and 50 amos long on the east and west sides. But according to the Mizrachi's interpretation, the outer perimeter of the courtyard would be 102 amos by 52 amos. He offers a defence for the Mizrachi that perhaps the only purpose of the curtains was to cover up the open spaces and they did not need to cover the corners (as illustrated on page 3). However, in his own opinion, the Gur Aryeh suggests that the 100 amah measurement is in fact referring to the outer perimeter of the courtyard. He then was required to justify Rashi's measurement in pasuk 18 in a different manner.

The Levush HaOrah, another commentator on Rashi is unhappy with both the Mizrachi and the Gur Aryeh's explanations of Rashi in regards to the placement of the beams. From the fact that Rashi mentions the measurement of five amos between each beam more than just once, he infers that Rashi meant for this to be consistent throughout the entire perimeter of the courtyard. According to the Mizrachi the length of the north side, for instance, was really 102 amos and according to the Gur Aryeh it was 100. However, if you add up 21 beams each of one amah thickness and 20 spaces of four amos each, we are given 101 amos. So, too, on the east and west sides we would end up with 51 amos instead of 50 or 52. He concludes that the only way for the Mizrachi's figures to work out would be to say that one space on each of the four sides was actually one amah bigger. For the Gur Aryeh's figure to work one space would have to be one amah smaller. The Levush does not accept that such a lack of symmetry was present in the building of the Mishkan and offers a rather unique arrangement of the beams. Each of the beams were circular on the bottom for one amah and were inserted into circular holes in the copper sockets that held the beams in place. The beam itself was a semi-cylinder whose diameter was one amah. On each of the corners was placed a quarter-cylinder beam so that the curtain could wrap around it. See illustration. The thickness of this beam was only one half amah on either side. This removes one half amah one either end of each side of the courtyard. With this arrangement, the spaces between all of the beams were all four amos wide without any exception and the perimeter of the courtyard was exactly 100 amos by 50 amos as stated in the pesukim. Amongst all the interpretations mentioned thus far, this is by far the most symmetric and arithmetically accurate.

Finally, the sefer Ma'ase Choshev offers another possible arrangement of the beams which matches that of the Levush's in symmetry and arithmetic correctness. He suggests that there were no beams in the corners. The curtains were suspended from wooden bars. On these bars were placed the hooks that were used to hang the curtains from the beams. Each of these bars was five amos long. The north and south sides had twenty such bars and the east and west sides had ten. These wooden bars would allowed the curtains to change direction at the corners without the need to wrap it around a beam. See illustration. Once again the figure of five amosrefers to the distance from the beginning of one beam to the beginning of the next. With this arrangement the thickness of the beams becomes irrelevant. All of the figures mentioned in the pesukim work out perfectly as well. One advantage of this arrangement over that of the Levush's is that all of the beams are the exact same shape.(The illustration assumes the beams to be one amah thick.)

The arrangement of the Ma'ase Choshev is the one quoted in the seforim Meleches HaMishkan and Tavnis HaMishkan (etc.). The sefer Lifshuto Shel Rashi, however, is content with the opinion of the Riva and the Abarbanel. Whatever the true arrangement of the beams was, it is clear that when Rashi said that there were five amos between each beam, he had some logical calculation in mind. The only question that remains is "Which?".



On a Related Topic

The Mishkan was covered by three layers of material(*). The first covering described by the Torah (26:1-6) was made of twisted linen, turquoise, purple and scarlet wool. The covering was made up of 10 panels of 4x28 amos2. This yields a total area of 40x28 amos2. The Mishkan was 30x10 amos2. The beams that made up the walls of the Mishkan were 1 amah thick. Thus, the Mishkan required 32x12 amos2 of roofing.

The beams were 10 amos tall. The covering was 28 amos wide and 12 amos covered the roof of the Mishkan. That leaves 16 amos for the two sides which is 8 amos on each side. So the wool/linen would reach two amos from the ground. There is a dispute as to whether or not the front beams were covered. We will go with the opinion of the gemara (Shabbos 98b) that they were uncovered as Rashi (26:5) notes that the pesukim seem to indicate as such. Therefore, 31 amos of the covering's width provided roofing, leaving 9 amos to hang from the back. The second covering was a covering of goat hair. This covering was wider and longer than the wool/linen layer and covered it fully on all sides.

Rashi (26:13) notes that the Torah teaches us a lesson that one should show compassion for valuable objects. The twisted linen and assorted wools were very precious and thus, as Rabbeinu Bachya explains, it was made not to drag on the ground so that it would not be soiled by dirt and rain and was protected fully by the goat hair. This lesson is easily understood considering the measurements mentioned thus far. However, there is one simple question to be asked. What about the corners? As the accompanying diagram shows, if a piece of material hangs only 8 amos off one side and 9 amos off the other, simple Pythagorean geometry dictates that the corners will hang down more than 12 amos! (This effect is well demonstrated by the corners of a rectangular tablecloth hanging from the table.)This is hardly an efficient way to care for valuables.

This problem seems far too obvious to have been overlooked by Chazal in teaching us this lesson. However, finding the answer was not easy. But finally, an answer was found in R' Chaim Kunyevsky's elucidation of Braisa diMleches haMishkan. There he asks exactly this question. He answers that the corners of the coverings were folded against the back of the Mishkan as illustrated. The Ritv"a (Shabbos 98b) apparently provides the same answer in the name of Braisa diMleches haMishkan but our versions show no evidence of any such discussion. One of the books on the Mishkan actually show such an arrangement but there is no discussion as to any source or reason for it.





*This and a number of other facts discussed on this page are actually subject to a large-scale dispute between R' Yehudah and R' Nechemiah. For our purposes, all figures are according to R' Yehudah.

Wednesday, February 3, 2021

טומאה under a beam

In the משנה יומית, we recently encountered a משנה I had long been awaiting. Just as a background, טומאה which is inside of a room will generally make anything else in the room טמא. In order for the טומאה to spread, however, it needs to be inside a space which is at least a cubic טפח. So, the משנה אהלות י"ב:ז discusses how big a cylindrical beam would have to be in order to be certain that there is a cubic טפח underneath it. The משנה gives the figure of a 24 טפח circumference. Let us explore the math behind this:

The key to figuring this out is actually simple geometric fact mentioned in the .גמרא סוכה ח
כל אמתא בריבועא אמתא ותרי חומשא באלכסונא
An isosceles, right-angle triangle whose two sides are a טפח will have a diagonal of 1.4 טפחים. Or, more simply, if you draw a line from one corner of a 1x1 טפח square to the other, the length will be 1.4 טפחים. This is actually a simple (and rounded) version of the Pythagorean Theorem. The square of the hypotenuse is equal to the sum of the squares of the other two sides. 12+12=2 so the hypotenuse should be 2 which is more like 1.414. Let's be as precise as we can for this.


Above you will find a rough sketch of the problem we are trying to solve. We are going to solve for the radius of the beam. So in order for the space to be a cubic טפח, the diagonal has to be 2 טפח. If we draw a line from the centre of the beam to the corner of the square which surrounds the beam we can form a triangle which I have highlighted in faint green. It is a right-angle triangle where the two sides are of length x and the hypotenuse would be x+√ 2. But using our rule from סוכה (and Pythagoras) we know that the length of the hypotenuse can also be expressed as √ 2x. Therefore, we have
2x = √ 2 + x
2x - x = √ 2
(√ 2 - 1)x = 2
x = 2 / (√ 2 - 1)
x ≈ 3.41
Double that to get the diameter and multiply by π to get the circumference
c ≈ 21.45 טפחים
Now we know that the תלמוד does not necessarily use 100% precise figures. The aforementioned גמרא in סוכה clearly uses a round figure of 3 for π. But how would the משנה have come to a figure of 24 for this calculation?

רע"ב explains: A circumference of 24 means a diameter of 8 (when using the talmudic π of 3) If the sides of the large square above are 8, the diagonal, from one corner of that square to the other, which includes the diameter and two cubes, would be 8 * 1 2/5. Basically, that's 16/5 extra, 8/5 diagonal on either side. But for a טפח x טפח cube, we were looking for a diagonal of just 7/5. רע"ב explains that משנה was not concerned with the minuscule margin of the extra 1/5. The troubling issue is that if you go through all those calculations with a circumference of 21, a diameter of 7, you get exactly 7/5 on the dot! I saw explained according to one source that since a beam would likely be sunken into the ground slightly, the משנה did not want to give the exact measurement which would end up being overly stringent.

To be continued...