Friday, June 9, 2017

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.

Sunday, May 21, 2017

Rounded numbers

Interesting article on the use of rounded numbers in the census

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%

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
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?

Thursday, May 18, 2017

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.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

Happy π Day

We wish you all a happy Pi Day, today being March 14th which, in the US anyway, is expressed as 3-14. Pi day was first observed in the year 1593. Ok, I'm just making that up (and rounding.)
Just to give this some semblance of a Torah flavour, here is our post on Pi in the Torah
In European countries where the day is written before the month, Pi Day is observed on April 31. For information on that, you would have needed to contact me this past Sunday morning at 2:30 am.
והמבין יבין.

Here are 10 ways to celebrate Pi Day, including this young chap who memorized 2,552 digits (eat your heart out, Brodsky.)

Friday, March 3, 2017

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.