Monday, June 20, 2016

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, June 9, 2016

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%
WOW!

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?

Monday, April 25, 2016

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.

Sunday, March 20, 2016

10,000 Kikars

Someone just sent me a brilliant piece explaining a very difficult תוספות regarding the 10,000 ככר of silver which המן gave for the extermination of the Jews. Check it out!


Monday, March 14, 2016

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.)