Friday, August 4, 2017

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 gematrias 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 rules of gematrias 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 Yisroel will commit grave sins. And HaShem vows that Bnei Yisroel 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 Yisroel had dwelled in Eretz Yisroel 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 Yisroel entered Eretz Yisroel 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.

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.

Friday, July 21, 2017

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.

Friday, July 14, 2017

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 the12 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 Yisroel. 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
(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 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:

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.


Friday, July 7, 2017

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:

= (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

= 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
276(12x23 small Sanhedrin for each tribe)
72(12x6 Nesi'im for each tribe)

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, 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%