In the end of Parshas Balak, (pasuk 25:5), Moshe passes on HaShem's command to carry out justice upon those who worshipped Ba'al Pe'or.
Rashi states that there were 88,000 "Dayanei Yisroel" and cites the gemara at the end of the first perek of Sanhedrin. However, the gemara over there clearly calculates the number of Dayanei Yisroel to be 78,6001. Of course the obvious easy way out would be to say that there is an error in our version of Rashi, which would require only the replacing of the word shemonas with the word shiv'as to get close enough to the true number. This, in fact, seems to be the version of Rashi that the Ramban had. However, whenever this is avoidable it is best not to rely on such an answer and to justify our reading of Rashi. But is it avoidable in this instance?
Perhaps, it is possible that Rashi is not referring to the actual number given in Sanhedrin but to the calculation done there. Just as when B'nei Yisroel were 603,550 the number of dayanim was 78,600 the number of dayanim based on B'nei Yisroel's current population would be around 88,000. The next step, then, is to calculate what population would require 88,000 dayanim. Being that the dayanim included judges of groups of 1000, 100, 50 and 10 the following equation is given:
|88,000||= (x/1000) + (x/100) + (x/50) + (x/10)|
(where x = total population)
|= (100x + 20x + 10x + x)/1000|
(multiplying by 1000/1000, i.e. 1)
(131 judges per 1000 citizens)
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:
|603||shoftim over a thousand|
|6,035||shoftim over a hundred|
|12,071||shoftim over fifty|
|60,355||shoftim 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)