Weekly Parsha Review Laced with Humor and Sarcasm from The Oisvorfer Ruv

Bamidbar 2014 – The Count

01_bamidbar-660x489This week we begin with condolences to long time chaver and Oisvorfer follower, Leo Klein on the loss of his father, Emil Paul Klein A’H. May his mother, his sister and he be comforted with the many good memories they will always enjoy.  More on Leo below.

The Count-

Shoin: having recited chazak three times as we ended last week’s parsha, hopefully you’re all stronger and in better shape to take on Sefer Bamidbar and lommer schnel unfangin (let’s quickly begin). The emes is that you’ll need strength just to stay awake because a more boring parsha is hard to find. Every word of the heylige Toirah is avada heylige ober this parsha, not too exciting. In fact, even Rashi who comments on kimat every verse,was challenged and had little to say. He did, however, get into a huge argument with the Ramban over the census, ober chap nisht; we’ll efsher cover this later.

Let’s start with a shtikel factoid: Though we typically read parshas Bamidbar the shabbis before the great festive Yom tov of  Shovuois, this year, we’ll read both Bamidbar and the longest parsha in the gantze Toirah, Nosi, both before Shovuois. As an aside, the next time we do this will be in 21 years.  Efsher you’re wondering why sefer Bamidbar is better known as the book of Numbers. Bamidbar, literally translated, means ‘in the desert’ and taka the entire sefer is about the travails of the Yiddin during their 40 year sojourn through the midbar. The heylige Toirah will spare no detail as it recounts one foible after another; stay tuned, they’re mamish givaldig. Ober,why is that all the goyim and even many Yiddin refer to it as the Book of Numbers (Sefer Hapikudim), a book about numbers and counting?  What is taka the relationship between the two? Who gave it this name and why?

Ober the answer is quite simple: Seemingly our sages whom we lovingly refer to as Chazal, named Bamidbar Sefer Hapikudim’ (the Book of Censes) because it opens with a census of the Yiddin that was carried out in the desert  “on the first day of the second month in the second year of their coming out of the land of Mitzrayim”, and nearer to the end, another count will be ordered (parshas Pinchas). This one, in year 40 but 38 years later and just prior to their entry into the Promised Land.

A previous count was held some 6-7 months earlier and as to why the RBSO wanted the Yiddin counted, why three counts – two in such close proximity- and the differences between them, ver veyst.  SaysRashi azoy: the RBSO counted the Yiddin because He loved them. “Because they  are dear to Him, He counts them all the time. Seemingly this love fest didn’t last all that long; it  so happens that kimat all the Yiddin counted  in the first  and second counts will have died out during the 40 year midbar experience.  Back to the parsha: The RBSO ordered a count and that’s what Moishe, Aharoin and their 12 assistants did

Interestingly enough, the words of the heylige Toirah in commanding the census are quite ominous. Said the RBSO, that Moishe should “count the heads” (1:2) of all the households,  ober the Hebrew word “se-u” could also mean, “Lift the heads” or off with their heads. Why would the Toirah use such ambiguous language? It appears that’s  exactly what happened as to a great majority of them throughout Sefer Bamidbar for their less than exemplary behavior which avada the Oisvorfer will cover in great detail as we move along; boring it will not be . Also, why were they to be counted according to their households, which had never been done in the past? Says Rashi: that prior to the census each Yiddile (Jew) was required to produce a Yichusbreef (book of his/her lineage) and adds the Medrish that producing this book was also a prerequisite for each person to receive the heylige Toirah. Why is receiving the Toirah dependent upon having this book of lineage? Were there so many takers? Since when is Yichus so important? Ver veyst?

In fact, though Rashi suggests that the RBSO counted the Yiddin because He loved them, the emes is that they weren’t counted all that often and certainly not  ….”all the time…”  Says the medrish, (Tanchuma, Ki Sissa, 9 and other places): the Yiddin were only counted a total of nine times until today, and the tenth, will be the final count, when the Moshiach arrives.

Efsher you recall that way back in Parshas Pikudai, the RBSO had previously ordered a census. And why is that censusimportantand being referenced this week? It’s grada vichtig (important) because there is something fishy about the numbers. There is? Yes and lommer taka lernin; let’s see what’s bothered so many over the last few thousand years.

Nu, back in parshas Pikudei, Moishe was commanded to take a census. The count was taken before the work of the Mishkan commenced by means of the compulsory half-shekel mandatory contribution. How something mandatory is also a contribution, ver veyst.  Says the heylige Toirah (Shemois 38:25-26) the count came in at 603,550 men.  Let’s remember that number and let’s also remember that this number represents men only and only certain of them.

As an aside that was quite the impressive number given that only four generations earlier, Yaakov Ovenu arrived with either 69 or 70 people (men, women and children) to Mitzrayim. It’s efsher more impressive considering how Paroy the farbrecher (bad guy) that he was, ordered that all male Jewishbabies be thrown into the river and how he enslaved the Yiddin with such hard labor, they barely had koiach for relations with their neshei chayil (wives) Seemingly, the mirrors which the medirsh tells us the holy and conniving Jewish women used to arouse and entice their men, did the trick. Mirrors helped them perform?  Generations later, owners of motels available by the hour, if you chap, who were familiar with this medrish, followed suit and such mirrors remain in use for similar purposes ad hayoim hazeh (until today). What do mirrors have to do with the parsha? Ver veyst ober earlierthis week, the Oisvorfer paid a shiva call to chaver Leo (mentioned above) and took notice of the many covered mirrored walls; efsher he and the eishes chayil are getting ready to make a huge donation towards the laver in the next BeisHamkidash, ver veyst. And taka if you recall, following the count back in Pikudei, and just after the Mishkan was built, the RBSO ordered Moishe to allow the Yiddin to use the women’s mirrors as a reward for the mitzvah of procreation. Ober mirrorschmirror; how the Yiddin grew in number from 70 to a few million and how they stilltotaledsomewhere between 2 and 3 million after one medrishtellsus that 4/5ths  of them died before they left mitzrayim, ver veyst. Ober let’s not be concerned with trying to balance  onemedrishto another; let’s avada remember that it’s but a medrish. Who says it has to be true? Is everything you say emes? Anything?Veyter.

In any event, if you were astounded to learn that the Yiddin had taka grown to millions  and that number included the 603, 500 army ready men + women+ children, you’ll be even more amazed to learn that in this week’s count, 6-7  months later, somehow the number was mamish the same, to the man. It was? That’s what theheylige Toirah tells us and who are you to say otherwise. It’s one thing to argue with a medrish, even on an opinion in the heylige Gemora ober with the heylige Toirah? Chas v’sholom. Instead, of course, we acceptthenumber and then leave it up many others to pontificate and try to reconcile the numbers. They did not see eye to eye.

Says the heylige Toirah (Bamidbar 1:45-46) “And all counted of the Yiddin by their father’s house, from twenty years and upwards, all who went out as the army of Israel, all those who were counted were 603,550.”  Ober how can this be? It’s taka emes that six months is not a long time, but zicher it’s long enough for some to die, some to turn 20, and demographic changes; people die daily, luckily not the same ones. Is it even remotely possible that in both censes, the Yiddin numbered 603,500? Was it but one count mentioned twice?

Said Rashi seemingly quoting or paraphrasing the midrash (BamidbarRabba 1:10) azoy: they were indeed two different counts. Settled! Ober how could both produce exactly 603,500 men?And adds the Levush: the chances that incidentally it “happened to work out” that the number of those who died was precisely the same as the number of those who completed their twentieth year are extremely small. It looks epes fishy.

Ober Rashi was a genius mamish and using the Hebrew calendar came up with mamish a givaldige yet complicated answer which goes like this:

In order to be counted in the census, one was required to be of age twenty or older. According to Rashi, this did not mean that one had was 20 mamish, that he actually reached his twentieth birthday. Instead, it was required that the person would be age twenty or older that year. The first census was taken in Tishrei. Any by unts (us) Yiddin, Tishrei is the first month of the year. Many men did not reach age twenty until later in the year. Nonetheless, these men were included in this census. And the second census was taken in Iyar of the same year. By this point, additional men had reached their twentieth birthday. However, these individuals did not affect the outcome of the census. They had been counted in the original census in Tishre.So far so good.

In other words: it’s taka emes both censes were conducted in the same year. But in terms of the time elapsed since the exodus from Egypt, the censes took place in two different years. Because the exodus from Egypt is counted from Nissan, as we learn in the heylige Gemora (Rosh Ha-shono); the mishkan was built in the first year and established in the second, for a new year started on the first of Nissan. Ober for people’s ages and birthdays, counting is based on the years of the world which seemingly begin with Tishrei. Thus both censes took place in the same year: the first was in Tishrei after Yom Kippur, when the RBSO forgave the Yiddin for the Eygeland commanded them to build the mishkan, and the second took place on the first of Iyar.

The Ramban disagreed vehemently: “I am astonished: How could there be such a large congregation without there being some deaths in half a year, some hundreds and even thousands?” In other words: Rashi is dead wrong!

Ober said Rashi: during this period of about seven months no one died. Ober didn’t we learn just last week that the RBSO gave us Pesach Shayne as a make-up holiday precisely because people had died and the some Yiddin came into contact with their bones. In other words: yes people died during that time period. Take that Rashi!

Nu, the Ramban wasn’t done and said: “I have another question: A person’s years are not counted according to the years of the world, from Tishrei( as Rashi believes), but rather each according to the date of his birth. Since when do we count our birthdays based on the month of Tishrei? And say the counting instructions, ‘from twenty years and upwards’ –  they should have completed twenty whole years. And likewise in any place where the heylige Toirah counts a person’s years, they are counted from their individual dates, as we learn in theheylige Gemroa (Ayrachin8b).And that being the case, all those born between Tishrei and Iyar had meanwhile completed a year, and many new people should have been recorded in the new census.”

Nu, and how do we reconcile Rasdhi and the Ramban? And do you even care? How will knowing this information affect your shabbis? Mistama it won’t ober its avada interesting to note that  when it comesto interpreting theheylige Toirah, there are many opinions. Shoin!

Ober says the Rambanthat pshat is like this: It is more probable that this is what happened: there taka were  603,550 at the first census. And it’s also the case that many of them died during the 6-7 months until the next, as is the way of the world. And it’s also emes that many completed their twentieth year between Tishrei and Iyar. And   it so happened to work out that their number replaced exactly the number who had died.Shoin: audit complete, the numbers reconcile, all are happy and case closed. Is that what really pshat, ver veyst.

Seemingly even the Rambanwasn’t all that tzifridin(satisfied) with his answer andquickly suggested an alternative to the identical number of Yiddin in each count. The first census included sheyvet (tribe) Levi, for they had not yet been chosen and were not yet separated from the nation, ober 6-7 months later, right here in our parsha, by the time of the second count(Bamidbar 1:49), we are taught ‘But the tribe of Levi you shall not count, nor shall you number their heads among the children of Israel.’

In other words, not counting the Leveim, gave the second count a 22,000 margin of error. Others argue that theRamban’s assumption that the Leviim were included in the first census  is unsubstantiated. The Ibn Ezra (Shemois 38) explicitly disagrees, and he’s not the only one.

Secondly, we come back to the statistical question that was posed by the Levush: How could it be that the number of those who reached the age of twenty happened to work out to exactly the same number as those who died, with the addition of the number of Leviim who were not counted in the second census? The chances that after all the required addition and subtraction the numbers are exactly the same would indeed seem to be “all but impossible, unless it occurred miraculously”. Did the RBSO perfom a miracle with  the count? Were the numbers rounded? Ver veyst; efsher next year we’ll address these topics.

Ober as apublic service tohis readers the Oisvorfer went digging and found that  commentary by Prof. M.D. Cassutowho had a givaldigechiddush. It’s mamish gishmak!

According to him, a census was not a simple matter accomplished in one day, but rather took a great deal of time (see II Shmuel 24:8). We can assume that the intention of the heylige Toirah is as follows. During the first year after their exodus, when the artisans were engaged in constructing the mishkan, the first steps of the census were taken. The Yiddin appeared one by one before the designated authorities who then wrote down their names on shards and took a half-shekel from each. This money went towards the construction of the sockets in the mishkan. After these first steps towards compiling a population registry were taken, and after the month of Nisan (dedicated to celebrating the establishment of the mishkan and the holiday of Pesach) had passed, those in charge of the census (see Bamidbar 1:4ff) began to sort through the list of names and to calculate totals (on the first day of the second month of the second year). As the posiktaka  says (Bamidbar 1:2, etc.), this counting was done according to “the number of their names,” i.e. by counting the names written on the shards. Even though several months passed between the beginning of the census and its conclusion, and in the interim some of the people counted had died and others not counted had reached the age of counting, in any case the number of names counted was exactly equal to the number of half-shekels that had been collected earlier – since the counting in the second year was done by means of the names that had been collected at the same time as the half-shekels.” Chap all that? You’re a genius!

In other words: we encounter the same totals in the Shemois count and in the beginning of Bamidbar because we are talking about the same lengthy census process. It was one long count, a census designed to count “the sum of all the congregation of the Yiddin, after their families, by the houses of their fathers, by the number of their names, every male by their polls.”Such a detailed count would certainly take a long time (as they do even today (bazmanhazeh.)

And now it all mamish fits. We can now account for the identical numbers in Shemois and Bamidbar and even the disagreement between Rashi and the Rambanwithout having to assume an unlikely coincidence or a great open miracle. And mamish so gishmak, we have also have disposed of the question of why there was a need for two censes so close in time, when there was no event in the intervening time that warranted it. It was one census in two parts.

In the end what counts is a good mirror and someone to use it as intended.


A gittin Shabbis

Yitz Grossman

The Oisvorfer Ruv

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