Project Genesis

Numbers in Wilderness — all to the tenth?

Question: Why are there no odd numbers in the Torah’s counting ( 637….2349…. ) of the Jewish people in the Torah Portion of Bamidbar, only round numbers ?

Answer: This question is very interesting. I’ve wondered about it for a long time. The numbers of the tribes are all even multiples of ten, both here and in the Torah Portion of Pinchas. Indeed, all but one (in both places) are multiples of one hundred. So too are the numbers of the Levite sub-tribes given later in the Torah portion.What is fascinating: Israel was commanded to redeem the firstborns against the Levites. The number of firstborns was counted down to the last one: 22,273. And to see how many need to be redeemed independently (by paying 5 shekels) – the Torah subtracts the two numbers! It’s hard to see how you can do that unless both counts are exact.

But if the numbers are indeed exact, it’s like a very weird kind of miracle – so many numbers should just happen to be exact multiples of ten or a hundred like this.

One more point that might help us: When the Torah talks about redeeming the firstborns, the word “b’chor” – firstborn – is always singular, and the Levites are always in the plural. Go and see; once you look for it it’s really striking. A paradigm shift was taking place. The individual service of a family’s firstborn was replaced by the communal service of the tribe of Levi. In that new setup, groups of ten and a hundred became the unit of counting. Only they, and not other individual Levites that might have been, could be used for the redemption.

I would assume that the same is true for the counts of Israel. They were in units of tens and hundreds, for practical purposes (army) and on a spiritual level as well.

There’s lots more to talk about on this subject. But this answer is quite long enough already.

Best wishes,
Michoel Reach

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