Shabbat Bemidbar 5783
It may well be that the only reason I got into the college program of my choice was because of the phenomenon of “rounding up.” Though my grades may have come up a few percentage points short of the score I needed, I suspect my teachers gave me a boost. Having been a teacher myself, I know how frustrating a grade of 79 can be to a student. To quote the great defender of America, Maxwell Smart, “missed it by that much.”
That should make the numbers we find in Parshat Bemidbar, at the beginning of the Book of Numbers, pretty remarkable. The census of the 12 tribes who will contribute to Israel’s standing (marching?) army is 603,550. That’s a fairly round number, as is the final count for each tribe. In fact, for 11 of the 12 tribes, the final tally is a round number to the hundreds; only the tribe of Gad has a unit, a crooked number, in the tens column. And the census of the Levites is no different; even each family within the tribe is a round number.
How is that possible? The statistical probability of that result is, by my raw estimates, one in a gazillion, which I might add is a very large round number. It’s also a rather imprecise way of counting the Israelites, whose devotion to God was to be expressed through the performance of notably precise commandments.
With these numbers in mind, on Shabbat morning we will consider when rounding up is appropriate and when we should aim for precision in our Jewish lives.
Wishing you a Shabbat Shalom,
Rabbi David Wise
Candle lighting: 7:51 PM
Torah Reading: Numbers 1:1-4:20
Haftarah: I Samuel 20:18-42