On the roof of the Aish center looking down at the Western Wall with Chevra & Davai in 2011

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Sunday, January 29, 2012

Parsha Bo – Let’s do the math.

In verse 51 of the Torah portion, Bo, Moses leads the Jewish people out of Egypt. The Torah tells us that there were 600,000 men between the ages of 20 - 60. Presumably, there were at least that many women, plus children and the elderly. Most commentators estimate the total number of Jews that left Egypt to be roughly 3 million people.

The Torah also tells us that Jacob entered Egypt with a total of 70 people, not including the wives of Jacob’s sons. Our sages tell us that we were in Egypt a total of 210 years.

You may be thinking… wait a minute… 70 people grow to 3 million in 210 years? Well… it gets worse.

The Rabbis tell us that that there was a large portion of the Jewish people that didn’t want to leave Egypt. The great Torah commentator, Rashi, tells is that they were so assimilated into Egyptian culture that they didn’t deserve to be freed. This was one of the purposes of the 9th plague, darkness. During this plague, all of the assimilated Jews died and the other Jews buried them. G-d didn’t want the Egyptians to have the pleasure of watching Jews bury other Jews so he left them in darkness until it was complete. The Rabbis tell us that they buried 80% of the Jews during the plague of darkness. If that’s the case, then 3 million only represents 20% of the Jewish people, there were roughly 15 million Jews at the beginning of the plagues.

So, how did we grow from 70 or so to 15 million? Doesn’t seem possible. One may be tempted to think that the Torah was grossly exaggerating the number of Jews that left, but the Torah doesn’t grossly exaggerate. Let’s do the math and see what we come up with.

Jacob arrived in Egypt with 70 people.

Out of that 70, we’ll subtract him, his wives and his sons since they were done having kids. We’ll also subtract is daughters and granddaughters so we have a total of 51 grandsons of Jacob in Egypt. Rashi also tells us that the Jewish women in Egypt had “legions” of children. I don’t know how many a legion constitutes, but I’ve heard the figure 12 thrown around. Let’s assume that the average generation is 33 years.

So, by year 33 in Egypt, these 51 men had married 51 women and had a total of 612 children.

At year 66, these 612 people had 3,672 children.

Year 99 produced 22,032 children.

Year 132 produced 132,192 children.

Year 165 produced 793,152 children.

Year 198 produced 4,758,912 children.

The Jewish people left 12 years later. Assuming that the generation which left only produced 6 kids before they left, that would bring us to a figure of over 14 million people.

These are obviously estimates. It’s quite possible that some people had fewer kids, but I’m sure some people had more. Also, since people lives well past 100, several generations went out at the same time. The exact numbers aren’t so important. What is important is that the Torah is ultimate truth. If we ever reach a topic where we don’t think that mathematics or any science can coexist with what the Torah tells us, instead of casting a doubt on Torah, we should be patient and give science some time to get things right.

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