Sextuplets: No Other Solution
‘A Levite Exempted An Israelite…’
A naturally-born firstborn son must be redeemed with five silver sela’im. Our daf notes that just as the Levi’im redeemed firstborn Israelites, their animals redeemed Israelite animals.
In Parshas Bamidbar, we read about the very first formal redeeming of firstborn children, which took place in the desert. Moshe stood each firstborn next to a Levi and said, “This Levi redeemed you.”
Male Levi’im, one month old and older, totaled 22,000, and the firstborn of Bnei Yisrael numbered 22,273. The 273 firstborn males who were not redeemed by a Levi were redeemed with five silver sela’im.
Hashem’s Servants Below The Pale??
The commentators note the interesting numbers in this story. The Ramban points out that the smallest tribe (other than Levi) numbered 32,200 (Bamidbar 1:35) and asks: How could the blessed tribe of Levi have numbered 10,000 less than that? He answers that, unlike the rest of Bnei Yisrael who multiplied miraculously during their enslavement (the Midrash says mothers had six children at a time), the tribe of Levi, which learned Torah and was never enslaved, multiplied naturally.
The Maskil and the Statistics
Rabbi Zalman Sorotzkin, zt”l, recounted a fascinating discussion a maskil had with his father-in-law, Rabbi Eliezer Gordon zt”l, rosh yeshiva of Telz. The maskil said he believed the words of the Torah, but rejected Chazal’s statement that every woman in Egypt bore sextuplets.
How, then, did the Jews increase from a population of 70 to a population of approximately two million 200 years later? Many Egyptians must have joined the Jewish people, he concluded, proud of his own solution.
Fifty-Three Children in a Family
“Since you speak about statistics,” replied Rabbi Gordon, “we’ll answer in kind. You declared that you believe the statistics appearing in the Torah. Statistics teach us that firstborn boys constitute about a tenth of a people’s population. Thus, 10 percent of Bnei Yisrael‘s population should have been male firstborns, or 200,000 people.
“Yet, the Torah gives us a number of only 22,273 (excluding the firstborn of Levi)! In other words: one firstborn for every 53 children! Clearly, then, the Jewish people multiplied miraculously and your assumption, that the Jewish people also comprised Egyptians, is unfounded. They bore sextuplets: there is no other solution” (see Emes LeYaakov by Rabbi Yaakov Kamenetsky, zt”l, who arrived at the same conclusion; Tevunah, Nisan 5710; Oznayim LaTorah, Shemos 1:7; and Masas Hamelech, Bamidbar).