(2014/5774)

One of Moshe Rabbeinu’s last orders to Bnei Yisrael before he died was the pronouncement of blessings and curses that would take place on Har Gerizim and Har Eival upon their arrival to Eretz Yisrael. In addition to explaining the procedure that would take place, Moshe expounded the specific division of the Jews onto Har Gerizim and Har Eival. However, the division of the Jews seems to be completely random. Moshe does not divide the tribes in a simple manner, such as commanding the first six tribes to go onto Har Gerizim and the last six tribes to go onto Har Eival. Rather, he commands the tribes of Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef, and Binyamin to ascend Har Gerizim, and he commands the other Shevatim to ascend Har Eival (Devarim 27:12). Moshe also commands the Levi’im to stand in between the two mountains and speak to all of Bnei Yisrael (27:14).

In addition to the apparent randomness of the division of the tribes, it is ambiguous as to what the Levi’im should do—should they ascend Har Gerizim (27:12) or should they stand in between the mountains (27:14)?

In the Gemara (Sotah 37a), Rabi Yoshiyah explains that the Levi’im who were “fit to serve” should stand in between the two mountains, and the remaining Levi’im would ascend Har Gerizim. Rashi (s.v. HaRa’uy LeShareit) explains that any member of Shevet Levi between the ages of thirty and fifty who was able to carry the Aron was considered fit to serve. The Maharsha (s.v. Kol HaRa’uy LeShareit LeMatah) agrees with Rashi that “fit to serve” means those who were able to lift the Aron, but he explains that those who could lift the Aron were those Levi’im who were descendants of Kehat.

In BeMidbar Perek 4, during the census of Sheivet Levi, we are told that the total amount of male Levi’im over the age of one month is 22,300, and we are also told that the total amount of male Levi’im between the ages of thirty and fifty is 8,580, which is approximately 38.48% of the Levi’im. Therefore, according to Rashi, approximately 38.48% of the Levi’im would stand in between the two mountains, and the remaining Levi’im (61.52% of them) would ascend Har Gerizim. In a later census (26:62), we are told that Sheivet Levi had a total of 23,000 males. Assuming that the percentage of Levi’im that were between the ages of thirty and fifty stayed the same, this would mean that during the ceremony on Har Gerizim and Har Eival, 8,850 Levi’im (38.48% of 23,000) stood between the two mountains, and the remaining 14,150 Levi’im (61.52% of 23,000) ascended Har Gerizim. In addition to the amount of Levi’im on Har Gerizim, we are told the amount of people in the other Shevatim (26:14-51). If we combine those totals with the 14,150 Levi’im that would ascend Har Gerizim, we conclude that there were a total of 307,950 people who ascended Har Gerizim and 307,930 people who ascended Har Eival. According to this division, 50.001623% of the Jews ascended Har Gerizim and 49.998376% of the Jews ascended Har Eival. Out of the total 462 possible ways to divide the Shevatim, this is by far the most even division.

According to the Maharsha, the Levi’im who would stand between the mountains would be those of Bnei Kehat. According to the census in BeMidbar Perek 3, Bnei Kehat were a total of 8,600 people, and Sheivet Levi was 22,300 people. This means that approximately 38.57% of Shevet Levi was Bnei Kehat. In the later census in BeMidbar Perek 26, we are told that there were 23,000 Levi’im, and if we assume that the percentage of Sheivet Levi which was from Beni Kehat remained the same, then the 8,871 Levi’im of Bnei Kehat stood in between the two mountains, and the remaining 14,129 Levi’im ascended Har Gerizim. If we combine this total with the amount of people in the other Shevatim, we conclude that there were a total of 307,929 people on Har Gerizim and 307,930 people on Har Eival.

According to both Rashi’s interpretation and especially the Maharsha’s interpretation, we see that the amount of people on Har Gerizim and Har Eival is nearly the same. One can even argue that the numbers we are told in the censuses are rounded and therefore the amount of people on Har Gerizim and Har Eival might be exactly the same. Therefore, it is impossible that the division of the Shevatim onto the two mountains could be random.

Rambam (Hilchot Teshuvah 3:4) explains that during Rosh HaShannah, each and every person should view himself as if he is balancing between the Sefer HaChayim and the Sefer HaMavet, and every action can tip the scale either way. In addition, we know that the actions of one Jew can make a positive or negative impact on the Jewish nation as a whole. Therefore, it is possible that Moshe divided up the Jews evenly to give a visual to the Jewish people that every individual’s actions could sway the fortune of the Jewish people, either for the good (Har Gerizim) or for the bad (Har Eival). This is an important message for us to always keep in mind. We must realize that our actions could impact more than just ourselves. Hopefully, we will all keep this in mind and tip the scale for the Jewish people in the right direction.