The Division on Har Gerizim and Har Eival

Eileh ya’amdu l’varech es ha’am al Har Gerizim (27:12)

In Parashas Ki Savo we read that Moshe told the Jewish people that when they entered the Land of Israel, they should recommit themselves to mitzvah observance. In addition to writing the entire Torah on 12 large stones and bringing offerings, Moshe commanded them to ascend two large mountains in order to confirm their commitment and dedication to the Torah. Specifically, he said that the members of the tribes of Shimon, Levi, Yehudah, Yissachar, Yosef and Binyomin should stand on Mount Gerizim for the delivering of the blessings, while the tribes of Reuven, Gad, Asher, Zevulun, Dan and Naftoli should assemble on Mount Eival for the pronouncement and acceptance of the curses.

The Gemara (Sotah, 37a) raises a difficulty with this understanding of Moshe’s instructions, as when the time came to actually carry them out, the passuk in sefer Yehoshua (8:33) states clearly that the Kohanim and Leviim were down below with the Aron in the valley between the two mountains. How can this be reconciled with the straightforward reading of the passuk in the Torah which requires the tribe of Levi to be up on Mount Gerizim, not down in the valley?

The Gemara presents three resolutions to this apparent contradiction, one of which is that those Kohanim and Leviim who were fit for Divine service remained below in the valley with the Aron, while those who were not fit ascended the mountain in fulfillment of Moshe’s instructions. In his commentary to the Gemara, Rashi understands the Gemara’s criterion of “fit for service” as referring to those who were eligible to carry the Aron, namely those who were between the ages of 30 and 50. The Maharsha, on the other hand, maintains that it refers to the descendants of Levi’s son Kehas, who were placed in charge of the Aron (Bamidbar 4:1-20).

As there are no coincidences in the Torah, the commentators discuss the deeper significance of the division of the tribes in the manner prescribed by Moshe. In an article in Tradition magazine, Rabbi Michael Broyde and Steven Weiner point out that from a purely mathematical perspective, there is a very straightforward and elegant explanation for splitting up the tribes in this way.

There is a total of 462 different possible ways to divide 12 objects into two groups of six. Using the most recent census data in the Torah (Bamidbar 26:2-65) and the Gemara’s aforementioned explanation of the division of the tribe of Levi, an examination of each of the 462 possible ways of splitting up the tribes reveals that the division ordained by Moshe is the most equitable of them all, meaning that this arrangement minimizes the difference in population between the two mountains better than any other possible division. This is the case according to the interpretations of the Gemara’s expression “fit for service” given by both Rashi and the Maharsha. Moreover, according to the Maharsha, the number of Jews on Mount Gerizim was 307,929, and the number of Jews on Mount Eival was 307,930, a difference of only one.

 

Q: The Gemara (Bava Kamma, 92a) teaches that the rich brought their bikkurim to the Temple in baskets made of gold and silver, while the poor placed their fruits in reed baskets made from willow branches. The Kohanim gave back the expensive baskets to the wealthy, while keeping those brought by the poor. Since the rich farmers could much more easily afford to part with their baskets than the poor, wouldn’t it have made more sense to do just the opposite?

 

A: Harav Aharon Bakst explains that although financial considerations would dictate keeping the baskets of the rich, there were also psychological factors to be weighed. The baskets of the wealthy were filled with fruits numerous in both quantity and quality, while those of the poor contained a few meager fruits. If the Kohanim removed the fruits from the baskets of the poor and returned the baskets to their owners, their poverty would be on display for all to see, which would leave them embarrassed. In accepting their entire offerings while taking only the fruits from the wealthy farmers, the Torah allowed them to feel pride about the value of their contributions in the eyes of Hashem. Harav Yaakov Neiman answers that the wealthy farmers likely felt smug about their valuable baskets. Because Hashem detests arrogance, the Kohanim return their baskets to them. The minimal offerings of the poor farmers came from pure motivations and humble hearts, which are infinitely more precious to Hashem than gold and silver.

Originally from Kansas City, Rabbi Ozer Alport graduated from Harvard, learned in Mir Yerushalayim for five years, and now lives in Brooklyn, where he learns in Yeshivas Beis Yosef. He is the author of the sefer Parsha Potpourri, and gives weekly shiurim. To send comments to the author or to receive his Divrei Torah weekly, please email oalport@Hamodia.com.