Counting babies and children sure was tricky. Babies wouldn’t be able to wait on line for hours and hours in the hot desert sun. So what was Moshe to do?
“HaShem,” Moshe asked. “What should I do? Go door to door, intruding on every family to ask how many children live there?”
Because of his sense of modesty, Moshe rightfully felt uncomfortable about going inside the tents of the Levi’im.
“Yes!” answered HaShem. “That’s exactly what you need to do. But I’ll help you out. Just wait and see.”
With total faith, Moshe set out for the first tent. He stood by the door.
Just then a voice from Heaven called out, “Inside this Levi Tent – 4 children!”
Moshe was so relieved! Without entering any tent, he simply walked by each tent and marked down the number spoken by the heavenly voice.
And the grand total of the tribe of Levi?
Well this tribe was so special that they were actually divided into 3 groups led by the 3 sons of Levi – Gershon, Kehas, and Merari. Once again, miraculously, the totals were even numbers!
The grand total? 22,300.
That amount was actually the least of all the tribes. That’s pretty strange, considering that the Levi’im’s total also included children – so wouldn’t you think they would have the biggest population? But that was not the case.
Compared to any other tribe, the total of 22,300 of Levi’s tribe makes them the smallest tribe. Also, don’t forget that this number includes children from the age of one month old, as opposed to the other tribes who were counted from the age of 20 years old. So, wouldn’t you think they would be the one of the largest tribes?
The great Ramban, Rabbi Moshe the son of Nachman (1194-1270), gave this fascinating answer.
Consider this, the great Rabbi says:
When Bnei Yisrael came to Egypt they were a family of 70 people. In 210 years they defied the normal laws of nature and grew to over 600,000, excluding women and children!
Indeed, Bnei Yisrael had a population explosion during these years of slavery, and mothers would give birth to 6 babies at one time! Yet the tribe of Levi were not part of this population explosion.
That’s because of HaShem’s promise, “As much as the [Egyptians] enslaved them, so they [the Jews] would increase.” The fact is that the tribe of Levi was exempt from slavery. They were occupied with holy work, so their increase in population was naturally slower… a normal pace.
BTW #1: Yocheved and Amram – both from the tribe of Levi – had only 3 children, Aharon, Miriam and Moshe.
BTW #2: When the Jews were in the desert for 40 years, and of course not enslaved, their population actually decreased from over 603,000 to around 601,000.