Wednesday, July 30, 2008

What's Cooking for Shabbos? - Parshas Maasei Challenge: An "Age Old" Question

As much as I consider myself a disciple and follower of Rashi, this week's Parsha gets Rashi into a fix that I don't know how to get him out of.

But the Rashi isn't here in this Parsha, it's somewhere else. So, being that this is Parshas Maasei, let's do a little traveling.

The subject is – how does the Torah determine a person's age? And our first station stop is Parshas Ki Tisa.

Rashi tells us in Parshas Ki Tisa (Shmos 30:15) that the Jews were counted both after Yom Kipper 2449 (Shmos 38:26) and again on 1 Iyar 2449 (BaMidbar 1:1) and notes that the results of both censuses were identical. He asks: How can two censuses conducted almost seven months apart produce identical results? He answers that the ages of people were calculated from each successive Rosh HaShanna and since both censuses took place in the same year (no Rosh HaShanna in between) nobody's age changed. Therefore, the two counts were identical.

Apparently, according to Rashi, this is how the Torah calculates ages of people. Let us call this the "RH" (Rosh HaShanna) method.

Rashi is immediately under attack from - who else but? – Ramban. Ramban and many others vehemently disagree with Rashi. They maintain that the qualifications to be 20 years old for the census is the same as to be 20 years old for Arachin. And according to the Talmud in Arachin (18b), one need be 20 full years. As such, the Torah calculates a person's age when he reaches each successive date of birth, just as we do. Let us call this the "PBD" (Precise Birth Date) method. The Ramban and Ohr HaChaim offer different answers to Rashi's question of the two censuses.

So what we see basically are two certified methods that the Torah uses to calculate a person's age:
  • Rashi (RH) - Like the first Mishna in Rosh HaShanna there is a specified date in the calendar (e.g. 1 Tishrei) at which time everybody's age advances one year regardless on what date you were born. According to Rashi (Shmos 30:15) this is how the ages were calculated in the desert.
  • Ramban (PBD) - If you are born on 1 Av you are 1 year old on the following 1 Av and increment every year at 1 Av. This method is scripturally based as the proper method to calculate Arachin.

Apparently the Torah uses one method or the other, but for each respective authority this is THE "certified" method.

The problem is that both of these methods do not concur with our next station stop, Parshas VaEira. The Torah tells us in Parshas VaEira that Moshe was 80 years old and Aharon was 83 years old - we assume at the same time. The question is: At what date is the Torah testifying to Moshe's and Aharon's respective ages?

We would like to assume that, unless forced to say otherwise, the Torah talks in proper chronological perspective. At first glance we surmise that this is talking about when they first met Pharaoh to demand freedom (or the second time), approximately 10 months to 1 year before the Exodus - let's say 15 Nissan to 15 Sivan of 2447.

But now we have a problem, because according to our traditions, Moshe did not reach the age of 80 until 7 Adar 2448. So, like both "certified" methods (PBD or RH) how can he be referred to as 80 years old in Nissan of 2447? He wasn't even close!

Now, there are two ways of justifying that Moshe was 80 years old before 7 Adar of 2448 if we introduce crude "uncertified" methods. It is actually one method with 2 variations: Miktzaso K'Kulo or Rubo K'Kulo. This means that Moshe can be considered 80 years old prior to his 80th birthday if we say that 1 day or month from a year is counted as a full year (Miktzaso K'Kulo), or the majority of a year (178 days in a standard year) is counted as a full year (Rubo K'Kulo).

Of these methods, Miktzaso K'Kulo works better because Miktzaso K'Kulo advances Moshe's age to 80 on 8 adar or 7 Nissan 2447. Rubo K'Kulo does not advance Moshe's age to 80 until 8 Ellul 2447, and the Midrashim imply that the audience with Pharaoh and the snakes was earlier than that.

This approach will make Shmos 7:7 understandable but it forces us to say that the Torah used one method to set age for the national census and a different method to set the ages for the audience with Pharaoh. Thus we are forced to say that the Torah is being inconsistent with its methods and that is certainly a "dochek".

For Ramban and followers of PBD there is a bit of a way out if we say that even though the Torah in Shmos 7:7 is now holding before the second audience with Pharaoh and the snakes, at approximately Nissan of 2447, the Torah is counting the ages as if it is now 7 Adar 2448. This means that Moshe was not actually 80 at the time of the audience but 79 and the Torah is "misleading" us by looking ahead about 10 or 11 months.

With this we can say the Torah is consistent about birthdays but is being chronologically subversive. This is trading one "dochek" for another, but perhaps it is preferable.

The question now becomes- can Rashi also play this option of maintaining the Torah's consistency in terms of calculating birthdays and merely saying that the Torah is now "looking ahead" to the coming Rosh haShanna (2448) which will be Moshe's 80th R"H and would justify calling him 80 years old by the RH method? With this approach, it would even be possible to say that the Torah is not chronologically subversive if the audience with Pharaoh and the snakes actually occurred on Rosh HaShanna 2448. Incidentally, we know from Parshas VaYeshev and Miketz that Pharaoh traditionally grants audiences on Rosh HaShanna. (This approach would mean squeezing the first 9 makkos into 27 weeks which is possible but inconsistent with classic Midrashim).

I am afraid that it is impossible for Rashi to go this route.


This is where this week's Parsha comes in. In this week's Parsha we are told that Aharon HaCohen died on 1 Av 2487. We also know that he is 123 years old. We also know that R"H 2488 is not for another 2 months. That means that if we maintain the RH method (Rashi's method), he is 123 based on 1 Tishrei 2487. His very first R"H was 122 years earlier on 1 Tishrei 2365 when he was considered 1 year old with the RH method.

Now, we know that Moshe died on 7 Adar 2488 (more than 7 months later) and that he was 120 years old. Our tradition is that he was born on 7 Adar, as well, which would be 7 Adar 2368. Thus, Moshe's first R"H (when he is called 1 year old) is 1 Tishrei 2369.

It comes out that using the RH method, Moshe and Aharon are always 4 years apart (for example 1 Tishrei 2369 was Moshe's first R"H and it was Aharon's 5th) and on 1 Tishrei 2448, Moshe indeed arrived at his 80th R"H, but Aharon has just arrived at his 84th. Thus with the RH method it is impossible that Moshe can be 80 at the same time as Aharon is 83!

Perhaps you want to suggest that Aharon did not follow the "tradition" that the Tzadikkim in the Torah died on the same date of their birth, and perhaps his date of birth was after R"H of 2365 and his first R"H was in 2366 - only 3 years before Moshe's? This cannot be, because, if so, on R"H 2487 he would only reach his 122nd R"H and the Torah cannot call him 123.

As such, for Rashi, it is impossible to maintain that the Torah is using the RH method to calculate Moshe's and Aharon's ages in Shmos 7:7. We must say that, according to Rashi, the Torah is being inconsistent and employs one method for the national census and a different method to calculate the ages of Aharon and Moshe.

The only question is – why?

I have not yet seen any authority who discusses this issue. Comments from readers are welcome.

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