Didn’t all the Jews of the generation in Exodus all die out because of the golden calf? How could there be the same exact number a whole generation later?
As Alex shared this was the same generation: the first census was before the Tabernacle was built since the half-shekels used for the count were used for the sockets of the structure, the second was seven months later.
Still Artscroll picks up on the fact the numbers are similar and brings 3 opinions
- Rashi (Shemot 30:16) responds that for the purpose of the census, all men counted were those who were 20 years old on the previous Rosh Hashana; those who came of age during the year would not be counted until the next Rosh Hashana
- Mizrachi adds that this assumes that one of the many miracles that took place in the Wilderness was that no one died between the first and second census, since dead men were surely not counted
- Ramban (30:12) disagrees, contenting that people were counted on the basis of their birthdays, not by their age on Rosh Hashana. Furthermore, he contends that there was a basic difference between eligibility for the two censuses: in the first, the Levites were surely counted, but the Torah excludes them from the census in Numbers, so that Rashi's reasoning cannot explain the identical counts. Ramban contends that there were indeed many who died between the tallies, but those who came of age made up not only for them but also for the Levites, who were not included in the second census. That the two totals were identical was a coincidence
It was the same generation. As the verses in Numbers 1:1-2 say when introducing the count:
And the LORD spoke unto Moses in the wilderness of Sinai, in the tent of meeting, on the first day of the second month, in the second year after they were come out of the land of Egypt, saying:
'Take ye the sum of all the congregation of the children of Israel, by their families, by their fathers' houses, according to the number of names, every male, by their polls; (Mechon-Mamre translation, my emphasis)
I see Rashi's answer, the Ramban's questions and his two answers which rely on a huge coincidence that the number of people who dies equaled the number of people turning 20; and/or that includes the Leviim. Both equal exactly 603,550. Impossible statistically!!
Rabbi Moshe Duvid Casutto, aka Umberto Cassuto, who was an Orthodox Rabbi in Italy, then exiled by the Fascists in the early 40;s and came to Hebrew U in Israel, posits that the first census which took place on the 11th day of Tishrei, right after YK and the giving of the second Luchos, and upon being commanded to build the Mishkan, which required silver for the sockets and , hence the Machtzis Hashekel, gave rise to 603,550. That very same census required them to write their names, Family affiliations, tribe, etc. on a pottery shard and give it to be counted. All on the 11th of Tishrei. They quickly counted the Machtzis Hashekel because they needed the silver, came to 603,550. Then, they slowly counted up the names on the pottery shards, completed it on 1st of Iyar and ths is the count in Bamidbar detailed by tribe! So its the very same count! With out Leviim. Thats why its exactly the same number 603,550. Brilliant answer. (There is also support somewhere that Kohanm are NOT allowed to give Machtzis Hashekel as then it would partially a Korbon Ychid and it has to davka be a Korban Tzibuur.)see Rabbi Willig who brings Cassuto's answer https://utj.org/viewpoints/parashat/numbers-numbers-and-more-numbers-do-they-all-add-up/
Just to add another source for the Cassuto answer. https://www.hatanakh.com/sites/herzog/files/herzog/Yeshivat%20Har%20Etzion.pdf
Umberto, Moshe Duvid, Cassuto was a Gaon Olam and much under appreciated. Some might have difficulties with some of his explanations as they are creative, sometimes rely on support of archeological records, and sometimes make reference to sources outside the Pale of Strict Orthodox thought. But then again, the same can be said of Rambam, Ramban, Ibn Ezra, Abarbanel, Zohar, and many others. There are 70 faces/facets to Torah and it is all Divrei Elokim Chayim. A much under appreciated Scholar who suffered greatly for the Sake of Learning and Truth. May his Holy Neshama be bound in the Bond of Eternal Life, Amen.