When we get a count in the Torah it is in an exact form (either literal or metaphorical) for example the tribe of Reuven had 46,500 members. An exception to this rule would seem after the golden calf, here the passuk says "like 3,000" people died the letter כ suggests that this is not an exact number, can anyone provide a logical answer (sources are always helpful) for this seeming exception?


1 Answer 1


The Zohar in Parashat Balak says that it was actually just two people, Yonos and Yombros, the sons of Bilaam. But they were as significant as 3000 insofar as they had led the people astray. This is similar to the Midrashic approach to Yehoshua 7:5, where the number of casualties at Ai is listed as "like 36" and the Gemara (Sanhedrin 44a) says that it was actually only one, Yair ben Menashe, who was as important as 36 (specifically, the 36 that comprised the majority of the Sanhedrin).

Alternatively, the Zohar in the beginning of VaYakhel says that all 3000 were from the Eirev Rav, so maybe the "like" is modifying the "ish" and not the number.

It could also be that the number is significant, i.e. the 3000 that died was a predetermined quota that had to be met. Thsi is implied in the Pesikta D'Rav Kahana (2:8) who says that the total census of the people is equal to the gematria of the the names of the Shevatim minus 3000. So these 3000 had to be removed. This approach also explains why the Torah used "vayipol" instead "vayaku" to describe the deaths of the people (implying that this was more automatic). It also has the advantage of explaining why the number is so much smaller than we would have expected.

A bolder version of that is to claim that these 3000 were actually selected arbitrarily as representatives of the people that sinned, even if they themselves were not the most culpable. But I don't have a good source for this one.

  • Thank you! welcome to MY. This is a great answer. I actually saw the Zohar. The psekita I will have to go through. Mar 20 at 16:00
  • Nice answer @NWolfe! Mar 20 at 16:19

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