The book of Exodus says that Israelites had 600,000 men of fighting age. And often it has paragraphs like this:

Exodus 35:4 (JPS):

And Moses spoke unto all the congregation of the children of Israel, saying: 'This is the thing which the LORD commanded, saying:

There are many, many more examples like this. Sometimes, right after Moses says something, events happen that affect the whole community, suggesting that he was speaking everyone atthe same time:

Numbers 16 (JPS):

31 And it came to pass, as he made an end of speaking all these words, that the ground did cleave asunder that was under them. 32 And the earth opened her mouth and swallowed them up, and their households, and all the men that appertained unto Korah, and all their goods. 33 So they, and all that appertained to them, went down alive into the pit; and the earth closed upon them, and they perished from among the assembly.

So, how was a community of at least 600,000 males able to hear Moses when he addressed them? That is thirty times more people than would fill Madison Square Garden.

And just a follow up question: if Moses actually spoke to the leaders, which passed things down to their respective tribes and groups, then doesn't Judaism actually become a religion handed down by a small group of people? At this point, the best argument for its authority is that God specifically set up this structure and said it was the best.

  • I don't understand the follow up question. If they are only hearing from Moses, how is that any better?
    – Yishai
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 15:50
  • Any better than what? Commented May 28, 2014 at 15:50
  • 1
    Any better than a small group of people.
    – Yishai
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 15:51
  • Ok I will explain what I meant by the follow up question. The argument that Moses says "You all heard" is normally used to show that the entire Israelite community heard something at once. But if we reason that there was no normal way to address all 600,000 males at once then Moses was only addressing the elders, perhaps in a tent. Which means "You all heard" might have not been a national experience but the what the elders were told. The Kuzari argument uses the desert and manna, perhaps for this exact reason. How is the national revelation argument affected if Moses spoke only to the elders? Commented May 28, 2014 at 15:53
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    The "you all heard" was at Mount Sinai, one time. Not all the other incidents. That was Korach's argument (Numbers 16) - we all heard Har Sinai, but we only have your word for anything said afterwards, and you got us stuck in the desert for 40 years.
    – Yishai
    Commented May 28, 2014 at 15:57

1 Answer 1


Among the many other miracles that occurred in that period, there were times when the entire nation was simultaneously able to hear Moses speaking. This is how we understand when the verse says that the entire congregation of Israel assembled and was addressed. These miracles are known as המועט המחזיק את המרובה - the small that contains the many. This means that a place that regularly holds a small amount of people held many thousands of people. See for example Rashi's commentary on Leviticus 8:3 and Numbers 20:10 (Joshua 3:9).

There are times when the entire nation heard because the environment naturally amplified the sound; a natural amphitheater was utilized, like by the blessings and curses in Dueteronomy 27 and in Joshua 8 before entering the land of Israel.


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