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In Shemos 18:21 Yisro tells Moshe that he shouldn't judge Bnei Yisrael himself, instead he should appoint:

וְאַתָּ֣ה תֶחֱזֶ֣ה מִכָּל־הָ֠עָם אַנְשֵׁי־חַ֜יִל יִרְאֵ֧י אֱלֹהִ֛ים אַנְשֵׁ֥י אֱמֶ֖ת שֹׂ֣נְאֵי בָ֑צַע וְשַׂמְתָּ֣ עֲלֵהֶ֗ם שָׂרֵ֤י אֲלָפִים֙ שָׂרֵ֣י מֵא֔וֹת שָׂרֵ֥י חֲמִשִּׁ֖ים וְשָׂרֵ֥י עֲשָׂרֹֽת׃ You shall also seek out from among all the people capable men who fear God, trustworthy men who spurn ill-gotten gain. Set these over them as chiefs of thousands, hundreds, fifties, and tens,

Rashi gives us the math:

שרי אלפים. הֵם הָיוּ שֵׁשׁ מֵאוֹת שָׂרִים לְשֵׁשׁ מֵאוֹת אֶלֶף:

שרי מאות. שֵׁשׁ אֲלָפִים הָיוּ:

שרי חמשים. י"ב אֶלֶף:

שרי עשרת. שִׁשִּׁים אֶלֶף:

שרי אלפים OFFICERS OF THOUSANDS — there were six hundred such officers for the six hundred thousand men of Israel. שרי מאות OFFICERS OF HUNDREDS — there were six thousand of them. שרי חמשים OFFICERS OF FIFTIES — twelve thousand. שרי עשרת OFFICERS OF TENS — sixty thousand (Mekhilta d'Rabbi Yishmael 18:21:2, Sanhedrin 18a).

The total amount of judges Yisro recommends to replace Moshe is 78,600 (60,000+12,000+6,000+600). Why on Earth would 600,000 people need 78,600 judges?

Keep in mind that until now Moshe was doing it all himself and he was perfectly fine with it and expected Klal Yisrael to also be perfectly fine with it. I understand that it's much too much for one person, but several hundred judges or even several thousand judges should have been more than adequate.

  • I wonder if, with everybody having to go to Moshe directly, some just didn't go and guessed about what they were supposed to do. That would be bad. – Monica Cellio Feb 1 '18 at 15:10
  • @MonicaCellio Excellent question. I had heard a drash from a rabbi, several years ago, that mentioned that this, indeed, did occur. There's probably some commentary that mentions this. I'll try to hunt a bit and see if I can locate this. – DanF Feb 1 '18 at 15:54
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All Mefarshim to 18:21 here:

Ibn Ezra in his first Peirush quotes a number of opinions, and defends the calculation that you made, and his conclusion is that approximtely 1/8 of the nation were Sarim. However, in his second Peirush, he rejects this from a Peshat perspective, and gives a different understanding of what Sarei "#" are.

Ralbag also rejects the large number from a Peshat perspective, and provides another understanding for Sarei "#". Shadal there quotes Abarbanel, who provides other alternatives, also agreeing that in Peshat there cannot be that many Sarim.

Minchas Yehuda there discusses Rashi (acutually he is discussing a different point) and notes two things:

  1. There were more than 600000 people, and the Sarim were not included in the 600000.

  2. The Sarei Asaros included all of the higher Sarim, and there were only 60000 in general (still a lot, but not as many)

See also Daas Zekeinim and others there, who comment similarly, and answer questions that people might have on this.

  • Sidebar - Do you know if All Hatorah has an Android App? I'm blocked out of it at my work computer. – DanF Feb 1 '18 at 15:56
  • @DanF no idea, sorry. – רבות מחשבות Feb 1 '18 at 16:37
  • I do very much appreciate this but I would still like to see if anyone has a satisfying answer for Rashi (I don't consider there being only 60,000 judges a satisfying answer for Rashi). This was fascinating though so thank you so much! – Eliyahu Feb 1 '18 at 18:46
  • @eliyahu consider the possibility that there may be much more than 600,000 Jews, and that "judges" just mean learned people who could answer simple questions, and it doesn't seem as difficult. (Although obviously the higher judges were better trained...) – רבות מחשבות Feb 1 '18 at 19:12
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    You don't answer the question. Just by saying that many Meforshim talk of different solutions does not solve the problem. The fact that they try hard points to the huge problem with this number. – Al Berko Feb 7 '18 at 0:50

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