Dear Rabbi Simon,
I was wondering what is the significance of the different age ranges that the Torah addresses in the course of the book of Bamidbar (Numbers).
Last week, the Levi’im were considered for service from ages 20 to 50. The previous week, the Levi’im were counted but only from ages 30 to 50. This week only the people between the aged of 20 and 60 were punished.
Seems like there is different consideration for age of responsibility for different things.
Thank you for your astute question.
- 20 is the age for going out to war (1:3). 60+ were not included in the census for military purposes.
- 30 is when a person’s strength reaches full maturity (hence “30 years for strength”, as per Avot 5:21). Rashi 4:2-3 says that after age 50 one’s strength wanes. Remember they are talking about tasks that involve both physical prowess (carrying the components of the tabernacle [Mishkan]) as well as intellectual and spiritual attainment. Rashi elsewhere (8:24) says that the Levi’im would train for their roles from ages 25-30, then serve for 20 years. Early pension at 50. (Not available for most professions today.)
- However the Talmudic/midrashic view (BB 121b) that those above the age of 60 were excluded from the decree of perishing in the wilderness is based on a technicality, in which those above 60 are placed in a similar (though not identical) category with those below the age of 20 with regard to “valuations” (Lev. 27:5, 7). The explanation I have suggested (the primary protesters who rejected the Land were those of fighting age who feared for their lives on the battlefield) is not in the Talmud, but comes from Emet Le-Yaakov (Rabbi Yaakov Kaminetzky, d. 1986).
Rabbi Rashi Simon