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40 Days and 40 Nights

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Shlach Lecha
26 Sivan 5772 / June 15-16, 2012


Dan Horwitz photo

In this week’s portion, Shlach Lecha, Moses sends 12 spies (one from each tribe) into the Promised Land in order to scope it out. After 40 days, the spies return and share that the land is indeed flowing with milk and honey. However, 10 of the 12 spies continued to share that the land is inhabited by giants, and that those living there are much more powerful than the Israelites. This resulted in an outcry by the Israelites, questioning Moses’s leadership and God’s involvement, exclaiming that it would have been better to die in Egypt than to die by the sword while trying to conquer what was perceived as unconquerable.

As punishment for their lack of faith, the Israelites are condemned to wander in the desert for 40 years – one year for each day the spies had been in the Promised Land.

I want to draw attention to the number 40.

Forty is a significant number in our tradition, and it often is used to symbolize significant spiritual cleansing.

In the Book of Genesis in the narrative of Noah’s Ark, when the world was flooded, it rained for 40 days and nights.

In the Book of Exodus, Moses went up to Mt. Sinai for 40 days and nights in order to receive the Torah.

Now in the Book of Numbers, we find that the spies scoured the Promised Land for 40 days and nights before returning with their report.

The traditional ritual bath, the mikveh, which we use to purify ourselves, traditionally contains 40 se’ah of water (there are about 5 gallons in a se’ah).

Similar to our Israelite ancestors, so too, do we sometimes feel that it would be easier to give up than to try and tackle our perceived uphill battles. We may call out in frustration, whine about it and even conclude that the particular task is unworthy of our efforts.

Going forward, I challenge you to dedicate 40 days to tackling any particular obstacle before giving up.

In our world of hyper-connectivity and instant gratification, I know that 40 days seems like an eternity. However when considered in the broader context of the days of your life, 40 days is just the tip of a fingernail as compared to your body. And yet, despite the relatively short period of time, our tradition makes clear that 40 days is time enough to be life altering.

Face each challenge head on, devote yourself to the steps necessary to overcome it and after 40 days, take note of where you were and how far you’ve come. It’s just up to you to make the time.

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