Thursday, July 12, 2018

Does Life Begin at 40?

In 1932 Walter Pitkin published his popular self-help book, Life Begins at Forty. Truthfully, before the 20th century, life expectancy, on average, rarely exceeded 40.

The number 40 is found quite frequently throughout the Torah. When seeking a common denominator, one finds that a time period of “40” represents a period of maturation. When God flooded the earth in the times of Noah, it rained for 40 days and nights. Humankind had to mature spiritually. Moses spent 40 days and nights on Sinai receiving the Torah; he returned for 40 days to pray for God to forgive the wayward nation after their sin with the Golden Calf. Both occasions represent periods of internal growth. Jews are warned not to study the mystical components of the Torah until they reach the age of forty and have spent the previous 4 decades studying the revealed aspects of Torah.

Perhaps the best known Scriptural use of the time frame 40 is God’s measure for measure punishment of the Israelites for believing the slanderous report of the ten scouts who were sent to survey the Promised Land. Since the mission occurred over a period of 40 days, God punished the wayward nation by decreeing they would wander the Sinai wilderness for forty years, one year for each day of the reconnaissance operation. The nation’s negative attitude needed to transform, hence the appearance of 40 once again.

Yet, even within this decree, the great Biblical commentator Rashi teaches that G-d showed compassion to his wayward people. According to tradition, not one of the punished Israelites perished before their 60th birthday, ensuring that those who did not enter the land were at least 20 years old at the time of the sin.

The day the Israelites believed the disparaging report of the scouts was the 9th of Av, and represents the original calamity on this day of many terrible tragedies.

Today, the 29th day of Tammuz is the 1,013rd Yahrzeit of Rashi (July 13, 1105).


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