40 Years in the Desert (A Passover Post)

Source: Kibbutz Gesher Archive
Source: Kibbutz Gesher Archive

This week is Passover, the anniversary of the Exodus that led to the birth of the Jewish people. This week is the commemoration of redemption from Egyptian slavery.

What does the number 40 mean?

Before becoming a people, we wandered the desert for 40 years. We were born as a nation upon entering Eretz Yisreal, as it says in

Devarim 27:9

ט  וַיְדַבֵּר מֹשֶׁה וְהַכֹּהֲנִים הַלְוִיִּם, אֶל כָּל-יִשְׂרָאֵל לֵאמֹר:  הַסְכֵּת וּשְׁמַע, יִשְׂרָאֵל, הַיּוֹם הַזֶּה נִהְיֵיתָ לְעָם, לַיהוָה אֱלֹהֶיךָ. 9

(“And Moses and the priests the Levites spoke unto all Israel, saying: ‘Keep silence, and hear, O Israel; this day thou art become a people unto the LORD thy G-d.”)

The average gestation period for a pregnant woman is 40 weeks. According to the Talmud, it takes 40 days for an embryo to form in a mother’s womb. In Jewish law, a fetus is not considered a person until it leaves the womb.  The nation of Israel was not yet complete-only children-until we left our 40 year “womb”.

Until then, we had not been called “Israel” but “Children of Israel”.

When does the number 40 appear again in Jewish history?  In our recent history, Zionist settlement began almost 40 years before the Balfour Declaration.

According to Aish, the number 40 represents “transition or change, the concept of renewal, a new beginning”. A Mikveh (ritual bath) must be filled with 40 se’ahs (measurement of water) before it can be used . The Mikveh is the “consummate Jewish symbol of spiritual renewal”. (aish) The flood in Noach’s time lasted for 40 days and 40 nights, allowing for a renewal of the world.

Just as before we changed our names from Children of Israel to Israel, today we are once again given the opportunity to be reborn on our national homeland. With this opportunity, we can fulfill our full purpose as Jews-leaving the womb of exile to work toward a new freedom that awaits us in Eretz Yisrael.

The other day, my friend Brandon shared wise words of Torah with me.  He was discussing Shemot 13:18

. וַיַּסֵּב אֱלֹהִים | אֶת הָעָם דֶּרֶךְ הַמִּדְבָּר יַם סוּף וַחֲמֻשִׁים עָלוּ בְנֵי יִשְׂרָאֵל מֵאֶרֶץ מִצְרָיִם:

(So God led the people around [by] way of the desert [to] the Red Sea, and the children of Israel were armed when they went up out of Egypt.)

According to Rashi, the Jewish people weren’t armed. “Chamushim” actually means one one fifth of the slaves left Egypt.
Brandon asked, “can you imagine Moshe coming and asking everyone who wants freedom and only 1 out of 5 slaves follow? What if freedom is calling today and only one in five Jews is taking that opportunity?”
Is the opportunity for freedom, for rebirth, happening right now? Are we taking advantage of it?
Are our 40 years up, and is it time for us to decide if we are staying in the womb as slaves, or leaving to enter the world of freedom?  To be born into the Nation of Israel?  This Passover, as we recollect our redemption from slavery, we should also be thinking about how to end our own slavery and leave the womb of our own 40 years in the desert.

sources:

http://www.myjewishlearning.com/beliefs/Issues/Bioethics/Abortion/Fetus_in_Jewish_Law.shtml?p=2

http://www.aish.com/atr/The_Number_40.html

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There’s No Place Like Home, a poem

Eema always said- don’t- talk to strangers but I was

-born a Stranger in a strange land-Part of a people with only one home..

There’s no place like home, there’s no place like home.

Dorothy followed a brick road, talked to a wizard and clicked her heels,

my -road wasn’t yellow, it was covered in red

-red the color of the blood of our martyrs red like Jerusalem streets in our fight for return

our fighters were,

mere youths- young lions, were, resistors, were unknown soldiers

battling

Heartless tin men, world leaders

 White papers, boats turned around, Roman, Ottoman, British Occupiers

Our freedom fighters hung and our leaders not hanging around

red ran through our yellow brick road

We are in need of revolutionaries

Of Jews who care more to care than conform

Are we-waiting for a wizard to save us from exile?

While we-sit in University, conceptualize struggle, analyze revolution

Ignoring our own

While we-walk through shopping malls

Chasing a goal that leaves us empty handed–scarecrows–empty headed,

Our hopes for Jerusalem replaced by their American dream

While they-use us as their shopping cart

Sell ammunition to all sides

Play roulette with our lives, marionette with our leaders

demolish our homes in a storm of resolutions

While we-gaze at their Emerald cities

Wishing for redemption, praying for a peace they cannot give

We are in need of revolutionaries, Good witches will not help us now

Only we can breathe fire back into our movement

Our hearts and our minds are already there

No longer will we be strangers in strange lands

but  part of a people, finally coming home. .there’s no place like home, theres no place like home