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.





2 Replies to “40 Years in the Desert (A Passover Post)”

  1. A reasoning that I heard that only one-fifth of the Jews were taken out of Egypt goes back to the rasha (wicked child). This is in times before the Torah was given to us and the path of teshuvah was different than it is now. The fact that it is said to say, “You would not have been redeemed,” to the rasha goes in hand with the differences of teshuvah pre-and-post Torah.

    I like this idea, too. Thanks for sharing!

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