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What Is the Significance of the Number 40 in Jewish Tradition?


Rabbi Stewart Weiss

Tevet 4 5782
Our last Torah Trivia asked where the number 40 appears in the Torah. BIG, MD, RAW & FSRT listed them: 40 days & nights of rain in the Great Flood; the Meraglim’s 40 days of scouting Israel, which resulted in the 40 years Bnei Yisrael wandered in the desert; 40 years of Moshe returning to Egypt to lead Bnei Yisrael out of slavery; 40 days to embalm Yakov; one of Avraham's bargaining positions to save Sodom; Yitzhak's & Esav's age at marriage; the number of cows in Yakov's gift to Esav; 40 lashes given by the Sanhedrin (in practice only 39 were administered); Moshe's 40 days on Har Sinai to receive the 10 Commandments. (We might also add the Medrash that says at 40 days of conception a Heavenly voice proclaims who this fetus will eventually marry).

The common theme between almost all of these events is that 40 represents significant change & transformation. And so the world changed dramatically during the Flood, when we left Egypt for Israel, when we received the Torah, etc.
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