Friday, 5 August 2022

Parashat Devarim (Shabbat Chazon): We're Coming Home

I think that I speak for virtually every English person in this country and abroad (unless you're also German) in expressing my delight at the breathtaking and historic achievement that took place on Sunday at Wembley Stadium.  A huge mazel tov to the Lionesses as a result of becoming the football champions of Europe.  The ‘Beautiful Game’ has finally come home!

The ladies have faced an uphill struggle to gain recognition for Women’s Football, having overcome enormous challenges to reach this point.  I am certain that this will be the springboard to an exciting future for the sport across the country.

As Jews, we understand what it means to achieve something significant after negotiating barriers that seemed insurmountable.  Often, we constructed obstacles ourselves because of the short-term and thoughtless decisions our ancestors made.  Something that seemed right at that moment led us into unchartered waters, that changed the course of our history.  When we should have taken a turn, that would have greatly advanced our development, we balked and instead turned around, and ground to a halt.  On occasions, when we could have planted trees and benefitted from their fruit, instead we cut them down before they had a chance to grow.

Which is why tomorrow, on Tisha B'Av (the ninth of Av) which is without a doubt the saddest day in our annual calendar, we should be reflecting on the tragic ramifications of our decisions.  Were it not for it being Shabbat, we would be doing so, right now.

Moshe, our greatest leader, describes his frustration with the nation to whom he dedicated his adult life:


Deuteronomy 1:12

But how can I bear alone all your problems, your burdens, and your disputes?

דברים א׳:י״ב

אֵיכָ֥ה אֶשָּׂ֖א לְבַדִּ֑י טׇרְחֲכֶ֥ם וּמַֽשַּׂאֲכֶ֖ם וְרִֽיבְכֶֽם׃

Chazal, our Sages ensured that, for this Parashah to have the most resonance, it had to be read on Shabbat Chazon, the Shabbat which precedes Tisha B'Av, when we recite the Megillah that shares its name with the first word of this verse.  Megillat Eichah or Lamentations initiates and then encapsulates the very essence of the day itself.

·         How could these events befall our people?

·         How do they continue to inform our past and help us make sense of our present?

·         How can they help us to forge our future?

Megillat Eichah is the first step on our journey in helping us to answer these questions.

It is five weeks before Moshe Rabbeinu (Moses our teacher) is about to mark his 120th birthday and reach heaven, but not Israel.  The man who vociferously argued with Gd against taking on the job of leading this problem-ridden, quarrelsome and argumentative nation out of Egypt, through the desert and into the land of Israel, is poised to deliver the three greatest oratories in the entire Tanach.  At the age of 119!

I am a teacher and have been for nearly fifteen years (actually more, but I took a break from formal education to learn how to become another kind of educator).  We know what it feels like to be teaching children at the end of the academic year.  What began back in September as an enthusiastic quest to mould young minds with inspirational and life-changing ideas, the like they had not hitherto experienced, feels like a distant dream by the time you stand in front of a class in mid to late July!

The children are frustrated and bored and 'smell the summer' air circulating around the classroom.  If you're fortunate, you have an air-conditioning unit to make life a little more palatable.  If you're not, you are spending tortuous hours with students who are wilting before your eyes.

If I, a simple teacher, am struggling to make it through a year without collapsing from fatigue, can you imagine what it must have been like for a person of the calibre of Moshe?  He carried not one but two generations through the desert.  He was responsible for the fate of millions of grumpy, stubborn and forlorn individuals.  A 'stiff-necked-people' who no less than Gd Himself wanted to wipe out numerous times.  Can you blame him for asking how he alone, can bear their difficult temperament?  Yet, here he is, nearly forty years on, refusing to give up on them.  Goading and inspiring them in equal measure.  Warning them of what would happen if they didn't heed his counsel and preparing them for the next chapter in their national development.  Five weeks shy of his 120th birthday and with the knowledge that after everything he had achieved, he would not be there to lead them into the Land.

If they had followed his advice, the only 'how' that we would have recited could be found in today's Parasha.

How could these events have befallen our people?  Because when our teacher spoke, our minds were not focussed on his words.  We were thinking about the forthcoming summer.  Had we listened, we would not have spent many years living through an endless winter.  Our 'classrooms' would have been visions of a rosy future where the spiritual air-conditioning would reinvigorate us and bring about the coming of Moshiach.

It didn't happen.

Years passed and the memory of our Temples faded into our national subconscious.  How blessed we were to live under Jewish sovereignty which lasted less than eight decades (seventy under the reigns of the first Commonwealth of Kings David and Solomon and seventy-seven under the Second Commonwealth of the Hasmoneans).  Empires rose and fell.  Expulsions and Inquisitions came and went and finally we witnessed the Shoah in living memory.


How could this be?

How could this have happened?

Does Tisha B'Av make more sense now?

And then, seventy-four years ago, we were given a third bite of the Jewish cherry.

It has lasted longer than the fifty-six years between England's footballing victories.  Our third Jewish Commonwealth, despite all the existential internal and external challenges it faces, is stronger than ever.  Tomorrow is Tisha B'Av and we will start fasting a short while before Shabbat ends.  But, like our fellow footballing citizens, we always hope for a way to turn national mourning into international jubilation.

For Moshe, despite his experiences, never gave up on us.  He knew that he would not make it through to September but his successor, Joshua would be there to lead the new class into their next phase.  Moshe Rabbeinu endowed us with his final gift, the Mishne Torah - the repetition of the Torah that we also call Sefer Devarim. 

At this juncture, with our current situation, we must ensure that we don't 'give up on us'.

Baddiel and Skinner's anthemic refrain of 'It's Coming Home' has held our national morale aloft long after the floodlights on the pitch have been shut down.  Eventually, football came home and we too await the time when Tisha B'Av will be the day when we can celebrate the final redemption because our own refrain can only be : 'We're coming home'.

May it happen speedily in our days.

Shabbat Shalom.

Sunday, 24 July 2022

Parashat Pinchas: Actions and Signs

Numbers 25:14:

The name of the slain Israelite man, the one who was killed with the Midianite woman, was Zimri son of Salu, leader of the ancestral House of Shimon and the name of the Midiantish slain woman was Cozbi, the daughter of Zur (who was one of the five kings of Midian).

The final portion of last week's Parasha described the catastrophic events initiated by the evil prophet Bilaam, when he saw that he was unable to curse the people as per Balak's requests.  If you recall, he sent harlots into the camp of the Bnei Yisrael who caused the men to commit idol worship (and all the immorality that this entailed).  Pinchas, the grandson of Aharon, saw an Israelite and a Midianite having relations and killed them, which stopped the plague that had taken the lives of 24,000 people.  This week's Parasha provides more details as to whom this licentious couple were.

We have come across Zimri previously in Sefer Bamidbar.  The Gemara in Sanhedrin (82b) identifies him as Shlumiel ben Tzurishaddai, the Prince of Shimon who also presented his tribe's gifts to the Mishkan as described in Parashat Naso.  It seems that, as per his name, he was also more than just a 'shlemiel', granted that he disgraced both his position and the family from which he emanated.  By extension, his behaviour also cast a long dark shadow over his fellow Simeonites.

He wasn't the first to tarnish the tribe's reputation.  To understand this fully, we need to cast our minds back to Sefer Bereshit.

In Parashat Vayishlach, Yaakov had survived the encounter with his twin brother Eisav and settled with his family in central Israel, in the region of Shechem (not far from the modern city of Nablus).  His young daughter, Dinah had wanted to explore the area and meet some of the local inhabitants.  She encountered Prince Shechem (the son of Chamor the Hivitte) who took her and then raped her (you can read the story in Bereishit Chapter 34).  Having behaved so despicably, the Torah tells us that his 'soul cleaved to her' and he wanted them to get married.

There followed a series of protracted negotiations between Yaakov and his sons, and Shechem and his father, Chamor.  The sons agreed to the marriage (and future unions between both peoples) on the condition that the men of the town circumcised themselves as per the Hebraic faith.  The townsfolk agreed to the pact and 'every male was circumcised.' On the third day, which is the time at which they would be at the apex of their pain and extremely vulnerable, Dinah's brothers, Shimon and Levi, massacred the entire adult male population.  They also took their wives and children as captives in addition to the ‘herds, flocks and asses and that which was in the field'.

Yaakov was incensed but he waited until he was lying on his deathbed in Egypt, decades later, to pronounce his verdict on his sons' barbaric behaviour.

On his last day, surrounded by his family, Yaakov did not refrain from giving a prophecy of the future that would impact upon Shimon and Levi’s descendants.

Genesis 49:

Shimon and Levi are brothers; Weapons of violence their wares.  Let me never join their council, nor my honour be of their assembly.  For in their anger they killed men; at their will, they hamstrung oxen.  Cursed be their anger, for it is most fierce, and their fury for it is most cruel.  I will divide them up in Yaakov and scatter them in Israel."


With regard to Levi, we know that the tribe was not assigned a portion of the land of Israel, due to its umbilical ties with the Temples, through the Avodah (Holy Service) of the Cohanim, ably assisted by the Leviim.  They were truly scattered amongst the people and had to settle in the 48 Levitical enclaves, of which 6 were designated Arei Miklat (cities of refuge for the people who had committed manslaughter - we will read about these in Parashat Maasei next week).

Levi's descendant, Korach, was responsible for the uprising which brought the Tribe's name into disrepute.  When describing his lineage, the Torah stops with Levi in order to honour Yaakov's dying wish that he not be mentioned and thereby dishonoured in connection with Korach’s rebellion.  Not forgetting that Korach's behaviour resulted (directly and indirectly) with the death of nearly 15,000 people.  His older brother, Shimon's actions, were similarly punished, not only as a result of Shlumiel's behaviour but also in another devastating way.

As Moshe prepares to meet Gd on his last day, he blesses all of the tribes in the beautiful prose that we read on Simchat Torah.  There is however one of the shevatim that is noticeably absent from the roster.  That of Shimon.

Chazal, our Sages, discuss his omission and as per the Artscroll Stone Chumash, there is a difference of opinion between the Ibn Ezra (who says that this was because of Yaakov's castigation) and the Ramban's assertion that the land could only be partitioned into twelve portions, one for each tribe.  Since the tribe of Shimon was very small in number, it was not given its own area but instead shared its allotment within Judah's territory.  It was indeed 'divided in Yaakov and scattered in Israel'.

And, like Korach, Shlumiel's highly irresponsible behaviour led to the deaths of thousands of Israelites- 24,000 to be exact.  Chazal note that in both the brothers' cases, their descendants caused others to sin and, as a result, thousands were punished with death through plagues in the desert.  Please note that the brothers and their descendants were in fact very righteous men.  This did not, however, stop them from committing the most grievous crimes.

The word 'Torah' literally means 'instruction' (coming from the shoresh of Yarah  ירה, which is also used in the word for a teacher - 'moreh').  This is a very appropriate name as it demonstrates that the Torah is not 'just' a history book but so much more than this.  Our ancestors were human beings.  Not gods and certainly not angels, and they were just as susceptible as their descendants would prove to be.  As great as Shimon and Levi were, their individual actions led to events that would have an impact for generations to come.

There is a dictum in the Torah of Maaseh Le'avot, Siman Lebanim, or the actions of the fathers are a sign for the children.  Avraham Avinu, as great a person as he was, (and he was the first Jew) went to Egypt and must have suffered immensely when his beloved wife Sarah was abducted by Pharaoh.  Similarly, his descendants would end up in Egypt as a result of also fleeing a famine and we know what that led to.

Many years ago, my parents befriended a German Jewish refugee who used to come to lunch at our house every Shabbat.  One saying she always repeated was that 'nothing happens in isolation'.  It has stuck with me through my life and made me think on how my actions can have reverberations on other people.

In these Three Weeks which lead up to the fast of Tisha B'Av, we are told to look inwardly and ask why we, as a nation, have suffered so much and continue to experience woes beyond our comprehension.  We should consider the ramifications of our actions and try to improve ourselves and the way we relate to others.  If we do so and remember how even great individuals like Shimon and Levi can err and behave in a way that caused such destruction in their time and later on, we can have a significantly positive impact on others in our own generation and beyond.  Perhaps then, in the very near future, we will be celebrating the return to Jerusalem and the Gulah Shelaimah, the final redemption.  May it happen speedily in our days, Amen.

Shavuah Tov.

Sunday, 17 July 2022

Parashat Balak: The Power of Words

 3rd July

Three people were shot dead in a shopping mall in Copenhagen, Denmark.

4th July

Seven people were shot dead in Highland Park, Chicago.  A two-year-old became an orphan as a result.

8th July

Shinzo Abe, the former Japanese Prime Minister was assassinated in Nara, Japan.

In the United States alone, there have been over 300 mass shootings since the start of 2022.  A mass shooting is where at least four or more people are killed or injured in a single attack.

Three hundred attacks in six-and-a-half-months and that is just in the USA.

There is an old saying that, “Guns don't kill people.  People kill people.”

On the face of it, this seems like a trite comment that is particularly favoured by those Americans who hold the Second Amendment (the right to bear arms) so dear to their hearts.  The Second Amendment protects an individual right to possess a firearm unconnected with service in a militia, and to use that arm for traditionally lawful purposes, such as self-defence within the home.”

However, I think that if we peel away the emotion that fuels this argument, there is a great deal of truth in what is being said, particularly in the second part of the statement, 'people kill people'.

There are many ways for a human to impact negatively on another person's life.

One of these is through physical violence, the kind that I have been referring to.  Another is the damage that can come about as a result of using, not a pistol or rifle, but a deadly weapon that each of us has the power to control, namely the words that come out of our mouths.

If I asked you to name an assassin, which of these would you think of first?

·         John Wilkes Booth, who shot Abraham Lincoln?

·         Lee Harvey Oswald?

·         Sirhan Sirhan, who killed Bobby Kennedy?

·         James Earl Ray, who shot Martin Luther King?

·         Mark Chapman who robbed the world of John Lennon?

·         Yigal Amir, Yitzchak Rabin's killer?

I have one more name for you to consider.  Someone, whom, had he succeeded, the repercussion on his actions could have affected every single one of us.

Can you guess who I am referring to?

Numbers 22:2-7

And Balak, son of Zippor had seen all that the Israelites had done to the Amorites.  The Moabites were in deep dread of the people because they were so numerous.  Fearful of the Israelites, the Moabites said to the elders of Midian, “This horde will now lick up everything around us as an ox licks grass in the field.”

Balak son of Zippor, was king of Moav at that time.  He sent messengers to summon Bilaam son of Beor who was at Petor, which is by the Euphrates, in his native land.

“A people has come out of Egypt and now they cover the face of the land - and they have settled down alongside me.  Please come now and curse this people for me, for they are stronger than I.  Perhaps then I will be able to defeat them and drive them from the land.  For I know that whomever you bless is blessed and whomever you curse is cursed.” 

So the elders of Moav and Midian, went with them carrying payment for divination.  They came to Bilaam and gave him Balak’s message.

The Moabites and the Midianites, who were sworn enemies, banded together to defeat the perceived threat of the Israelites (even though Gd had forbidden Israel from attacking Moav).  Instead of arming themselves with the Biblical version of guns, Balak sent for Bilaam to carry out his sordid plans.  This made Bilaam effectively a 'gun for hire’ as it were.  His curses could potentially do as much damage as a heavy barrage of modern-day artillery and both men were very much aware of this.

We read time and again in the Torah and beyond about the destructive power of curses.  A few weeks ago, we heard the Tochacha which described the curses that would afflict the Jewish people were they to stray from the good path.  In a few months’ time, we will read about the ceremony that would take place on Mount Gerizim and Mount Eval in Samaria, where the blessings and curses would be read out by the Leviim to the tribes gathered on both mountains.  Curses were not to be taken lightly.

As we know, Gd intervened and ensured that whenever Bilaam opened his mouth to curse the people, a blessing emerged instead.  To this day, many have the tradition to say the 'Ma Tovu' (how beautiful) verse that we read today every time they enter a shul.  In fact, one of my favourite quotes from the Torah is when Balak, frustrated with Bilaam's turn of words admonishes him by saying (in an almost comical manner):

“Don’t curse them and don’t bless them!”

As people of faith, we view Hebrew as being 'Lashon Hakodesh - a Divine language since the Torah was directly given by Gd to Moshe.  I also note in it some interesting anomalies when compared to English.

Famously the Hebrew word 'הוא' means 'He' in English and 'היא' in Hebrew means 'She'!  In the context of this week's Parasha and the issues that I have raised, I spotted another interesting connection between our two languages.  If you spell the English word 'Gun' phonetically into Hebrew, you see that the Hebrew word 'גן' means a garden, as in ‘Gan Eden’.  Similarly, it is the word used to describe a children's nursery, which makes sense.  Just as a garden is a location where we tend carefully to nature and nurture plants and young trees, so it is with a pre-school establishment.  It is the garden where our children are carefully and lovingly nurtured and prepared for the next stage in their emotional and intellectual development.

In fact, the Hebrew word 'Gan' is diametrically opposed to its English simile.  Where a Gun destroys, a 'Gan' builds.  Instead of the curse that has been thrust upon the world through the destructive use of gunpowder, we see how our children are blessed in their early years as they emerge like young trees from our wonderful nurseries.  Where English used a word to describe a weapon of destruction, Hebrew, Ivrit, gives it a very different and beautiful meaning.

Despite the Bilaams that try to curse others through bloodshed, they cannot succeed as long as there are people who want to protect the young with blessings.  It is sadly the case that, as we have seen, quite a few have lost their lives in the course of trying to protect the vulnerable human saplings in their care. 

Bullets kill and maim; love protects and builds.

Words can destroy and words can build.  Chazal tell us that Gd created our universe with words.

We cannot bring back those who have died but at the same time, we must never give up hope that one day, the blessings will outnumber the curses.  Bilaam tried his best to destroy us but instead uttered some of the most beautiful prose in the Torah. 

May the names of the people who have perished be a blessing to their families, friends and the wider society and may we all pray, paraphrasing the words of Isaiah (2.4)

Isaiah 2:4

And they shall beat their swords (or guns) into ploughshares

And their spears into pruning hooks:

 Humans shall not take up

 Guns against humans;

 They shall never again know war.

Shavuah Tov.

Sunday, 3 July 2022

Parashat Korach: LeShem Shamayim [For the Sake of Heaven]


Pirkei Avot 5:17

Any dispute for the sake of Heaven, will have enduring value, but any dispute not for the sake of Heaven, will not have enduring value.  Which is an example of a dispute for the sake of Heaven?  The dispute between Hillel and Shammai.  What is an example of one not for the sake of Heaven?  The dispute of Korach and all his company.

Who was Korach?  To appreciate his grievance and that of his followers, we need to understand the various family structures that brought about this situation.

Levi, the son of Yaakov had three sons, Gershon, Kehat and Merari along with a daughter, Yocheved (who was also Moshe's mother).  Kehat had four sons which included Amram (Moshe's father and therefore Yocheved’s first cousin) and Yizhar who was Korach's father.  Korach was therefore a first-born son.

Who were Korach's followers?  Two-hundred and fifty men, mostly from the tribe of Reuven, Yaakov's firstborn son.  They were led by Datan and Aviram (and initially by On ben Pelet but he listened to his wife who wisely advised him to stay away from the crowd).

Rashi suggests that the issue spurring these men in their uprising, particularly Korach himself, was the fact that Moshe, the youngest of Yocheved and Amram's children had appointed Aharon, his brother to be the Kohen Gadol.  Korach, by his description in this week's Parasha, was anything but a modest man and saw this as favouritism.  The rebels who were all first-born men had lost their initial favoured status when they orchestrated the episode of the Golden Calf.  Hitherto, they had been earmarked to carry out the work that was subsequently passed onto the tribe of Levi - the only collective that did not participate in the sin.



When you consider the Ramban's view that this revolt came on the back of the decree following the Spies' report and its dire consequences, you have what we colloquially call 'a perfect storm'.  As a mathematical equation, you could express it in the following manner:

Forty year punishment +

long-standing firstborns' resentment +

populist sentiment stoked by some charismatic OPPORTUNISTS =

replacement of the current leadership.

Rabbi Sacks ztl writes:

"Populism is the politics of anger.  It makes its appearance when there is widespread discontent with political leaders, when people feel that heads of institutions are working in their own interest rather than that of the general public, where there is widespread loss of trust and a breakdown of the sense of the common good...The Korach rebellion was a populist movement and Korach himself an archetypal populist leader."

This is what he said about Moshe and Aharon:

Numbers 16:3

"You have gone too far!  The whole community is holy, every one of them, and the Lord is Among them.  Why then do you exalt yourselves above the assembly of the Lord?”

That the Lord had originally commanded Moshe to appoint Aharon and his sons as the priests is conveniently ignored (see Exodus 28.1).

Korach accused Moshe and Aharon of nepotism.  In other words, corruption.  If that isn't insulting enough, Datan and Aviram accused Moshe of taking the Israelites out of Egypt - which they have the chutzpah to call the 'land flowing with milk and honey' in order to 'be killed in the wilderness.’  To add insult to injury, they accused him of the sin of the spies and said that he was holding onto the leadership 'for his own prestige'.  As Rabbi Sacks adds: "all three, outrageous lies."



Quoting our original text - this is an example of a dispute that is not created 'for the sake of heaven'.  Korach and his company are not trying to further brotherly peace. 

When it came to the great Talmudic schools of Hillel and Shammai, their arguments may have been just as forthright and no doubt their views, as fiery.  But the rationale behind their passion was firmly grounded in a desire to bring the Torah to the masses.  It was Leshem Shamayim - for the sake of heaven.  It was pure.

Korach's rebellion shows that populism can be corrosive if channelled in the wrong direction.  What would happen if the opposite could take place?  A leader who would launch a gentle revolution that would inspire millions of people to return to the Torah and its teachings.  A leader whose Yartzheit we commemorated yesterday which was twenty-eight years since the passing of the Lubavitcher Rebbe, Rabbi Menachem Mendel Schneerson ztl.

One does not need to be a member of Lubavitch to appreciate not only the wonderful work that his organisation does around the world day in and day out but the love they show to each and every Jew.

The Rebbe's raison-d'aitre was to emulate the legacy and teachings of Beit Hillel and Beit Shammai.  Everything he did was leshem shamayim - for the sake of heaven.  After the destruction of a third of the world's Jews, he spearheaded a campaign to rebuild, along with other Sages of the age, the shell that remained of our holy nation.

Travel virtually anywhere in the world and you will find a warm and welcoming Chabad house.  An emissary or Shaliach as they are known and a kosher meal to tuck into.  Friday night to celebrate in places where no-one knows what Shabbat means.  Someone who cares about your soul.  Another Jew who believes in you as a fellow Jew - irrespective of how connected you feel to Judaism.

May his memory be a blessing, a bracha to all of us.  He showed us that populism doesn’t need to be spearheaded by the wrongheaded approach of people like Korach and his followers.  It can be just as successful and influential if it powered by deep-felt love towards others.  That is the true kind of populism, and it takes place - Leshem Shamayim.

Shavuah Tov.

Sunday, 26 June 2022

Parashat Shelach Lecha: Forty-titude

I recall a joke that was making the rounds shortly after the election of the first President Bush (and which replayed when his son entered the White House):

Q: Why didn't the Jews vote for Bush?

A 'Because the last time we listened to a talking bush, we wandered around the desert for forty years!

In the true style of Jewish humour, we make light of a tragic situation that, at the time, was anything but funny.  For the generation who had left Egypt with the dream of entering the Promised Land, Gd's edict, a result of the spies' negative report regarding their reconnaissance mission of the land was nothing less than shattering.

On the face of it, Gd's decision to punish the Bnei Yisrael for forty years seems quite obvious:

Numbers 14:34

You shall bear your punishment for forty years, corresponding to the number of days—forty days—that you scouted the land: a year for each day.  Thus, you shall know what it means to thwart Me.


If we look beneath the surface, one is struck by the recurring motif of the number forty:

·       The spies scouted the land for forty days.

·       Moshe spent three periods of forty days and nights on Mount Sinai from his initial ascent before Shavuot to his triumphant descent on Yom Kippur carrying the second set of tablets.

·       Not forgetting the Flood which deluged the earth for forty days and forty nights.

Two numbers reoccur time and again in the Torah and these are seven and forty.  The latter also shows up again later in the Tanach, for example with regard to the length of King David's reign.

Walter B. Pitkin, an American Psychologist, wrote a book in 1932 titled, ‘Life begins at Forty’ which echoed the thoughts of the eminent 19th Century German philosopher Arthur Schopenhauer who wrote:

"The first forty years of life give us the text; the next thirty supply the commentary." in his book ‘The Wisdom of Life and Counsels and Maxims’, first published in 1851.

Is there any connection between these contemporary adages and the Torah's utilisation of the number forty?

The following ideas have been sourced from

If we refer to the three aforementioned examples and work backwards through the list, we will come to see that the sin of the spies and the punishment they were given is directly related to the flood. What was the flood?

It was Gd's decision to punish humanity for their fall from grace.  They had lived an existence that was so morally corrupt that there was no other option for Gd but to recreate the world and make it a more habitable place. 

He could have used myriad ways to enact his decree, as witnessed by later descriptions of His ire with mankind.  We know that Sodom was destroyed by brimstone and fire whilst Egypt suffered all kinds of natural disasters.  Why did he choose water as the means to rid the world of humanity?

Chassidic thought sees the flood as being a kind of mikvah where the world was immersed in order to purify it and in the process, renew it.  Just as the flood waters rained from above (and rose up from below)for forty days, so does a kosher mikvah require forty se’ah (which is the equivalent of approximately 166 gallons or 754 litres) of water.  Eventually, after the flood had receded (it took another forty days after the mountains became visible for Noach to send forth the raven) and following the Dove's disappearance, Noach and his family set foot on dry land.  Humanity had been cleansed, the past had been wiped out (quite literally) and it was time to start afresh.

Scenario two witnessed Moshe receiving the Torah directly from Gd Himself over a period of forty days (and nights) whereupon he descended from the Mountain and saw the ugly spectacle of the Golden Calf.

When he re-ascended, it took another forty days and nights to beseech Gd to change his mind and withhold destroying the nascent Israelite nation.  Returning for the third such period, he prayed on behalf of the people for Teshuvah, repentance (in very similar language that we see employed in this week's Parasha).  He was successful since Gd gave the people a second chance through the second set of commandments.  Again, forty days.

We can see a pattern emerging of the time period that transpires for events to mature.  For people to make their mistakes, try to amend their ways and start anew.  Chazal teach us that one of the criteria for a man to be able to learn Kaballah is that he has reached the age of forty.

Pirkei Avot, the Ethics of the Fathers (Chapter 5.22) tells us that, upon reaching this age, one achieves 'understanding'.  Rashi explains this mishna:

'just as the body follows a natural, programmed course of growth, so too is there a natural and inevitable development of the intellect.  At the age of forty, a person's innately given faculty of binah—understanding one thing from another (inference and deduction) becomes fully developed.  That is to say, the power of inferential understanding continuously matures until it reaches its full potential at the age of forty.'

Returning to the spies and their failed mission along with the subsequent behaviour of the people, we are left with a sobering thought.  At that point in their wanderings, they were only eleven days' walking distance away from entering the land of Israel but their emotional and spiritual development was only at start of its own journey.  It would take forty years to 'cleanse themselves' in order to reach the point that they were ready to enter the land.  Forty years for the virtual ‘mikvah’ to prepare them to enter the land.

For the Bnei Yisrael, life as a nation began at forty.  They may have been listening to ‘Schopenhauer’s text’, but it took them the full two score and ten years appreciate the 'commentary'.

As we know, life is itself a journey and often, we don't know which destination it will lead us to.  That we are granted time to make our mistakes, learn from these and become the best versions of ourselves that we can be is a blessing.  If we view the first forty years of our existence as being the forge which shaped us, it gives more meaning to everything we accomplish from that point.  We need a great deal of forty-tude to achieve our personal goals.  I guess that life really does begin at forty!

Shavuah Tov.