Columns - 2012

    Forty Days and Forty Years

    by Doug Brook
    Southern Jewish Life columnist

    The number forty is ubiquitous in Judaism. From Noah needing an umbrella for forty days, to the Israelites needing forty years of sunblock in the Sinai, or Irving Caesar writing the lyric "Tea for Two (and Two Forty)," the number is as inescapable for Jews as a losing season is for the Chicago Cubs. Here are forty examples.

    The Talmud says that a mikvah must have forty se'ah of water (about 200 gallons) to purify a person, like the forty days of rain that purified the world. But not only did it rain on Noah for those forty days, the reigns of kings David, Solomon and Joash each lasted forty years.

    The Talmud says that forty repetitions renders a thing unforgettable.

    Moses spent forty days on Mount Sinai, three times in a row. The first time to learn the Torah, the second to beg forgiveness for the Golden Calf, and the third to get his second dose of tablets.

    Moses's first forty-day absence on Mount Sinai tested all the Israelites. Forty weeks of pregnancy tests all women. Men reaching full adulthood at age forty (as stated in Joshua and II Samuel) tests all women.

    According to the Talmud, it takes forty days for an embryo to be formed in its mother's womb. This reminder will contribute to another forty years of abortion debate.

    Isaac and Esau each married at age forty. Despite that, according to Pirkei Avot (Sayings of the Fathers), a man of forty attains understanding. According to women, that must have been written by a man.

    The Talmud says that forty repetitions renders a thing unforgettable.

    Once upon a midnight dreary, forty days after he saw mountaintops, Noah sent out a raven from the ark, and saw it nevermore.

    Forty years constitute a generation, as the four-hundred-eighty years from the Exodus to the construction of Solomon's Temple were twelve generations. In modern times, forty people enjoyed the 1994 film, "Star Trek: Generations."

    Goliath challenged the Israeli army twice a day, for forty days, until David beat him. In modern times, no Jew has had odds in a fight better than forty to one.

    A person must be forty years of age before starting to study Kaballah, no matter how many red strings Madonna got them to tie on themselves.

    According to Deuteronomy, forty lashes was to be a common punishment, though the Sanhedrin never allowed more than thirty-nine in case someone miscounted and accidentally overdid it. According to beauty experts, women who pluck forty lashes in one sitting are just punishing themselves.

    The Talmud says that forty repetitions renders a thing unforgettable.

    Moses lived to be 120, thrice forty years. The span of human life is therefore regarded as that long, as in the expression "may you live to be 120." This also happens to be the heart rate motto at the JCC gym.

    Moses's life was in three forty-year spans. After the first forty, he fled Egypt. After the second forty, he returned to Egypt to lead the Israelites to the sandbox. After the third forty, he got to look-but-don't-touch at the Promised Land.

    When Moses sent the twelve spies into the land of Canaan, they were there for forty days. The only good reports came from Joshua and Caleb, who was forty years old.

    Elijah hid, wandering without food, for forty days. In modern times, every Passover, Elijah replenishes by drinking from forty thousand Elijah's cups.

    In the big fish story known as Jonah, the land of Ninevah had forty days for repentance. In modern times, on Yom Kippur, it feels like it takes some people forty minutes to chant the book of Jonah after forty half-hours of fasting.

    The 1962 New York Mets won only forty games, helping set up what the Big G (via His contemporary George Burns) revealed as His last big miracle, the 1969 Mets.

    The Talmud says that forty repetitions renders a thing unforgettable.

    Doug Brook is a writer in Silicon Valley whose forty years have rendered him a test to all women. For more information, past columns, other writings, and more, visit For exclusive online content, like us at

    Copyright Doug Brook. All rights reserved.