As we celebrate our fortieth year as a congregation, I would point out that the number forty has great significance in our tradition. Scholars and sages suggest that the number symbolize a period of testing or collective and personal trial. Here are some examples of the significance of forty in the Torah:
*After the creation of the world, when humanity had become filled with wickedness and cruelty, God flooded the earth by having it rain for forty days and nights, giving humanity a new chance to make this a worthy world.
*During Moses’ life he lived forty years in Egypt and forty years in the desert before God chose him to lead the people out of slavery.
*Moses spent forty days and nights on Mt. Sinai before receiving the Torah which would be the moral and spiritual guide for the Jewish people throughout history.
*As the Israelites were on the verge of entering the Promised Land, Moses sent scouts to investigate the land and its people. They spent forty days on this venture, coming back with a report that frightened the people so much that God decreed that this generation should wander for forty years until a new and more courageous generation would emerge.
*The prophet Jonah powerfully warned ancient Nineveh for forty days that its destruction would come because of its sinfulness.
*The Book of Exodus, which tells of our yearning for freedom, is much concerned with the Israelites being brought out of Egypt by God, and instructs us that we are to commemorate that event and its value by observing the holiday of Passover each year.
And one more thought about the number forty. Our sages tell us that forty is the age for “understanding.” I suppose that they had in mind understanding the commandments and ideals of Judaism. But I would add to that, “understanding the things that count most in life, and those things that in the end count for very little.”
And for us as a congregation, I believe that we have surely reached the “age of understanding.” We understand that every person in this congregation, whether young or old, is to be valued and respected. We understand that the purpose of Judaism is not to make the world Jewish; rather our purpose is to do our part to try to fix the brokenness of our world, and of each other’s lives. And at the age of forty, we understand that we are the bearers of a life-affirming tradition that has endured the trials and ordeals of history, even as we are alive and filled with worthy purpose.
May we continue to bring blessing to one another, to our society, and to our world.
Rabbi David Greenberg