Friday, August 10, 2012

The Transformers

Everyone, at some point in their lives, has been or will be asked to partake in a ´40 Event´. Although a costume party with silky buttoned up blouses, casual gloves and glossy pearls, with flouncy pin curls sounds like a lot of fun, the ´40 event´ I´m referring to has nothing to do with the 1940´s era. It means being part of a 40 person prayer group, challah baking group, Perek Shira group, etc...Or it can mean going to the Kotel for 40 days, reciting Shir Hashirim for 40 days, etc...
Has anyone ever wondered why 40? Why not 10, like a minyan? Or 18, for chai? Or 324 for chai times chai? Why 40? What´s the significance of the number 40? What makes it special? What makes it worthy of bringing about the result we desire?
Throughout the Torah, we see numerous times how the number 40 creates a transformation of some sort. We´ll start with this weeks parsha, Eikev.
The Jews are nearing the end of their 40 year desert tour. Moshe warns them about potential pitfalls they may encounter in their new lives as a Jewish nation, and he details the rewards that are in store for them, should they follow the Torah properly.
40 years in the dessert. 40 years were necessary in order to transform the Jewish people from a nation of slavery, into a nation of freedom.
During that time, Moshe went on a 40 day heavenly retreat, literally up to heaven, to  acquire the Torah for us. Those 40 days were needed in order to transform the Jews from a regular nation of the world, into the Chosen Nation.
Going back in history for a minute, we recall another significant 40. The 40 days of the Mabul, the Flood! The 40 days and nights of relentless rain, erased the world of evil and transformed that world into a brand new one.
Ever wonder why the first 40 days of a woman´s pregnancy is the most vulnerable? And why one can pray for a specific gender for up to 40 days? And in extreme cases where an abortion is needed, a Rav will giver the woman a heter just until the 40th day. Why 40? Because there are 40 days from when a baby is conceived until the soul is introduced, transforming it from a regular body, to a spiritual being.
So the concept of bringing 40 people together to pray or to perform a mitzva, is to be able to create some sort of transformation in that particular situation. If someone is c¨v sick, we want to transform them into health. If someone is childless, we want to transform them into a parent. The list of transformations we desire is endless.
So... really? That´s all it takes? Just gather the 40, sing a little shir hamaalos, and we´re done? We´ve become The Transformers?
I thought it was as simple as that, until I read the parsha this week. Moshe is reminding the Jewish People of the incident of the Golden Calf. What was the point of the review? They´re past it already. They´ve moved on. Why the reminder?
When Moshe had ascended upstairs to receive the Torah, the 40 day period was meant to be one of spiritual and psychological growth on a personal and individual level, to prepare themselves to be the recipients of the Torah. Upon his descent, Moshe saw the Golden Calf, constructed to replace him, indicating a strong fault in character and a major lack in their spiritual development. They had NOT transformed themselves into the people they needed to be. They had NOT become the people worthy of living in the Holy Land and following God´s word.
Hence the following 40 years in the desert. When God realized how unable we were to transform ourselves into the people we needed to be as individuals, He decided He needed to transform us completely, as a nation. This generation will not be able to go into Eretz Yisrael and live their new, spiritually elevated lives there; they needed to wait for a generation change. The ultimate transformation. 40 years later, the new generation had proved that they were able to transform into the spiritual beings they needed to be in order to truly become The Chosen Nation.
So, gathering the 40 is step one. A very important one. But the only way for the power of the 40 to create the proper transformation is by each individual working to create his or her own personal psychological and spiritual transformation.