For the rabbis, forty
days before the embryo takes shape,
weeks from conception until birth.
The flood which cleansed the earth
rained for forty days and nights
like a mikvah, which must contain
forty measures of water.
Moses spent forty days atop Sinai
communing with the Holy One
to receive the stone tablets
containing the commandments.
(And forty days praying
after the golden calf disaster,
and forty days atop Sinai again
to bring down the Torah.)
The children of Israel wandered
forty years in the wilderness
before they could learn
what they needed to know.
The sages in Pirkei Avot
(Ethics of the Fathers)
teach that a man of forty
The Talmud teaches
"one does not fully comprehend
the knowledge of one's teacher
before forty years"
and also "one does not become
fit to teach
(the things that matter)
until forty years."
When Rabbi Zeira wanted to learn
the Jerusalem Talmud, he fasted
forty times to forget what he'd learned
of the Babylonian Talmud
(like Nan-in who had to empty his cup
before the Zen master could fill him.)
Forty means new beginnings,
blessings waiting to unfold.