The Power of 40 (Extracted from a comprehensive analysis of the number 40 by the author)

Rabbi Akiva Gilbert

Outdoor Jewish Experience (OJE)

He was there with G-d for forty days and forty nights. He ate no bread and drank no water...

(Exodus 34:28)

וַֽיְהִי שָׁם עִם ה' אַרְבָּעִים יוֹם וְאַרְבָּעִים לַיְלָה לֶחֶם לֹא אָכַל וּמַיִם לֹא שָׁתָה…

(שמות לד:כח)


When describing the most incredible prophetic experience which catapulted the Jewish People into a nation; which no other nation can ever give claim to have witnessed; where they swore an oath as a united cohesive Nation, as one man with one heart, to fulfill the purpose of creation, while tapping into the energy of the Blueprint of creation, as they received the Torah; the Torah describes this prophetic experience in three 40 day periods.1

1st 40

Moshe goes up the mountain and spends 40 days and 40 nights on the mountain receiving the Torah; the purpose of creation. He doesn’t eat or drink for the entire 40 days.

Moshe exists in a different realm of existence where only the celestial beings exist. He is nourished by the Splendour of Hashem (Ziv Hashchinah) for 40 days and 40 nights. Moshe receives the Torah on behalf of the Jewish people.

When exploring the level of the Jews before the Sin of the Golden Calf; the verse tells us regarding the tablets that were given to Moshe, “The tablets were G-ds handiwork, and the script was the script of G-d, engraved on the tablets”.2 This process of receiving the Torah was a completely passive experience of the Jewish people and by definition was not sustainable because the experience was a passive experience and did not represent the true level of the Jewish people.

After 40 days, on the 16th of Tammuz, the Jews thought that Moshe wasn’t coming down from the mountain, when in fact they had miscalculated the time of Moshe descending the mountain. He finds the Jewish people worshipping a Golden calf, which was a manifestation of an unsustainable level of connection.

How does Moshe respond?

On the 17th of Tammuz,3 Moshe destroys the 1st set of tablets, and in doing so creates a new path for the Jewish People. G-d had been involved in the whole process with the 1st set of tablets, G-d both carved out and also wrote his holy words on the tablets. But now they are no longer going to be receiving everything from G-d as a free gift from above.

2nd 40

For the next 40 days Moshe and the Jewish people pray with all their hearts for G-d to forgive them and spend that time repenting, returning and reflecting on what they have done wrong, and with all their hope and longing that G-d will forgive them and restore the relationship.

3rd 40

Finally G-d says to Moshe he can ascend the mountain again for the second time to receive the second set of tablets. Moshe ascends the mountain on Rosh Chodesh Elul and now spends another 40 days learning Torah in the new found capacity and in a new framework that has been laid out by G-d.

Moshe arrives back on Yom Kippur, completing the third set of 40 days. On Yom Kippur the Jews are told that G-d has forgiven them and that the relationship is just as strong as it was before we sinned, as G-d said the words, “Selachti Kidvarecha”.

The major difference from the 1st set of tablets to the second, is that Moshe is told,4 “Pesal lecha shnei luchos”, You Moshe have to carve out the tablets and G-d will fill in the words.

Now the impetus has to come from man entirely, no longer will man be a passive recipient. In this process now man needs to play an active role in developing oneself and carving out the framework of existence, and then, and only then, will G-d attribute the soul of the tablets with Hashem’s words.

Man’s actions are so powerful, says G-d, that they change the upper worlds from below depending on how pure a person’s thoughts, deeds and words are. G-d will respond and create channels of flow from the upper worlds.

G-d will put holy words back into the tablets, but now all the work has to come from man. The process of receiving the Torah will begin with man and if man is doing what he is meant to be

doing then the new modus operandi is that G-d will align his will with man’s... if man does what he is meant to be doing.

So retroactively those 120 days created the Foundation upon which the Jewish People were formed (3 x 40).

  1. First time: Rashi, Exodus 32;1; Second time: Exodus 32:30, Deuteronomy 9:18, Rashi, Exodus 33:11; Third time: Rashi, Exodus 33:11, Deuteronomy 9:18

  2. Exodus 32:16

  3. Mishna, Taanit 4:6

  4. Exodus 34:1

©2019 by The Office of The Chief Rabbi