Forty is a common number in our tradition. Moses went up the mountain to receive the Torah in forty days. The Jews wandered in the wilderness for forty years. The Talmud teaches, “One does not fully comprehend the knowledge of his teacher before forty years.” We learn in Pirkei Avot that a human being’s full potential of wisdom is reached at age forty. This is portrayed in the affirmative—for when we attain that age, we now obtain wisdom to judge the world accordingly. Forty is both the completion of a level behind and the inauguration of a renewal ahead. Susan Handelman writes, “The moment of emptiness contains the seeds of ascent to a higher level.”
The number forty has been on my mind this week. This Monday, May 3, would have been the 40th birthday of my brother, Eyal, of blessed memory. For the last four years since his passing, I have had moments of emptiness, and yet, there have been moments where the emptiness has ascended to a higher level. What would his life looked like if he attained those forty years of wisdom? How would he have used that bina, wisdom, to make decisions in the forty years ahead?
And yet, each day I say Modeh Ani. God, I thank you for the 36 years that were. For the years that God has gifted us, our loved ones are the years that we must transform ourselves.
For each one of us, there are too many empty chairs at our Shabbat meals and Passover Seders, too many times we must recite the kaddish, and too many times we must light the yahrzeit candle.
And yet, in each of these enervating moments, we are lifted up again, strive to make the days ahead more meaningful, leave our mark on this world with the binah, that God has given us.