Forty Days and Forty Nights

“And it happened at the end of forty days [arba’im yom] and forty nights [v’arba’im lailah]*, the LORD gave me two stone tables, the tablets of the Covenant….”
“And I threw myself before the LORD the forty days [arba’im ha-yom] and the forty nights [v’arba’im ha-lailah] that I threw myself, for the LORD intended to destroy you.” — Devarim/Deuteronomy 9:11, 9:25
(Alter translation)


OK, so this has almost nothing to do with the Torah portion, except that the phrase “forty days and forty nights” comes with a powerful, built-in soundtrack for me. So, with Muddy Waters in mind, here’s how I hear Moses’ narrative in these verses:

Forty days and forty nights
when I met God on the mount
Covenant, all day long
on stone tablets I brought down
God of life, we need God so
why you sinned, I just don’t know.

Those forty days and forty nights
I fell right down and cried:
“They mess up all the time
but forgive them, ‘cuz they try.
Lord help me — it just ain’t right
I love the People with all my might.”


Muddy Waters

Here is Muddy Waters (McKinley Morganfield, 1913-1983) with “Forty Days and Forty Nights.”



Forty or The Forty

* In Exodus/Shemot, the phrase is “forty days and forty nights” as in Devarim/Deuteronomy 9:11:

…Moses was on the mountain forty days and forty nights (24:18)
And he was there with the LORD forty days and forty nights… (34:28)

not “the forty days and the forty nights” — with the definite article, “ha” — which appears, as far as I can determine, ONLY in Devarim/Deuteronomy 9:25.

Posted by vspatz

Virginia blogs on Jewish topics at "A Song Every Day" and manages the Education Town Hall and #WeLuvBooks sites. More at Vspatz.wordpress.com

One Comment

  1. Thanks for these great links! I love this music, and I love your Forty Days and Forty Nights Blues. I think it has everything to do with Eikev. Some midrashim tell that a person who has done wrong, and who then does teshuvah to make amends, bears two sets of hearts within, one broken and one whole. And these two hearts are like the the two sets of tablets which are supposed to have been placed together in the Ark of the Covenant, one broken and one whole.

    And in the Shema prayer we’re reminded to love God with all our hearts, which can be understood as binding our yetzer ha ra (evil inclination “our broken heart”) and our yetzer ha tov (good inclination “our whole heart”) together, in order to serve God. (Ask Steve Braun for this Talmud commentary source.) The bittersweet combination expressed in blues based music evokes these kinds of experiences in life.

    Reply

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