Forty days fasting – Shabbat Kodesh Parshat Ekev

We will read in this Parsha a Pasuk in which Moshe Rabeinu relates to the (2nd) forty days he spent in a lofty heavenly environment. He says: 

ו ָֽאֶתְנַפַּל֩ לִפְנֵ֨י יְהֹוָ֜ה כָּרִאשֹׁנָ֗ה אַרְבָּעִ֥ים יוֹם֙ וְאַרְבָּעִ֣ים לַ֔יְלָה לֶ֚חֶם לֹ֣א אָכַ֔לְתִּי וּמַ֖יִם לֹ֣א שָׁתִ֑יתִי עַ֤ל כׇּל־חַטַּאתְכֶם֙ אֲשֶׁ֣ר חֲטָאתֶ֔ם לַעֲשׂ֥וֹת הָרַ֛ע בְּעֵינֵ֥י יְהֹוָ֖ה לְהַכְעִיסֽוֹ׃ 

“I threw myself down before Hashem—eating no bread and drinking no water forty days and forty nights, as before—because of the great wrong you had committed, doing what displeased and vexed Hashem.”

We know that a human being cannot survive without food or water for any period longer than a few days (Chazal, our Sages, tell us – seven days). It is therefore obvious that Hashem gave special powers to Moshe Rabeinu while he was fasting.  That’s fine – but if so, what was the “sacrifice” Moshe Rabeinu undertook by not eating or drinking?

The following two explanations left a strong impression on me, as the one represents the philosophy of the “Yeshiva world”, while the other is (in general) a foundation stone of Chassidic teachings. 

Rav Shach זצ”ל (Ponivez Yeshiva) explains: Moshe Rabeinu was indeed granted special vitality enabling him to refrain from eating and drinking, but – he was very hungry and very thirsty. Thus, he had the “right” to say “I sacrificed 40 days of fasting….”

A completely different approach is mentioned in Chassidic sources. It says: We are all here in this world, in order to sanctify, not only our spiritual parts (Nefesh, Ruach, Neshama) but in order to elevate our physical being, into a higher degree. This can only be achieved when we fully “live it”.  During the period of the forty days however, Moshe Rabeinu sacrificed his ability to turn his eating and drinking (representing his physical desires) into a higher spiritual level. 

The above ideas – while not contradicting each other, they do demonstrate a different Weltanschauung…. אלו ואלו, דברי א-לקים חיים:

“A Divine Voice emerges and proclaims:Both these and those are the words of the living G’d” (Eruvin 13b:10-11.)

Shabbat Shalom

Rabbi Chaim Michael Biberfeld