Rashi, in this week’s parsha, quotes the midrash that it really should have taken the spies double the time to travel the length and width of Eretz Yisrael, but because God knew they would stumble with slandering the land, God miraculously caused the road to shrink. The question may be asked that God could have reduced the travels to less than 40 days as well—to 20 or 10. The Talmud notes that a fetus is not considered formed until 40 days, whereby it would then have the status of a creation. In truth, Bnei Yisrael were ripe to enter the land right before the incident of the spies. After the slander of the spies and the required delay, God decreed a time where a rebirth of the nation can happen, and therefore precisely 40 years were necessary. This can explain the Gemara in Shabbos that refers to the melachot as 40 minus one and not 39. The melachot are based on the Mishkan, and the Mishkan represents the spirit of God, the most creative presence that exists, with a continuous rebirth of spirit, mandating the derived melachot to be framed as 40 minus one, touching upon a number signifying rebirth.
Steven Genack is the author of “Articles, Anecdotes & Insights,” Genack/Genechovsky Torah from Gefen Press.