Other narratives also tell of forty years of one king of experience or another.
This particular Shabbat when Moses begins to sum up his life’s teaching we know that he will be reporting on forty years of leadership, but a question tugs at our minds.
Forty years from Egypt to the Jordan River – when the journey really only needed eleven days?
The traditional explanation is that eleven days would not have been long enough to turn the Israelites into a people, to build a sense of solidarity, to prepare for life in the Promised Land.
We of course have the benefit of centuries of subsequent history and human experience, and we know that things which happen fast are generally hard to handle.
Imagine what would happen if we were all like the handful of child prodigies who are already finishing university degrees when they are barely into their teens. Adulthood would have come too fast. The struggle to grow up is never easy, but without the struggle we would not appreciate it. People who win the lottery and become instant millionaires are rarely able to cope with their good fortune; they are simply not ready.
How long each stage in life should take is addressed at the end of the fifth chapter of Pir’kei Avot, a brave attempt at telling us what we should be doing at each milestone. It does not work in the same way for everyone, but the general principle is amply vindicated. Everything worthwhile takes time.