|This D’var Torah is in Z’chus L’Ilui Nishmas my sister Kayla Rus Bas Bunim Tuvia A”H, my grandfather Dovid Tzvi Ben Yosef Yochanan A”H, my uncle Reuven Nachum Ben Moshe & my great aunt Rivkah Sorah Bas Zev Yehuda HaKohein.
It should also be in Zechus L’Refuah Shileimah for:
-My father Bunim Tuvia Ben Channa Freidel
-My grandfather Moshe Ben Breindel, and my grandmothers Channah Freidel Bas Sarah, and Shulamis Bas Etta
-Mordechai Shlomo Ben Sarah Tili
-Noam Shmuel Ben Simcha
-Chaya Rochel Ettel Bas Shulamis
-Nechama Hinda Bas Tzirel Leah-Amitai Dovid Ben Rivka Shprintze
-And all of the Cholei Yisrael
-It should also be a Z’chus for an Aliyah of the holy Neshamos of Dovid Avraham Ben Chiya Kehas—R’ Dovid Winiarz ZT”L, Miriam Liba Bas Aharon—Rebbetzin Weiss A”H, as well as the Neshamos of those whose lives were taken in terror attacks (Hashem Yikom Damam), and a Z’chus for success for Tzaha”l as well as the rest of Am Yisrael, in Eretz Yisrael and in the Galus.
וָאֶתְחַנַּן ● Va’Es’chanan
● Why did Moshe ask for a “free gift” when he had ample spiritual credit to cash in? ●
“For the Love of G-d”
Moshe Rabbeinu continues his national address to the B’nei Yisrael, as he further reviews their history, reinforces their devotion to Torah and prepares them for their entry into Eretz Yisrael. This second segment of that address is titled “Va’Es’chanan” and begins with Moshe’s recollection of his prayer that Hashem lift the ban he placed on Moshe, withholding him from entering the Promised Land. Thus, Moshe recounted, “Va’Es’chanan El Hashem B’Eis HaHi Leimor”-“And I implored to Hashem at that time saying.”1
The most previous Sidrah, Parshas Devarim, ended with Moshe’s revisiting of the nation’s victory over Sichon and Og as well as his appointment of Yehoshua Bin Nun who would soon lead the nation into the land in his absence.
“B’Eis HaHi”—“it was at that point,” Moshe reported, that he prayed yet again that G-d allow him into Eretz Yisrael. A simple question is why, if Moshe’s prayer happened “at that time,” was that prayer separated into a different Parsha? If Moshe’s Tefilah took place at that time, in other words, at the time of the event he had just discussed, then this memory should be part of that section, not the beginning of a new chapter. What warranted the beginning of a new Sidrah specifically at Va’Es’chanan?
One might argue that the question is one that can be asked throughout Sefer Devarim—why the Sidros were divided the way they are if most of the Sefer, more or less, is comprised of a single speech from Moshe. Sometimes, the reasoning for the division is clearer in one set of the Parshiyos than at other times, for example, as one topic may clearly be sealed with an appropriate ending line. However here, it is a little more complicated than that, as Moshe himself referred us back to his last point in Devarim when discussing this prayer. It happened “at that time.” So, why not keep the two points connected in one Sidrah?
TODAY’S SITE: “Va’Es’chanan” – Moshe’s Modest Tefilah
This prayer which Moshe labels, “V’Es’chanan,” translated commonly as “and I implored,” is actually no ordinary form of Tefilah. Rashi explains that “Va’Es’chanan,” which derives from the root expression, “Chinun,” is none other than an expression of requesting a “Matanas Chinam,” a “free gift,” out of pure favor or “Chein.”2 In his comment, Rashi also points out that it is the common practice of the righteous to ask for undeserved gifts despite the fact that they are certainly capable of making requests of G-d in the merit of their deeds.
Now, as noble as this methodology for prayer apparently is, at least here for Moshe’s purposes, it seemingly did not prove successful as G-d’s response to him was less than favorable to say the least.3 Considering Moshe’s results, one may wonder if he “prayed his cards well.” True, asking that G-d grant one anything out of the goodness of His heart is an honorable approach to Tefilah, especially seeing that G-d owes man nothing, no matter how much man may do, for man cannot possibly repay G-d for the countless things He does for man at every second of his life. However, we’re not talking about simple man. This was Moshe Rabbeinu, Hashem’s “right-hand” man, the leader of the B’nei Yisrael, arguably the greatest human to ever live. Certainly, Moshe was the most humble of all men, but even he was aware of his unmatched spiritual level and no less the countless merits he had in the storehouse for his incredible life of Avodas Hashem. That being said, why would he have settled for requesting a “free gift”? Why would he completely ignore those merits and not even attempt to cash in a fraction of them so that Hashem may grant him the one thing he wants out of his life in this world, to enter Eretz Yisrael?
LANDMARKS: Va’Es’chanan’s Monumental Passages
Following his recounting of his prayer and G-d’s response to him, Moshe would continue his soliloquy, reviewing some more history and teaching lessons in devotion to service of G-d as is common in Sefer Devarim. However, Parshas Va’Es’chanan as a whole was not merely another section of Moshe’s speech. It happens to contain many of the most famous and the most vital of passages in the entire Jewish religion’s liturgy.
Just to name a few of these monumental passages:
- Parshas Va’Es’chanan features the fundamental pledge of Jewish allegiance, the first Parsha of Shema (“Shema Yisrael”-“Hear, O Israel” and “V’Ahavta”-“And you shall love [Hashem]…”) declaring G-d’s unity and commanding one’s unconditional love for Him.4
- Va’Es’chanan also contains the review of the Aseres HaDibros, the Ten “Commandments,” or the Decalogue which G-d declared before the entire nation in an open revelation at Sinai.5
- The Sidrah also contains a passage that would become one of the Sheish Zechiros (Six Points to Remember), “Rak HiShamer Lecha…”-“Only guard yourself…”6 warning one not to forget the Torah and the Revelation at Sinai.
- The question of the “Wise Son” from the Pesach Haggadah with the famous response of “Avadim Hayinu L’Pharaoh B’Mitzrayim…”-“We were slaves to Pharaoh in Egypt…”7
Though the list actually goes on8, the above will suffice for now.
Now, as monumental as the above verses and passages are to Judaism in their own right, they are not as commonly recognized for their particular placement in Parshas Va’Es’chanan. The question is if it is merely a coincidence that these legendary words all first appeared in Va’Es’chanan of all Sidros. One might simply suggest that these verses and passages are fundamentally connected, and indeed, all of them contain powerful messages that are no less than foundational to the Jewish faith, so one would hope that they would be connected. The question remains as to why this high concentration of intensely religious expression ended up in this single Sidrah. Why in fact was Va’Es’chanan the host for so many of these liturgical pillars of the Torah and Judaism overall?
LANDSCAPE VIEW: The True Eved Hashem Story
Though it is peculiar that a bevy of famous, religious verses all derive from Parshas Va’Es’chanan specifically, perhaps the more appropriate question to ask is why Moshe chose this particular moment and segment of his national address to shower the nation with these most vital teachings. Might they somehow relate to the adjacent topic of Moshe’s speech, Moshe’s rejected prayer of Va’Es’chanan? If there is such an all-encompassing lesson contained in the greater umbrella of Va’Es’chanan, perhaps it begins from Moshe’s supplication before G-d.
Earlier we raised two issues with Moshe’s prayer. The first issue pertained to its placement at the beginning of a new chapter and Sidrah, separate from the related, previous discussion. Why did a new Sidrah begin from this prayer if Moshe himself stated that the prayer occurred in conjunction with the events of the last Sidrah?
The second issue pertained to the form which the prayer itself took—the request for an undeserved freebee as opposed to a potentially more promising negotiation in which Moshe would cash in even the slightest fraction of his handsome merit. If Moshe wanted so badly to enter Eretz Yisrael, why didn’t he try everything within his own power of prayer to achieve that goal?
The division of the Sidros apparently demonstrates that Moshe’s prayer, though related to the nation’s triumph over Sichon and Og as well as the appointment of Yehoshua, was not dependent on those events. Yes, perhaps chronologically and circumstantially, Moshe’s prayer belongs with those events and that is why, in fact, it is recorded shortly after. Nonetheless, his prayer stands alone as it was more than just a “request” that Moshe had of Hashem at a moment in time. More fundamentally, Moshe’s prayer to Hashem was a most intimate encounter that he had with Him. Moshe was not merely asking for favors, but he was sincerely interacting with his Beloved and his Master.
Perhaps it was for this reason that Moshe didn’t pull the merit card. In fact, he was not pulling any cards, because Moshe’s prayers, like all prayers should be, were primarily a means for the sake of genuinely engaging with Hashem. Moreover, though Moshe had amassed unmatched merit throughout his years of tremendous Avodas Hashem, the exertion through which he earned those merits, as well, were not for the sake of racking up brownie points or coupons to be redeemed, but for the purposes of engaging with and serving his Creator.9 Indeed, when engaging with any loved one, one should not have to resort to turning his or her toil and service for his beloved into superficial vouchers to cash in on at one’s convenience. Certainly, we should have at least the same standard when the beloved in question is Hashem, the Master of the world to Whom we owe our lives.
The true sincerity of Moshe’s relationship with Hashem can be found in the difficult conclusion of this intimate encounter. We know now that Hashem told Moshe “no.” Moshe and Hashem love each other intimately, yet for some reason—beyond Moshe’s comprehension, his failure to “sanctify G-d’s Name” at Mei Merivah10 could not be overlooked without his forgoing his chance at entering Israel with the nation. Even the best of relationships are full of disappointments, but the litmus test for the true measure of that relationship is what follows after that disappoiment. Where would Moshe Rabbeinu go from there, knowing that the one thing he wanted in life from Hashem, he would not be getting from Him? Where might we go from there if we found ourselves in the same situation?
The answer to this question would depend on how much the relationship matters. If it doesn’t matter that much, then Moshe could simply have given up and ended the relationship, as it were, aborting the rest of his mission. However, Moshe demonstrated beyond any doubt that he was a most genuine Eved Hashem as he not only humbly accepted Hashem’s final word as the reality and moved on according to Hashem’s will, but he was going to continue to love Hashem and subsequently teach that love to the B’nei Yisrael, leading them towards their destiny until he could do so no longer.
All of the above brings us to the several renowned, foundational verses which Moshe declared in our Sidrah. We pick from the moment at which Moshe reported that Hashem, his beloved, had told him “no.” And what did Moshe have to say then?
“V’Atah Yisrael Shema El HaChukim V’El HaMishpatim…”-“And now, Yisrael, hearken to the statutes and to the ordinances…”11 Now, we move forward and continue to follow Hashem’s will.
From there, Moshe would continue to lay down the groundwork for the proper relationship one is supposed to have with Hashem as a true Eved Hashem. In so doing, Moshe commanded the B’nei Yisrael’s devotion to Hashem with many words that would be affixed to our tongues and etched into hearts for generations to come:
“V’Atem HaD’veikim BaHashem Elokeichem Chayim Kulchem HaYom!”-“But you who have cleaved with Hashem your G-d, all of you are alive today!”8
“Atah Hareisa LaDa’as Ki Hashem Hu HaElokim Ein Od Milvado!”-“And you have been shown to know that Hashem, He is G-d, there is no more besides Him!”8
“V’Yadata HaYom V’Hasheivosa El Levavecha Ki Hashem Hu HaElokim BaShamayim MiMa’al V’Al HaAretz MiTachas Ein Od!”-“And you shall know today to settle on your hearts that Hashem, He is the G-d in the heavens above and on the earth below, there is no more!”8
And of course, most prominently, Moshe conveyed the declaration which communicates the understanding and acceptance that Hashem is the Unified Entity of the universe and His Will is ultimate truth: “Shema Yisrael Hashem Elokeinu Hashem Echad”-“Hear, O Yisrael, Hashem our G-d, Hashem is One.”4
This declaration was then most appropriately followed by the commandment to love G-d, “B’Chal Levavcha U’V’Chal Nafshecha”-“with all your heart and all your soul,”4 which, according to Chazal, means to love G-d even if He should take everything from a person—his life and everything he values in it.12 The takeaway is that one’s relationship with Hashem matters above all else. That is why Va’Es’chanan is wellspring of religious expression. Because these passages which emerged from Moshe’s mouth and heart are no less than an expression of his relationship with G-d and the center of true meaning in his life. After accepting that he would not achieve perhaps the second most important achievement of his life, he latched himself on to the only thing that still mattered in his life, his Avodas Hashem—his relationship with G-d.
FINAL DESTINATION: True Avodas Hashem, For the Love of G-d
In our own lives, we frequently face rejection, often from G-d Himself, at which point, we too must ask ourselves the same question: What will be my next course of actions? Whatever happens to us in our lives, whatever experiences we undergo, what is the bottom line? That we are all here, alive in this world, in an eternal relationship with Hashem with the sole purpose of sustaining that relationship, understanding that Hashem is the All-Knowing Creator Whose will stands forever and for our good, out of His unconditional love for us. We must therefore follow Moshe’s path and return that undying love to Hashem. That task requires the humble acceptance of His decisions and faith in His unconditional love for us. If we can channel those feelings, then, like Moshe, we can live life until death as the true and devoted Ovdei Hashem which we all have the potential to be. We can live life for the love of G-d.
May we all be Zocheh to accept Hashem’s Will, understand that our relationship with Hashem is the meaningful driving force of our lives, sustain that relationship and be truly devoted Ovdei Hashem, and as a side, merit the arrival of the long awaited Geulah and the coming of Moshiach, Bimheirah Biyomeinu! Have a Great Tu B’Av & Shabbos Nachamu!
-Yehoshua Shmuel Eisenberg 🙂
- Devarim 3:23
- Citing Sifrei 26
- In fact, one might note a possible allusion to G-d’s utter rejection of Moshe’s wish in what may be a display of clever wordplay. Moshe related that he prayed to G-d [Devarim 3:25], “E’brah Na”-“please let me pass through,” and that the response was “Vayis’abeir Hashem Bi”-“And Hashem was angry at me.” Both the words “E’brah” [אֶעְבְּרָה] and “Vayis’abeir” [וַיִּתְעַבֵּר] sharing the same root letters [עבר]. In turn, Moshe may have been expressing that G-d indeed heard him out but flatly rejected him.
- Devarim 6:4-9
- 5:6-18. See the slightly different version of the earlier text in Sefer Shemos 20:2-14
- Devarim 4:9
- Another couple of famous lines included here are the lines of “V’Atem HaD’veikim…”-“And you who cleaved…” [Devarim 4:4], “Atah HaReisa L’Da’as…”-“You have been shown to know…” [Ibid. 4:35], “V’Yadata HaYom…”-“And you shall know today…” [Ibid. 4:39], and “V’Zos HaTorah…”-“And this is the Torah…” [Ibid. 4:44].
- It is perhaps for the above reason that the contents of Va’Es’chanan are separated from the next Sidrah, Parshas Eikev, which discusses with the rewards and due for serving G-d appropriately. Va’Es’chanan communicates what genuine service of Hashem looks like. The reward as it is described in Eikev is only secondary to our service to Hashem itself.
- Bamidbar 20:12
- Devarim 4:1