23 And I besought the L-rd at that time, saying: 24 ‘O L-rd G-d, Thou hast begun to show Thy servant Thy greatness, and Thy strong hand; for what god is there in heaven or on earth, that can do according to Thy works, and according to Thy mighty acts? 25 Let me go over, I pray Thee, and see the good land that is beyond the Jordan, that goodly hill-country, and Lebanon.’ 26 But the L-rd was wroth with me for your sakes, and hearkened not unto me; and the L-rd said unto me: ‘Let it suffice thee; speak no more unto Me of this matter. (Deuteronomy 3:23-26)
One can ask why Moses boldly prayed to G-d to be allowed to enter the land of Israel, when he had been told explicitly by G-d that, as a punishment for striking the rock, he would not be given entry, and that it would be Joshua instead who would lead Israel into the land. Furthermore, we know that Moses did not ask once, but five hundred fifteen times (the numerical value of the word va’etchanan, “and I besought”), and that one more would have accomplished his desire, as the verse states, “speak no more unto Me of this matter”, i.e. G-d commanded Moses to stop praying for it. Why else would G-d have needed to place limits on Moses prayers?
Another question that we can ask: why did G-d say, “it is enough [for you]”? In what way were the prayers of Moses sufficient if, in the end his wish was not granted? What “sufficed”?
Rabbi Mordechai Yosef Lainer zt”l, the Izhbitzer Rebbe, writes in his Mei Shiloach, that this one verse contains the most essential elements of what it means to grow spiritually. There are many commentaries on the deeper meaning of the words themselves. We find in the Talmud the following statement, “even if a sharp sword rests upon the neck of a man, let him not prevent himself from [begging for, hoping for] Divine compassion” (Berachot 10a). G-d’s kindness is everlasting and His compassion never ceases (liturgy). Therefore, even where circumstances have it that all hope seems lost, one must nevertheless continue to yearn and plead for his life, whether this is meant in the physical or the spiritual sense. Consider the examples that we have in front of us: a sharp sword upon one’s neck, or, in the case of Moses, a Divine decree forbidding him to enter the Land of Israel. Both situations seem utterly hopeless; and yet, in both cases one should not despair.
The Izhbitzer Rebbe points out that this lesson of never giving up is in and of itself so all-encompassing; G-d told Moshe to stop praying with the words, “it is enough [for you]”, meaning, “through your persistence in prayer despite the obstacles (i.e. My decree), you have succeeded in instructing the Jews in how to seek out Divine compassion”. There could be no more valuable a lesson than that.
It was Shabbat Va’etchanan, when, in a state of great weakness due to the ravages of illness, Rebbe Nachman gave his followers a lesson in serving G-d with utmost simplicity. This lesson, on our verse, concluded with his great cry, “Gevald! Zeit eich nit miyaesh!” “Gevald! Never give up!”
There is a parallel thought in this week’s Pirkei Avot. We read, in the name of Rabbi Yonaton, “Whoever fulfills the Torah in poverty, will ultimately fulfill it in wealth” (Avot 4:9). Poverty in its plain sense means lack or deficiency. But an empty glass, though devoid of contents, is also a vessel waiting to be filled. This is the orientation one must have in prayer. Knowing that we are entirely dependent upon G-d for everything, we have nothing. But at the same time, we are open to what He can bestow upon us. Being the empty vessel, a person can begin to yearn, can begin to extend his or her hand to G-d for what he or she needs.
May we be blessed with the fortitude to trust in G-d’s everlasting compassion, and to always make use of the greatest power we possess: the power of prayer.
Good Shabbos! Shabbat Shalom!
By Rabbi Tani Burton
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