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Va’etchanan 5778-2018

“Never Despair!”

 

In this week’s parasha, parashat Va’etchanan, Moses pleads with the Al-mighty to display His greatness and to forgive Moses’ sin, and allow him to cross into the land of Israel.

The Torah, in Deuteronomy 3:25, records Moses’ intense plea, אֶעְבְּרָה נָּא, וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶׁר בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן, הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה וְהַלְּבָנֹן, “Please let me now cross and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon!”

Unfortunately, G-d is angry with Moses on account of the people of Israel (see Va’etchanan 5770-2010), and demands that Moses not speak any further with G-d about the matter. He instructs Moses (Deuteronomy 3:27), to ascend to the highest point of mount Abarim, and raise his eyes westward, northward, southward, and eastward and see the land, for he will not be permitted to cross the Jordan.

Rashi explains that the term, וָאֶתְחַנַּן, Va’etchanan (to implore), means that Moses begged G-d to grant him a request that is entirely undeserving or a gift for free. Even though the righteous could easily justify their request based upon their merits, they do not ask G-d to compensate them for their good deeds, but rather ask for a favor, as if they were not at all deserving.

The Midrash’s description of Moses’ pleas is extraordinarily extensive. In fact, the rabbis say that Moses offered 515 prayers and petitions before G-d, which is equal to the numerical equivalent of the Hebrew word, Va’etchanan. Yet, after his 515 petitions, Moses was still not permitted to enter the Promised Land, and was only allowed to climb the mountain to see the Promised Land from a distance.

The rabbis expound on the seemingly extraneous word in the verse, לֵאמֹר, lay’mor — that Moses implored G-d at the time “saying.” They explain, that the use of the word “lay’mor,” indicates that the message is directed to Jewish future and Jewish posterity. Through his relentless pleas, Moses taught future Jewish generations to never despair. And just as Moses continued to pray, even though he had been told definitively by G-d that the land was off limits to him, so must the Jews in future generations never give up hope for G-d’s merciful intervention. The gates of tears are always open.

The description in the Midrash of Moses pleading for Divine reconsideration is extensive. According to the Midrash, after offering his prayers, Moses drew a circle around himself and stood in the center and declared that he would not move from the spot unless the judgment was suspended. Heaven and earth began to tremble because they thought that Moses’ demands would lead to the destruction of the world.

G-d then proclaimed throughout all of heaven and in all the celestial courts of justice, that Moses’ prayers should not be accepted. G-d directed the angels to descend and lock every single gate in heaven so that Moses’ prayers not be accepted.

Nevertheless, Moses continued to plead with G-d to suspend His judgment, arguing that G-d must take into consideration how long and hard Moses had pleaded for the sake of Israel and had always gained forgiveness for the People.

Moses at first pleaded that he be allowed to enter and live in the Promised Land for only two or three years and then die. He then petitioned G-d to allow him to enter Israel as a common citizen rather than a leader, and if not, then at least allow his bones to be carried to the other side of the Jordan. Moses then beseeched heaven and the earth to intercede on his behalf. He pleaded for the sun and the moon, the stars and the planets, the hills and the mountains, Mount Sinai, the rivers, the deserts, and to all the elements of nature and finally to the great sea, to speak up in his behalf, all for naught. Moses even begged his disciple, Joshua, to implore G-d for his sake, that perhaps the Al-mighty will take pity upon him and allow him to enter the land. When that too failed, Moses turned to Aaron’s son, Elazar, and to Caleb, all to no avail.

G-d then presented Moses with an offer that would allow him to enter the land–if Israel were to perish. Moses however, rejected the offer, saying sternly: “Rather shall Moses and a thousand of his kind perish, than a single soul of Israel be harmed.”

Although it seems that at that point Moses finally accepted his tragic fate, when the time came for him to pass from the world, Moses pleaded one last time: “L-rd of the world! Let me at least, by the power of the Ineffable Name, fly like a bird in the air; or make me like a fish, transform my two arms into fins and my hair into scales, that like a fish I may leap over the Jordan and see the land of Israel.” G-d still refused, because it would have meant that He would have to break His vow and harm Israel.

As we know, despite all his pleas, Moses was not allowed to enter the Promised Land. 515 prayers and all the permutations  of prayers were rejected. All the legal arguments that Moses had mustered, all the emotional pleas, the fact that Moses had sacrificed so much for Israel and that they were forgiven, went unheeded. But still, Moses continued to plead.

What may we learn from this?

Never give up hope. Never despair. As long as there is life, there is hope. It could be the 516th prayer that is finally heeded. The Gates of Heaven are never sealed. While mortals may not be able to change our fate, we can change ourselves, and be given a new fate.

Just as the sun always rises and sets, and there is always a tomorrow, there is unimpeachable knowledge that the mercy of the L-rd endures forever.

May you be blessed.

The Shabbat after Tisha B’Av is traditionally known as “Shabbat Nachamu,” in deference to the first of a series of seven Haftarot (prophetic messages) of consolation, drawn from the book of Isaiah, and read between Tisha B’Av and Rosh Hashana. “Nachamu, Nachamu Ami,” be comforted My nation, are the opening words of Isaiah 40.

Please note: This year, the joyous festival of Tu B’Av, the fifteenth of Av, is celebrated on Thursday night and Friday, July 26th and 27th, 2018. Happy Tu B’Av (for more information, please click here.)