PARSHAT VA’ETCHANAN (by Yehuda HaKohen) “I implored HaShem at that time, saying, `My L-rd, HaShem, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand, for what power is there in the heaven or on the earth that can perform according to Your mighty acts?
Let me now cross and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.’ But HaShem became angry with me because of you, and he did not listen to me; HaShem said to me, `It is too much for you! Do not continue to speak to Me further about this matter. Ascend to the top of the cliff and raise your eyes westward, northward, southward, and eastward, and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross the Jordan. But you shall command Yehoshua, and strengthen him and give him resolve, for he shall cross before this people and he shall cause them to inherit the land that you will see.’” (DEVARIM 3:25-28)
Moshe is prohibited from entering the Land of Israel and is instructed by G-D to stop praying on his own behalf. Yet HaShem does not forbid anyone else from pleading Moshe’s case as he had consistently done for Israel each time the nation sinned. Perhaps what the prophet is alluding to in blaming the people for his plight is the fact that not one Hebrew would pray for Moshe to enter the Promised Land. Had Israel loved their teacher on the level that he loved them, one tefillah might have been enough to annul the decree. Had the people sufficiently appreciated Moshe, perhaps they would have argued his case before HaShem as he had unfailingly done for them on so many occasions. But because of the generation’s lack of gratitude, Moshe was prohibited from crossing the Jordan River.
The numerical value of the word VA’ETCHANAN is five hundred and fifteen. The Midrash Rabbah teaches that Moshe prayed five hundred and fifteen times that he be permitted to enter Eretz Yisrael. HaShem commanded him to stop his tefillot at this point because had Moshe prayed five hundred and sixteen times, he would have elevated himself to a new spiritual height that would have permitted him to enter into the Land of Israel.
To fully understand this idea, it is first necessary to free our thinking from the erroneous Western concept of prayer. The English word “prayer” actually comes from a Latin word meaning “to beg” – precisely what many of us are mistakenly led to believe tefillah is. This misunderstanding, which often leads people to imagine G-D as some giant king taking pleasure in the begging of his subjects, actually prevents people from not only attaining a more mature perspective of HaShem but also from a advancing to higher levels of self-awareness.
HaShem is not some giant invisible tyrant but rather the timeless ultimate Reality without end that creates all, sustains all, empowers all and loves all. Everything in existence exists within Him and He transcends far beyond everything that exists.
We – like everything else in Creation – are unique expressions of HaShem placed into this world in order to fully participate in history. Human beings are essentially characters in a story being played by actors generally known as souls, which are each distinctive pieces of the infinite Whole we call HaShem. The function of tefillah is to help us identify and perform our respective roles in the story.
Tefillah is not about begging a giant king to change his mind but rather about connecting to our Divine Source. L’hitpallel – generally translated into English as “to pray” – is a reflexive verb that actually connotes transforming ourselves. It is an activity we engage in for the purpose of internalizing the goals of life so we may be empowered to actualize our full potential as characters in history. Tefillah is not about “changing G-D’s mind” but actually about changing ourselves. And each time we effectively participate in this activity, we succeed in strengthening our will power, achieving greater self-awareness and consciously discovering the ideals for which our souls incessantly strive.
All of the requests in the Amidah are directed toward superior objectives that our souls already crave. They are our healthiest desires and the deepest yearnings of our true inner selves. Because we are all unique expressions of HaShem, the more we get in touch with our authentic inner selves, the more we actually connect back to our Divine Source and allow ourselves the ability to receive G-D’s perpetual blessing. Tefillah is the vehicle that enables us to achieve this connection. As it would be ridiculous to assume that HaShem needs our prayers, the obligation to engage in the activity thrice daily is clearly for the sake of something beneficial to us – helping us to manifest and express our inner kedusha through attaining a higher awareness of our relationship to HaShem.
The Amidah experience essentially serves to educate us to that which our souls genuinely desire – the aspirations we were placed in this world to achieve. While whispering the words of the tefillah to ourselves, we are meant to internalize how much we actually yearn for the realization of these goals so that we can then dedicate our actions towards practically attaining them. As a person generally works through concrete human endeavors to achieve anything he truly wants, the requests of the Amidah should naturally guide our actions as the blueprint for how we direct our energies and resources. The Hebrew Nation works in partnership with HaShem and any tefillah not complemented by real human effort could justifiably be viewed as somewhat insincere.
It is difficult to know how many tefillot are necessary to sufficiently elevate ourselves to merit receiving that which we desire. Had Moshe engaged in five hundred and sixteen tefillah experiences, he would have been transformed to the point of being able to cross the Jordan. HaShem commanded His prophet to stop at five hundred and fifteen because it had been decreed according to the Divine plan that Moshe would not bring the Hebrews across the Jordan.
Tefillot are not always answered according to expectations. While at first glance G-D’s words to Moshe appear harsh, HaShem is actually consoling His prophet by hinting that although he will not be crossing west of the Jordan, he is already standing in the Land of Israel.
“`Ascend to the top of the cliff and raise your eyes westward, northward, southward, and eastward, and see with your eyes, for you shall not cross the Jordan.’” (DEVARIM 3:27)
HaShem tells Moshe to look not only westward but also northward, southward and eastward at the Land of Israel, implying that Eretz Yisrael already surrounds him. The borders of the Israeli homeland are not merely west of the Jordan River but actually stretch from the Nile to the Euphrates.
“On that day HaShem made a covenant with Avram, saying, `To your descendants have I given this land, from the river of Egypt to the great river, the Euphrates River.’” (BEREISHIT 15:18)
There are levels to the Land of Israel’s kedusha. And although Moshe would not be permitted to enter the loftiest regions of Eretz Canaan, he was already standing on the east bank of the Jordan – an essential portion of Israel’s national home. Despite Moshe not being granted his wish as he consciously understood it, he received the consolation of knowing that he was already in the homeland and that his prized student Yehoshua would lead the Hebrew tribes in liberating the territory west of the Jordan.
“`But you shall command Yehoshua, and strengthen him and give him resolve, for he shall cross before this people and he shall cause them to inherit the land that you will see.’” (DEVARIM 3:28)
As characters participating in one of history’s most incredible chapters, we must focus our efforts and tefillot on the challenges specifically facing our unique generation. In addition to practical earthly endeavors, we must l’hitpallel for the complete salvation of humankind, beginning with the ingathering of Israel’s exiles from the Diaspora, the defeat of those scheming to uproot us from our land, the attainment of true justice in Israeli society and the building of G-D’s Temple in its proper location. The more we internalize the words we whisper three times a day, the more we will actually thirst for that which our souls yearn. And the more we begin to truly desire and struggle for these goals, the more we will recognize HaShem bringing them to fruition before our eyes.
With Love of Israel,