Parshat Va’etchanan

Parshat Va’etchanan opens with Moshe telling how he prayed to Hashem saying “at that time I pleaded with Hashem. You have begun to show to your servant your greatness and your strong hand. For who is there in heaven or earth who can do the deeds and mighty works you do?  Let me go over and see the good land beyond the Jordan, that fine hill country and Lebanon.”  However, as Moshe relates Hashem was angry with him as he had sinned, and told Moshe not to repeat his request but just to go to the top of the cliff to view the land, as he would not be crossing the Jordan. The exchange is fascinating, firstly showing the unique relationship and open dialogue between Hashem and Moshe, in that Moshe dares to challenge the divine decree. Secondly, this hints at the power of prayer, as Hashem responds, don’t keep asking me, as If you do, I might have to give in to your request.

Rashi takes the view that Moshe based his plea on his successful confrontation with Hashem after the sin of the golden calf, where Moshe did persuade Hashem to change his mind, and not destroy Bnei Yisrael. Stronger than that, R S R Hirsh notes that Moshe calls himself “your servant” and argues – you picked on me to be your servant to do the job and I did it, now at least give me the chance to see this beautiful land promised to us. Interestingly Ibn Ezra does not see this as Moshe complaining on an individual basis, but trying to emphasize to this new generation, how special and beautiful, is this land they are going to fight for.

We should note that even though these powerful words are chosen to be the opening of the Parsha, in reality they are in the middle of a topic that Moshe is presenting. Moshe has just described how this new young generation had magnificently defeated Sihon and Og and were just warming up for the battles ahead, and says to Hashem “you have just begun to show your strong hand.” Moshe is asking at least for the right to witness the full conquest, even under the leadership of Joshua. Nevertheless, Moshe’s plea in unsuccessful, but Hashem does compensate him by showing him the beauty of the land from the top of the mountain.

Our sages learn from here, the appropriate format for prayer. Moshe begins with praise for Hashem and his goodness to us and then puts in his request. This is the format we have in general for our formalized prayers, opening with psalms of praise and then to our individual prayer. In particular the Amida opens with praise and kedusha and them moves to our individual and national requests from the divine.

Hashem’s response to Moshe’s request is also interesting “But because of you! Hashem was angry with me and would not listen to me.” The Ohr HaChaim explains that Moshe accepted Hashem’s anger in a positive manner, he was not really angry with Moshe but “because of you” – this new generation – Hashem wanted them to take on responsibility – your job is done.

Next week is our granddaughter Alma’s batmitzva, and in the current atmosphere, it is unclear as how the event will be celebrated. We were talking on the phone this evening and she is still determined to give her speech for whatever the forum. She is taking responsibility and we discussed how in these next few Parshot, Moshe is guiding the young flock in this direction. Here in this week’s Parsha he opens in the singular on a personal note, Next week for her Parsha Ekev, Moshe moves to the plural to the nation “ If you pay attention to these laws and are careful to follow them, then Hashem will keep his covenant of love with you,” and similarly the week after in Parshat Re’eh. The Shema in this week’s Parsha talks in the singular, the second paragraph in next week’s Parsha is in the plural. Moshe understands he is handing over for the people to take responsibility for their destiny. That is essence of Moshe’s epic speech and we wish Alma the best for her speech and Mazaltov on the beginning of taking on responsibility

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