Thursday, July 22, 2010

Making Requests of G-D

This week's Parsha, Vieschanan, begins with Moshe telling the Jewish people how he begged G-D to let him enter the land. It says (Devarim 3:23)

23. I entreated the Lord at that time, saying, כג. וָאֶתְחַנַּן אֶל יְ־הֹוָ־ה בָּעֵת הַהִוא לֵאמֹר:

However, what I find very interesting is what Moshe entreats G-D for. It says in the very next verse (ibid 24):

24. "O Lord God, You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand, for who is [like] God in heaven or on earth who can do as Your deeds and Your might? כד. אֲדֹנָי יֱ־הֹוִ־ה אַתָּה הַחִלּוֹתָ לְהַרְאוֹת אֶת עַבְדְּךָ אֶת גָּדְלְךָ וְאֶת יָדְךָ הַחֲזָקָה אֲשֶׁר מִי אֵל בַּשָּׁמַיִם וּבָאָרֶץ אֲשֶׁר יַעֲשֶׂה כְמַעֲשֶׂיךָ וְכִגְבוּרֹתֶךָ:

Moshe seems to imply that G-D has already shown His greatness to Moshe and that Moshe realizes that G-D is the greatest being in existence. However, the actual request being presented in this plea is in the third verse of the Parsha (ibid 25):

כה. אֶעְבְּרָה נָּא וְאֶרְאֶה אֶת הָאָרֶץ הַטּוֹבָה אֲשֶׁר בְּעֵבֶר הַיַּרְדֵּן הָהָר הַטּוֹב הַזֶּה וְהַלְּבָנֹן:
25. Pray let me cross over and see the good land that is on the other side of the Jordan, this good mountain and the Lebanon.

This is such an interesting way to phrase a request. First, we have Moshe telling the Jewish people that he made a request of G-D. Moshe used the language of וָאֶתְחַנַּן and Rashi tells us that means:

I entreated: Heb. וָאֶתְחַנַּן [The word] חִנּוּן [and its derivatives] in all cases is an expression signifying [requesting] a free gift. Even though the righteous may base a request on the merit of their good deeds, they request only a free gift of the Omnipresent. Because God had said to him [Moses],“and I will favor (וְחַנֹּתִי) when I wish to favor (אָחֹן)” (Exod. 33:19), he [Moses], he spoke to Him [God], using the expression וָאֶתְחַנַּן. 

I am confused. If what Rashi is saying is true, that Moshe was requesting a free gift, why does Moshe tell G-D that "You have begun to show Your servant Your greatness and Your strong hand" that seems like Moshe is saying that G-D was closer to Him than the rest of the people. Moshe is seemingly saying that you (G-D) have shown me (Moshe) your greatness and that is why I (Moshe) should be allowed to enter the land. For, if this were not the case, why does Moshe mention that G-D is so close to Moshe? Why does Moshe not just say "Please, pretty please, let me into Israel" if it is a "free gift" as Rashi calls it?

As I was pondering this thought I realized that this speech Moshe was giving was to the Jewish people and not just being written in the Torah. Moshe was telling the Jewish people that he requested G-D to give a free gift to him, the closest person to G-D in THE WORLD. This is why Moshe emphasizes that G-D made known to Moshe His greatness. It was to impress upon the Jewish people just how close Moshe was to G-D. The point here is that even so, Moshe still needed to make a request of G-D in a manner that G-D would have to give Moshe something that he was undeserving of. This was, of course, the gift of entering the land, which G-D refused. 

Moshe was trying to teach a very valuable lesson to the Jewish people. For, if Moshe was unable to demand anything of G-d, how could anyone else? The only proper way to request something from G-D is in a manner that G-D, in His ultimate mercy, will give it to a man or woman for free. We can't make demands of G-D because there is nothing that we can do for Him. As the Rambam says in the third halacha in Yesodei Hatorah (Madah):

"If one were to think that nothing else existed other than G-D then He would exist and would not cease to exist like the rest of existence. Everything needs Him, but He does not need any one of them. Therefore, the truth of His [existence] is not like the truth of any other beings [existence]."

G-D is the only non-contingent being. We can do nothing for Him. He gave us the commandments in order that we get close to Him, but performing these commandments does nothing FOR Him. Therefore, in the eyes of G-D all men are equally deserving of anything, aka not worthy. It is only do to G-D's graciousness that He grants us anything that we ask for.

Moshe is telling us how to pray to G-D. We can't say "G-D, you owe me this because of so and so." That is a worthless and futile prayer. Even MOSHE was not able to say that. We can cry out to G-D in pain, in happiness and in desperation, but we can not demand things of G-D. We can only request things from our Father in heaven.

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